Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Portland’s New Parking Minimum is a Step in the Wrong Direction

With steady growth in Portland about forty apartment projects are underway, according to local planners in August 2012.  What’s more—about half of them don’t provide parking for cars, a rule championed by former city commissioner Charlie Hales more than a decade ago.

Fast forward to July 2012, when Hales toured parking-space-free development throughout Southeast Portland.  During his exploration he didn’t enjoy what he witnessed and offered a suggestion, “What about a moratorium on building until we figure out the zoning laws?”

Well, the zoning laws in regards to the minimum-parking requirement for development have been determined and the outcome opposes Hale’s initial outlook, high density. 

On Wednesday, April 10th, the Portland City Council approved a minimum-parking requirement for large apartment buildings; mandating developers provide parking for developments with more than thirty units.  In addition, the exact amount of parking is based on building size.  Developers have the ability to bypass some of the parking requirements by accommodating additional bike parking and/or spaces for car sharing. 

Here is a breakdown of the minimum parking requirements for new building construction based on the number of units: 31 to 40 units must provide one parking stall for every five units, 41 to 50 units must provide one parking stall for every four units, and 50 or more units must provide one parking stall for every three units.

The newly approved mandate is intended to be transit-oriented and only applies for sites within 500 feet of a transit line or within 1,500 feet of a light rail station.  Furthermore, the measure takes effect on May 10th and will not affect existing projects that have been allotted permits. 

While Portland is viewed as a national leader of smart growth, this new parking mandate sets them back.  Alan Durning, founder and executive director of the Seattle-based think tank, Sightline Institute, said it well.  He exclaimed, “Portland is moving from a strong leadership position, moving backward to its bad old habits.” 

It seems that the city is overly concerned about pleasing a plethora of vocal neighborhood groups in their quest for free, convenient on-street parking.  Subsequently, the city has abandoned smart policy, which they have worked tirelessly to achieve. 

Portland generally practices what it preaches; yet this new policy is a move in the wrong direction.  Even though the minimum parking regulation passed, there is still plenty of skepticism regarding the new rule.  Mayor Charlie Hales said “I’m pretty sure that even in making these adjustments we haven’t gotten it right.” 

I’m not certain what the next step is, however Portland cannot resort back to its old ways of doing business.”

Thanks to Haley Rhoden for editing the post.


Mesh, Aaron. "Block Busters: The Urban Density Charlie Hales Has Championed Has Arrived on Division Street. Why Isn't He Celebrating?" Willamette Week. 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. <>.

Njus, Elliot. "Portland City Council Approves Minimum Parking Requirement for Large Apartment Buildings." The Oregonian [Portland] 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. <>.

VanderHart, Dirk. "Minimum Effect: Portland's Incoming Parking Requirements Its Problems Won't Solve." The Portland Mercury. 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. <>.


  1. I agree that Portland policy needs to avoid regression, but I think there is some merit to this parking policy. Portland wants to encourage dense, car-less development, something I can appreciate. However, people aren’t exactly ditching their cars in droves, which has caused legitimate parking problems in some areas. I can’t say I’m certain that this policy is the right one, but I think we can’t be too quick to dismiss it as entirely wrong either.

  2. I don't agree that this new law "sets the city back." Our transportation infrastructure, even in Portland, is built to accommodate cars almost exclusively. Public transportation needs to be improved by leaps and bounds before the city should even be considering high-density zoning that doesn't require parking. Another issue I feel is always avoided in this discussion - what about transportation to places outside of Portland? Living within 500 feet of a MAX station isn't going to help much then. Cars are with us to stay, at least for now - the zoning code should reflect that.

  3. I agree that this policy is not the direction we want to go. Cars may be here to stay (for now), but we can all agree that our job in the next half century will be to somehow get people out of them. The human transit article cited states that our downtown parking rates are on the level of Louisville, KY: a city half as dense. Making parking a free market endeavor like SF is doing is a good idea, but not without some serious improvements to Trimet's frequency, reliability, and coverage. The alternative to cars should not take three times as long. It's just not appealing to most.

  4. One potential solution I've heard is to allow off-site parking within some maximum distance from a building count toward the requirement. That would seem to work well for people who need cars as a transit/bike/walk/carshare supplement. These could be leased spaces in existing lots/garages. For this to work, we would need to also implement residential parking zones. Why pay for an off-site space when free street parking is closer?

    As the commenters noted, this parking debate has done a good job exposing two realities in Portland: established neighborhoods have a lot of political power, and TriMet doesn't really provide "big city" transit service. Any solution will have to deal with those realities for some time to come, I imagine.


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