Planning Commission votes to roll back bike parking code to spur new housing

Project manager Phil Nameny and Principal Planner Sandra Wood of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at the Planning Commission meeting.

Requirements for bicycle parking in new residential buildings have begun their roll back.

On Tuesday night, the Portland Planning Commission recommended suspending, or striking altogether, several bike parking requirements which were adopted by City Council in 2019, including:

  • A temporary reduction of long-term parking-to-unit ratios
  • A permanent deletion of in-unit parking standards, such as the 15-foot and alcove requirements
  • A temporary removal of the cargo bike accommodation requirement
  • Adjustments to required loading spaces

Essentially, the Planning Commission will recommend the Housing Regulatory Relief Project (HRRP) bike parking amendments as written to the Portland City Council.

The Commission passed the entire HRRP package by a 7-1 vote, and considered their own four amendments on bird-safe glazing, eco-roofs and neighborhood contact requirements — along with a group of “technical amendments,” which amounted to clarifications and word-changes. Some changes are permanent and others are meant to be temporary and will sunset in five years.

“I’d like to call attention to the bike parking piece as a specific follow-up… I’d like to ask city council to commit to looking at that section of the code—without waiting five years.”

– Eli Spevak, planning commissioner

No amendments to HRRP’s bike parking modifications were proposed, either by staff or the commissioners. The commission spent the bulk of the time discussing their bird-safe glazing and eco-roof amendments to the draft proposal. In a win for the Audubon Society, the commission decided to retain the existing bird-safe code and noted that it was a complicated issue that “needs a little bit more time.”

Readers might recall that the HRRP began this year with a survey sent by the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) and Commissioner Carmen Rubio’s office to people who had recently interacted with BDS, including city staff. The survey asked “What are the top five requirements the City of Portland should consider suspending or modifying to support increased housing production?”

Of the 22 options listed, respondents reported bike parking to be the most onerous of the requirements.

Yesterday’s hearing was the third hearing in nearly as many weeks about the package of code changes aimed at boosting housing production. After the outpouring of public testimony at the initial hearing on October 24th, the Planning Commission called for a work session on November 7th. Tuesday’s vote was to consider resulting Planning Commission amendments to the HRR draft plan.

Commissioners wrestled with the intricacies of several complex policies in a compressed timeframe. Votes on a few amendments were evenly split. The eco-roof amendment only passed after Commissioner Eli Spevak called for second vote on it, right before the final vote on the entire HRR package. The group could not come to an agreement on bird-safe glazing.

After the final vote to recommend the amended HRR package to City Council, Chair Mary-Rain O’Meara commented that “there will be a lot of happy developers and people trying to advance housing.”

Here are the three changes to existing bike parking code that were supported by Planning Commission (taken from HRR proposed draft):

Pattern area map from 2020 bike parking code update.

The first temporarily reduces the long-term bike parking ratios for household living uses for a period for 5 years. Within the inner pattern areas (see graphic at right), the ratio is reduced from 1.5 to 1 space per unit. In the outer pattern areas, the ratio is reduced from 1.0 to 0.7 space per unit… Over the next 5 years, staff can study whether the existing ratios balance future needs with space utilization of housing projects to potentially consider a future amendment.

The second and third amendments simplify the in-unit bike parking standards (up to 50% of the required bike parking spaces are allowed in dwelling units) and temporarily removes the requirement for larger bicycle parking areas to accommodate larger or cargo bikes.

When discussion turned to what the accompanying letter to Council should say, the commissioners appeared to relax. The discussion of the letter was telling. A couple commissioners wanted to preserve the debate and discussion of their various amendments, either in a spreadsheet-type format, or a synopsis of the debate, to pass on to the City Council. They wanted to document that votes were split on several issues, and that “we did consider these items very seriously.”

Several commissioners also brought up monitoring and review of the code changes, “how will we know at the end of five years that, either these measures are successful, and how significantly they alleviated burdens to housing development, or maybe the opposite of that, the unintended consequences.”

As the discussion unfolded, commissioners made it clear they understood the magnitude of what they had just voted for, namely to undo the decisions of previous Planning Commissions and City Councils, some of it recent (like bike parking and eco-roofs) and other code (such as neighborhood notification) which has been baked into city governance for decades.

Finally, Commissioner Spevak brought up bike parking, “I’d like to call attention to the bike parking piece as a specific follow-up piece. We concluded with 100% of staff recommendation on this, because we recognized this is just going to take more time than we have here. So, I’d like to ask city council to commit to looking at that section of the code—without waiting five years. Sooner.”

The Planning Commission will forward their recommendation to the Portland City Council for consideration and a vote in December.

A video of the meeting can be seen on YouTube.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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blumdrew
blumdrew
6 months ago

What a horrible process to watch. The city asks developers what they want to remove, they (and their consultants) come up with an absolutely bogus number that bike parking requirements cost developers, and then we just roll back a random amount of the regulation. An absolutely shameful process led by Commissioner Rubio et al.

Is there any meaningful discussion about drastically simplifying our arcane permitting process that requires input and feedback from multiple government agencies? Are developers even interested in that? Probably not – the developers themselves benefit from a complicated and bespoke permitting and building process because high soft costs keep out smaller competitors and give them a good excuse to spend money on labor they deem worth paying for (consultants, white collar workers, etc.).

And as a comment on the prior article about this mentioned, there is no reason to believe that bike parking is actually a big impediment to housing development – just that it’s something developers view as being pointless and a wasteful government overreach.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  blumdrew

My feeling is that it’s not the bike parking code itself that was bad or onerous… It was the permitting process that many developers and architects find confusing and annoying. And I can’t blame them! It does us no favors if we pass good code, if the bureau in charge of helping people navigate it doesn’t make it relatively easy to follow. I mean, when a former member of the PBOT bicycle advisory committee and bike advocate/board member of The Street Trust thinks the current code is harmful, we have a problem.

All that being said, I do think Rubio and others should have done a better job making sure that the messaging takeaway from all this isn’t “bike parking = bad for housing production.” Because, yet again, we see city hall messaging to the public stuff that goes directly against our stated and adopted goals. Ugh.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
6 months ago

Pure spin, IMO.
.
If the specific language was a problem the code could have been modified without gutting required number of spaces per unit. The gutting of bike parking space requirements shows that this was not at all about design language but rather about market urbanists kissing up to whiny housing speculators (who have chronically under-built housing to juice their margins).
.
Housing is a human right and the majority of housing should be provisioned by government or bonafide non-market organizations. Exclusionary zoning must be abolished but private developers are an even greater impediment to housing justice.

John V
John V
6 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

This 1000%. We will never get affordable housing unless the production of housing stops being dependent on profits. If everyone involved has to profit and speculation is involved, prices will continue going up. The only way they’ll fall will be a 2008 style recession, and that doesn’t actually make affordable housing since that kind of recession can just be weathered by the people with money buying up more land.

Fred
Fred
6 months ago
Reply to  John V

I’ve been saying for years that our current housing development model should be called:

The Developer Profit-Maximization Model.

Maximizing profit is the goal, not producing affordable housing. In fact, affordable housing is a total loser b/c no one makes any money on it.

Bike parking has become a scapegoat for reduced profits, which developers have convinced city gov’t are a credible stand-in for affordability. It’s ridiculous.

was carless
was carless
6 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

As an architect I totally agree. It would also be nice to get more work started via publicly funded housing units.

Code wise it’s not *that* complicated, it’s more of an issue explaining to investors and owners that they need to allocate significant square footage to bike rooms. They use standardized proformas that do not take into consideration higher project costs for these things, and corporate tells them “no.”

Jd
Jd
6 months ago

As a local business owner I’ve spent the past 2 years trying to push a building project through and Jonathan’s take is 100% correct. Blaming slowdowns on bike parking code is complete BS. The root cause is that the permitting process is completely disorganized. Each reviewer is allowed to interpret code in their own way. As soon as drawings are resubmitted with requested changes, a different person reviews it and applies a completely different interpretation sending drawings back for adjustment. This happens multiple times and costs so much money in fees and architectural costs making doing anything in this city time and cost prohibitive. The most simple fix would be to just assign one plan reviewer per project, who stays with the project through completion.

Joseph E
6 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

“Is there any meaningful discussion about drastically simplifying our arcane permitting process that requires input and feedback from multiple government agencies? Are developers even interested in that? Probably not – the developers themselves benefit from a complicated and bespoke permitting and building process because high soft costs keep out smaller competitors and give them a good excuse to spend money on labor they deem worth paying for (consultants, white collar workers, etc.).”

+1 this is a huge problem. A simple building code and simple at-right building standards would make it easy for homeowners to do their own additions, and would help very small developers. But the current regulatory system helps large developers who have teams of lawyers and lobbyists.

Look at NYC: the mayor is currently being investigated because he helped the Turkish Embassy get their building approved. But it should not take mayoral approval to build something! The law should be simple and clear, so that everyone can follow it equally. That would take away power from politicians and politically-connected developers, and give it back to ordinary construction workers and land owners.

Todd/ Boulanger
Todd/ Boulanger
6 months ago
Reply to  Joseph E

Or in Honolulu’s case…investigations of architect/ developer ‘pay to play’ offerings to permit review staff for prompt(er) review approvals. https://www.civilbeat.org/2023/10/some-honolulu-building-permittees-sailed-through-despite-long-waits-for-most-data-shows/

Fred
Fred
6 months ago

What a surprise! Let’s give developers exactly what THEY want – the public good be damned – and then all of our housing needs will be satisfied.

I guess we Portlanders have the (crappy) gov’t we deserve, so we’ll get the crappy city we deserve.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Let’s give developers exactly what THEY want

Despite a facade of progressivism this is the ultimate goal of P:NW and their dark-money affiliate Sightline. Please consider not voting for candidates who are closely-affiliated with this libertarian movement, including Candace Avalos (P:NW board member) and Steph Routh (Sightline employee and P:NW member).

Fred
Fred
6 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

I can’t speak for these individuals but I know Sightline was instrumental in killing the MAX line to SW Portland. That’s not something I’ll forget anytime soon.

aquaticko
aquaticko
6 months ago
Reply to  Fred

…I’m sorry, but this is frustrating. I’ve had numerous discussions on this website about how the MAX is “useless”, and “doesn’t go anywhere besides downtown”; the southwest corridor would’ve been exactly the same kind of line. This particular bike parking regulation removal is, at best, tokenism about regulatory reform. Nonetheless, something has been slowing down development–and the ridership it might have brought to the MAX–in Portland for years, even before COVID, even before the drug legalization scared people from downtown.

This city needs development. If Portland wanted to maintain its facade of progressivism, it’d be working on building a public housing authority, laying out at-right multi-unit housing plans to aid small-scale developers, etc. If the MAX has “nowhere to go”, then we need to build somewhere for it. In the meanwhile, don’t pretend that y’all are pro-housing, pro-transit/cycling, pro-environment. NIMBYist SFH residents can pretend to be progressive humanists all they want, but until they’re willing to accept that means having development where it’s most environmentally-friendly–e.g., around MAX stations–even if it means tearing down their own homes to live (in place) in denser housing, it’s all a lie.

SD
SD
6 months ago

For elected officials, killing bike projects and protections is a symbolic gesture that they are “doing something.”

For people who bike or would like to bike, which is a cornerstone of density and achieving a sustainable existence, killing bike projects and protections makes their everyday lives significantly more difficult.

Richard
Richard
6 months ago
Reply to  SD

Biking isn’t the cornerstone of any such thing. It is a niche activity generally enjoyed by privileged elites. It doesn’t address the transport problems faced by real working people or families in any way.

Very few people bike, even when the infrastructure is there, due to its massive inconvenience vs good transit.

SD
SD
6 months ago
Reply to  Richard

I like the twist at the end. Totally thought this was going to be another truck commercial, but it was a “real people” use transit.
Even better, I have been promoted to privileged elite who has hallucinations of people biking all around me every day.

Caleb
Caleb
6 months ago
Reply to  Richard

What poppycock, Richard. I own a bike shop, and most of my customers are “real working people”, most who work in factories or for construction companies, but also many of who work all sorts of jobs for the local university. Working class people who can’t afford the convenience of a private auto, or accommodate the relatively scant scheduling of public transit in this country, tend to use things like bicycles to get places.

John V
John V
6 months ago

What a shameful outcome. This will have no effect on affordable housing, the developers are using that as a convenient shield to do away with regulations they didn’t want.

JoeSurfer
JoeSurfer
6 months ago
Reply to  John V

Yep and Carmen Rubio is right there supporting them (the developers). We need to vote differently.

Matt
Matt
6 months ago

Has the excision of similar bike parking codes prompted housing production in other United States cities?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Developers seem to believe that Portland’s code is too complicated for anyone’s good, and the bicycle parking provisions are more or less a scapegoat – evidence that Portland is an outlier and very weird – which makes development more expensive, complicated, etc. Mind you, every developer in every city and jurisdiction has the same complaint about their community’s development code – it’s too complicated, too cumbersome, too expensive, whine whine whine.

At one point my siblings and I were contemplating redeveloping some land we owned near Victoria BC. A developer once gave us some good advice – he said that we shouldn’t try to build anything that we can be proud of – the neighbors will never let you do so – but rather aim to build something we aren’t later embarrassed by. (We ended up selling the land to a different developer who built 5 homes pretty much out of spite, that the neighbors subsequently detested. And no, I’m not embarrassed by what that developer built.) All homes there had to be fully ADA compatible, something I have yet to see in the USA, even though ironically it was in Canada and ADA is American, and very well insulated.

Wayne Kerr
Wayne Kerr
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Other cities don’t have the same level of bike parking requirements to begin with, so no.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt

Name a city with similar bike parking codes.

JoeSurfer
JoeSurfer
6 months ago

Ah the new shortsightedness of far lefties in combination with the $$ of the developers pushing “housing at any cost”. Damn global warming, damn the environment. Housing will solve all ills. What a mistake.

https://www.wweek.com/news/2023/08/09/koteks-housing-advisory-panel-proposes-gutting-wetland-protections-outraging-environmentalists/

John V
John V
6 months ago
Reply to  JoeSurfer

Just for clarity, who is the “far lefty” in your comment? You saying Kotek is a far lefty?

JoeSurfer
JoeSurfer
6 months ago
Reply to  John V

Yes.

blumdrew
blumdrew
6 months ago
Reply to  JoeSurfer

Those darn far lefty private developers sitting on a powerful advisory committee for the Governor of Oregon!

Do you have any idea how silly that is to say?

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
6 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Also that darn biznis-fawning, megacorp-bootlicking, real-estate-speculator-groveling, and cop-loving Governor is a FAR LEFTY!!!!

JoeSurfer
JoeSurfer
6 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Never said the developers were far left. But many of them have figured out how to use left leaning leaders like Rubio to support their anti-environmental practices. They are using the “housing at all costs” approach that is now in fashion amongst many progressives to their advantage.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
6 months ago
Reply to  JoeSurfer

Honestly curious who in our local government you consider far left? Hint neo-liberalism is center right.

JoeSurfer
JoeSurfer
6 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Tell me more. I’m honestly confused by your question. Not being a political sci major I ‘m going to have to look up neo-liberalism. I just want to live in a functional city that isn’t drenched in hypocrisy from our elected leaders.

Damien
Damien
6 months ago
Reply to  JoeSurfer

Earnest suggestion: I’d recommend spending some quality time with the Political Compass – here’s the 2020 US election breakdown to get you started: https://politicalcompass.org/uselection2020

One of the big problems with US political discourse is that our Overton window is almost entirely in the authoritarian-right quadrant (which overlaps with neoliberalism). It’s like looking at a map of the US, zooming in until you can only see from Vermont to Maine and claiming New Hampshire is the centrist, Vermonters are “far westies”, etc. This is why you may garner eye rolls from political hobbyists when claiming basically any elected Democrat (firmly in Vermont, to keep using my analogy) is on the left to someone zoomed out looking at the whole map.

What I want is Nevada or Utah. The closest I ever get is maybe Ohio.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago

Good news! Once the bike parking obstacle has been removed, I expect to see a lot of great new affordable housing enter the pipeline.

Unless, that is, it does nothing to fix any of the issues that are actually slowing construction (interest rates, material shortages, labor shortages, population decline).

Fred
Fred
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Watts, you do occasionally make sense.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Not bad considering I’m “the least informed commenter on Bike Portland”!

ASTR
ASTR
6 months ago

How very short sighted. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, it seems like very few of our leaders share our vision for what a great city looks and feels like.

Somebody’s popping a bottle of champagne tonight celebrating their success in pitting bikes against housing (Carmen Rubio probably). What a canard.

Bikes make life more affordable and put more money into the local economy (thank you PSU TREC). They are worth the investment and the studies show it.

If you’d like to fix housing in this town, how about modifying the ASTR code and enforcement to get illegal Airbnb units back into the long term housing column (see recent Oregonian article and Think Out Loud coverage). That would be a real fix which doesn’t require anything new to be built.

We need more political power. The Street Trust seems to be nowhere in this conversation and Bike Loud doesn’t have the capacity to fight this one too. I can only hope our new Four Quadrants Council and strong mayor will see it our way.

And we do need cheaper housing. I want the Carye Byes and artists and creators of our community to stay here and help us build a beautiful city with great art and cheap fun and much merriment. It feels like those days are gone but maybe I’m just getting old.

Maybe we should embrace our bombed out Detroit like future for a few decades and let the economics of disinvestment rebalance the system for us. There seems to be an interesting world of opportunity and cheap housing there now adays.

PTB
PTB
6 months ago
Reply to  ASTR

I think you mean that last paragraph in jest, and I can appreciate it if that’s the intent. But I feel like there’s a few people here in the BP comments and uncomfortably, in my real life orbit, that actually think this. Look, I’m nearing 50 and I don’t want to spend the next 20-35 years of my life in this weird, shitty, stumbling at every goddamn step city. Portland, MultCo and Oregon just seem to fuck up all over the place these days. When is it gonna get better?

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  PTB

100%. I cited Detroit in a similar comment a while back and had at least one person say it was a good thing. Make a place horrible enough that people flee and you will eventually get cheap housing.

Champs
Champs
6 months ago

Surely we’ve seen the limits of what can be done within the regulatory bounds that we have created. Someone ought to to speak up for the ends just as much as for the means, because the product is doing a pretty lousy job by itself!

If there’s a time for new thinking, the beginning of a construction slump, with BDS unlikely to staff up for years, is a pretty good one…

Todd/ Boulanger
Todd/ Boulanger
6 months ago

Again I will restate: after working on several developer projects and proposals for others in Portland…a lot of the friction for bike parking in multifamily / mixed use retail projects is also self imposed by the development community getting used to new things: That bike parking is typically the “last” item located in a project which brings up higher implementation costs. Plus the racking install is the ‘last item’ on the punch list and has to be worked around the other contractors work and thus react to any omissions others have overlooked and thus changed in the as-built to make their install go better. Floor staple racks are pretty easy to implement but when bike parking goes 3D (multi tier or wall rack) and requires vertical spacing it is all too often encroached on by HVAC, fire sprinklers, plumbers (from the units above)…etc.

So now that the ‘baby has been thrown out with the bath water’…the only solution that will fulfill the city’s climate outcomes is to build bike parking in mobility hubs on each block of new dense housing / mixed use developments. The city may as well add car parking to these mobility hubs so that the car spaces can be reallocated over time to bikes, EV charging and other new transportation technology vs building the current generation of car parking warehouses that will be fragmented and harder to reinvent / reuse in 10 to 30 years. Or deploy the next generation of bikesharing with e-cargo bikes, e-family bikes etc.

Todd/ Boulanger
Todd/ Boulanger
6 months ago

It was very interesting that of ALL the potential BikePortland paid advertising sponsors that appeared for an article about the removal of the parking dedicated to cargo bikes was an ad for Specialized’s Globe Haul long tail bike.

Screen-Shot-2023-11-15-at-5.15.12-PM
Stephen Scarich
Stephen Scarich
6 months ago

I hope this isn’t too simplistic an ask: could anyone tell me how much parking in recently built housing developments is actually used by occupants? Anecdotal accounts welcome.

Joseph E
6 months ago

All public bike parking spaces in my townhouse/condo development are completely full, we are at 150% capacity.

We have 24 wall hooks in 2 bike sheds for 14 houses. There are 6 extra bikes without hooks to hang them which are squeezed into one shed, which makes it hard to get in and out. And there are another 6 bikes current parked on back porches without any proper place to lock them.

We might be able to squeeze in 3 more hooks to one of the bike sheds, but it won’t be enough for all the kids who will be getting larger bikes soon. We could encourage more people to store bikes in their houses near the front door (I think the developer intended this but didn’t put in any hooks), but it’s expensive to add hooks and people don’t like taking their bikes up and down the front steps. There are also 3 unused outdoor hooks behind one house, but they are not very secure and they are hard to access

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
6 months ago

Good news folks, we solved the housing crisis. It was that pesky bike parking all along.

JR
JR
6 months ago

Having traveled to places where many more people bike on a daily basis for transportation, (and in some cases have more bikes than people) they seem to get by just fine with mostly outdoor bike parking on public streets. I’m not losing any sleep over this minor reduction in secured indoor bike parking.

Vans
Vans
6 months ago

Surprise, surprise. : (

Charley
Charley
6 months ago

Am I reading this correctly, that the main change is the number of bike parking spaces required for each unit is lowered from 1.5 to 1 in the inner city, and 1 to .7 in the outer neighborhoods?

So…
Formerly, a 30 unit building would need 45 bike parking spaces

Under the new plan, a 30 unit building would need 30 bike parking spaces.

This is the big change that’s going to end homelessness??? This is so small-bore, compared to the larger challenges of building housing here.

I’d be curious to see the original survey. Maybe “bike parking” rose to the top of developers’ list of complaints because interest rates, exclusionary zoning, materials costs, labor shortages, neighborhood association opposition, and bureaucratic delays weren’t on the list?

This is like fighting climate change by replacing a few light bulbs. Oh wait, that *is* how we are fighting climate change.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Oh yes. “Neighborhood association opposition.”. The Great Destroyer of new housing in Portland.