Ruth Harper and Kelsey Timmer, Seattle Department of Transportation
Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Area residents gathered on Thursday night to share opinions and hear from SDOT team members regarding the proposed West Seattle Junction Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) plan (see our meeting preview and the city’s detailed project website for background information).
The public hearing, held at the Senior Center of West Seattle and hosted by SDOT, lasted 90 minutes and offered a chance for the public to give verbal and written comments about the proposal and to ask questions of SDOT staff.
If you have comments about the RPZ plan, there’s still time — you can submit them through March 15 with this online survey, by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 206-684-4103. Officials emphasize that “all methods of commenting are treated equally.”
The map of the proposed plan for the Junction area, between Hudson/Dakota and 39th/45th, looks like this:
After a brief welcome by Ruth Harper of SDOT, who thanked attendees for coming and said “we’re here to listen,” Kelsey Timmer of SDOT walked through a slide presentation (see it in its entirety here) providing an overview of the RPZ proposal. At its core, the plan involves a $65 permit (good for two years) that residents can purchase to park in the RPZ with no time restrictions, while non-residents are limited to 2 hours from 7am-6pm Monday-Saturday.
Copies of an FAQ document for the proposal were also available at the meeting, containing details expanding on the basic information that was included in a proposal mailer that was sent recently to neighbors.
The idea grew from a community request just over two years ago (co-signed by the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization) to research the feasibility of restricted parking zones in the Junction area, seven years after a similar proposal was rejected by the city.
As reported by WSB last April, the city will only consider creating RPZs for areas of more than 20 blockfaces where parking occupancy is more than 75 percent, and where 35 percent of that is used by non-residents. SDOT conducted research and found that the area indeed met the criteria:
At Thursday’s hearing, Harper and Timmer (along with Mike Estey and Becky Edmonds, also of SDOT) facilitated the meeting. They said there are currently 35 RPZs in Seattle, intended to help manage the limited resource of curbside parking on city right-of-ways. Timmer emphasized that an RPZ does not “manage demand between residents” or “guarantee any resident a parking space in the public right of way,” and that renters and homeowners are treated equally. There would be no parking restrictions on evenings or on Sundays. In the future, adjacent blocks could petition to join the RPZ, and blocks contained in the RPZ could petition to be removed from it.
Timmer said that after the current feedback period ends March 15, results will be reviewed with a decision expected by June 2019, and if implemented, RPZ signs could be installed by the fall of 2019.
After those opening remarks, the meeting moved into “public comments.” Twelve residents gave official statements (which were recorded and limited to 2 minutes each, with no questions), followed by Q&A between attendees and SDOT staff.
Raw notes from the public comments are below:
- The first commenter, Matt, said he opposed the RPZ plan for 3 reasons: 1) developers being allowed to continue to build structures with no parking, 2) residents want to use public transit but there is no place near the junction for them to park, and 3) $65 per vehicle is “a steal” and undervalues the parking.
- John Cluff, a resident for 25 years, owns 2 enclosed parking spaces and is retired, and realizes very few people “enjoy that luxury” but he opposes the plan and is concerned about the impact on others. “To be blunt, this plan is ill-conceived and should be revisited,” he said. “I hate to say ‘I told you so’ but I did,” referring to comments he made in building-development hearings years ago in which the “half-a-parking-space” allowance was discussed. Cluff said he views mass transit as a poor alternative; the bottom line is that most people in West Seattle own 1-2 cars, and if the plan proceeds “we might as well give “going-out-of-business signs to most of the businesses in the Junction.” Instead of the RPZ, Cluff suggested officials focus on 1) how do we save parking lots in The Junction, and 2) how do we get rid of the “half-a-car” development policy.
- Paul Weatherman, a Junction resident, said he has one parking spot that he uses and he’s in favor of the RPZ plan. “It would be great being able to park in front of my house instead of having to walk two blocks,” he said. He also questioned why Sundays aren’t included in the plan, citing parking issues with the Sunday Farmers’ Market: “If you live here and you leave at 8 am and come back when the market is going on, you have to park at least a couple of blocks away.”
- Lance Campbell said he was against the plan, and opposes the overall concept. “As I understand it, the Junction is the hub of West Seattle” and people in the neighborhood are upset that people from other areas are using the neighborhood as a park and ride. The Junction itself doesn’t have a parking structure, so “it’s merely a destination we’re making into a hub.” Why not do a “northern hub” in an area closer to the Admiral District, and people in that area can catch buses at that hub rather than traveling to The Junction?
- Anna Horton, principal of Holy Rosary School in The Junction, asked that the streets around her school be exempt from the RPZ plan. She said her school suffers from high traffic; the school and parish have been part of West Seattle for more than 100 years (long before most of the development), and the school educates 500 children from the community. She added, “We have limited parking – we employ 50 people but only have 12 parking spots” and rely on street parking, which typically has worked well because employees park on the street in the morning and leave before residents get back from work.
- Maggie Cuevas said she has lived in The Junction for the past 5 years and is in favor of the RPZ. She said she has seen 5 big developments go up, each with very limited parking. This has “created a tough situation for those of us who live here, lugging groceries home a couple of blocks in the rain.” She also said she is concerned about safety, as a woman, walking from a parked car late at night. She mentioned that she sees resentment against renters, but the reality is that “we can’t afford to buy in Seattle and are forced to rent, and deal with misguided ideas” about how those rental building’s residents commute. She said she hopes the RPZ is just one step and that the city does much more thinking about development and how it impacts residents, because there’s a lot more that needs to be done.
- DJ Carpenter has been a resident for “three-quarters of a century” in West Seattle and lives near 44th and Alaska, where there is a 2-hour parking limit, isn’t sure about the data regarding how that’s been working, but is opposed to the RPZ. Carpenter is “against paying money to park in a place that’s been free” and instead wants to see better enforcement of existing parking regulations — “I see no patrol people going by; there are delivery trucks blocking fire hydrants, when they block my driveway and I complain, the police don’t come.”
- Albert, who has lived in WS since 1973, lives off 44th and Dakota, and has various concerns about the plan, and about the trend of “traffic moving further and further north from the junction.” He said there are probably 8 people in his area who are older, in their 70s and 80s, and “if they leave during the day they can’t come back and park.” He doesn’t like the cost of the permits because “I already pay property taxes” and he worries that the RPZ would be “a big fiasco” and reminds him of a proposal years ago to implement angled parking on California Avenue, which “was a complete mess and they got rid of it fast.”
- Bill lives on 46th and is opposed to the RPZ: “If this becomes a provision, everyone who doesn’t want to pay will park on my street” because he lives just outside the zone, and he already has issues with it — “there’s a car there now that’s been there a week.” He said the proposal allows developers to continue to “abuse the system” based on “the crazy idea that people will take the bus.” He also worries about the impacts of Sound Transit light-rail discussions — “when we get a train, where are those people going to park?” He said the city is not thinking ahead. “I don’t know what solution is, I do know you’ll have to limit parking” and we can’t allow people to come into the neighborhood and just park all day. He thinks the city will have to buy “a multi-story parking lot” to deal with the issue, “I’m not crazy about that idea but I’m not sure how else to deal with it.”
- Another commenter was concerned about the impact on seniors in the area, and said “if you eliminate parking, then the seniors won’t come to junction; they’ll be housebound.”
- Gaylin Gardette spoke next, saying she was part of the group that wrote the original letter requesting the RPZ in January 2016, co-signed by JuNO. “We wrote a measured letter and thought about the benefits and concerns.” She said, though, that her understanding had been that the plan would be for full blocks to be part of the RPZ, rather than the “half-blocks” that ended up in the plan. So, “as much as I liked the idea, I don’t like it now and I’m not in favor of it any more,” which is “too bad” but the proposal “needs to be rethought.” She said that with Sound Transit proposals in play, “it’s not the right time” and we “need to readdress after ST decisions are made.”
- The final commenter said she belongs to the Senior Center, joking that “I know most of you don’t, but you probably will someday!” She expressed concern that a 2-hour parking limit would “ruin many of our events” like card games, which last longer, and she would hate to see that.
After the official comment session ended, Harper from SDOT made some remarks in response to some of the comments:
- Regarding Sundays not being part of the plan: we don’t have Sunday RPZs in Seattle, don’t have resources to support them, and find that most parkers on Sunday are residents of the neighborhood.
- She said “we hear you about not enough enforcement, we’ll let them know” and that they do their best to enforce the existing regulations. She said “if a car has been there more than 72hrs, you should report it and they’ll come out and tag it and start the process” of getting it removed.
- Regarding issues of housing development with limited parking, she agreed that “it’s hard, we are not the decision makers” and “they have their own process” that she encouraged residents to continue getting involved with.
Next, the SDOT organizers moved the meeting into an “open Q&A session.” Raw notes below:
- Q: In city we have Car2Go, Reach, those cars park for free, right? A: They’re exempt but they do pay a $1,730 fee per car per year (“free floating” cars), so the person using the car doesn’t pay, but the company managing the cars does.
- Q: Regarding SDOT’s study that found that a certain number of “non-resident cars parked all day,” how do we know that data is accurate? A: Timmer explained the methodology of doing 4 counts per day and recording partial license plate numbers (at 4am when most cars are assumed to be residents or guests of residents, at 10am and 2pm when many cars could be non-residents, and then at 8pm). The person who asked the question said she didn’t agree with those assumptions, and another questioner noted that his neighborhood has people who are homeless who park their cars in the neighborhood overnight and sleep.
- Q: If someone was homeless, could they get an RPZ pass? A: No, they could not, and therefore could not legally park for more than 2 hrs.
- Q: I live on fringe of the RPZ on 46th, I understand there was a proposal by JuNO that would have included my neighborhood, but how did that get changed to this current proposal? A: The original proposal actually didn’t actually include 46th, because that area didn’t meet the “75% occupancy with 35% non-resident” criteria. Originally the proposed RPZ area was all east of California. SDOT staff said it was a data-driven process, they took the proposal from JuNO, did research, and ended up with the proposals.
- Q: On California Avenue, we’d be changing the parking, and the 2=hour limit will impact things like people going to ArtsWest for a show and having dinner. A: SDOT studies showed that evening was the most congested time in the junction area, and in such congested areas, SDOT prioritizes turnover, and a 2-hour limit is a good thing so more people can come in and out and enjoy it. When asked if parking staff will actually enforce the limits, the answer was “yes, they should be there enforcing it.”
- Q: For people who work in The Junction, where do they park? They are parking on the street now, but with an RPZ that option goes away. A: SDOT did a survey and found that half of the respondents who were employees of Junction businesses take transit to work, so they think the problem will be somewhat mitigated, but yes it is correct they won’t be able to park in the RPZ.
- Q: is there a fee for the guest pass? A: Yes, it’s $30 for 2 years.
- Q: if you have a utility trailer and it takes you more than 2 hours to load and unload, and you’re in an RPZ, will you be ticketed? A: If you’re actively loading/unloading, then enforcement will almost certainly not ticket you as long as you’re making an effort to go quickly. You can always put out temporary cones to indicate the area you’re working in.
- Q: What about the high number of construction workers parking in the area? Currently there’s a large apartment building going up, I can tell you what time of day it is based on whether the construction workers are on site. Many area church lots are empty all week long, why not have developers work with them? A: We understand, the construction projects are “a temporary impact that doesn’t feel very temporary.” The church lot idea is great, we can take it back to our peers. “It’s a tough nut to crack.” Follow-up Q: we want to prioritize residents over the developers. A: theoretically an RPZ would help address that because time limit for non-residents (and most of the workers are probably non-residents). Another follow-up comment: most developers have to get SEPA (state environmental protection agency) and there is public comment for those, we can ask developers to make changes to the plan.
- Q: Green Lake went through the RPZ evaluation process, and ultimately said “no,” correct? A: Yes, that is correct, SDOT listened to the feedback and decided not to go forward with an RPZ at Green Lake. Harper emphasized that this West Seattle process is the same, SDOT is listening, they’ll take comments and make a decision.
- Q: 1) If implemented, when will the idea be evaluated and potentially revisited, and 2) if we find that the RPZ is not working, what’s the process to stop it? A: We typically don’t go back and evaluate it right away, but we’re always listening to what residents think, but many RPZs are 20-30 years old. Occasionally a block will petition to be added/removed, but we don’t say “in 6 months we decide if it’s working or not.” There are about 35 RPZs around the city; we tend to come out to West Seattle every 4-5 years, people are shocked that we’re not already putting in paid parking but “we’ll be back,” and we’ll likely come back sooner than we would for other Seattle neighborhoods because there’s so much going on here. Follow-up Q: We are an urban village, thus more development, with very little parking. A: An RPZ tends to be based on current and recent data, and isn’t usually a forward-looking process, if the data says it’s time then it’s time.
- Q: I live a mile west of The Junction, I’m a transit rider, it’s the only sane choice for me to get downtown, but I have no reliable transit to get me to the junction to take the bus. The 56 and 57 are “unreliable and always canceled,” so people come to the junction and park. A: Yes, the balance is a complicated situation, and one that JuNO has thought about.
- Q: After the data comes in by March 15, how will you decide? A: We’re listening to the comments and survey results and will look at everything and make a decision.
- Q: If you have another meeting, would you bring developers to the meeting to actually answer our hard questions? (that brought laughs and nods of agreement from the room). Follow-up Q: It seems logical that SDOT and the building developers should talk. A: We do talk (including with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection), it’s a hard balance, if we’re going to accept growth in Seattle it should be in hubs that have access to transit, but we also have an affordable housing issue, and what we’re trying to do is figure out how to absorb growth, create affordable housing, and also allow for parking.
- Q: I was recently leaving my mom’s house on 42nd by Jefferson Square. I saw my hygienist who works in The Junction, then I see my server from Talarico’s, and a construction worker — so I’m seeing people using parking for the community they’re not part of. A: We encourage people who work in The Junction to use transit, use paid parking. Follow-up comment: people are just to park a block or two further away, so now you’ve created an issue that never ends (“but that’s how I feel every <expletive> day” said an RPZ supporter)
- Q: I go down to Portland a lot, every transit hub in Portland has a big parking garage. Can Seattle do the same thing? A: Parking lots are very expensive, what’s you’re describing is the “last mile” issue, we work with a lot of people on that. It’s a hard message to give, but people sit in gridlock, and bringing in more cars brings in more gridlock. There are lots like this at Northgate and in Tukwila, they exist, but are not being built in Seattle. Metro offers the Ride2 service intended for that last mile, on demand.
- Q: Concerned about poor Metro transit planning, “look at the Morgan Junction RapidRide station; the articulated buses stop there and stop the traffic entirely.” I’ve complained and my neighbors have complained. A: Give us that feedback and we’ll take it to our peers, give us a chance to help.
- Q: I live on 44th, an apartment building went up, it has 4 parking spaces and they all say “loading zone only.” A: Generally when apartments go up they ask our department for help, providing loading and unloading zones, so that’s expected.
- Q: So there are 35 RPZs in the city, how many have said no? Do the RPZs work? A: Only 2 have said no. In general, residents seem happy when we have RPZs. This is a tool we have to prioritize right-of-way parking for residents and visitors, and we use a data-driven process.
- Q: I live on 46th outside of the RPZ, if we eventually want to expand it to be included, what’s the process to petition and expand? A: if it’s an adjacent single block, it’s easier, we get a request and then go out and take a look and if it meets the “75%/35%” criteria, we either send a petition to circulate or we send letters, and we need 60% of households on the block to be in favor of it. If there were a request to add 2 .or more blocks at once, then it would be a more involved process. It’s the same in reverse, if a block in an RPZ wants to be removed, we need 60% of residents to sign on, then we’d take the RPZ signs down.
- Q: Who decides to implement this; City Council? A: SDOT makes this decision.
- Q: People with a handicapped/disabled permit can park in RPZ, right? A: Yes, they can park anywhere in the RPZ or in paid parking.
- Q: What does this whole process cost me as a taxpayer? A: The permit costs are intended to cover the program. We’re not paying extra for staff, this is part of our job, we hire people to do parking studies; the WS study was probably $10,000-$20,000, rough estimate.
Gaylin Gardette (who helped draft the original RPZ request letter) emphasized that although she is “not in love with the final map,” SDOT staff were great to work with throughout the process (unlike prior experiences she had with other city agencies), the SDOT team has been “fantastic, gave us information, they’ve come here many times and answered questions and conducted themselves professionally.” She encouraged attendees with questions to “ask this team, take her (Harper’s) card, let them try to help you. I can vouch for this team.”
In closing SDOT staff, reminded attendees that comments are accepted through March 15, detailed information and links are available online, and a decision is expected by June.