Posted tagged ‘parking’

The High Cost of Free Parking (part 2 of 2)

April 30, 2016
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Cars now overflow the remote Vista Ridge trailhead routinely

This is the second in a two-part series that takes its name from Donald Shoup’s ground-breaking book “The High Cost of Free Parking”, first published in 2005. Shoup documents the many unintended effects of free parking in cities, and many of his proven principles could apply to trailheads in our public lands, as well.

The second part in this series explores some possible solutions for the parking crisis facing the trailheads of the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood, and the value of confronting the true costs of free parking to our most treasured public lands.
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No more free parking!

Does anyone really expect free parking at a Timbers or Blazers game, or drop in for dinner without a reservation at one of Portland’s finest restaurants to find a table waiting? Or be exempted from tolls when crossing the Columbia at Hood River and the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean we don’t reserve the right to complain about it! That’s human nature.

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Bumper-to-bumper at Vista Ridge on a Friday

Such is the dilemma for public land managers face as they attempt to impose limits on access to our trails on Mount Hood and in the Gorge. While we can all probably agree that the impacts we now see from overuse require limits on access, we’d probably like someone else to suffer the inconvenience.

The good news is that our most overused trails are relatively few in number. Any seasoned hiker can rattle them off, as many already avoid these trails on popular weekends and seasons: Angels Rest, McCord Creek, Wahclella Falls and Eagle Creek in the Gorge are now infamous for their crowds, while Ramona Falls, Mirror Lake, Salmon River, Elk Meadows and (most recently) Tamanawas Falls on Mount Hood see overflowing weekend crowds.

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Frustrated hikers pushed out of the Wahclella Falls trailhead have resorted to parking on the I-84 off-ramp

Experienced hikers already know where the lesser-visited trails are and make a point of steering toward these places for a quieter, better outdoor experience. However, as the Portland region continues its rapid growth, even some of these “secret” trails are starting to show some strain: Herman Creek, Starvation Ridge and Gorton Creek in the Gorge and Vista Ridge, Bald Mountain and Cooper Spur have all seen spikes in use over the past decade or so as hikers seek less crowded trails.

We have met the enemy and he is… us!

The first step in adopting a trailhead parking policy to address overcrowding is to recognize the problem: when trailheads routinely overflow, it’s a problem! You can see this on weekends on every one of the overcrowded trails mentioned above. The crowding is now year-round in the Gorge and whenever the ground is snow-free up on Mount Hood.

For some trails, like Mirror Lake and Eagle Creek, the crowds extend beyond the weekends, especially on Fridays and Mondays. But even on these most heavily used trails, weekdays usually mean plenty of parking to spare, with no overflow.

This variation in day-to-day use at the most crowded trailheads is a case study for variable parking fee, with fees set higher on weekends and holidays, and lower (or not at all) on weekdays. As Donald Shoup demonstrates in “The High Cost of Free Parking”, adopting such a strategy can shift weekend and holiday use to less popular trailheads with free parking, or to non-peak days at more popular trailheads.

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The popular Wahclella Falls trailhead still has open spaces on most weekdays

If we adopted a variable pricing policy tomorrow for overused trailheads in the Gorge, we could cut weekend crowding on trails now being harmed by overuse in half, overnight. Sounds easy, right? Well, one complication comes from the public blowback that would almost certainly occur. Remember, we all reserve the right to complain when things aren’t free!

Another complication comes from the fact that several of the most popular trailheads also have heavy tourist use. Places like Horsetail Falls, Wahkeena Falls and Multnomah Falls in “waterfall alley” are good examples where the majority of peak period visitors aren’t hikers, just people touring the Historic Columbia River Highway and walking the paved paths to the most famous roadside views.

Shared tourism and hiking trailheads should be priced, too, as they fit the same definition for overcrowding with parking spilling far beyond established parking areas. Crowding is crowding.

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The impacts of overuse in the Gorge are real and jarring. This boot path cutting a switchback on the Oneonta Creek trail formed in just the past two years.

At Multnomah Falls, a new hazard has emerged from the overflow on weekends, with visitors now parking beyond the narrow historic highway viaducts that flank the falls and lodge. Signs on the viaducts sternly warn against pedestrians walking along them, but whole families are now a common sight in the narrow viaduct vehicle lanes on busy spring and summer weekends at Multnomah Falls.

At Oneonta Gorge, the huge overflow of visitors has created a hazard for hikers attempting to scale the log jam at the mouth of the gorge, and ruined the outdoor experience for those who make it beyond the log pile with a noisy, carnival atmosphere.

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Vandals have almost completely carved up the walls of the restored Oneonta Tunnel since it opened six years ago…

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…a testament to the destructive behavior that allowing large crowds to from on our public lands can foster?

Worse, the overcrowding at Oneonta has led to a shameful degree of vandalism in the recently restored highway tunnel. Would vandals pay to park here? Perhaps, but at least the crowds that lead to that sort of destructive behavior could be prevented with managed parking. Otherwise, this precious gem will likely have to be closed to the public, once again.

At Mount Hood, overcrowding at places like the Salmon River Trail and Ramona Falls has also led to vandalism and car break-ins, in addition to heavy impacts on trails. Managed parking could greatly improve the situation here, while allowing hikers to discover the many lesser-used trails on Mount Hood that could benefit from more boot traffic while providing a far better hiking experience.

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A relatively quiet weekday at the massive (and overflowing on weekends) Ramona Falls trailhead

In many of these examples, a parking pass is already required today, but this has little effect on managing peak use. The key difference is variable pricing for parking that provides an incentive for visitors to avoid peak periods at the busiest trailheads, but gives options of other trails or off-peak days when little or no parking fee is charged. It’s a proven approach whose time as come in our most visited public lands.

…and now transit!

Since proposing a “Boot Loop” transit service on this blog four years ago, we’ve seen significant steps forward in providing transit service to Mount Hood and the Gorge. The Mount Hood Express now provides daily service from the Portland area and on the Washington side of the Gorge, transit service now connects to Stevenson, with a new shuttle to Dog Mountain.

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The new Mount Hood Express bus provides daily service to the mountain.

On the Oregon side of the Gorge, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is partway through a pilot project to bring transit service to the most heavily visited spots in the Gorge. ODOT plans to provide service from a park-and-ride location inside the Portland area to the most popular trailheads in the Gorge.

Transit service provides a needed option to driving, especially for those who do not have access to a private vehicle, but also to those who simply want to avoid the hassle of driving (and parking).

Transit is also a good counterpoint to adopting a parking strategy for the Gorge and Mount Hood, as parking fees provide an incentive to use transit during peak periods, which in turn, helps provide the critical mass to keep the service going. This is a tried and proven relationship between parking policy and transit in cities, and overdue as a strategy in our most heavily used recreation sites.

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Park transit station at Niagara Falls State Park, New York

That said, transit is mostly a way to provide another option for visitors. It simply won’t have the capacity to have much impact on overall visitation during peak periods, when parking areas at our most popular trailheads is already overflowing to two or three times the planned capacity for the trail.

How could this work?

Applying Donald Shoup’s parking management practices to recreation areas is less complicated than in an urban setting for the simple fact that there are so few places to manage, most have a single entrance point and they are all in public ownership.

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The Forest Service recently completed a major remodel of the Wahkeena Falls wayside to better manage crowds, but without managing parking, this new landscaping doesn’t stand a chance of surviving the overload.

The public reaction to actually putting a price on parking at our busiest trailheads, even during peak periods, is the driver for why we aren’t already attempting this – not the complexity of actually making it work. After all, cities around the world are already doing it, and against much more complex obstacles.

So, what are the parking management tools that could be borrowed from cities? Here are some that could work in the Gorge and on Mount Hood:

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These systems are all being used in cities today, and some combination of these practices could be applied to parking on our public lands. One challenge for public lands would be on-site enforcement, however, as this is an essential ingredient for urban parking policies.

On this point, I propose that a portion of the trailhead parking revenue could be steered toward dedicated county law enforcement to patrol parking areas. Not only would this provide an essential incentive for visitors to pay their fee, but it would also bring a much-needed security presence for busy trailheads that are increasingly targeted for car break-ins.

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The Starvation Creek wayside does triple duty as a popular trailhead, wayside for tourists and freeway rest stop. This site is a candidate for a combination of short-term timed parking and long-term fee parking.

So, how much revenue does a parking strategy generate? Well, consider that the City of Portland collects some $35 million annually in parking fees from its downtown meters, which in turn contributes to the city’s transportation budget for street maintenance. The city also collects another $7 million annually in fines for parking violators, more than enough to cover its enforcement costs.

While a parking strategy for the Gorge or Mount Hood would be unlikely to bring that much parking revenue, the Portland model does show that fee parking at the most popular trailheads in the Gorge and on Mount Hood could not only cover operational costs, but also bring new revenue for woefully underfunded trail maintenance and construction. That could be a valuable selling point to regular hikers and visitors.

Those pesky agency permits…

One of the institutional obstacles to adopting a coordinated parking strategy for the Gorge, in particular, is the mix of land management agencies involved: the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) all have some sort of parking permit that applies to some of their respective recreation sites.

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Welcome to Wahclella Falls! Forest Pass or $5 fee required… here.

The Forest Service and OPRD both have a mix of free and fee sites, with the Forest Service requiring a $30 annual Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day-use fee at places like Eagle Creek or Wahclella Falls, but no charge at its busiest locations like Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls and Wahkeena Falls, where tourists outnumber hikers. OPRD charges $5 day-use fees at places like Rooster Rock and Benson Lake, but not at busy trailheads like McCord Creek and Latourell Falls.

Meanwhile, on the Washington side of the Columbia, DNR charges a $30 annual fee or $10 daily fee for its Discover Pass to park at places like Beacon Rock, Hamilton Mountain and all other Washington State recreation areas.

All of these are flat-fee permits, so they do nothing to help discourage overcrowding on busy weekends and arguably encourage more use, since an annual fee provides a flat rate for unlimited visits. In fact, the annual passes do just the opposite, encouraging multiple visits for a flat rate. There’s nothing wrong with hikers spending a lot of time in the Gorge, of course, but we all share the burden when it comes to managing the impacts through trailhead parking fees.

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It’s unclear how much revenue is left for trails once administration costs for the Northwest Forest Pass are covered.

Today, trailhead permits are pitched for their ability to generate funds to build and maintain trails, but hikers are rightly skeptical about how much funding actually goes to trails. In the end, it’s not a problem of the trail passes, but rather, by the low fees relative to the trail impacts the most popular trails are experiencing.

For example, a hiker purchasing an annual permit for $30 and spending a dozen days in the Gorge or on Mount Hood each year pays just $2.50 per visit to cover their trail impacts, or less than many hikers will spend on coffee en route to the trailhead.

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Lots of passes and hassle, not much revenue for trails… and no impact on crowding.

There is little chance the states of Oregon and Washington and the U.S. Forest Service will ever join forces and create a unified trail pass, and besides, their pass systems aren’t effective at managing peak use, anyway. Instead, they should cooperate to adopt a pricing strategy for our most overused trails that is an add-on to (or replacement for) the existing pass system at these locations.

The ethics of putting a price on parking?

At this point, you might be thinking (as I generally do) that we should all enjoy free access to our public lands. Of course we should! We pay for tem every April 15, after all. Thus, adding parking fees at our overused trails will most certainly bring howls from avid hikers who spend a lot of time on the trail, and who dutifully purchase their $30 annual trail passes now.

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Would revenue from a parking policy bring more of this to the Gorge and Mount Hood? Almost certainly, if managed properly.

Yet, when overuse starts to bring the “tragedy of the commons” to our most cherished places, it’s time for all of us to step up and find a solution. Putting a price on parking is a proven and effective way to get there. More importantly, pricing is really only needed on our most heavily traveled trails. Most trails will continue to be “free”… of a parking fee, anyway.

Putting a price on parking arguably discriminates against people with limited incomes or who are unable to visit in off-peak periods when little or no fee is required. Land managers will therefore need to consider ways to ensure that everyone can visit our public lands, no matter their ability to pay. But such programs are already in place in several state and National Parks, and could be easily included in a Gorge or Mount Hood parking strategy.

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That’s no road – it’s what the Angels Rest trail has become in recent years, thanks to massive overuse from a complete lack of parking management at the trailhead.

Today, land managers are already beginning to put restrictions on overflow parking in the Gorge and on Mount Hood. It’s a good first step, but not enough to address peak demand on weekends and holidays, and in the end will mostly frustrate visitors who have arrived expecting place to park.

The next step for our public agencies is to start managing parking, itself. It’s long past time to try it in the Gorge and on Mount Hood, for the sake of our trails and most treasured places.

The High Cost of Free Parking (Part 1 of 2)

March 31, 2016
The notorious Angels Rest Trailhead on a typical winter weekend

The notorious Angels Rest Trailhead on a typical winter weekend

This is a two-part article that takes its name from Donald Shoup’s ground-breaking book “The High Cost of Free Parking”, first published in 2005. Shoup documents the many unintended effects of free parking in cities, and many of the principles could apply to our public lands, as well.

The first part of this series examines the parking crisis facing the trailheads of the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood, while the second part will explore some possible solutions — none of them easy to realize until the true costs of free parking are confronted.
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Wall-to-wall hikers are the norm on Dog Mountain in spring (The Oregonian)

Wall-to-wall hikers are the norm on Dog Mountain in spring (The Oregonian)

The Forest Service announced plans this month to redesign the huge parking area at the Dog Mountain trailhead, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, to address safety issues. The Forest Service plans to stripe the currently unmanaged, free-for-all paved shoulder with designed parking spaces for 75 cars. This is a significant reduction from the roughly 200 cars that pack into the trailhead on busy spring weekends.

To compensate for the reduced parking, the Forest Service is teaming up with Skamania County’s Gorge West End Transit (WET) bus to provide a shuttle from Stevenson to Dog Mountain. The shuttle will run Saturdays and Sundays from April 16 to June 12, the peak season for the hike when the wildflower meadows that make the hike famous are at their peak. The shuttles will run 10 times daily from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the one-way fare will be a modest $1.00.

A rare quiet day at the huge Dog Mountain trailhead parking area (The Oregonian)

A rare quiet day at the huge Dog Mountain trailhead parking area (The Oregonian)

The predictable headline in The Oregonian story covering of the announcement screamed “Already hate parking at Dog Mountain? It’s about to get worse”, and the reaction from hikers in social media has pretty much echoed that simplistic, knee-jerk reaction.

But will it really be worse? Seventy-five cars at the redesigned trailhead still translates into roughly 150 people on the trail at any given time — hardly a wilderness experience, and a huge improvement over the 400+ hikers you might currently expect along the 7-mile circuit to the summit from trailhead parking capacity, alone. Some hikers will use the shuttles, but more likely, people will simply go elsewhere — a point I’ll cover in the second part in this series.

Hikers are usually people who love nature, so it’s fair to assume that few hikers would want to see their public lands trampled by unmanaged mobs. And yet, much of the reaction to limiting the number of cars that can park at Dog Mountain has been just the opposite — anger and outrage at any sort of limit on parking or access.

So, why this disconnect? We’ll explore that question in the second part of the series, too, as well as the necessary solutions to overwhelming demand for trails in the Gorge and on Mount Hood in the second part of this series.

First, a closer look at the problems that exist in today’s status quo.

A Typical Weekend…

It’s not news to Gorge regulars that weekends along the Historic Columbia River Highway in “Waterfall Alley” have become outlandish traffic jams, with cars parked anywhere they will fit, and trails literally overrun with thousands of hikers. Local photographer T.J. Thorne filmed a clip in the vicinity of Oneonta Gorge that gives a flavor of what our precious Gorge experience has devolved:

This isn’t fun for anyone. It’s a tragedy of the commons in the making, and tarnishes what could (and should) be a wonderful outdoor experience for people looking for some relief from their daily, urban routines.

How did it get this bad? Rapid growth in the Portland metropolitan is part of the answer: while the Gorge trail system is only slightly larger than it was in 1940, the Portland-Vancouver region has exploded from just over 500,000 residents then to more than 2 million today. Compounding the growth is Portland’s emerging lifestyle economy, whereby new industries locating here are increasingly do so because their workers want easy access to our amazing outdoors.

So, one answer is more trails — something I promote regularly in this blog, and something that can be done responsibly and in a way that greatly expands opportunities for people to have a positive outdoor experience. But getting there will take major reforms in how the Forest Service and Columbia Gorge Commission, in particular, think about recreation (both are surprisingly hostile to new trails) as well as restoring funds to gutted federal trail budgets.

Forest Service trail legend Bruce Dungey and his crews are struggling to stem the damage from overuse of Gorge trails

Forest Service trail legend Bruce Dungey and his crews are struggling to stem the damage from overuse of Gorge trails

The federal budget problem is real: consider that Forest Service crews in the Gorge are now about one-fourth the size they were as recently as 1990, and the scope of the trail funding crisis is clear enough. Without volunteers from organizations like Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO), Washington Trails Association, Friends of the Gorge and the Pacific Crest Trail Association our trails would literally be falling apart and impassable from fallen trees and slides. Mount Hood faces a similar backlog and dependence on volunteers to simply keep the trails open.

Not Playing Well Together?

A good share of the overcrowding and also comes from a failure of public land agencies to work together on common solutions. This is especially true in the Gorge, but also on Mount Hood, where the key players are the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) .

Consider the trailhead parking policy along on the Oregon side of the Gorge: parking at Latourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell, Wahkeena Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls, Elowah Falls, Starvation Creek and Mitchell Point is free, no permit required.

The small, free parking area at Elowah Falls is overflowing by dozens of cars, even on rainy winter days

The small, free parking area at Elowah Falls is overflowing by dozens of cars, even on rainy winter days

Meanwhile, parking at Wahclella Falls, Bridge of the Gods, Eagle Creek, Wyeth and Herman Creek requires a Northwest Forest Pass ($30 annual pass or $5 day pass). This can’t be explained simply by state vs. federal management differences, as the Forest Service operates several of the trailheads where free parking is provided, and the state operates both free and fee-based sites, with State Parks at Rooster Rock, Benson Lake and Viento requiring a $5.00 day-use free.

On the Washington side, trailheads provided by the DNR at places like Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain require a special DNR permit ($30 annual pass or $10 day pass), while Forest Service trailheads like Dog Mountain require a Northwest Forest Pass.

Confused yet?

It gets worse: on Mount Hood, the Forest Service is well down the troubling path of commercializing both campgrounds and trailheads to “concessionaires”, who in turn, get to set their own fees for day use, which includes parking at trailheads. Several of these trailheads are also posted with a Northwest Forest Pass requirement, so it’s unclear if paying one is the same as paying the other, or even whether being ticketed by a “concessionaire” has any legal standing.

The price to park at Mount Hood’s snow park lots is the same any day of the week, overloading parking areas and the Loop Highway

The price to park at Mount Hood’s snow park lots is the same any day of the week, overloading parking areas and the Loop Highway

Meanwhile, show up at the same trailhead on Mount Hood between November and April, and it might be a Snow Park site, which has its own permit, operated by the Oregon Department of Transportation ($25 annual or $4 day). Just to make things interesting, “agents” who sell Snow Park permits can charge an additional service fee — something you learn when you stop by one of the grocery stores or service stations that offer these permits.

This amazing cocktail of free and permit parking is a major point of annoyance to hikers, both for the inherent confusion and the actual cost of buying multiple passes to use trails in the same area. That’s bad public relations for the land agencies and bad news for the public. But the tangle of policies and permits is especially bad for tourism, with visitors unfamiliar with the area forced to decipher these overlapping regulations.

Dumb Fees vs. Smart Fees

As frustrating as this crazy quilt of fees (or lack of fees) is for the public, the effect is worse when you consider that most of the permitting program do little to actually manage crowding and protect trails from overuse. Why? Because they are all flat fees that don’t recognize that demand for recreation fluctuates wildly by season and day of week on both Mount Hood and in the Gorge.

The Forest Service will soon build this new trailhead for popular Mirror Lake - a chance to try a different parking approach?

The Forest Service will soon build this new trailhead for popular Mirror Lake – a chance to try a different parking approach?

In The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup describes how building enough free parking to meet narrow peaks in demand results in oversized, mostly empty parking lots while promoting even worse crowding during peak periods. And yet, there are fairly straightforward tools for managing parking to avoid these effects on our cities.

Much of what Shoup proposes for cities could be adapted for trails and other activities on our public lands, and that will be the focus of the second part of this series: a set of specific actions that could not only make the outdoor experience for everyone better, but also protect the scenery and trails that we go to the outdoors to experience, and ensure that is will still be here for future generations to enjoy.

To be continued…

It’s Just Another 12.6 Acres

August 15, 2010

By mid-afternoon on a busy January weekend, the main Meadows parking lot has already begun to empty.

Mount Hood’s ski resorts continue their slow-motion assault on the mountain this summer with yet another parking lot expansion at the Meadows Resort. The Forest Service has not yet released the details beyond this “proposal” statement:

“Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort Twilight Parking Lot.

Developing a new parking area and bus maintenance facility just behind ODOT’s Bennett Pass sand shed. This would create a new 12.6 acre opening in the forest and permanent removal of vegetation. The parking is needed to deal with existing demand.”

Without more specifics, it’s hard to know just HOW bad this idea is, except that “permanent removal of vegetation” in a “new 12.6 acre opening in the forest” might qualify for some kind of award for obtuse new euphemisms within the federal bureaucracy. Yes, it’s another parking lot.

Where is the new parking lot “behind the sand shed” proposed? We don’t know yet.

We also know that ODOT, the Mount Hood National Forest (MHNF) and the ski resorts really aren’t very interested in managing peak resort demand to minimize the need for more parking and wider highways. Beyond an anemic fleet of ski buses, there is no plan. So, this looks like more of the same, and another patch of subalpine forest will soon be erased from the slopes of Mount Hood.

The sprawling Hood River Meadows lot is mostly empty nine months of the year -- this panoramic view is on a beautiful March weekend with a 12-foot snowpack on the ground, but when most skiers are busy doing other things.

Here’s the real tragedy: like the highway widening projects proposed along Highway 26 west of Government Camp, the string of parking lots at Meadows are really only used a few days each year — a few busy weekends in December, January and February, when the Meadows resort is briefly crowded to capacity. But a look at the Hood River Meadows lot on a sunny March weekend (above) tells the real story. These parking lots mostly sit empty for nine months each year, and only fill on weekends during the 3-month “busy” period each winter.

There is a better way. The Mount Hood National Forest and ODOT could tear a page from the Deschutes National Forest playbook, and take a serious look at managing weekend crowds with a Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks and Public Lands Grant. What the is that? Well, it’s how the Deschutes NF will partner with nearby Central Oregon communities to examine the possibilities for a different transportation solution for the few winter peaks that stress the transportation system than simply putting down more asphalt. Here’s the news release (PDF).

Putting a Face on 12.6 Acres

In the meantime, this is a good opportunity to think about the magnitude of 12.6 acres. While it might seem small enough to be disposable to an agency responsible for over one million acres of public land, the proposal is “permanent”, after all. In the spirit of not taking one acre of public land for granted, here are some comparable spots in Portland that cover approximately the same acreage that provide a sense of scale for this proposal:

Portland’s South Park Blocks

The South Park Blocks in Portland stretch 12 blocks, and cover just nine acres in area. All twelve blocks would fit inside the proposed Meadows parking expansion, yet manage to include one of Portland’s largest forests of century-old elms, along with numerous fountains, monuments, plazas and walkways. Of course, in many cities, it would just be 12 more blocks of surface parking.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Looking rather brown in this post-Rose Festival restoration view, Tom McCall Waterfront Park is also about 12 blocks long, and covers about 13 acres. This park also manages to incorporate a number of fountains and monuments, pathways, the sea wall, plus the entire Rose Festival midway every June, as well as dozens of other festivals and concerts over the course of the year.

In the case of McCall Park, 13 acres covers a lot of terrain, but it also has a surprising history: this stretch of land was once Harbor Drive, a 4-lane highway, that city leaders tore out and replaced with a park.

The Oregon Zoo

The Oregon Zoo covers 64 acres, but the Great Northwest Exhibit only covers about a 12 acres, and is comparable to the Meadows parking proposal. Like the forests around Mount Hood, the Northwest Exhibit is home to cougars, bald eagles, black bears and salmon — plus mountain goats, river otters, sea lions and sea otters.

Holladay Park and the Lloyd Cinemas in Portland

Holladay Park, the Lloyd Cinemas and the very large cinema parking lot in between fit into a space of about ten acres in Portland’s Lloyd District. By comparison to the 12-acre Meadows proposal, the four acres that fall within the cinema parking lot provides 550 parking spaces — therefore, a similarly designed lot on the acreage Meadows proposes to develop on Mount Hood would translate to 1,650 spaces! Is this possible?

The Oregon Convention Center

The Oregon Convention Center also fits neatly on about 14 acres, providing 1 million square feet of convention space, plus numerous plazas and walkways, a light rail station and truck loading bays. Unlike Meadows, the Convention Center didn’t have the luxury of simply paving over a nearby forest for overflow parking, and thus the underground structure with space for 800 vehicles.

Laurelhurst Park

Finally, Laurelhurst Park is about twice the acreage of the proposed Meadows parking lot, at 26 acres. But it gives a good visual of what the ski resort proposes to pave over with their lot. Simply imagine “permanently removal” of the vegetation on one half of Laurelhurst park, above, replaced by a parking lot.

On its 26 acres, Laurelhurst provides a concert stage, numerous monuments and art displays, tennis court, volleyball court, basketball court, soccer field, horseshoe pit, play area, picnic sites, off-leash pet area, restrooms, network of paved and soft walking paths and an interpretative historical sites — which half should be paved over for overflow ski resort parking?

What’s Next?

What will be the fate of the latest Meadows proposal to build parking on Mount Hood? Hopefully, the Forest Service will act as protective stewards of our public lands, and see more value to a 12.6 acre piece of forested land than just a bunch of trees that should be “permanently removed” to make room for skiers during a few winter weekends. We’ll see.

As details about the latest Meadows parking lot expansion are revealed, updates will be posted here, including opportunities to weigh in on the plan. After all, every acre counts, and all 12.6 acres belong to you and me, our children and their children, not the Meadows resort development.

They paved paradise, put up a parking lot…

April 20, 2009
The sprawling Mount Hood Meadow parking lot is a sea of cars in ski season

The sprawling Mount Hood Meadow parking lot is a sea of cars in ski season

First-timers arriving at the Mount Hood Meadows resort in winter are greeted with a handsome view of the broad southeast face of the mountain — framed by a giant, mall-sized parking lot. Since the resort first opened in 1967, the parking lot has been a continued bone of contention for mountain defenders.

The original 6-acre lot covers what were once mountain meadows and groves of ancient subalpine fir and mountain hemlock. Growth rings in trees cut on nearby ski slopes show the cleared forest to have been upwards of 200 years old, and among the oldest alpine trees on the mountain. The lot has since been augmented by a 3-acre overflow lot in the forests below, and the 5-acre Hood River Meadows satellite lot built in the late 1970s. The resort master plan calls for another 8 acres of parking, which would bring the total for Meadows to an equivalent of 22 city blocks of high-elevation pavement.

A visual comparison of the main Meadows lot (center) to Elk Cove, on Mount Hood's north side and a similar footprint in downtown Portland.

A visual comparison of the main Meadows lot (center) to Elk Cove, on Mount Hood's north side and a similar footprint in downtown Portland.

But the deed is done, and Meadows has begun to respond to pressure to minimize expansion of the lot to the extent that buses are now used to transport a few skiers. But the long-term solutions must include variable fees on parking and lift tickets that help even out the demand to park at the resort, and prevent the huge weekend crowds that drive parking pressures (as well as highway congestion).

This will surely be fought by the resort operators, but they’re running their business on leased, public land. You and I own the parking lot, and the land under the lodge and every lift tower the resort operators have constructed. So it’s fair to say “enough is enough” as the land owners. And enough IS enough for the Meadows resort. From this point forward, the operation should focus on reducing parking, not expanding it.

What would pricing do to help manage parking? Done correctly, and in tandem with lift ticket prices, variable pricing would distribute traffic on Highways 26 and 35 in a way that prevents traffic jams on weekends, and pressure to expand these routes for a few skiers. It would also reduce lift lines, and pressure on lodge facilities. But most of all, it would allow the parking lot at Meadows to stop growing — an eventually, be reduced in size.

Ski buses at Meadows are lost in the sea of automobiles - a fact that must change in order to reclaim some of the paved areas, and restore sustainability to the resort.

Ski buses at Meadows are lost in the sea of automobiles - a fact that must change in order to reclaim some of the paved areas, and restore sustainability to the resort.

Why should the current lot be reduced in size? Because the design of the main lot has a substantial impact on the headwaters of the East Fork Hood River, which flows around the east perimeter of the parking area, then plunges over lovely Umbrella Falls — just 300 feet from the south edge of the lot.

As might be expected, the splash pool of the falls is littered with debris tossed out by skiers, then blown into the stream by snowplows. Worse, sand and gravel blown from the roads is rapidly silting the stream, filling once-deep alpine pools with sediments that the natural stream flow cannot hope to keep pace with.

New innovations in urban parking lot management provide good examples for the Meadows resort to follow, including bioswales and pervious paving designed to contain and treat runoff. These concepts could be applied immediately, and with proven results. Across the country, storm water mitigation is being designed into new parking lots, and retrofitted into existing lots to protect water supplies.

A more permanent solution would be an undergound, structured lot that wouldn’t require plowing, and wouldn’t add any surface runoff to the stream system. A working example is the lot under Capitol Mall, in Salem — few visitors realize that the lush gardens and fountains framing Oregon’s Capitol dome are actually the roof of a parking structure. In the long term, this could provide the best solution for Meadows, and would be welcomed by skiers who now tromp through grimy parking lot slush and rows of muddy cars to reach the lodge.

Lovely Umbrella Falls splashes just a few hundred feet from the Meadows resort. Sadly, the falls is littered with parking lot debris blown by snow plows.

Lovely Umbrella Falls splashes just a few hundred feet from the Meadows resort. Sadly, the falls is littered with parking lot debris blown by snow plows.

The Meadows resort operates under a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, and can be clearly be regulated into these changes, based simply on environmental considerations. But the political reality is that the resort would likely need an economic incentive to rehabilitate the lot.

One option is to simply subsidize the development of structured parking, in tandem with an a pricing program and meaningful transit to the resort. This has been done at some of Portland’s suburban light rail stations, for example, with marked success. Another option would be to allow Meadows its long sought after overnight lodging in exchange for a major upgrade to its parking lots and transportation program, and a parking lot lid would be an excellent spot for new lodging.

In the end, undoing the parking lot damage is part of adopting a new ethic for the Meadows resort that goes beyond what is now largely a token marketing facade of “sustainability.” It’s time to expect more from the corporate tenants of our public lands.