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Nighttime paid parking on Broadway? Increased fines? Just the start of fixing Capitol Hill parking

Seattle Parking originally uploaded by jaycoxfilm

Today is the final day to provide feedback to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s proposals to overhaul parking rules around Capitol Hill’s historical commercial center — Broadway. From the addition of nighttime paid parking to increased parking available on sidestreets, SDOT is considering some big changes in the way Capitol Hill’s environment includes automobiles. But those changes — as radical as some might find paying to park after 6 PM — only go so far. News that parking fines and the number of parking enforcement officers are about to increase also won’t be enough. With the incoming mayoral administration out collecting ideas for what comes next in Seattle, there are lots of Capitol Hill issues that need to be talked about — parking is clearly on the list. Josh has written about parking on Capitol Hill in bits and pieces through his articles on CHS. Here, he takes one big swing at it all to give us his $0.02 on an important Capitol Hill issue.

Over the last few decades, as Capitol Hill has grown and reshaped itself into a truly urban neighborhood, the problems related to parking have become increasingly pronounced. We, or our friends and family, are all too familiar with the 20 minute putt, up and down hills, to the far reaches of the neighborhood, in an effort to find just a single place to park for a few hours. Many people applaud developers for adding abundant parking to their buildings, seeing it as a much needed resource in our densifying neighborhood. But the truth is that off-street parking simply isn’t serving the function it is suppose to and worse, it’s bringing serious detrimental effects to our community. If we really want to solve our parking problems we need to implement a market rate parking system throughout our neighborhood streets, which, through correct pricing, can balance supply and demand and greatly enhance the public setting.

The most important thing to understand about off-street parking is that it simply is not satisfying a market demand. While trying to find a spot curbside can be a nightmare to say the least, most parking garages in the neighborhood sit empty. In its most recent Comprehensive Parking Study SDOT found that in the residential area surrounding Broadway, off-street parking utilization rates peaked at 50%, with an average at just 40% (along Broadway itself it was 65% and 51% respectively). Even validated retail parking, such as the Broadway Market, was noted by SDOT as being “underused”. This means that even though many neighbors push for more parking garages in order to minimize the parking pressure from new residents, curbside parking is consistently utilized at capacity, regardless of how many more garages, or people, are added to the neighborhood.

Not only are massive parking garages not solving the fundamental problem they are designed to solve, but they are actually significantly contributing to other neighborhood problems. The least debatable is that they necessarily undermine affordability. A study by Seattle’s own DOT found that a 250-space, underground parking garage cost up to $13.5 million, or $54,000 per space; others have put the cost even higher , at between $60,000 and $100,000 per space. Overall, parking can be up to 20% of total construction costs. Inevitably these costs are passed on through the price of commercial and residential space, exacerbating the issues of gentrification. In San Francisco one study found that parking requirements were effectively pricing out tens of thousands of moderate income households by increasing home prices by 12% or more. Here in our own neighborhood we are all too familiar with high commercial rents, which bring large national chains and their mighty corporate backing. The choice by almost all developers to include substantial parking is effectively limiting the diversity of our neighborhood creating the generic monotony so detested in new development.

Another problem with increased off-street parking is that it encourages people to drive, increasing health and safety risks and adding stress to our public infrastructure. Many people like to argue that residents on Capitol Hill walk and take public transit for almost everything, but they need a place to keep a car for “occasional trips to the mountains” or “picking up a new piece of furniture”, etc. But let’s be honest, if you make driving easy, people are going to drive. A 2008 study compared New York City’s Jackson Heights and Park Slope neighborhoods , which have nearly equivalent car ownership rates and very similar access to public transit. The study found that Jackson Heights, with six times as much off-street parking, generated 45% more vehicle trips to the Central Business District than Park Slope. Additional drivers bring increased pollution and a heightened risk of accident. It also means more public dollars spent on repairing and maintaining our roadway infrastructure, which takes funds away from other neighborhood improvement projects.

The Stroget in Copenhagen originally uploaded by blafond

But perhaps the most serious problem with increased parking is its correlation with economic vitality. Contrary to popular belief, examples from around the world illustrate that healthy, vibrant communities are where parking is kept to a minimum, not a maximum. Places like New Orleans’s French Quarter, Venice, or Paris’s city center consistently attract huge amounts of visitors, and subsequently their dollars, while keeping parking extraordinarily low (or non-existent). In contrast, places like downtown Los Angeles and Reno are infamously horrible places to be, even though, or perhaps because, they have some of the highest amounts of parking per square foot of commercial space. Implicitly this makes sense because the less space we give to automobiles, the more space there is for people, and as any business owner knows, more people means more sales.

Copenhagen is a shining example of how parking is linked to neighborhood vitality. In the 1960’s Copenhagen’s city center was just as full of cars as any other major European city. But since the 1970’s Copenhagen has systematically reduced parking in its city center by 2-3% per year and converted much of this space to public plazas and pedestrian streets. Over the same time period the number of people who spend time in the city center has increased by 350%. This huge increase in pedestrian activity has allowed shops and restaurants to thrive; outdoor cafes alone have multiplied from only a handful to nearly 150 in a few short decades. In fact, Copenhagen’s economic success has been so pronounced that Forbes magazine rated Copenhagen’s Town Center as the #1 shopping area in the world in 2007 . * 

What we should really consider in an effort to solve our parking woes is ending subsidized public parking and letting the basic laws of supply and demand work their magic. Widely regarded as the world’s foremost parking guru, Professor Donald Shoup in his book The High Cost of Free Parking illustrates how “ getting the price of parking right will do a world of good. Shoup explains that by setting street parking rates at the right level, cities can not only end the frustration of looking for a spot, but reduce traffic congestion, enhance the pedestrian experience, and generate funds for neighborhood projects. For example, the Old Pasadena neighborhood has buried electrical wires, enhanced the sidewalks, and cleaned the alleys with the funds generated from high parking fees that are effective until midnight, seven days a week. In the process the neighborhood has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Southern California. Think what Capitol Hill could do if we priced the 3,000 parking spaces around Broadway at  just $40 a month (about half the price of a monthly transit pass and less than $2 a day). We could generate around $1.5 million in annual revenue and make it hassle-free for residents and visitors to find parking.**

There is a fundamental parking problem here on Capitol Hill that undoubtedly needs to be addressed. Unfortunately the out-dated impression that more off-street parking will solve our predicament is simply uninformed and proven untrue. Worse yet, the creation of abundant off-street parking is actually bringing negative effects to our neighborhood by exacerbating affordability issues, adding more congestion to our roads and more pollution to our air, and endangering the economic vitality and vibrancy of our communities. The best way to confront our parking troubles is to do away with free on-street parking and start setting prices at market rates. This will not only eliminate the overutilization of street parking and underutilization of off-street parking, but will immensely improve the public environment for residents, workers, and visitors alike.

*For more on Copenhagen’s transformation see Public Spaces, Public Life by Jan Gehl

** For more on parking reform see this interview with Donald Shoup and this video of parking reform in action .

Also, special thanks to Rev. Smith, who prompted me to write this with his comment on my last post:


I guess you implied there’s an understood truism about parking = bad. Could you please elaborate on the science, not opinion, of this position? Perhaps cite a study or two?

Being as not all cars are gasoline powered, & not all vehicles are cars, I don’t always equate cars, or their storage, with bad planning.

As a city and region, many dollars/hours/resources/years have gone into lobbying developers to not neglect proper levels of parking, right? This was because studies showed irresponsible developments put burdens on city transportation depts when they skimped on parking.

Where’s the precedence for building 200+ marketrate units (and a block of retail) in one building and not including a parking plan? In what city has this occurred and traffic/street parking/commerce did not suffer as a result? I don’t get your tone in your article, so help, please.

  We encourage Rev. Smith or anyone else to post a response here in the comments or as a separate article.

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30 thoughts on “Nighttime paid parking on Broadway? Increased fines? Just the start of fixing Capitol Hill parking” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Very nice piece Josh! I fully agree that a more market-based approach to parking is crucial for Capitol Hill. As you state in your closing, I think that starts with more appropriate pricing of on-street parking (adjusting meter rates, permits and enforcement) to break the habit of circling for parking. People who drive here to shop should expect to use a paid garage just like they would downtown and residential permits should be auctioned to achieve the right number.
    I’m less enthusiastic about limiting the total amount of parking in the neighborhood but I agree that we should eliminate parking requirements and let the market sort it out (unlike health care, parking is not a right).

  2. There is a garage on Pike, above where University Honda was, that charges $137 a month for parking. The on-street cost better be closer to that number than to $40 a month in order to make it market-priced parking as Professor Shoup describes.

  3. Very interesting analysis. I had no idea there was such a disparity between off-street and on-street parking utilization, but it makes total sense. People are willing to drive around forever if it means a cheaper space. I think we should be careful about raising rates too high right on Broadway, though. Businesses do depend on people being able to make quick stops in front of their stores. Those meters should probably be less expensive but shorter-term (or use validation), while the side streets should be closer to market rate. There also needs to be some kind of system to distribute lower-cost permits to low-income/disabled people who might rely more on cars for mobility. This would address the equity issues. In general though, the true cost of parking should be reflected in its price.

  4. Zef, regarding the Broadway parking, I disagree, but i think we have the same intentions. The idea is that if you charge market rate, spots will open up for people making those short trips. If you charge an artificially low rate, people will stay artificially longer in those spots, preventing others from moving in and out. It’s kind of counter intuitive

  5. Let’s face it, people come to “the hill” from all over the city and beyond for dinner and shows. Until we are given enough transportation options, raising the rates of on-street parking and extending enforcement hours will make people want to go elsewhere. Ten dollars to park for two hours at night sounds excessive to me(That’s what I pay when I cannot find on street after 6p; no bueno!).
    Only when occupancy in the new buildings rise, and the new leg of link light rail comes online can we begin to implement some parity between on street and off street parking.
    Maybe start with paring down what private lots charge: it really seems ridiculous what people are attempting to charge for parking.

  6. There are no destination restaurants on Broadway that are worth people traveling to Capitol Hill for. Poppy doesn’t count because the food isn’t good.

  7. The private lots can only charge what the market will bear. The lot behind Poppy charges what I think is a lot, but seems to be pretty full most evenings.

  8. I think you misunderstand the term “market rate.” It is by definition the price at which people are willing to pay. So if we charge market rate it will not drive people away, instead we are charging what they are willing to pay. If parking rates cause people to avoid capitol hill, they are too high and will be adjusted down. Right now we charge way less than market rate, therefore people endlessly drive looking for parking and as Josh points out, avoid ample off-street parking.

  9. I disagree completely. There are several fine eateries both on Broadway and just off. You clearly have no idea of what the neighborhood can offer in the realm of food options.

  10. Dash Dash, sometimes you make me wonder how much time you get to spend on the Hill. People come to Broadway because of a concentration of options. I have anecdotal evidence, of course. And I have seen data the Chamber collected.

    I’ll take you out to Aoki sometime.

  11. Nice piece, Josh, but I find your case studies unconvincing-

    > Copenhagen has a fully developed transit network to support it’s inner city neighborhoods;
    > The New Orleans French Quarter is not highly patronized by residents, but instead by tourists, who stay in massive hotels within walking distance of the Quarter; and
    > Unless it’s changed recently, Old Town Pasadena does not have a residential component
    I’m fully in favor of being smart about charging for parking, but I worry about just pushing visitors onto residential streets; overnight parking is hard enough as it is, and I use my car for more than just the occasional weekend trip to the mountains.

  12. I think it may take some time to find the right balance of number of public spaces and cost, but I’m hopeful that changes can really improve the neighborhood.

  13. It is interesting how you can watch business close, know many businesses on the edge and then say charge after 6pm parking on the Hill.

    Are you all mad? The one thing left of substance on the Hill is the night life. Not much else. Tons of who cares eating places. But the night life thrives. And the so called entertainment zone provides thousands of jobs.

    Kick it all in the head in a recession by making it more expensive to park.

    A lot of the posters here are students of life, not living it.

    Go get into a real conversations with 6 bar owners, and listen very carefully.

    Do not support parking fees after 6pm, for any reason at this time. Jobs are at stake as well as businesses.

    And it so unfair to compare Seattle with most other places. We are such a small city, bizarre land mass, and messed with out own future without more mass transit, much more, built 20 years ago.

    Also, masked in all this is a big time anti-car agenda. They really don’t care about parking, cause they think the whole world can ride a bike, pedicab, or walk. Oh, sure, take the bus. (even from massive parts of the region where there are NO buses.)

  14. If you know fine food, and are not a recent graduate of Burger King and Pizza hut – the truth is the Hill has few really good food places.

    Most of the food is ordinary, mixed quality and very over priced. The game in play could be called the Hill Food Pretenders.

    -, you are right.

    A relative small handful of places does not make up for the 150 just plain ordinary ones.

  15. Just the kind of article I’d hoped for – thank you much!
    There are fine points in your article, and many ideas I agree with. We should all note that offstreet parking (driveway, alley, SFR detached garage) and lot/garage parking are very different creatures in terms of studies and stats. The Copenhagen bit addresses the surface of my last question (quoted above) but specific apples-to-apples stats are missing. Likewise, I think the NYC Jackson Hts/Park Slope study is a poor, incomprehensive & flawed study*, -however there are parts of the data that work for some pro-parking points-of-view, so I can’t trash it entirely. Regardless: I’m left wondering what studies, if any, have been undertaken here in our city. Any SDOT folks reading?

    Playing a bit devil’s advocate here, so please let me establish my position: I would like nothing better than to see Broadway become as interesting, active, pedestrian-friendly and car-free as, say, Bourbon Street (though I agree with 14ave: we’d need the tourist draw… i.e. Cap Hill needs its own equiv. to the Space Needle to bring -nay, yank– tourists up here). Equally desirable in my mind to a ped-street would be having as much rail/subway transit available as say, Little Italy/NYC (hell, I’d settle for having as much rail transit as San Fran). At the same time, I’m thrilled by the recent annexation of parking spots for bike parking – it’s exactly the pro-bike move needed.
    I also wonder if parking – specifically garage parking near a dense commerce street – can be used to take some of those cars off the street and free the streets up for those dreams. I wondered aloud (again, quoted above) about the lobbies, because it seems to me studies must have been done, good ones, or else so many people would not have spent so many dollars on tying parking minimums to building code/zoning.
    I would guess that part of the reason car-driving folks circle for a spot isn’t just the cost of parking, but also the hassle of the validation/payment systems: Last I saw, I can’t stop on the way home just for dinner items at QFC and get validated – I have to buy enough to meet minimum ($20? 40? what is it up to?), and that keeps me from heading straight down into the ample garage. A row of nothing but 30 minute spots would make the most sense in front of that building, right?
    MikeWithCurls: the SDOT came up with the after 6pm parking charges idea (still merely a proposal) while also freeing up the north side of 8 or so streets west of broadway for residential / no restriction parking -so there’s some equitable exchange there- and according to the mailer they sent, the extended times will only be 5 blocks of broadway (john to roy): Not sure how much nightlife would be affected if it goes till, say, 8pm. Charlies? The Grill? Galerias?

    * = I’ll have to list all my issues with that study later, sorry. Suffice to say for now: as a former NYer, I’ll say Park Slope and Jackson Heights are incredibly different neighborhoods, and the transit options are not equal in the least: while bus access may be about the same, PS literally has twice the stations AND twice as many lines of subway service as JH, and TRANSIT time from J Hts to downtown manhattan is almost twice that of ParkSlope (as cited in the study: 57 minutes vs 35), so of course people are motivated to drive/park. Zillow also gives telling demographics.

  16. if overwhelmingly high-end housing is added to Broadway (broadwaybuilding, joule, brix), then ‘what the market bears’ may change in a way that shoves out places like the Vajra, The museum of mysteries, the bead store, Dick’s, the late BaileyCoy and others.
    Their customers might still get around by car, but there’s no way they’ll pay what Poppy and Broadway Grill clients might (and I’d bet a study of car-vs-biz traffic might reveal, the folks shopping at the low-end of the commerce food chain are likely the same ones that circle for parking) – so you end up cutting out the commerce version of the middle class: you’ll get ped traffic to places like walgreen’s and small teriyaki joints, and you’ll get car traffic as well as peds to overpriced food & clothing joints . . . but won’t we lose something rich and intangible when we lose business diversity….? The question might be this: do we want Broadway to be a draw for others into a lively party of locals+tourism, or will we will be satisfied to keep the business strip afloat using new residents –
    profit by volume rather than by value? Doesn’t seem in tune with the Capitol Hill I’ve known.

  17. “the folks shopping at the low-end of the commerce food chain are likely the same ones that circle for parking” – Yes a study would be interesting but I think the opposite is true. My feeling is that the lower end places are patronized by people who walk from within the neighborhood or take the bus.

  18. Glad someone brings this up. I would love to take public transportation from the Hill to Fremont (where I work), but my job has buildings on Lake City, Ballard, another in Fremont, and West Seattle and I also have to occasionally have to suddenly drive to PDX for work there. I drive to work everyday; however, I know my neighborhood well enough that I rarely have to make one circle before parking. The smugness that exists toward those who drive is ridiculous. I wish I could leave my car on the street for weeks at a time or could afford off-street parking, but I can’t and I will NOT live anywhere else in this city. I chose to deal with it-just like the occasional overzealous drunk, outside karaoke star, or argument outside our windows.

  19. I disagree.

    (and so wish you’d do away with the constant condescension, Mw/C. It blocks the view of your argument)

    Monsoon, Kingfish, Via Tribunali, Poppy, Aoki, Thomas Street Bistro, Vios, Smith, Pho Cyclo… That handful of restaurants DOES make up for 150 “ordinary ones”.

  20. There is a fundamental misconception about ‘market rate’ here. The whole point is to make prices enough so that people still come, but don’t have to spend any time finding a spot. If anything, it increases turn over which is good for business. It also widens the customer base by drawing all the people who currently rarely come to the hill because “parking sucks”.

    Also, hopefully some or all of the new funds could go directly to the Chamber, allowing those businesses to pay for all the street improvements they currently pay out of pocket (wreaths, street cleaning, graffitti removal, banners, etc.)

  21. Thanks Rev. you bring up good issues. I agree that its hard to compare any urban areas because by their very nature they are so complex. Certainly if some kind of market rate system were to be put in place, SDOT would need to do a lot more research on market rate in general and the demographics of this neighborhood in particular. But I think that at least getting SDOT to think outside the box on parking reform is a win in itself.

  22. Jonglix – thanks for the thoughts – I’m sure that’s true with some of the lower end stuff (perhaps Beadworld, Perfect Copy, Gruv, the Post Office), but…
    I guess I’m looking at the likes of The crypt, Dick’s, WAMU/Chase, Charlie’s, the Susan Henry Library, Baskin/Robbins – all have or had their own dedicated lots here: and all are selling fairly cheap (or even free) goods/services – if market demand drives parking, then at some point , the market decided that these higher-volume/lower-price-point businesses required parking. And these lots I listed make up the majority of parking (devoted to a single business) on Broadway, don’t they?
    Looking at driving / vs income urban demographics, invariably a larger portion of poor folks drive* (often because their jobs are far from the neighborhood homes they can afford) – not unlike how poor folks often don’t buy cheaper food: only the rich can afford good organic whole foods. Likewise the rich often are the ones that can more readily afford to walk (or afford a high-walk score home). In other words, it seems to me, if the goal is to price all economic diversity OUT of the broadway core, then eliminating easy/free parking might be an excellent way to go about it.

    Just to throw a wrench in the works: would congestion also be improved by improving mosquito-fleet style delivery? (bikes and mopeds especially). There are two things in my opinion that make urban NYC work as a more walkable city: ample subway/trains that interconnect the far reaches of the city with few or easy transfers, and commerce that comes to your door – groceries, sandwiches, drugstores all send bikes to deliver to your door, keeping hundreds of cars off the road each day
    *Josh’s cited ParkSlope/JacksonHeights parking article proves the point in their facts-finding.

  23. The social justice issue is a straw man argument. First, in terms of residence, it just simply isn’t true. Capitol Hill already has above average apartment and condo prices and if you choose to live up here then you arecertainly not poor. I would also argue that part of the reason rents are higher is because you can live up here without the cost of a vehicle, so overall cost of living is similar to other close-in neighborhoods (which are also more expensive). For low income residents living in the many subsidized housing units up here, I know from talking to CHH staff that few residents have cars, and parking is simply not an issue when building housing for low income people (more on that later hopefully).

    In terms of visitors. If you are poor, then by definition you can’t afford more than the necessities, and if this is the case you should be buying them near your own home and not in some far off neighborhood. For the people who do come you could say that the increased cost in parking is then subtracted from the total amount they spend in the neighborhood on goods and services. But hopefully the parking fees would be given back to the business association or other neighborhood organizations and thus still be benefiting the area.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to having a subsidized parking pass for some residents, but they would have to show that a car was absolutely necessary for work or family and Metro’s low income transit passes aren’t good enough:

    I would really love to see a study on the transportation break down of Broadway business customers. I know that the Farmer’s Market conducted a study that showed that 70% of users walked to the market. I’m sure we can safely assume that at least 10% took transit so really the customers driving in isn’t as big a deal as many people think. But of course, it would probably vary greatly by business.

  24. Poppy isn’t very good. I wouldn’t go back.

    Most of your restaurants are not on Broadway. So, there are no destination restaurants on Broadway. Nobody is going to park on Broadway to go to Kingfish or Smith most likely.

  25. Real estate purchase prices do not cause (arguably, they sometimes don’t even corrolate with) economic status / need to own a car / ability to pay for parking. Nor does the cost of building/digging parking reflect what rent and lease revenue can generated off that 300 sq ft for decades to come.

    Not sure if I’m actually promoting ‘social justice’ (so much as hoping for responsible/realistic city planning) but…
    My points are somehow a straw man argument/comment? This would suggest that equitable access for all -neighborhood-wide- to society’s benefits (including tansportation systems that we all pay for) are somehow irrelevant to the topic, …to an article that states “But the truth is that off-street parking simply isn’t serving the function it is suppose to and worse, it’s bringing serious detrimental effects to our community.” and “…to include substantial parking is effectively limiting the diversity of our neighborhood ” and “actually bringing negative effects to our neighborhood by exacerbating affordability issues, adding more congestion to our roads and more pollution to our air, and endangering the economic vitality and vibrancy of our communities”.?

    strawman? Really? And it seemed so on-topic to me…

    great data mine for real facts w/r/t parking issues / research / papers:
    Even here, they recognize that some of the detrimental effects of your ideas would be increased costs & an inequitable burden on some businesses. Isn’t to say that there couldn’t be a good balance.

    I think your article is a decent start to a complicated conversation about neighborhood planning. We need a more-thorough presentation of ideas including viable transportation OPTIONS and changing demographics . A few open minds wouldn’t hurt either.

    We could also use a survey / study of our area: something like this: – and – hopefully, some eyeopening new 2010 census info that might reveal a related trend I’ve noticed: more parents raising kids in the broadway core than the last several decades. My related point: We need multi-bedroom rental units AND parking for them in this city if we want our neighborhoods to keep growing rather than being a ‘stage’ for residents.
    [Even in SF, where the Board of Supes tried to get rid of/cap new development parking in 06, their draft still included a provision recognizing that families with kids would still needed parking].