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Letís Debate! Tony vs. JVH

March, 2020

Tony Jordan

Parking. Everyone uses it, even people like me who don’t have a car, but very few people know where it comes from, how much it costs, or the size of the industry that provides and supports parking. When I tell people that I’m going to debate the publisher of Parking Today magazine, they fall into two camps. Most of them are usually stunned that a parking magazine exists, even more so when I tell them it’s full-length, full-color, and fully advertiser-supported.  The other camp is made up of the transportation planners and advocates that I associate with. Many of these folks know the parking industry exists, and they ask me why I go to the industry conferences and whether I think anyone there agrees with me.


My goal is to inspire and support a wave of parking reformers.


You might be asking yourself right now: “Who is this guy, Tony Jordan, and what’s he doing that people don’t think I should agree with?” You might have seen an occasional column from JVH mentioning me, or a teaser in the advertisements for PIE 2020 where John and I will be holding a follow up to our debate at SWPTA 2019. If you  have not had time to look up the context,  let me quickly bring you up to speed.


I’m a community organizer who focuses on parking policy reforms. The reforms I advocate for generally fit into two sets. In one set are policies that discourage the building of new structured parking supply, including elimination of parking requirements, consideration of parking maximums, and greater scrutiny of public projects to build parking. In the other set are policies that better manage the existing parking supply in our cities, including performance based parking management (dynamic meter pricing), shared parking allowances or requirements, and market-rate residential permits.


I started down this path in 2010 after reading The High Cost of Free Parking by UCLA Professor, Donald Shoup. I was concerned about climate change and transportation equity and once I realized how much impact parking policy had on transportation, housing, and environmental policy, I started to notice more about parking policy in my own city of Portland, Oregon. I really got involved in 2012 when I unsuccessfully tried to convince the city not to re-impose parking requirements on our corridors. That was, I hope, the last time Portland will ever do that again, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I founded Portlanders for Parking Reform in 2015, likely the nation’s first grassroots parking reform organization. In April, Portland City Council is set to vote on a zoning package that will set the amount of required parking for single family zones at ZERO spaces, citywide. 


With Portland on the right track and in good hands, I am now setting my sights a little higher. I have founded a new organization, the Parking Reform Network. The Parking Reform Network is a 501(c)3 educational organization with a mission to educate the public about the impacts of parking policy on housing, traffic, equity, and climate change. The scope, this time, is national, and my goal is to inspire and support a wave of parking reformers as they work to replicate the progress we’ve made in Portland, San Francisco, and other cities. 


This brings me back to why I attend conferences like PIE 2020 and whether I think anyone there will agree with me. Just as many transportation and housing advocates don’t know how parking impacts their fields, many parking professionals aren’t aware of the impacts of parking policy on housing, transportation, and the environment. Someone who builds municipal ramps knows how expensive a parking stall can be, but that person might not connect the dots as to how requiring parking attached to an apartment building can make housing more expensive and scarcer. 


I’m not trying to say that the parking industry is malevolent; in fact, I think that there are many ways that parking reformers and parking professionals can achieve win-wins, but only if we can understand and empathize with one another. I definitely want to see less new parking built, but that also provides opportunities for operators to achieve higher utilization and returns from their existing assets. The parking industry is increasingly focusing on customer experience, and innovations in way-finding, reservations, automation, and multi-modal integration can all have positive impacts on traffic flow, pedestrian safety, reductions in cruising, and more efficient use of existing parking supply. 


Obviously, our aims aren’t completely in harmony. I don’t like to drive. I think cars are generally too big, too dangerous, and used for too many trips. I think that dense cities with lots of transit, bike lanes, and walkable neighborhoods are the best way we can continue to grow as an equitable, sustainable, and prosperous society. You might disagree because perhaps you think it’s social engineering, or you don’t believe humans are causing climate change, or you might deeply equate car ownership with personal freedom. It’s natural and fine for us to disagree, but we won’t be able to move forward unless we meet up face to face and talk about our different viewpoints.


I know from my attendance at PIE and PIPTA in 2018, and PIPTA and SWPTA in 2019, that the parking industry isn’t monolithic. Yes, I tell my colleagues, there are people at these conferences who do share my goals! I’m not the first person to come up with my ideas or even the first to present at parking conferences with them. But I might be among the first to focus all my energy on building a political parking reform movement. 


Whether or not you think I’m right, I’m working hard to accelerate the adoption of policies that discourage more parking supply and encourage more efficient use of what we have, often by charging more for it. I’m looking forward to my debate with JVH in sunny San Diego and I’m hopeful we’ll all come away better from the conversation.


Tony Jordan is head of the Parking Reform Network. He can be reached at twjordan@gmail.com.



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