Category: Parking

Seattle Advances Shared Parking

On April 13, Mayor Durkan signed into law an omnibus neighborhood parking reform package. This package included some important steps to support shared parking, policy changes that Capitol Hill Housing and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict have been advocating for since 2014.  While these changes are important, they have gotten less attention than some of the more controversial parts of the package.  Here’s a recap of shared parking, what will change with the new legislation, and what we still need to do to make shared parking common practice.

What is shared parking?

Shared parking is an umbrella term for a set of parking management strategies that use parking more efficiently through sharing spaces. The simplest form of shared parking refers to allowing non-tenants (people who don’t live or work in a building) to rent assigned spaces on a monthly basis in a building’s garage. More complex systems involve making spaces unassigned and sharing between users that need parking at different times of day or days of the week. All forms of shared parking achieve more efficient use of limited parking spaces. However, the more complex systems, with more different types of users, are capable of greater efficiency and can dramatically reduce the number of parking spaces needed.

Why is shared parking a good thing?

  • Parking is expensive and makes housing expensive. The Victoria Transport Institute, a leading local think tank on parking, estimates that underground parking in Seattle costs between $33,000 and $46,000 per space to build.
  • Lots of spaces go unused, but they are hard to access. King County Metro’s Right Size Parking study looked at 46,420 residential parking stalls across the county and found that 26 percent of spaces were empty in the middle of the night.
  • Use what we have before building more. We are stuck with the parking we’ve already built, but shared parking can help correct for this oversupply as we continue to grow.
  • Shared parking makes infill development more cost-competitive over sprawl. Infill projects rely on expensive underground parking spaces, while develop on the urban edge, where land costs are cheaper, have the space for cheaper surface parking. By reducing the number of spaces needed, shared parking benefits infill projects the most. Infill projects protect our farms and natural spaces, require less infrastructure investment, and help provide existing neighborhoods with the density to support high frequency transit.
  • Prevent circling for scarce on-street parking by opening up access to off-street parking. In some neighborhoods on-street parking is very full and streets are clogged with drivers looking for an available space. Providing easier access to off-street parking can reduce circling and congestion.

How is the City of Seattle encouraging shared parking?

The parking reform package includes two new strategies that promote shared parking. It more formally legalizes sharing by creating a new category of flexible use parking and it requires new garages be designed for sharing.

Legalizing Sharing

In the past Seattle permitted two types of parking – accessory use and principal use. Accessory use parking was attached to a specific use, such as an office, a retail store, or an apartment building.  Only users of this related primary use could use the accessory parking.  In contrast, principal use parking was a category for a stand along garage or surface lot.  Principal use parking could be used by anyone.  However, many areas of the city banned principal use parking.  There was no acknowledgement of parking facilities integrated into a building, but serving different types of users within the nearby walkshed.

The new code changes this in a few different ways.

  • Replaces “principal use parking” with “flexible-use parking.”
  • Outside of downtown, allows flexible use parking in most places where previously principal use parking was not allowed
  • Inside downtown, allows flexible use parking as a conditional use with staff approval
  • Lets more kinds of accessory use parking be made available to the public
  • Lets more kinds of accessory use parking be converted to more kinds of flexible use parking
  • Permits the use of flexible use parking facilities by park and ride users for the first time, in some areas
  • Eliminates parking requirements in more areas
  • Extends the walking distance within which required parking must be provided

You may notice that there are a lot of caveats implied in these changes. We would have preferred a simple change allowing short and long-term public access to all parking.  Still, taken together, these changes will radically increase the flexibility in the use of our city’s parking stock.

Designing Garages for Sharing

Many garages, especially in small and medium-sized apartment buildings, are not designed with sharing in mind. In many cases, the only pedestrian access to the garage requires walking through a private, secured residential hallway.  Not surprisingly, granting access to this portion of the building can make some tenants uneasy about sharing the garage.  To address this problem in new buildings, Seattle will require direct pedestrian connections between the garage and the street.

Some developers have already started using this approach. The image below shows a recent garage design with direct pedestrian street access.  A small door on the left provides a pedestrian only access point that does not require walking in a car lane and can be accessed with a key fob or code throughout the day.  A separate key is required for access to the residential lobby.

Signage clearly identifies the pedestrian access point for the garage.

A simpler pedestrian garage access configuration is shown (below left) with the pedestrian door immediately adjacent to a closed garage door. Many older garages already have these doors for evacuation.  The doors can be retrofitted with their own key or code access to be accessible from the outside.  This design can provide a lower cost option for some garages.

These designs can help developers avoid situations like the one below right, where the only pedestrian option is to walk in the drive lane, down a steep pedestrian ramp, or enter through the residential lobby.

More Work to Do – Parking Taxes

Unfortunately, parking taxes remain a major barrier to shared parking. The Washington State and Seattle tax codes directly penalize the essential ingredients for shared parking: unassigned spaces and multiple users.

Since 2007, Seattle has exercised its authority to impose a commercial parking tax. That tax, now at 12.5 percent[1], is levied on top of the general sales tax, 10.1 percent in Seattle in 2018[2], for a combined tax of 22.6 percent on commercial parking revenue. While many assume that this tax is applied uniformly to all parking, that is not the case. Parking that is reserved for only one user for 30 days or more (most parking today) is considered real property and therefore exempt from the tax. However, as soon as that parking is shared with someone else, the tax is triggered.

In focus groups held by CHH in 2014, property managers expressed strong concerns about the financial impact of being subject to the tax. Property managers liked that shared parking has the potential to add revenue through new users paying for time when spaces otherwise sit empty.  However, because of the tax, revenues would need to increase by 29.2 percent to break even.  Property managers have communicated that such a high threshold for new revenue is prohibitive, especially in the context of uncertainty around adopting an unfamiliar management practice.


Taxes aside, Seattle has shown a real commitment to innovative parking policies, including shared parking.  It is through many incremental changes like these that we will begin to tackle the big challenges of affordability and climate change.  As Councilmember O’Brien stated during the final Council vote, “We need to commit as a community to taking actions to fight climate change locally. We’re going to have to take hundreds of actions like this one today. These are hard actions because they require each of us to slightly change the way we live in our communities.




Little Collective Creates Whimsical Stormwater Parklet for Park(ing) Day

IMG_1510Whimsical stormwater sounds like a contradiction in terms – but somehow this past weekend it was a reality, thanks to Park(ing) Day Plus+ and the imaginations of four environmentally-minded landscape designers. Extended to a two-day affair in Seattle this year, Park(ing) Day is an international event that temporarily reclaims street parking areas for pop-up “parklets” in the name of creative placemaking, community health and urban design.

The Little Collective’s modular mobile rain garden camped for two days in the street parking area in front of the 12th Avenue Arts building on Capitol Hill. The garden consists of a series of raised boxes, filled with compost and plants, through which simulated “rainwater” flows (generated by pedaling on a stationary bicycle!). The water is then cleaned as it passes through the biofilter base layer of the garden. Moreover, the plant life of the rain garden offers upstream habitat to important pollinators like bees.

Talks at the parklet site about local stormwater projects clarified our rainwater problem. Christin Hilton of the Nature Conservancy explained that urban stormwater is the #1 polluter of the Puget Sound. When rain flows through the streets and into the storm drains, it draws hydrocarbons, sediment, trash, fecal coliform, heavy metals and other nasty stuff with it. This is bad news for downstream organisms like salmon. Regarding Seattle’s iconic rain, Christin observed: “What makes our city so beautiful and lush is also a problem for us because of all of our impermeable urban surfaces.”

IMG_1506Designer Hilary Ratliff explained that the modular rain garden is an interim intervention and a prototype. In the next phase of their mobile rain garden design, they want it to pick up storm water directly from the street, taking the garden a step beyond simulation and making it functional. The long-term goal would be to permanently integrate bioretention facilities into the streetscape. In the meantime, the modular version offers a means to raise awareness, educate, and above all, to dream. As Hilary put it: “Streets aren’t just for cars – they’re about possibility.”

The trick, then, is to ensure that creative placemaking isn’t something we relegate to one (or two) days a year. What kinds of permanent change might a mobile rain garden inspire? Or a streetside tool library, a tea party on the curb, a public board game station, or any other of the fifty pop-up parklets we saw at this year’s Park(ing) Day? These streets are your streets. How would you like to use them?

Tap ORCA Here: When Transit and Housing Access Collide

It's great, I can't ride my bike everywhere_web

“It’s great, I can’t ride my bike everywhere.”


Transit Access Is An Equity Issue

After housing, transportation is the second highest cost for most people.  The Center for Neighborhood Technology estimates that households in the Puget Sound Region spend about 19 percent of their income on transportation.  Living in a central, walkable, transit-rich neighborhood like Capitol Hill can help households save a lot on transportation expenses by driving less or not even owning a car – one of the reasons that Capitol Hill Housing believes it is so important to provide affordable housing in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. However, for many low income people, the regular cost of using transit is still unaffordable.

In 2014, we surveyed over 300 Capitol Hill households about their transit expenses.  We found that while 42 percent of households in market rate buildings had all or part of their transit passes paid for by their employer and school, only 16 percent of households in affordable housing received similar help paying for transit. We wanted to change this for our residents.  An opportunity came when we learned about King County Metro’s new Multi-Family Passport program that allows property managers to offer the same subsidy and discounts as employers.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to contribute our share to the subsidy.  Luckily, SDOT agreed to step in and cover those costs in 3 buildings as a pilot project.

"We love the light rail and the streetcar and go more places than you would think."

“We love the light rail and the streetcar and go more places than you would think.”


How Affordable Housing Providers Can Tackle Climate Change

Promoting transit use has other benefits as well. If affordable transit passes reduce driving, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  Driving just recently surpassed power plants as the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  Transportation is an even bigger contributor to emissions in Seattle because we get most of our electricity from hydro power.  If we want to tackle climate change, we need to reduce emissions from driving in ways that also have positive impacts for low income people.


Last but not least, transit pass can help reduce housing costs associated with parking.  If transit passes reduce the need for our residents to own cars, we won’t need to build as many expensive parking places.  The average parking garage space on Capitol Hill costs about $33,000 to build.  If our residents no longer need parking in our existing buildings, through our district shared parking program, we can rent out those unused spaces to generate revenue that helps support building maintenance and operations.

How Does the Affordable Housing Transit Pass Program Work?

With funding from SDOT, Capitol Hill Housing was able to purchase transit passes for residents of three of our income restricted apartment buildings, totaling 122 units.  Residents who wish to participate pay 50% of the monthly cost, which is $10, $16, or $17 depending on the building.  This compares with $117 per month for a standard individual pass or $55 per month for a standard individual low income fare or LIFT pass.  Payment for the card is processed along with rent.  Passes completely cover unlimited trips on all local transit including Metro, Sounder Train and Light Rail.

"Please keep doing this. We love it."

“Please keep doing this. We love it.”

Preliminary Results

  • Over 50% of passes sold.
  • 52% of participants previously had a card for which they paid 100% of the cost
  • The small administrative burden is small (less than 4 staff hours per month)
  • We have received anecdotal reports of over $100 in monthly savings by some participating households

Capitol Hill Housing will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program in early 2017.

Expanding the Program

Everyone in Seattle should have affordable access to transit.  An expanded Affordable Housing Transit Pass program would leverage affordable housing providers to connect more low income people to low cost transit options.  We hope that by continuing to work with King County Metro, the Seattle Department of Transportation, other affordable housing providers, our residents, and the community at large we can expand this program to eventually serve all affordable housing properties in the city.

"It's an amazing deal. Thanks for setting this up."

“It’s an amazing deal. Thanks for setting this up.”



Your Community Forum CliffsNotes

Your Community Forum CliffsNotes

On Thursday, May 26, more than a hundred community members gathered on Capitol Hill for Gearshift 2016: Capitol Hill Housing’s 11th annual forum on issues affecting the neighborhood. Deviating from the format of years past, this Community Forum offered rapid-fire presentations by local leaders on five separate projects to advance community interests as the Hill continues its explosive growth.

The speakers were just a catalyst for the most interesting part of the evening: small group discussions among attendees to determine the community’s priorities. Kshama Sawant, Lisa Herbold and other city officials joined the discussions, gathered feedback and reported out to the larger group.

Couldn’t make it? Don’t worry – here’s the Cliffs Notes version of each presentation and breakout group discussion. (more…)

Parking Budget Amendments Adopted by Council

On Monday, Seattle City Council Chambers were packed with supporters organized by Kshama Sawant to support her budget amendments to address homelessness, establish a new LGBTQ community center on Capitol Hill and fund a municipal broadband pilot. Public comment lasted nearly an hour. I was there to track the progress of two specific amendments that will help advance EcoDistrict goals around parking.

GS 100–1–A-2

The Council uses Green Sheets to modify the Mayor’s proposed budget by increasing or decreasing spending for specific programs and services. In the case of GS 100-1-A-2, a green sheet sponsored by Tim Burgess, the Council voted to add $20,000 to the SDOT budget to address regulatory barriers to shared parking and develop design guidelines for off-street parking garages to encourage sharing. This work is recommended by our report published this summer. In the grand scheme of things (i.e., a proposed $5.1 billion City budget), $20,000 isn’t much money, but this is a very tactical investment in better use of off-street parking.

SLI 100-2-A-1

The Council uses Statements of Legislative Intent (SLIs) for a variety of purposes, including calling for a study of a new concept or approach. SLI 100-2-A-1 is a very exciting step towards creating Parking Benefit Districts in Seattle. Also sponsored by Burgess, this is a direct response to a recommendation out of the HALA report.

What are Parking Benefit Districts?

130129_parkingbigParking Benefit Districts are a way for neighborhoods to directly benefit from the money collected at parking meters. In Seattle, every dollar that a motorist plugs into a meter goes to the City’s general fund. This is an important part of the City’s budget and the lion’s share of meter revenue needs to be centrally collected to insure that every neighborhood sees some benefit. However, there is also a strong argument for at least some meter revenue staying local to support the neighborhood where it’s collected.

Donald Shoup, parking guru out of UCLA, explains it this way: “A Parking Benefit District offers non-residents the option of paying a fair market price to park (rather than simply prohibiting them from parking), and it offers neighborhood residents public revenues derived from non-residents.” (see more from Shoup on the subject here.)

In other words, people coming into Capitol Hill to enjoy its many attractions, especially the nightlife, can help to pay for improving the neighborhood for the many residents that call the Hill their home.

Parking Benefit Districts are a priority for HALA member Alan Durning, director of Sightline. When asked how parking fits into an affordable housing agenda, Durning replied: “Parking requirements increase the cost of housing and decrease its supply, making it dramatically less affordable. Moving Seattle away from parking mandates toward better management of its existing parking spaces is an essential component of HALA’s plan for affordability.”

Durning contends, as do we, that creating a parking benefit district on Capitol Hill is part of a suite of parking reforms to counteract the parking territoriality (and resultant costs) rampant not just on our neighborhood streets, but across the City.  More from Durning:

“Curb parking, it seems, is the stuff of neighborhood psy-ops. It brings out the crazy in people. And that fact—our intense, animalistic territoriality about curb parking—is among the fundamental realities of urban politics. It’s a root cause, I argue, of most of what’s wrong with how cities manage parking. And much is wrong with how cities manage parking. Consequently, somehow defusing or counteracting this territoriality could release a cascade of good news, if it allows cities to manage parking better. Parking policy is a secret key to solving urban problems ranging from housing affordability to traffic, from economic vitality to carbon pollution—plus a snarl of other ills. Parking reform is that important…” – Sightline, 2013

I should note that the SLI passed by Council this week does not actually set up a parking benefit district on Capitol Hill or anywhere else. It simply instructs SDOT to examine the legal and political hurdles to parking benefit districts and recommend a path forward to pilot a parking benefit district on Capitol Hill. This is a critical baby step. Look for the announcement of an actual pilot sometime next year.

Thanks, Council!

District Shared Parking Report Released

Parking is one of the most local of transportation issues, a hidden factor shaping the built environment and with significant costs associated with it. Parking is expensive to build and operate in dense urban neighborhoods like Capitol Hill.  Oversupply and inefficient use of parking can needlessly drive up the cost of living while subsidizing car ownership.  Lack of on-site parking can also motivate property owners to demolish treasured older buildings.

To address these issues the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict has developed an exciting new parking management strategy: district shared parking.  The potential for such a strategy in Pike Pine is detailed in our 2015 report District Shared Parking: Program, Policy, and Technology – Strategies for a More Resilient Parking System in Pike Pine.cover

District shared parking is the idea that many parking garages in a growing, walkable district should work together and share users almost as if they were one garage.  The concept combines the benefits of many types of sharing – people in buildings without enough parking can lease spaces from buildings that have too much parking, new buildings can lease spaces from existing buildings that have excess supply, and daytime users and nighttime users can share a pool of spaces to reduce overall demand – with the scale, flexibility, and redundancy of a distributed district system.

In 2015, Capitol Hill Housing is beginning to implement recommendations from the report.  For more information please contact Alex Brennan at abrennan[at]capitolhillecodistrict[dot]org