Rantz: Seattle takes parking, threatens to tow during coronavirus stay-at-home order

Apr 13, 2020, 9:48 PM | Updated: Apr 14, 2020, 8:22 am

Without any direct notice to residents, Seattle Department of Transportation confiscated street parking during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

While the cause is worthwhile, the execution is an embarrassing reminder both of how little the city cares for drivers and how important details often escape them.

To ensure area hospitals or clinics have access to parking, SDOT began placing signs on residential streets reserving spots for hospital staff, under threat of tow. Only, SDOT didn’t tell anyone they were doing this, needlessly causing panic. And one nonprofit they’re serving already appears to have a parking lot.

Coronavirus stay-at-home towing

In South Lake Union, SDOT took over both sides of a street near Mercer to accommodate nearby Mary’s Place Family Diversion Center (this is a great organization and you should consider a donation). A handful of nearby residents parked on the street found a number of traffic barricades with notices reading “No parking”.

SDOT attached a “notice of parking change” flyer saying the spots are now “hospital staff parking only.” Park in the spot? You will be towed.

The threat of towing is bizarre. Residents are told to stay in their homes unless it’s absolutely essential to leave. If you didn’t leave your home on April 8, when the signs were posted, you faced towing. But there was no way for you to know that particular street would be confiscated for hospital parking (especially since there’s not a hospital on that block).

No notice

Did SDOT spend an extra 47 seconds to leave flyers with the lobby staff at the nearby apartments most likely impacted by the parking confiscation? I was told by one apartment complex staffer that they didn’t get any notice.

While the parking program was generally announced via SDOT’s widely-unread blog on March 26 (which mostly copy/pasted a mayoral press release), SDOT didn’t put up any flyers warning of the coming changes. That would have shown some semblance of consideration to drivers. SDOT can’t do that. They have a reputation to uphold.

Were any cars towed? It’s unclear (though unlikely since there doesn’t appear to be any enforcement of the rules). The Joint Information Center (JIC) ignored my direct question on towing, but did note that you can park elsewhere without being subject to paid parking signs outside of permit parking zones, a position they dragged their feet before announcing.

Rantz: I’m embarrassed by Seattle Department of Transportation

The reserved spots are always empty. Seriously, always

It’s unclear if the city even told Mary’s Place that the spots are for them.

Mary’s Place isn’t a hospital, but a JIC supervisor told me the confiscated spots were “to support about a dozen healthcare workers” providing a “daily health assessment” at the location.

The street can accommodate about a dozen or so cars but, with two exceptions, the spots are always empty. Literally, every single reserved spot is empty at all times, day and night.

It seems hard to imagine Mary’s Place would ever need all 12 spots on the street. Only two cars have been parked in spots on the street since last Wednesday. They likely belong to residents of one of the five nearby apartment complexes. They’re likely abiding by the stay-at-home order. I hope the drivers don’t get towed.

The only other cars on the block over the last several days: The KTTH station vehicle I temporarily parked there to take a picture and a moving truck for new renters that parked in a loading zone for a couple hours.

Perhaps the spots aren’t used because there’s a parking lot attached to Mary’s Place — also with some empty spots.

Botched a good idea

I like the idea of reserving spots for health care workers, even though in this particular case they’re stretching the intent of the program pretty dramatically. Not to mention, there are almost always open spots on this block or the surrounding ones. And, of course, the only time the city cares about drivers is during a pandemic. Outside of the coronavirus crisis, I guess Mayor Jenny Durkan and SDOT don’t really care about your struggles to find a parking spot in this city.

Still, it’s a worthy, well-intentioned plan and I’m glad they did it. It’s just too bad SDOT was so utterly incompetent with their execution.

If SDOT cared one iota about drivers, they’d take even the most basic of efforts to let them know their plans on the block. They spent time putting up the traffic barricades. They couldn’t spend an extra couple minutes putting up flyers or giving some notice to nearby apartment staff? It would literally be the least they could do to get the word out.

Instead, they put up the barricades during the coronavirus stay-at-home order and left, giving a resident a near panic-attack when they thought they might have been ticketed for parking in a suddenly-confiscated spot. And clearly SDOT put no thought into the consequences of taking up an entire block’s worth of spots from a densely populated part of South Lake Union.

Thoughtful thoughtlessness

The city obviously didn’t realize there are usually open spots in this area. And unless the attached parking lot to Mary’s Place is a shared lot, the city doesn’t appear to know the building has access to parking. If they did, they wouldn’t have confiscated an entire block. You don’t reserve spots, when spots are always open or not in demand, even during a coronavirus stay-at-home order.

So the city thought healthcare workers doing a daily check-up at Mary’s Place might have a hard time finding parking. Fair enough. That means they should also know about 12 drivers will then struggle to find parking near their apartment, now that they’ve been pushed out of their spots.

The city offered no recommendations on where to park. I called the number on the flyer and the friendly customer service representative said SDOT didn’t give them any details. So they’ve displaced 12 drivers for healthcare workers who don’t even use the spots, certainly not consistently, and definitely not at once.

Same ole, same ole

I’m obviously not surprised. SDOT has little regard for drivers, even during a coronavirus stay-at-home order.

Their traffic engineer normally spends his days posting tweets about sidewalk design while traffic gets worse. And many of the employees responsible for ensuring traffic isn’t too congested don’t own cars, so they don’t really understand what it’s like to drive in Seattle. It’s a big reason why traffic is so horrific.

But every once and a while I keep hoping they’ll just do the basics in at least telling us about their plans. And during a pandemic, I don’t know how many people wanted to deal with the stress, however ephemeral, of wondering if they’ll find a parking ticket on their windshield, having just lost hours at work due to the coronavirus.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter.

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Rantz: Seattle takes parking, threatens to tow during coronavirus stay-at-home order