New Parking Proposal is Reality-Size

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City council member Tom Rasmussen stopped by the council’s planning and land use committee this week to express his view that the city’s new parking recommendations—which would, among other things, continue to allow new developments to be built sans parking, while encouraging alternatives to driving such as carsharing, biking, and riding transit—might violate the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The recommendations (all meeting materials available here) were based on a survey of 219 newly reviewed or permitted residential developments in parts of Seattle where no parking is required, which found that three-quarters of developers are choosing to build parking anyway, despite the fact that parking adds between $20,000 and $50,000 per space to the cost of new developments (or about $500 a month per unit in rent) and reduces the total number of units that can fit in a development. The market, not the government, determines whether a developer chooses to build parking.

The developments with parking comprised 16,600 units; only 2,400 units in the survey will have no parking, mostly in places with easy access to frequent transit such as Capitol Hill, the Central District, Ballard, and the U District. The rest will average 0.55 spaces per unit.

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A separate survey, King County’s “Right-Sized Parking” study, found that in Seattle, about 35 percent of parking spaces in multifamily buildings go unused, becoming, in planning committee chair Mike O’Brien’s words, “a wasted resource.”

Rasmussen and fellow density skeptic Nick Licata attempted to pick apart these findings by claiming they didn’t narrow in on Seattle (incorrect; the conclusions are based on Seattle parking vacancies only), or that they were too old (the survey data was from 2012, not 2002), or that they only took very dense neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and First Hill into account (wrong again—the survey spanned Seattle from Alki to the U District).

But Rasmussen’s main issue with the recommendations—which have gotten pushback from neighborhood residents concerned that, as Department of Planning and Development director Diane Sugimura wryly phrased it , “they are not able to park in front of their house”—is that development without parking will lead to “spillover parking” in nearby neighborhoods, the kind of adverse effect the city is supposed to avoid.

Rasmussen went on quite a tear about this point, lamenting that as the city grows, “people are saying [a street parking shortage is] causing tremendous congestion: ‘We can’t get to our church,’ ‘We can’t get to our home.’

“We’re hearing concerns from the community, and they’re saying that we’re not complying with the comprehensive plan. … So either we change the comprehensive plan and don’t address our commitment to the public about not having spillover parking, or we try to develop some information [about] if spillover parking is occurring, and that’s what I was expecting to see in this study.”

In fact, the city’s parking report concluded that “it is not likely that establishing new off-street parking requirements would have a noticeable effect on on-street parking in a number of areas because there is no mechanism to compel people to park off-street when on-street parking is much less expensive.”

Rasmussen also argued that parking requirements should be “very neighborhood-specific,” an idea that could effectively negate the city’s entire urban center/urban village strategy, and suggested that DPD and the Seattle Department of Transportation go back and study parking patterns in neighborhoods across the city over time, a huge assignment that would go far beyond the scope of the study on which the new parking recommendations were based.

Paolo Nunes-Ueno, SDOT’s Transit Division chief, said that while the city could go back and do that study, the ultimate issue, as the King County parking survey indicates, is that “although we can require parking to be included in a development, we can’t require people to park in that parking.”

Read more at Seattle Transit Blog.