Let's review the situation:
Portland is in the midst of a no-parking building boom. In the past 18 months, the city has okayed permits for 32 multi-unit residential buildings with zero parking, ranging from projects with ten apartments to one with 130. Neighbors of the big new buildings—like the ecoFLATS apartments on North Williams, the Andria condos on SE 42nd and Belmont, and the "micro-homes" on SE 43rd and Division—complained that the lack of parking would lead to new residents taking up all the spots on nearby neighborhood streets. So the city studied the parking around eight new low-or-no parking buildings and found... plenty of parking. Even at peak hours. Maybe less parking than before the new buildings went in, but still. Plenty of parking.
And yet! At a big public meeting yesterday, the neighbors were still irate. Many had solid points—like that Portland greenlit these permits on "frequent transit corridors" but TriMet cuts have made much of the transit rather unfrequent and that public input on private development often amounts to only a "humiliating formality." But a lot of the criticism amounted to griping about loss of parking and the changing character of neighborhoods as the city gets denser.
In some ways, these parking-free buildings are building for a future that's still in front of us. Though car ownership is much lower and transit-bike-walk commuting is way higher among residents of these buildings than in the city at large, 72 percent of the parking-free building residents still own cars. But we're supposed to be building for the future—hopefully, these apartments will fit right in to Portland in 30 years, when other developers are scrambling to convert wasteful, expensive parking lots around the city to stores, restaurants, and housing.
One big thing that would free up parking in the meantime: Make people pay for parking.
We take free parking on most of Portland's streets for granted—so much so that many people seem to feel like they own on-street parking and have a right to it over more-recent residents. To better manage parking in the neighborhoods that are apparently demanding it, the city could install permits on busy streets, charge market rate for parking in popular areas, or require permits for parking in certain neighborhoods. Those types of parking management changes would make our existing on-street parking more efficient (as people wouldn't be able to take up one spot for too long), provide incentive for people to own cars only if they can store them on private property, and make money for the city.
The planners behind Portland's parking policies are unlikely to go in for the moratorium on the parking-free policy that some neighbors are pushing for. But, Mayor Sam Adams and others have called for "tweaks" to the policy. Neighbors might not be happy to discover that one of the most effective tweaks to free up parking would be to shell out for it themselves.