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Seattle’s Plan to Woo Neighborhoods Into Adopting Smart Parking Prices

11:51 AM EDT on September 13, 2016

Seattle has a housing affordability problem. One way to address that is to reduce the amount of parking required in new residential buildings, lowering construction costs and increasing the number of apartments that can be built.

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

But it's politically difficult to reduce parking requirements because current residents who own cars worry it will make parking more scarce. As long as on-street parking is free, cars are going to fill up the curb in dense neighborhoods.

So Seattle housing advocates pushed for a policy to make parking permits or curbside parking meters more politically appealing. Their proposal for "parking benefits districts" was adopted by Mayor Ed Murray in his housing affordability plan (known as HALA).

Josh Feit at Network blog PubliCola explains:

A PBD, an idea being pushed by Capitol Hill Housing as part of its Eco District proposal, is a neighborhood zone that allows the community to keep revenues generated from increased parking rates and/or from new metered hours; currently, and this wouldn’t change for existing revenue streams, the city keeps parking meter and city lot dollars. So, for example, under the PBD recommendation, if the city decided to charge an additional .50 for parking in Capitol Hill and/or during new, extend metered hours (say increasing the price to from $4.00 to $4.50 in a new 8pm to 11pm time slot in North Capitol Hill), Capitol Hill would keep that extra revenue. In the PBD system, a neighborhood group would determine how to spend the money -- though, state law would require the revenue to go toward transportation related projects, say something as literal as street improvements, something as just as low-income bus fares, and something as tangential as green space... maybe.

The idea -- and the reason a PBD was part of the HALA proposal in the first place (HALA is the mayor’s housing affordability plan) -- was this: Getting rid of parking requirements would lower the price of new housing. Traditionally, neighborhoods don’t like getting rid of parking requirements for new housing because existing residents worry it will make it more difficult to find a place to park. However, the HALA idea was that creating a PBD would get a community invested in making parking a hot commodity because the community would get revenue from it.

Staff at Seattle DOT don't like the idea, though, arguing in a memo this summer that neighborhoods which don't opt in will be left behind. Housing affordability advocates calling on elected officials to approve the proposal over SDOT's objections. Alan Durning at the Sightline Institute argues that SDOT's objections to parking benefit districts don't hold up:

Opposition to parking meters remains adamant in most neighborhoods. West Seattle, which SDOT mentions as a likely loser from PBDs because it has no metered parking, has no meters not because they’re unwarranted; it has no meters because West Seattleites have opposed them. But if West Seattle got to keep the money, things could be different.

The same is true in many of Seattle’s neighborhoods, especially if SDOT designed PBD systems for restricted parking zones, where it could begin auctioning parking placards and badges to residents and visitors. Indeed, if SDOT authorized parking benefit districts and offered a 50-50 split of net revenue with their host neighborhoods, citywide parking revenue would likely grow much faster than without PBDs.

A City Council committee will consider the issue next week, Feit reports.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space looks at Ford Motor Company's involvement in ride-hailing services and bike-share systems. The Urbanist makes the case for building a "lid" over I-5 in Seattle. And Rochester Subway is astounded by the sad spectacle of anti-sidewalk NIMBYism.

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