Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Bike Portland and is republished with permission.
“I felt like I was eating a hamburger in 1906 and I just opened the book, The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair.”
That’s how Portlander Tony Jordan said he felt when he first read, The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup, a book that has had as much impact on Jordan’s life as it has had on the burgeoning auto parking reform movement. Jordan’s comments came at a backyard party Sunday night where he spoke to an eager crowd at the first-ever fundraiser for the nonprofit Parking Reform Network, which he co-founded in 2019.
“We’re all here because when we look at a new surface parking lot, or see a lot being dug up for an apartment’s underground garage, we understand these are just the surface expressions of a sinister force,” Jordan continued.
That sinister force is cars, which Jordan very capably painted as a monstrous force of evil when allowed to run amok in cities. “Every new structured parking space built is a generational commitment to the status quo of car dependency and the climate crisis. Car parking is fossil fuel infrastructure as much as building a new freeway or oil refinery,” he said.
Jordan himself is a force when it comes to parking reform activism. In 2015 he started Portland Shoupistas a group that connected parking activists and helped give him a platform to testify at City Hall on a number of issues. Along the way, Jordan has helped educate hundreds of Portland’s most influential insiders, elected officials, and policymakers (in 2017 Jordan wrote on BikePortland that even Mayor Ted Wheeler believes the parking versus housing debate is “really over”). As Jordan’s profile grew and he built legion of followers, his group evolved into Portlanders for Parking Reform. Now, with Parking Reform Network ready to spread its wings, he’s in charge of a national network of more than 180 members across the globe who want to take Shoup’s policy teachings to the next level.
In his speech last night, Jordan explained why the time is right for PRN to grow:
“We’re at a point where it’s widely accepted in planning that expensive car parking mandates are bad policies. Cities are facing revenue shortfalls while half of their most valuable asset, the roads, are used to store personal property for free. But the obvious solutions aren’t implemented because too few organizations have a mission that allows them to give parking policy reform the focus it needs and deserves. The Parking Reform Network is here to inspire and support local and regional partner support groups, but also to provide materials, advice and assistance to professionals and activists in any field where parking is an obstacle.”
The organization wants to tackle two big projects: The first is a collaboration with Strong Towns to create a comprehensive map of all the U.S. cities that have eliminated the dastardly policy of minimum parking requirements. The second is a “digital playbook” on parking benefit districts (PBDs), a policy tool that uses parking revenue to invest in neighborhoods (learn more about them in this 2016 BikePortland story).
A fundraising site was set up over the weekend with a goal to raise $7,000 to help complete those projects. It was fully funded by Monday morning. It appears that Portland — and the nation — is eager to vanquish the parking monster once and for all.
This week we’re joined by Bob Searns to talk about his new book and grand ideas for walking trails that circle whole regions and more local routes that make up a new mode of green infrastructure in cities.