After a decade of struggling to pay for a street network that is in some parts dangerous and in other parts crumbling, Portland’s city council voted 4-0 Wednesday to do a small something about it.
The $4 million annually that’ll be raised by hiking downtown parking meter rates from $1.60 an hour to $2 is a far cry from the $53 million that might have been raised by last year’s original street fee proposal, and even further from the $100 million that the city would need each of the next 10 years to prevent any of its paved streets from gradually turning to gravel.
But the meter rate hike will mean that it’ll no longer be cheaper to spend three hours parked along a public curb than to take a three-hour bus trip or to spend three hours in one of the city’s off-street garages.
The rate will also push people to vacate valuable parking spots more quickly, making it easier for people to find a parking space downtown. At the midday peak, the city says, 90 percent of downtown parking spaces are full. The city’s target is 85 percent — about one space per block.
“Today was about a long-overdue update to the rates for on-street parking,” city spokesman Dylan Rivera said. “The first update to our rates in six years.”
Rivera said that raising parking prices to meet the rising demand for downtown parking will “provide the turnover that businesses need and provide the access that residents and businesses expect.”
The Portland Business Alliance, downtown neighborhood association, local transportation advocates and a citizens’ advisory committee all endorsed the rate hike.
To mitigate any impact on the tiny minority of downtown employees who are low-income but drive downtown and park in paid curbside spots, the bureau will also create a new program offering low-income discounts for overnight parking passes in the city’s downtown garages. The passes currently cost $5 to $6 between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The changes take effect Jan. 29. It’ll affect all meters west of the Willamette River except in the Northwest District surrounding NW 21st and 23rd Avenues.
So, where will the money go? The city hasn’t decided. $4 million a year is a 14 percent jump in the city’s parking meter revenue but only a 1.2 percent increase for the transportation bureau’s annual budget. Though the recent rebound in driving is likely to boost transportation budgets in the next few years as gas taxes flow into the system, that’ll be softened as the state’s fleet of cars keeps getting more efficient.
It’s not the only new money that could go to local transportation. This month the city said its rapidly growing economy means at least $11 million to add to various budgets in the 2016-2017 year that will begin in July. Half of new one-time money is supposed to go to capital projects like road maintenance or construction.
The vote was approved unanimously by city council, with Commissioner Nick Fish absent.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation didn’t consider adjusting parking meter enforcement hours. City data shows that downtown parking spaces fill up rapidly right around 7 p.m., when curbside parking becomes free.
Rivera said PBOT felt that issue was among those that should be tackled in a separate conversation.
“Changing enforcement hours is something that came up in this discussion, but it’s not part of this package,” he said. “That’s something that PBOT would need to review on a separate occasion.”
This is the first of three parking reform proposals coming before the city council this winter. In the next few months it’ll consider changes to its parking requirements for downtown development and a new neighborhood parking permit system.
Correction 3:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that the council had already approved the new downtown development rules.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org