Vehicles drive down Bond Street in June. The city may soon require paid parking throughout downtown.

People who love their cars and free parking may not want to hear this but — paid on-street parking is coming to Bend. Maybe sooner than later.

It’s been inching closer for years. The enthusiasm from this Bend City Council has been palpable. And no more so than on Wednesday night. City staff is now going to take a look at what would be required to implement paid on-street parking downtown and in the Old Bend Neighborhood.

On the agenda was a discussion about continuing Old Bend Neighborhood’s residential parking district. The discussion began there and became a discussion about paid parking downtown.

Old Bend’s parking district was a test case for the city. It requires permits to park. Residents get to pay $25 a year for a permit and visitor passes. Sweet deal if you live there. If you don’t, find some place else to park. The pilot parking district grew out of frustration from residents who found their neighborhood overwhelmed by people parking to access downtown and Drake Park.

Exclusive parking rights for what is in parts an exclusive neighborhood irked some councilors. It’s no shocker that residents of Old Bend would want what the city was giving them for $25. The cost does not cover the cost of exclusive street parking rights. We don’t know the cost of a parking spot, but it’s a public street. And the city is essentially granting residents there exclusive parking rights for a pittance.

It does fix problems that residents complained about. It’s important for the city to do pilots to test how well programs work. But if the city can’t provide the same sort of exclusive parking rights to every neighborhood in Bend that wants it, it’s unjust that it allows it only there. Other neighborhoods have complained about parking problems. We didn’t hear councilors insist that the city respond to those issues with the same alacrity it did to serve Old Bend. Forgivable, perhaps. Instead, councilors were keenly focused on implementing paid parking with residential permits in Old Bend and paid on-street parking downtown.

There are some good lines from economists and others about free parking. Just one: It’s a fertility drug for cars. Not all economists agree, of course, but the argument is free parking gives too much away. It incentivizes and subsidizes cars and car ownership. And travel by car, while fantastic for the freedom it brings, also brings costs to society with traffic and pollution. Transit, bikes and walking are smarter ways to plan a city and to protect the environment.

You don’t have to agree. That’s the argument that is made. It’s most eloquent missionary would be Donald C. Shoup, professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. Check out his book “The High Cost of Free Parking.” His arguments are essentially the arguments councilors make about parking and bringing paid on-street parking to Bend.

There is another side to it, though, especially in Bend. We have only a fairly good system for people to walk or bike where they would like to go. Winters can shut that down. The transit system is growing. It’s still not convenient for many. Making driving less convenient and more costly with paid parking essentially nudges people into less than satisfactory substitutes. A bike/walk/bus version of Bend has not arrived.

We also can’t forget what was said just a few years ago as downtown business owners and representatives gathered for a downtown parking advisory committee. Some members of the committee “favor more paid parking because they see it as a way to attract more paying customers. People who have a few dollars to shell out for parking are more likely to make purchases at stores or restaurants, according to their reasoning,” as The Bulletin reported in 2018.

Those comments don’t trump other arguments for paid parking. They do highlight that just as some councilors were concerned about the equity of giving residents in Old Bend exclusive neighborhood parking, they should turn the same critical eye to what paid parking may do to access downtown. To why, so far, only Old Bend and downtown parking issues captivate the city’s full attention. To how truly easy it is for many residents to shop downtown by any means other than by car.

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(1) comment

Transitory Inflation

Bring it on. The only way to get more parking DT is to charge for it.

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