Portland’s Parking Problem Is An Excess Of Free On-Street Parking

Everyone needs to wash their clothes. Society provides a number of ways for people to manage this necessity. Some people wash their clothes by hand. Some people pay for a laundry service to wash their clothes. Some people take their clothes to a nearby laundromat.  Some people wash their clothes in a communal laundry room. Some people own their own washer and dryer. Some people own very expensive washers and dryers and pay people to wash their clothes in their own home.

A Laundromat

Imagine a city where laundry service is free, first come first serve, for as much as the service could handle. Many people get up very early to take their laundry to the service and they don’t own a washer and dryer.  Imagine local laundromats are free as well. Most people never consider buying a washer and dryer. Laundromats are very crowded day and night and laundry services reach capacity early in the morning. Should this city require all residents to buy a washer and dryer?  Should this city require all new residences, or at least some of them, to have on-site washing machines and dryers? Of course not. The laundry services and laundromats should stop providing free services. People will decide if they are willing to pay for those services. Developers/landlords will provide washers and dryers for residents who prefer the convenience and are willing to shoulder the expense of having that luxury amenity.

Everyone in Portland needs to be able to get around.  Some people walk, ride, or take transit, cabs, or Lyfts to their destination. Some people own personal cars. Those people who own cars need places to park them and on-street parking in Portland is like the imaginary laundry service and laundromats, free. In some parts of town, on-street parking is congested day and night. In some neighborhoods residents rush home after work to find a space and the street is packed by 7PM. Should the city solve this problem by requiring some or all new residences to have their own supply of parking? It shouldn’t, but it does.

Cars Parked on StreetContrary to the lead of this KATU news article, Portland doesn’t have a shortage of parking. It’s even disputable that Portland has a shortage of free on-street parking. Instead, Portland has a shortage of political courage to implement effective parking management strategies.

Concerned neighbors would like to continue to require developers to build an “adequate” amount of off-street parking.  The problem is that, when on-street parking is literally or practically free, there is no way to tell what an adequate supply of parking is.

There is no magic ratio that will meet parking demand in a dense neighborhood. Excess parking supply will induce demand. As Donald Shoup famously quipped “minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars.” Opponents to parking reform point out that surveys say 7 of every 10 new residents in mixed use developments own a car when they move in. They say developers should build at least 7 parking spaces for every 10 apartments.

Arbitrary parking ratios make as much sense as arbitrary washer and dryer ratios.

The city doesn’t require in-unit or even on-site washing machines, but somehow, without the benefit of city regulations, people get their clothes washed and here is no such thing as “laundry congestion” and no one speaks of a “laundry nightmare.”

The proper way to determine the right amount of parking for a building is to manage the on-street parking supply with market rate residential permits. If Portlanders truly want to build an equitable, walkable, and sustainable city they should count the on-street parking spaces in their neighborhoods and sell some fraction of that number of parking permits at a price that manages demand.

Portland City Council will hear from citizens on November 17th about an amendment to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new developments near frequent service transit.  Join us in encouraging them to pass this amendment.

Email City Council By November 17!

Everyone can do this, do it now!

Write to cputestimony@portlandoregon.gov with subject line “Comprehensive Plan Implementation”  Please cc: or bcc: pdxshoupistas@gmail.com.

Tell them in your own words that housing is more important than car parking and they should pass Amendment 34 to the Comprehensive plan to eliminate minimum parking requirements in mixed use zones.

We have talking points if you need them!

Join Us on November 17th and Give Testimony

The biggest impact will come from people showing and speaking to council.  Council needs to hear from people who face rent increases and displacement due to anti-affordable housing policy like parking requirements.  Testifying is easy.  Simply state, in your own words, why this issue concerns you and tell council that you want them to eliminate minimum parking requirements.

We have prepared a document with talking points for your convenience.

November 17th, 2PM @ Portland City Hall

If you plan to testify, please RSVP via this form so we have an idea of what support we can expect. We may be able to save you time by signing you up.

Write to the Commissioners

Send an email to the members of City Council.  We suggest you do this by November 17th.

Write to Commissioner Steve Novick, Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Nick Fish, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz.  Let them know that you value housing for people over shelter for cars.

5 Responses to “Portland’s Parking Problem Is An Excess Of Free On-Street Parking

  • Scott Walker
    5 months ago

    Excellent analogy. Keep on keepin’ on!

    Many people do not get the convoluted connections between parking policy and its many negative social affects. It may be that bringing Shoup to town for a forum/radio show/ etc. would tip the balance with more parking management supporters. If you do it in PDX, I will follow on with a similar program in Port Townsend. Like I said, “keep on keepin’ on!”

    • Scott, will you be in PT for Thanksgiving? We’re there Wed-Sat next week and I’d love to meet up at Undertown and talk small-town parking reform.

    • (If so, send me an email: mike.andersen at gmail.)

  • Ol Popeye
    3 days ago

    It’s a terrible analogy because what one does or doesn’t do with one’s laundry has no effect on anyone else. The parking problem is impacting other people. When developers don’t construct enough parking, it affects not only the tenant, but the entire neighborhood surrounding it. If a developer installs or doesn’t install laundry machines, only the tenant is affected.

    Your focus on removing the current minimums, which is already far below the “magic ratio” of 7 out of 10 new residents owning cars, is simply a gift to developers. Every time I bicycle through a neighborhood where a single apartment building has turned the neighborhood around it in all directions into two-sided walls of cars, I will think of Tony Jordan.

    • Ol Popeye (nice name),

      The “parking problem” impacts other people no matter how you try to solve it. Requiring parking at a .7 ratio would lead to a lot less housing, a lot more expensive housing, and a lot more traffic.

      I think the streets were pretty crowded with cars before I came on the scene. I’d rather plan for a greener future by building a more compact city that accommodates many modes of transportation than force people further and further out into car dependent lifestyles.

      I hope you’re still riding through our neighborhoods in 2030 which I think will be much much more pleasant rides than they are now. When they are, think of Tony Jordan.

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