Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Very few poor people drive to work downtown

Posted by on November 24th, 2015 at 1:49 pm

The Portland area has invested $4.8 billion in a regional public rail network, and currently spends $313 million a year to hold down ticket prices on the system.

Another several million dollars each year go toward expansions of the region’s biking network.

Despite that investment, at least one Portland city council member has been arguing in the lead-up to a hearing next month that the public should also be subsidizing downtown car trips.

His reasoning: some of the people who drive downtown are poor.

“If we’re charging for parking, we’re taking someone earning nine, ten an hour and we’re making that eight-something an hour.”
Commissioner Dan Saltzman

The issue is coming up as the city discusses possible rate changes for its parking meters and publicly financed Smart Park garages.

One of the questions that’s likely to come up during an upcoming City Hall discussion on Dec. 17: Should the city keep giving away its street parking after 7 p.m., even in areas where street parking consistently fills up at night with people visiting restaurants, theaters, clubs and bars?

In a work session last month, Commissioner Dan Saltzman argued that maybe nighttime meters should remain free in order to subsidize the car commutes of people who work downtown at night, such as janitors and dishwashers.

“It’s a subsidy for low-wage workers to have the meters stop at 7:00 pm, so why can’t we continue that?” Saltzman said. “If we’re charging for parking, we’re taking someone earning nine, ten an hour and we’re making that eight-something an hour.”

“Do you throw a big subsidy at everybody because some people might need it?”
Commissioner Steve Novick

Commissioner Steve Novick, who directly oversees the transportation bureau, disagreed.

“It’s a question of, do you throw a big subsidy at everybody because some people might need it?” Novick said.

A better option for holding down parking prices for nighttime commuters, Novick suggested, might be to create a low-price permit system for the Smart Park garages.

And if the money from a parking meter rate hike were spent on improving non-car transportation, that might come out to a win for low-income workers, both downtown and elsewhere.

Novick and Saltzman’s disagreement raises a fair question. Is it a good idea for the government to subsidize a particular activity by poor people, even if it also subsidizes the same activity among rich and middle-income people?

Here’s one way to start answering the question: How many poor people actually drive downtown?

The best available data (which is, unfortunately, from 2006-2010) suggests that the central business district (south of Burnside, north of Jefferson) employs about 1,000 workers whose households make less than $15,000 a year. Of those, about 350 drive to work. That’s about 2 percent of the district’s drive-alone workforce.

Here’s a detailed version of the chart at the top of this post.

The stripes to the right represent higher-income households. Mouse over each stripe to see what income they represent, and approximately how many drive-alone commuters to the central business district make that much money. (For this chart, we looked at data for the central business district because it had by far the highest worker volumes and therefore the lowest margins of error. These margins of error are substantial, though, and these shouldn’t be interpreted as precise. You can see the source data here.)

Another 2,500 or so downtown commuters are in households that make $15,000 to $30,000 a year. About 700 of those people drive to work. That’s another 3 percent of the district’s drive alone workforce.

The remaining 95 percent of drive-alone commuters to Portland’s central business district make more than $30,000 — in most cases, much more. As the above chart shows, half of the district’s drive-alone workers are in households that bring in more than $100,000 a year.

Among those richest downtown workers, 59 percent drive alone to work. That compares to about 35 percent of the poorest downtown workers.


Hello subsidy.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At the council’s Oct. 8 work session, Portland parking plan manager Judith Gray said there’s no question that higher parking prices are a disproportionate burden to the poorest people.

Then again, she added, a system that makes it hard to find a parking space also has a disproportionate burden on the poorest people.

People who are shift workers or low-wage earners, if they’re janitorial or working in restaurants, they have the least flexibility of all. If our system is not well managed, if it’s 99 percent full when they need to work, they don’t have an option. A lot of office workers or daytime workers other workers can be late. I worked in restaurants in Washington DC in the 80s. If you have to replace a daytime shift person, you’ve got to be on time. So a badly managed system is not an equity strategy for them.

Gray said she had an “open mind” for hearing ideas that could prevent poor people from being excessively hurt by parking costs.

Absent that, she suggested, the most broadly equitable strategy might involve the government charging what the market will bear for people who park cars on its land — and then “channeling the revenues to improve the system overall.”

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

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  • Brad November 24, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    The city’s poorest are disproportionately hurt by the air pollution from too many cars on the road. Pull your head outta your a**, Portland. We are supposed to be increasing biking mode share, not car mode share.

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    • Huey Lewis November 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      How is this? Different air I suspect but I don’t know the details about how this works.

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      • kiel johnson
        kiel johnson November 24, 2015 at 7:17 pm

        less money to pay for medical care

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      • Psyfalcon November 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm

        Distance from major roads. Apartments are concentrated on arterials, but pollution is higher right on them compared to a few blocks away.

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      • Andrew Shaw-Kitch November 25, 2015 at 6:39 pm

        Waiting on those arterials for the bus…

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  • Allan November 24, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Life is increasingly a burden on people with less money. Literally everything that costs money will hurt more if you have less of it. However that is a terrible argument for keeping parking prices down. We have a great transit system to offset it.

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    • David Hampsten November 24, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      Also, the definition of “poor” varies, a lot.

      One common definition is anyone earning less than the median family income (MFI), which when I last saw it, was $48,000 per year in Portland.

      Another definition is anyone paying more than 30% of their income for housing. According to the Oregonian in September 2015, the mean/average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment was $1,550/month, which x 12 is $18,600/yr. To get the income needed to pay for such a unit, divide $18,600 by 0.30, for $62,000/year. Given a 40-hour work week, 2,080 hrs/yr, that would be $29.81/hr, far greater than the current minimum wage. Anyone earning less than $62K/yr or $29.81/hr is “poor” by Portland standards, in my book.

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      • BeavertonRider November 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

        The “poor” in the US are hardly the chronically destitute that they’re presented as. According to the US Census Bureau’s Household Survey, America’s poor own homes, automobiles, computers, major appliances, and subscribe to cable tv. So we ought to be careful in how broadly we want to talk about the “poor”.

        As well, arguing that “poor” is anyone/family with a household income that is less than “x” is also silly. It’s arbitrary and provides no meaningful insight into what policy should be.

        Im not convinced we ought to be looking at this issue through the lens of poverty anyway. I also dont understand why people think it’s good policy to treat downtown parking as a sin, like smoking, and levy a sin tax as a way to discourage driving. It’s akin to the federal government attempting to stop US businesses from relocating overseas due to high taxes. In that case, reform the tax code. Here, downtown parking is not social policy designed to re-engineer our behavior and shouldn’t be perceived that way, either.

        Why do city’s meter available street parking? It manages parking availability and a result of that is a revenue stream. It’s simple. There’s no need to apply equity and inclusion nonsense into this very basic function. All who drive pay the meter rate regardless of whether your poor. If the City wants to increase the revenue generated, then propose it, justify it, and implement it.

        For goodness sake, where does this nonsense end when invoking the impact on the poor, on minorities, on *insert characteristic” when discussing policy? I mean, it’s all about equal treatment…until parking meters?

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        • areaume November 24, 2015 at 10:42 pm

          @BeavertonRider – You’re a refreshing voice on this blog. Keep it up.

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          • pink$$ November 25, 2015 at 11:03 am

            Refreshing as a good ole dose of Donald Trump.

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      • Bjorn November 24, 2015 at 8:04 pm

        Rents are up but there is no way the average 2 bedroom in the Portland Area is going for 1550 a month.

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      • Peter R November 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm

        Your calculation assumes a single person. However a household with two people making at least $32K a year each now exceeds your definition of poor. Now we’re talking $15 an hour each.

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    • Mark S November 24, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      Tri-Met is not very dependable. Since MAX maintenance has been delayed, the system is breaking down. Trains are then delayed causing more problems. After a certain hour, the trains & buses run less frequently. They also stop running late at night. If a worker’s shift ends after Tri-Met has concluded service for the night, how do these people get home? I don’t think they would be interested in riding their bikes (if they own them) home at 2:00 am or later in the rain &/or cold.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 24, 2015 at 4:09 pm

        Mark, I totally agree! Now, if only there were a possible stream of money that might theoretically be used to help improve local transit equipment, infrastructure and service quality…

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        • Adam Herstein
          Adam Herstein November 24, 2015 at 5:18 pm

          You mean something like the TriMet payroll tax?

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        • Bjorn November 24, 2015 at 8:05 pm

          I think he means something like charging a market rate for parking.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 8:08 pm

            I’d be happy to pay market rate to permanently reserve a parking spot in front of my house. When I’ve proposed this in the past, people here rejected the idea. Any takers this time around?

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            • Evan Manvel November 30, 2015 at 1:27 pm

              What are you calling market rate? Does it include the street maintenance, the value of the land, the costs of the stormwater runoff, etc.?

              Average surface parking lot spot costs $1500-$5500 to construct, plus land costs, so maybe $4,000? Plus $200 a year in maintenance? And another $100 a year in property taxes?

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

                Market rate is, by definition, what the market will pay. Hold an auction, and we’ll find out what market rate is.

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      • Dan G November 24, 2015 at 6:49 pm

        I’ve had a job that had me waiting for the first MAX of the day. I had a choice of waiting at the nearest stop (Old Town /Chinatown) or making my way to another stop across the river. I usually preferred to stay mobile to stay clear of trouble. I had my bike with me, but riding in the dark all the way to Clackamas after a shift of hard labor wasn’t appealing.
        It’s hard to argue for increased service hours when that first train only has two or three passengers onboard.

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  • Adam Herstein
    Adam Herstein November 24, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Reminds me of a quote by Enrique Peñalosa: a great city isn’t one where the poor drive, but one where even the rich ride public transport.

    Instead of subsidizing parking, we should focus on improving public transport. The working poor depend on it more than driving, and after all, no one is stopping the rich from using it.

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  • Dave November 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Sane, decent public policies would force the price of housing down, and the price of driving up.

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  • Buzz November 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Does anyone else get the impression this City Council can’t get anything right?

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  • 9watts November 24, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Catherine Lutz has written eloquently about the ways automobility hurts the poor disproportionately. Might be a good read for our friend Dan Saltzman. Carjacked is her book; she also has articles about this, including this one which I’ve mentioned here before:

    Catherine Lutz. 2014. “The U.S. car colossus and the production of inequality.” AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 232–245.

    from the abstract:
    “I ask how the car-dependent mobility system of the United States not only reflects but also intensively generates the inequalities that characterize U.S. society. I propose that “compulsory consumption” and the automobile’s centrality to the current regime of accumulation can help account for this.”

    and from the article itself:
    “This material allows insight into the several significant pathways by which the car produces or amplifies inequality in the United States and, potentially, elsewhere. I argue that the car system not only reflects inequality but also actively produces it, massively redistributing wealth, status, well-being, and the means to mobility and its power. While declining wages, rising corporate control of the state, and rising costs of higher education and health care are also crucial to these redistributions, understanding the car system’s special and deeply consequential inequality-producing processes is key to any attempt to solve a number of problems. Prominent among the problems that the U.S. car system exacerbates are inequality of job access, rising wealth inequality, and environmental degradation and its unequal health effects.”

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    • BeavertonRider November 24, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Compulsory consumption? Lol.

      There’s a huge difference between writing eloquently and writing persuasively. Lutz is not very persuasive in this book. It heavily relies on anecdotes; broad non-specific statistics; and hyper-emotional and provocative statements. Sje spends much of her time lamenting the emergence of the car culture and very little time of practical approaches to resolve the perceived inequities it has supposedly caused.

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    • BeavertonRider November 24, 2015 at 3:18 pm

      Oh, and further, I don’t buy Lutz’s theory that Americans are so brainwashed by greedy corporatists that we are incapable of making rational decisions. It just isn’t so and further it reduces American adults to the level of children. But that serms to be the contemporary progressive’s way of thinking – persuade people that they are incapable of making decisions and then cram a bunch of nanny-state nonsense down their throats under the guise of an invented “public interest”.

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      • Alex Reed November 24, 2015 at 4:05 pm

        The problem is that government allocation of funding/resources has so heavily favored/subsidized/required the auto that using it is *the only* rational decision for a large number of people. For example, if you live in Oregon City and work in Canby (which is really not that far from Oregon City) and aren’t a “strong and fearless” bike rider it’s gonna be darn hard for you to get to work without a car.

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        • 9watts November 24, 2015 at 8:10 pm

          There is the CAT – a whole buck from Oregon City to Canby. If you can make the schedule work.

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          • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 9:09 am

            Ooh, I didn’t find that! That would totally work for a good number of Oregon City & Canby locations depending on work schedule.

            I wonder if they have bike racks! That would enable me to skip the least-fun parts of getting to Champoeg from the eastside for bike camping… teleport from Oregon City to Aurora!!

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            • 9watts November 25, 2015 at 9:09 am

              I’m pretty sure they do. I think the 99W route used to be free, but even a buck is close to free.

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            • Lester Luallin November 25, 2015 at 11:27 am

              I think all their buses have bike racks. I’ve taken CAT a number of times, returning from CX and STXC races in Salem. I took the SMART down there, which costs a little more ($3 I think), but is much faster Wilsonville -> Salem.

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      • Nick Skaggs November 24, 2015 at 9:41 pm

        I’m a little surprised that I agree with this statement, but I kinda do.

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      • 9watts November 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm

        “I don’t buy Lutz’s theory that Americans are so brainwashed by greedy corporatists that we are incapable of making rational decisions.”

        Perhaps you should actually read her book, BeavertonRider. While it is easy enough to dismiss such a perspective (I would suggest that her take is considerably more nuanced than your caricature), I’m curious for you to support your contention that it isn’t so. What evidence would you point to to suggest that people go about their transportation in a rational manner? And what exactly do you mean by that word?

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        • BeavertonRider November 25, 2015 at 9:10 am

          I am under no obligation to prove a negative. Lutz is running the claim and beyond simply asserting we are brainwashed, she offers no rational argument.

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          • 9watts November 25, 2015 at 2:41 pm

            You’re the one doing the simply asserting thing. The least you could do is trouble yourself to engage her argument. She actually makes one.

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      • soren November 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm
  • Mike November 24, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    I say take away the subsidies. If they don’t want to drive downtown, they can just move there and walk or ride their bikes wherever they need to go.

    If they can’t afford to live or drive downtown, then maybe they should look elsewhere for a job.

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    • BeavertonRider November 24, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      It’s not a subsidy.

      Why do we twist our language so that taxing someone is ending a subsidy to that person?

      Can anyone tell me what amount of money has been transferred to the person who doesnt pay to park on the street? Or has the definition of the word subsidy changed in ordrr to facilitate illogical arguments?

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 24, 2015 at 4:13 pm

        I used the “subsidy” language because the government is paying for parking spaces, which is one of the largest costs of driving. Even on the street, these cost money to maintain and face opportunity costs.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty November 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm

          Would you also argue that the government subsidizes walking by providing all those free sidewalks? Or subsidizes cycling by providing bike staples?

          There’s lots of things the government does that cost money, and could be charged for, but that we don’t consider a subsidy.

          It would be an interesting study to compare the business climate along downtown streets with no on-street parking with adjacent streets that have some. Is the business mix different? Are businesses on one street more or less prosperous? Are the streets themselves more or less pleasant? That might shed some light on the economic and intangible impacts of parking availability.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm

            I definitely would, and I would argue that it should subsidize these activities due to their numerous social benefits, just like it subsidizes education and law enforcement!

            My personal agenda isn’t to eliminate subsidies, it’s to eliminate subsidies of things that are literally destroying us.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty November 24, 2015 at 6:13 pm

              I agree that some things are definitely worth paying for, and that subsidies are not automatically bad, but by including things like sidewalks, law enforcement, and education in your list of “things that are subsidies”, I think you’ve adopted a rather expansive use of the term. Most of those I would categorize as “services” rather than “subsidies”, even if they are paid for by everyone but only utilized by some.

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              • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
                Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 29, 2015 at 8:00 pm

                I hear what you and BeavertonRider are saying about precision of language, I just don’t think this is a case of that problem.

                If you really want to get semantic (not that there’s anything wrong with that! semantics matter) I’d say that the government subsidizes law enforcement by providing public policing; it subsidizes education by providing public schooling; and it subsidizes driving by providing public parking. Two of those outcomes are good and one is bad.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 29, 2015 at 8:24 pm

                This is a semantic argument, but I think it is an important one because of the desire of some to use the word subsidy as a way of getting people to rethink the idea of how street parking is charged for. The problem is that most people will reject the argument for the simple reason that parking just does not meet the definition of the word subsidy. None of the examples listed do. If the government sent a check each month to offset the cost of parking fees, it would be a subsidy. Accomplishing the same ends without a payment is not.

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              • Alex Reed November 30, 2015 at 8:25 am

                I think I agree with you, Hello, Kitty, that talking about parking subsidies is not going to win over the median voter. However, I think a larger reason than semantics (which I think are certainly debatable) is optics / self-image / cognitive dissonance – most people don’t see themselves as the beneficiaries of handouts from the government (which the word “subsidy” implies, and with a negative connotation like the word “handout”) and so upon reading an article/position/argument/whatever that makes them into recipients of government handouts, they will react negatively.

                It’s the same reason why the federal mortgage interest tax clause is called a “deduction” in popular media (59.4 million google hits) rather than a “subsidy” (224,000 google hits) although in my opinion it’s both.

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              • 9watts November 30, 2015 at 8:28 am

                Alex wins the cookie. A great example.

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            • Mike Reams November 25, 2015 at 7:34 am

              I agree that “free” parking is a subsidy but, your argument that cars are “literally” destroying us is not convincing.

              Perhaps instead, you could examine the amount of the subsidy in both absolute dollars and, in dollars per unit of utility. So, dollars/pedestrian-mile or, dollars/vehicle-mile. This might be difficult to compare for parking, dollars/parked-hour? and there is little comparison between parking-hours and anything pedestrian related. Maybe the utility of park benches?

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              • 9watts November 25, 2015 at 7:40 am
              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 9:27 am

                What does Shoup say about charging for parking where/when parking resources are underutilized?

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              • lop November 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm

                >Hello, Kitty

                From the linked chapter.

                “well-functioning market with prices that vary by the time of day and day of the week can balance a variable demand for curb parking with the fixed supply of curb spaces.”

                If parking is free and utilization is low, the market price is zero. There’s a caveat though.

                “These three reforms— charge fair-market prices for curb parking, return the resulting revenue to the neighborhoods that generate it, and remove the zoning requirements for off-street parking—can align our individual incentives with our collective interests and produce enormous benefits at almost no cost.”

                Sometimes the utilization is only low because of a mandated oversupply off street. If that mandate ends as he advocates, it can lead to increased demand and eventually nonzero price for on street parking.

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              • BeavertonRider November 25, 2015 at 9:18 am

                Free parking is not a subsidy. Please explain who is receiving a financial payment. In this case, no one is. Perhaps you want to call it a benefit of building roads that are wider than necessary to support on-street parking. But who cares?

                Look, the only reason to twist the language is to enable the specious argument that government is unfairly “subsidizing” drivers. Thats simply not true with regard to the availability of on-street parking.

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              • Mike Reams November 25, 2015 at 2:06 pm


                “A subsidy is a form of financial aid or support extended to an economic sector (or institution, business, or individual) generally with the aim of promoting economic and social policy.”

                You are receiving a good or service at a reduced cost. The land you park on is not free, the labor to lay the concrete is not free, the concrete itself is not free and, as there is often competition for parking spots, the market value of the space is non-zero.

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          • soren November 25, 2015 at 9:43 am

            “Would you also argue that the government subsidizes walking by providing all those free sidewalks? Or subsidizes cycling by providing bike staples?”

            Absolutely! And not all subsidies are a bad thing.

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          • lop November 30, 2015 at 6:00 pm

            >It would be an interesting study to compare the business climate along downtown streets with no on-street parking with adjacent streets that have some.

            There are some problems with that sort of study. The world is messy and you can’t narrow down to a single variable. In 2002 retail was weaker on the transit mall than 3rd and 4th (still is I think). Among the recommendations for the transit mall in a downtown retail report sponsored by PDC and PBA was auto through access and parking in select locations on a renovated transit mall.


            Was the lower retail value because there was no ‘teaser parking’ available to motorists? Do you need some autos going by off peak to add eyes on the street when bus headways are high to discourage petty crimes? Was it because the mall was falling apart, maintenance was being put off until a decision about adding rail was made? Were people living on the street or panhandling given more leeway by the police if they were on the transit mall than other avenues? Was the problem actually the buses? They’re pretty loud, sometimes the noise on 5th can make walking down 4th preferable. It’s easy to find some evidence to support a predetermined policy goal, whether that’s parking = good, or parking = bad.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty November 30, 2015 at 6:07 pm

              I agree with this; there are a lot of variables to untangle. Nonetheless, whatever the underlying cause, there seems to be a correlation between streets that have no parking and those with an unpleasant environment. I am hard pressed to think of any Portland streets without parking that are also a pleasant place to be.

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        • BeavertonRider November 25, 2015 at 9:15 am

          A subsidy is not one entity paying for something. A subsidy is a transfer payment. The definition is clear. The provision of sidewalks, road space that is used for parking spots, police, fire, library services…these are not subsidies to users.

          Again,why are we twisting our language?

          It reminds me of the meaningless “car housing” complaint about garages.

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      • Alex Reed November 24, 2015 at 4:14 pm

        It’s a subsidy because the government has allocated the land and pavement to be used for parking, and is not recovering enough cost from parking fees to pay for the market value of those resources.

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        • Alex Reed November 24, 2015 at 4:16 pm

          It’s like if the government owned a bunch of the country’s land and were using it to grow wheat, and then provided it to people only charging $0.02 a pound. That would be government-subsidized wheat.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 9:14 am

            Public education is a subsidy. Fire protection is a subsidy. The library system is a subsidy. Parks are a subsidy. Access to medical research is a subsidy. Access to court decisions is a subsidy. These are all things that could be charged for (and historically have been) but are provided without fees. And these statements are absurd.

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            • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 9:17 am

              Hey, my position on this word choice is a little more nuanced. I think that “subsidy” and “subsidize” are best used for goods for which fairly close substitutes are provided by both the private and public sectors. Parking, yes. Education, yes. Courts, fire, police – no.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 10:40 am

                Prisons yes, airport security yes, road maintenance yes, public defenders yes, the list goes on literally* forever. We have different words for most of these things (services, programs, functions) for a reason.

                Just because the public sector provides a good that is/can be provided by the private sector does not mean the public good is a subsidy.

                *Abusing another word whose definition has not changed despite frequent misuse

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              • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

                But in the case of most of those, the purchaser of the good is the private sector-provided good is the government. I don’t think calling that a subsidy is very useful. Calling the public version of prisons “subsidized” is just confusing and muddies public discourse.

                But – “We are subsidizing parking for private citizens through government policy, and that is mostly a bad thing?” I think that adds value to our discourse. Same with “Government provided public education acts as a subsidy for education for the poor and middle class. This is almost entirely a good thing.”

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              • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 10:56 am

                What I think the word “subsidy” adds to the discourse on parking in particular (above the word “program” say) is a reminder that if local government doesn’t provide parking, there will still be parking. It will just be provided by the private sector and cost more for the user.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 11:05 am

                “Calling the public version of prisons “subsidized” is just confusing and muddies public discourse.”

                I totally agree with that statement. That is exactly my criticism of using the word subsidy for on-street parking.

                When you ask the question you posed (“We are subsidizing parking for private citizens through government policy, and that is mostly a bad thing?”) what is the discussion you really want to have? Leaving money on the table by undercharging for parking? Discouraging driving? Making sure there is one space open per block (Shoup)? Those are all very different conversations.

                If you re-frame your question in terms of the issue you really want to discuss, I think you’ll get a more constructive response. My answer to the question as you’ve posed it is “I don’t think we’re subsidizing parking.” And then we spend our time talking semantics, while the real issue languishes in the corner.

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              • soren November 25, 2015 at 11:20 am

                Its critical for discourse to not view the land and concrete/asphalt associated with vehicle storage as some sort of non-negotiable and essential service. By measuring the economic subsidization of parking in an unbiased manner we can decide whether we want allocate this significant amount of government funding to (mostly free) vehicle storage

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

                I generally agree, and would more totally agree if you framed your request for an unbiased analysis using unbiased language.

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              • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm

                OK! “What is the highest and best use for the citizens of Portland for the land & resources that are currently used for motor vehicle parking – and in cases where the highest and best use is motor vehicle parking, what parking pricing scheme (if any) results in the greatest public benefit?”

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm

                Much better 🙂

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              • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 1:26 pm

                And a follow-up questions – do you believe that said analysis can take place within a government led by our current city council and that stakeholders with entrenched interests in the status quo won’t short-circuit it?

                Personally, I don’t believe that anything close to that analysis can take place until a more progressive slate of candidates is elected. I mean, what if the analysis said that the parking lane would be better used as a bus lane on pretty much all of our arterials, thus allowing the disproportionately low-income people who get around via transit to get places in a reasonable amount of time? That might cause some business disruption for existing businesses and cause more parking within adjacent neighborhoods! How could we possibly even consider such a thing??

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 1:51 pm

                Yes and no.

                I think the current council can nibble at the question (the city has already decided that, in some cases at least, there are higher uses for parking stalls than parking; witness bioswales, the occasional cafe seating plaza, curb extensions, bus stops, bike lanes, bike parking corrals), and council is certainly willing to look at parking districts and increasing fees downtown.

                But if you are looking for a wholesale rethinking of the role parking plays in the central city, I can’t imagine a slate progressive enough to make big changes there ever coming close to getting elected.

                I think that, for a specific project, like a dedicated bus lane, it could happen. The key is “to what end”? Most of the talk here is about the desire to limit parking almost as a goal in itself, rather than the cost/side effect of some other desirable outcome, like a dedicated bus lane*.

                So I think if you start from the “here’s a great idea, it would totally work if we could remove parking from this street” angle, there is some prospect of effecting change**. If the approach is “let’s remove parking and think of what else we could do with the space”, I think there is no chance of success with this or any other conceivable city council.

                * Though most good candidates for dedicated bus lanes don’t have on-street parking

                ** But no guarantee if the other stakeholders aren’t on board, such as what happened on 28th

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              • soren November 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm

                We all have biases.

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            • 9watts November 25, 2015 at 9:18 am

              “Public education is a subsidy. Fire protection is a subsidy. The library system is a subsidy. Parks are a subsidy. Access to medical research is a subsidy. Access to court decisions is a subsidy. ”

              Except that most of those things in your list—no all of them—we’ve agreed are public goods. We now (belatedly) have come to the conclusion that free parking on public space is a public bad, so to me that changes this whole conversation.

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              • BeavertonRider November 25, 2015 at 11:34 am

                Who has come to the conclusion that on-street parking is a bad thing? Who is the “we” you’re referring to? I am unaware of a popular shift to this position. I see several posters here who characterize on-street parking as bad, but that hardly qualifies as a popular public opinion.

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              • 9watts November 25, 2015 at 2:40 pm

                Free On Street Parking.

                Shoup, for one. And if you are going to dismiss him like you dismissed Catherine Lutz perhaps you could trouble yourself to at least articulate why you who comparatively speaking are a Johnny-Come-Lately to this issue are so much better informed than these authors who’ve spen—in Shoup’s case—most of his career working on this particular problem.

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            • soren November 25, 2015 at 9:49 am

              There is no question that taxing the wealthy to provide basics services, education, and some measure of a humane standard of living are subsidies. It is also very sad that this nation has become disinterested in providing these subsidies.

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      • pink$$ November 24, 2015 at 4:39 pm

        Have you taken intro-level econ? The word subsidy *totally* makes sense.

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      • Jeff Snavely November 24, 2015 at 5:21 pm

        It is a subsidy, but more so for the businesses who have built their business plan upon free parking than it is for their would-be patrons.

        And it is those businesses who will turn out in opposition.

        I’ve yet to find a town yet whose downtown revitalization and/or survival plan does not center upon attracting people into downtown. They do, however, have a tendency to forget this when arguing single issues, such as meters, decks, taxi policy, etc.

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      • Bjorn November 24, 2015 at 8:10 pm

        It absolutely is a subsidy for the government to give away or charge less than a market rate for parking, what if the government were to spend an equal amount of money on gasoline that they do maintaining the parking downtown and then they sold it for less than what people were willing to pay at a normal gas station, would you consider that a subsidy, because I certainly would and that is exactly what the city is doing with parking.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty November 24, 2015 at 11:22 pm

          Your gas example would indeed be a subsidy; not charging for on-street parking is not a subsidy. They are just two different things. I looked at several definitions of the word “subsidy”, and I could find none that would describe parking without doing at least mild violence to the language.

          Subsidies involve the transfer of money. Allowing on-street parking does not.

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          • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 6:52 am

            I looked at the definitions too – and my conclusion was that they haven’t caught up to how the word is being used in the vernacular. If the government owns public housing and provides it to people at a low cost or no cost, that’s “subsidized housing.” If I buy my kid a condo to live in while he/she goes to college, I am “subsidizing his college experience.” In neither case is there a transfer of money to the subsidy receiver.

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            • Hello, Kitty
              Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 8:55 am

              Most housing advocates I know make a clear distinction between public housing (where the government owns and rents below market rate) and subsidized housing, where the government pays part of the rent. Public housing is not an example of a subsidy.

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              • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 9:04 am

                I agree – but I also think the average citizen would put both public housing and private (but government-subsidized) affordable housing in the larger category of “subsidized housing.”

                Also – check out the definitions for “subsidize.” “To pay for part of the cost of producing (something) to reduce prices for the buyer.” The government is absolutely paying for part of the cost of producing parking to reduce prices for people buying parking.

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              • 9watts November 25, 2015 at 9:08 am

                It is also worth keeping in mind that when we here in this thread say ‘government’ is paying, we actually mean taxpayers. I don’t know if that makes any difference to how we understand the term, but it helps me recognize that the money is coming from over here (taxpayers) and being used to buy down something over there which some group (with a varying degree of overlap with taxpayers) then takes advantage of.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty November 25, 2015 at 9:25 am

                I disagree. But rather than draw this out, I’ll just say that you can make a case for charging more for parking without labeling it a subsidy. If you do that, your argument will be stronger and more convincing.

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              • Alex Reed November 25, 2015 at 9:27 am

                OK – that is probably the case in mainstream media. I think talking about subsidies has its place in inciting the Shoupian base though 🙂

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  • Chris I November 24, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    So, the low-wage workers all work after 7pm? Or they live downtown? I’m not sure I get this line of thinking.

    I know that the 7pm rule did make it easier for me to drive to PSU for night classes, but I was usually happier when I rode my bike. The 7pm rule definitely helps subsidize people living in $1000+ per month downtown apartments, as they don’t have to pay for a garage when they return from their jobs in Beaverton. It also helps subsidize folks that drive in from the suburbs to party in Old Town and the Pearl on the weekends.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 24, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    housing for cars or housing for people?

    Planning for car housing takes about 300 to 350 square feet for structured parking (parking stall [aka “car room”] plus access aisles [aka “car hallway”] per stored car. This is a similar amount of space as the next generation of SRO units being planned in SF and Boston.

    Perhaps instead of the city council planning for “subsidized” car housing in the CBD the parking should be set at market rates and a set aside of the collected funds go into SROs for workforce singles. (Perhaps built on the upper floors of new retail or office structures.

    Why have low wage single workers have to drive from a far off suburban apartment district (commute time value plus car costs) to work in a CBD low wage job? It does not make as much sense as living in the CBD and walking or biking to work.

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  • mark November 24, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    I am almost positive this elected official is worried about the poor people.

    It has nothing to do with enhancing SOV travel.

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  • Eric Leifsdad November 24, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    We’ll get more benefit if we charge for parking and subsidize express trains full of people and their bikes from 5-7 miles out with no stops (or maybe 1 at 3 miles.) Except, how do we get room for the express train to go around the stoppy one?

    Meanwhile, in Portland: making it cheap and easy to drive turns out to be expensive and difficult.

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    • canuck November 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Until the trains can levitate, you’re not going to get express trains, since there’s only one set of tracks. Hard to run an express when there’s a local in front of it.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty November 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm

        It might, theoretically speaking, be possible to create sections that have a second set of tracks, to avoid the whole levitating train difficulty.

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  • Evan Manvel November 24, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Fabulous analysis, Michael.

    Hopefully this article will encourage more data-driven decisions, which too often lose out in the traditional psychology of parking policy.

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  • davemess November 24, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Michael, I’m curious about the lower income brackets. Does that include PSU students (who may live on/near campus) and have a part time job?
    If so that could be skewing the data.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 24, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      It would indeed include them if they have a part-time job. PSU’s a good bit south of Jefferson, though, so I don’t know that PSU students would be hugely disproportionately likely to have a retail job in the CBD compared to other sorts of low-income folks.

      The biggest thing driving these numbers, though, is that there are just not many low-wage jobs downtown compared to the huge number of higher-wage jobs and other commercial uses.

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      • davemess November 25, 2015 at 1:01 pm

        The lower income folks would have to be part time workers. With a current minimum wage of $9.25, a full time worker would make over $19K/year. I can’t imagine a person (household) being able to live in Portland for $14K or under. That would almost have to require some kind of subsidy (student loan, mom and dad, etc.).

        I agree, there is not that much lower income employment downtown. I think we need to work on getting more of the mid and high income employment spread geographically around the city more.

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        • longgone November 27, 2015 at 9:31 am

          You are so out of touch with reality.

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  • Randy November 24, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    For whom the bridge tolls… If you want to drive downtown, aka, worst air pollution in Oregon, then please pay your polluting fee. Those who commute by bike should get 6 free bike tires per year.

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  • Mike Reams November 25, 2015 at 7:44 am

    This is one common problem with subsidies intended to help the poor. They usually wind up helping the relatively well-off far more than the poor.

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  • realworld November 25, 2015 at 9:19 am


    You need to change the head line to “Very Poorly minded people drive to work downtown” we shouldn’t make poor people feel bad about their good decisions.

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  • Steven Howland November 25, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    It’s fairly unreasonable to ask TriMet to improve service hours to the extent they would need to in order to accommodate downtown service employees working graveyard shifts. However, given the numbers are pretty small, it may not be unreasonable to take a chunk of the money that would be garnered by an increased meter or smart park charge and set up a low-income parking assistance program. It could be operated in a number of ways with many downsides to each, but there’s really not a good way that I can think of. One way is to have that pot of money available for employers to provide free parking for low-wage employees working late-night shifts. Another would be to have low-wage employees go directly to the city for a parking permit. Employers would likely not go through the process of the paperwork involved with a parking subsidy from the city so few would partake. Also it would be ripe for fraud Late-night low-wage employees and the hours of city offices often don’t align and makes it a large burden to require them to wait in a city office and have all their necessary paperwork in order in order to get a permit from the city. It’s just a thought.

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    • longgone November 27, 2015 at 9:34 am

      Graveyard workers need not pay for parking downtown… At least not where I work.

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  • uber driver November 25, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    I take uber to avoid paying for and searching for parking before 7 pm. It’s a deterent for high income people as well

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