It’s no secret that Puget Sound region is experiencing a housing affordability crisis. It’s also not a shock anymore that our climate is changing—fast—and our continued reliance on cars is only accelerating that crisis. However, even in the densest spaces in our region we continue to advance policies that make housing more expensive and residents more car-dependent, worsening both of these crises simultaneously.
Parking minimums have long been a cornerstone of unnecessary zoning restrictions across the United States and our region, however Bellevue’s current parking regulations are still regressive even by our standards. In most of Downtown Bellevue, all new residential developments are still required to build parking spaces for every unit of housing they build. Even in areas near frequent transit, exemptions are minor in scope, only reducing this minimum to 0.75 parking spaces for every 1 unit of housing.
This is most visible in the ridiculous amount of parking being built in new housing developments right now. Plaza 200, an 8-story mixed-use residential development in the heart of downtown at NE 2nd & 115th Ave, is a prime example of this problem. Despite being within 15-minute walking distance of 2 future light rail stations and within 10-minute walking distance of multiple all-day frequent bus routes, the 180 unit building will be built with 150 spaces of parking. If you count the 3 underground stories of parking, this 11-story building will be more than a quarter parking spaces.
The immense amount of parking will continue to incentivize residents and visitors to retail in the building to drive, creating more emissions and congestion on downtown streets. Meanwhile, the cost of 3 below-grade stories of parking will make the building much more expensive to build, increasing rents for future residents and business tenants, continuing to price more out from an already expensive area.
It’s absurd for Bellevue to claim that they acknowledge crises in climate and housing when their policies continue to force these sorts of buildings to be built. If Bellevue wants to get serious about creating a sustainable downtown open to everyone, parking minimums must go.
13 Replies to “Downtown Bellevue Parking Minimums Must Go”
Parking minimums also push things apart, making it harder to walk to things and adding no-man’s-lands of car infrastructure. Even if the garage is completely within the building, a larger garage has a larger entrance and larger feeder streets. What makes San Francisco, New York, and parts of Seattle (downtown, U-District, Ballard Ave) pleasant from a walkability and urbanist perspective — and Bellevue, Los Angeles, and San Jose unpleasant, is parking minimums. These distort building and streetscape designs in many ways that aren’t always obvious. Parking minimums also go hand in hand with the seventy-year tendency toward gigantism in architecture: large entrances and geometric open space in front of them that are designed to make you feel small and the building feel important and imposing. I still can’t believe both 120th and 124th are being upgraded to 5-lane roads when 116th is less than a half-mile away. We need to get away from parking minimums and oversized roads and toward intimate pedestrian-oriented designs.
I don’t walk around Midtown Manhattan wishing for intimate designs. The outside of Bellevue’s superblocks aren’t the place for that either. The intimate pedestrian spaces are within the superblocks (like a superilles) or in a neighborhood adjacent to the CBD, like Old Main.
I’m always confused by commentators on this blog who talk about how horrible Bellevue is. Do those people also hate all of Seattle from Yesler to Mercer and the waterfront to the hospitals? When they walk to UW’s campus are they just disgusted they have to cross 5 lanes roads like 45th street or 15th Ave? Are they horrified Brooklynn is scarred by Flashbush Avenue?
Bellevue’s street grid only looks overbuilt because half the CBD isn’t yet built. The immense jobs density of a fully built out Bellevue CBD is what will drive and sustain high transit mode share on the Eastside (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/10/22/job-sprawl-as-deurbanization/), not intimate pedestrian-oriented designs (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2018/09/10/is-missing-middle-really-missing/). Planning for ~25% SOV rate seems appropriate, given that unlike the U-District the neighborhood will not be filled by tens of thousands of generally abled bodied twentysomethings.
Intimate, pedestrian-oriented designs will hopefully emerge over time in proximity to Bellevue CBD. Many already exist (old Kirkland, old Bellevue, old Issaquah), and more are emerging (Bothell & Redmond downtowns). Focus your parking ire there.
Old Bellevue is an excellent exception; I’ve said it’s the best street in the Eastside. The question is, why isn’t the rest of downtown Bellevue like that? It’s compatible with highrises: you just need to focus on the ground floor and lower-stories ambience. The Melrose building, Pike Autoworks, and Sunset Electric restorations with towers behind them on Capitol Hill are examples. Do you find 106th, 108th, 110th, 116th, or 120th Avenues in Bellevue pleasant? They’re not as bad as some alternatives but they’re not excellent either.
When I was in New York with two friends who drive everywhere, it wasn’t difficult to convince them to walk up Broadway from the ferry and we just kept going to Midtown, admiring the buildings, pedestrians, shops, and street vendors. Can you see anyone doing that in Bellevue? Maybe on Bellevue Way at a stretch, but on the other avenues? Yet people do it downtown and in the U-District and along Pine Street, in spite of 15th Avenue and 45th street. Because next to 15th Avenue is University Way and Brooklyn Avenue and 17th Avenue. Where are places like that in downtown Bellevue or the rest of the Eastside? It’s not like the existing buildings are a constraint. When developers replace a block-sized building or brownfield area, they have freedom to build it any way they like. They and their clients just choose bad designs, and the city codes in some ways force them to.
Whenever I read posts on transit or urbanist blogs about Bellevue’s zoning I am reminded of the saying, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”.
This page two post misses the irony and truth in its own comment that light rail is just a 15 minute walk from the commercial core.
Why is it a 15 minute walk. Because Bellevue merchants and businesses don’t really covet folks who take public transit. First they usually don’t have much money, and second they can’t carry much so don’t buy much. Who in Bellevue walks 15 minutes anywhere, let alone to transit? Carmine’s has free valet parking.
Bellevue is about the wealthy, and is not shy about it.
Bellevue and the Eastside are not about transit. East Link is a relic from the early 2000’s when Seattle was the hub, and the product of subarea equity and uniform ST tax rates. No city (except ironically Mercer Island) ran East Link through its commercial core.
As one post put it, buses on the Eastside don’t dare hang banners stating “Seattle is Getting Closer”. 1/3 of all posts on Eastside Nextdoors are about Seattle is dying.
A walkable experience means safe streets and retail and housing density, things Seattle’s downtown is abandoning for residential upzoning. It really doesn’t matter how you get there — car or transit.
The walk along Bellevue Way from Main (including Old Main Street) to NE 8th (including Bellevue and Lincoln Square north and south) is much better than anything in Seattle IMO and I work in downtown Seattle, and soon the $125 million Bellevue performance art center on 10th will be started (with land donated by that great transit advocate, Kemper Freeman.
Granted once you move off Bellevue Way eastward Bellevue becomes very car centric, and residential to the west, but that won’t change, and parking becomes free east of Bellevue Way, and especially important for Eastside women above ground. Nothing about Bellevue is designed for , transit.
Bellevue knows people who spend $2 million to $10 million on a condo don’t take transit, and neither do Amazon executives, and the developers know this, which is why it is a 15 minute walk to light rail, and why Microsoft is building a 3 million sf parking garage for EV’s.
If you want to understand how Bellevue thinks about transportation listen to the ETA. Of course many on this blog dismiss the ETA and its car culture, but the ETA is very influential on the Eastside (and loving the ST “realignment” in N. King Co. it predicted in 2016).
Very, very few eastsiders read transit blogs, Bellevue’s zoning is working well for Bellevue and the developers, and Bellevue has agreements with the surrounding SFH zones from when Bellevue’s city council was formed. Believe me, Bellevue and the Eastside are loving their success, and what they see as Seattle dying. If you want to make sure Bellevue does not adopt a policy tell Bellevue this is how Seattle does it.
Don’t hold your breath for Bellevue to switch from a car centric society, or doing something stupid like artificially restricting parking thinking the people Bellevue wants will take transit (although EV’s are becoming much more popular).
“like artificially restricting parking”
How many times do I need to say it? Elimination of parking requirements does not artificially restrict anything. Developers are still free to build as much parking as they want.
What is “artificially restricting parking” is rules imposing maximums amount of parking that can be built per block, square foot, etc. There are a few cities that do that (at least in their downtowns), in an effort to reduce traffic congestion, but it’s generally only workable in areas with excellent public transit.
But, this post is not proposing parking maximums for Bellevue, it’s simply asking for the elimination of parking minimums. Elimination of minimums simply means that the free market gets to decide how much parking gets built. There are no artificial restrictions on anything.
“light rail is just a 15 minute walk from the commercial core.”
Light rail is right in the center of the commercial core. A 15-minute walk from the main station will take you to the Surrey Downs residential area, Old Bellevue, Vuecrest, the north Bellevue Way apartments, or across 405 to 116th. What the article said was that this building is within a 15-minute walk of two Link stations. This building is not the center of the commercial core.
In fact, where is it? Isn’t 115th in the middle of 405? OK, the address is wrong. OK, here it is. It’s 210 – 105th Ave NE, not 115th. That’s a block east of Bellevue Way. It’s in the southwest quarter of the commercial core. That’s a ten-minute walk to the downtown Link station. It’s further to East Main Station, and you wouldn’t go to that one because it’s over a hill.
“East Link is a relic from the early 2000’s when Seattle was the hub”
East Link is even more important now because both Seattle, Bellevue, and the Eastside are bigger than they were then so more people are traveling. Shouldn’t San Francisco and Oakland have frequent trunk transit between them? Even a small fraction of 850,000 people on one side and 425,000 people on the other adds up to tens of thousands of people crossing the Bay every day. And Oakland represents not only Oakland but the entire East Bay. If San Francisco and Oakland should be connected with trunk transit, shouldn’t Seattle and Bellevue be too?
“Bellevue knows people who spend $2 million to $10 million on a condo don’t take transit, and neither do Amazon executives”
Bellevue’s politicians need to think about all Bellevue residents and everyone who goes to or through Bellevue, not just the executives. 99% of the workers in Amazon offices aren’t executives. And the politicians have recently been focusing on equity, so they’re focusing on moving the masses, not just those who can afford $2 million condos. Bellevue’s stereotype is rich but there’s also a lot of janitors, hospital workers, poor immigrants, elderly, students, and people who can buy only the lowest-price things at Bellevue Square.
No objection here to removing parking minimum, but I’m not convinced they are a root cause in this neighborhood.
The garage you chose to highlight in your image is currently being demolished. It will be replaced by Bellevue 600, will have 1,700 parking spots for 7,000 employees, that assumes a <25% SOV rate. Given the general absence of private parking garages in downtown Bellevue (the malls' garages are priced to prevent commuter parking), that's a mode share very comparable to downtown Seattle, a lower SOV rate than most Seattle neighborhood, and much better than SLU's SOV rate.
I'm skeptical the minimums are impacting the naturally occurring rate. More relevant would be the parking rates in near-downtown neighborhoods and whether those are impinging on the construction of missing middle housing. Bellevue CBD is not the place for missing middle.
I don’t think parking minimums make sense anywhere, even with zero public transit. Let someone with an actual financial stake in the project decide how much parking it needs (and bear the consequences of reduced rent collections if they don’t build enough).
That said, to really making carfree living possible, simply having good transit is not enough. You also need good carsharing options for those trips that transit doesn’t do, and the whole Eastside is currently very lacking in it. Extending the Gig home area to include at least a few pockets on the Eastside with high density would help a lot, as would increasing the number of Zipcars beyond 2. But, of course, the carsharing part of the equation is controlled by private companies, which creates a chicken and egg problem. People won’t choose to live on the Eastside without a car unless there’s carsharing (even if they are walking to work and to the grocery store). But, no carsharing company will be interested until the number of people without cars reaches a critical mass.
The discussion needs to recognize that parking is also driven by financing from lenders. Developers need lenders as this is the business model of how large developments happen.
Even with no minimums, many buildings here will still have ample parking. Lenders will require it.
Bellevue is also heavily constrained by having little on-street parking on many of their superblock streets. Unlike Seattle, parking pretty much has to be accommodated onsite. A solution to address this may be to require that some parking has to be provided for general public use. It’s very wasteful to have private spaces unused for large parts of the day or evening or night. If enough buildings have public use parking, the logic of reducing parking space requirements improves.
Perhaps a companion approach to require that parking spaces be sold as separate condos apart from the housing unit would help. However, I could see that this could result in some investors buying up parking spaces and renting them to tenants in nearby buildings.
Finally, I’m expecting that the trend towards eventually cheaper battery vehicles will mean that cars will still be popular well into the future. Even though there is a greenhouse gas emissions impact, the perception will be that electric car ownership won’t be as bad for that.
For these reasons, I don’t see a big push to eliminate spaces in a place like Bellevue.
I think there will be less cross lake travel when East Link opens than estimated in the early 2000’s and 2004/2011 EIS. That cross lake travel will now stay on the Eastside, or WFH.
Running light rail through mostly public ROW’s and the center roadway of I-90 from Bellevue to downtown Seattle still makes sense today based on subarea equity and uniform tax rates since the money has to be spent somewhere, and made more sense when Seattle was the only major commercial hub. . But IMO the express buses up and down 405 will be a better use of transit dollars on the Eastside.
My point though was it is a bit arrogant for someone on STB to think Bellevue has not thought through its zoning code, or it’s parking minimums in its commercial core. It has.
The developers don’t like the cost of underground parking, but much of that has to do with the current cost of concrete. So Bellevue raised building heights, but required true underground parking, fully below grade to create retail density.
Seattle experimented with eliminated parking minimums under Charles Royer. The one building completed under that experiment I know of is One Union Square, a cheap building with a cheap exterior and no parking. It has been a dud ever since, and Two Union Square included underground parking, but not enough for two buildings. So Seattle inherits for decades a building at an important site that is not attractive to major tenants because the executives and partners who choose the building don’t take transit.
These commercial developers —especially in Bellevue — are making a fortune. They know they could never attract a major tenant like Amazon without lots of onsite parking. At the same the city has an obligation to make sure the development meets its vision: height, street level retail, parking off the street, commercial/housing ratios, affordable housing (usually 80% AMI in these buildings.
To argue reducing or eliminating onsite parking in these very tall buildings in downtown Bellevue would somehow create affordable housing without zoning requirements for “affordable” housing totally misunderstands the motivations of the developers (and Bellevue).
You might not like the vision or zoning Bellevue has adopted, but it is attractive to developers and business, and to the citizens who demand SFH neighborhoods. No one is losing money on property in Bellevue.
If Seattleites own 460,000 cars what are the chances eastsiders living in East King Co. — especially women and moms — are going to give up their cars? None. Bellevue just doesn’t want to subsidize the cost of parking for developers making a fortune by deeding them street parking.
Great article. I agree completely. There really is no case for parking minimums. If the community feels like there is a public need, then the entire community should pay for it. A requirement like this simply pushes the cost onto the new tenants, which in turn pushes the cost onto all tenants. Personally, I wouldn’t build any additional parking at all. If the city grows, and it is harder to find parking, then so be it — the market will provide. But if the community really wants additional parking, then propose a levy to pay for it.
That is a very market oriented solution Ross. But to work you need to eliminate street parking, certainly overnight and free street parking (because Seattle has designed a retail system based on street parking). All Seattle’s current zoning has done is oversubscribe street parking.
But there isn’t the political will in Seattle to ban street parking because that means banning cars, and with 460,000 cars in Seattle what sane politician is going to honestly pursue that policy, (although they love to suggest that to urbanists and the anti-car crowd), so all eliminating or reducing onsite parking minimums does is shift the cost of parking to city streets, which then affects dedicated bus or bike lanes, retail parking, and general aesthetics. You basically give up a huge portion of public rights of way to developers, because you know the city won’t ban cars or street parking.
If the desire is to ban cars then just propose that. That is the real goal with eliminating parking minimums isn’t it? Either city wide or in special areas. If the citizens want to get rid of their cars through a vote then fine. If the city thinks car free zones will help revitalize retail areas in Seattle ok, but make sure the retail businesses are part of that discussion. From what I see they definitely want car customers, but want more street parking dedicated to retail and not residential.
I just don’t understand why the general public should pay for onsite parking through a levy when that burden should be on the developer or car owner. My guess is you are assuming such a parking levy wouldn’t pass, but if it did I think you would criticize the use of public levy money for private residential parking. I wouldn’t be surprised if such a levy in Seattle did pass, because a lot of Seattleites like free things, like someone else paying for their parking which would cost billions if the levy passed, rather than circling the block hoping to find a street parking spot.
Then you have to realize you are adopting a system that contradicts a system across the lake, that accommodates cars, but prefers them underground with the developer (who is making a fortune and tenants who can afford underground parking) paying for that parking. Seattle’s downtown retail really is on the edge (and there is an article in today’s Seattle Times discussing Mayor Durkan’s new $9 million policy to revitalize the downtown, and previously SDOT lowered street parking rates to encourage more retail shoppers), and if you eliminate parking in Seattle you lose the car customer. Ask Nordstrom what they think of that idea.
Ironically some urban or ex-urban planners like Roger Brooks agree with you. They believe a combination of street parking (reserved for retail) and publicly subsidized retail parking garages are the key to retail and urbanism, because the most important element of parking for a retail customer is easy and obvious parking, not cost (Bellevue does this in Old Main St. with a multi-story parking garage serving all businesses, for a fee, but at least there is a parking spot when dinner is going to cost over $100 for two).
I just don’t see the either/or between cars and transit. In fact cars in many ways support transit through fees and taxes. I just would like to see owners of cars and the developers pay for their parking onsite, so streets are not parking lots.
The idea transit will thrive despite its intrinsic drawbacks and sometimes poor design by taking away people’s cars has never worked. Transit thrives when it is better than a car (peak hour commute, lower cost), so make transit better. According to market rules more car owners will take transit if it is more convenient or cheaper than driving (but still park their car onsite, or on the street, whichever is available). Of course if we eliminate cars we will have to pass a very large levy to make up that loss revenue for transit.
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