Parking has been called, in a strange mixed metaphor, the “third rail” of Seattle politics. As I mentioned, I think of parking as more of a defining opportunity. The dissonance between what we think is factual and what we feel gives us a chance to make some defining choices. Seattle’s land use code is built on the idea that the City should intervene on where people store their cars, how many car storage spaces should be required, and how big those car storage spaces should be.
The code (23. 54) divides car storage into non-residential, residential, and institutional zones. Each zone has requirements. For example, the non-residential entertainment use has this requirement:
|B.3.||Entertainment Uses, general, except as noted below (1)||For public assembly areas: 1 space for each 8 fixed seats, or 1 space for each 100 square feet of public assembly area not containing fixed seats|
Here’s the requirement for a multifamily use:
|L.||Multifamily residential uses within the University of Washington parking impact area shown on Map A for 23.54.015(1)||1 space per dwelling unit for dwelling units with fewer than two bedrooms; plus 1.5 spaces per dwelling units with 2 or more bedrooms; plus .25 spaces per bedroom for dwelling units with 3 or more bedrooms|
Institutional uses have their own requirements:
|I.||Libraries (1) (6)||1 space for each 80 square feet of floor area of all auditoria and public meeting rooms; plus 1 space for each 500 square feet of floor area, excluding auditoria and public meeting rooms|
In each case there is an attempt to require parking on some kind of estimate of demand. But it’s kind of arbitrary isn’t it. What about 500 square feet of library space means that it will generate the demand for one parking space. The answer is nothing. You’d do just as well to require a parking space for every 20,000 pages of printed material.
In many ways, the same is true for all the requirements based on use: they have almost nothing to do with what drives parking demand. Frankly, I don’t know what drives parking demand. If I did I guess I’d be running a parking lot empire.
The code also lays out how big the spots should be.
1. Residential Uses.
a. When five or fewer parking spaces are provided, the minimum required size of a parking space shall be for a medium car, as described in subsection A2 of this Section 23.54.030, except as provided in subsection 23.54.030.B.1.d.
What is a “medium car?” How do we know just how big all those cars needing storage will be? Again, the attempt is to somehow figure out what might be reasonable, make a requirement, and the leave some escape hatches and exemptions as needed.
All this is pretty reasonable in some ways. There are parking experts and I would guess that if I was to build 100 units of housing it would be reasonable that each unit would need about 1.5 units of car storage. Some people drive, some people don’t. Some people might have more than one car. Let’s just say 1.5 and call it good.
But the problem is that none of this corresponds to parking reality. Why not count all the cars in Seattle and then mandate that many spots citywide? Maybe we need more than that or less. I can’t think of any other product and service that is so heavily regulated and by standards that don’t seem to correspond to how the market actually works. Taxi cabs are probably up there.
Two more things, curb cuts and loading spaces. Curb cuts matter a lot. They matter because they are the way that cars and trucks get in and out of a lot. They also present a hazard to pedestrians.
This also seems a stretch. How does one determine how many curb cuts make sense? Projects are so different and configured in such unique ways, how can the City sensibly regulate these with such an arbitrary scheme?
And lastly, loading zones. One of the things that popped into my mind is the classic opening of the movie Airplane, where the two announcers talking about loading and unloading at the airport get into an argument.
“Listen Betty, don’t start up with your ‘white zone’ shit again.” If only the parking section of the code was as entertaining.
Don’t take my snarking about parking as a critique of the good folks at DPD or even at City Council. How does one regulate parking? How exactly should the City determine where people should park, for how long, how big the spots are, and how many curb cuts there should be? The answer ends up being a guess.
That’s why I go back to my philosophical post. Why not just get out of the business of regulating parking all together? Remove all regulations and just let people have a go at it? Imagine if the City just let private property owners decide how much parking to offer or whether to offer parking at all. Some might over build their parking. That would lower prices. Others might realize that parking is expensive to build and manage and they’d rather use their money and land for something else more lucrative.
I can’t think of single good reason why the City is regulating parking. Can you? Revenue? To prevent total chaos? Help me out in the comments. I really want to know why we ought not just delete this entire chapter and allow the free market to have its way with parking. Perhaps we should drastically limit or “cap and trade” parking capacity. Those are interesting ideas, too. But at least the idea of gradually reducing free on street parking has a sustainable policy goal as an outcome. Managing parking supply and demand seems like a bad use of the our regulatory authority.