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Update on parking rates in Chinatown/International District

Last year, following direction given to us by the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) took a look at our policies for setting on-street parking rates. A key goal, agreed upon by the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, was to increase access to businesses and services by ensuring that, on average, one or two parking spots on each block are open at any given time. When people know that they can drive to the area and find a spot quickly, they are more likely to come and shop or dine out.

We reviewed what was actually happening neighborhood by neighborhood. What we found was that in some neighborhoods, including Chinatown/International District, on-street parking demand in the evenings was so high that there were never open parking spaces. That led to individuals clogging traffic searching for on-street parking before having to give up and pay higher private rates.

We also heard concerns from the neighborhood that sports fans park in the neighborhood after 6 PM and leave their vehicles there all evening to attend a game, taking up spaces that might otherwise be used by patrons of local businesses and restaurants.

Based on the approved policy and the data we collected in our parking study, we extended paid parking in several neighborhoods, including Chinatown/International District, to 8 PM in August 2011. The cost of parking in Chinatown/International District remained the same at $2.50 per hour.

Last month a group of Chinatown/International District business owners contacted SDOT and the Mayor’s Office to express their concerns about the impact of the new parking hours on their businesses.

We take these concerns seriously. We are committed to supporting our neighborhood businesses, and we are committed to getting our parking policies right.

After receiving the letter, staff from SDOT, the Mayor’s Office (including Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith), and the Office of Economic Development (OED) came together to work with the neighborhood to address these concerns. We have met with neighborhood stakeholders to better understand how parking is working and what steps could be taken to address any problems.

We started by looking at what the data tells us. Data collected in September 2011 showed that the new evening parking hours in Chinatown/International District are achieving the intended results.  The City Council approved policy calls for parking spaces to be occupied between 65% and 83% of the time. Parking occupancy at 7:00 PM was measured at 78%, right in the target range of one to two open spaces. Data from our pay stations also shows transactions per day have been consistent in Chinatown/International District since September.  This preliminary data is consistent with data we’ve seen in the other neighborhoods where parking was extended to 8 PM in 2011.

In order to get a better understanding of this issue, City staff and neighborhood stakeholders are working together on two surveys designed to gather high-quality information about the on-street parking situation and restaurant customers who park in the neighborhood, as well as the questions to ask people on issues affecting businesses in general.

We will be conducting a business intercept survey in collaboration with other City departments and neighborhood stakeholders to determine how people are getting to Chinatown/International district and how parking policies affect their decisions. These surveys will take place in March and will be conducted by EMC research in multiple languages.

Also in March we will perform another parking occupancy survey of the Chinatown-International District. OED will reach out to businesses and will work with us to determine what other data points need to be gathered. As with all other paid parking neighborhoods, if parking occupancy is outside the target range, we will make adjustments.

This data will help us understand how parking rates are affecting businesses. We are also working with neighborhood stakeholders to address all the forces at work that affect businesses in the Chinatown/International District. We intend to talk to business and restaurant owners to better understand the challenges they face. We’re also scheduling tours of the neighborhood so we can take a closer look at the area’s parking, transportation and other needs. And we will continue working with stakeholders to address other neighborhood issues that may be contributing to fewer people coming to the neighborhood and enjoying the restaurants located there.

Parking management is just one way to address access issues in support of businesses in Chinatown/International District. Later this spring we will be breaking ground on the First Hill Streetcar, a $130 million project which will connect the neighborhood to Pioneer Square, First Hill, and Capitol Hill. Sound Transit’s Chinatown/International District Link light rail station is also located nearby, providing another affordable option for getting to and from the neighborhood.