Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is going after raising the cost of parking from every angle.
Years ago I lived in Washington, D.C., where the running joke was that everything was broken except the parking enforcement.
They couldn’t manage to pick up garbage on schedule or process all the bodies at the morgue. But for some reason the writing of parking tickets was dispatched with Swiss efficiency.
D.C. has the same population as Seattle. Yet D.C. hands out three times as many parking tickets. The parking enforcers are so aggressive I once pulled into a spot and had a ticket slapped on my windshield before I could get out to feed the meter. (OK, I was dithering inside, listening to the end of a radio report, but still.)
They’d ticket your car if it was an inch too close to a driveway. They ruthlessly ticketed cars parked at broken meters, ignoring plaintive notes. Notoriously their meter maids had quotas, requiring them to write 90 tickets per day — one every five minutes.
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The mood was of a City Hall at war with its citizens. I know that sounds exaggerated, because parking is hardly life-or-death. But there was something about the zeal with which that city pursued you that left you feeling put-upon and beleaguered — even when you were doing nothing wrong.
Feels like where Seattle’s headed, Cindy Jarvis says.
Jarvis runs a hair salon, Salon Ciba, at First and Bell in Belltown. She’s been there 24 years — long enough that the big worry when she moved in was that Seattle’s downtown areas were doomed to be perpetual ghost towns.
Her customers have always parked on the street. If the appointments run long, her staff runs out to feed the meters. So she has a daily read on the state of Seattle parking.
“They’re starting to punish people for coming into Seattle,” she says. “That’s what it feels like to me.”
The number of parking tickets issued in Seattle, citywide, has jumped 23.5 percent in the past five years to more than 500,000.
The total fines levied are projected to jump 17 percent this year alone.
On top of that, Mayor Mike McGinn is proposing to raise the street-parking rate downtown by 60 percent, to $4 an hour — making Seattle more expensive for street parking than Manhattan.
The mayor also wants to extend paid parking hours until 8 p.m. on weekdays, instead of cutting it off at 6 p.m., and to end free parking on Sundays. At the same time, the parking-enforcement division in Seattle is about the only sector of local government that’s growing, adding 20 new officers since 2008.
Is there some crisis in Seattle parking that’s prompting all this?
The city argues that charging more and handing out more tickets will serve to make parking more convenient. Because there will be more open spots.
Jarvis says, and I’d have to agree, that this is a little like burning the village in order to save it. It’s not that tough to find parking on the street now. This isn’t about our convenience.
“It’s about the money,” she said. “I get that they have budget problems. But don’t we all?”
Of course there are congestion and environmental reasons why parking shouldn’t be free. But outpricing Manhattan?
“They sure aren’t making it any easier to be a business in this city,” she said
Or a resident. Speaking of which, that same Manhattan (top street-parking rate: $2.50 an hour) has a new law that gives its parkers a five-minute grace period. Rush out and your meter has just expired? No worries. Even in cutthroat New York City, they’ll give you slack.
I know, five minutes isn’t much. But being cut any slack at all — that’s priceless.
That’s all I’m asking, Seattle City Hall. Don’t be like the other Washington. Cut us a little slack.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.