Guest Column

Bend faces many difficulties, from increasing homelessness driven by unattainable housing prices, to climate change, which threatens the forests and wild lands that surround our town. The proposal to remove government regulation for the precise number of car storage units that each home and business must provide is not, however, an actual problem. Indeed, it’s part of the solution.

Let’s be clear: no one is going to take your parking away. You can still purchase a house with a three-car garage and a big driveway if you want. Walmart and Costco aren’t going to get rid of their parking lots. Markets aren’t the solution to all our problems — we would not leave food safety purely to the market for instance — but they work well for deciding things like how many Mexican restaurants Bend should have vs. how many Thai or Italian places. Just because there are no parking minimums does not mean new housing will not have any parking. People purchasing homes will still want it in many cases, and will seek out those housing situations that meet their needs. Those who prefer lower housing costs or closer amenities in a more walkable neighborhood with less parking would be free to choose that, something the city of Bend currently prevents.

Bend is very diverse: What works well for one building or area may not work elsewhere. The “right” amount of parking for a condo or town home close to downtown is different than what’s right for a large family living further out to the southeast. Trying to manage a city as diverse as Bend with blanket policies is a recipe for failure and inefficiency. Allowing people to make their own decisions about the amount of parking is a better approach. Some people want to park an RV and several trucks on their land — others just need room for one Prius. Some 5% of people in the city have no car and would benefit from not being forced to pay for a spot to keep something they don’t own. With the cost of a spot running potentially north of $10,000 (land in Bend is expensive), that could make or break some budgets.

Historically, Bend had no parking minimums, and those pre-WWII parts of town are quite desirable. Look at the price of housing there: it’s not cheap. If it were such a terrible area because it’s “underparked” compared to the rest of Bend, the prices would be lower. It turns out that people are willing to pay a premium to live in a walkable, human-scale area that’s very central.

The biggest concern with getting the city out of the parking business is that, sans government mandates, people will park along the public roads — but that’s a minor problem. Many in Bend face weighty decisions like whether they can afford to live here at all, and where they might move. The roads where “excess” cars might be parked are public roads that belong to all of us; they are not guaranteed free parking for the adjacent homeowner. And most already have cars parked along them. If there are too many cars along a road to navigate safely, the city can target that specific road for changes. Local solutions for local problems, rather than citywide. In many cases the reality is that having cars parked along streets has been shown to calm traffic, keeping speeds in residential neighborhoods lower and safer.

Eliminating parking minimums will not mean much change for most people. They’ll be able to keep buying housing with parking if that’s what they prefer. This policy won’t make Bend suddenly affordable. But it will help some people, and it’s the right policy for a more flexible city in the future. It puts Bend in a position to deal with a changing world and adapt on an individual level as best we see fit.

David Welton lives in Bend.