If parking rates go up, downtown businesses will perish. That was the cry from the Seattle Times editorial board two years ago, when the mayor and Seattle City Council considered raising the rates by one or two dollars an hour and extending evening meters by two hours. The daily paper warned that drivers "won't want to come back to Seattle." That was the cry again in February on the Seattle Times front page, which claimed "the longer parking-meter hours that started in August have cut business by as much as 50 percent." That was also the cry last week in a Seattle Times guest editorial from the Washington Restaurant Association, which said requiring "customers to pay for on-street parking until 8 p.m. hits them where it hurts our businesses the most: their wallets."
One problem: Now that the new parking rates are in effect, restaurant revenue isn't down. It's up.
Eric de Place at the nonprofit Sightline Institute recently filed a public-records request for tax receipts from restaurants in every downtown zip code, and the information shows that restaurant revenue has increased along with the parking rates.
"After paid parking hours were extended in mid-2011, gross receipts for downtown restaurants climbed by 5.4 percent," de Place writes at www.sightline.org (where you can see the complete report). Sales rose for restaurants in all three downtown zip codes.
That may be a bitter pill to swallow for certain business associations and our conservative daily paper, which reflexively pretend that every auto regulation or new bike lane is tantamount to a war on capitalism.
But why the parking paradox?
The leading theory—how higher and longer rates can correlate with more business—is exactly what the city predicted when it raised the rates: Eliminating free parking during prime evening dining hours may discourage drivers from abandoning their cars in parking spaces all night, thereby promoting parking-space turnover and helping customers find parking.
While the data doesn't necessarily prove the new parking scheme is helping businesses (perhaps sales receipts would be even higher under the old rates), it shows claims about declining revenues are unfounded. Reached by phone, de Place says: "They need to stop saying that business is down unless they produce some justification."