Sunday, April 16, 2023

Parking Reform

Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order No. 20-04 in March of 2020, which directed all state agencies to take actions to reduce and regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In response, the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission updated Oregon’s Transportation Planning Rules to launch the Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities (CFEC) program in July 2022. The program mandates that Oregon municipalities with populations greater than 50,000 legislate changes to municipal land use code regulations to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Parking reform is one of the projects the City of Eugene is expected to tackle in response. Compliance with the CFEC rules requires that compact development and climate-friendly transportation options, such as preparing for a future with more electric vehicles, also be addressed. The City has until the end of this year to enact changes to its Land Use Code to either entirely repeal parking mandates (Option 1) or to reduce them in accordance with new, specific parking reforms or regulations (Options 2A and 2B). If the City chooses Option 1, the State will not require additional action. If the City instead chooses one of the other options, it must adopt specific regulations in order to satisfy OAR 660-012-0445(1)(a) or (b). These regulations would introduce complexity and expense (including costs associated with compliance monitoring).

At the invitation of the City of Eugene, I participated in a small group discussion last Thursday regarding the parking reform question. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I do consider rethinking how we plan for parking to be a necessary part of a comprehensive approach to developing climate-friendly planning and development standards. I share the belief of many that the continued prioritization of cars over sustainable transportation options is anathema to the goal of creating a livable, healthy, and environmentally conscious community. I was happy to learn more and contribute to the discussion.
Everyone understands the downside of our culture’s car-centric lifestyle. Cars encourage urban sprawl, leading to fragmented, disconnected, pedestrian-unfriendly communities. Cars are polluting and dangerous. Ironically, cars limit mobility for those who cannot afford them or who are unable to drive. To the matter at hand, cars require a significant amount of real estate merely for the purpose of storing them. Parking mandates increase the cost of development. On average, parking adds $142 per month to the cost to rent an apartment, exacerbating the affordability crisis. A surplus of parking incentivizes driving, even when walking, biking, or taking the bus are options. Overall, our reliance upon and love for cars and the need to park them has been detrimental to sustainable, compact development.
The consensus at my table during the break-out session was that the City should proceed with Option 1 and simply repeal all parking mandates in their entirety. Eliminating the off-street minimum parking requirements will not mean developers cannot build parking. Instead, each project can choose the best use for their space and budget. That may still include parking, but it could also be more housing, more commercial space, or more green open space. Most who build housing would undoubtedly continue to provide some parking, but it would be based upon what they deem to be truly necessary as opposed to what the City requires. Importantly, Option 1 would minimize the development of surplus parking capacity and rely upon the marketplace to dictate what is necessary.
We were not enthusiastic about either Options 2a or 2b, not only for the added cost and complexity associated with them, but also because neither is as conceptually simple as Option 1. Most people would find the specific parking reforms and regulations they would entail (such as introducing a new tax on commercial parking lot revenue or requiring that landlords separately charge for parking associated with existing and new multiunit housing) confusing if not inequitable.
What I found enlightening in listening to the others was why some might object to doing away with minimum parking mandates. The downsides of Option 1 might include opposition from individual neighborhood associations who would resist the absence of required minimum off-street parking for new, neighboring developments and the spillover demand they might cause (this concern could be addressed by limiting the duration of curbside parking or by issuing resident-only parking permits). They also might include CC&Rs or HOA parking rules that mandate provision of minimum numbers of off-street spaces. Banks are also notoriously conservative and may be disinclined to approve loans for developments that do not incorporate the number of parking spaces they deem necessary.
Regardless of whether the City does away with minimum off-street parking requirements, my table-mates agreed that the parking reforms should continue to include minimum requirements for accessible parking and bicycle storage. This means providing accessible parking and bicycle spaces even if the developer otherwise chooses to not provide off-street vehicular parking.  
It’s worth noting that as of December 31 of last year, the City of Eugene reduced parking minimums for new residential developments (new residential applications may require no more than one parking space per dwelling unit), and no requirements now exist for properties located within a half-mile walking distance of frequent transit corridors. So, the CFEC mandate and current determination of which option to pursue applies to revision of the citywide requirements.
The City’s next steps toward parking reform include soliciting further input from interested parties and a public survey; you can find the survey here: The Eugene Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on June 27 prior to submitting its recommendation to the City Council. As I mentioned above, the City must formally change the Land Use Code no later than December 31 of this year.
If you’d like to learn more about Eugene’s Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities work or wish to sign up for project updates, click on the link below:

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