Isn't it weird that city rules allowing new developments to be parking-free may get overturned thanks to data that's about to be outdated?
Based on the fact that C-Line and No. 21 bus arrivals on SW Avalon Way weren't consistently 15 minutes apart (there were five headways at 16 minutes and one at 21 minutes), a group of West Seattle neighbors calling themselves Neighbors Encouraging Reasonable Density (NERD) was able to force the city to change the definition of what counts as a "frequent transit service" area. (If buses arrived at least every 15 minutes for at least 12 hours a day, according to recent city standards, the area was labeled a frequent transit service zone—and a development within a quarter mile of the bus stop didn't have to provide parking. Seattle has been rolling back parking requirements since 2012 after frequent transit service rules were established in 2010's multifamily zoning update.)
NERD, legitimately worried that a new seven-story, 102-apartment development in an FTS zone on SW Avalon Way would put a squeeze on parking in the neighborhood, challenged the policy that the bus arrival times—known as headways—could be based on average times, insisting instead that the metric had to be applied to every single headway. Last December, with a total of five delinquent headways between the C-Line and the 2, the hearing examiner agreed with NERD, and as a result, DPD tweaked its rule, and no longer uses averages.
Weird footnote: If this battle had ensued post Prop. 1 when the C-Line will get thousands of new hours, there would have been no legitimate concern over headway counts, averages or multiple lines either way. According to SDOT's new, post-Prop. 1 service funding agreement with King County Metro, there will never be a wait less than 15 minutes on the C-Line.
And the squabble over the rules isn't over. While the original seven-story project is in limbo, there are other projects planned for the area, including a microhousing project—so, in response to the ruling, city council member Tom Rasmussen has asked the council to revisit city guidelines altogether that limit parking.
Here's what happened after the hearing examiner struck down the averaging metric: To neighbors chagrin, the new rule allows DPD (as it always did) to combine headways of multiple bus lines. In the SW Avalon example, for instance, the C Line and the 21 easily meet the FTS rule when counted together.
Tom Rasmussen sent a letter to council this month asking them to reevaluate city parking rules overall.
While proposed Director's Rule 6-2015 may be consistent with the Seattle Municipal Code’s current definition of frequent transit service and Council intent, this does not necessarily mean that our current frequent transit service rule is clear. If the Code is not clarified, there will continue to be controversy and confusion over the frequent transit service rule, both regarding the issue of averaging headways and regarding the definition of headways itself.
His letter went on to question the city's comp plan goal of "removing parking minimum requirements and setting parking maximums in urban villages in recognition of the increased pedestrian, bicycle and transit accessibility."
Rasmussen quotes the rest of the rule, writing in bold: "Parking requirements for urban centers and villages should account for local conditions and planning objectives."
He hems and haws, though, adding: "I strongly support our policies encouraging increased pedestrian, bicycle, and transit use," but then quickly concludes, "But again, that policy must be balanced with accounting for local conditions where on-street parking congestion is at its worst."
Rasmussen staffer Anthony Auriemma assures me that his boss isn't trying to mandate costly and useless parking requirements; he simply wants DPD to have the authority—which they don't have now under the FTS rules—to "help mitigate parking impacts in specific areas of the city," his letter states.
However, while it seems NERD may have advanced the cause of frustrated car owners citywide, the conversation they started could get interesting. Rasmussen's letter also notes that mitigation would not only require additional parking, it "could include requirements for car sharing memberships [or stalls] or transit passes for residents."