Let’s talk about how parking reform can help create a sustainable future for Bend. Our city is growing rapidly and faces challenges of affordability, traffic congestion, and equitable economic recovery. How we use our streets and land for parking has a meaningful impact on housing, transportation, and the environment our economy depends on. As a city that loves to innovate, it’s time to evolve the way we think about parking in Bend.
Parking reform is only one component of a much larger plan that your City Council can build for Bend’s future. Council’s upcoming proposed two-year goals cover a wide range of issues, including how we can become a more connected city that is truly welcoming to everyone. We must plan effectively for new neighbors and improve how everyone gets around town. Smarter parking policy can help us do that.
Bend residents interact with our streets, roads and parking lots every day. How we use that public space has a direct impact on everyone’s quality of life. The city has a duty to responsibly manage space on our streets in a way that is equitable, financially sound, and environmentally responsible. And in fact, one way to do this is to start thinking of our streets as public spaces for people, not just cars.
More than 2,500 people in Bend don’t own a car, and more than 5,000 people live in households that either have no car or multiple adults sharing a car. Some choose to walk, bike or ride transit instead, but the vast majority are economically disadvantaged, disabled or elderly. Those folks still pay, indirectly, for the cost of “free” parking, and that’s not fair.
Just like a “free” lunch, there’s no such thing as a “free” parking space. Parking seems free to the driver who gets there first, but every resident of our city pays a cost in maintenance, loss of other more productive uses of that public space, and increased carbon emissions. A recent study reported on by Sightline Institute found that building more parking led to more driving, less transit use, and less walking. Free parking is paid for by all of us in the prices of almost everything we buy and the tax dollars spent to subsidize driving. That includes taxes on those who can’t, or don’t choose to drive..
Housing affordability and availability are hurt by “free” parking mandated by our city code. Our local builders and contractors are forced to sacrifice valuable land area to create storage for cars, whether or not that much space is actually needed at a particular site. That means higher prices and rents. Again, lower-income residents pay more to subsidize drivers. And removing parking minimums doesn’t mean no new parking spaces will be built. It just allows market demand to direct the amount of parking built.
Combined with investment in making it easier to walk, bike, roll, take transit, or even park further out and hop on a downtown shuttle, parking reforms can help us create more neighborhoods where the personal cost of owning a car isn’t a prerequisite to living in Bend.
Eliminating unfair subsidies for parking also creates revenue we can do other great things with. Parking benefit districts take fees generated by a neighborhood’s streets and put them back into improving that neighborhood, like street improvements that will benefit everyone who works in or visits our downtown. And technology can help us to build a dynamic, equitable parking system.
It can be hard to see the bigger picture when even small parking policy changes spark strong reactions and tightly focused conversations. But each step we take toward responsibly managing public parking space helps us to build a better future for Bend’s environment, housing market, and transportation system. I’m confident that as part of this council’s overall vision and policy goals, parking reform will make Bend a safer, fairer and more pleasant place to live.