The C is for Crank

Is Paid Parking Killing Chinatown? In a Word: No.

By Josh Feit February 27, 2012

In a screaming above-the-fold, front-page story last week, the Seattle Times reported on complaints by some Chinatown ID restaurant owners that business is down "by as much as 50 percent" because of extended parking meter hours adopted by the city last year. Under the new rules, drivers must pay $2.50 an hour until 8 pm (previously, parking was only metered until 6 pm).

The arguments made by the restaurant owners are all entirely anecdotal, and the only data cited in the article (the fact that parking in the area is well-utilized between 6 and 8 pm) actually contradicts their claims. But that didn't prevent the Times from running a credulous piece presenting the restaurant owners' personal opinions (universally: That restaurant sales are down because of the new parking policy, and that Mayor Mike McGinn is to blame) as fact.

"Restaurant owners and community leaders in the Chinatown International District say business is down by as much as 50 percent because of the change," the Times reports. According to "financial projections" from the restaurants and community groups, the Times continues, the city and state could lose nearly $1 million a year in tax revenues .

Those are big numbers---the kind of blockbuster claim you might want to verify. Fortunately, although the Times reporter didn't bother, the wonks at the Sightline Institute did. Here's what they found: Not only did restaurant business in Seattle show strong growth last year (restaurant sales increased 5.7 percent in the city last year, outpacing growth in King County as a whole), but increased 5 percent in the Chinatown/ID area between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2011, when the new parking rates were fully in effect.

More specifically, reports Sightline's Eric de Place:
The alteration of meter rates and hours appears to be increasing access to local businesses just as it was intended to do. In the case of Chinatown, for example, one effect of extending metered parking hours will be to reduce the tendency of sports fans to do what I’ve done countless times: park on the street for free at 6 pm and walk a couple of blocks to the Mariners or Sounders game. That kind of behavior often occupies all the available street parking in the lower part of the Chinatown/ID neighborhood, making parking unavailable to restaurant patrons.

In other words: More access to parking equals more people eating or shopping in the Chinatown/ID neighborhood, which translates to a bump in restaurant sales. That fact, however, is obscured by restaurant owners' personal beliefs that the mayor's policies are destroying their businesses.
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