This Is a Blog Entry About Parking
Literally. But if you live in a neighborhood in Seattle, or drive a car, or want to see more affordable housing in Seattle, it affects you.
Here’s the deal: The city is getting ready to revise its parking requirements—the amount of parking developers are required to build when they put in new residential or commercial developments. Currently, developers have to put in one parking space for every 200-350 square feet of commercial space, and one space for every 1-1.25 residents in new residential buildings. The new proposal would reduce those requirements to one space for every 250-500 feet of commercial space, and one space for every housing unit. Because each new parking space costs tens of thousands of dollars, developers have a financial incentive to build fewer spaces. And because readily available parking creates an incentive to drive—something Seattle government says it does not support—the city has a political incentive to encourage them to do so. Affordable-housing advocates also argue that the fewer parking spaces developers have to build, the less expensive housing will be.
At a packed forum on the new requirements at city hall Tuesday night, business owners, neighborhood advocates, and planning experts debated whether the new minimums were too low, too high, or just right. Greg Hill, a Wallingford resident and longtime spokesman for the more-parking camp, argued that lower parking requirements and more expensive parking would lead to “spillover parking” in neighborhoods and decimate thriving business districts. But others, including Greenwood neighborhood activist Mike McGinn and San Francisco planning consultant Jeff Tumlin, argued that meeting demand for parking (as even the new, reduced requirements do) is a prescription for auto dependence and gentrification.
Tumlin even argued for getting rid of minimum parking requirements altogether, and instead setting maximums, allowing developers, if they wished, to build no parking at all. “The debate in San Francisco is not about having minimum parking requirements,” Tumlin said. “It’s about how low the maximum should be. In San Francisco, the primary tool to control gentrification is to reduce parking maximums.” Unfortunately, because the mayor’s proposal more than meets existing demand for parking, it does nothing to encourage alternatives to driving.
Maybe we’re not ready for a progressive, San Francisco-style parking maximum, but I hope the city will consider reducing the minimum requirements further, and reducing the amount of “free” parking throughout the city. I don’ t like to pay for parking either. (And as someone who just had my car towed from a “free” parking spot because I failed to move it after 72 hours, I sympathize with those who want parking to be plentiful and cheap.) But the fact is, parking is never free: Someone—the government, business owners, developers, or drivers—has to pay for it. Why not the people who use the parking?