City Hall

City to Limit Sunday Parking Hours, Allow Drivers to Pay By Phone

By Erica C. Barnett July 10, 2012

The city council's transportation committee voted this morning to limit the hours drivers can park on Sundays in the area surrounding downtown tunnel construction, and to allow drivers to pay to park by phone using a toll-free number or mobile app.

The new parking policy would be an extension of current weekday parking hours, and they wouldn't require people to pay for parking on Sundays. The rules---which would limit parking to 2 or 4 hours, depending on the current weekday policy---would apply roughly in the area from Columbia St. on the south to Virginia St. on the north, and from Alaskan Way up to (but not including) First Ave. on the west and east. However, city transportation department staffers noted that the new rules would actually apply across the city, meaning that

SDOT could theoretically decide to expand the areas where Sunday hours apply in the future---to, for example, a neighborhood like Pioneer Square, where Sunday parking is also at a premium.

The new policy is part of $30 million in state-funded mitigation for tunnel construction; already, SDOT parking staffer Meghan Sheperd said, Sunday parking in the area is routinely 90 percent full, "whether or not there's a Mariners game," and between 30 and 40 percent of those drivers stay parked for "way longer than four hours."

The committee also agreed to move forward with a new system allowing drivers to pay for parking from their phones, prompting a series of befuddled questions from council members Jean Godden and Bruce Harrell about whether pay-by-phone would allow people to cheat the system---say, by adding time beyond the allowed limit (effectively, feeding the meter) or by driving up the block and re-parking on the same parking fare. (The short answers: No, and no.)

One thing that's still unclear about the new system is how much extra time (and thus ticket revenues) it will cost parking enforcement officers, because it adds an extra step---checking license plate numbers against a central computer system---to the existing process of peering in car windows to see if drivers have put a parking sticker on the inside of their door. According to a fiscal note attached to the legislation, the city could lose money from parking tickets " due to additional time required for parking enforcement officers to access the enforcement database in the field and to determine which vehicles are in violation."

The new system, which SDOT estimates about 10 percent of drivers will use, will also make parking more expensive, thanks to a 35-cent "convenience fee" attached to every meter payment.

In an odd aside---apparently reflecting the city's view of which neighborhoods are richer and more tech-savvy---SDOT staffer Mary Catherine Snyder said the city expects most pay-by-phone parkers to be in areas like "the U District, downtown, and South Lake Union---places where people are more likely to have smartphones"---although the new system will be implemented citywide.
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