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Guest opinion: To make paradise, stop putting up parking lots

The planned parking garage and hotel are shown in green. All the whited-out areas are spaces where there is an existing above-ground parking lot. This does not include on-street parking or below-ground parking.
(Image: Google)

This is a guest post by Kiel Johnson, a resident of the Lloyd District who operates the Go By Bike shop and valet.

The Portland Development Commission’s startling new approach of publicly financing massive parking garages to pay their future operating costs should concern any citizen who does not want Detroit-style bankrupt public spaces.

As our city talks about addressing our homelessness crisis, we are spending $26 million to make sure affluent out-of-town convention goers do not have to walk one or two blocks.

The PDC’s new quest for revenue means that this powerful public planning organization will have a vested interest in maintaining and increasing all future auto capacity for many years to come. We must think: in the debate over the next Columbia River Crossing, what side will a PDC funded by parking revenue be on?

As a Lloyd District resident, every year I open my property tax bill and find that some of it is set aside for living in an “urban renewal area.” I have always assumed that this money is going towards making my neighborhood a better place. After reading last week’s article on the $26 million parking lot to be built next to one of our busiest transit hubs, I question whether this is the case. In the upcoming year I will be forced to watch the bulldozers and cement trucks I helped finance, working to build yet another parking garage in a neighborhood of parking garages.

As our city talks about addressing our homelessness crisis, we are spending $26 million to make sure affluent out-of-town convention goers do not have to walk the one or two blocks from any of the many existing parking garages to the new Convention Center Hotel. If they had to walk down these streets they might stop and buy a coffee and spend some money in our neighborhood.

Instead, tourists will drive from the airport to their hotel and then drive out of our neighborhood. For some reason I am paying to incentivize this.There is already plenty of publically funded car parking in the Lloyd District if we are just smart enough to use it.

The most disappointing thing is the lack of imagination, creativity and leadership that went into the idea to build another massive parking lot. When the cement trucks arrive I will think of this list of what else we could have done with $26 million.


For $26 million, you could:

Replace 43 percent of the Portland bicycle infrastructure that had been built as of 2008.

Build 7,878 tiny-house cottages for people without homes.

(Photo: H. Grimes)

Retrofit Grant High School, Creston Elementary, Cleveland High School, Chapman High School, Binnsmead Middle School, and Ainsworth Elementary for earthquakes.

Operate 325 bicycle valets for 14 hours a day, five days a week.

(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Recreate the 3rd Avenue Better Block project 5,200 times.

Add about 20,000 more bikes to this summer’s public bike sharing system, making it 20 times larger.

Paint 17,333 intersection murals.

(Photo: Greg Raisman)

Offer 20,710 full-credit terms at Portland Community College for free.

Build 8.6 solar panel projects the same size as the Oregon Convention Center solar project (totaling 55,900 panels).

We don’t give money to government in order to gamble on business ventures that will, if successful, make our community less livable. We give money to government so it can achieve the goals that none of us can achieve alone.

This $26 million suggests that the PDC has lost sight of the goals Portland stands for. It’s up to our elected leaders to either get them in line, or cut off their supply of public money forever.

— Kiel Johnson is the proprieter of Go By Bike which is a BikePortland business supporter.

Note: This story was originally published with a lead graphic that showed a footprint for the new parking garage that did not accurately reflect its actual size. We’ve updated the graphic and regret any confusion. – Jonathan.