PDX Climate Action Plan 2015 Needs Urban Design

June 24, 2015  Testimony of Mary Vogel, PlanGreen to Portland City Council

There is a great deal to like in the Portland/MultCo Climate Action Plan 2015 and I applaud it as far as it goes. But one of the things missing is attention to URBAN DESIGN not just Urban Form. It needs to include implementation actions on evaluating existing land use policies that shape urban design for impact on climate change. That mandate could be included on p. 80, Urban Form and Transportation Chapter under either Decision-Making or Planning Scenarios Evaluation.

Here’s one example!  We need to change a policy that:

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and will not last long in their present location.

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and offer no protection or additional shade to the pedestrian. They will not last long in their present location. Cars parked in these driveways will block pedestrian passage altogether. Photo by PlanGreen


Promotes private automobile use


Leads to less community interaction


Makes our sidewalks less safe and useable for pedestrians



NW Townhouse w/van blocking sidewalk

This NW Portland sidewalk is partially blocked by this van. Note the driveway apron that usurps 1.5 public parking spaces on the street.

Displaces on-street parking spaces that make pedestrians feel safer

Usurps public parking space

Makes sidewalks less useable by pedestrians





SW Hamilton Townhouses - No street trees

This SW neighborhood street is adjacent downtown. It has the requisite off-street parking, but no street trees or landscaping to protect residents from the freeway above–or give them incentive to walk anywhere.

Disrupts the look and feel of the neighborhood

Displaces street trees that both protect and add comfort for the pedestrian

Displaces garden space that could be used to grow food





That is the requirement for off-street parking for every new house more than 500’ from a transit stop. Please make sure that a review of this policy and other existing policies is part of the Climate Action Plan.  That will greatly strengthen the plan!

I’m adding  a couple of examples that were not in my original testimony in order to show both the worst and best of Portland’s central city urban design with regard to parking.

NW 24th Ave Garages - Abominable Streetscape

I know you’re thinking this is the BACK of the property but its the FRONT on a street in one of the densest neighborhoods in Portland, OR–NW 24th Ave. Similar streetscapes are not uncommon in NW Portland.

                                                                                                    Even Portland’s numerous graffiti artists don’t seem to find these garage doors compelling places for their art–even though the doors front a street in one of the densest and most popular neighborhoods in Portland.

Most pedestrians don’t find this wasteland a compelling place to be either.  In fact, they cross the street in order to avoid them.  How does such awful urban design continue to exist in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Portland?


NW Pettygrove Condo Garage with single curb-cut

This NW Pettygrove condo building w/garage has a single curb-cut and is an example of how off-street residential parking should be handled–if it is necessary at all.

Okay, we can keep some off-street parking.  In really popular neighborhoods that folks from the suburbs flock to on evenings and weekends, residents with cars can really benefit from off-street parking.  This 12 unit condo building with it’s single driveway and garage exists immediately adjacent another abomination like the one above at NW 23rd & Pettygrove in Portland.  This building is an example of how off-street parking should be done–if it is done at all.


Let me know your thoughts!  I will pass them on to Portland policymakers and planners.

6 thoughts on “PDX Climate Action Plan 2015 Needs Urban Design

  1. Mary Vogel Post author

    Jeff Tumlin, keynote speaker at the Portland Parking Symposium on June 29, 2015 told Portland Tribune writer Peter Korn:
    We care about parking in front of our homes because it’s an extension of our personal territory, he adds.

    Which explains why parking policy is rarely rational.

    “We’re perfectly OK with every other commodity in society — food, clothing, housing, airline tickets — using the free market to balance either supply or demand. Except for parking and driving,” Tumlin says.

    He added that building more parking garages will only encourage more driving. Soon, he insists, driverless cars talking to each other will be getting about 30 percent more cars in each lot by playing Tetris with all the lot’s vehicles, eliminating the need for most of the lot’s driving corridors.

    Tumlin’s vision of the future? “Owning a car in the city will be like owning a boat or a plane,” he says. He’s talking 10 years out. http://www.pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/264675-137935-a-rational-look-at-portlands-parking-future-grrrr

    Tumlin told the audience that things are changing rapidly with our cities and that Portland residents needed to change with the times. He also suggested that it was better for their own health as well as better for building a sense of community for people to occasionally need to park a block or two away from their house and walk past their neighbors.

  2. Mary Vogel Post author

    Ruth Ann Barrett
    Founder and CEO of EarthSayers.tv
    Portland, OregonManagement Consulting: Inconsistencies abound and the climate action plan remains disconnected from the plans and conversations with folks representing bureaus, commissions, committees, Task Forces and business associations working with public agencies. Few are on the same page when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. And this despite widespread public support (57% in latest values and beliefs survey) for changing lifestyles in light of climate change which surely means driving less, consuming less, conserving water, and, even, the study shows us, sacrificing some economic growth to protect that which Oregonians value the most – natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, and relatively clean air and water. http://oregonvaluesproject.org/findings/top-findings/

    Unfortunately when our leaders are unable to insist their organizations be on the same page, when the messaging is inconsistent and the conversations promote unsustainable practices based on assumptions that have been proven unsustainable, the plans and policies working towards reducing carbon emissions and producing healthy neighborhoods is just more noise

    1. Mary Vogel Post author

      SHHHH! Don’t tell the Pope this before Mayor Hales has the chance to meet with him! In the particular case I cite–a regulation requiring every new home to have off-street parking–it is just as much about the neighborhood leaders as it is about the policymakers. It will take courage for City Council members to change this requirement as I don’t believe it will be popular with homeowners.

      Ruth Ann, you saw the outcry when the City tried to let developers build apartments with no off-street parking in areas with frequent transit stops. You heard the citizens’ panel at the Portland Parking Symposium last week. “Free” parking has become a right, not a privilege. There needs to be more of us out there giving our policymakers the backbone to do the right thing–showing up at the same meetings those who rant about their parking “rights” do.

      Both comments above were originally submitted via VOIS Alliance LinkedIn group

  3. Mary Vogel Post author

    “Pete” Pointner FAICP, ALA, ITE: Mary, there are no perfect nor final climate action plans. I applaud all efforts to make a positive difference. I respectfully disagree with you that a Climate Action Plan should have an Urban Design FOCUS. I do agree that Smart Growth principles, walkability etc. should be part of an action plan. See my articles; The Land Use, Transportation, GHG Connection; Sustainability, Smart Growth and New Urbanism; and Creating Sustainable Neighborhoods on my free pdf e-book Readings in Urban Planning and Design. Go to petepointnerplanning.blogspot.com Best regards, Pete

    Mary Vogel, CNU-A6dMary Vogel, CNU-A: Portland/MultCo’s Climate Action Plan does have a chapter titled “Urban Form and Transportation” so the authors saw fit to go that far. I’m just saying that they should take it one step farther and add URBAN DESGN. Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals and Guidelines also have chapters (goals) on urban form and transportation. Both Portland’s CAP and Oregon’s 41 year old land use planning goals have made us leaders in sustainable development. But by failing to take into account urban design, they don’t do nearly as much as they could to get people out of their cars and onto their feet.

    I did check out your website, Pete, and it is impressive that you have made your book available for free. Nice work! I’ll suggest it to my book club.

    Both comments above were originally submitted via Planetizen LinkedIn group.

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