Hey West Seattle, Quit Your Bitchin’!

 A Seattle Times article today discussed the City’s proposal to install parking pay stations at the West Seattle Junction. Businesses and residents are up in arms – how could they!! Especially after the neighborhood fought hard to remove meters a decade ago. Businesses argue that making people pay for parking is bad for business. I don’t see this being a relevant arguement  in the bustling commercial districts of West Seattle-people who want to drive will pay for parking. Residents complain of parking spillover onto residential streets. This can be solved with RPZs and enforcement. If our goal as a City is to reduce VMT, one effective way to do this is to eliminate all free parking. Sightline Institute provides a good overview of this fact. Parking shouldn’t be free – West Seattle, you need to get with the program.

One idea that has been floated by the good folks over at Seattle Great City Initiative is to create targeted streetscape improvement funds using the revenue from parking paystations (I’m not sure what the status of this is). Each neighborhood business district with parking paystations would receive the revenue generated from the paystations (after operating and enforcement costs are subtracted) and could use it to make streetscape improvements such as pavement repair/enhancment, street furniture, public art, and other amenities. I wonder if there would be as much bitching about making people pay for parking if such a mechanism were put in place…

17 Responses to “Hey West Seattle, Quit Your Bitchin’!”

  1. mike

    i wonder if this will be as much of a money-grab for the city as the first fremont RPZ proposal was. also, that did nothing to improve the parkign situation in fremont (it’s just as bad now as it was 6 months ago) but the city is raking in a buttload off of parking tickets.

    if the city wants to institute better bike/bike storage facilities, along with a legitimate and effective public transportation system, then i’d have no problem with it. but if people have to switch buses to go from fremont to ballard or capitol hill, it’s not an effective system and people are going to drive.

  2. Neighborhood Voter

    Westwood Village shopping center is only 2 – 3 miles from the Junction. And it has acres of free parking, parking that that City can’t impose pricing on.

    Let’s not be too cavalier about the merchants’ concerns here. They are in competitive businesses and to the extent that paid parking makes them less competitive, they lose business.

    Yes, we want to sell density and walkability and urbanism and all that good stuff, but we don’t do it very well by bashing one sector over the head like this.

  3. Michael

    Taking away cars without having suitable transit to make up for the lack of mobility = suicide for a city. It’s begging residents – and more importantly, businesses – to flee to the suburbs.

    Yet we seem to be the only city in the US that fails to understand this.

    You can make driving as expensive as you like, but if there’s no real alternative, it’s just food kept out of our mouths.

  4. Tracy @ WSB

    A few things, as we have been covering the parking “study” at our site for a year and a half now, 19 articles, and today’s Times story was only a “oh gosh we noticed something happening in a neighborhood so let’s go do an overview,” nothing new:

    The city has not proposed installing pay stations as is written above. That may well be an end result of the study, as we noted in our first report in February 2008 (when SDOT invited multiple news organizations both citywide and neighborhood to a briefing and we were the only ones who showed up), but they have not proposed ANY changes at this point. They’re still gathering data. And frankly, not everyone is “up in arms.” Residents in nearby neighborhoods are interested in RPZs or other restrictions so that construction and employees don’t take all their neighborhood spaces. Some folks with whom we have walked on “tours” of the district done as part of the parking study in recent months are interested in making sure that there’s turnover.

    A lot of people out here would like to rely more on transit – unfortunately, it does not serve our area all that well. There continues to be controversy over whether the future RapidRide is really going to be anything resembling rapid, and Metro has proposed “delaying the branding” by a year, though it insists there will be a service increase of some sort in 2011 as scheduled – several hundred seats was a number mentioned recently, which is barely enough to handle one of the several new apartment buildings heading this way. (Many of which are trying to help, by the way, like Harbor Properties’ Mural – one of our sponsors – which is a Zipcar stop.)

    Anyhow, having covered this issue/review for a year and a half, thought I would drop in. Today’s article did not include any new news, it was just a citywide news source noting something that’s been in the works for more than a year. Our coverage, for anyone who cares, is archived newest-to-oldest at:

  5. Brice Maryman

    small correction, Seattle Great City Initiative is now Great City.

  6. alexjonlin

    Haha I love the part in the article where it says “Free parking is one of the core values of the West Seattle neighborhood.”

  7. wes kirkman

    Reminds me of several related instances:
    -Alki road closure last year: all the businesses complained that no one would show up, even though an awesome roadway along an awesome beach would be a haven for non-car-driving persons (it would seem) (and for just a couple hours! c’mon!).
    -Perceived reason for closure of Aurofice coffee on Pine and Boylston: one of the gals there was adamant that the reason for their impending (at the time) demise was a lack of parking. I often think about that as I sip my americano at the new cafe, Stumptown, which seems to do just fine with the same amount of parking availability (hmm, less seeing as how SDOT is tearing up the street to make ped improvements right now).
    -Ivar’s on the waterfront was complaining way back when about the loss of parking underneath the viaduct after the viaduct’s demolition. I guess those spots make or break their business.

    There are many other examples, but to the extent to which the arguments hold water, I question. I agree that alternatives to driving need improvement in this City, but it appears many are content to just use that as an excuse to continue going about the same ol’ same ol’. (*cough* viaduct tunnel *cough*).

  8. West Seattle property renter

    Hey hugeasscity – GFY.

  9. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Certain businesses do benefit from free parking, and in some cases might go under without it. We’re witnessing a major societal change in the way people live and shop, so it’s pretty easy to tell them they’re on the wrong side of history. That doesn’t make it nice.

    I’m not all that familiar with West Seattle, but I’m guessing the Junction might be the border between the car-centric places and where it’s already possible to live in dense, walkable neighborhoods.

  10. ktstine

    Thanks Tracy for weighing in. I love the WSB. As a WS girl, I agree that transit can be tough over here, especially outside of the 9-5 working hours. On a Sunday, for example, it would be hard for meto catch a bus from where I live up to the Junction and back down again in any reasonable amount of time. So we ride bikes! That is our choice and obviously one that not everyone can make, especially if doing larger shopping. It would be great if some of the larger projects getting built could creatively use their parking – shared or reserve some of it for the commercial business district.

    For those who don’t know, WS Junction really still feels like a 50s drive up biz district. Most of it is still one story old buildings, and the density around it is only now arriving. Almost all of WS is singl-family, giving it a much more suburban feel.

    So metered parking is a shift here. My hope is that some creative solutions can be embraced (more zip cars, shared structured parking, etc.)

  11. mahanoy

    Michael @3: “Taking away cars without having suitable transit to make up for the lack of mobility = suicide for a city. It’s begging residents – and more importantly, businesses – to flee to the suburbs.”

    Actually, this isn’t so much a cars-vs.-transit issue. It’s about making the best possible use of a limited number of parking spots. If you take a limited resource but offer it for free, you create a market distortion. Someone who doesn’t really need the parking spot so badly uses it up for the maximum amount of time, keeping it away from someone who does need it badly–or make that multiple someones. The result: it becomes harder to park, and you get an inordinate amount of extra street traffic from drivers cruising for parking spots.

    Put just enough of a price on a parking spot and you maximize the benefit it provides. Shoppers who most value their time and convenience can much more easily find a parking spot. Shoppers who are more cost-sensitive can park farther away or walk or take transit. But note that not all of, or even most of, those cost-sensitive shoppers are being made to shift to transit. Because the pricing maximizes the benefit the parking spot provides, you end up allowing more shoppers, not fewer, to take advantage of the parking spots.

  12. mahanoy

    Y’know, this is one of those issues where it would be helpful if the general public understood economics a little better, at least enough to be disabused of the notion that there’s such a thing as a free lunch.

  13. Mickymse

    In general, I agree with your complaints…

    As a West Seattle resident, I would point out a couple of issues with this particular example.

    One concern raised is that turnover of parking spaces is NOT currently a problem in the Junction. If this happens, it will be a revenue grab by the City, pure and simple. Few folks and businesses are complaining that one can’t find a spot around the area when needed.

    Another major concern is the elevation changes around our neighborhood and the number of seniors. There are several places that are 2+ miles from a grocery store, drugstore, post office, etc. It is not currently possible to get there by one bus. And the elevation change in that, say, 1.5 mile nice walk can be several hundred feet.

  14. Mike Orr

    “If you take a limited resource but offer it for free, you create a market distortion. Someone who doesn’t really need the parking spot so badly uses it up for the maximum amount of time”

    Except that a bigger factor is people’s incomes. One person may not even notice the cost of parking all day, while another may debate whether they can afford an hour of parking when another shopping center has free parking.

  15. michael

    The feeling that this a revenue grab by the City is understandable I suppose, but let’s be clear though, the right-of-way belongs to the City of Seattle and they are tasked with putting it to the best public use possible. In these modern times, this does not necessarily translate into gauranteed free car storage for all who CHOOSE to drive. Rather it translates into allocating the right-of-way for a range of transportation options, enhancing neighborhood livability, and to the extent possible, achieving other citywide goals such as reducing carbon emissions, improving water quality, etc. In short, it ain’t the 1950s.

    The idea of having neighborhood-specific streetscape improvement funds set up using parking pay station revenues may help to address the revenue grab perceived by some. Of course, the City would have to go along with this, and it would probably be in their best interest, perhaps requiring less time spent “studying” the issue. Really, what is there to study? Isn’t that a euphemism for how do we go about our business while pissing off the least amount of people possible.

  16. frank@nycgarden

    I was recently talking with someone who said all the people in a particular tourist destination in NY are pissed because the town put in parking meters. Ostensibly to curb parking, to lighten the load of cars looking for parking.

    But really it doesn’t do this, because what draws people to this area still draws people to this area in an area which demands cars or simply has cars with owners who like driving over other options. So, since the meters, the traffic feels pretty much the same as before.. Because what car owner, who isn’t put off by the high cost of maintaining a car, gas, and insurance, will be put off by 25 cents for 20, 30, 40, 60 minutes?

    This little tourist town should have taken a look at its neighbor, NYC where pay doesn’t reduce use. We not only have meters on most of our commercial strips (poor and wealthy alike), but they are usually occupied at the “must pay” times. The fact that the city keeps raising the fees hasn’t curbed parking. Side streets are also filled with cars, but the cars belong to those who live there and a smattering of commercial users on the ends. This happens on my own street where I can ID neighborhood cars from interlopers.

    The fact is that you would have to price cars in an extreme way to limit car parking on commercial strips. Incremental increases go largely unnoticed. People who don’t have a quarter, chance it, running in to the pizza place or deli to grab something fast.

    As I managed an unusual drive to work at 60th and Broadway, yesterday, I realized that the best way to limit cars is to limit their mobility. Engineer traffic patterns that minimize freedom of movement. Traffic itself seems to rarely do this (if it did, would there be traffic?). This can only be done in a city that has a good system for getting around.

  17. frank@nycgarden

    I should also mention that the time slot that is most efficient for limited parking is at night, after the meter hours are over. People are hesitant to park at the meter overnight unless they are sure to get up and out before the 7AM deadline. THAT seems to curb parking. So most of the meter spots are free at 7:30 AM, freeing them up for commercial users.

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