Mud car
Image: Peter Hoey

’ROUND ANDROUND the block we go; where we’ll park, nobody knows. With only 7,200 street spaces downtown, finding a place to stash that Subaru can range from mildly annoying to hair-tearingly frustrating. Portland’s uniquely tiny downtown blocks are part of the problem; at only 200 feet long, excavating deep enough to accommodate underground parking lots isn’t always cost-effective.

Gerding Edlen faced such a space cramp as they planned to transform the Meier & Frank Delivery Depot Building at NW 14th & Everett into a new mixed-use project (by 2009). So they built up instead, using double-decker spots to increase parking.

While Portland is notoriously slow to take on new fashion trends (for the umpteenth time, folks: Flannel is dead), we’re usually at the forefront of congestion-reducing technologies, like the light rail and the tram. So, considering that two-story parking spots popped up around Munich in 1964, it’s baffling that it took us four decades to embrace them. (Perhaps we were focused instead on projects intended to reduce the number of cars on the road.) In fact, the first ones didn’t arrive here until 2006, at the South Waterfront Strand Condominiums, and Gerding Edlen’s lifts are only the second in the city.

The depot parking spots—which cost an eyebrow-raising $11,000 per stall to build—will only be open to tenants, but the Portland Development Commission’s Ross Plambeck says the city is pitching the innovation as a model for other developers—one that hopefully will get frustrated drivers singing a new tune. Here’s how the stalls work.

1. Pump it up The hydraulic cylinder on the passenger side hoists the platform while a chain on the other side pulls up. Together, they can muscle 4,400 pounds.

2. Guard rail An adjustable, angled wheel-stop is bolted to the galvanized steel platform to stop distracted cell phone gabbers from driving off the edge.

3. Juice box Mounted on the wall, an electric motor powers the lift. If the power goes out, you’ll have to phone a friend to manually push a button on the cylinder while you push one on the power box.

4. Key note To raise or lower the lift, you must exit your car and keep a key engaged in the spring-loaded lock, something that will prevent you from squashing briefcases—or coworkers.

5. Tall wonder
The depot building lifts can hold cars up to about six-and-a-half feet tall, plenty of room for a Subaru Outback. But fear not, Hummer drivers: Special models can squeeze in the most monstrous of SUVs.