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To ease the crunch, city might allow businesses to sell spots in their lots



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - No parking available? Sure there is, say city transportation planners, but much of it is locked up in accessory parking lots which, by law, cannot be used as public parking. Transportation consultant Rick Williams here looks in a parking garage of The Milano in the Lloyd District.There are 5,967 curbside parking spaces in the section of Northwest Portland covered by the latest Northwest Portland Parking Plan.

So far this year, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has sold 6,953 annual parking permits to residents and businesses in that area. Tha’s about a thousand more than the number of spaces — and that doesn’t even include the 1,075 guest parking permits that have been sold.

Parking experts say a neighborhood can usually sell about 15 percent more permits than it has spaces, since not all vehicles are parked at the same time. But Northwest Portland will soon be way beyond that. Sounds like a prescription for disaster, right?

It might be, if parking were predictable. Northwest Neighborhood Association President Tavo Cruz says he hasn’t heard any complaints from residents about parking becoming more scarce since the permit program was instituted this year. Though Cruz says that may change as soon as parking meters are installed around Northwest 21st and 23rd avenues, sometime within the next month or two he’s been told.

With permits required for cars parked east of Northwest 25th Avenue, some predicted residents just west of 25th would find their still-free parking spots in great demand. However, Cruz says he also hasn’t heard complaints from neighborhood residents who live just outside the permit boundary.

Permit yes, parking no

Then again, Cruz hasn’t heard yet from Lisa Freeman, who co-owns the Peculiarium, an oddities store and museum on Northwest Thurman Street just east of 23rd.

A little more than a month ago Seattle-based developer Footprint began leasing 200-square-foot micro apartments a few doors down from Freeman’s store, in the new permit zone. Footprint’s Thurman building does not include parking for residents of its 54 apartments. But the developers said their model, already tested in Seattle, would add very few cars to the street. Renters would be young, and public transit is nearby. In fact, the developers predicted only about seven of the tenants would own cars.

Lisa Freeman bought a $60 parking permit anyway. And waited. She says the first week Footprint started renting she began seeing new cars with out-of-state plates in the few all-day spaces on Thurman. No way there are only seven cars coming from the new apartment building, she says.

“It’s been hellish,” Freeman says. “I paid for a parking permit, and there are no spots.” And Freeman’s not only talking about parking for her car when she arrives at work in the morning. She needs parking for her customers.

Though tenants at Footprint reveal auto information when they sign leases, Footprint’s representatives aren’t willing to say how many of its renters have cars. Collin Medica, whose family runs Northwest 23rd Market on the corner of Northwest 23rd and Thurman, says Footprint tenants have asked if he would sell them monthly parking rights in the small lot next to his grocery store. Which, it just so happens, would be illegal. But maybe not for long.

The future of parking

Parking may be unpredictable, but that hasn’t stopped the folks at PBOT from trying to engineer us into the future. This week parking visionaries from up and down the West Coast came to Portland for a parking symposium. They spoke about innovations taking place in other cities, and as a group are pretty unified about what the future of Portland parking will look like.

In Seattle and San Francisco, $1 an hour meters incentivize drivers to park on streets that have an abundance of open spaces, while meters on streets where parking is rarely available charge drivers up to $4 an hour. Variable rate parking already has come to Portland, by the way. Ever notice that during Timbers games meters around Providence Park charge $3.50 an hour instead of the standard $1.60 an hour? Those spots get snapped up quickly anyway, parking officials say. Expect many more parking meters with rates based on supply and demand in the future.

In fact, you can expect in the future to be paying just about any time you park your car, says local parking consultant Rick Williams. Parking spaces slowly, but surely have become recognized as a commodity which cities can manipulate in all sorts of ways.

Williams views parking as the key to addressing the city’s affordable housing crisis. Developers, he says, can’t build apartment buildings for median-income families if they have to include basement garages. So engineering a city where fewer people need to park where they live is critical if inner-city affordable apartments are going to be constructed.

Those $60 annual neighborhood parking permits probably won’t be $60 for long, Williams says. Spread over a year, they’re costing residents about 15 cents a day. That’s not a commodity, it’s a government giveaway, in Williams’ view.

In fact, Williams, who consults on parking matters with the city, surveyed 12 neighborhoods in various cities that were using residential permit zones. In many of the cities he found that an unintended consequence of the cheap permits was more street congestion.

At 15 cents a day, Williams says, some homeowners who have driveways and garages buy the permits and park on the street, using their garages for storage or living quarters — a completely unintended consequence. Requiring people to purchase permits is supposed to reduce street parking.

Toronto, Williams says, has responded to a rush of people buying street parking permits by passing an ordinance that forbids homeowners with curb cuts and driveways from purchasing the passes. When Northwest 21st and 23rd avenues and some nearby streets get their parking meters later this year, the cheapest parking in the area will be the $60 residential permits, which Williams predicts will become even more in demand.

Eventually, Williams says, the city will have to raise the price of street permits to something more in line with the market-rate parking found in garages. Or, cap the number of permits sold in each neighborhood. Both options are politically untenable, Williams says. For now.

Consider the prospect of, hypothetically, Northwest Portland residents agreeing to double the price of their street parking permits while the cost of street permits in other neighborhoods stayed the same. Unlikely, especially if there is still no promise that curbside spaces will be available where residents want them. Currently, by ordinance, all neighborhoods must have the same price for street parking permits. Easily changed, Williams says, once the political will emerges.

“What happens in every city I work with is, when we get to the threshold, no one wants to take the next step,” Williams says.

PBOT planners aren’t overly worried about that because their data show there are enough parking spaces to go around in just about every neighborhood. Those spaces just aren’t being properly used.

Legal and easy

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Rick Williams shows where bike lockers in the Lloyd District have helped reduce car commutes.PBOT recently completed a parking survey in five city neighborhoods, including the Hollywood District, where complaints about parking are frequent. The survey revealed that even during peak daytime hours nearly four in 10 Hollywood parking spaces are empty. That’s because most of those spaces are in what are called small accessory parking lots owned by businesses.

Those signs that say parking is for employees and customers only? They’re not the result of territorial shop owners. They’re required. Current city regulations don’t allow owners of accessory lots to rent parking spaces to the public. So, for example, lots belonging to movie theaters stay mostly vacant during the day and 10-space lots connected to dentists’ offices may hold two or three cars at any one time.

PBOT planners are looking to change city code over the next few months so that owners of accessory lots can sell the parking spaces they aren’t using. Collin Medica can sell a couple of the spaces in his grocery store lot for a few hundred dollars a month to residents of Footprint Thurman. Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center, a few blocks away, could then charge for evening public parking in its huge accessory garages just off 23rd Avenue.

But there are questions surrounding the proposed change.

“Can we make it legal and make it easy?” asks Judith Gray, a PBOT planner. What PBOT doesn’t want, the unintended consequence it hopes to avoid, according to Gray, is making accessory lots so profitable that developers build more of them. Planners are looking at rules that might limit to whom owners of accessory parking lots can rent spaces. Monthly rentals only? Or, only to neighborhood residents and employees? Williams says the city should stop worrying and allow owners of accessory lots to rent by the hour to shoppers, if they want.

Large-scale variable rate parking is coming, say planners. And the city-owned downtown SmartPark garages will be part of that trend. In fact, that’s already begun and nobody has noticed, says Grant Morehead, PBOT planner. SmartPark daily rates vary from $10 to $15 a day, depending on demand. And a city advisory committee recently said it would like to see SmartPark rates set at a lower price than curbside metered parking to encourage drivers to park in garages rather than clog city streets by driving around looking for that perfect curbside space. Expect that, too.

By the way, private shared car companies such as Car2go already enjoy the benefit of a city parking policy that provides convenience for their customers. Their cars can be parked in any metered curbside space (except 15 and 30 minute zones) without drivers having to pay, because Car2go pays the city separately for the meter time.


Lloyd District parking plan may have fueled development

For a vision of the future of parking in Portland, you might want to take a look at the last 20 years in the Lloyd District, says local transportation consultant Rick Williams.

Ironic, given that the area around the Lloyd Center has been one of the most underdeveloped close-in Portland neighborhoods for most of those 20 years. But give Williams — founder of Go Lloyd, a transportation management association — a chance to explain.

In 1997, surveys showed that about one in 10 Lloyd District employees lived within two miles of work. Most of them drove to their jobs and about three out of four drove alone. That’s because the neighborhood featured abundant free curbside parking, Williams says.

In 1997, there were 230 bike parking stalls in the Lloyd District. Today, there are more than 2,000, and the percentage of people walking to work in the Lloyd District has tripled.

It just so happens that 1997 was the year parking meters and permit signs began appearing in the Lloyd District. They weren’t put in place because of a shortage of street parking, according to Williams, but because there was an excess of parking and it was being used by downtown park-and-rider commuters. “We wanted to get downtown employees out of our district,” he says.

In addition, 1997 is when Lloyd District developers were told by city officials that they could only provide two parking stalls per 1,000 square feet in new buildings.

Following the squeeze on free parking, Go Lloyd’s plan was to incentivize those who lived and worked in the neighborhood to try other ways of getting to their jobs. Working with the city, Go Lloyd arranged for discounted transit passes for neighborhood employees. Today, a standard monthly TriMet pass costs about $1,100 a year, but 6,000 Lloyd District employees are getting discounted $300-a-year passes that are being subsidized by the city and their employers.

Today, condo and apartment development is booming in the Lloyd District, especially around Northeast Multnomah Street, which until recently was identifiable by its tall office buildings and adjoining accessory surface parking lots. Those surface lots are being removed in favor of high-rise apartment buildings with basement garages. That became possible because of the changes begun in 1997, when the goal, according to Williams, was to reduce the overall demand for parking.

“It’s an example of parking management that works,” Williams says. “And it took 20 years. But 20 years ago we agreed that the key to our success was to constrain the supply, to build less parking.”

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