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[UPDATED] Planning Commission OKs major increase to bike parking requirement

Posted by on October 14th, 2009 at 10:20 am

[UPDATE 10/16, 9:53am: Planning Commission has not voted in favor of this increase. They are still considering it after some follow-up testimony that was not in favor of it. I received conflicting accounts of what transpired at the hearing and I am working on an update now. Stay tuned for a follow story. I regret any confusion this has caused. -- Jonathan]

[UPDATE 10/16, 11:30am: Please see this updated story for the latest on this issue.]

Bike parking at the Gallery
Condominiums in NW Portland.
(Photo © Dan Liu)

Yesterday, the Portland Planning Commission voted to approve a major increase to the minimum requirement for long-term bike parking at condominiums and apartment buildings (what the City calls Multi-Family Dwellings).

Due in part to advocacy by Michelle Poyourow of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), the Commission voted to increase the existing requirement of 1 bike space for every four dwelling units to 1.5 bike spaces for each unit.

It all started back in 2007, when Poyourow put in a request to delete a piece of the existing zoning code. The code, 33.266.200.B.2.d (7), states that developers can opt-out of providing long-term parking “if long-term bicycle parking is provided in a dwelling unit”. This is seen as a major loophole and it was inserted “in the eleventh hour” by an influential developer when the issue was first raised by the BTA back in the 1990s.

Poyourow’s code amendment request made it through the system and in August of this year it was forwarded to the Planning Commission. At a hearing on the issue on August 25th, Poyourow asked the Commission to go one step further and have the City’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to not only strike out that loophole, but expand the minimum requirement.

BPS added the bike parking issue into a larger set of code amendments known as the Regulatory Improvement Code Amendment Package 5 (RICAP 5).

About a month later BPS issued a memo which I’ve excerpted below (emphasis mine):

“Currently, the Zoning Code requires one long-term bicycle parking space for every four dwelling units. The space may be provided by allowing residents to bring their bikes into their dwelling units. Allowing parking requirements to be met in dwelling units has been a problem because the developer/builder of a building usually is not the manager or operator of the building. As a result, the developer may meet the requirement by saying parking will be in the dwelling units, but the manager of the building may tell residents that they cannot bring bikes into the elevators or corridors, effectively barring them from the designated parking

There is also increasing data that one space per four dwelling units is insufficient. Some testimony received at the August 25 hearing indicated as many as two bikes per dwelling unit is typical, and the Bureau of Transportation has documented that 70 percent of Portlanders own a bicycle and more than half of city residents own more than one bicycle. Eight percent of Portlanders reported that bicycling was their primary commute mode in 2008.

Staff recommendation: Increase the requirement from one space per four dwelling units to 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit. See Attachment A.

Yesterday, Poyourow testified at the Planning Commission hearing. Joining her was prominent Portland developer John Carroll. Carroll, whose buildings include the Eliot Tower, The Gregory, and the Pearl Lotfts, testified in strong support of the new, higher minimum bike parking requirement. Carroll noted to the Commissioners that in the Eliot building, 25% of his car parking spaces sit empty and that the quickest-selling units in that development were the studios that came with no auto spaces at all.

With the findings of BPS and supportive testimony, the proposed changes passed (note: the changes are not retroactive and would only apply to new developments).

Now, they will be forwarded to City Council, where they’ll have another public hearing. I’ll update this story with the date of that Council hearing so you can share your testimony and/or show up in support.


UPDATE, 11:21AM: I’m now hearing that the Planning Commission might be taking a month to look more closely into the 1.5 bike spaces number after hearing further comments from developer John Carroll. I’m looking into this now and will update the story if necessary.

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  • TTse October 14, 2009 at 10:38 am

    “Carroll noted to the Commissioners that in the Eliot building, 25% of his car parking spaces sit empty and that the quickest-selling units in that development were the studios that came with no auto spaces at all.”

    Perhaps someone with more information can comment. What are the car parking requirements for residential and retail buildings/projects downtown?

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  • david October 14, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Good thing my sig other only rides a unicycle. What? I have a Mt., Commuter, Touring, Old shwinn step-through and still want a Tall bike. My WIFE has a mixte stored. Im workig on two others for sale one day. This would be the reason bikes are stolen from balconies. Oh well, sell the furniture and we will sit on the bike seats, wahoo!

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  • peejay October 14, 2009 at 11:11 am

    When I lived in Irving Street Lofts, an older Pearl conversion that didn’t even have one car space per unit, I recall that it had a grand total of eight bike spaces for 87 units, half of which sat in the landing of a fire stairwell, very unsecured. The building management had no plans to remove abandoned bikes, and more than half the spaces were taken up with bikes that could not be ridden. It was pathetic. Not surprising that I didn’t really take up riding until after leaving that place. I’m sure it’s safely grandfathered, and won’t have to do a thing to meet any new requirements. Anyone else with horror stories?

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  • BURR October 14, 2009 at 11:11 am

    the requirements for short and long term parking at commercial buildings definitely also need to be raised.

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  • BURR October 14, 2009 at 11:11 am

    that would be bike parking requirements…

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  • Nick V October 14, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Nice going, Michelle!

    I know that if I lived in a condo downtown, I sure as sugar would not have a car. In fact, I’d sell my pick-up and buy 3 or 4 more bikes!

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  • Mike M October 14, 2009 at 11:19 am

    From what I remember, minimum is one car parking spot per two living units downtown where you have more than four units.

    This bike parking requirement needs further development. Where buildings have large amounts of units, it will cause interesting problems. Think about some of the new big condo/apartment buildings in town. Some have over 350 living units. The new standard would require bike parking for 525 bicycles! Do you know how much space that will take? It could be more than a floor’s worth of space!
    I agree that bike parking is an important issue, but it is one that will cost developers of large buildings a significant amount of money. When times are tight, this could be a tipping point for driving funding elsewhere.
    As buildings get larger, the ratio needs to be reduced.

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  • Ian Stude October 14, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Congratulations to Michelle and the BTA for spearheading this landmark change to the city zoning code! This is exactly the type of important, forward-thinking advocacy we need right now. Thank you for once again making me proud to be a BTA member. Keep up the great work! And many thanks also to those who testified in support of this change.

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  • peejay October 14, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Mike M:

    What is your reasoning to reduce the requirement in bigger buildings? Do you say that should apply to car spaces as well? Let’s not forget just how many bikes can park in one car space. To use your example, how much space does it take to park 175 cars? I’m struggling to get your point.

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  • Alexis October 14, 2009 at 11:28 am

    This is great! We have adequate, though not great, bike parking in my building, but my friend lives in the big new building at NW 19th and Glisan and they have totally inadequate and poorly designed bike parking spaces — the bike spaces are filled up already with the parking garage not even full, and the racks are weird wall racks that crowd easily and are hard to manage. They only have uncovered visitor parking (8 spots). This won’t change that but it will make it unlikely to happen again.

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  • Lance P. October 14, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    “From what I remember, minimum is one car parking spot per two living units downtown where you have more than four units. ”

    This is incorrect. While that may be the development standard there are no laws behind it. Portland actually is one of the only large cities in the country that has no minimum for Auto parking downtown or otherwise. There are actually 2 new building being built in the city center with 0 auto parking on site. One building in particular on 14th and Pettygrove is planned on 250 units 0 auto parking!

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  • BURR October 14, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    IMO, bike parking is just about the most important type of bike ‘facility’ the city should be installing in the ROW and requiring of private developers.

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  • GLV October 14, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Lance is correct: the city does not require auto parking for any development within the Central City Plan District. There are actually MAXIMUM parking limits depending on location and use. See City Code Title 33.510.261 – 267.

    Outside of the Central City there are minimum parking requirements.

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  • Scott October 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Great job Michelle and the BTA team! This change in code will greatly increase the amount business directed to bike-related industry here in Portland.

    I too have lived in apartment buildings with far less than adequate bike parking facilities. What always drove me crazy was the challenge of getting my bike into the ‘bike room’, which was (in one particular building) down a ramp, thru a skinny door, down a narrow hallway, into another room with another key, then finally into the bike room (using yet another key) only to then have to maneuver in a U-shaped fashion around the perimeter of the room and around the improperly spaced & oriented ‘wheel-bender’ racks that were clogged with bikes that NEVER moved in the 1.5 years I lived there.

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  • Chris Smith October 14, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Just to clarify the status of this change, the Commission did reach consensus in discussion about the 1.5 spaces/unit ratio. However, this is part of a package of many different code sections (it’s an annual ‘cleanup’ package) and some other sections unrelated to bikes are still be worked and the Commission has not formally voted on any part of the package yet.

    And the Commission vote is only a recommendation to City Council, which has to eventually vote on any code changes.

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  • Katie October 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    When we moved to town some months ago, we moved into an apartment building on the South Park Blocks that had no decent bike parking. What space there was in the parking garage (where we were told we could store our bikes) mostly consisted of electrical conduits and the like, and every possible place had a long-abandoned bike u-locked to it. One day, while searching the parking garage, we found an actual bike rack– unbolted and turned on its side– tossed into a corner. All of our bikes (5, including a big green yuba mundo) lived in the apartment with us, and this was a major reason that we moved out when our lease was up.

    In other words: this change is long overdue. Well done!

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