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Portland may require developers to offer residents, employees $600 for biking or transit

Posted by on November 11th, 2015 at 8:40 am

bta reception area

Downtown employer New Relic already offers in-office bike parking, but it doesn’t buy you a bike. Not yet.
(Photo: New Relic)

Got a new job in Portland? Have a new bike.

Deals like that could become common under a set of proposed rules being discussed by the City of Portland that might require developers or property managers to give each new resident or on-site worker $600 that could be spent only on non-car transportation: a nice new bike, six months of TriMet passes, four years of bike share memberships, or whatever.

The one-time payment would trigger at the time of move-in or hire. The goal is to make Portland’s streets cleaner and more efficient by reducing auto use.

Subsidizing certain transportation choices is nothing new in Portland real estate. That’s exactly what the city has been doing for decades by requiring almost every new building to have minimum amounts of on-site auto parking, whether or not the residents or employees will use it.

The main difference is that at $17,000 per stall, an auto parking space is much, much more expensive than a new bike.

Either way, of course, tenants of a building ultimately pay for its amenities (be they “free” bikes, “free” bus rides, “free” parking or anything else) in their rent.

Modeled after other cities

Many buildings automatically include parking with rent, but very few currently offer transit discounts.
(Photo: M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Peter Hurley, a senior policy planner for the city transportation bureau, said the proposal is modeled on similar requirements in Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; Contra Costa County, California; Pasadena, California; Redmond, Washington; Rockville, Maryland; Santa Monica, California; and Arlington County, Virginia.

We’re creating more reasons for people not to have to have a car.”
— Portland Transportation Policy Planner Peter Hurley

Those programs range from a one-time $70 payment per occupant (in Arlington County) to $110 per month per occupant for the life of the building (Santa Monica).

Portland’s proposed rule falls on the lower side of that spectrum. But most U.S. cities (Seattle, San Francisco and Spokane were among those the city surveyed) don’t have programs that apply to new residential buildings or small employers.

“The idea is that we’re creating more reasons for people not to have to have a car, and not to use it if they do” have one, Hurley said Monday.

Hurley said that as the city tries to get drive-alone trips down from about 60 percent of its residents’ transportation to about 30 percent by 2030, two factors are calculated to have the highest payoff: better bike infrastructure and a “transportation demand management” program like this one.

He said Portland needs to be pursuing both.

Another possible rule: No car? No parking costs

bike parking at Central Eastside Lofts-13

The parking garage at the Central Eastside Lofts.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The concept of requiring buildings to pay for bikes or transit passes isn’t the only measure under discussion. The city is also considering requiring some new buildings to “unbundle” parking from rent.

This would let residents and employees who don’t drive to opt out of paying for parking they don’t need.

Or, to look at it from another perspective: it would require people who do drive to pay the full cost of parking on site.

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Many central-city employers currently subsidize their employees’ parking garage bills, though not all do. And though most new apartment buildings in inner neighborhoods currently make on-site parking optional, the typical rate of $100 or $120 a month is probably less than the actual cost to the developer, which means that everyone in the building is helping pay for the parking spaces.

If new apartment buildings were required to charge residents the full unsubsidized cost of parking, that’d probably increase the number of people parking cars for free on nearby streets.

That’s where the city’s proposed parking permit system would kick in. If approved as proposed, it would let neighborhoods vote to ban residents of mixed-use zones from parking on nearby single-family blocks overnight.

Many details still up in the air

bike at move the house

Move the House Apartments on Division Street.
(Photo: M.Andersen)

A lot of things about the city’s proposal remain uncertain.

Most importantly, the city hasn’t decided which buildings, if any, these rules would apply to. Hurley said the city has legal authority to impose these requirements on every building, but is unlikely to do so for existing buildings.

The city hasn’t yet decided which buildings, if any, these rules would apply to.

Hurley called that “a more modest step to get the program up and running.”

That leaves new buildings.

Would the requirements only effect buildings in mixed-use zones? Only in downtown, or maybe in certain inner neighborhoods? Only on buildings where the developer has opted to build on-site auto parking? Only on buildings where the developer has opted to build no on-site auto parking?

Those are all options.

Then there’s the size of the incentive. Is a one-time payment of $600 at the time of hire or move-in too little? Too much?

How strict should the requirements be for what the money can be spent on? Who would oversee the program?

All those questions are to be determined. The city hosted daytime meetings Tuesday and next week to discuss the new rules. If you’d like to share your thoughts, email Hurley’s team: TSP@portlandoregon.gov.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.

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Brian E
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Brian E

Did they say where the money for these incentive payments would come from? Is it from the city (pdx taxpayers) or is it from the user (increased rent/lower pay)?

I’m all for separating parking costs, but it seems a bit penalizing to burden a new employee or renter with the cost to fund the incentive fee. Especially for low income people.

Scott Mizée
Guest

Wow. This is significant. Thanks for reporting on it, Michael.

Ricky
Guest
Ricky

The idea here is interesting but with the new bike option whats to prevent purchase and resale? Are U-locks a requirement with purchase? Will inspired people new to biking high theft cities and choosing the new bike be taught the importance of and how to use those U-locks and general rules of where and how long it’s safe to lock bikes outside? The other options seems pretty good but $600 lump sum for a new bike seems like it would add up quick and potentially be lots of money lost.

Chris I
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Chris I

Seems overly complicated. Requiring unbundling city-wide would be good policy, and beyond that, we need to just charge for parking. Charge for street parking and private lots will be able to charge more and unbundle their spots. Right now, no one is going to build parking unless they have to, because the city is giving away thousands of free street spots all over.

Scott Kocher
Guest

At Hassalo on Eighth (“an Eco Community”) bike storage costs $25 a month.

Dave
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Dave

Impressive that it’s even being discussed.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Does the bike “give away” program allow the developer to not build car parking spaces? If so will residents with cars and their guests be forced to compete for on street parking? Existing neighborhood residents will certainly resent that. Would the flood of on-street parking be in concert with an on-street permit parking system whereby tenants pay for a parking permit? I think free stuff is great, when the article compares the $600 bike “give away” with $17000 parking space “give away” It looks to me like some slight-of-hand is going on to dupe the tenant and city planners (who hypothetically also represent existing neighborhood residents) and greatly profit the developer.

J_R
Guest
J_R

It would be much smarter and simpler to institute a carbon tax, raise the gas tax, begin charging market rent for on-street (publicly owned) parking, and eliminate the parking requirements in the city’s building code.

An entirely new bureaucracy would be required to implement this proposal and it would result in a whole series of unintended consequences that could include higher rents, shifting new construction to adjoining cities, etc.

We’ve gotten to this situation because we’ve over-regulated (parking regulations) and now we’re proposing to “fix” the problem by regulating stuff designed to offset the consequences.

Read Donald Shoup’s High Cost of Free Parking.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Why force landlords to do this? Wouldn’t a more progressive approach be for the city to offer the subsidy directly, from tax dollars?

Tom
Guest
Tom

Most people with a job and place to live can afford a bike
Better off spending the money to reduce bike theft. That would be more encouraging than a free bike. Most people will already have their own bike, but many will not ride it to the store for fear of it getting stolan. Put the resources into fixing the real deterants. A bike purchase price is not a deterant. If it were then nobody would buy cars, which are 50 to 100 times more expensive.

When can we have a city ordinance banning the storage of big piles of bike parts on public property. Spend the money getting rid of the open air chop shops and we will see a bump in utilitarian ridership.

BeavertonRider
Guest
BeavertonRider

No, no, no to this proposal. This is unnecessary government intrusion into the local private housing and employment markets. This is exactly the sort of government regulatory interference that penalizes the economy. And for what?

In all, this is a feel-good measure that rests solely on the premise that the local government can impose it – sheer exercise of government power.

It’s bad enough that the local government already imposes building restrictions that increase development costs and reduce the return on investment.

Can anyone explain how this is a legitimate local government responsibility and a proper exercise of governmental authority?

matt
Guest
matt

I’d be afraid that if employers were forced to do this then they may opt out of monthly incentive programs for commute trip reduction. I currently make about $90/month in our CTR program. That covers a new drivetrain or wheelset every year.

Al Dimond
Guest

Sorry if this is minute, but I don’t like the phrasing of “multifamily zones” and “residential blocks”, implying that multi-family buildings aren’t a part of residential blocks. If you live somewhere, your block is certainly residential (even if it’s also, say, commercial)! The distinction is (maybe) between multi-family zones and single-family zones, where the people living in the single-family zones want to hold others to a standard they don’t meet: to store their vehicles on their own premises!

ED
Guest
ED

I’m a land use planner and I’m confused by this proposal. Is there some link between developers providing incentives for non-car transportation, and reducing parking? Or is there some requirement for tenants and new employees to choose the free parking space or the non-car cash incentive? If new employees and tenants get a free parking space and some money to inspire them to take transit or buy a bike, I don’t see how that encourages people to reduce driving. Any why would my landlord give me money for a bike or a parking space? I’d rather they just lower the rent, and let me choose how to spend my remaining income.
How about an actual link between parking and these incentives, such as requiring developers that don’t provide onsite parking to provide some combination of one-time contribution to the city for non motorized infrastructure and/or direct incentives to building tenants? That wouldn’t directly address any spillover of parking on city streets (if you believe that’s a problem), but a residential parking permit system might help not hat front.

Joe Adamski
Guest
Joe Adamski

My sense is that one will do what works best for you, any additional incentive is fine, but not a deciding factor. Example, suitable/affordable housing reasonably close to my work, in a neighborhood where all the stuff of daily living is close by, i will be there, incentive or not. Only when it does NOT work would any incentive be considered. We don’t want to build communities that you would need a bribe to live in, I hope?

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Give a man a bike, he’ll ride it for a day. Make a nice place to ride it and we’ll all bike for a lifetime.

John Landolfe
Guest

Has anyone discussed how it would play with federal tax code? If employers pay more than $20 a month, the employee is taxed ~40%. If you try to give an employee $600 a year, you’re direct wiring $240 to the federal government. The employee gets $360.

You’ve changed it from a transportation fringe benefit to a taxable bonus–the tax revenue of which is under no obligation to go toward TDM. And all that federal tax revenue is much more likely to go towards freeways and military spending than federal TDM programs.

I’d love to be wrong on this point if there’s anything I’m missing here.

Mark
Guest
Mark

It’s quite the irony that the city for years..and even today requires parking on new builds. Now…the citybis coming back and threatening to charge them for the use of that required parking. For better or for worse…..that’s dishonest. In addition, the city makes millions from on street parking. See the conflict of interest? The city also makes millions from people who improperly park outside if downtown and Lloyd.

We, as cyclists, should call this out for the dishonesty this is. Instead….we are treating it as ” the enemy if my enemy”.

We as cyclists become the focus of the driver’s anger over such policies if these.

The real solution is to end on street paid parking and convert all of that parking into protected bike lanes. Let the private market step in and deal with car storage just as they deal with human storage.

But…the city has a vested interest in on street parking.

Always…follow…the money…