Are Parking Benefit Districts in Portland’s Future?

by | June 30, 2011 1 Urban Design + Planning

It’s no secret that we are pretty passionate about smart urban growth over here at SERA, particularly when it comes to how a city’s transportation network affects its inhabitants.

That’s why we perked up when we saw the recent headline in The Oregonian regarding a potential “parking benefit district” around Portland State University. There seems to be a bit of political-chess playing around the issue, and it’s unclear how that will all be sorted out, but the controversy raises increasingly relevant questions for the city, such as “Can new approaches to parking regulations and revenue improve individual districts and neighborhoods?” and “As population pressures increase, how do we fund multi-modal solutions that can sustainably transport (more) people?”

SW Broadway through PSU Campus

SW Broadway through PSU Campus

The proposed parking benefit district around PSU certainly has its detractors, but what about the program’s merits? Parking benefit districts essentially capture a percentage of the net parking revenue from a defined area and funnel it back into the district for public improvements, such as improved traffic signals, bike lanes, sidewalks, landscaping, etc.

Donald Shoup, Chair of UCLA’s Urban Planning Department and venerable parking “rockstar,” offers solid insight into the merits of parking benefit districts in his influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking:

If each neighborhood keeps all the parking revenue it generates, a powerful new constituency for market prices will emerge – the neighborhoods that receive the revenue. If nonresidents pay for curb parking, and the city spends the revenue to benefit the residents, charging for curb parking can become a popular policy rather than the political third rail it often is today.

Shoup goes on to highlight the Old Pasadena district in southern California as a prime example of how a creatively structured parking benefit district greatly contributed to the now-thriving neighborhood’s renaissance through the 1990s.

The Oregonian article refers to a growing “…patchwork of parking rules…” as though consistent pricing is better than varied. But don’t solutions that account for the varied supply and demand that already exists make more sense? Looking back at 2002, when Portland became one of the first North American city to install smart parking meters (which has proven to be a successful venture), one might suggest that continued attempts to push the envelope with new approaches to parking regulations will ultimately stand the city in good stead.

Take today’s article on parking issues in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District as another opportunity to apply this concept. Rather than simply adding parking meters to regulate parking in the area, perhaps establishing a parking benefit district that would fund much-needed improvements within the CEID the could cast a new angle on the current debate.


[Speaking of parking technology and regulations, check out this great short film created by about San Francisco’s advances in managing parking supply and demand]


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  1. Pingback: What We’re Reading – July 2011

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