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Michael Medved

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Rantz: Even city workers rip Seattle’s horrible parking

(Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

The parking situation in Seattle is so bad, even workers who rely on their cars for city work, can’t find parking. Consequently, they either waste time (and our tax dollars) looking for parking, or they end up parking illegally, which can sometimes be dangerous and lead to parking tickets that they’re directly responsible for.

“Parking is horrible all over town, especially in South Lake Union,” a city worker complained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH while working at a recent job site. “It is what it is and just got to try and figure out where we can park.”

The worker asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, telling me he has to be careful about what he says due to the “political climate” in Seattle.

This worker was illegally parked on top of a curb, half on the sidewalk and half on the street. He wasn’t impeding traffic, and I assumed he’s allowed to park this way. He’s not.

“If I park it [illegally], I own it,” he said. “I can park in a 30-minute load/unload and get a free pass for the 30 minutes. But we have to get creative sometimes…” if he’s to perform his job in an efficient way.

He acknowledges that sometimes the illegal parking jobs can be dangerous, which he always tries to avoid. Still, I’ve seen other city vehicles in spots that could be deemed dangerous, blocking parts of a private parking lot exit or getting in the way of pedestrians right of way.

This worker is clearly not the only one annoyed by this, but “there’s no one to complain to.” City staffers, of course, aren’t the only ones negatively impacted.

What does this mean

As the City of Seattle continues to move towards as close to a car-free city as they can get away with, drivers aren’t necessarily changing their habits enough to address the parking concerns; they’re certainly not keeping up with the pace that Seattle is trying to force. Seattle leaders continue to push bike-only lanes, removing parking spots where you need them most, and allow apartment complexes to be built without any parking stalls. People still hold onto the cars, taking up the free spots where they can find them.

In the meantime, it’s putting a general strain on workers who rely on their car to pay the rent.

Some can’t find parking when they’re required to drop off products or materials. Ari Hoffman runs Amusements on Demand and when delivering heavy bounce houses, they can’t even find an open spot or unloading zone.

“Sometimes we can’t unload nearby and have to walk blocks with a heavy load and dolly,” Hoffman explained. “We sometimes spend an extra 30 minutes in traffic. Deliveries can take and extra hour of hauling and setting up attractions that weigh hundreds of pounds that we now have to push around entire blocks.”

This topic has been one that Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly has tackled over his years covering local issues.  

“I need my job for reporting political and other stories, and covering events,” Connelly tells me. “As a ‘media type’ I’ve learned that the quality of a story is often related to the distance you are from the office. As well, in Seattle, I get constant bumpy reminders of the job that SDOT is doing. I travel arterials affixed with ‘Fix This Street’ signs during the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy campaign, which still haven’t been fixed. I catch regular rants about my car dependency, in a couple of cases from people who previously ranted about my spending too much time at the office.”

So, after a maddening drive, let’s add finding a parking spot to the stresses of his day.

Others, like AJ Schofield, works two jobs. Sometimes, because he can’t find parking, he’s always scared he’ll be late for one of his shifts.

“Parking in Eastlake is awful,” says Schofield, a board operator at KTTH and a bartender. “I’ve spent up to 20 minutes circling trying to find a spot, only to likely have to move my car after two hours because everything is zoned. SoDo isn’t too bad — yet. I just have to compete with RVs for the limited street spots available.”

Some transit activists usually argue you should turn to transit. For many, that simply doesn’t work.

“I don’t have enough time between shifts for the bus,” Schofield argues. “And it would add about an hour onto my already long commute.”

It’s a point not lost on Jonathan Hopkins, Executive Director of Commute Seattle, a transit activist group. He admits “…it’s very true that some people have no choice but to drive, whether they’re making deliveries, drive with their construction equipment, or don’t have other options where they live.”

However, citing a recent study, Hopkins argues “Seattle actually has 1.6 million parking spaces—far more parking than there are households or even parking users.” He tells the Jason Rantz Show:

In fact, downtown has over half a million parking spaces and records only a 64 percent occupancy rate during the day. There are over 500,000 parking spaces in downtown garages, which exceeds the needs of our 82,000 downtown residents and 262,000 workers (only 25 percent of which drive alone, translating to 66,500 single occupancy cars per day). As a result, there’s only 64 percent occupancy of downtown parking spaces, implying that at any given moment there are nearly 200,000 parking spaces available somewhere in the center city.

Read Hopkins’ full response here.

To cite this study in the context of worker complaints, however, is misleading. And let’s be clear: the study authors goal is to make it easier to build more housing and commercial real estate without being forced to build more parking spots.

The bulk of the off-street structured parking is in the downtown core and the parking we do have is “unevenly distributed throughout the city.” They also count parking spots as private parking garages and driveways. You won’t be able to use that private driveway when circling the streets of Eastlake looking for a spot to get to work. On-street parking — the kind that complaining workers would utilize — only account for less than one-third of the parking available.

RELATED: Study says there’s two parking spaces per person in Seattle

“As for on-street parking, we are a popular city and there will never be enough space along curbs for all the people coming into downtown,” Hopkins argues. “And trying to accommodate all cars along the curb shouldn’t be a priority…”

Hopkins argues the private sector offers “more than enough parking off street, so why should the government be providing more of it?” He argues that off-street parking is not the best use of space because it “could otherwise be used to move people or serve freight and package delivery.”

There’s also a push by the city and activists to get people completely out of their cars, and onto transit and bikes. Though more people getting off the road will open up parking spots, not enough people are getting off the road — and, at the same time, the city is taking away parking spots.

“My main problem with mass transportation is that it doesn’t go where I need when I need it,” a Boeing security guard told me. When he comes to Seattle he complains “…it is a nightmare.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9am on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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