The Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle has seen rapid growth and development into a walkable urban center for the residents of the south side. With the popularity of its shops, restaurants, arts venues, and bars growing, it has faced increased traffic and parking congestion. The addition of the Columbia City light rail station just blocks away has had a compounding effect as commuters taking the train to work look to drop off their cars in the surrounding neighborhoods for the day. So, the neighborhood and its residents are facing two kinds of pressure on street parking – one from commerce, and the other from out-of-area commuters.
Current Parking Zones in Columbia City
Currently, much of Columbia City’s business core is made up of time-limited parking zones (shown in blue in the above map) that restrict cars to 2 hours or less. To the west of Rainier Ave. is an existing RPZ for the neighborhood (shown in orange), and to the west is largely unrestricted parking (shown in purple). Because of the draw of commuters to the light rail station just blocks away on MLK Jr. Way, much of the parking is congested to the east of Rainier Ave.
SDOT performed a parking study in 2015 which revealed that parking occupancy was over 90% from 10AM until well into the evening after 8PM. Further, while most cars stayed for only an hour or less, over 1/3rd of spaces were blocked all day by cars parked for 6+ hours. (Source, slide 12 has details)
SDOT’s Proposed Parking Changes
In order to address these changes, Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) has proposed changes to street parking near the Rainier Avenue Business District that houses the majority of commerce in the Columbia City neighborhood. Among several smaller changes and improvements, the city intends to address parking congestion with two measures:
- Extending the Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) to the east side of Rainier Ave., providing permit-restricted street parking access to residents and business while limiting remaining parking to 2 hours or less. (SDOT FAQ)
- Adding Paid Parking (shown in green) to the streets immediately surrounding the businesses in the Rainier corridor of Columbia City. (SDOT Mailer)
This is a good plan. It balances the needs of residents to have access to the streets outside their homes against the need for access to parking for the people who drive to Columbia City to take advantage of its commercial amenities. It could be better.
How to Improve the City’s Parking Plan
In short, I believe the new paid parking zones in the city’s plan should be extended to include all unrestricted (purple) and time-limited (blue) zones in the Rainier Avenue Business District. The reasons why are simplicity and longevity of the re-zone’s effectiveness.
$1/hour Paid Parking is not by itself a large burden for the patrons who frequent Columbia City’s shops and restaurants. It’s some of the cheapest paid parking in the city (compared to as high as $4.50/hr in the crowded areas like First Hill or Pioneer Square, see the full rate sheet here). At a 2-hour limit, it doesn’t represent a reduction in parking time over the existing time-limited free parking zones in the neighborhood. The largest problem with adding paid parking to the existing patchwork of parking rules is the confusion it adds to the search for street parking in the area. In the 2-block area around Rainier Ave. between S. Edmunds St. to the north and S. Hudson St. to the south, drivers will be faced with:
- Unrestricted Parking Zones
- Time-Limited Parking Zones
- Paid Parking Zones
- Restricted Parking Zones
- No Parking Zones
- Passenger Load Only Zones
This proliferation of zones adds to confusion and encourages more idling, circling, and searching for the ideal curb-side parking space. By adding the additional RPZ to the east of Rainier Ave. with this proposal, SDOT is removing Unrestricted Parking Zones almost completely. This is a great opportunity to further simplify the parking grid by limiting drivers to just two options: RPZ and Paid Parking. If the area is RPZ, you can park for 2-hours during the daytime. Otherwise, the parking is available and free to use with a small fee. No circling, no idling to read parking signs, and no further confusion about parking options in Columbia City.
If parking conditions in neighborhoods like Columbia City were continually monitored and updated to reflect changing usage, the incremental approach of SDOT’s proposed plan might make more sense. After a few months of the initial paid parking rollout, the effect of the changes could be evaluated and optimized. Unfortunately, this is likely the last time parking zones will be addressed in Columbia City for at least 3-4 years. The city has other areas which also need attention, and SDOT doesn’t have the luxury of placing a Transportation Planner on permanent Columbia City duty. Meanwhile, the city does adjust rates based on demand every year, meaning the paid rate could drop as low as $0.50/hr or as high as $4.50/hr should changes be necessary.
Because of this, it makes sense to plan for the longer term when considering this proposal. We have the ear of the city now to improve parking zoning, and we should take advantage of it. Columbia City is booming and with continued growth over the next few years, it will face more and more parking pressure from commuters and shoppers alike. It seems reasonable to anticipate that growth in demand by expanding the footprint of the paid parking area.
If you live, work, or shop in Columbia City, add your voice to the conversation! More information is available in the most recent parking Annual Report here. SDOT is asking for feedback in an online survey that will be available thru February 27, 2017. You can also reach out by e-mail to [email protected] and by phone to 206-733-9026. Let them know you support the new RPZ and want to see more paid street parking in Columbia City!
I’d like to thank Jonathan Williams, Senior Transportation Planner at SDOT for speaking with me at the Columbia City Neighborhood Meeting on February 4, 2017 about the plan for parking in the area. Feature Image Credit: Matt Grundy/Wikipedia