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Portland celebrates holiday shopping with free parking in downtown garages

Posted by on December 8th, 2015 at 11:07 am

outside target

Parking is always free for many shoppers.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The latest piece of Portland’s ongoing effort to get people to realize that there are places to park cars downtown other than curbs is to offer free parking in its six public garages.

Here’s the word from tourism promotion group Travel Portland:

On three Sundays in December 2015 (Dec. 6, 13 and 20), parking at downtown SmartPark lots is free. Customers who park at SmartPark garages can visit the customer service kiosk at Pioneer Place (lower level near the Gap) or Boys’ Fort (902 S.W. Morrison St.) or PDX Pop-Up Shops (438 N.W. Broadway and 341 N.W. Fifth Ave.) any time between noon and 5 p.m. to show their eligible SmartPark ticket and receive one $5 parking voucher to cover parking for the day.

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with a special like this — it’s a little bit like a special on milk, beer or chicken that gets you to walk in the door of an unfamiliar grocer, or the free transit rides that TriMet offers each New Year’s Eve.

But it’s also a little ironic that an organization that works so hard to communicate that walking, biking and transit are major joys of Portland…

…still feels the need to promote the expectation of free parking (which only tends to interfere with the proximity that is needed for good biking, walking and transit) as a way to compete with suburban shopping malls. (Or at least with the idea of suburban shopping malls … actual malls are failing across the country.)

And it’s also a sign of one of the fundamental truths of parking: no matter how much off-street parking you build, you will never get people to use it unless it is cheaper than the nearby on-street parking.

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

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

$5 equals all day trimet bus pass. Where do I go to get that reimbursed?

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

it’s not too pleasant getting on public transit after doing a lot of shopping.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

That’s a fairly broad generality, don’t you think?

Spiffy
Subscriber

to me it’s a lot better than getting behind the wheel and sitting in idle traffic with no means to do anything else…

I can watch the antics of all the other poor people stuck driving in the mess because they haven’t yet figured out how to rid themselves of the car problem…

but watching everybody break the law with their car usually annoys me so I play on my phone…

Adam
Subscriber

I do it all the time and have no problems. Carry your bags or get a backpack. It’s really not that big of a deal.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

Here’s an idea! Maybe rather than subsidizing parking, the city and PBA could provide a way to shop downtown and then have your items delivered to your house later? Maybe even by a sustainable delivery service like B-Line? That would provide local business with a true way to compete with the convenience of online shopping.

Also, just gotta say, is it pleasant to drive downtown, park in a garage, walk around carrying bags, and then have to fight traffic back out of downtown? I don’t think so, but that’s maybe just me.

Spiffy
Subscriber

you can already get these things delivered to your door, from any store… but like using transit not a lot of people know about it so they don’t use it…

CD
Guest
CD

Agreed, but I find it just as annoying to receive a package with my order, discover it doesn’t fit, pack it, and ride over to the UPS store to mail the return — which reminds me, I’ve got to do that tomorrow.

Regardless: trying something on in-store or sampling and then ordering it for delivery in-store would be the ideal middle ground.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Meier & Frank used to offer a free transit reimbursement at their city center location…not sure if they still do.

Spiffy
Subscriber

since they’re out of business they probably don’t…

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

The City of Santa Cruz decided NOT to make parking “free” this holiday season, instead they are donating the parking revenue from those days to charity: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/lifestyle/20141212/parking-for-charity-santa-cruz-to-donate-holiday-meter-revenue

Lurker
Guest
Lurker

Out of curiosity, are these types stories and their comments ever shared back with the “offending” parties? I.e. is there ever an activist component to the journalism? In this case, is BikePortland going to notify Travel Portland of the inconsistencies in their actions and share the alternative actions offered in the comments (thus far the Santa Cruz example)?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Good question Lurker,

Yes, these types of stories are very often shared back with the orgs/agencies/people in them. That can happen in a number of ways. Our stories are often read by staff themselves and/or the stories are forwarded to the company/organization by a reader. Our stories also educate people in the community who can then use the information however they see fit… often that means sending an email to the organization directly, testifying about them in a public hearing, sharing the info on their social media streams, and so on.

And yes, sometimes I’ll share a story and/or particular comments directly with a newsmaker or organization. It all depends on the issue, the urgency, etc…

9watts
Guest
9watts

Everyone (who matters) reads bikeportland. Didn’t you know? 🙂

Spiffy
Subscriber

why promote driving?

are those garages usually at extremely low capacity on Sundays in December?

although I’ve never avoided a place due to parking costs I’ve found new ways to get places that had parking issues…

I’m with kiel johnson on this one, reimburse for TriMet passes instead…

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Um, I believe the intent is to promote shopping, thereby generating income in the downtown neighborhood.

Yes, I know there is public transportation to downtown. Yes I know that biking to downtown is easy and fun, and bicycle parking is “rock star” close. That said, a successful downtown benefits all of Portland, it validates the transportation options that are in place, and it verifies that a dense, dynamic urban core is a viable alternative to suburban malls and sprawl. I hope every shop in the urban center has a record year.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Um, I think the issue is that inviting people to drive may make the downtown a less dynamic core and, in the long run, makes downtown less successful. It’s not just about the fact that many of us find the presence of motor vehicles to be unpleasant and add to our danger, although those are real issues.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Right not there are not enough people who live down town or who find the public transportation inviting to create the dynamic of a vibrant down town that can support the shops. In the long run you may be right, but the free parking is not a forever thing.

Spiffy
Subscriber

and again back to my asking if there is a shortage of downtown shoppers leaving the parking garages empty on Sunday…

this seems like a non-solution to a non-problem…

and B. Carfree has a point about more cars making downtown less friendly to all other modes… it’s already so bad that I get off the bus and walk the last few blocks because it’s faster than sitting in traffic behind all the cars…

again, I want to know the numbers they came up with to justify promoting motor vehicle use in the urban core, something every city is trying NOT to promote, including Portland…

Spiffy
Subscriber

it’s not a “viable alternative to suburban malls and sprawl” when you turn downtown shops into a suburban mall by promoting people to drive there…

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“…I believe the intent is to promote shopping, thereby generating income in the downtown neighborhood. …” granpa

Gold star for you, granpa, for figuring this out. Many people already drive, rather than bike. If they live out of Portland but in a nearby city, the trick is, to get them to at least occasionally drive downtown to shop, rather than only to their area shopping mall.

There’s a lot of people for whom a bike just really isn’t going to be able to do a good job of serving as their mode of travel. Same for the bus or light rail. My personal experience, is that traveling by car, driving the seven miles to Downtown, is far more relaxing and comfortable than either light rail or the bus. Unlike many people, I’m able bodied and can walk a fair distance,so I parked about a mile outside of Downtown, where it didn’t require feeding the meters. Really nice walk.

I parked in the parking structures on very few occasions, and didn’t like the experience at all. Though for people that can’t reasonably add a couple miles to their walk around Downtown, the parking structures are probably acceptable.

Because people have to pay to park in them, there may be a lot of hours a day, maybe especially Saturday and Sunday, during which Downtown’s parking garages have lots of empty spaces. Great! Bring in portable bike racks so people can pay to park their bikes in those empty parking spaces. Or use those spaces to offer free valet bike parking on some days, to people riding their bikes downtown to shop.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Since when is a place to store you private property (park) a legitimate role of government? What would Adam Smith say? Just wondering why the city owns parking garages in the fist place.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Competition?
Would you privatize all currently shared resources?
I’d like to use Medicare as my insurance provider, but government rules prevent that, so I’m stuck with the subsidized private insurers. What would Smith say to that?

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Tim, I agree. We should do away with bike parking infrastructure, no?

Why should government subsidize parking your private transportation on a public space?

9watts
Guest
9watts

I think you are conflating several different issues here, motrg.
(1a) Should it be possible to park (i.e. lock up) a bike on public space (think horse rings)? I would say yes.
(1b) should it be possible to park a car on public space? I would say yes.

(2a) should it be free to park a bike on public property in a designated area? I would say yes*

(2b) should it be free to park a car on public property in a designated area/spot? I would say definitely no (questions, see Donal Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking).

* bikes do not come with any externalities. If everyone in this town biked a hundred and forty three things would improve. No, I just thought of two more: a hundred and forty five things. We should do everything in our power to encourage, subsidize, make easy biking. There is nothing, nothing, nothing not to like about bikes, about more people doing it, about shifting over to that mode from just about any other.

None of the above is true for cars, so any subsidy, any provision of free X related to cars would be/is a mistake, would prolong our bias in favor of the automobile to the detriment of everyone.

Adam
Subscriber

Yet another example of Portland saying one thing, yet doing another. They claim to put SOV travel at the bottom of the so-called Transportation Pyramid and say they are looking for solutions to solve the parking crisis; yet they are handing out yet another subsity to people driving. Are they just worried that people will shop at Clackamas Town Center instead of downtown? Why not give free TriMet passes instead? Parking is already free at the Park and Rides.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“They claim to put SOV travel at the bottom of the so-called Transportation Pyramid and say they are looking for solutions to solve the parking crisis; yet they are handing out yet another subsity to people driving.”

Many levels of government have been doing this with garbage too. The EPA has a solid waste hierarchy, has had for decades. Landfilling is at the bottom, and guess what is at the top… Source Reduction! Every heard of it?
Didn’t think so. No, instead all we ever hear is Recycling, which is not a solution and not at the top of the pyramid. Oh, well.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Michael – it is interesting that you chose to use a photo from the City Center Target, it has to have one of the WORST off street bike parking areas in the City for a development built since Portland went Platinum. (Have you tried it yet?)

Chris
Guest
Chris

In my opinion, there is ONE thing holding the bicycle back: PARKING. It is THE major advantage of cars for local transportation. No matter if you use a cable, a u-lock, two u-locks, or three, your bike will get stolen eventually.

The city needs to sponsor bicycle valets at each and every parking garage for your holiday shopping.

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

Yeah would be fun to come out with all your bags only to find someone has given themselves a present of your bicycle. Merry Christmas! Naw I’ll drive down there and use the free car parking. Our traffic is nothing compared to real cities.

CD
Guest
CD

Admittedly I tend to embrace the car part of a low-car life when it comes to holiday shopping. Too many things purchased to comfortably fit in four panniers (mine and my wife’s).

If the city put some kind of locking facilities in SmartPark garages with security detail watching them, I’d buy in — but that seems a pipe dream.

Grandpa
Guest
Grandpa

Good point. If anyone noticed the weather over the last few days, it is easy to imagine that walking home from a transit stop with a couple of Nordstrom bags, or trying to ferry stuffed animals through the downpours would not be attractive options. There are more hausfraus and window-men in Portland than transit wonks and cycling Freds and frankly, they spend more money. in summary, money talks.

wsherrett
Guest
wsherrett

I’ve been wondering for years, why Portland doesn’t offer secure bike parking in all of their smart park garages. If the downtown bike thieves have had to move on from PSU bike racks to other places, why not reduce their opportunities even more? And some of those bikes might be cargo bikes, on shopping trips. . .

ED
Guest
ED

It does surprise me that stores and businesses haven’t caught on to offering customers their choice of TriMet or parking validation. When I go downtown for a meeting, many firms–especially law firms–offer to validate your parking, but I’ve never found one offering to give you a bus ticket. What kind of deal does SmartPark have with merchants, and could TriMet look at developing a similar partnership?

Brad
Guest
Brad

This sounds like a desperate downtown scheme from a different era. A time when downtown was on the ropes and the suburbs thrived at its expense. Now that the tables have really started to turn and downtown is robust and gaining strength every day, a promotion like this seems like a useless holdover from the 20th century.