Parking policy pondered

Downtown parking reality and needs collide
by: vern uyetake

Developers cite parking requirements as a barrier to revitalizing downtown. Retail and restaurant owners worry that parking is eaten up by long-term users, such as employees of downtown businesses. In a 2009 survey, shoppers said there aren't enough spaces near the stores they want to visit.

But it turns out Lake Oswego has an ample supply of parking spaces, according to a parking study conducted by Rick Williams Consulting.

'It's kind of a revelation,' said Jane Blackstone, the city's economic development manager. 'Our supply is adequate. It's just not organized well.'

Many spots near retail businesses have lenient limits or no time restrictions at all, leading to their all-day use by area employees or residents who park their cars and take the bus elsewhere.

At the same time, other on-street parking spots have limits too short for typical consumers to complete their errands. And many large parking lots look practically empty most days.

'We have oodles of off-street supply that is also underutilized, but it's problematic to make it available for public use,' Blackstone said. 'Parking is associated with a development permit typically and exists only to serve the use it accompanies; it's unavailable as a commodity for others to use.

'It would be great if owners could treat parking as a commodity.'

The study, commissioned by the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency, grew out of economic development efforts involving the city and a strategic business alliance formed by the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce two years ago. In summary, it found:

* On-street parking favors long-term users, with 64 percent of the city's 777 on-street spots allowing parking of four hours or longer.

* At the peak hour of demand for on-street parking, between 2 and 3 p.m., about half of those spaces are empty.

* Off-street spaces are also underutilized. During peak demand for off-street parking, between 1 and 2 p.m., 832 spaces - 62 percent - are empty.

* One-hour spots represent about 16 percent of on-street parking spaces, but they don't make much sense. The average parking stay in one-hour spaces is an hour and 19 minutes.

* The actual need for parking associated with mixed-use development is just under two stalls for every 1,000 square feet of building space, but city code requires roughly 10 spaces for every 1,000 square feet.

Officials hope to use these issues as a launching pad for talking about a future downtown parking plan.

In the short run, the discussion could result in code changes reducing the number of parking spaces required for new downtown business developments.

'Something we can address in short order is potential code changes that remove some of the complexity in our current parking requirements for redevelopment projects in the downtown area,' Blackstone said.

Looking toward the future, it might mean establishing a parking management program, changing time limits on spaces, ramping up parking enforcement and exploring shared use of off-street parking lots. Officials might also consider a residential permit program for those who need long-term access to on-street parking.

Discussion of setting 'trigger points' for implementing parking management options is also on the table. For example, if it became clear that a certain percentage, say 85 percent, of parking spots were consistently filled, officials would know they needed to take steps to address a future parking shortage.

'One of the purposes of this study was to think out a little ways so we're better prepared to manage our supply as conditions change over time,' Blackstone said. If parking supply hit a 'trigger point,' she added, 'You'd have to think about supply or managing demand in a more active way.'

The planning commission is tentatively scheduled to take up the discussion in October and issue recommendations to the city council.

'This will be a long conversation,' Blackstone said, 'starting with a briefing of the planning commission in the fall and getting a package of proposed improvements that will be a more specific recommendation for downtown businesses, neighborhoods and residents to respond to.

'There will be many opportunities for public input.'