Caffeinated News

The Seattle Times ran a front-page story yesterday cataloguing the loss of on-street parking spaces in the city, though the article doesn't give a time period for comparison, doesn't say how many of the spots are paid or unpaid, nor does it provide a price comparison to off-street parking. Most problematic: The article conflates the ability to get parking in the public right of way with the right to get extended parking in the public right of way.

The article does do a good job of putting the diminishing number of parking spots in the context of changing demands (voters have said they want more buses, for example), and it nudges readers toward an acknowledgment that access to the public right of way for personal cars isn't a constitutional right:

“Parking is really an inefficient use of public space when you think about it rationally, logically, without emotion. You’re storing a personal item in the public right of way,” said Martha Roskowski, a vice president at Colorado-based People for Bikes, whose U.S. count shows 113 separated-bike-lane projects since 2012.

However, knowing the time period that the decrease in parking happened—over 10 years, five years, two years?—is important because that additional information would put the article in the context of increasing use of transportation alternatives. 

For example, light rail ridership went up 13.1 percent between 2013 and 2014 (with weekday ridership at 37,000 boardings). Car2Go, the car sharing company that came to Seattle in 2013, has 59,000 members in the region now with three to four percent saying they've given up a personal vehicle.

With those kinds of stats, plus parking occupancy rates (also missing from the Seattle Times article), readers could get a scientific sense (rather than an emotional one) about whether there's a parking crisis. For example, city planners say 75 to 85 percent parking occupancy rates—one to two spaces available per blockface—represents the most efficient flow of cars coming and going. And guess what: It's fine. It's 84 percent in the downtown commercial core, according to a 2014 SDOT study

SDOT has definitely identified some parking problem zones—109 percent occupancy in the Ballard core after 7pm, for example; 95 percent in Fremont after 7pm; 102 percent in Green Lake after 7pm; and 106 percent in Pike-Pine.

Thinking about basic market principles, SDOT has increased parking prices in those neighborhoods and others where occupancy rates are too high to move drivers in and out quicker. SDOT is also lowering rates in low-occupancy blocks in places like the edge of Pioneer Square (53 percent occupancy in the mornings), and North Belltown (68 percent).

There are no paid parking limits under two-hours in the city. And some zones, like in South Lake Union and Pike/ Pine, allow up to 10 hour parking.

Assessing parking rates and pricing calls attention to another important aspect of any parking discussion—off-street parking data.

The Times article only reports some of the relevant off-street parking data, pointing out, for example, that downtown off-street (garage) parking is 40 percent vacant. Good on the Times for noting that. Drivers are obsessed with parking Karma (scoring a spot right in front of their destination) without often realizing that there's plenty of available parking nearby in the larger system.

But the Times goes on to write: "In recent years, the city has raised the cost of street parking to approach the market rates in private garages."

Unfortunately, that's a pretty loosey-goosey statement. On-street parking rates are capped at $4 an hour, but the average hourly parking garage cost in downtown Seattle, according to a consultant report done for SDOT late last year, is between $8.30 and $9.30 an hour in the retail and financial core. If the city actually tried to match the market price—or if private garages tried to be more competitive—the market for on-street parking might be less out of whack.

While the Times story does give the microphone to the POV that cities aren't being engineered solely for cars anymore—“What’s different now from 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, is cities are recognizing there are much broader needs than parking cars,” new SDOT director Scott Kubly tells Times reporter Mike Lindblom—the article still conflates the idea of access (running a quick efficient errand) with storage (dropping your car off in the public right of way for an extended period of time).

The article opens:

The push to improve mobility and livability leaves less room for cars along the curb. The quick drive to the dry cleaner, the five-minute run to the minimart, having a friend pick you up outside your apartment — simple parts of a daily routine all have become harder, sometimes impossible.

That framing juxtaposition pretends the parking conflict is between people who want more public space for transit alternatives vs. people who simply want to zip in and out of spots in their cars. But the reality of drivers' expectations, as indicated by occupancy rates around town greater than 85 percent, is that cars are staying put.

Indeed, most of the paid parking in the city (97 percent) allows for at least two-hours. In some zones, sucha as South Lake Union and Pike/Pine, the city allows up to 10 hour parking.

Here's my report on the decreasing number of parking spots earlier this month. It was a Friday Fizz LIKES & DISLIKES. It was filed under LIKES.

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