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Rex Burkholder: The End of Downtown Parking

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Photo Credit: thienzieyung via Compfight cc

Early in August, at a sparsely attended talk sponsored by Urban Land InstituteGabe Klein, former transportation director of Chicago and DC, spoke of the "end of parking.”

If true, how would this happen and what would it mean for our communities?

For the last 60 or so years, our cities and suburbs have been restructured in the effort to provide a place for every car that might come by. Portland lost many beautiful and useful buildings to the wrecking ball, replaced by surface parking lots catering to suburban commuters. Even 60 years after the binge of freeway-fueled urban “renewal,” downtown Portland still has many surface parking lots—many now disguised as food cart pods.

By some estimates there are seven car parking spaces for every car on the road. Building and zoning codes in most of the country require a minimum number of parking spaces for all buildings, using incredible amounts of valuable land, increasing stormwater runoff (requiring expensive piping to deal with), raising urban temperatures and destroying walkability. 

Re-Use of Parking Lots

As the proliferation of food cart pods shows, the creative re-use of parking lots is taking off. 

Much of the boom of new multi-unit housing in inner Portland is taking place on underused parking lots, such as the new Linden at SE 12th and Burnside and the Milano in the Lloyd District. 

But, where are we going to park? Will all those new people park in front of my house?

Never fear, says Mr. Klein. Parking is so 20th Century, to soon be made irrelevant by car (and bike) sharing and self-driving vehicle technology. These two developments have the potential to make parking demand collapse, said Klein.

Mr. Klein said that today cars are parked 94 percent of the day. Predictions are that self-driving cars (combined with sharing services like Uber and Lyft) could be in use 92 percent of the day. Parking would become unnecessary if we had a way to get to where we are going without having to think about where to store that 3,000+ pounds of metal while we’re at work or shopping.

Already we are seeing a major drop in car ownership and use by millennials. From 2007 to 2011, the number of cars purchased by people aged 18 to 34, fell almost 30 percent; further, only 44 percent of teens obtain a driver’s license within the first year of becoming eligible and just over half, 54 percent, are licensed before turning 18, according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Portland's Parking Problem

The city of Portland is about to embark on a major effort to deal with our supposed "parking problem," recruiting citizens to serve on yet another task force.

One bad idea being kicked around is to build expensive, publicly subsidized parking garages in developing neighborhoods.

Klein said building parking garages without first charging for or regulating on-street parking will only result in wasted development opportunities, waste of scarce public dollars and empty garages. For some reason, the city feels it has to respond to people outraged over unfounded fears they might lose "their" free parking in front of their homes as more apartments and businesses are built here.

If Klein is right, all the brouhaha about lack of parking is simply chasing last century’s problem.

Here's hope that the City’s Parking Analysis & Tool Kit for Neighborhood Centers and Corridors Project will ignore data from last century about car use and parking demand and look intently at a future where cars won’t need to be stored, useless, for most of the day and fewer people own cars to begin with.

Maybe we can even start charging rent for those who use city streets as storage for their vehicles.

Rex Burkholder

Trained as a biologist, Rex Burkholder worked as a science teacher and in the Northwestern forests. He started the bicycling revolution in Portland, Ore., as a founder and policy director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. An early leader in sustainability and equity, Burkholder also cofounded the Coalition for a Livable Future, bringing together over 100 diverse NGOs in the greater Portland region. He was elected to the Metro Council in 2000, serving 12 years, during which he led efforts to reform regional transportation policy and to integrate climate change into the decisions of all levels of government in Oregon.

Home Page Photo Credit: photobeppus via Compfight cc


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