Now that Seattle is in the business of purchasing bus hours thanks to Prop 1, one of the many benefits is that Seattle’s dollars now ensure full service on minor holidays . In the post Prop-1 world, Metro’s “Reduced Weekday” schedules are a thing of the past for Seattle, only applying to suburban routes numbered 100 or higher. (The “No UW” reduced schedule remains, however.)

Yet transit on minor holidays still remains second-class in one important but overlooked respect: street parking remains free and unrestricted on holidays such as MLK Day, Presidents Day, and Veterans Day. Most peak-only bus lanes are not in force and are often open to parked cars. Major Center City arterials such as 2nd and 4th Avenues, Olive, Stewart, Howell, etc all lose their transit priority on these holidays, yet with many routes still asked to provide full weekday peak frequencies. Overall volumes are reduced, of course, with the cancellation of suburban routes such as 114, 304, 308, 316, etc, but Sound Transit operates a full weekday schedule alongside all of Metro’s Seattle routes.

I would love to see our City Council’s new Sustainability & Transportation Committee take this on as a simple administrative fix that catches our parking policy up with newly-enacted transit policy. Transportation Committee Vice-Chair and new Sound Transit Boardmember Rob Johnson would have a double mandate, helping maximize the City’s investment in Metro while improving Sound Transit’s operational bottom line.

But the desired policy seems clear: if we have are to have free parking and no peak-only bus lanes on Sundays and select holidays, we should only do so on days in which transit is likewise on a Sunday schedule.

36 Replies to “Rethinking Free Parking on Minor Holidays”

  1. All this begs the more important question: if we can dedicate road capacity to transit at peak hours, when (in theory at least) the rest of the road is the most used, why can’t we dedicate road capacity to transit at all other times when there is even less demand for general lane capacity?

    1. I think this is a sop to people who are mad about their general travel lanes “being taken away from them”. By only having the restriction for 35 hours a week the lanes are open 75% of the time so it looks like a compromise between transit and single car vehicles.

      Making the lanes transit only at all times least would at least decrease the complexity of the signage required for these lanes. From “Buses Only, 6-9 AM, 3-7 PM, Except Sat/Sun/Hol) to “Buses Only”.

      It would also help in unexpected heavy traffic times which can easily crop on weekends depending on what events are occurring around town.

  2. Agreed. The current situation is unworkable.

    Madison was severely congested on Veterans Day. 4th Avenue was a disaster.

    On affected streets, SDOT would need to replace the parking signs but that shouldn’t be a reason to not do it.

  3. Of course, to enforce no parking in the CBD (and some other areas) on minor holidays, you need parking enforcement, and since it is a holiday for those people, the City of Seattle would have to pay Holiday Pay (probably double time) to do so, (Just presenting a devils advocate viewpoint).

    1. This was my first thought as well. But do we really need full enforcement? Changing the laws/signs would move most of the cars off the road without a single extra officer or any overtime. Yes, the occasional bus would have to drive around an illegally parked car, and it will take much longer to tow that car when enforcement staff is light, but it’s certainly better than the current condition.

      1. Just looking at the average weekday around the CBD, it takes quite a few parking enforcement officers, as well as regular SPD cars and tow trucks, to keep the peak-restricted bus lanes clear. You can say that it isn’t tough to deal with one or two cars in the lane, but it’s one of those “all or nothing” situations — if an illegally-parked car is sitting in the bus lane of a certain block for 30min (hardly a rarity, at least along 2nd ave, as well as Olive Way), the whole lane might as well be filled with cars.

        Then think about every area around the city that this can be happening in, and possibly an extra amount because of the holiday where people have the day off work, and you’re going to need nearly as many people to enforce the parking regulation on a holiday as you do on any other day.

        I think the main point is well taken — if you’re going to buy a full slate of service hours for Metro to run on these holidays, then you’re going to have to look at the added cost of enforcing the bus lanes. Doing one without the other seems irresponsible.

      2. I totally agree that full enforcement is preferred. But I’m arguing this is worth doing even if we don’t get full enforcement. An illegal parker without enforcement is the same as what we have now. But for all the streets without illegal parkers we’ll have an improved situation. All for the cost of some signs.

        And it’s not really like there will be no enforcement. Just less enforcement. Parking illegally will still be taking the risk that you will be towed.

    2. First off, all buses should have cameras to ding anyone in the bus-lane, moving or otherwise.

      Secondly, if I just decided to leave my car blocking a lane of traffic on, say, Mercer, I think the cops would tow it away pretty quickly for obstructing traffic. Same principle applies here.

      1. Jeff, I agree with you on the bus mounted cam.

        I’d add that it be used on the “Yield to Buses” violators. Maybe operator activated if some detection system would not be possible/feasible.


    3. Does the city lose money enforcing parking rules? If so, that should be fixed. If not, then I don’t think there should be an issue here.

  4. Several cities have tried to charge for parking on Sundays and more holidays. Unfortunately, the decision never draws a relationship between transit frequency and parking charges. If buses are only running every 30 to 60 minutes, residents become resentful of parking charges, especially if a transfer is required.

    In San Francisco, Sunday parking fees were in place for a few years. When it threatened to lead to an ouster of many supervisors and the mayor, Sunday’s became free again.

    Seattle’s decided that parking hours should be a function of space occupancy and not mode choices. If bus service drops to infrequent at 6:45, charging for parking until 8 is patently unfair – but that’s what we do.

    I would even propose to use meter and ticket revenue on evenings and weekends to add off-peak buses rather let the City put the revenue in its general fund.

    1. “charging for parking until 8 is patently unfair” Not at all. Seattle’s pricing policy is based not on alternative travel modes, but on allowing a free space or two on every block. This actually benefits not only traffic patterns but the parkers themselves – you have a good chance of finding parking.

      I see bus lanes as a separate issue. We need to make sure these are clear whenever there’s any significant chance of traffic.

      1. I own a car on Capitol Hill, and the only day that parking is a challenge is on Sunday, when it’s free and unrestricted. I would love to pay for parking 7 days per week from 6am-midnight.

      2. I figured you guys wouldn’t like my opinion on this. I still feel that frequent transit beyond the peak should be a major consideration when parking charge hours are extended. Occupancy I alone is too simplistic. I’m not saying that occupancy isn’t a valid objective, but I am saying that it shouldn’t be the only one.

      3. But tell us why. You can convince me of Not Fair, but I need to hear reasons. All you’ve listed so far is that people in San Francisco were resentful. I get that people like free stuff, but it just doesn’t strike me as a good reason to set policy and doesn’t hit my Not Fair nerve. You’re consuming something that other people want – why is it unfair to have to pay for it?

      4. Here is an example: You live at 23rd and Union. There aren’t many places for dinner around there so you want to hop the bus to Capitol Hill for dinner and then ride home. Up until recently, Metro Route 2 was running at 30-minute frequencies after 7 pm (now it’s upgraded to 15-minute frequencies). That means that waiting on a bus in both directions could add some significant time to a five- minute driving trip. That would encourage driving.

        Merely charging parking on later hours without the option of frequent transit service just penalizes you going to this restaurant. Of course Capitol Hill residents get a neighborhood parking sticker at rates much cheaper than their neighbors from other areas would pay into meters so it doesn’t affect them.

        Why do you hate the idea of adding a frequent bus service as a criteria for longer parking charge hours? Are you pro-transit use or are you merely eager to make other vehicle owners increasingly pay more money to make your parking situation better?

      5. Portland started charging for parking on Sundays a few years ago. Other than some grousing from a few downtown churches (which resulted in parking meters starting at 1pm on Sundays) there wasn’t a significant complaint. In fact, downtown businesses were the ones who asked for it due to the street parking shortage and people unwilling to use pay lots when street parking is free.

      6. I’ve taken Car2Go to downtown several times on weekends. On Saturday, you can usually find a Car2go-legal space downtown most of the day, absent a big event. On Sunday, parking a Car2Go downtown is pretty much impossible after 9 AM, whether any big event is going on that day or not.

      7. Al – that still isn’t ringing any fairness bells for me. The same number of people will park to go to dinner either way. If 40 people wanted to drive to that restaurant but there’s only parking for 20, some would go and circle for a while then give up and eat somewhere else. If you set a price, not only do you have the same 20 people parking (maybe more, as there’s now an incentive to leave earlier), but the 20 who decided it’s too expensive know that before they leave their house – they’ll either eat somewhere nearby or plan for that lower frequency bus.

        “Why do you hate the idea of adding a frequent bus service as a criteria for longer parking charge hours?” I don’t hate that idea. I just think it’s an artificial constraint. If there’s any benefit for charging for parking (some people will walk, some will bike) you’re losing that benefit until/unless frequent service happens to come.

      8. One issue with charging for parking on Sundays is that we still have outdated meter technology that doesn’t allow the same meter to charge different prices depending on the time of day or day of week.

        If the goal of parking pricing is to maintain one or two empty spaces per block, the ideal Sunday rate might be something like half the weekday rate. But, the meter doesn’t support that, so SDOT must either charge the full weekday rate (which would lead to too many vacancies) or nothing at all.

      9. I believe the last time this came up the city said there was some short number of years the meters last anyway – like 5 or so (my vague recollection).

        Anyway, here’s SDOT’s page about the new meters with the capacity for variable pricing. “SDOT will then install new pay stations throughout the rest of 2015 and 2016 in all paid parking neighborhoods.”

    2. What I find interesting is that parking charges in areas like the Seattle Center don’t react to festivals. It’s still quit common to go to Bumbershoot on Sunday and find cars parked all day for free while others are being charged festival rates at nearby garages. It seems like it would be worthwhile for parking restrictions to be active on expected high capacity days around the Seattle Center, the stadiums, etc.

      It seems like the Sunday/Holiday rule is a bedrock policy so even though smart meters could be programmed to enforce in a given neighborhood on certain Sundays it won’t mean anything if the enforcement isn’t there to back them up.

      Allow the programming of the meter to control whether parking is “free” or not rather than putting permanent exemptions on the sign.

  5. The nose cameras on the San Francisco MUNI fleet would be a lot more effective if the city didn’t open the bus lanes to general traffic at least an hour before rush hour is over. When I figure out to use Page 2, I’ve got some great pics of five trolleybuses stuck like buffalo caught in a herd of sheep 15 minutes after lane went “general.”

    Too bad the really pathetic lane camera footage can’t melt the hearts of whoever bribed the city to do that.
    But I’m also with Nietzche (who nobody ever called a bleeding-heart ): “Beware of those in whom the urge to punish is strong!” Not just because of possible Holiday Spirit infringement, but because I think we potentially have a powerful ally in commercial Holiday cheer.

    Motionless Holiday streets longer generate the revenue they used to. Because Bellevue Square and Southcenter shoppers get their beloved wide unmetered parking lots all year. So I suspect transit and the Downtown Seattle Association could develop a plan to take mutual advantage of their own present reality.

    Exactly as with ball games, holidays could see bus lanes- stopping only at bus stops- bringing 60′ loads of shoppers. As LINK has been doing since 2009 when it didn’t even go to the Airport. Let alone Husky Stadium and Capitol Hill. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Chamber and transit could exchange presents, like agreements to advertise each other.

    One serious historic practice could get dusted off: store delivery service that frees shoppers from needing a car to get their presents home. ‘Til the Jeff’s Boeing-trained elves in South Lake Union can finish the drones with lighted red noses and digital sleigh bells, a lot of purchases have long been delivered online.

    Only keep being pro-business because liberals need to be aggravated for their own good, and I know Bernie Sanders will back me up: Karl Marx really was convinced that socialism couldn’t happen without some real business experience. Starting 1917, Russia proved that. As it’s now proving gangsters don’t count.


  6. Also, for non-shopping holidays, some other day-appropriate events can happen Downtown. Ask the Convention Center which used to have “Station” on the end of it: Downtown ANYTHING is a potential gathering place. Even Bremerton.

    Presidents’ Day could be a quality-control problem this particular year. But good Westlake-caroling-grade event could be day-long contests like candidate imitations (Camera-enforced limits on how many people can be…you put in the name!) Also, competitions for young voters as to what team can take over a political party from the grass roots the fastest.

    Liquor Control Board could be warned that if the NRA trades its M-16’s for flintlocks, agents could get tarred and feathered like Big Bird for infringing on voters’ 18th and 19th century right to keep, bear, and drink copious amounts of ale, rum, and Irish whiskey.

    Given that the War on Horses eliminated history’s finest Designated Drivers…well, citizens in same condition as historic Presidential voters will finally see a really powerful reason to use transit. Passenger behavior problems? Pikes…clubs.. sabres…cannons… Transit police have always had their tools for political celebrations.


  7. I feel like you’re missing the point here… There aren’t any “major” or “minor” holidays here. There are City-observed holidays. And all of the signs that specifically allow parking in restricted zones only say “HOL” on them.

    So there’s no one to enforce parking rules on the “minor” holidays. And you’d have to either not allow holiday parking in the restricted zones or really come up with an expensive sign fix.

    You could propose pay parking on holidays — or Sundays — but you’ll see one hell of a public outcry over that one.

    The bus schedules are different. They’re based on passenger volume, and the difference between folks who get MLK or Veteran’s Days off versus the many who don’t, and have asked to have regular bus schedules maintained on those holidays.

    Again, that’s not the City’s fault. And technically speaking, the City would prefer that ALL companies in the City observed the same holidays that the City does. If they did, workers would benefit, and we could run buses on a holiday/Sunday schedule.

    1. You’re right about grandiosity in general, Mckym and my getting carried away by visions of arranging transit and large events around each other in the minds of downtown merchants.

      But I think my own real point still holds: in a large and rapidly-growing city, transit and walking need to take the place of CBD car driving and parking. Holiday or not, meaning heavier or lighter car traffic, the City doesn’t close streets because fewer cars need them.

      Because as the city becomes larger- and, as transit advocates would like to happen, more people come Downtown to live, day-to-day human traffic load pretty much settles into a steady increase. Even now, no Downtown building removes its elevator shafts and cars whatever the traffic load.

      Tempting for transit to adjust to holiday traffic by lengthening head ways. But like with electricity, water, and sanitary systems, the fact that they keep working reliably under all conditions could be chalked to the marketing budget.

      Often, a restaurant customer who knows that they can get a small, quality meal anytime will often start regularly returning for larger meals, meaning greater profit for the owner. Seems to work very well for coffee shops.

      Parking enforcement will boil down to this: any car parked in a lane with a diamond gets towed. Added cost to the towing fleet will be balanced by complete lack of meter repair, and very small budget for meter readers’ wages.

      There’ll be plenty of parking structures at convenient places along transit lines outside of the CBD, and frequent service on every transit lane. But even at midnight any night on the calendar, I doubt the fire department will permit the company safe from being stowed in the elevator shaft.

    2. Nobody is missing any point here. I’d guess that over 95% of workers do NOT get these minor holidays off. Only government employees get them. They got that written into their contracts along with free transit passes, the ability to hang up the phone at 4:30 pm even if s**t is hitting the fan, above-average benefits package, and designated break periods that, let’s face it, most workers don’t get despite L&I rules that require them. Heck, if you look at the number of people in customer service jobs or shift work, even Saturday is not a truly universal “day off.”

      “the City would prefer that ALL companies in the City observed the same holidays that the City does” I highly doubt that the City would condone closing hospitals,, restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, Pike Place Market, our transit system, airports, museums, and dozens of other industries that keep our economy going on city-days-off. They MIGHT prefer that office workers stay home, but to that, I ask, why should one business follow different rules than other businesses? For me, that means a truncated work week, and cramming to get five days worth of work done in four days. The week of Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th are often my most stressful work weeks in a year. On top of it, my spouse, a nurse, is often working on one of those days, so what’s the point of taking the day off??? Get stressed out in my 4-day work week so I can clean the garage?

      More FAKE holidays? No thanks.

      Pay the City employees overtime and get parking enforcement on the same page as the rest of the city, including the Metro drivers operating buses.

  8. if we have are to have free parking and no peak-only bus lanes on Sundays and select holidays, we should only do so on days in which transit is likewise on a Sunday schedule.

    Makes perfect sense to me. Minor holidays should just go away; they are a major PITA. I know government employee unions have them written into their contract but I’m sure the vast majority would favor another day of paid leave they can use any day they want. A lot of them probably end up spending their holiday at home providing daycare. Much better to add that holiday onto another weekend when you’ve actually taking a vacation.

  9. Not only are the bus only and rush hour thru lanes affected, but as a KCM driver, the most frustrating parts, is that most peak hour layover space in the CBD is paid parking through the day, up until 2 or 3pm when it becomes bus layover space. So you have all this peak hour service deadheading downtown from bases all over, including CT’s service laying over on Eastlake, and now you have no where to park the coaches while they wait for the scheduled leave times, and if there’s no where to park, and you’re just constantly circling the block, the driver has no break or chance to use the bathroom either.

  10. Parking fee should reflect the availability of parking space, Sundays or no Sundays. If the demand exceeds supply, charge on holidays as well, if no, don’t do that.

    In general the parking fees should broadly cover the related infrastructure costs, and if fees at that level are still too low to equalize supply and demand, the additional revenue should go to the city. (And I stress here: the city should lower the other taxes accordingly.) I don’t think there is much difference between holidays or workdays from this perspective.

  11. There should absolutely be a distinction between major and minor holidays. See what NYC does:

    The 6 major holidays are full holidays. No street cleaning. No meter enforcement. No need to move your car during rush hours. Essentially, similar to a Sunday.

    The 4 minor legal holidays are treated like weekdays, with the exception that street cleaning is suspended. Meters are operational. Rush hour parking restrictions are normal. I would suspect that the parking enforcement may be on holiday pay, as far as labor law is concerned.

    There are also many religious/cultural holidays listed that are exemptions from street cleaning. Originally this was meant to help Orthodox Jews who do not drive on their religious holidays from having to move their cars. Other groups saw this as official recognition of holidays and wanted their days included as well.

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