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Unbundling, flexibility, ‘frequent transit service’ — What’s in Seattle’s ‘Neighborhood Parking Reform’ proposals

The City Council’s planning committee Wednesday morning is scheduled to continue its work reshaping Seattle’s parking policies in an effort to reduce building costs and, hopefully, help address the city’s growing affordability crisis.

CHS wrote here in January about Seattle’s so-called “Neighborhood Parking Reform” process and the hope of reducing requirements, “unbundling” costs, and opening up the city to “shared parking” for motor vehicles and bikes. Here’s a rundown of the elements in the latest version of the legislation under discussion Wednesday from a City Hall staff memo on the proposals:

  • Unbundling” of parking: requiring that renting or leasing of parking be covered by a separate agreement from rental agreements and leases,
  • Calling non-required or public parking “flexible use parking” and broadening the locations where flexible use parking is permitted and how it can be used,
  • Allowing more flexibility for park and rides,
  • Allowing for more flexibility for the public to use required accessory parking,
  • Adopting a new definition of frequent transit service through a Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) Director’s Rule,
  • Adopting new bicycle parking quantity and design standards,
  • Expanding the distance off-site, off-street parking is allowed from a use,
  • Adjusting parking requirements for affordable dwelling units,
  • Adding design standards to allow for the public use of accessory parking,
  • Limiting exceptions to maximum parking requirements, and
  • Clarifying SEPA policies

The memo (PDF) says the proposals “build on a body of scholarship and practice that finds significant negative impacts to requiring more parking than will be used” —

Among those negative impacts are additional car trips and resulting congestion; increased development costs and reduced development density, resulting in increased rents; and negative urban design character and reduced pedestrian activity. In recognition of these impacts, Seattle has chosen to reduce or remove off-street parking requirements in areas where there is good access to transit, starting with Downtown Seattle in the 1980s, commercial zones in 2006, and multifamily zones in 2009.

The proposals would also address weaknesses in defining “frequent transit service” and the rules that reduce or eliminate parking requirements for projects in commercial and multifamily zones near transit lines.

Slides from a presentation scheduled to be delivered Wednesday on the proposals are below.

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4 thoughts on “Unbundling, flexibility, ‘frequent transit service’ — What’s in Seattle’s ‘Neighborhood Parking Reform’ proposals

  1. I am a (50 year duration!) bicycle commuter, but I do note that the recent Seattle Times graph [which shows downtown car commuting dropping steadily] shows cycling to be the least popular downtown commuting option (3%) and NOT GROWING over the last 7 years.

    I admit that downtown is a hostile cycling environment BUT, in the absence of data showing that it is effective, do we really want to spend money on cycle commuting improvements?

    (to head off chicken-egg arguments, note that other non-car options increased, but cycling was FLAT over 7 years).

    • Cycling improvements are 1) inexpensive and a tiny part of the overall transpo budget 2) tend to almost always improve safety for everyone who uses streets – whether walking, biking, using transit, or driving.

      So, yes, we really do want to spend money on improvements.

      And, there is more and more evidence that the critical factor in increasing bike riding (for transportation overall, not just commuting; and that’s important to note because most car trips are not commute trips) is to have a connected network of protected or low-stress routes. We don’t yet have that. We may in a few years. Add e-bikes that can go up to 20mph and help the less robust among us manage hills and longer distances and the equation changes. Note that I’m not suggesting everyone would switch to biking all the time, which is not the point. It’s that it would become easier for a significant % of people who would bike more often if it felt safer and/or if our hills weren’t so onerous.

    • Even if the bike commuting rate stays relatively unchanged at 3% of commuters, our increasing population and booming job market mean that the raw number of bike commuters is increasing. Toss in nearly 10,000 rental bikes, some electric-assisted, and I expect the raw number of commuters to continue to grow.

    • If our infrastructure “improvements” for cyclists are so successful, then why are the dedicated (lane-separated) bike lanes almost always empty of cyclists?