Mike McGinn, the bicycling mayor, is counting on cars to salvage the city's transportation fund.

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Mike McGinn, the bicycling mayor, is counting on cars to salvage the city’s transportation fund.

His budget proposals, released Monday, would affect anyone who drives into downtown and the other busiest neighborhoods, through higher taxes and meter fees of $4 an hour in and near downtown. Even the residential parking zone fee would increase for street parking in certain neighborhoods. And that’s in addition to a likely $20 car-tab fee.

Why look to parked cars for money in a weak economy? Because people have been quite willing to put up with parking-fee boosts the past few years — and the city sees a potential gain of at least $20 million next year.

On the other hand, business groups worry that higher rates might deter some shoppers from heading downtown.

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“The unintended consequence of this is, we make the rates so high we discourage people from coming downtown, and spending their sales tax,” said Jon Scholes, advocacy director for the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), which represents business interests.

The new money would fill a $9 million pothole in transportation funds and would allow a $1.5 million yearly contribution to a new South Park bridge.

Some of the new parking funds would be available to accelerate bicycling, pedestrian and transit projects, to satisfy the mayor’s green political base.

The City Council will adopt a budget later this year.

On the street

Sundays would no longer be free for parking in Belltown, downtown, Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International District, but would remain free in other areas.

No longer could sports fans stake out a curbside spot for a Sunday ballgame, for more than the 2-hour meter limit.

“The solution is probably for the fans to be looking for off-street parking, longterm parking,” said Mike Estey, city traffic-control programs manager.

City staff and the DSA have heard from retailers who want spaces to “turn over” more often so more customers can reach their shops and restaurants.

Certain neighborhoods, such as Pike/Pine, would have metered parking until 8 p.m. instead of the current 6 p.m., through the busy after-work time at bars and restaurants, Estey said.

Meter prices of $2.50 per hour in the central city would rise to $4, while other areas would take a 50-cent boost.

Scholes said he doesn’t believe the city has analyzed possible effects on parking behavior, or held a serious discussion of long-term parking policies.

McGinn has said higher prices for street parking would free up parking slots more often, so drivers would circle the block less, reducing congestion and emissions.

McGinn’s budget overview this week calls for curbside rates to rise closer to market levels; lots often charge $7 to $8 the first hour.

“The city could be leaving a few million on the table downtown,” at only $4 per hour, suspects David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club.

Craig Benjamin, local Sierra Club conservation program coordinator, praised the proposal. The mayor’s plan taxes behavior that contributes to global warming and toxic runoff, Benjamin said, while subsidizing clean transportation modes.

McGinn did offer an olive branch this summer to the DSA, providing $2.5 million to launch “e-Park,” an electronic sign network that tells incoming drivers how many spaces are open at six downtown garages.

Seattle ranks ninth nationally in central city parking-garage rates, at a median of $25 per day, according to an annual survey by Colliers International.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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