City Hall

Burgess, at Parking Forum: Rates Likely To Go Down

By Erica C. Barnett January 26, 2011

At a parking forum this afternoon, city council and Seattle Department of Transportation officials confirmed what PubliCola was first to report this morning: The city is considering reductions to proposed parking rates in response to complaints from business owners that the rates the city set earlier this month are too high in areas like Pioneer Square. The city initially planned to increase rates to as high as $4 an hour.

"In collaboration with the mayor's office and the city council, SDOT is taking a second look at its policy direction for setting street parking rates, with a goal of one to two open spaces per block," Burgess said. "We want to take a hard look to ensure that the rates actually achieve that goal. ... Any specific about changes to the parking rates will be shared later this week."

Earlier this month, the city released the results of an SDOT study of the number of parking spaces that were being used per block throughout the city. The department used the results of its study to come up with parking rates in each neighborhood that, the department said, would result in an average of one to two free spaces per block.

Burgess explained that that study was aimed at from a "revenue-based" approach---one where the city adjusts parking rates upward whenever it needs more money---to one based on data, with the goal of one to two free spaces per block. That approach, he said, has three benefits: It clears up spaces so people can get to retail businesses, it reduces congestion (research, he said, shows that between 28 and 45 percent of people driving around are looking for parking), and it reduces carbon emissions (because people drive less when they can find a spot to park).

All five members of the panel cited Donald Shoup, author of The High Price of Free Parking, as the inspiration for their policy proposals (one even referred to Shoup's book, which argues that "free parking isn't free," as "The Bible.") The panel members had a number of suggestions---from regulating garage parking to charging property owners per parking stall (as opposed to charging drivers for parking by the hour) and changing parking rates by time of day.

But the most interesting (and tensest) part of the panel was the Q&A session, when audience members in the front row---several of whom worked at or owned businesses in Pioneer Square---challenged Burgess and SDOT parking manager Mike Estey over their recent decision to raise meter rates to $4 in the neighborhood.

"[Pioneer Square]'s going to look a lot like Pike Place Market did during the Carter Administration where the market was boarded up. We can't make our bills. If you increase the parking [rates], we're going to lose 30 percent of our business," one business owner told Burgess. "It's just insanity."

Burgess' response: "I think very soon we'll see some modifications of what's been proposed, and I think you'll be pleased. ... If we maintain fidelity to the policy that we have and the research, rates will go down in many neighborhoods."
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