City Hall

How Seattle's New Law Would Change Parking Requirements

Seattle council members will vote on the parking bill Monday.

By Hayat Norimine March 30, 2018

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Seattle council members on Monday will likely approve a bill that tries to tackle one piece of the city's housing affordability challenge: parking. 

Parking lots offer a unique problem to progressive cities like Seattle, whose local officials want more affordable housing, more public transportation, more green spaces, and less carbon emissions. Parking takes up a lot of space, and money. 

It can drive up costs for renters. (According to a 2015 King County report, one parking space per affordable housing unit increases rent by 12.5 percent.) And while some areas of Seattle clearly discourage parking by making spaces both scarce and expensive, other lots—like in multifamily residential buildings—offer more parking than residents actually need, largely because of requirements for developers. 

According to the King County report, the county offers around 40 percent more parking in multifamily units than used. A similar study by Capitol Hill Housing found that upwards of one-third of parking spaces were left vacant overnight in certain buildings.

But it will always be a politically charged topic so long as there are people who love their cars and don't take public transit—U.S. Census data from 2016 estimated 48 percent of Seattle employees still drive to work alone.

Part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda's recommendations included changes that would lead to more efficient use of parking spaces, by providing more publicly accessible parking and allowing some wiggle room to new development projects' parking requirements. Tim Burgess jumpstarted new legislation on this during his short time as mayor, sending it to council member Rob Johnson's zoning committee.

"I really believe the current system of planning has resulted in widespread harm," Johnson said in committee late March—fewer parking spaces discourage driving. And less driving leads to reducing environmental impact, more housing, and better public safety (less driving leads to fewer accidents).

Here's a rundown of what this bill does.

1. Redefining "frequent transit." The city's clarifying and expanding the definition of "frequent transit service," better aligning it with King County Metro's services to apply to more areas. And where there's frequent transit service, there are also fewer requirements to provide parking.

Right now, the city defines frequent transit service as areas where buses one way come regularly (every half-hour) at least 18 hours every day. The new legislation would focus more on core hours—6am to 7pm on weekdays—and lower the threshold for weekends. The area has to be within a quarter-mile of a bus stop that qualifies, or within a half-mile of a light rail station. 

2. Reducing parking requirements for affordable housing projects. The city would only require one parking space for every six units of affordable housing (rather than three). Most of Seattle's affordable housing projects already fall under an area with frequent transit service or an urban center—meaning, there would be no requirement for parking.

3. Flexible-use parking. Certain underused private lots can now be used for public parking.

4. No parking included in a rental agreement. The new legislation requires that any parking agreements (and corresponding fees) for renters in multifamily units be separate from the lease itself. Tenants can choose not to have a parking space, in which case they wouldn't be charged extra for it. 

5. Bicycle parking. The bill outlines requirements for bike parking, and and now allows non-residential uses can now be up to within 600 feet (instead of 100 feet) of the lot. 

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