Since the start of the year, the City of Bend has been testing a residential parking permit program in a section of the Old Bend neighborhood. The intent behind the pilot program was to give the residents of the neighborhood parking spaces that wouldn't have to compete with river floaters, downtown shoppers and event crowds. After six months, survey results show little change in residents' attitudes, but the program's biggest challenge lies ahead with summer events and an influx of tourists.
The specific area of the pilot program, which includes all the streets east of the Deschutes River between Drake Park and Miller's Landing Park and ending at NW Broadway to the east, was selected because preliminary surveys from the City showed a high degree of support—around 70%—for it in the area. Recommendations from the neighborhood would shape any permanent program if one is put in place, parking officials say.
A second round of surveys taken during the pilot program showed little change in attitudes of residents.
"The support was very similar still, we were at about 70% in support of the district, generally with very great feedback on what we should improve," said Tobias Marx, parking services division manager at the City of Bend. "I think the biggest lessons learned so far are to improve some of the signage to make it easier to understand for people, and that we had to communicate a little bit better about the visitor process."
Concerns about aspects of the program have come from both residents and city leaders. At the Bend City Council meeting adopting the program, Councilor Barb Campbell was the lone dissenting voice.
"This resolution is selling part of the public right of way to a small number of our citizens," she said during the September 2020 meeting.
Neighbors have complained about paying for parking in front of their own homes, the computer-based permit tracking system and the difficulty of inputting visitor passes into the system – which requires entering visiting cars' makes, models and license plate numbers on the City's website.
"Because it's all in a computer system it's a lot more difficult to get somebody a pass. I understand that they started giving out physical passes, but it's case by case," said Steve Lillegren, who lives in the pilot program parking district. "And it's because the computer system doesn't know how to handle the manual passes."
More communication is needed, Marx said, saying that the two types of visitors parking managers need to communicate with are those who are visiting households in the area and those who aren't. To accommodate these different groups, everyone who has gotten a residential permit will be sent two visitor passes for visiting friends. The City is also promoting the Bend Park and Recreation shuttle to floaters and coordinating with people attending events to inform them of the best parking practices.
Temporary permits for non-residents can be obtained through a portal on the City's website. Some parts of the neighborhood offer free two-hour and four-hour parking, as well. The City maintains a map of available parking for visitors, with additional designations for "hybrid areas" where people can park during events like Munch and Music—the weekly free music event set to start again in Drake Park July 8.
"Munch and Music, Theater in the Park, Summerfest, all those are coming back. And I think that will be a great test to see if those hybrid areas that we created for events will work the way we wanted," Marx said.
To test how the program works, an extensive parking study will track what's happening on the street throughout the day for two weeks in August.
"We need that because we're going to have a baseline in the summer times, when we have events, when we have other things going on, and more tourists, etc. What's the baseline here in the summer, then we'll do the same thing again, probably in October or November," Marx said.
The study will be followed up with a third and final survey of the district to show what residents think of the program after a year of having it in place. That survey will influence what happens next—but people who live outside of the neighborhood can still chime in by writing to the City or speaking during the public comment period when City Council next discusses it.
"We're actually including some of the performance metrics that we're looking for to really bring this back to Council and to say, 'Look, this is what we have observed. This is what we have learned over the year, this is the feedback we have received, this is the public opinion about it in the district and these are the evaluation metrics we had set," Marx said. "Now we need to determine if we want to continue it or not."
The City Council won't revisit the district until after the program finishes at the end of the year. If approved it could provide a roadmap for other areas experiencing parking congestion. Other parts of Old Bend that weren't included in the pilot could be a candidate for a parking district if the people living there want it.
"It should be something that comes from the people living there, and if this pilot works well, then out of that we can create a tool kit," Marx said. "It's really up to the neighbors and the parking committee to decide that."