Parking permits work, but shift the problem elsewhere

Article on parking issues for the Portland Tribune


CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR – Northwest 25th street was the original boundary of an ever-growing parking permit zone, as new blocks petition to be added.

Alba Rouse has been in Northwest Portland for 30 years, and until recently she never thought she would have to create a parking petition.

But Rouse lives on Northwest Overton Street and is suddenly one block outside a permit zone that requires cars to have paid stickers on their windshields if owners want to avoid heavy fines for parking all day. This system was created to prevent long-term parking in the neighborhood as commuters were using the streets as places to stash their vehicles.

While the new zone works, it affects people like Rouse who happened to fall outside the boundaries. Thus, while empty parking spaces are appearing in places never before seen in Northwest Portland, new blocks are forced to take on the burden of the displaced commuters.

“When people start parking for days at a time,” Rouse says, “that is when it becomes a problem.”

Zone M permits with two- and four-hour meters were installed in February in an effort to help the local residents and businesses find places to park. The plan was to push back against the growing tide of long-term parking, stemming from commuters who would leave their car on the streets and take public transport to work.

“We are hearing people say that parking is more available than before,” says Dylan Rivera, public information officer at the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “We are already seeing the meters make a big difference.”


CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR – The city added both two and four-hour meters along the streets in Northwest Portland to push out long-term parkers who were taking spaces from residents and businesses.

The plan was created by the city using input from the Northwest Parking Stakeholder Advisory Committee. The mixture of two- and four-hour meters was in an effort to cater to all types of visitors to the northwest area, and businesses had a say in which they would prefer on their blocks. By July of 2017 the neighborhood will be able to spend 51 percent of the net income from the meters to fund transportation projects such as ride shares, better pedestrian crossings and validated parking programs.

The changes also mean fewer cars sitting long-term in the heart of the neighborhoods. But those cars didn’t simply disappear.

“The question is where did those cars go,” says Rick Michaelson, chair of the Parking Advisory Committee. “Are fewer people coming to the neighborhood, or are they parking someplace else?”

Historically, Zone M permits went as far north as Irving Street and as far west as Westover. With the new plan they turned 25th Avenue into the boundary as far north as Vaughn, expanding to accommodate areas subject park-and-ride behavior. But according to Michaelson, long-term parkers simply moved to the outskirts of the boundary, affecting areas that previously hadn’t dealt with a high influx of traffic. The system that has been implemented moves all day commuters from one block to the other as the restricted zone enlarges.

Michaelson has witnessed these problems firsthand living on a block of Northrup, that has yet to receive the meters.

“We saw an increase in parking on our street of people trying to avoid the meters,” Michaelson says.

If a block wants to be added to the zone, it needs to enact a petition and receive 50 percent support from the addresses in the area. The only restriction is that the block “has to touch a piece of existing system,” says Jay Rogers, the parking permit program administrator. “We didn’t want a bunch of islands.”


CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR – Cars line the streets on Northrup, which has yet to petition to be included in Zone M.

Once that is accomplished the city will send out a survey that requires a 50 percent return rate with a 60 percent vote agreeing to be annexed into the permit zone.

Before the permit zone was created, it was easy for Rouse to park on her block. But when the drivers became displaced it became common for her to see cars park and the drivers walk away carrying suitcases — gone for days at at time. One neighbor finally had to have a vehicle towed after it sat in front of their house for six months.

The whole process of being added to the zone took a couple of months, but now with the meters parking has become manageable once again. There is turnover as the cars are abiding to the new rules. Of course, most have just shifted down the street to the next block, and Rouse won’t be surprised if that block soon petitions to be added as well.

So far, three blocks have successfully voted to be included into Zone M — Pettygrove with 100 percent approval, Overton with 86 percent and Westover with 66 percent.

Several other blocks are currently undergoing petition processes of their own, which isn’t a problem as far as Rogers is concerned.

“The zone is living and breathing, it can change with the parking needs,” he says.

The city always expected to have to review the system put in place and make changes when necessary, Rogers says. They have been conducting studies to keep developing new recommendations on how to best address the parking needs of northwest. They are looking into where to have two-hour and four-hour limits and the number of permits that are given out to the residents, among other plans.

“We have around 7,000 permits out, but only 5,000 parking spaces,” Michaelson says. “So the question is what is the right number of permits to make the system work.”

The parking advisory committee has been working closely with the city to come up with strategies that can address all of these concerns. Some have suggested a scaled-pay for households that buy a second or third pass, rewarding those with fewer vehicles. Others want to simply raise the yearly rate for a Zone M pass, which currently is $60 per year. The goal is to reduce the number of cars in northwest.

“Its the type of place people can enjoy a lively, urban lifestyle without needing to have the expense of a car,” Rivera says. “In the long-term we want people to take public transportation, bike and even walk more to meet their daily needs living in Northwest.”

But until that day comes, the zone is keeping park-and-ride cars on the outskirts of an ever-expanding border. Eventually a breaking point may be reached where it no longer makes sense for commuters to park in Northwest Portland. For now, Rivera expects the petitions will keep coming.