On Tuesday, I was correctly admonished for not providing data in an opinion piece where I criticized another opinion piece for not having data. Sorry about that. As penance, here’s some data about the neighborhoods that have recently increased paid parking hours from 6pm to 8pm.
SDOT published a very detailed report (34MB PDF) from two large parking surveys. The first was performed in November 2010, before rates were increased. The second was performed in June of 2011, after rates increased. The report was intended to show the effect of this rate increase, but I’m more interested in the shape of the curves to see if charging for parking after 6pm could be beneficial. Of course the real useful data, comparing parking rates and turnover before and after the longer parking hours were implemented isn’t available yet.
Let’s start with Capitol Hill, the area discussed in the original Times piece:
The peak occupancy clearly starts after 4pm, and continues to grow until 7pm, when all streets surveyed are completely filled*. Why after 4pm? My view: Ticket vending machines have a maximum of 2 hours, so after that point it’s possible to park until 8am for the price of 2 hours of parking. The closer you get to 6pm the cheaper this all-night parking becomes, but it’s also harder to find a place to park. By 7pm all legal street parking is filled, and there is no longer an incentive to move any of these vehicles until 8am. Street parking is effectively unavailable for restaurant customers after 6 pm. I have no data about the turnover of cars at this point, or whether the owners of these cars are at home, at work, or shopping – I’m not sure this data exists. But I will point out how convenient it might be to park after a regular work day for nearly free on the street until 8am if you happen to live nearby.
This is a good place to point out Eric de Place’s excellent work comparing actual gross receipts in these areas, showing that restaurant business went up after the increased paid parking hours.
For completeness, here are the other neighborhoods where paid parking was extended until 8pm. The trend is similar in several but not all neighborhoods. In fact the one notable exception is the downtown commercial district on weekdays, though Saturdays follows this trend and Sundays are completely filled throughout the day.
* Street spaces aren’t marked, so occupancy percentage varies by vehicle size and a value over 100% is possible.
62 Replies to “Parking is Hard to Find when Parking is Free”
It looks lIke charging for parking on Sundays might be a good idea, to get parking capacity down around 80%. And charging through 8 or 10 on Capitol Hill would prevent locals from taking up spots overnight that could be used by people going to businesses.
Assuming locals are taking up these spots, which seems reasonable, where are they going to park if paid parking is extended until 10PM? Will they just suck it up and spend $8 a day to keep parking on the street or move to an apartment that has a guaranteed spot? I would expect the rents for apartments that include a parking spot to rise and new developments to increase the amount of parking per unit.
And that’s ok. I don’t think it’s a great idea to force people to not have cars. Correctly price their decision, and people will tend to make better choices. If those people really need their cars, they’ll pay to park them either in a lot or in a home with parking. Others will decide having a car isn’t worth the money or hastle.
We shouldn’t try to micromanage what they’re “going to do”.
Paid parking would only be extended to 10pm if it’s full and there are people having trouble finding parking. If that’s the case, it’s better for local businesses if we discourage locals from taking up the spots and preventing business. If there ends up being empty parking, we’d lower the rate or reduce the number of hours again. That’s what the city has already been doing, and it’s working – recent study shows business receipts are increasing in places where parking rates were raised!
People also lease parking spots in other apartment buildings or commercial lots. You don’t have to get one in your own building.
Also, remember that some of those apartment buildings were built before the days of on-site parking, so some of the street parking is because of that.
What was the rationale behind keeping free parking on Sundays when rates were last raised? Seeing these charts just further illustrates why Sunday should be no different than any other day, at least in the Commercial Core, ID, and other 100%+ utilization areas. Retailers don’t seem to be suffering on paid-parking Saturdays.
City-owned garages already charge on Sunday. Pacific Place is up to $10 on Sat/Sun. The Central Library’s garage is $6.
Not wanting to pay meter maids a Sunday shift differential, probably.
Are cars with handicapped placards, many of which are owned by employees getting around paying the meter, considered paid vehicles, even though they don’t have to pay?
I was under the impression that they do have to pay.
“You can park:
On the street, for free, in any parking space that is time restricted (including metered parking). This doesn’t apply to privately-owned parking lots or areas reserved for special types of vehicles (fire lanes, loading zones, etc.).”
Nope. Parking is free on city streets for cars that have handicap placards. Many downtown street spaces are taken up by able-bodied downtown workers who either acquired their own placard, or borrows it from a relative. It’s a big scam.
I know you want commenters to make links smaller, but I don’t know how to do that.
From the article … “City Department of Transportation officials estimate that in some areas of the city, up to half of the parking spots are occupied by vehicles with disabled permits. But a significant number of these are placards either being used by someone it was not intended for or the disabled placard has expired …”
The reason street parking is free for disability-permit holders is that there aren’t enough disability spaces around the city. Adding more disability spaces would cut into an already-tight parking situation in many blocks, so the compromise allows disabled people to find a space close to their destination, and able-bodied people to use the spaces at other times. As for making disabled people pay for parking, that becomes a major expense if other mobility options are difficult for them.
How to “shorten” links with HTML “a href” Attribute tags. Also handy is the Real-time HTML Editor for previewing.
I’ve been trying to get someone to explain the rationale for allowing cars with handicap placards to park for free, and I’ve yet to get an explanation. Obviously a significant (majority?) of the placards are being used fraudulently.
They can afford to own/maintain a car, but they can’t afford parking? They can operate a car, but they can’t operate a parking meter?
How much revenue does the city lose every year because of this loophole?
Having recent experience with it I can tell you it’s more than 90% that don’t appear to have any mobility issue at all and that’s in Lakewood and on JBLM. In Seattle where there’s the added incentive of beating the meter I suspect it’s closer to 99%. Of course a lot of the people probably do have a legally obtained placard. Doctors have no incentive to limit the time period so if someone breaks their leg snow boarding they can keep those handicapped passes forever. You have to renew them something like every six years but you don’t need a doctors note. Just go into any vehicle/vessel license office and tell them you want new ones. You can also get more than two passes for a nominal fee; likely much less than what you can sell one for.
Are you sure about that? It’s a state law, not a city law. Are there not enough disability spaces in the state?
@Bernie, wouldn’t someone who’s otherwise fit with a broken leg get a temporary permit (a red placard)? If I correctly understand what I read this afternoon, those have an expiration date on them, so cheaters should be easily detected.
For the permanent passes, as has been noted already, it’s hard for a citizen to detect a violation, since the person parking may have dropped off the permit holder before parking.
Here’s the scoop on Disabled parking.
So, to enforce the law someone has to report suspicious use to the police. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll jump right on it, send an officer down to wait for the scofflaw to return and then do what? Is there a set fine for illegal use? Does the scofflaw get thrown in jail or do you go after the holder of the permit for loaning/selling it? Or maybe the doctor/nurse that issued it for too long a time period. I’m sure the courts would love these cases. “Yes Your Honor the permit holder was in the car when I parked it. I just came back to go pick them up curb side.”
I too can’t understand why parking should be free. Why not vehicle tabs, sales tax exemption, insurance… heck free gasoline.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But in the case of my mom who’s 80 the nurse decided to make it a permanent one. She won’t use it as soon as she’s out of her wheelchair but I think most people don’t even consider it cheating because “everybody does it.” Assuming the doctor/nurse does sign off on a temporary permit there is really nothing to prevent the person filling out a new form, forging the doctors signature and taking it into the DOL with the permanent box checked. With today’s color copier technology it would be super simple. The doctor sends in no separate confirmation (they don’t even keep a record of it) and it’s not the person behind the counters job to question why a 16 year old is getting a permanent placard.
Actually a 16 year old may be perfectly legit picking up a permanent placard. There is nothing on the form detailing the medical condition. That would violate HIPAA laws. And you don’t have to show any ID when you pick it up. I went and got the placards for my mother and was never asked to show any ID or asked why an able bodied male was presenting a form with a female name on it. And our last names are not the same so they would have no way to verify my story.
If handicap placards are license plate specific, how does some someone who’s truly handicapped get one when driving a rental car, or a Zipcar?
The reasoning behind disabled street parking being free is a rather simple one.
The primary purpose of the rule is to exempt them from the street-parking time limit.
Because our time-keeping device (the meter/pay station) is also our fee-collection device, skipping one means skipping the other. Consider the old coin-fed meters that were used when this exemption was devised – there’s no way to differentiate a meter that has expired from a meter that was never fed in the first place.
So, following the KISS principle, disabled street parking was simply made free. Sure, you could work out a system where disabled parking is made non-free but gets the time-limit exemption, but you’d probably spend more on the system than you would recover in fees.
The real problem is not free parking for the disabled, but the abuse of the rule by the non-disabled. But the city has been tinkering with the rules for decades, trying to solve this problem. Originally, the meter-maid had to catch the person driving the car and issue them a personal citation, if it was not their placard. Leaving a parking ticket was not a legit option. A few years back, they changed that rule, so that now the vehicle has to be registered to the same person as the placard. This means a PEO on their rounds can electronically correlate the two, and issue a parking ticket if the registration and placard do not match.
The only neighborhood this is an issue in is First Hill. Employees of the medical facilities there are the biggest single group of parking-placard fraudsters in the city, and every new rule the city comes up with for the placards is specifically targeting that neighborhood.
Great comments. Thanks [Lack].
But the free parking provides the incentive that makes the problem a hundred times worse.
That’s BS and totally illegal. If the City of Seattle writes me a ticket and I have to take time off from work to defend myself for the legal action of driving my elderly disabled mother somewhere in my car I’m going to sue their ass! In fact this sounds like something an enterprising lawyer could make hay with on a class action suit. State law says only that the holder of the permit has to be in the car, period.
They’re not. You have the option of buying a handicap plate. If you drive yourself and only have one car this option almost makes sense. You don’t have to hassle with remembering to hang the permit, take it down, find it in the car, etc. But you have the option of requesting up to two free placards that are not tied to any specific car. I’m not really sure why anyone would opt for the plates other than the reasons people buy LEO plates or alumni plates or “share the road” plates. If you get rid of your car, which people do more often that getting rid of a disability then you have to go through the hassle of getting special plates again.
The rationale behind free parking for people with disability placards is that *they can’t walk to their destinations* and *they can’t bike*.
The requirement for getting the placard is that you can’t walk 500 feet without stopping for a rest.
This disability, likely due to arthritis or respiratory problems, may be invisible to the casual viewer; the disabled person may be able to walk short distances perfectly “normally”. But ask them to walk to a distant bus stop and *they can’t*.
So the argument for free parking is that the disabled person is *forced* to use the car even if he or she would rather take the bus. Doesn’t apply so much when bus stops are every block, but if bus stops are further apart (as they should be) it applies in spades.
A simple way to eliminate some of the fraud would be to change the rule of *two* free placards to *one* placard. After all, a single disabled person is incapable of using two placards at once…
Paid parking comes from parking transaction data – the ticket vending machines. So no.
Check out the report, [Sam]. There’s a few neighborhoods where handicap placard parking is a very large percentage of parked cars (ID has a peak of around 25%). It’s enough to at least consider changing out policy.
So disabled people should be punished for living in a neighborhood where a lot of other disabled people live?
Punished how? I think it’s reasonable to charge people for parking – disabled or not. I’d also argue that Seattle’s new policy of pricing for a space or two open per block should help out disabled people greatly. A free spot blocks away is much less helpful than a pay spot a few feet away from your destination.
The people who should be punished are the disabled placard cheaters.
We can charge for disability parking if we can find some reliable way to offset the impact on poor disabled people who have significant difficulty riding the bus.
Cracking down on cheaters is a good idea, but beware of the potential knock-off effects of making disabled people go through even more hassles, like how the new voter ID laws in several states are impacting elderly voters, especially invalids.
If it’s a poverty issue, we should be giving the poor disabled money. Then they can decide to spend this money on parking, or spend it on food and ride the bus.
I’m fine with disabled people driving everywhere, if they can afford to do so, because they require significantly more time to enter and exit a bus than others. If they take their cars places, it means a faster bus ride for everyone else.
Most of their driving is to medical appointments and to get groceries and attend support groups. Our society should be able to support driving and free parking at least for that. Some of them used to be enthusiastic bus riders and wish they could still ride the bus all the time.
I’d be happy to give them my tax money to park if they need the money. But we should set up the incentives such that they don’t encorage abuse. If they want to park for a shorter amount of time and spend that money on something else, that’s fine too. Remember – each person parking as long as they want for free may be taking that spot from a disabled person that really needs it.
That’s not the issue. The issue is non-disabled employees of the First Hill medical facilities using other peoples parking placards for free all-day commuter parking on First Hill streets. That’s the only city neighborhood where there’s a problem, and the meter maids no exactly what’s going on there, they just don’t have the tools to stop it. But it’s getting better.
We need to be careful here that whatever system we set up doesn’t screw over people who are truly disabled, but driving a car that is owned by somebody else. Disabled people rent and borrow cars, just like everybody else and it’s important that whatever system we use is able to accommodate them.
Then, there’s those gray areas. What if 4 people are in the car, only one of which is actually disabled. Is it morally permissible to park in a handicapped space in that case? Or is the right thing to do to drop off the disabled person at the front, then go park the car in a regular parking spot? What if the disabled person is the driver? Then is parking in a handicapped space permissible, or should the disabled person simply get off and have one of the passengers drive the car to a regular parking space?
Then, there’s the fact that disability, itself, is a very relative term, not black and white.
Exactly right. The last time I visited this issue was over ten years ago when my step-father was given a disabled parking permit. Back then a permit was a guarantee of an open spot in a prime location (that was not in Seattle). Now it’s more likely than not that no handicapped reserved spots are even open. One place at least on JBLM there are conditional use spaces for “expectant mothers only”. I’m betting that telling your CO “I’m expecting to get pregnant” ain’t going to cut it := Wheel chair accessible should mean exactly that; no wheel chair no parking. Unloading the person at the curb, great, you don’t need the wheel chair parking spot.
“What if 4 people are in the car, only one of which is actually disabled. Is it morally permissible to park in a handicapped space in that case? Or is the right thing to do to drop off the disabled person at the front, then go park the car in a regular parking spot? What if the disabled person is the driver?”
This is ridiculous. :) The whole point disability parking is so that the disabled person doesn’t have to walk far. The point of disabled and able-bodied people travelling together in a car is to include the disabled person in something they couldn’t as easily attend otherwise (if driving alone or taking the bus). If the disabled person weren’t with them, some groups would have taken the bus rather than driving. It doesn’t matter who’s the driver or how many able-bodied people are in the car. The idea of requiring people to drop off the disabled person and then park in a regular parking space is just being nitpicky and pedantic.
Bernie, disabled car placards are NOT just for people in wheelchairs. They’re for people who can’t travel more than 500 feet without stopping to rest. Ever looked at the paperwork? I have looked at it in NY.
Some people in wheelchairs are much more active than that. Many people not in wheelchairs are unable to do that.
Nathaneal, in WA there are different restrictions according to the link I posted above. Here it is for not being able to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest, along with a bunch of alternative qualifications including arthritis, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, blindness, etc.
Matt’s statistics indicate exactly one thing, which is that the disabled parking system is being abused.
The number of people who qualify for a disabled parking placard is miniscule, but for those people, it can be a lifeline. As Nathanael said, it’s not just for people in wheelchairs; many people try to walk (and in fact may be doing so as part of physical therapy), but need to stop constantly, and certainly can’t climb stairs or any significant incline.
Arguments like this:
are just silly. Again, it’s a very small number of people who truly need this accommodation.
The solution is simple: enforce the law. Station some parking officers in the relevant neighborhoods (First Hill? ID?), look for cars with disabled placards, and wait for people to leave. If an officer watches someone walk two blocks to their disabled-permit vehicle, then drive away without picking anyone else up, then they stop the vehicle and ask for proof of disability. If none is offered, $450 ticket (per Washington State law).
If someone gets one of these tickets, you better believe they’ll start following the law. If enough people get these tickets, the numbers will drop.
I know three people with disabled parking permits. One works a 9-5 job, one is self-employed, and one is retired.
All three of them very much need handicapped parking on their bad days, what differs is the frequency of the bad days. For my father that is once or twice a year. For my friend it varies a lot. For my Aunt the good days are the exception.
My dad probably doesn’t need his permit but given his age won’t have trouble renewing. My friend and my Aunt very much need theirs.
in reference to aw’s post above …
is there a way to report Disabled Placard cheaters?
One problem is the only form of “cheating” is using a permit not issued to you. A friend of mine has a permit. On a good day he can run a marathon. On the other hand when he has an attack he needs oxygen and even then has trouble walking very far without resting. If you saw him on a good day you’d think he was a cheater.
Just commentary, but, we wanted pizza from Big Marios after we had stopped by the co-op for a few things since we were in the neighborhood, the other night. Drove all around the area 3 times, couldn’t find parking, so we left. I would have paid for half an hour.
I’m totally down with extending paid parking hours to 10PM.
If parking was metered until 12PM on Fri/Sat nights, would it drive down the number of people using cars to get to the club/bar?
I had a similar experience on a recent Saturday night.
I think metering parking until Midnight would definitely minimize the number of people driving to the area but you would also receive objection from those living in the area who already pay for parking 8am-8pm. It might be interesting to implement some sort of zoning system like those currently found in neighborhoods around the city like wallingford/lower queen anne where certain blocks are ‘no parking between 6-12pm except for zone permits.’ Instead of no parking, those with zone permits are exempt from paying and those without zone permits can pay at the meter. Just a thought.
Also Matt thanks for posting this data. Very helpful to have a visual representation.
Alternately, they could shift the permit areas to meter parking. I bet the city could raise a bit of money if those folks who currently pay $65.00 or so for a parking permit start paying a buck or two an hour.
(Of course, that isn’t going to happen. But has there been any talk about raising the permit price in the neighborhoods, especially for multiple vehicles or “guest permits”? I don’t think there’s a single permit zone in Belltown or Downtown or SoDo or the South Lake Union area, and personally I think it would be “fair” for the permit prices to go up whenever the meter rates go up.)
The thing is that one has to recognize the critical dependence of retail trade, especially entertainment and dining, on available parking!
One wonders what the effect of the North LINK coupled with ample parking garages will be…I know my preferred model for downtown destinations is parking at Kent Station and taking Sounder…which I would do more often if there were night time service.
I would think it would be easy for the city to have some software to allow parking enforcement to compare the holder of the handicapped placard to the car and ticket the car if it is not the holder of the placard. Why not do it?
Rearview mirror placards aren’t listed by car, they are assigned to a person and each person that qualifies can get two placards for free (just went through this for my mom). It would also be incredibly easy to forge a form. All you need is the hospital/doctor code which you could copy from any valid form. They don’t keep doctors signitures on file and cross check every application. I could be wrong but I don’t believe there is any law saying that the person issued the placard has to be in the car when it’s parked. Otherwise, how would a care taker park and go inside and bring out the disabled person without risk of being ticketed or towed? Even if the there were such a law it would be virtually impossible to enforce.
I’m just thinking that if a placard is found to be assigned to Jane Doe and the parked car found to be registered to John Smith, ticket for John Smith?
How do you know John didn’t take Jane to the doctor? I’m just as likely to drive my mom somewhere in one of my cars as to use one of hers. There are many people who get disabled parking permits that don’t even own a car because they’re unable to operate one.
Metermaids can now do this. They didn’t use to be able to, but they can.
The issue is that cross referencing a placard and a car’s registered owner is difficult and time consuming. A Parking Enforcement Officer can do it, but it’s not easy. Especially on first hill, where 1/4 of all parked cars are displaying them.
Also, if Jane takes John to the doctor and uses John’s placard, they can get a ticket, but it will be challenged and overturned.
You could probably eliminate 99% of the fraud by issuing only ONE placard per person, like other states do, rather than two.
After all, a disabled person can’t use two placards at once. And any sane disabled person would be pretty jealous of their ONE placard.
23 responses and no mention of Donald Shoup? Sheesh.
It also should be pointed out the role of Valet parkers who will use these “free” spaces to stash their customers’ cars for “free” while they pocket the Valet charge and Tip.
I would specifically refer you to any establishment owned by the El Gaucho cartel.
We need to three things to improve our street parking meters:
1) Charge different rates depending on the time of day, day of week, and whether or not there’s an event going on. Parking on a Sunday, while not free, should be considerably cheaper than parking on a weekday, and parking downtown on a Sunday during a Mariner’s game should be a lot more expensive than parking on a Sunday downtown when there’s no a Mariner’s game. Private parking garages charge different rates at different times all the time, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand. Publicly owned street parking should do the same thing.
2) Dispense with absolute 2-hour time limits on street parking. If parking is priced properly, should get plenty of turnover without a hard 2-hour limit. A price automatically incentivizes short-term parking because parking for a longer period requires paying more. A hard limit is not only redundant, but creates unnecessary anxiety in the form of people worrying about the fact that the concert or movie they are seeing might last just long enough to put them over the limit.
3) Find a way to collect parking fees without requiring people to guess how long they are going to park and pay in advance. Again, this goes back to anxiety. When people are watching a movie or concert, or eating at a restaurant, they don’t know up front exactly how long they are going to be there, and having to constantly worry about monitoring your time and going back to feed the meter can significantly detract from the experience. Being able to re-feed the meter by phone helps some, but in the middle of a movie or concert, even pulling out your phone and fiddling with a website is a major nuisance that most people would rather do without.
There are several possible solutions to this. However, one elegant one is this – when you swipe a credit card, the receipt you get back is valid for the daily maximum period (say 8 hours) and a hold is placed on your credit card for however much that amount of time costs. Then, if you return to your car before that maximum time, you just stick the receipt back into the machine, re-swipe your credit card, and the charge gets reduced to the rate for the actual amount of time you were parked. To prevent fraud, the machine keeps the permit that says you’ve paid and optionally dispenses a receipt that, while not valid as proof-of-payment, can still be used by those on business trips seeking reimbursement from their employer.
I like the idea of paid parking to manage demand, but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary stress of people. I would be willing to bet that a lot of the opposition to expending paid parking hours is based on not wanting to deal with the hassle of guessing how long you will be parking and re-feeding the meter, not the actual dollar cost associated with the time parked.
All good ideas. #1 has been suggested, check out page 3 here. Our older TVM’s can’t handle time-of-day pricing, though they’ll reach end of life around 2013. #2’s reasonable enough, depending on whether you value reduced stress over turnover. #3 sounds like a total pain to administer and explain, but not impossible.
Hey, wouldn’t it be great if you could tap-on/tap-off with an ORCA card for parking?
I love the idea of parking meters accepting Orca cards for payment. From transit’s perspective, anything that encourages people who only use transit once a month to get an Orca card is a good thing. And the ability to obtain an Orca card or buy bus tickets from any downtown parking meter would be even better.
Re #2, it’s the same reason that I favor replacing HOV lanes with tolled roadways. (This excludes bus lanes, but honestly, most HOV lanes make bad bus lanes.) If you price a resource appropriately, then people will naturally economize. If you charge a per-vehicle toll, then you’ve created an automatic incentive to carpool. Similarly, if you charge an appropriate rate based on the amount of time that your vehicle is taking up space, then people will naturally reduce the amount of time they spend occupying that space.
Re #3, I’m not sure how it could possibly be more of a pain than what we have now. Who likes feeding the meter? Tap-in, tap-out is totally logical, and because of the daily maximum, there’s absolutely no problem (from the city’s perspective) if people forget. And anyone who’s used a garage is intimately familiar with how this type of system works. You take your ticket, and you pay when you leave, and if you lose your ticket you pay the maximum rate.
As far as ORCA-for-parking goes, I think what we really need is a truly universal cashless payment system. Credit cards should be it, but the problem (of course) is that credit card companies charge ridiculous fees because it’s how they make their profit.
I’m starting to think that what we really need is for the government to set up its own electronic cash system, kind of like EBT/Quest, but something that all banks are mandated to be a part of, and which is funded out of general taxation rather than transaction fees. The spillover benefits would be enormous.
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