Being a public-sector employee, I understand just as well as anyone the dire financial situation our local municipalities are in, due to substantially lower revenues from sales, property, utility, real estate excise other taxes. And I am all for creative solutions. Keep ‘em coming!
But I have to agree with Kemper Freeman, Jr., that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s plan to hike Downtown on-street parking rates is ill advised. There is no doubt that it would raise needed revenues. And if you’ve driven the obstacle course of potholes that our local streets have become, you certainly can’t argue that SDOT needs more revenue. But a healthy, thriving and competitive retail sector is crucial to the continued success of one of this nation’s most successful downtowns. Parking for $4 an hour is a mighty high rate. In fact, it would be one of the highest in the country.
Is it high enough to scare away retail shoppers, restaurant-goers, theater-goers, etc.? That’s hard to say, but is it worth the gamble?
In the early 1990s, during Downtown Seattle’s possibly darkest period, after the closing of several venerable retail establishments, not the least of which was Frederick & Nelson, I served on a task force convened by Mayor Rice. The objective of that task force was to study Downtown parking options. Without going into detail about our findings, the prevailing notion was that there were enough obstacles to retail’s success in Downtown, and parking rates (something the City could actually control) should not be another!
We should not rest on the laurels of our recent successes Downtown by assuming that the retail community is so rock-solid that it can withstand yet another blow after the Great Recession. If substantially increased hourly parking rates deter retail visitors, that could be the proverbial last straw for many retailers.
Portland, a city we often look to enviously for its innovative and progressive ways, has both an easily accessible system of public parking garages, as well as an affordable set of parking rates, due to an aggressive validation campaign.
Perhaps we should look to our neighbors for some creative ideas. Perhaps the $4/hour parking rate would be palatable if there were an ambitious new validation system. Perhaps a more modest hike in parking rates would pass under the radar, yielding more revenue without scaring away customers. I’m sure there are many ideas that perhaps a new Downtown parking task force could take under advisement. The Mayor would do well to consider convening such a task force before a unilateral parking-rate hike.