Opposition To Parking Reform Surfaces And Unwittingly Supports Arguments For Reforms

Written testimony will be accepted on this topic until 8AM on Monday, October 17th! Let City Council know you want them to trade parking requirements for more housing by eliminating minimum parking requirements.

On October 6th, City Council heard testimony from eight Portlanders who were concerned that minimum parking requirements are ineffective, raise the cost of housing, and are contrary to our climate action and transportation goals. Additionally, organizations like The Street Trust (formerly the Bicycle Transportation Alliance), Oregon Walks, and Portland for Everyone have joined dozens of other citizens by sending in written testimony supporting the elimination of these requirements in mixed use zones.

At the October 13th hearing, a handful of people gave testimony in opposition to these proposed reforms.  To our ears their testimony was not compelling. Whereas Portlanders for Parking Reform and our supporters are able to cite reports from the White House and plain evidence that on-site parking is terribly expensive, the opposing testimony is often based on anecdote and concerns for personal convenience.  Nevertheless, there were several points made in their collective testimony which, unwillingly, support our request to remove parking requirements.

“We don’t even know what adequate parking is.”

Susan Lindsay, co-chair of the Buckman Community Association told the commissioners that eliminating parking requirements would be “just another giveaway [to developers].”  Lindsay, however, seemed to acknowledge that the current ratios set in 2013 are arbitrary and likely ineffective:

“For one thing we don’t even really know what adequate parking is. There’s never really been a substantial look at this…” – Susan Lindsay

This is absolutely correct. Because Portland has free (or very cheap) on-street parking, there are no market forces

which can help the city, or developers, determine how much parking is truly needed for tenants. The city can, and has, studied car ownership rates among new residents to neighborhoods, but if a new tenant owns a car already, and on-street parking is free (or $5 a month), why wouldn’t they keep their car, even if they don’t use it?

Susan Lindsay testifies at council Image is of her testifying, closed caption reads "If we provide more parking, it just gets filled up."

Neighborhood advocate Susan Lindsay points out the real problem with parking requirements.

When cities set arbitrary ratios, they usually end up with too much parking and not enough housing.

“Provide adequate but not excessive off‐street parking”

Tamara DeRidder, the chair of the Rose City Park Neighborhood Association Land Use/Planning Committee, also opposed our efforts.  She provided that her board “supported a revised requirement for off street parking where you need have three parking spaces for every 4 dwelling units for mixed use.” This demand is not novel, neighbors commonly request that the city require parking ratios base on the assumption that every household owns at least one car, but we are planning for the future, a future where transportation will look much different than it does today.

What was interesting about DeRidder’s testimony was that she cited the same comprehensive policy to support higher ratios that Portlanders for Parking Reform uses to support eliminating them.  Policy 9.58 of the Transportation System Plan reads:

Off‐street parking. Limit the development of new parking spaces to achieve land use, transportation, and environmental goals, especially in locations with frequent transit service. Regulate off‐street parking to achieve mode share objectives, promote compact and walkable urban form, encourage lower rates of car ownership, and promote the vitality of commercial and employment areas. Use transportation demand management and pricing of parking in areas with high parking demand. Strive to provide adequate but not excessive off‐street parking where needed, consistent with the preceding practices.

While DeRidder claimed that eliminating parking requirements would be out of compliance with this policy (a claim that Commissioner Amanda Fritz seemed to be very interested in), as Susan Lindsay pointed out, “we don’t even know what adequate parking is.”

Market rate residential permits are the best way to determine what adequate parking is. Mandating parking at the current, or higher, ratios will impede our ability to achieve land use, transportation, and environmental goals. Parking requirements encourage higher rates of car ownership and driving. In calling attention to Policy 9.58, Tamara DeRidder is, truly, supporting our proposal to eliminate required parking.

“What the lack of parking allows developers to do is increase their footprint.”

After DeRidder’s testimony, Donna Bestwick, a taxpaying resident of Multnomah Village for the past 35 years told council that “every neighborhood in Portland is very distressed about parking.” Bestwick continued to remind the commissioners that “people are not going to get rid of their cars.”  Eliminating parking requirements would be “putting incredible pressure on neighborhoods and street parking.” She warned us that without a 1-to-1 ratio for new construction, “people are going to be parking in front of our homes.”

Donna Bestwick is testifying at council.  She is saying "People are going to be parking in front of our homes."

Donna Bestwick warns Council about parking.

However, assumption that everyone will continue to own cars so we need to build more parking is completely contrary to evidence. Census data show that the commute trend for new Portland commuters since 2000 is that the majority of them are not driving to work. If more and more Portlanders don’t need their cars, why require new development to build more parking?

Bestwick went further to say that if the parking mandate were removed, the end result would be more homes.  “What the lack of parking allows developers to do is increase their footprint,” she said,  “so if they were going to build a structure, anywhere, and had to have at least 1:1 parking they couldn’t go as big on the footprint.”

Indeed, the effect of required parking is to suppress the amount of new housing built. If neighbors are concerned about the form of new buildings or the density of their neighborhoods, then they should provide input to the Residential Infill Project. Parking policy has long been a stalking horse for keeping lower-income and more diverse populations out of an established neighborhood. By stoking anxieties about parking convenience, neighbors can keep their neighborhoods more exclusive without seeming xenophobic.

“A tug of war between two different visions of how the transportation system should work”

After hearing her testimony Mayor Charlie Hales responded to Bestwick:

“I think it’s important to note that this is a difficult issue for the council on the parking issue. But most of the advocacy that we’re hearing on the other side is not from developers, it’s from transportation advocates like ‘Portlanders for Parking Reform’  who are disinterested in the question of this or that development but believe that we should be working towards a future where we are walking more and using transit more and driving less.  So it really isn’t a tug of war, in this case, between neighborhoods and developers, it’s a tug of war between two different visions of how the transportation system should work, that i’ve been hearing from.” – Mayor Charlie Hales

Hales’ reply gets directly at the heart of the matter. We are currently planning for the future of our city and Portlanders are looking at our current situation and the proposals for the future and coming to different conclusions from the same evidence.

Both sides admit, we don’t know how much parking we need. Some of us want to use data and markets to find out, others want even higher arbitrary ratios. Car ownership rates among residents of mixed-use developments are available; some of us would like to use policy to encourage lower rates of ownership while others want to require, by law, the subsidy and continuation of the status quo. Both sides understand that requiring more shelter for cars will cause there to be less housing for people; some of us want to prioritize people over cars while others want to strengthen this exclusionary zoning policy.

Putting policy goals aside, what we really need to ask ourselves is what kind of future do we want to build for the next generation of Portlanders? Do we want a future where there is enough housing for our kids or only storage space for cars, which they won’t be likely to own? As Mayor Hales said, we will continue “working towards a future where we are walking more and using transit more and driving less.” Join us!




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