Starting February 1, the Seattle Department of Transportation will begin a two-month process of changing metered hourly parking rates throughout Seattle from the broad three-tiered parking system the city currently utilizes to more neighborhood-specific rates. For example, this new model will raise hourly rates from $2.50 to up to $4.00 downtown—where it's often difficult to find spaces—and potentially lower rates in select neighborhoods where parking is underutilized, says SDOT spokesman Mike Estey. The goal is to open up two available parking spaces on every city block so that people can more easily find parking closer to their destinations.

The specific recommended rate changes for each Seattle neighborhood won't be released until after January 15, when SDOT presents its findings from a month-long study of parking stalls to the Seattle City Council. As requested by the council, last November SDOT officials surveyed 60 percent of Seattle's 13,500 paid parking spaces in order to gauge daily parking occupancy, neighborhood by neighborhood, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

"This is the most extensive parking study we've ever done," says Mike Estey, a manager of parking operations for SDOT. "And it's helped inform very neighborhood-specific parking rates. Instead of single downtown rate, we'll potentially have different rates in downtown, Belltown, and Pioneer Square because they all have different levels of parking demand." SDOT's report to the city council will also address the effects of extending metered parking from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in neighborhoods like Pioneer Square, where parking is next to impossible during sporting events.

The new rates are projected to raise $4.8-$5 million in additional revenue for the city. They also represent the first step towards implementing a data-driven parking system that would allow rates to fluctuate depending on the time of day and the popularity of the area (a system already decried by some as too confusing to understand), which SDOT plans on launching in 2012.