Business owners object to hike in parking rates
The City Council is pushing back on Mayor Mike McGinn's plan to raise parking rates across the city, including $4 an hour downtown and in...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The City Council is pushing back on Mayor Mike McGinn's plan to raise parking rates across the city, including $4 an hour downtown and in Pioneer Square.
At a parking forum Wednesday at City Hall, business owners and residents complained that the proposed new rates would hurt business, and questioned whether the city's study used to justify them was flawed.
Councilmember Tim Burgess said the council already has asked the city's transportation department to review its data. "Very soon we'll see some modification" of the rates, Burgess told an audience of about 200.
A transportation department spokesman later said the adjustments could come within a few days.
The department announced the higher rates two weeks ago for nine neighborhoods starting in March. The biggest increases, to $4 an hour from $2.50, targeted downtown, Pioneer Square and First Hill.
The department also wanted to extend the hours when parking fees are charged to 8 p.m. from 6 p.m. in eight areas including Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, Belltown and the University District. Parking would remain free on Sundays.
At Wednesday's forum, merchants from historic Pioneer Square complained that business is down 65 percent over the past two years and that high parking rates will make it worse.
"We're dying. Our customers are saying, 'Screw it, I'm going to Fremont, I'm going to Northgate,' " said Ty Myers who runs Fenix Tattoo.
The City Council has said it would review the new rates within six months, but that didn't reassure some struggling businesses.
Brandi Pierce, manager of the Central Saloon, noted that the increases would make Seattle more expensive than Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, San Francisco and most of the rest of the country. Only Chicago has higher rates, according to a national survey.
"We're looking at the highest rates in the nation. Is anybody else outraged?" she asked.
The need for higher parking rates, first proposed by McGinn last fall, is part of a citywide strategy to increase parking availability and reduce auto emissions by decreasing the number of cars cruising for an open spot. The City Council adopted the plan as part of its 2011 budget, but also asked for further study.
The plan is a moneymaker. The city estimated it would collect $35 million in parking fees this year, up from about $27 million last year. The money goes into the city transportation budget of about $313 million.
Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said her group supports the goals of more frequent parking turnover in business districts, but shared concerns about the impact to small retailers and restaurants.
Earlier this week, the association called for the council to delay implementing the new rates and argued that the transportation department study was based on peak-parking times and not typical patterns.
Wednesday's forum, which featured national parking experts, was meant to highlight the complexity of parking management and explore how other cities approach the issue, Joncas said.
Boise, for example, offers free parking downtown for the first hour. That has led to more people staying longer and more sales tax revenue, said L. Dennis Burns, a parking and transportation management expert from Phoenix.
Rick Williams, a Portland-based traffic consultant, agreed that there might be problems with the Seattle parking study. The city set as a goal of one to two open spaces every block, or a 15 percent availability. But Williams noted that some blocks may have only three spaces, while another may have 11.
"Not all blocks are created equally. A little more work may have to be done."
Williams also said most cities set parking rates based on the cost of private parking garages and surface lots. In Seattle, where private parking averages about $25 a day, a typical on-street rate would be $2.50 an hour, he said.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said the council had focused too narrowly on parking rates and not enough on the larger question of how people get around the city.
"You don't always need to drive, but when you do, you should be able to find a place that's affordable." She said she's looking for solutions "that won't punish people for coming downtown."
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Some information from Times archives is included in this report.
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