City council could approve a backdoor plan to spend public money on parking garages in the Central Eastside and it’s cynically tied to a long awaited project to reduce car trips in the central city.
City Council needs to hear from YOU about this secret parking policy. When you’re done reading, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before Thursday November 15 (put Agenda Item 1184: CCIM Parking Strategy in the subject). Tell City Council to cut out any new publicly funded parking supply from the CCIM Parking Strategy Report. Tell Council to stay the course with Transportation Demand Management and don’t undermine the great projects in the Central City In Motion Plan.
Central City In Motion (CCIM) is a plan to keep the central city of Portland moving. It’s made up of 18 great projects that will make streets safer for walking, more comfortable for cycling, and faster for transit and, sometimes, freight.
After many years and thousands of public comments and meetings the project is finally scheduled to come before city council this week, on November 15th at 2pm.
But Central City In Motion has acquired a companion report and it’s not so good.
The Central City In Motion Parking Supply and Demand Management Strategies Report was released to the public, for the first time, on November 8th. Many people only learned of existence of this report earlier that day when the City Council agenda was released with a second item for CCIM.
Who Was At The Table?
Over the last 5 years, Portland has overhauled it’s parking policy, and it’s getting pretty good. This has taken countless volunteer hours, open houses, and hearings. There have been at least four stakeholder committees to review our parking policies, covering everything from loading zone signage to residential parking permits. At every step of the way, advocacy groups, the public, and business interests have been at the table to shape these policies.
But the CCIM Parking Supply and Demand Management Report was developed internally with input mostly from business interests like the Central Eastside Industrial Council and the Portland Business Alliance. Other groups consulted are primarily large land holders or managers of existing off-street parking supply that the city proposes to open up for public use.
It does not appear that any community groups, transportation advocacy organizations, or neighborhood groups were brought into the process.
And the report’s findings reflect that lack of any countervailing viewpoint among the stakeholders.
A Path Forward To Build A New Garage
The Central Eastside Industrial Council has been angling for new publicly funded parking for years, but new publicly funded parking is among the lowest priorities for PBOT. Thwarted thus far, the CEIC has supported some good parking policy instead. The area has many metered streets and the parking permit program charges almost $25 a month for residential and commuter permits.
The CEIC would seemingly prefer to apply that cash-flow toward new parking supply, perhaps by partnering with Prosper Portland, the city’s development fund that has pursued commuter parking projects in recent years. But, so far, there hasn’t been a policy that provides a path to building more parking.
Enter “Strategy 8” the “Off-Street Parking Investment Fund.”
If City Council approves this project, CEIC will perceive this strategy as an endorsement of the desire to apply revenue from on-street parking to this investment fund. While the strategy claims the strategy of buying parking in new developments would reduce risk, this is a stretch. It seems very similar to an attempted deal between Prosper Portland and a prospective developer in Old Town/Chinatown. Under that deal, the developer would build to their maximum allowable parking allotment (they were planning to build only 1/2 of their allowed stalls) and after construction, Prosper Portland proposed to buy ALL the underground parking from the developer and lease back the stalls to the developer for use by residents in the building. Far from minimizing risk to public funds, this type of deal puts all the risk of long-term parking onto the city.
Worse Than Risky
Investing in parking garages in 2018 or beyond is a bad bet. Construction costs are sky high, parking demand is declining at many destinations, transportation is changing rapidly, and the city is working hard to reduce automobile trips. But even if it wasn’t a bad fiscal play, building new parking will undermine our ability to reduce car trips, reduce emissions, and make our streets safer.
The amount of parking in our city center is, effectively, the minimum number of car trips that are accommodated by our built environment. Most (if not all) of the time, the city has excess parking supply in the City Center. It might not be exactly in front of the restaurant someone is going to, but it is there. The fewer stalls that exist in the central city, the more inconvenient and expensive it will be to park. If there are more stalls, then it is easier to make the choice to drive to the central city rather than to take transit, bike, or walk.
CCIM and associated projects are designed to reduce the number of car trips to the city center. Reallocating on-street parking to other modes is a very effective way to do so, it makes driving less convenient and makes other modes more convenient. Replacing that lost parking supply undermines the goal. It invites more cars into the central city on one hand, while the other hand is trying to discourage them.
Isn’t Traffic Bad Enough Already?
The amount of parking in the Central Eastside is already supporting unacceptable congestion. Traffic congestion is consistently among the most cited complaints of Portlanders. But would the CCIM projects even actually reduce the parking supply in the Central Eastside? Not if new private parking is considered.
A project under construction right now at SE Stark and SE Water Ave, contains 6 floors of commercial parking. A few blocks away at 525 SE MLK, another building under construction includes underground parking. We still aren’t heading in the right direction in regards to parking supply in the Central Eastside, to meet our mode split goals we cannot add any more car trips to the central city, regardless of expected population and job growth.
What Should We Do?
The CCIM Parking Strategy and Demand Management Report isn’t all bad. There is one very, very good strategy mentioned. It’s also the one already being implemented, it’s proven to be successful, and it’s relatively cheap.
The Transportation Wallet
The first strategy mentioned is to increase funding for transportation demand management (TDM). The city is currently running a program to provide discounted, or in some cases free, Transportation Wallets to residents and workers in areas with parking meters and permits. Money from the meters and permits is used to subsidize a package of alternative transportation options. Right now, that package includes $100 on a TriMet Hop Card, a Portland Streetcar pass, and an annual BIKETOWN membership. The CCIM parking report suggests that people who opt-out of parking permits could be provided with an annual TriMet pass and providing deeper discounts for low income workers.
The city could go even further. Right now the CEIC is paying $250,000 a year to operate a sparingly used parking lot circulator shuttle. A bold TDM strategy would be to scrap the shuttle (which is near both the streetcar and the Eastbank Esplanade) and provide 2,500 Central Eastside workers with free transportation wallets.
The city is looking at expanding the options provided in the wallet as well. Car share and e-scooters are two mobility options that could be added to the wallet soon.
A Proven Strategy
Transportation Demand Management works. On the same day the city finally published the parking strategy report, Sarah Goforth from PBOT presented a lecture at PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC).
Goforth detailed how a combination of on-street parking management and the transportation wallet are leading to real reductions in parking demand. You can watch her presentation here.
Let The Current Policy Work
The most recent parking policy to go through a full stakeholder process, including representatives from the CEIC and PBA, was the Performance Based Parking Management project. This policy will lead to performance-based price adjustments in areas with parking meters, like the Central Eastside. The first adjustments will happen next year.
Additionally, several years ago, the city completed and passed a Central City Parking Policy Update (incidentally, the PBA and CEIC were represented on that committee as well). Among other things, the policy relaxed rules about shared-parking. This relaxation meant that parking which was built for one purpose, say residential use, could be used for commercial parking as well.
These policies were developed in the normal public process. They are hard fought policies that will produce results. We should not undermine our goals by passing a backdoor plan to build more parking garages and rent private parking spaces for public use.
A Call To Action
City Council needs to hear from YOU about this secret parking policy. Send an email to email@example.com before Thursday November 15 (put Agenda Item 1184: CCIM Parking Strategy in the subject). Tell City Council to cut out any new publicly funded parking supply from the CCIM Parking Strategy Report. Tell Council to stay the course with Transportation Demand Management and don’t undermine the great projects in the Central City In Motion Plan.
Testify In Person
There is a hearing scheduled on Thursday November 15 at 2 p.m. City Council Chambers: 1221 SW 4th Avenue, Portland.
We encourage you to support the Central City In Motion project, but please tell city council to cut new publicly funded parking strategies from the CCIM Parking Strategy Report.