Density’s Parking Impact

The City of Portland has approved numerous massive four- and five-story apartment buildings in neighborhoods of single-family homes separated by streets of single-story shops. These buildings stress the infrastructure built to handle a smaller population, which is most obvious in the increased traffic and parking problems–especially since many of the buildings are designed without parking.

Despite Portland’s reputation as a car-free city, I can attest that neighborhoods that once had few cars parked on the streets are now jammed with cars, indicating far more cars per housing unit than there were a few decades ago. The introduction of apartments lining the business corridors of these neighborhoods has led to huge increases in congestion, which isn’t helped by the fact that the city carefully keeps most signals uncoordinated so that people now frequently drive on neighborhood streets to avoid stopping at frequent red lights.

To allay concerns that the apartments were taking parking away from existing homes and businesses, the city just published a report reviewing the parking situation around eight recent buildings. Four of these had about two-thirds of parking space per dwelling unit on site, while the other four had no on-site parking (page 3). The city’s report found that, even during peak periods, at least 25 percent of on-street parking within two blocks of these buildings was vacant (p. 2).

That was enough to lead the Oregonian to headline its story about the report, “City study finds increase in no-parking apartments but little neighborhood parking impact.” There’s more to the story, however.

First, having parking within two blocks of your home or business doesn’t do much good if you have to lugs bags of heavy groceries or other things to your home or you lose customers because they don’t want to prowl around searching for a parking place and then walk in the rain to your shop. As the study noted, “all locations have areas with high parking demand with one or more blocks at capacity during peak periods. All locations also have other existing businesses and apartments with little or no on-site parking in addition to the project location studied.” A more valid study would have compared the availability of on-street parking before and after the construction of these apartments or in neighborhoods with and without the apartments.

Second, as Willamette Week‘s headline observes, “Apartments Without Parking Don’t Equal Apartments Without Cars, Says City Study.” Residents of the Andria Condos, which have two-thirds of a parking space per unit, own 1.2 cars per unit. EcoFlats Apartments, befitting their name, have no on-site parking yet residents also own 1.2 cars per unit.

Third, the study was careful to stress that on-site parking added around $800 per month to the cost of the apartments. But that’s partly because the city insists on structured parking rather than parking lots (which cost about a tenth as much) and partly because the region’s urban-growth boundary has made land artificially expensive.

UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup has long argued that minimum parking requirements make housing and other construction needlessly expensive. But there is a good reason for such requirements: owners of structures without parking effectively impose their parking costs on someone else. The planning solution–not necessarily endorsed by Shoup–is to replace minimum parking requirements with maximum parking limits, and Portland has done so, especially in the so-called transit-oriented developments that are the subject of this study. This leads to battles over on-street parking.

The Antiplanner’s preferred solution would be to price on-street parking at market rates, thus giving builders incentives to include on-site parking in their plans when demand warrants. Residents of existing neighborhoods should have the opportunity to protect themselves from large apartment buildings through covenants or similar tools, and could even be given the opportunity to “own” their on-street parking through the use of a permit system that would not suddenly impose high market rates on existing residents because someone built an apartment or condo nearby.

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18 thoughts on “Density’s Parking Impact

  1. C. P. Zilliacus

    Second, as Willamette Week‘s headline observes, “Apartments Without Parking Don’t Equal Apartments Without Cars, Says City Study.” Residents of the Andria Condos, which have two-thirds of a parking space per unit, own 1.2 cars per unit. EcoFlats Apartments, befitting their name, have no on-site parking yet residents also own 1.2 cars per unit.

    Funny how people need private automobiles, even if they live in something called EcoFlats Apartments.

    The Antiplanner’s preferred solution would be to price on-street parking at market rates, thus giving builders incentives to include on-site parking in their plans when demand warrants.

    And the demand is usually there, even if elected officials want to think otherwise.

    Residents of existing neighborhoods should have the opportunity to protect themselves from large apartment buildings through covenants or similar tools, and could even be given the opportunity to “own” their on-street parking through the use of a permit system that would not suddenly impose high market rates on existing residents because someone built an apartment or condo nearby.

    Though if the residents of those existing neighborhoods did not pay for that parking capacity, why should they be effectively entitled to what is a public (not private) asset?

    I concede that there is an equity issue when large apartment buildings are built without any parking capacity, but I am not enthused about giving away public assets to private owners.

    Perhaps the solution is to not build high-density housing without parking spaces in areas that are effectively suburban in nature (which so much of metropolitan Portland is), even if there is a light rail line nearby?

  2. OFP2003

    When I was a boy my mother told me she didn’t trust doctors that smoked cigarettes. Back then they could do it in their offices right in front of their patients.

    There must be a corrolary to that saying, perhaps something like: “Don’t trust an anti-car advocate that owns a car.”

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    When I was a boy my mother told me she didn’t trust doctors that smoked cigarettes. Back then they could do it in their offices right in front of their patients.

    Sounds like you have a smart Mom!

    There must be a corrolary to that saying, perhaps something like: “Don’t trust an anti-car advocate that owns a car.”

    Don’t trust an anti-car/anti-highway/anti-mobility crusader who lives on a 27-acre lot many miles from the nearest transit stop either.

    metrosucks Reply:

    CP, curious, who are you referring to?

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    An especially noxious and offensive environmental activist here in Maryland. Classic example of “do as I say, not as I do.”

    I won’t post the name here, but will gladly discuss it offline.

  3. Jardinero1

    In Houston, there is ample off street parking downtown. The streets are metered as well. The city of Houston allows private parties to lease entire blocks of meters for finite periods of time.

    Most of the time, the meters are not leased and the city keeps the revenue from them. During events, baseball, basketball, concerts, street festivals, etc; the owners of the parking garages rent the meters and then bag them, effectively eliminating on street parking and forcing the public into the private lots.

    When I first became aware of this, I thought it was outrageous, but then I noticed that the streets were much less chaotic during events because the mainlanes that would otherwise have cars parked on them were open to traffic and the pedestrian flow stayed on the sidewalks and crossed at the corners. The city made the same amount of money from the meters even though they weren’t in use.

    OFP2003 Reply:

    now THAT is free market genius!! Everyone else that attends one of those down-town events is free to rent their own meter, any small time entrepreneur is also free to rent all the meters run their own valet-parking business.

    K

    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    In Houston, there is ample off street parking downtown. The streets are metered as well. The city of Houston allows private parties to lease entire blocks of meters for finite periods of time.

    That seems reasonable.

    Most of the time, the meters are not leased and the city keeps the revenue from them. During events, baseball, basketball, concerts, street festivals, etc; the owners of the parking garages rent the meters and then bag them, effectively eliminating on street parking and forcing the public into the private lots.

    This approach presumably works if a property owner has a large and disruptive activity going on (such as moving into or out of a commercial building, or in the longer-term, construction).

    When I first became aware of this, I thought it was outrageous, but then I noticed that the streets were much less chaotic during events because the mainlanes that would otherwise have cars parked on them were open to traffic and the pedestrian flow stayed on the sidewalks and crossed at the corners. The city made the same amount of money from the meters even though they weren’t in use.

    I have absolutely no problem with any of the above – as long as the decision to meter the street in the first place was done in an open and transparent manner. It would bother me if I (as an owner) had decided to live somewhere on a street where parking was not charged for, and then the local government decided to start to charge for on-street parking.

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    CP,

    My initial outrage was at the potential for cronyism and non-transparent transer of public money to private pockets.

    As far as metering the streets goes, you don’t own the street in front of your house and if the city wants to meter the parking and toll the road, I think they should, otherwise it’s a wasted resource. Also, by metering and tolling, they reduce the reliance on property and sales tax for its maintenance.

  4. Dan

    But that’s partly because the city insists on structured parking rather than parking lots (which cost about a tenth as much) and partly because the region’s urban-growth boundary has made land artificially expensive.

    Any developer will tell you that parking is a money-loser unless they charge the right price for that sf of land. Which is why buildings get built vertically. Downtowns are inherently more valuable per sf which is why anyone with two brain cells builds up, because if all you have is a sea of surface lots, you don’t have any retail. It is the simplest thing ever to understand and the italicized is just silly. Esp the dead-horse UGB assertion which suddenly has arisen again.

    DS

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    Dan, that statement is not, categorically, true. In downtown Houston there are many blocks with private garages built on them and nothing else. These garages are standalone developments, built for profit, with private funds. Many of the towers downtown do not have parking and the tenants lease spaces in these stand alone garage developments.

    Dan Reply:

    Yes, exactly. Office space makes you more money than parking for the employees, and the business model that charges the right price for parking will not be a money loser.

    DS

  5. PortlandAfoot

    I think the third-to-last paragraph has a couple factual errors: the city study does in fact consider the cost of on-site surface parking among other options (it’s in the middle of the effective price range per space: cheaper to build but impossible to sell space on top of) and the city study doesn’t estimate the cost in additional rent per parking space as anywhere close to $800 per unit except in the most extreme scenario described (in which case the difference is $750).

    http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/420062

    As for policy, sounds as if the Antiplanner and Shoup agree on this one.

    Scott Reply:

    Disclosure: Didn’t yet read your references, but…

    Shoup has perception problems in his assertions of parking costs (an LA study, really?). It is saddening that he is a supposed economist, which often happens when “elites” (aka, many PhD holders) try their ~”social engineering behavioral modification methods” (example: don’t provide want citizens/voters/drivers want).

    Similar examples of economists whom focus on envy, class warfare, collectivism, Keynesian-ism & flawed analysis are Paul Krugman, Robert Reich & Austin Goolsbee. The latter guy’s view is rather surprising, changing from his previous core.

    If you do neither know those guys nor econ, you should be in a position (gov) telling others what to do, being a problem for a century. Please do not confuse that w/a call for anarchy — NO.

    Who’s reading this?
    Why am I typing?
    Those favoring big gov (aka lefties, Dems), don’t really gather facts, info or concepts, or would otherwise not comprehend.

    Scott Reply:

    “not” was missing in a previous sentence
    meaning probably still there
    maybe funnier as sarcasm if taken literally:
    If yer dumb, insecure & want to control others: work for gov.
    Haheehaw! :-)

    Who wants to rumble* (verbally & intellectually)? I will bury you in logic, facts & such!

    *I don’t care for physical confrontation, but can easily defend myself & swipe aggressors.

    Additionally, no fondness for coercing behavior, fact-twisting nor info suppression.
    Are you statists aware of the many gov units doing that?

    Yep, Barry & other statists have been using that method for decades,
    in conjunction or regardless (irrelevant) of George Soros & Saul Alinsky’ ideals (Rules for Radicals) in getting support & persuading others?

    Hey, random question:
    Who/you voted for BO? You are either racist, ignorant or a lazy freeloader. If you look at any of the “groups” whom favor BO, for those whom really want to work, none of his policies are beneficial. Proposals? He has none “advertised” but will be doing much more against us via the EPA, re-funding to agencies (promoting higher density, fewer roads, et al) & such. The worse, great recession will occur soon. Regardless of Peter Schiff & Alex Jones agreeing w/downfall — both might have off-kilter views — failure & chaos is the eventual path.

    “If we only had more gov?” Really?

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