Alternative transportation use is something of a chicken-and-egg problem in Portland.

Many people would like to walk, ride a bike or take public transit, but have no practical options available, so they drive. Providing parking for all those who need it results in less dense development, which makes it harder to come up with practical alternatives.

The Portland City Council took a small step toward solving that puzzle this week, but it could make a big difference in the choices people have for getting around.

Instead of employing a rigid formula for developers to build a certain number of parking spaces for every office or living unit they plan to build, the city now allows them to pay into a fund used to pay for transportation alternatives.

Instead of building more parking, a developer can opt to pay $10,000 for every parking space that would have been mandated under the old law. In a project that would have required 100 spaces, the developer could build only 50, and pay $500,000 into the fund.

It might sound like a lot of money, but it would actually be cost less to build than a garage, which run a budget-busting $20,000 to $30,000 a space.

This system gives developers flexibility, and lets them put more of their property into income-producing offices and apartments, and less into what may be unnecessary parking spaces.

Companies could find that it makes more sense to provide employees with incentives to use alternative transportation than paying for onsite parking.

The fund would let the city make sure that there would be alternatives for them to chose from.

The reason that there is so much demand for parking currently is that there are so few reliable ways for people to get around without getting behind the wheel.

The alternate transportation fund could pay for more frequent bus trips or additional routes that would make leaving the car outside downtown a more realistic option for more people who live or work on the Portland peninsula.

This won’t change things overnight, but it does put a structure in place that could make a real difference over time in the way that Portland grows.