Parking checker at 5th and Cherry, 1961

On Wednesday, the Seattle City Council passed a budget that includes a small pilot project for a parking benefit district (PBD).  The PBD pilot is the result of several years’ work by the Capitol Hill Eco District and the City Council, and were a key recommendation of the HALA report.

The pilot project is notable because it passed despite objections from SDOT.  In a memo to council, SDOT Director Kubly argued that PBDs raise equity concerns (there’s no paid parking anywhere South of Jackson Street).  He also noted that SDOT’s performance- and data-driven approach to parking management has built up trust with residents and businesses, hinting that there could be a backlash if parking funds were seen as a kind of neighborhood slush fund.   Currently, parking rates are adjusted according to demand to meet a specific vacancy rate.

Alan Durning of Sightline (a HALA committee member) published a long rebuttal to Kubly’s memo back in September.  Here’s a bit of it:

And thanks to HALA’s recommendation and city council member Tim Burgess (he’s a longtime leader on parking reform), the city council in November 2015 instructed SDOT to deliver a report that “recommends a pathway for piloting a PBD in the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, including potential dedication of some percentage of on-street parking revenues for street, sidewalk, vehicle, and pedestrian improvements physically located within the district.”
SDOT argues that Parking Benefit Districts are legally problematic, but examination of legal restrictions on parking proceeds indicates that PBDs would be more in line with existing law than current spending practices. Parking proceeds in Washington State are legally fees, not taxes, and the body of case law that distinguishes the two implies rules for how fee revenue can be spent. In short, parking revenue must go toward purposes that are related, at least indirectly, to parking management.

I was curious about the legal restrictions, so  I spoke with Councilmember Tim Burgess, who’s been pushing for PBDs for years and was instrumental in getting the pilot project going.  Burgess’ called the SDOT letter “disappointing.”  He disputed SDOT’s characterization as of PBDs as “revenue-driven,” noting that he opposed what he considered a politically-driven (i.e. non data-based) approach by Mayor McGinn a few years back.

Burgess’ view is that the city can spend the money on anything transportation related. “That could be signage, lighting, landscaping… anything that contributes to mobility,” he said.

I’ve personally always been of the opinion that neighborhoods need to be encouraged to accept greater density with a mix of carrots and sticks.  Density generally improves quality of life, but it also comes with some unavoidable downsides, especially with respect to a resident’s ability to stash a couple of tons of glass and steel in the public right-of-way at no charge.  Yet Seattle’s process-driven politics seems generally averse to the kind of sweetening that could make the PBD medicine go down.

That said, I’m not unsympathetic to SDOT’s position.  A good chunk of the revenue would stay downtown and in Belltown, where it’s not clear there’s a huge opposition to density, and it’s true that only a few, primarily North-end neighborhoods would benefit.  And it would set a troubling precedent if every neighborhood got to keep the proceeds from activities that occurred there. Should taxes levied on Key Arena only be spent in Queen Anne?

On the other hand, slippery-slope arguments are a dime a dozen.  Plus, there are some neighborhoods that would probably benefit from some paid parking to manage on-street vacancy (Alaska Junction, Columbia City?), and this program could help make that happen.   Seattle is trying a very difficult transition form a city where the default option for most people shifts from driving your car to walking/biking/riding transit.  It’s a tough transition: residents’ perception is that things are getting worse and worse for a while until a switch flips, and then things get better and better.   More paid parking, no minimum parking requirements, dedicated transit and bike lanes: these are all levers that need to be pulled to avoid backlash as we move to a future where our ability to grow isn’t tied to car storage.

The good news is that the pilot has passed and SDOT has said they will work to make it successful.  Even better, Burgess is working to get Residential Parking Zone (RPZ) permits included as part of the program as well.  The pilot kicks off as soon as January.

31 Replies to “Capitol Hill Parking Benefit District Coming in 2017”

  1. If Scott Kubly thinks that SDOT has taken a data and performance driven approach to parking, perhaps in the same breath he should opine on how often SDOT is updating rates to reflect the data and performance they are seeing. Hint: very, very, very seldomly. Good on Burgess for pushing through PBDs.

    1. Rates just went up in my neighborhood, and also get more expensive as the day goes on. $3.00/hour at 8am, $3.50/hour at 11am, and $4.00/hour at 5pm. That roughly tracks with my previous experience with availability, mornings wide open and afternoons impossible.

      1. I was referring to how often the rate schedule itself that is applied during the day is being implemented. The schedule that is in effect in your neighborhood won’t be updated (so that afternoons aren’t impossible) for a year or more. It would work much better if the rates were truly dynamic.

    2. Policy is to update annually, I believe. The availability of parking it measured manually, correct? Someone who works for SDOT has to physically go and observe the crowdedness of each street?
      Trying to update parking rates, say, monthly would just require way more man hours.

      1. I just seem to recall that there was at least an implication that the price of parking would be more dynamic than being updating annually. So it has always seemed like a shame to me that they seem even loathe to update it at least that often. In some cases they aren’t even doing it that often.

  2. In my experience neighborhood residents want free or almost free street parking near their homes and are vocal about it. Street parking has finite limits, and thus can be a barrier to transit projects or accepting density. How does charging residents and then paying for signage and lighting accomplish anything that those vocal residents want? How expensive would it need to be? Is it just about bribing the others? Am I missing something?

    1. People are used to or want free (which isn’t really free but I digress) parking, particularly around where they live. Simple enough. Then some agency (SDOT) comes in and they say they want to make it so there are at least X number of parking spots available about Y% of the time. The way they create this is by metering the parking. Now what happens is that all of these people that are used to and want free parking yell and complain and write nasty letters to the agency. Still pretty straightforward, right?

      PBDs flip the script a bit: they come in and say, “Hey, we’re going to meter parking to improve parking performance so it’s not full all the time. And we’re going to give your community X% of the proceeds to improve your neighborhood in some way that you decide.”

      So now instead of all of these people just thinking about how the big mean government is taking away their free parking, they start thinking about all the cool things they can do with this new source of income. It’s not going to make their neighborhood rich, mind you. But it can be enough for some nice little improvements. I think it’s a great concept, really.

    2. It’s not residents. Parking meters are in commercial districts. Ordinary people can’t pay $936 a month for a metered parking space ($3 x 12 x 26) plus having to move their car every few hours. Parking entitlement occurs in single-family areas that aren’t metered, and to some extent in shouldering apartment blocks. The people who park in metered spots are non-residents going to local businesses or visiting friends. (Or going to a park, if anybody pays $3 an hour to go to a park.)

      The biggest issue to me is not to disrupt the dynamic-pricing model. I don’t care if the money goes to the neighborhood as long as the prices fulfill the “one open space per block” goal. I live on a metered parking block, and whenever I’m with somebody who wants to park there, they still have to circle the block several times and maybe give up going there because there’s no open space, so I wouldn’t say it’s working perfectly. Let’s not make it worse.

      As for no metered parking south of Jackson and thus no revenue for development, is that really a problem? They’re getting a 100% discount on their parking costs, so isn’t that an equitable alternative to a slush fund? If they want a slush fund, all they have to do is ask the city for metered parking “just like they have uptown”.

      1. What commercial districts are actively opposed to density? I think someone needs help defining a problem.

    3. I think what you are missing is a bit of what Jason touched on. Its divide and conquer. Before, the anti- paid parking neighbors complained to SDOT with one voice. Now the anti-paid parking neighbors can fight it out with the pro-paid neighbors.

  3. Idiotic – creating more fees to live in Seattle. Capitol Hill wanting others to pay for parking and allow Capitol Hill residents to get subsidized parking via RPZ permits. Kubly stating “SDOT has built up trust with residents and businesses”, this is utter nonsense.

    1. All the parking is subsidized, it’s a public good.
      It’s not like the revenue from hourly parking can cover the cost of street maintenance?

      Fees are to manage demand. Yes, parking a car in seattle is more expensive – that’s the point. That doesn’t make living in seattle more expensive – cars should be very optional for living in these neighborhoods.

  4. Lots of people who park on Capitol Hill streets in the evenings are because they are coming from other areas with lousy transit connectivity and frequency to dine. Are the restaurants on board?

    1. This is the transition that Frank is talking about. People driving to Camp Hill will become less and less important for restaurants in Capitol Hill.

      During the transition, it will become more difficult for some people to get to cap hill, But ultimately it will be significantly more accessible with a proper transit system feeding people to Cap Hilll and many many more people living within walking distance of these restaurants. Will more than outweigh the loss of people being able to dive to dinner.

      It’s like the pioneer square merchants freaking out over loss of parking – they are worried about their old customers and not seeing their future customers.

      1. I would agree with you for the area within 4-5 blocks of the Capitol Hill Link station. Still, Capitol Hill covers a much larger area and restaurants not near Link will be less likely to attract patrons arriving from other parts of the Metro area. The failure of any agency to embrace projects like the Metro 8 Subway or a much faster and more frequent FHSC seriously throws cold water on the argument for the larger neighborhood.

      2. It’s not taking away any parking spaces or converting them to paid, so the restaurants won’t lose any customers they haven’t already lost. It’s just a question of where the revenue goes to.

  5. So what if you spent tax revenues from Key Arena in Queen Anne? I think if there is a weighted list of neighborhood priorities to make it more pedestrian/transit/bike/employer friendly, I’m all for it.

    1. Yeah I’m not sure if that was a good example. If key arena hosts an NBA team, I think it would make sense to use the extra tax revenue to ‘mitigate’ the extra traffic.

      But generally, the point of seattle being one city and not a dozen cities is to pool the neighborhoods’ resources. Trying to keep revenue local goes against that.

  6. For the LINK service area, whatever the residential choice, from smallest apartment to average Craftsman house, people should look at their neighborhood as their jointly owned home. And be able to set parking rates accordingly, if they permit it at all.

    Especially good if they agree, and build, so as not to need cars themselves. Or park off-site.

    Easiest and fairest solution where parking is needed? App to find out parking rate in every neighborhood. If you can’t afford a space where you’re going- especially near a LINK station- ride transit. If hours don’t permit, Uber or a cab, home or to the nearest station.

    While we’re building out the surface transit network we also need. Staying onto our politicians, who run SDOT, that we’d rather spend our money on taxes for transit than for either meter fees or personal time and gas driving around finding parking.

    The cities with the world’s best transit- and quality of life- have been living like this a long time.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “The people should get together and decide” = democratic government. That’s why we have a mayor and council. No need for yet another layer of micro democracy

      1. AJ, I doubt you’d say the same thing for Sound Transit’s own “Benefit District” and the Washington State Legislature. Also, constant calls in these pages for granting transit self-government to areas that consistently vote down transit. I’m looking for quickest and easiest way to whatever’s fairest that also works.

        Should say up front that Benefit District permission should come with a license fee large enough to cover the other measures I’ve mentioned: improved public transit, cab and ride-sharing breaks, and off-site general parking.

        Going to a fund administered by Seattle city government for above measures city-wide.


    2. “people should look at their neighborhood as their jointly owned home”

      Who is they? The public spaces around people’s houses are owned by everyone in Seattle, not just those in the immediate neighborhood. People who shop or work or spend time in the neighborhood are part of the neighborhood just as much as residents. And if we get into the cost of living in the most popular neighborhoods, it becomes an equity issue too. How many people want to live in a neighborhood but can’t afford to so they commute to it?

      1. Mike, wrote that paragraph with some actual pictures in my mind of driving around narrow, dark streets trying to find a parking place on Capitol Hill. Had my car broken into once, and lost a favorite jacket.

        Causing gut-reaction that if the residents paid rent to the city for parking in front of their houses, going into a fund to provide me with transit, I’d be time, money, and aggravation-control ahead if I let them keep their cars in spots I certainly don’t want.

        Like anyplace else where I have to compete or hunt for parking when I’d rather be shopping, watching a movie or eating at a restaurant.

        These people are asking for permission to use city streets as garages? In return for my own choice of travel, and I’ll rent or sell it to them. That’s my real point. If they won’t do go for it, let them park wherever they can find a place, along with everybody else in the city.

        Or move somewhere with a garage.


  7. I think being able to use PBD as a carrot for expanding paid parking in additional neighborhoods where it’s needed more than outweighs any Equity issues. Keeping downtown revenue downtown is OK for me – there are plenty of useful projects downtown that SDOT can direct that money too, especially if they lump uptown and first hill into a single giant PBD.

  8. This statement is incorrect: “there’s no paid parking anywhere South of Jackson Street.” There is paid parking in the Chinatown-International District .

  9. How about this? Instead of neighborhoods essentially buying public street space for their private garages, how about only granting licenses for patrolled “CCD’s”- Clear Curb Districts? Guaranteeing no parking in front of anybody’s house?

    With fees going for the other city-wide transportation measures. And also for “traffic calming” like roundabouts- which the residents can plant and garden. And if needed, permission and help with putting grass between sidewalk and street to flowers and agriculture?

    Read some years ago that in France, there were garage services, where your car would be parked ’til you needed it. And mechanics would perform all scheduled maintenance. And drivers who would pick up your car on your call, wherever you were, and return it when you again when and where you called for it.

    Another city-wide transportation measure paid for by the CCD fund? But probably best goal would be to just include every public transit measure listed in taxes to both developers and residents of every new business and residence? And turn every transit-density-level neighborhood into a Clear Curb District.

    Or course rates can be adjusted for rate-payers’ incomes, owners or tenants. If system delivers transportation being paid for, nobody loses anything except time trapped. All the money people will pay, they’re already spending on auto-demobility. Considering the Richter Force Ten demand that’s demolished regional land-use right now, I doubt Seattle would de-populate.


  10. I find it telling that commenters on a *transit blog* are complaining about having to pay to store their car on public streets. That’s what’s so clever about this – it creates an incentive to overcome the *I want free stuff* instincts and balance cost with benefits. In my view the largest objection to allowing more housing in our city is fear of losing street parking. Pricing parking makes it available to everyone, and removes the fear that future neighbors will steal *your* spot. Expanding the RPZ system can further reduce this fear.

    And I disagree with the slippery slope argument. Yes, often we want to distribute wealth from rich areas to poor areas. But be careful with this – our society is set up to redistribute wealth from dense areas to sparse areas. Keeping transportation dollars where the people are (density) sounds like a slope I’d happily slide down.

  11. The parking equivalent of sub-area equity. Insane and regressive. Revenue should go the general fund so it can be spent where needed. If the need is on Cap Hill, cool. If the need is somewhere else, then that’s where the dollars should flow.

  12. Seems like you neglected to ask Burgess a very key question.

    So it’s a problem that parking revenue goes to the general fund? Hmm, I wonder who decides how to spend the general fund? Nothing is stopping Council from putting money back into neighborhoods based on their parking meter contributions.

  13. I am ambivalent about the Parking Benefit District concept. The basic idea is that by giving neighborhood insiders/leaders a slush fund of parking revenue, they will accept more extensive paid parking, reduced parking minimums, or even upzoning. I can see the first one occurring, but am skeptical about the next two (which are the reasons the recommendation came out of HALA). “Neighborhood insiders/leaders” may say that they need x, y, or z neighborhood improvements before additional density is appropriate, but once those demands are met, the target will shift. You can’t win that game.

    In fact, the City is moving in the opposite direction: cutting ties with District Councils because giving neighborhood insiders/leaders access to slush funds ends up being inequitable. On this point SDOT is right.

    The only promising aspect of PBDs is reform of the residential parking zone program. I would issue a set number of parking passes per zone (free), based on the number of on-street parking spaces. The permits could even be issued based on seniority – which properties were last sold the longest ago. The City could organize a quarterly auction where passes could be sold or purchased. If long-term residents are guaranteed a free parking spot, and the quantity of passes won’t increase with the number of residents, then some residents may be more open to housing construction near them.

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