Friday, October 06, 2006

Is Portland's Parking System the Ticket for Tacoma? (I)

This post is being logged very late in the evening after a whirlwind day in Portland (OR) with the Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee. Accompanying Councilmembers Bill Evans, Jake Fey, Connie Ladenburg, Tom Stenger and Rick Talbert were City staff members Martha Anderson, Dana Brown, Mike Elmer, Kurtis Kingsolver, Bruce Marshall, and Ryan Petty, Downtown Merchants Group leader Marty Campbell, as well as your author and David Graybill, Mike Weinman and Katie Rose from the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.

The group's purpose was to learn how Oregon's biggest city funds and operates its downtown parking system. Portland is recognized as a national leader in innovative transportation solutions, and its Office of Transportation maintains $5.8 billion in infrastructure facilities from streets and structures to traffic signals and street lights. .

Ellis McCoy, Portlands Parking Operations Manager, began with an overview of the city’s current parking system:
  • Broad stakeholder input was sought during developemmnt of Portland's Center City Plan, the Central City Transportation Management Plan, and the subsequent Meter District Policy, and a portion of net revenues from parking operations are directed back into local improvements;
  • In the three meter districts, (Central City, Lloyd District, Markham Hill), Portland has 1200 pay stations under management serving 8400 spaces (about 2200 of these just in the greater downtown);
    Stakeholders develop neighborhood transportation plans with the help of staff, then Council reviews and approves the plans, subsequently establishing a district with a management entity;
  • Pay stations replaced single space meters largely to increase the number of methods available for payment;
  • Cale Parking (Portland's vendor) provides online management of parking, including transactions as they occur on the street; the firm developed the current payment system through discussion with stakeholders and now deploys wireless Internet connections with a “pay to display” system;
  • Rates range from $1.25/hr. in downtown and $1.00/hr. in Markham to $0.75/hr. in the Lloyd District; one use for the downtown's revenue is debt service on bonds for the new light rail segment currently under construction.

Ramon Corona discussed permit programs resulting from a cost-of-service review of parking operations (annually reviewed)--purposes include residential uses, construction, delivery, non-profits and public safety. Their new technology allows Portland officials much better tracking than their counterparts in Tacoma for assessment of the real cost for permits.


  1. With the new parking enforcement on the street, I don't see that there is really a parking "problem" that needs to be solved. According to the reports made, many people have now moved from the street to parking garages.

    The largest challenge is that the street parking still has only 60 percent occupancy which is very anemic. Given this lack of demand for street parking, putting in pay stations would be a harmful as it would reduce the occupancy even further.

    The problem with looking at Portland and Seattle is that the demand for parking is much much higher there.

    Bellingham has a much higher occupancy for parking, yet they were forced to remove their pay stations as they created havoc on Railroad and they ended up having to remove them. Belingham is the last Washington city to try them.

    In order to encourage people to shop downtown in what limited retail exists, the most friendly option would be to have continued free parking. If the city really wanted to collect some money, the area of Pacific Avneue could probably handle meters as it is the only area downtown which is fully occupied.

  2. the area of Pacific Avneue could probably handle meters as it is the only area downtown which is fully occupied.

    The area of Pacific Avenue in front of UWT that is.

  3. Anonymous1:13 PM

    Also, Portland's pay stations help supports operating thier streetcars. Let's do the same for Tacoma!

  4. Portland has been developing their transit system for 20 years, we are at about the 4 -5 year point in development.
    We can not begin to solve the problems with just meters, just streetcars, just lifting regulations, just encouraging car pooling, or just making our city more bike friendly. We need a complete plan that works to support each other and we need leaders to put it in to place.
    And we need to start yeasterday.