As Steve Duin recently reported, several former Portland City Council members have signed a letter asking the Portland Development Commission to consider taxing parking spaces. This is an idea I support. Here are some thoughts on how such a plan could be implemented.
First, we should encourage people to use public transportation (or bikes or feet) instead of their cars. A tax on the parking spaces required for cars would make driving more expensive, and therefore provide a useful incentive not to drive. That brings the benefits of cleaner air and environment, a better quality of life, etc.
Second, recognizing that there will always be cars no matter how many people use public or self-powered transportation, we should be sure to allow for sufficient parking. But we should do so in a manner that limits the footprint of parking spaces so that there is still plenty of room for business, housing, and parks. That is why I propose a progressive tax on parking spaces based on their footprint. A street-level parking space would be taxed more highly while the upper- or lower-floor spaces in a parking garage would be taxed more lightly. This will encourage the building of multi-story parking garages.
Third, the law should apply statewide, not just in Portland. A Wal-Mart, for instance, would have an incentive to build a parking garage near public transportation lines instead of a gigantic concrete parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Even rural towns should have an incentive to build vibrant downtowns.
Fourth, this proposal would boost Oregon's economy. At Bridgeport Village, for instance, the existence of a parking garage creates more space for businesses to locate near peoples' cars. With more businesses in a concentrated area, people will do more shopping, then they will be more likely to stick around for a coffee, a browse through the bookstore, a movie, or dinner. This is better for business than the situation at, for instance, Argyle Square in Wilsonville, which has vast stretches of parking lot between stores, restaurants, and other businesses.
Finally, the money collected could be dedicated to building more public transportation, improving existing streets, etc. This would make Oregon more accessible, improving our economy and quality of life even further.