Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen has proposed legislation that would open up some of Seattle's Residential Parking Zones, which allow residents of an area to park on the street for free while restricting other drivers to two hours, to employees of businesses in those zones.
The idea, which was prompted by complaints from employees of Montlake Elementary School, who lack access to on-site parking, has been controversial at the Seattle Department of Transportation, which worries that employers in areas of the city that don't have enough on-street parking as it is will push to expand access to residential parking areas.
Rasmussen says his proposal—which would require SDOT to do a survey of factors such as how much on- and off-street parking is available in a neighborhood, how many permits an employer requests, and what time employees in the area are on shift—includes plenty of safeguards to ensure that neighborhoods aren't overrun by workers parking their cars during the day.
SDOT, Rasmussen says, would "do a parking survey in a neighborhood and then have meetings with the community. Also, we'd look at the number of employees who would want to park there and balance the availability of on-street parking with demand by the employer ... and not undermine the goal of an RPZ, which is to make sure that people who live in the neighborhood are able to park there."
What, I asked Rasmussen, about the city's stated goal of getting people out of their cars and into alternatives like walking, cycling, and transit? Doesn't a program that makes it easier for people to drive to work encourage driving?
Rasmussen says the legislation factors in that concern, by requiring SDOT to consider whether a neighborhood has easy and plentiful access to transit.
"If a neighborhood is well-served by transit, such as Capitol Hill, then it's highly unlikely that that would be one of the neighborhoods that would get permits," he says. Additionally, areas like 15th Ave. on Capitol Hill near Group Health, which operates 24 hours a day, probably wouldn't be eligible for permits because the residents-out-employees-in daytime model wouldn't work there.
SDOT, for its part, is reluctant to take on the task of deciding which neighborhoods should have less restrictive parking rules. The legislation, SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan says, "would leave many factors to be judgment calls for the department. We sould have to go out and survey any RPZ that a request comes in for and then try to analyze whether we could or couldn't support employees receiving permits"—a process that would, obviously, also be subject to political pressure from employers and neighborhoods.
And SDOT and Rasmussen also disagree about how much short-term visitors are actually using the RPZ parking (which is free for people who park for fewer than two hours—like, say, people visiting a neighborhood's farmers market, shop, or restaurant). Rasmussen says the neighborhoods that would get employer RPZ access have "no adjacent businesses that would need" short-term parking; SDOT parking manager Margo Polley counters that "a great deal of use of two-hour parking" happens "near a lot of business districts," such as Fremont, the University District, and Capitol Hill.
Rasmussen's transportation committee will discuss the legislation at its meeting on Friday, May 31.