Having lived in Portland for nearly two decades, I have learned how inhospitable the downtown area can be to cars. Particularly during the summer months, I often choose to use my bike to run errands around town. A number of factors contribute to this hostile environment for vehicles: a lack of parking spaces, road construction, congestion from the waves of tourists and, especially, the predatory practices of Portland’s parking enforcement division.

To illustrate: Twice a week I drive into downtown Portland to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly, mostly low-income residents who are often housebound and isolated. Last Thursday, I parked on Spring Street. Though it was a no-parking zone, it was as close as I could get to the client’s apartment, which was down an alley. Once parked, I made absolutely certain that my vehicle was not impeding traffic, which continued to flow smoothly in both directions. I pulled up to the curb, put on my flashing lights and placed my large placard, “Volunteer Driver: We Are Meals on Wheels, So No Senior Goes Hungry,” displayed prominently on my dashboard.

I went to make my delivery and was away from my truck for perhaps two minutes. When I returned, I found a parking ticket for $35 under my wiper blade, just above the “Meals on Wheels” placard.

When I called parking enforcement, I was met an attitude of “gotcha” and mean-spiritedness that seems to permeate the division. One official even compared what I was doing to meal deliveries for Grubhub. He also shared that the ticket issuer had been on her way to her route when she spotted my truck parked illegally. Recalling that I was away from my vehicle for a very short time, I can only imagine the frenzied nature of her ticket issuance before she sped away. While perhaps earning her points with the boss or helping her reach her quota for the month, her actions exemplify the unseemly and predatory approach to parking enforcement that prevails in Portland.

Must it be this way? I gather the issuance of parking tickets has become a major revenue generator for the city, but at a cost to our sense of community. The seeming greediness of parking enforcement erodes the welcoming nature that our downtown might offer to the people who live here. Present parking enforcement policies and attitudes have made local citizens uninterested in visiting the downtown, particularly in the summer. It could be otherwise.

The geography of downtown Portland certainly poses some unique problems. For one, it’s constricted by limited space on the peninsula. But there are policy proposals that might begin to address this conundrum. We could better develop mass transit options that would offer attractive ways to get downtown without a car. Expanding bus service or exploring a light-rail system into the city are options that have been successfully deployed by other cities, and they are worth our consideration. Encouraging people to ride their bikes, perhaps by having merchants offer small discounts or making sure there are adequate bike racks for parking, would also reduce the number of cars.

Portland’s downtown might become a welcoming environment that embraces its role as the centerpiece of our city, rather than an adversarial battleground where people drive around endlessly, burning fuel while searching for a place to park. For many people in these inflationary times, the prospect of a parking ticket helps dissuade them from visiting the downtown area.

Perhaps most importantly, Portland’s parking enforcement division must understand that we are all in this together. The parking enforcement division works for us, the citizenry. Its role is not to be vindictive and punish, but to accommodate and help address the issues confronting the downtown. Parking enforcement need not contribute to the problem. It can be part of the solution.

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