Goodbye empty roads: Week-to-week Portland traffic rises again

Special Reports

Plus, when Portland parking saw its biggest decrease

Cars move along I-5 in Portland traffic generic

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — For several weeks, the coronavirus response gave Oregon drivers one unintended benefit: Empty roads and rush hour commutes that lasted half as long on many freeways. The latest Oregon Department of Transportation reports suggest traffic may soon bounce back.

The biggest drop in Portland area traffic came after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued her stay at home order on March 23 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Local freeways saw 30-50% decreases in travel volume.

However, ODOT data shows week-to-week travel has increased for the past four weeks, starting in early April and ending with data collected May 1. Statewide, traffic is still down an average 29% from the same time in 2019. However, the agency writes, “As Oregon works through step-by-step phases of reopening, traffic volumes are expected to rise.”

Portland parking saw biggest decrease early

Portland’s five city-owned SmartPark garages actually saw their biggest decreases before Brown issued her stay at home order.

Monthly and daily parking began decreasing in early March. PBOT officials say it’s likely the decline was still linked to the outbreak, and that they “observed many downtown employees starting to work at home prior to the order and a general decline in activity downtown.”

Week by week SmartPark volume comparisons from March 2019 (blue) and March 2020 (yellow) at the garage on 3rd and Alder (data analysis by Hannah Ray Lambert)

Since the executive order in late March, parking volume remained relatively low and stable. Occupancy at the 1st and Jefferson SmartPark started to creep back up in late April, a trend that could continue as Oregon begins the process of reopening.

Other metro area cities are seeing big drops in downtown parking as well. Oregon City’s meter revenue dropped to $24,900 in March of this year, nearly $10,000 less than the city collected in March 2019. A city spokesperson also said they waived downtown parking fees starting March 23 in an effort to support the restaurants offering takeout and delivery.

Parking is free, but time limited in McMinnville. According to the city, the parking enforcement officer has not been focusing on timed parking at all, mostly because “there really aren’t any cars to time.”

“Downtown has been so deserted that it’s not a good use of my time to enforce 2 hour parking when there’s only a couple cars per block. The city-owned parking lots have been very empty as well. So, I’ve been focusing on the abandoned vehicle complaints and trying to help get neighborhoods cleaned up, as opposed to writing tickets for over time parking,” the parking enforcement officer wrote in an email.

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