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Thursday, April 13, 2006

This Is a Blog Entry About Parking

Posted by on April 13 at 14:48 PM

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?

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Folks from SF shouldn't be allowed to comment here, because they have functional transit in their city.

As a driver, I LOVE to pay for parking, as long as you make it practical to do so. Hauling around sacks of quarters doesn't cut it, but the new parking stations are great. I don't have a problem with those. I do have a problem with garages that charge $20, but outside of downtown there aren't too many of those.

The problem with a lot of Seattle neighborhoods is that the blocks are too long, which means too few places to park on the street. Long blocks screw up pedestrians as well, so it's not autocentric to say so.

The solution for businesses in shopping districts is to band together and validate in communal lots, like the one behind the University Book Store. It's just about the right balance between convenience and inconvenience.

The minimum should be ZERO. Let the market decide. If a condo wants to be 100-units with no parking, go for it! Just make room for bikes and scooters.

The maximum should be tied to bedrooms. Maybe .5 per.

Erica, please name an affordable housing advocate who believes and argues that, if parking requirements were lowered or eliminated, developers would use the resultant savings to lower rents. might want to talk to some of the small business owners in neighborhood commercial districts about this bonehead idea. Unlike City planners, these folks actually understand the real-world effects on their bottom line.

On the other hand, I'm sure in-City malls like Northgate and Westwood Village think this is a great idea - it'll drive (pun intended) a whole lot of customers who don't want to deal with parking hassles their way...

...oh, and developers SHOULD pay for parking, since their projects are the ones that compete with the existing supply.

Of course, publicly funded multistory parking garages on zoo meadows are just ducky with our city government....

Good call on the zoo garage, X. Seems their philosophy only applies to commercial enterprises that they don't own themselves.

The zoo's now run by a private company, but is still owned by the the Parks Department. There's no talk about "creating an incentive to drive" there, though; there's only a need to provide several storeys of concrete parking -- in direct contradiction of their claim elsewhere that it won't hurt business to have less parking. See? They don't actually believe their own rhetoric is true.

I'm no city planner, but I did live in San Francisco for 17 years. I wouldn't call S.F.'s parking approach "progressive," and I wouldn't call its public transportation "functional."

San Francisco's downtown dies when the workday is done. There is some small activity in the Embarcadero, but the E.C.'s ample underground parking complicates arguments about that part of downtown.

Surely a balance must be struck. It seems clear to me that the biggest incentive to drive is a lack of public transportation.

S.F. offers very little parking in any neighborhood, even residential ones. Fines are stiff, towing is common. Public transportation is slow and unreliable. Streets are double-lined with parallel parked cars (and double-parked trucks), which chokes downtown traffic and creates a layer of smog that wasn't much of a problem until the early '80s. I don't think S.F. has found a livable or healthy balance.

Seattle's downtown is lively by comparison, in some areas anyway. Parking in high density areas should be expensive and somewhat difficult, but not non-existent.

With the notable exception of our utterly retarded notions about public transportation, Seattle is doing a better job regarding neighborhood vitality.

What's the problem with having only one parking space per unit? Couples who live in apartments should learn to share one car. Aren't they living in the city for a reason? If they want accomodation for two cars, then they should move to the suburbs.

San Francisco's bus system is worse than Seattle's. Buses easily show up twenty for thirty minutes late, even during non-peak hours. San Francisco has BART but it doesn't serve the entire city.

They also have MUNI, the light rail cars.

Muni, even with the limited coverage of the city, beats the pants off metro. Likewise BART does an astoundingly better job than sound/community transit. It is unrealistic to choke off the ability to drive and offer no viable alternates.
I have a suggestion: Toll every freeway in and out of the city, ala the Chicago suburbs. Maybe $0.15 a trip. Use that money to fund the deperately needed regional rail system. THEN choke off parking.

BTW - couples who live in apartments often both work in Seattle (if only to afford to stay here). Are you suggesting one should remain barefoot and pregnant?

Muni, even with the limited coverage of the city, beats the pants off metro

I disagree. Muni doesn't run on a predictable schedule. I often waited more than an hour for a train or bus in S.F. without any indication of what "on time" meant. Can't get across town in less than an hour. Ever.

In Seattle I see a posted schedule at pretty much every stop I use, and the busses are usually within 10 minutes of on time.

We need more lines serving more neighborhoods, and we need high speed rail lines as well. But the infrastructure that exists here seems pretty functional, especially if you compare it with S.F.

David is right - SF buses don't keep any kind of schedule I can figure out, and most stops have little or no route info (oh, and service really sucks late at night, so forget taking transit to go out nightclubbing...)

Mr. X--
If they both work in Seattle, perhaps they can carpool? My partner and I have lived in Seattle for 5 years, often working in 2 different parts of the city, and have gotten by on one car the entire time. Every once in a while, we use Flex Car, but most of the time, we're able to fill the gaps by walking/bus/etc. I think 1 car per unit is more than generous. Plus, in the urban areas, units often go unused, and landlords allow tenants to rent the extra, unused spaces.

My significant other works downtown, I work in Northest Seattle, and our hours rarely if ever match. I'd rather not spend an hour more commuting each day than I already do now, so you'll have to pardon me if I discount your suggestion (of course, we live in one of those EVIL single family houses - in West Seattle, no less - so parking at our residence isn't a problem. It will be if a few more condos with insufficient parking go up on our block, though).

Holy shit, West Seattle! Not one word of my praise for Seattle's public transportation applies to anyone who lives in West Seattle. You guys are screwed.

San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities on earth. The whole city has been "gentrified" There is not one affordable apartment anywhere in " the city' as the locals call it. How are they fighting gentrification when an affordable apartment in the Mission is 1,100 for a 1 bedroom. Their rent control laws are a joke since it only applies to houses built in the Victorian age and once theyre sold it doesnt apply. A Fixer upper in San Francisco costs 800,000. I love San Fran, but I cant afford it.

Bart is great for getting around the bay and Muni is functional, but what difference does it make if once you pay your rent youre broke for a month.

What the hell does San Fran know about keeping a city affordable?

...actually, a bus runs right down my street. The main problem for most W.Seattleites isn't that there are no north/south routes, it's that getting to them is a bitch (W.Seattle is a pretty big place to navigate from east to west).

Of course, then there is the waiting to transfer, then the next bus, etc etc....

...oh, and FNARF touched upon an issue that is rarely discussed - the size of our downtown blocks (combined with some pretty steep hills and frequently lousy weather) is such that Seattle will probably never be as "walkable" as somewhere like Portland in the eyes of many people.

OTOH, they have some pretty long blocks in Paris, and that is generally described as a very walkable place...

This is important, because, you know, the Stranger has such a good track record on transportation issues and like, stuff.

My point, Mr X, was simply that it's not impossible to manage with one car per couple. I'm not imposing my lifestyle on anyone else--just balking at your suggestion at without two cars in a two-person household, one has to be barefoot and pregnant. For couples who cannnot get by on one car, commute issues certainly play into their choice of living arrangements. On the other hand, a couple in your situation who (a) couldn't afford a second car, or (b) wanted to stick to one car, could certainly get by with just one. It would be a lot worse if one of you worked in Renton and one worked in NE Seattle.

I like Golub's suggestion of for funding mass transit of creating a .15 cent toll followed by choking of the parking once the mass transit alternatives are available. San Francisco may have mediocre transit, but ours is no better. If you have to commute to the boonies of snohomish county or kent to go to work, you have to choice but to use a car and to own a car in some cases if you have a spouse or partner that has to commute to the boonies for work as well. Plus if you go to a club in belltown or capital hill you have no choice but to use a car to commute if you don't live in those neighborhoods since buses are hard to find at 2am. If the city is going to limit parking, it must find the political will to build efficient 24 hour mass transit.

So, is there any sort of advertising effort by the city of Seattle to make its citizens aware that the city doesn't want them driving? Or is this plan supposed to create some sort of rude surprise the first time someone tries to drive somewhere?

I mean, everything is done by the city to discourage driving, except directly asking citizens not to drive. You'd think asking the citizenry would be the one thing the city would try to do.

Oh, and fuck San Francisco and their gentrification. You have to be rich to practically find a decent place out there.

If parking is so important to people, they will pay for it. If parking is so important to businesses, they will pay for it. If parking is so important to developers, they will pay for it.

All I see here is people looking for the government to subsidize their car. As someone who lives without a car, and therefore as someone who has it shoved in my face every single fucking day of my life that this city is not designed for people without cars, I have no sympathy.

All you people complaining...

"Oh, I can't find a place to park downtown"

"My customers will stop coming if they have to pay $2 to park"

"I can't sell these condos unless I put lots of parking in"


"I can't afford to pay my parking tickets"

(Jesus Christ! Does this mean you also couldn't afford to pay the parking meter? You could beg on the street for 10 minutes and get the money.)

Suck it up. It's not the end of the world if less space in this city is devoted to your stupid fucking cars. Go to Tacoma. Go to Bellevue. There's plenty of parking there.

And BTW San Francisco sucks for carless people too. Muni has buses (which suck) and buses on rails (which also suck). BART is OK but the only place it really takes you is out of the city. And I have no clue where you got the idea that downtown Seattle is more lively than the financial district in San Francisco. They're both pretty much dead at night.

people who whine about paying for parking are annoying fucks. take your car, and then imagine it in your living room. now figure how much you pay for that space a month. now why do you think it should be free it it's outside -- in our public space?

the only reason you think it should be free is because it always has been and your dumbass never thought about it. well too bad since somebody finally figured out the how stupid that is.

Erica's right - parking shouldn't be free in a sense, though it should be fair. As Seattle Weekly reports, the city is taking away 2000 free parking spots and putting in pay kiosk boxes.City Hall has also upped its parking revenues by $6 million in three years, and is planning to extend paid parking hours into nights and weekends. Does that sound fair?

Chas and Christopher,

We were here first, so fuck off.

Red meat, Erica, red meat.

I'm starting to think you just want to stir up controversies, so that nothing practical ever gets done - that will be your legacy.

If you don't like cars...then ban them entirely from the city, and devote the streets to pedestrians and transit.

But that isn't very practical, is it?

Nor is letting developers build fewer parking spaces.

All that results in is people wasting time, getting frustrated, and polluting the air trolling for the few spaces that exist - and making the intersections hell for pedestrians who have to dodge cars rushing to fill an open space when they spot it.

Now in most progressive cities of any size - say, for example, Santa Monica - they establish pedestrian malls and block off cars there - then the city erects free or cheap public parking garages at the transition between the pedetrian and car zones.

That's what should happen to Broadway: close it off, make it and a few side streets into a big park - and put some parking garages on the periphery, so people going there don't clog the surrounding streets with their crummy cars.

ECB, I was at the forum and I think you nailed it! I read articles in the daily and they blew it. Good work.

BTW- To whoever asked for a name of an afforable housing advocate who made the less parking arguement....Tony To, Executive Director of Homesight was on the panel and made this exact arguement. He said higher parking requirements are a recipe of gentrification!

Ahem... ... everything is done by the city to discourage driving, except directly asking citizens not to drive. You'd think asking the citizenry would be the one thing the city would try to do.

Starting a city-funded campaign to encourage citizens to use public transit would go a longer way towards nudging people out of their car lifestyle than bickering about how not building parking spaces doesn't somehow get people to stop driving.

Oh yeah - and what's so bad about gentrification?

But OTOH, I really can't see how it's related to making parking available - poor people drive too - maybe more so.

Gentrification spikes housing costs, making it unaffordable or difficult for much of the working class to live in cities that do it.

Of course, if shutting out the working class in favor of wealthier residents is what you want, then more power to cities that do so.

And while many poor people drive, greater percentages of those in the lower income brackets take public transport than those in higher income brackets. The vast majority of anyone pulling over $30K a year consider taking the bus beneath them, and no direct effort's been made to change these attitudes. You think, if you took a sample of any ten residents pulling $100K, that more than 2 or 3 out of 10 choose to take the bus?

I don't have the figures handy, but I think about 20% of all work trips in Seattle - regardless of income level - are made using public transit (though this figure does go up in downtown, Capitol Hill, and the U-District).

While the poor do take buses more than the middle class (let alone the wealthy), those poor people who do drive often own more than one car - even if only one is running at any given time.... the way, bike advocates - less than 3% of commute trips are made by bicycle, and this figure hasn't moved in the last 15 years.

Fuck San Francisco and the non-existant parking in SF. They do not have a 'progrssive solution' to parking in SF. NYC does - the trains and buses run all night there and cabs are readily available throughout the city.

I hate driving, but am even less a fan of having to walk home in the fucking cold after a night out because it takes an hour and a half to get a cab in SF.

I live in one of Seattle's plateau neighborhoods where a number of bicycle clubs come to ride on weekends. Based on personal observation, I would wager that fewer than 10% of them bother to try riding up the hill instead of driving up with their bikes loaded in their car trunks or on top of their cars. I have to wonder how many of them take up street parking spaces here yet make a habit of condemning drivers and also demanding that stores and developers provide them with free bicycle racks.

Yeah, I think the surest way to gentrify an area is to reduce parking - then the only people who can live there are urban hipster couples with just a Mini between them.

Their poorer relations cruise the outer suburbs with several Ford trucks of various vintages - one up on blocks - per household.

I recently performed at a comedy show at the Comedy Underground--a benefit for Northwest Environment Watch--where I took issue with their plan to encourage cities to grow up and not out by restricting parking.

I said that expecting people to stop driving simply because you take a way their parking spaces is the same as the Bush administration promoting abstinence-only sex education.

Just because you take away our parking spaces doesn't mean we're going to stop fucking.

The joke got an applause break from a room full of anti-parking density advocates.

Accept the follow:
1) Nobody cares about parking unless you can't find a place to park where you want to park.
2) People wonder why OTHER people don't use public transportation...because if those other people would do that, there'd be less traffic and they can drive easier.
3) Just like Tom Skerritt explained to Campbell Scott--it doesn't matter if you're given good music, good coffee...people are not going to give up their cars--their sense of freedom and self-control--just to ride a train, on someone else's schedule to someplace only close to where you really want to go.

Here's the thing...I speak from experience of having been a car owner, a scooter owner and vehicle-less at various times in my life. Here's what I know: Seattle's bus system sucks--it doesn't take you where you want to go, it doesn't come when you want it to come...I would never depend on this city's bus service for work or play.

When I lived in Minneapolis, I could use the bus system quite easily to get where I needed to go, to have options on how I could get places... When I've visited London, I could always get around using the Tube...never needed a car for London. When I go to San Francisco, I leave the car parked at the hotel and (with the exception of a long wait to get a bus to the Height) I had no problem navigating with BART & Muni...

Here in Seattle, I've found that more and more residential area streets are already permanently clogged with the cars of the people who live there--going to visit anyone in this town becomes an exercise in "I don't think a cop will see that I'm next to a hydrant for the next two hours on this side street" gamesmanship. (And I've got to think that more than a few kids will dart out from between parked cars into the reduced visibility streets and get hit by cars that should have been in that new condo building's parking lot instead of in every single available street parking spot for two blocks around it.)

I've lived here long enough to note that more and more surface parking lots have evaporated--they've become ubiquitous "mixed-use" buildings with little public parking available (and seriously, many Subway shops do we need?) The scarcity of available parking means that those that remain have jacked up rates and suddenly I'm seeing a LOT of formerly available street parking spaces now being reserved for Police, Fire or Metro uses 24/7.

People are VERY frustrated with the parking situation the way it is already... I see that reaction every night I'm out--overpaying for parking to be where I need to be... I remember when a parking lot meant a parking lot attendant who would take your money and keep watch over your car--now, I just feed a machine more than twice as much as I had previous paid and now there's not even a hint that anyone would notice if my car was stripped or jacked. I see people who don't understand how to pay for their parking, who are furious that they've just spent hours looking for a place to park and then howlingly mad at being extorted for outrageous night/event rates just to see an art exhibit in a gallery near Qwest/Safeco Field. These people vow that--oh...not that they'll take the bus next idea never crosses their mind--no...all they know is that they'll never come back.

In areas where businesses can't offer their own parking options, that's GOT to have an impact on the businesses in that area--so much so, that I'd have to think that someone at has got to be lobbying hard for this approach to social engineering--if no one can go anywhere, they'll have to buy their entire lives on-line.

Look, I'm not anti-transit...I voted for the monorail every time--despite how messed up it ended up being by the end--and I would have used it if it had been built.

And believe me, if we had a London Underground-style public transit system--I'd use it. But we don't, and we won't...we can't. We live in an area that is very difficult to provide quality public transit. People will always want to drive--and they will drive...and, because they will drive, taht means that they will park...everywhere.

...and it is idiotic to expect that taking away parking will change the way people live. It just will make it more difficult and more frustrating for everyone who just wants to go where they want to go and do what they want to know, the, liberty and the pursuit of happiness thing.



yeah alvis -- those are called recreational cyclists -- they are a subset of cyclists. they tend to be not so car hating (like, you know, cause, they like them). you're making a pretty silly generalization here. it's like when meat-eaters freak out on a vegetarian for eating a piece of beef once a year. get a hold of yourself. nobodies perfect but guess what your ass is probably farther from it than they are (and i mean this generally -- not just re: the ex.).

mr. x. -- hey like we know bikes haven't gotten back to the 1890's levels, and they won't anytime soon. thanks for the reminder though. and yea yea those poor people have a whole ton of non-working cars in the front yard. yur right about that.

now tell me, what's so fair about _not_ paying for a place to park your car? our space, dedicated to your car.

economic incentives work. that's why people bitch.

pgreyy -- your comedic gabble sounds great and believable but you know that's what comedians do.

no shit people are going to keep driving. yeah, we know, and one little thing isn't going to get them to stop. it will be a combination of things and this whole hey parking won't be as free/easy anymore is one step. now if you want to give up right now in discount trying out some well-researched methods then hey that's your choice but don't go bad-mouthing it with this "people love to drive it's their freeeedom!" crap. sure part of that's true but it's not that simple.

and btw, my experience with metro is great. maybe you should try it again.

It's true that people won't stop driving any time soon. That's why the smart thing to do isn't to limit parking by statute but rather to eliminate any minimum requirements for parking spaces and instead institute a congestion tax paid by every motorist entering the city. The tax should be set at the same cost as a one-zone bus fare. Charge people on entering the city limits, and consider a second charge for entering downtown. Consider extending the charge to all retail parking lots in the city, so that no one can avoid the downtown charge by going to Northgate instead.

Then use that revenue to build mass transit. If there's a concern about people leaving Seattle and spending time on the Eastside instead, then institute a similar congestion fee in the entire Sound Transit area, with revenue going to transit projects in each transportation sub-area.

In time, this would result in predictable funding for mass transit, ridership for mass transit, and the freedom to drive and pay the market rate for parking if it's really a better option.

Congestion pricing works in London, and before someone says "but they have the Tube and surface trains," consider that this plan would enable us to build similar systems scaled for our city's size, needs, and culture, without requiring painful referenda over and over again just to retain basic funding.

Cascadian's idea is radical but would cut right to the chase, wouldn't it? Sounds like a... toll. I have no quarter at this point with a toll, at least on the floating bridges.

And pgreyy, while I think you make good points, I second chas' notion that you didn't give Metro a fair shake. It certainly could use improvements here and there, but the closer you get to town, the better it runs. Having lived in Vegas, where the CAT buses were awful, and San Antonio, where VIA runs like a system in its infancy, I welcome a system as widespread and comprehensive as Metro and SoundTransit.


If you think congestion pricing tolls would build significant mass transit in this state, I've got a (toll) bridge to sell you.

First off, as a practical matter, tolls in Washington State will be spent on roads.

Second, to build a rail system nowadays is a much more expensive and complicated undertaking than it was when the bulk of London (and Paris, Berlin, and New York's) subways were constructed. Major public works were a whole lot easier when you could kill a couple of employees per mile and there was no OSHA or L & I to deal with. I don't think the amount you would raise under even the most aggressive congestion pricing model would get you much more than a couple of miles of track.

Under your model we'll wind up with Lexus lanes for the affluent and a shitload of new traffic on untolled arterials.

That said, while I think Metro is actually a pretty good bus system, a bus stuck in traffic is still a bus stuck in traffic. HOV lanes are good though, and they should probably go back to requiring 3 people to use them at peak hours.

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