Find Posts By Topic

Right-sizing citation fees

If you’re walking or biking to work, busing to school, driving goods across town, or enjoying a meal at a sidewalk café, you’re using a shared public resource known as the right-of-way.


The right-of-way is the space above, below, and at the surface of places like public streets, sidewalks, alleys, planting strips, and alleys. Occupying nearly 30% of Seattle’s total land area, the right-of-way is used in many ways.


Naturally, careful management of these spaces is essential to keep Seattle moving; however, it’s especially important as we work through the Seattle Squeeze – the period of the next five years where private and public construction projects will put pressure on our transportation system.


Issuing permits for activities that impact how the right-of-way is used is to everyone’s benefit.


We have a team (our Street Use Division) that oversee this process.



When we first adopted citations for violations of Street Use permits in 2002, the impacts on the right-of-way, whether construction-related or not, were considerably different from what they are today.


Since then, we’ve made some minor updates to our citation penalties, but we’ve not done an overall review of them until this year.


In our review, we found that penalties are lower than the cost of obtaining a typical permit to use the right-of-way for construction or utility work. Meaning, there’s little incentive to obtain a permit. Additionally, citation fees are the same in all parts of the city and do not account for the higher and lower impact activities.


Seattle’s South Lake Union street market (Photo by Jeanne Clark)


With this in mind –


We drafted a proposal to update our penalties to achieve a few goals:


  1. Make our citation penalties more equitable.
  2. Create an escalation scale before issuing a stop-work order.
  3. Simplify the penalty sections of the Street Use code.


Now that we’ve completed this work, we’re sending it to the Seattle City Council for their consideration at the Sustainability and Transportation committee meeting on 9/17. Our proposal provides essential updates which we outline below.


A sidewalk cafe is on a public right-of-way.


As part of the legislative package, we’d adjust our citation penalty amounts & create a schedule for violators of Title 15 (Street & Sidewalk Use) of the Seattle Municipal Code.


Penalty amounts are based on the type of right-of-way use and nearby zoning to ensure that the fees encourage people to get the necessary permits and adhere to the requirements, while not disproportionately affecting individuals and small business owners. To keep the proposed fee scale flexible, we’ll ask that the amounts be adjusted annually with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).


A community garden growing in a planting strip (the public right-of-way). Photo by Jeanne Clark


We’re proposing to lower penalties for certain permitted activities (such as vending, sidewalk cafés, block parties, urban forestry, & building maintenance), while increasing penalties for utility permit & code violations.


We’re not asking for any changes to penalties for construction permit and code violations in single-family zones, though we’re requesting an increase in all other zones. With these changes, we hope to help minimize lopsided impacts on small and minority-owned businesses. Here are our proposed changes:



By making these changes, we hope most people will run into fewer un-permitted uses of the right-of-way. Otherwise, only people and businesses working without a permit or outside the terms & conditions of their permit should be affected.


Bicyclists on a bike path and sidewalk (bike paths and sidewalks are public right-of-ways). Photo by Jeanne Clark


We hope to adopt the new fees in early October.

Please send any questions or concerns that you may have to