Questions Remain About Portland’s Downtown Parking Plans

A map showing the locations of the Goodman family's proposed Ankeny Blocks project.

The CC2035 Proposal would allow an additional 1,200 parking stalls in the proposed “Ankeny Blocks” development.

Staff from the Portland Bureau of Transportation have responded to concerns that the Central City 2035 plan is taking a step backward by increasing maximum parking entitlements in the soon-to-redevelop “Ankeny Blocks.”  Unfortunately, the memorandum doesn’t provide a convincing justification for allowing up to 1,200 additional parking stalls to be built between SW Washington and W Burnside, east of SW 6th Ave.

The arguments for “adjust[ing] office ratios in three existing downtown parking sectors upward [are] to reflect actual demand for parking in downtown, account for the loss of approximately half of the surface parking that existed when the current regulations went into effect in 1996, and in order to blend with other areas of the Core sub district that have current ratios varying from 1.0/1000sf to 2.0/1000sf.”  The report further states that “the proposed ratio allows the sub district to continue to rely on non-auto trips for its growth yet it provides more flexibility to the market in some areas of downtown to support redevelopment.”

The Ankeny Blocks buildings would redevelop 225,000 sq/ft of surface lots, replacing approximately 750 parking stalls, many of which are currently occupied by food carts.

A graph showing the increase in allowed parking of 1,200 additional parking spaces.

Under the proposal, 1,200 additional parking stalls could be built in the “Ankeny Blocks.”

Questions Remain

Can the city meet mode split and climate action goals if we continue to increase downtown parking supplies?

Can our streets handle the traffic from drive-alone commuters we have today, let alone the potential traffic when thousands more stalls are available for workers in 2035?

If we anticipate that new technology and better transit will  deliver the mode split changes we desire, then why should we signal that this additional supply in downtown is warranted, expected, or wanted?

It is true that the Central City Parking Policy Update Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC)  recommended these ratios, but there were reservations expressed and 8/19 of the committee members (see page 12) voted for the proposed ratios “with concerns.”  [disclaimer: the author of this article served on that committee and voted in favor of the policy recommendations in totality]

The staff report doesn’t quantify the effect that the new maximum ratios might have on mode split targets.  While affirming that the SAC “endorsed adjusting maximum parking ratios in a manner that generally relates parking allowances to mode split targets for the Central City 2035 Plan,” there is no evidence provided to the Planning Commission or the public that the amount of parking that could be built under this plan would support the needed 25% drive alone rate to downtown in 2035.  In fact, at current rates, the city of Portland will add nearly 130,000 new drive-alone commuters (citywide) by 2035 (see page 47-48).

In response to concerns that the new ratios will lead to undesired amounts of parking built, the memo is optimistic. “Given other parking policies, present and future transportation investments and past trends, it is unlikely that [a scenario where developers will build to the maximum allowable ratio] will come to pass.”  This begs another question, however, what is the purpose of a set of ratios that are rarely expected to be a limiting factor?  The residential ratios, for example, are set at a ratio that is more than 40% higher than the average parking ratio by building built since 1995 (.85 vs. 1.2).

Don’t Go Backward On Parking Ratios

City staff are working hard to create a proposal that pleases many masters, and there are great things in this plan, but in the face of climate change and a dire need for increased traffic safety, we must be bold in setting our goals for 2035.

 Taking a step backward now and allowing more parking in parts of the city core would be a mistake.

The Planning and Sustainability Commission should recommend that no maximum parking ratios be increased in the city center.  Furthermore, they should ask staff to show evidence that the maximum parking ratios, to the extent possible, are fully supportive of the most aggressive mode split goals.

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