Seattle cuts parking requirements near transit, ‘unbundles’ costs for carless tenants in new buildings

The City Council approved legislation Monday that will give developers fewer reasons to create large parking structures below streets already choked with traffic, providing a new avenue for the ongoing march toward affordability in Seattle.

“It’s unfair for us to have a city where parking is abundant and free and housing is scarce and expensive,” council member and lead on the parking reform bill Rob Johnson said prior to Monday’s 7-1 vote.


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27% of renters do not own cars, City Hall says.

The bill passed Monday allows for “flexible use parking” so that existing and new parking spaces can be shared and used by more people and eliminates parking requirements for affordable housing units (up to 80% Area Median Income). It also requires the “unbundling of parking in leases” for new development so renters “will not be required to pay for parking spaces they do not use,” a council announcement of the approved legislation read.

The legislation also addresses weaknesses in how “frequent transit service” was defined in an parking requirement rules previously passed in Seattle that reduced or eliminated parking requirements for projects in commercial and multifamily zones near transit lines.

It includes a slew of new bike parking requirements. You can dig through many of the legislation’s details here on this post from The Urbanist. The full bill text is embedded below.

The lone vote against the legislation Monday came from West Seattle’s rep Lisa Herbold who had pushed for an amendment that would have given the city the ability to require mitigation including including restricting Restricted Parking Zone permits in urban villages with frequent transit service in areas of Seattle where on-street parking exceeded 85%. Even with Herbold’s decision to back off of restricting RPZs “on advice of the legal department,” the proposed amendment was roundly rejected by the full council Monday. Council member Mike O’Brien said he appreciated Herbold’s concerns for car owners in these densely populated areas but said he refused to support support policies that discriminate against renters.

With more than 5 million parking paces in the city, Seattle will still have plenty of work to do to counter climate change and unclog its frequent traffic snarls. Even the coming development at Capitol Hill Station will be built with more than 200 parking spaces. But as around 70 people move here every day, council member Johnson said, with the new legislation, we’ll no longer be trying to also make space for 70 more cars.

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34 thoughts on “Seattle cuts parking requirements near transit, ‘unbundles’ costs for carless tenants in new buildings

    • I’ve always been able to find a free parking spot when I need one. The trick is to park in a single-family zoned area, of which our city has many. The bigger the houses the more plentiful the free parking will be. Sometimes the parking space is far away from my destination, but bikeshare and Uber can bridge that last mile.

    • I believe Rob Johnson lives in Ravenna in a single family home in a neighborhood that is not being upzoned. He seems to have lots of opinions about what should happen in Capitol Hill (I.e, safe injection sites, upzoning, lots of cheaply constructed micro apartments with no parking).

  1. The only thing this is going to do is create more and more competition for the already scarce street spaces…. I have zero doubts that people will bring cars even if they don’t have a dedicated spot for them. The only thing that would actually limit the number of cars in the city would be going to a Tokyo type system where you have to prove you have a parking spot to register a car… then and only then would the actually car free be the only ones to rent a no parking space apartment.

    • Or, for a new building built with no parking in an RPZ, specify that its residents are not eligible for street permits. Otherwise, the developer is outsourcing the problem of space to store cars to the streets – imposing the costs on the rest of the neighborhood while reaping the profits themselves. This would require car owners in the building to rent parking spaces elsewhere, and confer a true advantage to non car owners.

    • I agree – I don’t think you should be able to get any more RPZ permits than you have space bordering your property…. You have space for 1 car, then no way should you be able to get 5 RPZ permits – which is, I believe, the limit right now…

    • I used to own a condo in a bldg a few blocks from Group Health. Even though we had 2 off-street spaces in my bldg, I was eligible for an RPZ sticker paid for by Group Health, because they were determined to have a negative impact on neighborhood parking. We never actually did it, because it really wouldn’t help me much given I already had 2 reserved off-street spaces. But isn’t it ridiculous I could’ve?

  2. We can sure gut parking requirements fast, but why can we not manage all-night bus routes on more than a tiny handful of far-flung gerrymandered “night owl” buses? We have some very busy bus routes that quit at mightnight or 12:30. Even light rail from the airport, for chrissakes, doesn’t go all the way to Capitol Hill after about 12:30, I think. Give me late-night Metro service and I’ll gladly leave my car at home. Give me a night owl route that makes me backhaul all the way downtown first, then walk 3/4 of a mile from the closest stop to my house, and it’s not happening.

  3. What this does:

    Prevent landlords from charging you for parking even if you don’t want it I.E. “unbundling.

    Allow developers to CHOOSE the amount of car parking they think their residents will need ONLY in areas with frequent transit service. It doesn’t prevent developers from building car parking, it just allows them to not have to build as much, because you know, not everyone needs to own a car in a major metropolitan city…

  4. “27% of renters do not own cars, City Hall says.”
    I suppose it follows that 73% of renters do own cars. I wonder if they have data that show what % of renters with cars live in buildings without parking? And what % of those have RPZ permits? Or for that matter, in buildings WITH parking but have RPZ permits anyway?

    Herbold’s amendment dealt with restricting RPZ permits in areas with frequent transit “where on-street parking exceeded 85%”. What does that mean? 85% of what?

    • She means 85% of available spots.

      In other words, she wants to force apartments to build parking where street parking can be hard to find.

      Thank, SCC, for standing up to Herbold’s appalling effort to force non-car owning residents to subsidize the car storage needs of their neighbors. What a disaster she’s turning out to be.

  5. The decision to “unbundle” parking makes sense, but the loosening of parking requirements is a slap in the face to all those current residents (and future ones) who need to find a street parking space when they come home from work. Life will be more difficult for them, but this City Council apparently doesn’t give a damn.

    But rich developers are happy, because they now will make more money. They don’t give a damn either.

    • It’s high time the city stopped forcing some residents to subsidize the car storage needs of their neighbors, and this is a good step toward that.

      What’s wrong with telling people: “if you have a car you have a choice. You can compete for car storage provided by the government for free, which might not always be available in a super-convenient location, or you can pay for your own damn car storage?” Why do people think it’s the responsibility of other people–their neighbors, the government, etc–to arrange for convenient car storage for them? Why can’t they just take some responsibility for their choices? If you choose a car, storing it might be something you have to take some responsibility for. It’s a pretty basic concept, that most people seem to understand for pretty much anything else they buy. Why the think the world owes them free car storage, I do not understand.

    • If that’s your goal, why back off Herbold’s proposed RPZ limits? You allow building with no parking, in areas with 85%+ utilization, but then allow renters (73% of whom have cars, according to City data) to buy RPZs and hog up scarce street parking with no time limits? You just saved car owners money AND allowed them to compete for apts that allegedly will cost less because they’re built without parking. They compete with renters with no cars (and on the avg probably have less money), and drive up the cost of the apartments. Why not make buildings with no parking ineligible for RPZs? The elephant in the room is that most of these residents who “don’t have cars” really DO have cars. They want to live in a building with no parking, make them walk-the-walk, so to speak.

    • Jason – Residential neighborhoods are explicitly designed for on-street parking. The idea of “buying guaranteed parking” is a non-starter in residential neighborhoods, it doesn’t exist. I live in a residential street close to the Capitol Hill density where distant neighbors leave their cars parked for weeks at a time, often making it impossible for anyone living on the block to find a spot close enough to carry groceries. There are laws to handle this but none are being enforced. It’s an obvious flaw in the zoning process. I would be quite happy to pay $100/year just to properly enforce the 72 hour laws that are already on the books.

    • $100 a year is far too little to pay for parking. Off-street spaces on the Hill rent for as much as $250 a month. How about $100 a month, or $1,200 a year, for a street parking space?

    • OK Jason – I’d be happy to pay more for my space – which I *already* do pay for in several ways… BUT – if I’m going to be paying the going rate for an off street space (minus I expect, a small portion of my property taxes and the cost of the maintenance that I am obligated to do, even though the sidewalk, parking strip and parking area are not actually my property) then that space should be reserved exclusively for me at all times..

    • CD, we can keep street parking prices as low as $100 per month because of oversubscription. Not everyone will use a parking space at the same time, so our city can sell more subscriptions than there are spaces. RPZs and gyms work the same way.

      If you would prefer to have a dedicated parking space, there are several garages and front lawns in the neighborhood that can rent you a space. They are more expensive.

    • @Jason: I’m lucky to have a little home with a driveway, so this doesn’t affect me. But, for many people, leasing a monthly parking space (which can be quite expensive) is simply not affordable. Don’t you care about them?

    • Bob, I care deeply about all our Seattle neighbors. If a person cannot afford to park their car, that person should do the same action that would be necessary if they couldn’t afford fuel, insurance, maintenance, or registration fees for their car. Owning a car costs a lot of money, Bob, and the costs aren’t going down anytime soon.

      For example, they could enroll in a service like Turo that lets other persons give the car owner money in exchange for occasional use of the owner’s car. The car owner would then take that money and use it to pay for ongoing expenses associated with car ownership.

    • BS Jason – you don’t give a crap about the people who *already* live here or our viewpoints about what should or shouldn’t happen in our own neighborhoods. You think we should always be the one who have to compromise our quality of life. I dare you – find one of your stances that means a compromise for the newcomers rather than the us.

    • Why do you have more rights than a newcomer? We each get one vote, not one vote per year of residency. It’s not the newcomers’ fault that the Seattleites of the 20th century voted down mass transit, a large urban park, and school funding. It’s not the newcomers’ fault that Seattle redlined and zoned its way to our displacement crisis. We are the solution, not the problem.

    • @Jason…..you are distorting what I am saying. Not providing parking, especially in all those areas where street parking is in high demand, makes it more difficult for EVERYONE….old timers and new residents and future residents alike…..to find a spot on the street. It’s not about “us vs. them” so please don’t try to make it like that.

    • Bob, how many times do you need to be told? Parking is a privilege, not a right. If you want a parking spot, you should be prepared to pay for one. The city has been renting our land to car owners for little to no money for decades. It’s time for car owners, whether newcomers or oldbies, to pay for their parking privileges.

  6. “It also requires the “unbundling of parking in leases” for new development so renters “will not be required to pay for parking spaces they do not use,” a council announcement of the approved legislation read.”

    So, going forward, it won’t be surprising if everyone will be charged the current rate for an apartment plus a parking space, and those who want a parking space will pay extra on top of what they are currently paying.

    Where are the data showing that the money a developer saves by not building parking goes toward reducing rents rather than to increased profit? Surely Johnson and O’Brien must have lots of it to support their claims.

    • The data showing that parking increases rent are available publicly. You can use Google to find them.

      Do you have any data to back up your pessimistic assertion that housing+parking rent will become housing rent under this scheme?

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