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Shut Up and Feed the Meter

Why Increasing Parking Rates to $4 an Hour Downtown Will Encourage People to Shop More and Help the City

Every parking space is full outside J Sushi in the International District during a Mariners home game—or any stadium event, from boat shows to car shows—and not because the joint is filled with folks stuffing in a pregame roll. Stadium visitors pay only $5 for two hours of metered parking on the street, a great deal when private lots nearby cost upward of $7 an hour.

"The people don't come to eat or shop, mostly just to park. It hurts our business," says Jay Zeng, who owns the restaurant.

Parking isn't only a problem near the stadiums on game days; it's a downtown problem all week. "Downtown street parking is at 100 percent capacity for most of the day," says Marybeth Turner, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). People who want to go out and shop or dine can't find a parking spot downtown—so they go somewhere else.

Downtown is defined as the area between Denny Way and South Royal Brougham Way, and from I-5 to the waterfront. In this core area, there are 55,000 off-street stalls available in private garages and lots (at an average price of $7 an hour) and only 5,000 on-street metered spots (which currently go for $2.50 an hour).

In other words, on-street parking represents only 8.3 percent of the total spots downtown, and we're giving it away for roughly one-third the price.

Drivers often can't find street parking in popular areas because, at $2.50 an hour, parking is so cheap that drivers just feed the meter and continue parking long past the city's two-hour limit. Which is part of the reason Mayor Mike McGinn proposed raising parking rates to $4 an hour for on-street parking downtown (and extending paid parking hours) in his 2011 budget plan. McGinn's other goal is to help fill the city's $67 million budget shortfall and pay for police, firefighters, parks, libraries, and other public services.

"If we can raise the rates and collect more dollars... we'll have money to support public services," McGinn said recently in an interview. "That's what attracts people to downtown—a safe place with good parks and vibrant sidewalks and walkability." Recent studies also show that the slightly higher rates mean more parking turnover and, thus, more parking for people who need it.

The Seattle City Council is balking at the mayor's $1.50 increase. "We're really struggling," says Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council's Transportation Committee, who says the council might reduce the proposed rate to $3 or $3.50. "We don't want to use parking meters as an ATM for the city's general fund. It really has to be related to turnover for parking," Rasmussen says.

The Downtown Seattle Association also opposes the hike. "Our concern is that the mayor's proposal is too expensive and people would choose not to come downtown," says Randy Hurlow, a spokesman for the DSA. Asked repeatedly for alternative ideas for increasing parking turnover without raising rates—that is, a method for actually letting people park downtown when drivers are monopolizing spaces all day—Hurlow has no answer. He says, "The city needs to research this issue a bit more before making recommendations."

Meanwhile, there's plenty of that "research" the DSA is calling for. Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor of urban planning and nationally recognized parking expert (he authored the 733-page tome The High Cost of Free Parking), says that cities with healthy business districts have 15 percent of their on-street parking available during peak hours. Seattle currently has zero or close to zero. Ideally, Shoup says, people shouldn't have to park more than a few blocks from their destination (and they pay the price for this privilege). Recent studies in New York and San Francisco show that in areas where parking was maxed out (similar to downtown Seattle) 25 to 40 percent of vehicles on the road were simply circling looking for parking. These cities raised their parking rates to fix the problem.

Seattle has also studied the issue at length. In July, SDOT sent a report to the mayor's office that detailed the effects of three potential rate increases (to $3, $4, and $5 an hour). The study concluded that an increase to $4 an hour would create more downtown parking turnover and keep roughly 9 percent of street spots vacant at any given time—well below Shoup's golden 15 percent (SDOT's report estimated that an increase to $3 would free up 2 percent of parking spots—a negligible amount—and an increase to $5 would free up 19 percent). The study also notes that San Francisco is currently piloting a program that adjusts rates according to peak on and off hours, ranging from 25 cents to $6 an hour.

The alternative thinking comes from people like Eastside mall developer Kemper Freeman, who earlier this month said that the parking hike was "putting a knife" in downtown's heart—and Seattle's best way to compete with his free suburban parking would be to keep Seattle parking rates the same. But all the evidence suggests that low rates are hurting downtown businesses—and the city—while possibly driving people away to Eastside businesses, like the ones Freeman develops. "People come to Seattle to shop because we're a great city—not because we have free parking," the mayor says.

The rate hike is estimated to generate $4.8 million in gross revenue in 2011 and $6.1 million in 2012. McGinn has ordered SDOT to begin studying cities with flexible parking rates in order to recommend an adjustable-­parking-rate model next year.

Dave Meinert, owner of Big Mario's on Capitol Hill and the 5 Point Cafe in Belltown, says McGinn's $4 proposal will help businesses that "rely on a constant flow of people." In addition, he says, "raising parking rates will help pay for police and public safety services. That's all there is to it." recommended

 

Comments (31) RSS

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Anthropomorhpise Me 1
Supply and Demand: Capitalism at its best.
Wait, am I reading the Stranger??!?!
Posted by Anthropomorhpise Me on October 20, 2010 at 1:43 PM · Report this
2
Oh, god. Well, if Meinert says it, it must be true.
Posted by Why is this guy considered an expert about anything? on October 20, 2010 at 2:44 PM · Report this
3
Four bucks an hour. I'm glad I don't have to park in dt Seattle! By the way, whatever happened to that espresso tax? Is that improving a lot of lives out there?
Posted by Schick on October 21, 2010 at 9:17 AM · Report this
4
An excellent report. Kudos to McGinn for a step in the right direction. I’ve seen many people react with knee-jerk opposition because they think their parking costs will increase, when in fact it will decrease parking costs for most people, and attract more visitors, because short-term street parking will become easier to find.
Posted by Anirudh on October 21, 2010 at 10:11 AM · Report this
5
An excellent report. Kudos to McGinn for a step in the right direction. I’ve seen many people react with knee-jerk opposition because they think their parking costs will increase, when in fact the change will decrease parking costs for most people, and attract more visitors, because short-term street parking will become easier to find.
Posted by Anirudh on October 21, 2010 at 10:15 AM · Report this
6
@4 & 5,

Decrease parking costs for most people? Are you arguing that increasing the cost of metered parking will lead private lot owners to lower their prices? On what planet?

Attract more visitors? Nonsense. The people who have to go downtown (ie - because they have to go a government building for some license or other) will pay more because they have to, and those who have a choice to go elsewhere (ie for discretionary trips to shop and restaurants) will do so.

Perception is reality where the negative effect of increasing parking costs on retail traffic is concerned.
Posted by Mr. X on October 21, 2010 at 11:14 AM · Report this
7
As the report mentions, many street parking spots are taken up by long-term parkers who do little or nothing for business. Higher onstreet parking rates and stricter enforcement will shift them to offstreet parking where they belong, leaving more street parking spots available for those who go downtown for short trips.

The city should go further and implement Donald Shoup's recommendation of setting prices such that the onstreet spaces are 85% utilized on average. This actually attracts visitors because (1) they know that they will always find a space and (2) the money is invested in improvements to the neighborhood, making it a more attractive destination. This is how Old Pasadena was transformed from a ghetto into one of the most happening places to visit: it's one of the few places in southern CA where you can see throngs of people on the sidewalks. For more on the subject, see Shoup's presentation on the web titled 'The High Cost of Free Parking'.

Parking charges don’t eliminate visitors, as you can see from the fact that people do use paid parking lots.
Posted by Anirudh on October 21, 2010 at 12:27 PM · Report this
8
@7,

You might ask UDPA about the magical consumer attracting properties of paid parking lots (or, for that matter, you might also ask U-District merchants what they think about how the perception of the lack of/high cost of parking affects their bottom lines).
Posted by Mr. X on October 21, 2010 at 12:36 PM · Report this
9
Raising the prices will only encourage the private lots to raise their prices even higher. I’m sure this sounds great if you are a mayor who has the luxury of being able to commute to work on his bike then get chauffeured around by staffers in the cities Prius. Oh.. Cienna did you hear the news that there is a law that prevents autos from parking in the same spot for more than 2 hours...? Its efficiently enforced by the fascist meter maid patrol that roll around on Ben-Hur style Roman Gladiator chariots issuing tickets with zeal. Raising the prices will not free up more spaces. People will continue to park and get gouged. The proposed 4.8 to 6.1 million that you cite (source unknown) does sound great. I could see a years worth of accounting for this now...

15 new meter maids.....$1,000,000
New meter maid uniforms, and electric jet skis...$1,000,000
Police........$0
Fire...........$0
Crappy art for public park....$500,000
Endless meetings between the highly paid city intellectual ineffectual group that get nothing accomplished other than decide what private school is best for their children and where is the best place to do yoga is these days...$3,500,000
Organic Trader Joe Cheetos for meetings and cost to mock up a new arty bike rack that has a pacific northwest feel...$1,000,000

Posted by mother trucker on October 22, 2010 at 10:10 AM · Report this
10
If "Downtown street parking is at 100 percent capacity for most of the day," then keeping the prices low serves NO rational purpose whatsoever.
Posted by Think! on October 22, 2010 at 12:55 PM · Report this
11
oh yeah ! i would looooooooooooooooove to pay more to park downtown. not! just another shameless money grab, and its funding what exactly?
Posted by ERIC CARTMAN on October 22, 2010 at 4:07 PM · Report this
12
Hoooooooboy.

I left Seattle in 1997, and am glad I don't have to pay for parking now.

Posted by auntie grizelda on October 23, 2010 at 12:38 AM · Report this
13
What I don't understand is why some people are afraid of TRYING ot at least. If it doesn't work, them we change the law. (Granted that might be a bit idyllic, to believe that a law once passed could be easily adjusted to meet the needs of a changing society, but we can try, right.)

I think the article makes a good point. Yes, a parking rate increase would suck, but in the long term, I suspect more people would actually save money. How often has it happened that you would spend fifteen minutes circling for a cheap metered spot, only to give up and pay the significantly higher parking garage fee? Instead of paying the "higher" four dollars, you are now paying ten. This has happened enough to me to think that a four-dollar meter could work if it does create more revolving spots.

In the end, taxes and tolls are not always your enemy.
Posted by NONfinis on October 23, 2010 at 9:04 AM · Report this
14
@13,

I have been driving in Seattle for over 20 years now (including downtown, though at the current rate of $2.50/hr I only go there during the day when I have to - which means that I usually get reimbursed by work) and the answer to your hypothetical question is NEVER. Not once.

(on the other hand, there is a small pay lot on Capitol Hill that charges less than $5 for evening parking that I've been known to resort to occasionally when there isn't any on-street parking, but I'm not telling anyone where it is)
Posted by Mr. X on October 23, 2010 at 9:40 AM · Report this
15
At first I balked at the idea of $4 parking. But, I think it will help.

Scenario 1: you want to shop for 2 hours or lunch, etc; currently, almost all space are full so, if yo drive, you'll probably spend $15 or so in a private lot. With $4 parking, if you find a spot, you'll spend $8 otherwise your no worse off.

Scenario 2: you need to drop off something and then rush off to another place. With $4 parking, you have a chance of finding a space and pay $1 for 15 min. Otherwise $7 - and another $7 at the next place, and so on.
Posted by pragmatition on October 23, 2010 at 1:02 PM · Report this
16
I see my girlfriend in downtown every Friay night to Saturday morning. Sleeping in till 10 or 11 would cost me $16! Maybe $20! That's two hour's work for me!!

Side note: I am not hogging up retail space. She doesn't live in a retail area, and there is usually 20% of spaces available.

I'm going to have to break up.
Posted by don't want to wait for late buses on October 24, 2010 at 1:19 AM · Report this
17
I see my girlfriend in downtown every Friay night to Saturday morning. Sleeping in till 10 or 11 would cost me $16! Maybe $20! That's two hour's work for me!!

Side note: I am not hogging up retail space. She doesn't live in a retail area, and there is usually 20% of spaces available.

I'm going to have to break up.
Posted by dont wait for late buses on October 24, 2010 at 1:21 AM · Report this
18
You have to be fucking kidding. Fuck you and your parking meters...why hasn't somebody gone around for kicks and taken care of them and all the other big brother shit? They continue to play us while fucking us.
Posted by baba v on October 24, 2010 at 11:32 AM · Report this
19
All good points, however, no one really thinks or cares about the people who actually WORK downtown, and who don't have the luxury of an employer paying for their parking.
These lots charge us an arm and a leg to park so it's much cheaper for us "downtown workers" to "feed" the meters.
And don't try to force us to A] ride our bikes or B] take the bus.

This doesn't even touch on the issue of them wanting to make street parking restrictions and fees go until 8pm M-S [that's Sunday, not Saturday] How about the no parking on 1st ave till 8pm stretching from Seneca to Belltown plan? They don't seem to be talking about this with the public, yet.
Posted by I care a lot! on October 25, 2010 at 8:02 AM · Report this
20
While I don't always agree with Cienna Madrid, when Ms. Madrid writes a great article, it is truly a pure gem of sterling reportage.

This is an outstanding example: from her coverage of all the salient points, to allowing for the Downtown Seattle Association's typical nonresponse of vacuousness.

Bravo and well done, Ms. Madrid!

Had we similar reportage on that so-called healthcare reform legislation, actually nothing more than health insurance industry consolidation of control and power legisltion, when President Obama made the claim that premium rates would go down by 18% to 20%, when it goes into effect in 2014, a realy journalist would have mentioned that premium rates by that time would have increased by 300% (actually a rather lowball figure), so that any decrease would allow for a conservative estimated increase of ONLY 280% in premium rates.

True, there are several good points with that health insurance industry (written) legislation, but as this legislation is riddled with various financial chokepoints (points where congress stops funding, and thereby renders the several improvements useless) it is designed to be effective nonoperative.

In other words, it's a crock and a sham, much the same as this so-called financial reform.

Which is why Murray, who has been in congress for almost 20 years while they have worked to dismantle the US economy, is running such a close race with that vile clown, Dino Rossi.
Posted by sgt_doom on October 25, 2010 at 11:51 AM · Report this
21
come on now dave, who is one of the owners of big marios just accepts the tickets he can afford to pay them just pulls them off the windshield nice quote from him though
Posted by votemcginnout'13 on October 25, 2010 at 7:47 PM · Report this
22
They've been talking about better enforcement on people who stay past two hours for a long time. Why don't we pursue that option rather than making Seattle unapproachable for the masses. Do business people really think that their average consumer in their local shop is going to pay $4 an hour for the soul purpose of going to their one shop? No, people go downtown and walk to a variety of places from their one affordable street parking spot.
Posted by sprstr on October 26, 2010 at 11:51 AM · Report this
23
They've been talking about better enforcement on people who stay past two hours for a long time. Why don't we pursue that option rather than making Seattle unapproachable for the masses. Do business people really think that their average consumer in their local shop is going to pay $4 an hour for the soul purpose of going to their one shop? No, people go downtown and walk to a variety of places from their one affordable street parking spot.
Posted by sprstr on October 26, 2010 at 11:56 AM · Report this
24
I am all for this. We can never find street parking when we go downtown, and end up spending far more at a pay lot. "Cheap" street parking is only cheap if you can actually find a spot.
Posted by Mombear on October 26, 2010 at 12:29 PM · Report this
25
Kudos to NONfinis.

This will certainly improve downtown.

Yes, it will make parking more expensive, but it will make customer turnover higher and increase business. For city dwellers it may convince more to bike or bus. For suburbanites they can either pay less to park at a lot that's far away (and then bus or bike). Or they can pay more.

Either way, the cost incurred by the car should be borne by s/he who benefits (the owner). Currently the price for having a car and parking it in downtown Seattle is too low. Well priced markets work more efficiently (and not in a mortgage default swap blah blah kind of way).

Economics tra-la-la-la
Posted by cityzen on October 26, 2010 at 6:56 PM · Report this
26 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
27
currently about once a week i will go to belltown/downtown for happy hour and/or shopping. If they charge $4 an hour for parking i will stop going to those areas and go to happy hour spots with parking lots. I'm guessing i'm not the only one that will be chased away by the higher parking rates. Why go shop downtown and pay $8 for two hours when you can go to southcenter and park for free? I only see this as a way for the city to make more money because they can't budget the money they already get from taxes. Buerocrats can't balance their budget so they dip into the public's pockets to cover the difference. This will hurt downtown businesses not help them.
Posted by flounder on October 27, 2010 at 1:43 PM · Report this
28
@17 I see your GF on Thursdays. I ride my bike there so it doesn't cost me anything. Enjoy my moist.
Posted by Mayor McGinn on October 28, 2010 at 1:16 AM · Report this
29
I'm not so concerned about increases to parking rates in the downtown core area where there are at least decent public transit options. But I am concerned about the impact of the proposed increased rates and extended fee times in neighborhoods like Fremont and Ballard.

Without improvement to in-city public transit, it seems there would be a negative impact for these neighborhoods ... and an unfair disincentive to visit for those without the means to add $5 in parking to their farmer's market tab.

Seattle's public transit between neighborhoods is clunky and inconvenient to say little and an insult to public transit supporters to say more, and it should be taken into consideration with any changes to parking/driving incentives in neighborhoods.

Typically one can at least get downtown in a single shot. Trips between neighborhood require transfers ... often lengthy, often downtown. So, why not just get out and shop/dine there? Leave Ballard and Fremont as exclusive enclaves for trendy/wealthy patrons and their condo overlords.
Posted by circuspoodle on October 31, 2010 at 11:27 AM · Report this
KittenKoder 30
Bus costs maybe $4 at most .... that's if you live in a non metro covered area ... I say we put parking downtown at $7 an hour for street side, and I don't even care what they do with the money now.
Posted by KittenKoder http://digitalnoisegraffiti.com/ on November 4, 2010 at 5:02 AM · Report this
31
I work downtown and live fairly close to downtown, but not close enough to walk. Taking the bus if I want to shop is often not a good idea with a few bags in my hand. So, once in a while, I'll go downtown to shop and drive in. So, what would happen to my shopping trips if I have to pay $4.00+ bucks an hour? I'll go somewhere else. Basically, at $4.00 per hour, it makes it less expensive for me to go somewhere else, since a round trip to West Seattle, Northgate or even the east side would be less expensive, when including how much gas I'd have to spend. So yeah, good luck with that. Those on-street parking spaces, even if you have to drive a few blocks around to find them, are great for those of us who just want to go downtown, buy something within an hour or two and not have to pay the $7 - $8 bucks to park in one of the garages.
Posted by zapopan on November 12, 2010 at 12:54 PM · Report this

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