Guest opinion: Bike parking versus housing is a false choice

Bikes park in an apartment in the Lloyd in 2015. (Photo: Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

Publisher’s note: Four years ago, Portland completed a major recommendation of the Bicycle Master Plan by adopting robust standards for bicycle parking in new construction. Now, amidst concern about housing production, the City is considering rolling back major pieces of it. Chris Smith, a transportation advocate, former planning commissioner, and one of the architects of the current bike parking code, believes the debate around housing production versus bike parking is a false choice.


Chris Smith in 2022. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“Parking is a fertility drug for cars” is a common refrain among advocates who are part of movement sweeping the nation (and already law in Oregon) to eliminate automobile parking minimums. I’m convinced the same is true for cycling.

An adequate amount of convenient bike parking is a fertility drug for cycling, which is why I helped shepherd a package of amendments to Portland’s bike parking code through the Planning and Sustainability Commission in 2019. These amendments increased the amount of required parking for multi-family housing slightly, but mostly made sure that the parking was actually useful and convenient.

Is it hypocritical to support minimums for one type of parking while opposing minimums for another? I don’t believe so, and the reason is simple: driving has many negative externalities (fatal collisions, air pollution, noise, greenhouse gases, congestion, etc…) while cycling has many positive ones (improved air quality, promotion of physical health, more efficient use of road space, much less expensive vehicles, opportunity for personal interactions, etc…). All of our regional and city plans recognize this by calling for less driving (in the form of miles traveled per capita) and more cycling.

The promotion of cycling requires several elements: safe and convenient infrastructure, adequate parking, access to bicycles, as well as encouragement programs. Looking at the two infrastructure requirements — safe infrastructure and parking — they develop on different timelines. We can build a protected bike lane and it gets used tomorrow, but the person using that lane will need to rely on parking at their home that was built some time ago. That’s why it makes sense to require new construction to provide parking for the level of cycling that we expect not today — but 10, 25 or 50 years from now.

Yes that means today we see half-full bike rooms, and I understand why to some folks that looks like wasted money. To me it looks like an investment in a more sustainable future.

Our Housing Emergency: Can we blame bike parking?

We have a serious shortfall of housing production in Portland and City Council’s attention has lately turned to the cost of building new housing with an eye toward adjusting or rolling back things like System Development Charges, our Inclusionary Housing Policy and bike parking.

BAE Urban Economics, a consulting firm retained by the City to study the issue, recently presented an analysis that bike parking accounts for 3-6% of multi-family building costs, and that bike parking was adding $11,000 per dwelling unit.

That range of costs has two bases. The first is the actual cost of construction of the bike room space, which is probably the lower range. The higher number is based on opportunity cost, i.e., the rent that could be earned if the bike room space was put to use as living units. I find these calculations suspect and we have yet to see a detailed report that includes all the assumptions for these numbers. Here’s why I’m skeptical:

  • While the report works from the basis of a 1.5 bike parking spaces per unit standard, our code actually allows half of all bike parking to be placed in living units (more on this later), which means the bike room space ratio could be as low as 0.75.
  • There is no loss of revenue with in-unit bike parking, a tenant is actively paying rent for the space.
  • Bike rooms are often windowless spaces that could never be used as living units.
  • The ratio in outer pattern areas of the city is actually 1.1
  • Our zoning code exempts bike rooms from the limits on overall building size (FAR – floor area ratio), so bike room space is not necessarily in competition with living units Some architects indicate that other limits like height may put the uses back in competition.
  • In the presentation, the consultant refers to bike rooms on the ground floor or basement, but our code allows bike rooms on any floor accessible by elevator. Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that smaller bike rooms on upper floors are more popular, perhaps because of greater perceived security.

On the whole, in the absence of a lot more detail, the $11,000 number seems very pessimistic to me.

Years to make progress, trashed in an instant?

Chris Smith (circled) led a BikePortland Wonk Night event focused on the bike parking code in 2013. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

We spent almost five years creating the 2019 amendments, including a robust commenting session at a BikePortland Wonk Night event in 2013 and a full stakeholder process managed by PBOT, followed by a public input discussion draft in the Planning Bureau, then hearings at Planning Commission and City Council. By contrast, these proposed changes would go directly to Planning Commission in September, then fast-tracked to City Council for adoption.

The unsaid part: auto parking still dominates

I’m told by folks involved in the process that the “prototype” financials used in the analysis include an assumed 0.5 car parking ratio, even though none is required by the City. It may still be required by lenders or the developer may perceive that the market demands it. But since structured auto parking can cost up to $50,000 per space, that means construction costs could include $25,000 per unit, far exceeding the $11,000 unit cost for bike parking.

I have a hard time being too concerned about the impact of bike parking when we appear to be just fine with twice as much in auto parking costs.

Are we worrying about the wrong opportunity costs?

Bikes are an affordability tool. A household that can avoid having a car (or a second car) can save over $10,000 per year in vehicle operating costs. But absent a secure bike parking space, that savings opportunity is lost.

There’s also a public sector opportunity cost. If we don’t hit our bicycle mode share goals, in the future we will need to build more expensive auto infrastructure to accommodate growth in trips that aren’t served by cycling as the more affordable infrastructure option.

What should Council do?

I have two recommendations:

  1. Convene a workgroup to examine the in-unit bike parking standards. In 2019 we preserved this option in the name of affordability, but added standards to make sure we didn’t get bike hooks above beds and other unusable implementations, as we had previously seen without standards. But we’ve gotten feedback that the 2019 in-unit standards are difficult to design to and also difficult to plan check (a process builders must go through to get a permit). Since they were added at the end of the 2019 process, it would be worthwhile to have stakeholders and code experts look at streamlining these in a way that ensures the usability of the parking created while making them easier to implement.
  2. If Council can get realistic cost impacts of bike parking and determines that this is truly a barrier to building housing, they could consider a temporary roll-back of the bike parking ratio to no less than 1.0 spaces/unit. Any such rollback should have an explicit sunset date. A future Council should have to take formal action to extend such a reduction. If Council decides to take this step, they should do so clearly understanding that they are sacrificing future bicycle mode share to do it.

What Council should not do is eliminate the standards created in 2019 that make sure bike room parking is actually usable by a range of users with different abilities and for bikes of many different types.

We’ve spent more than a century fertilizing driving with a variety of incentives, including costly minimum parking mandates. We’re slowly unwinding those. But as we do so, it’s still more than appropriate that we put some investment into fertilizing more biking!

— Chris Smith, chris@chrissmith.us

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

50 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

For once, I agree with a YIMBY. Reducing bike parking based on specious supply-side economics arguments is fundamentally anti-renter.

mc
mc
8 months ago

I can’t help but wonder what percentage of apartment renters have bikes.

I’d assume there’s some data that’s informing how big a bike storage room be.

I also can’t help but wonder if current bike parking & storage plans reflect the fact the e-bikes are bigger & heavier, they often have balloon tires that won’t fit in trays designed for non-e-bikes, are too heavy for folks who ride them to lift and hang up on a wall mounted hook.

Not too mention that if you’re a family that gets around town in an e-cargo bike, which are even bigger, heavier and more unwieldy in tight spaces.

Lastly, if the e-bike rebate bill passes, guess what the biggest group of people will get them? Low-income apartment renters.

Chris Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  mc

Keep in mind that we’re trying to build for the bike users in a decade or two, not just those today. The standards for horizontal bike parking (a lot is allowed to be vertical) require a 2’x6′ floorplate. My ebike will fit in that. If your requirement for bike spaces is 20 or greater, 10% have to have a 3’x10′ cargo bike floorplate.

X
X
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

If there is square footage in an apartment allocated for bike storage, a renter who doesn’t have a bike, or bikes, can use it for another mobility device, a work station, general storage, a daybed or whatever. The space is an amenity.

There’s a serious issue with battery charging. Battery packs are non-standard and largely unregulated. This is a really good reason to meld Portland bikeshare stations into housing developments and make it as economical and universal as possible.

When asked, a person in the industry told me that they wouldn’t charge an e-bike battery overnight in a building they didn’t want to see burn down, so I don’t. I’m not aware of a tragic fire in Portland resulting from battery charging but if we’re not careful it’s just a matter of time. Most people have some idea of how to store gasoline but big battery packs are new to many of us.

Serenity
Serenity
8 months ago
Reply to  mc

I knew *that* was coming
“But I don’t see!” “but nobody uses them!” “but renters don’t have bikes!” “But poor people will have nice things!” “But where will I parked my monster truck?” *** Moderator: deleted last two sentences, antagonistic ***

Charley
Charley
8 months ago

Chris brings informed and intelligent commentary every time!

Just on the face of it, bike parking code would seem to contribute *very* little to our affordability crisis. I think it’s possible that the mandated bike parking could be killed off, though, as a “fall guy”, in lieu of more substantive changes. Allowing multi-family housing everywhere or reforming City permitting bureaucracy would surely have more impact… but the City Council probably isn’t interested in these more controversial changes.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
8 months ago

Chris, nice write up. [I had the same reaction to the $11k figure and reached out to my industry contact who reacted the same to it.]

As I was also part of the PBoT stakeholder group for the bike parking code revision, I understand the interest in revising [promoting] on floor distributed bike parking storage rooms, BUT I would remind folks to be aware that the new issue of lithium battery fires (most often due to grey market non OEM batteries / poor repairs) and that many architects do not yet understand the dimensional circulation requirements of modern family bikes, such as long tails or bakfiets. [These architects are often the same ones STILL picking wave racks for mixed use buildings.] I worked with one developer – who had planned to allocate a lot of their bike parking to each residential floor – but upon further analysis the location of the rooms far away from the elevators (and down hallways with sharp turns) and elevators without a pull through design made many of these rooms less of an ideal replacement for centralized bike parking room.

PS. “…today we see half-full bike rooms, and I understand why to some folks that looks like wasted money…” so it is interesting that the City just announced it is mothballing one of its SmartPark garages – SW 3rd and Alder – due to the lack of demand downtown.

X
X
8 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

“…STILL picking wave racks for mixed use buildings.”

–and fixing them in concrete a few inches from a wall so their nominal capacity is cut by at least half.

ED
ED
8 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Can we please ban manufacturing of all wave racks???

Chris Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  ED

The 2019 amendments also made it clear that wave racks are not allowable for any required bike parking in Portland construction (short-term or long-term). So much to love in that 2019 package!

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

Wave racks save developers money. Now is the time to unban them!

Michael Andersen
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Even I’m not enough of a developer shill to make this argument. 🙂 Wave racks are stupid wastes of both space and money and we should save developers from themselves by banning them.

Scott Mizée
8 months ago

wow… what a great comment string here…
Chris, this is such a well-written article.
Todd, as usual, I agree with most of your arguments as well.
Watts… I’m going to presume your comment is dripping with sarcasm. 🙂

ALL: I was SHOCKED when I recently stumbled upon a newly installed wave rack bolted down by Portland Parks & Recreation near the Cottage in Columbia Park just off N Lombard. How could this have happened? Who is responsible for approving these purchases and installations?

…seems like not that big of a deal I suppose… but I really was quite surprised to see this show up on a city property installed by a city bureau when it is so reviled by some many in the city.

PPR_Wave.jpg
SD
SD
8 months ago

Thank you. This is a great analysis with crucial details to understanding the issue. I hope that Rubio and city council are truly taking a look at the factors raised in the article and are considering ways to improve or promote improvements in bike parking.

Both in this issue and the PBOT survey, biking continues to be framed as a novelty or luxury and is the first to be axed when electeds want to look serious. As you and others have pointed out, the benefit from revising the bike code will be trivial, but the long term consequences could be substantial.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
8 months ago

Thank you for writing this! I have been so sad to think that new, much-needed housing might get built without bike parking, or that bike parking requirements would somehow get dropped as if they are the primary reason we don’t have enough affordable housing. It feels to me like such an important moment to not give up. Dropping bike parking seems like giving up on a bike-forward future. It doesn’t seem right to build affordable housing without providing parking for affordable and sustainable transportation. Parking is a big deal. Our family will often choose to bike when we know it means we’ll get great parking at our destination. If we lacked secure bike parking at home, or lacked it at our destinations, we probably wouldn’t even own bikes. This is especially important for new cyclists who might not even consider biking… until they see the bike parking at their residence. Knowing there is a place to park, and seeing other people with their bikes, can be what swings a decision from driving to cycling.

Aaron
8 months ago

Great article! I think your analysis is on point and your two recommendations are a reasonable compromise. If even those compromises are not enough for the decision makers and bike parking minimums are scrapped then I wonder if the next most reasonable alternative would be to require 1 bike parking spot for every car parking space. If developers are still voluntarily building 0.5 car spaces per unit then it seems only fair that there should be an equal number of bicycle spaces, even though that would still result in a disproportionately large amount of square footage given to cars.

My fear is that if the bike parking minimums are removed then we will see all new builds with a moderate amount of car spaces and absolutely zero room or thought given to bikes at all, except for maybe a staple on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Chris Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

Be careful what you wish for. In almost all new construction there are many more bike spaces that auto spaces, even if the auto spaces take up more space.

Bicycle Dude
Bicycle Dude
8 months ago

Thanks Chris for your comments on bike parking. To me, it’s a no-brainer to include bike parking in new construction. I hope you and other advocates can convince city leaders to keep the 2019 vision in place and not drop a well thought and effective policy.

Michael Andersen
8 months ago

These are all good points, Chris, and as somebody on the other side of this debate, I think your proposed compromises are reasonable.

One small factual point: the BAE study estimated $11k per bike parking SPACE. For most new apartments, the mandatory ratio is 1.5 bike parking spaces per unit. BAE’s numbers (which I agree are probably overestimates, based on your points above) put the cost of mandatory bike parking at $16.5k per unit.

(You’re correct that the mandatory ratio is 1.1/unit in parts of the city, but generally speaking those aren’t the parts where rents are high enough, and auto parking demand low enough, for new apartment buildings to be built.)

Some points I’d make in reply:

1) Some people may be claiming that bike parking is a primary reason we don’t have enough affordable housing. Those people are wrong or lying. But I think you and I both agree that mostly-empty bike parking rooms, like the ones the city is currently requiring buildings to offer, impose SOME burdens on development and therefore on tenants in both new and old buildings. The question is whether those costs are worth it.

2) You emphasize the future you, me, and most BikePortland readers want, when we will somehow find the political path to reallocating enough street space to achieve our modal targets. (My view is that we will never find that political path without a lot more infill housing, among other things.) In this rosy future, we’ll have even more daily transit trips than we do daily bike trips. Plus a lot more walking trips. Most people will presumably be multimodal, but a lot of people will just be transit/walk people and that’s fine! Those future households should not be required to pay thousands of dollars for bike parking spaces they don’t need … even if we accept your premise that households today should be required to pay thousands of dollars for bike parking spaces that will maybe hopefully be useful in the future.

3) Biking advocates like us love to hate the “not everyone can ride a bike” talking point, but it is literally relevant in this case because we are literally mandating that some tenants pay for bike parking spaces they do not need. Projects aimed at people with particular disabilities, senior housing, and long-term care facilities … all are extremely important for us to build, and all of those cases will have unique, if not necessarily lower, bike parking needs. We should not try to predict in advance what those needs will be. Those projects should have flexibility on bike parking without needing to request a zoning adjustment etc.

4) Bike parking mandates (like auto parking mandates, SDCs and so forth) put regressive burdens on the smallest and least expensive homes. Does 1.5 bike parking spaces for each studio apartment truly seem reasonable to you? It seems excessive to me under any scenario. Our zoning code should particularly focus on minimizing fixed costs for studios, micros and SROs.

5) I’m aware of no actual evidence that high-quality bike parking affects mode choice. Personally it seems intuitive to me that it does, but even if I’m right, I have no idea how big an effect that is. Mandates should be based on evidence.

Like I said, I think your compromise proposals are reasonable, and I hope City Hall is considering them.

Chris Smith
8 months ago

Michael, I’ve appreciated your willingness to engage in a thoughtful discussion around this and respect that we value bike parking for future users differently.

There are no doubt tweaks we could make, like basing the ratio on bedrooms rather than units and I’m open to having thoughtful discussion about that, but not emergency fixes rushed through with truncated process.

I think the transition to lower energy forms of mobility is inevitable, but the question of when public consciousness turns in that direction is unclear. I suspect after coastal cities are under water it will be there. I hope it gets there sooner!

I’m not particularly making the argument that high quality parking is an inducement to cycling, but I am confident that the lack of it will be a significant barrier when someone is otherwise ready to cycle. The Community Cycling Centers “Understanding Barriers to Bicycling Project” was influential on my thinking (https://communitycyclingcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/Understanding-Barriers-Final-Report.pdf)

As to what BAE pegs the price at, the slides presented to Council clearly say $11K/unit, not space. I’ll email you a copy. $11K/space would be even less credible in my view.

I look forward to continuing the debate!

Michael Andersen
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

Thanks, Chris. That’s a good point about the CCC’s Understanding Barriers report as a piece of qualitative evidence. Like I said, it rings true to me personally, I just don’t know the size of the effect.

On the BAE estimate issue: if you look at slides 14 and 15 of this presentation (or do the math yourself using the numbers on slide 15 and the modeled unit counts of 4, 40, 64, 143, and 532) you can see that BAE’s “$11k per unit” calculation was based on an assumption that the city wouldn’t lower bike parking mandates below 0.5/unit. (Alternatively, we might speculate that most developers would build to a ratio of 0.5/unit even if the mandates were zero; that seems fair to me.) $11k is the difference in lost revenue between a 1.5 ratio and a 0.5 ratio.

I think, given your points about the FAR bonus and less-valuable space, the “cost approach” used by BAE is probably a fair “lower bound” on the cost of complying with the mandate. That approach puts the cost of the mandate at $4200-$5300 per bike parking space.

Chris Smith
8 months ago

Thanks, Michael. I agree that $4200-$5300 per BIKEROOM space is consistent with the standards and a $500/sq ft construction cost. But let’s remember that only 50% of spaces are required to be in bikerooms. If the developer maximizes in-unit allowances, that gets us to $3-4K in bikeroom costs per unit.

As I discussed in the original post, I’m open to exploring (carefully) whether we can make it easier to take advantage of the in-unit allowance.

Chris Smith
8 months ago

And I’ll admit the “fertility drug” framing does imply an inducement. Whether it’s before the fact or after the fact is a bit more nebulous.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

It’s fascinating that in this debate between the pro-bike-parking YIMBY and the anything-developers-cry-about-I-oppose YIMBY,
the quiet part of market urbanism was written out loud.

…but generally speaking those aren’t the parts where rents are high enough…for new apartment buildings to be built.

YIMBYs often pretend to care about the “housing crisis” so this admission that their focus is the availability of class A luxury housing (in the industry’s own lingo) is refreshingly and brutally honest. As shown by the JCHS and others, the only type of housing that developers are building is class A luxury housing — and this has been the case for decades.
.
https://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/reports/files/Harvard_JCHS_Americas_Rental_Housing_2022.pdf

…the mandatory ratio is 1.1/unit in parts of the city, but generally speaking those aren’t the parts [where upwardly-mobile YIMBYs want to live in/care about]

On the other hand, apartment developments in parts of the city* where low-income people might be able to find an apartment that they could barely afford are not a priority because our glorious “free”# housing market refuses to build where housing is most needed.
.
.
* these parts are fast disappearing as gentrification (a word many YIMBYs hate) evaporates working class housing in this city for the rich.
.
#the private housing market receives enormous subsidies from the federal and state government

Karl Dickman
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

the only type of housing that developers are building is class A luxury housing — and this has been the case for decades.

Sorry, this is just flatly not correct. Portland builds much less Class A housing than its peer cities, most new multi-family here is Class B. A national report won’t tell you anything about how much Class A housing Portland, specifically builds, especially not when CTRL+F “Class A” has zero matches, and the only result for “luxury” is “Although rental construction has been on the increase in recent years, rising costs
for materials, labor, and land have pushed new development toward luxury housing.” The link you posted simply does not substantiate the claim you’re making.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Karl Dickman

Sorry, this is just flatly not correct. Portland builds much less Class A housing than its peer cities, most new multi-family here is Class B

With all due respect, jcnhs has been documenting in their state of the housing market report that additions to the rental stock are largely class A. This is not some new concept and its telling that you are arguing this point.

comment image

Moreover, a large fraction of the limited amount of class B and C housing being constructed in cities like Portland is subsidized in some manner. Unlike most YIMBYs, I believe that we should actually address the chronic and worsening low income housing crisis by favoring subsidized housing (and especially social housing) while disincentivizing market rate housing.

The unwillingness of developers to build the housing that is actually needed by working class Oregonians has led to an ever increasing imbalance of housing availability (e.g. where there is plenty of housing available for wealthy renters and virtually no availability for lower-income renters:

comment image

socially engineered
socially engineered
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

This chart only shows that rents have gone up across the board. It says nothing about the effect on rents of building “luxury” apartments. I’m curious what you think would happen to existing working-class housing stock if zero so-called “luxury” units were built. Would rich people just throw up their hands and leave, or would existing working class housing “evaporate” via luxury remodels or plain old bidding wars?

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

What I wrote:

favoring subsidized housing (and especially social housing) while disincentivizing market rate housing

.

What “social” engineered wrote:

what you think … if zero so-called “luxury” units were built

Apologies, but I lost interest in responding to YIMBY absolutist strawpeople years ago.

Michael Andersen
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

My core housing goal is to reduce the amount that rents need to rise (n any area of the city) before homes can be built. If we don’t do that, then whenever the population rises or incomes rise, we give landlords more power to raise rents.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

we give landlords more power to raise rents.

Thanks again for your brutal Randian honesty. I hope many people who are housing insecure read your comment.

The Clear-Eyed Realist™
The Clear-Eyed Realist™
8 months ago

impose SOME burdens on development and therefore on tenants in both new and old buildings. The question is whether those costs are worth it.

Can you quantify this burden to tenants a bit more? Is the rental price is higher because of the supposed high cost of bike parking? Or are buildings not being built because of bike parking?

I agree we should ask whether the costs of bike parking are worth it, but I have no idea what that cost is. $1 per month? $10? $100?

I would argue it is $0.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
8 months ago

I’m aware of no actual evidence that high-quality bike parking affects mode choice. 

“Results of rare events logistic regressions indicate that bicycle parking and cyclist showers are related to higher levels of bicycle commuting—even when controlling for other explanatory variables.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1361920912000594

Michael Andersen
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

This is a finding about workplace bike parking. I agree it’s circumstantial evidence that residential bike parking probably matters a bit. Note that the affect calculated by this survey was pretty small. Here’s a relevant table for a related study of the same data set by the same author:
comment image

Compared to a “free car parking only” scenario, adding bike/walk benefits in suburban DC was associated with an increase in the bike commuting rate from 0.1% to 0.3% and a drop in the drive-alone rate from 97% to 95%. By contrast, charging for auto parking increases the bike commuting rate to 0.5% and cuts the drive-alone rate to 76%. Doing both brings the biking rate up to 1% but leaves the drive-alone at 76%.

Michael Andersen
8 months ago

Sure, good question.

Buildings aren’t being built because it costs too much to build a building. Unused bike parking is one straw of many on that camel’s back. I tried to stack up all the straws and count them here: https://www.sightline.org/2018/08/30/what-makes-portlands-new-apartments-so-expensive/

If we use $4200 as a lowball cost per bike parking space, that adds about $28/month to the break-even rent per apartment. (That’s assuming a yield on cost ratio of 6% and a construction APR of 8%.)

The Clear-Eyed Realist™
The Clear-Eyed Realist™
8 months ago

If we use $4200 as a lowball cost per bike parking space, that adds about $28/month to the break-even rent per apartment. (That’s assuming a yield on cost ratio of 6% and a construction APR of 8%.)

You know that’s hooey. Rents are set by the market, not by a builder’s cost. Development does not work on a cost-plus markup model.

If a building owner could increase the rent on an apartment $28, they would, with or without a bike room, unless people are willing to pay that much more to have access to one… which given utilization rates seems unlikely.

Whether a bike room has ever killed a project is pure speculation, as would be knowing what, if anything, was built instead. Translating that potential (temporary?) loss of units into an impact on market rents is even more speculative.

That’s why I say the cost is $0. Your rent will be the same with or without a bike room. That assertion also has some speculation built in, but I believe it is the most defendable number.

The Clear-Eyed Realist™
The Clear-Eyed Realist™
8 months ago

To the mods: I posted a response to this message, then realizing it sounded harsher than I wanted it to be, I tried to shorten it and soften it a bit, but the UI wouldn’t let me. I refreshed, and now the post is gone (probably awaiting moderation), but this is the second time this has happened today.

To Michael: I wanted to make mine a gentler response, focusing more on the difference between “break-even rent” and actual rent. The point is the same, but I apologize for making it so strongly.

Michael Andersen
8 months ago

Rents are set by the market, yes, but the market’s price ceiling is set by the price of comparable homes. A landlord will generally charge as much as they can without risking their unit sitting empty…but if there’s a nearby, similar, newly built home at a lower price then the prospective tenant is (generally) going to move there instead, and the landlord will have to cut their price to compete.

So that’s the price *ceiling* – what is someone else asking for a similar product? That’s how much a landlord or seller can charge. Same as the yogurt aisle at a grocery store. The price *floor* of new housing, meanwhile, is set by the cost factors of new housing plus profit. You’re right that the developer would love to charge more than their costs plus profit, but if they do then some other developer will be charging it instead and they’ll be unable to sell their product. Developers are screwed even more than landlords when their product doesn’t lease up quickly.

We aren’t accustomed to experiencing this, because generally we keep raising and raising the requirements on new development, driving up its cost factors and thereby ensuring that it won’t be built until after rents have risen even higher. A couple recent exceptions in Portland: we legalized fourplexes two years ago, reducing the land input costs of new development, and now there are like 100 newly built 1,000-square-foot homes hitting the market simultaneously and bidding their prices down to compete against each other. Sellers of existing homes are also being forced to compete against them, and it’s putting downward price pressure on what the sellers can charge.

(Not claiming this is responsible for all or even most of the downward pressure on Portland home prices over the last year, but it’s responsible for some.)

Michael Andersen
8 months ago

And I appreciate the care to write a gentle response! Thanks. Hopefully I’ve replied in kind.

qqq
qqq
8 months ago

 Unused bike parking is one straw of many on that camel’s back

The straw that broke the camel’s back is really fitting for costs. But it’s also fitting for design. The cumulative effect of hundreds of very specific code requirements is that designing can become like solving a puzzle just to meet them.

Of course requirements are needed, including specific ones. But it’s important not to add overly specific requirements. The fact that they often conflict with one another makes things worse.

Even within one code there will be conflicts. The zoning code has had minimums that are greater than maximums, so it was literally impossible to meet them. When you mix in multiple codes, it’s a mess–zoning requirements that conflict with ADA regulations, etc. The people that write one code don’t know what the other codes require.

Especially given that architects as well as developers responded to the City’s code barrier survey, I think many of the responses are expressing frustration with the cumulative difficulty of meeting regulations that often don’t even seem to have benefits for anyone.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  qqq

Hi qqq,

Thank you for bringing up the problem of conflicting code. I discussed that in my original post about the BDS/Rubio survey last winter:

https://bikeportland.org/2023/03/15/developers-say-bike-parking-rules-are-biggest-reason-for-housing-delays-371416

As I mentioned in that article, the city council stopped funding its annual regulatory review and code reconciliation in 2017, so for six years now new code which has been adopted has not gone through a process of review to make sure it meshes with existing code.

Commissioner Rubio’s chief of staff considered that a problem which should never happen again, and their office is working out a permanent process for code review which will identify conflicts and reconcile them before council is presented with new code to adopt.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago

Ugh. So much dropping of the ball in Portland. Liberals won’t get as far if they don’t focus on governing *well*!

Maybe it’s just that wonky good-process government isn’t sexy to voters, so the officials don’t prioritize it. I don’t know. But it sure if frustrating.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago

It warms my heart to see two of my local governance heroes disagreeing constructively in public.

On the other hand, it’s kind of a bummer that the topic is so small bore: the bike parking issue is peanuts compared to the overall regulatory hassle, not to mention the organized opposition to housing!

I wish we were arguing about how many dozens of units of SRO’s we’d allow on *any plot of urban land in the whole state*.

Michael Andersen
7 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Thanks for the nice words, Charley.

A major I am motivated to make this argument about bike parking is that the state DID just legalize SROs on every plot of urban land in the whole state.

From Section 16 of HB 3395, which easily passed both houses in June and was immediately signed by Gov. Kotek:

2) Within an urban growth boundary, each local government shall allow the development of a single room occupancy:

(a) With up to six units on each lot or parcel zoned to allow for the development of a detached single-family dwelling; and

(b) With the number of units consistent with the density standards of a lot or parcel zoned to allow for the development of residential dwellings with five or more units.

https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2023R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB3395/Enrolled#page=21

In Portland and other cities that don’t cap unit count in apartment zones, that means that an unlimited number of SROs are now legal in Portland apartment zones. Add that to the city’s recent complete elimination of mandatory parking and we could actually see the market once again building relatively budget-friendly SROs (up to modern fire and quality standards, even). Per-unit bike parking standards are a bigger burden on the smallest homes, and I really don’t want them to be part of the barrier to an SRO rebound.

Michael Andersen
7 months ago
Reply to  Charley

(Urban residential land, anyway.)

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
8 months ago

One concept I would love for a savvy creative development team to pitch [and see how it performs]…if this $11k / bike space is “factual”: how about designing every unit / or add a bank of such cubbies per floor with 1 Brompton Bike cubby / locker (and include 1 Brompton per 1.0 unit or 0.5 units shared Brompton + annual maintenance / theft replacement) and the ~0.1 left over ratio would go towards a lobby level parking for family bikes and shared bakfiets? [I would rather see a bike room in the basement…but willing to discuss options that meet the performance outcomes of the code.]
https://cyclehoop.com/product/folding-bike-locker/
https://www.seymourpowell.com/case-studies/brompton-bikes

Anon
Anon
8 months ago

I’ll never understand the public parking at living spaces. Bikes get stolen out of private locked bike lockers. Include a small bike cave in every dwelling, that can alternatively be used as a small office or craft area if tenants don’t bike.

ActualPractical
ActualPractical
8 months ago

Eliminate FAR and height restrictions. There we go, found space for bike parking.

Sio
Sio
8 months ago

This read like a NotJustBikes video.

Courtney
Courtney
8 months ago

Love!! So true, it is a false choice. Over time, bikes will be cheaper because of the car parking they save. Also, let’s not pretend the cost of apartments is actually based on how much they cost to build – these buildings charge whatever they think they can get away with.

JP
JP
8 months ago

When are we bringing back Wonk Night?