Groups call on city council to address Portland’s parking crisis

Neighborhood groups are putting pressure on Portland’s City Council to introduce long awaited parking reforms. But a lack of unified voice from the business community could further delay solutions.

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Kay Newell, owner of Sunlan Lighting, estimates she has lost thousands of dollars in sales revenue over the past year because of the lack of parking along the Mississippi Avenue commercial corridor where her lightbulb store is located.

Her business has lost commercial customers that used to drive to her store in trucks. They are not willing to spend the time looking for a parking space close by and walk to the shop, she said. Retail customers are also put off by the lack of parking.


“A lot of people are just not coming in anymore. I have lost a lot of commercial customers that depended on me,” said Newell, who has owned the store on the corner of N. Failing St. and N. Mississippi Ave. since the early 1990s.

Small businesses along Mississippi Avenue are at a crisis point from the decline in customers who are no longer willing to spend the time driving around the highly trafficked neighborhood looking for a parking space.

The problem is made worse by an influx of new residential apartment buildings that have no on-site parking. Residents park on the street for free, further reducing the number of short-term spots for business customers. 

The ReBuilding Center, a couple of blocks south, has also lost business because customers have problems finding parking spaces near the iconic used-building materials store.

Executive director of the nonprofit, Stephen Reichard, is considering relocating because of the problem. See related story. The piece drew comments on social media, questioning the free parking in the area.

The boom in commercial and residential development along the Mississippi Avenue corridor is a positive sign of economic renewal for the city. And it is one that is playing out across city neighborhoods.

But the lack of parking reform, including time-limited, metered and permitted parking, is driving out businesses that, ironically, were often part of the economic revival in these areas.

Neighborhood associations and businesses are now increasing pressure on the Portland City Council to introduce parking reform.

The efforts have gained momentum since the council passed an inclusionary housing program at the end of last year that requires a portion of new residential buildings to be affordable housing.

This policy is likely to exacerbate the parking problems because on-site parking requirements have been waived for new residential developments implementing the new inclusionary housing policy.

Tony Jordan, founder of Portlanders for Parking Reform, an advocacy group, is leading the charge for changes to parking regulations.

Jordan was a member of the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Centers + Corridors Parking Project Stakeholder Advisory Committee, a group that met in 2014 and 2015 to recommend a residential parking permit program for city centers and corridors.

Jordan formed the advocacy group because he felt the policies for managing parking the committee made would go nowhere without outreach.

The committee created a ‘parking toolkit’ in March 2016, which recommends strategies, such as parking permit programs, paid parking, and ways to create new parking supply.   

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Despite committee members spending more than a year to create the toolkit at a cost to taxpayers, the city council has not voted on implementing it.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation and Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the bureau, did not respond to requests for comment.

Jordan, along with several neighborhood groups, including the Boise, Hollywood, Buckman and Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood associations, have in the past few months written to Mayor Ted Wheeler and city commissioners, urging them to vote on implementing parking management strategies.

“It is critical to allow communities to take action to manage on-street parking before another round of widespread development without on-site parking takes place,” wrote Jordan in a recent letter to city officials.

Businesses could have a strong voice in advocating for parking reform. But they differ on how to solve the problem.

Newell opposes metered parking in her neighborhood, unless it is introduced throughout the city at the same time. “Free parking is a big draw,” she said. “Meters increase parking expense. It will drive people back to malls.”

Instead she favors enforced parking limits of 15 minutes, one and two hours. She also wants the city to move Biketown bicycle parking to the side streets along Mississippi Avenue to open up short term parking for customers.   

Other businesses oppose parking management strategies put forth by the Bureau of Transportation’s advisory committee, including the NE Broadway Business Association.    

As the parking crisis deepens, supporters for parking reform are getting impatient for the city to vote on solutions.

“We don’t have the luxury to wait,” said Jordan.    

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