Sure some people need a car. But the more we choose other ways to get around — even when it’s less convenient — the better off we all are.
There’s a basic truth most people arrive at after living on Capitol Hill for a while: Free street parking doesn’t exist.
The first couple of years after I moved to the Hill in 2010 — with one car between my boyfriend and me and no private parking space — I would kid myself that there must be an elusive spot, somewhere on one of the less-crowded streets. I got really good at parallel parking in ridiculously tight spaces and pulling out desperate parking Hail Marys — such as making a sudden U-turn in the middle of the block to claim a just-opened spot or renting a Car2Go just to move it to a smaller spot and make room for the real car.
Nowadays, the parking despair that was once isolated to Capitol Hill and a few other neighborhoods has spread across Seattle. As Seattle Times Pacific NW magazine editor Bill Reader lamented in Sunday’s feature, “On-street parking? You’re dead to me. It’s gone, it doesn’t exist, forget it.”
Acceptance is the final stage in overcoming a loss, and it sounds like Reader is on the right track. Once you get over the fact that you live in a big city, things become a bit simpler.
Yes, some people need a car to taxi their kids around town or take a parent to the doctor. But most of us could use our own cars less by making some sacrifices, such as riding the bus even when it takes longer than driving, or choosing dentists and piano teachers closer to home. When people choose not to drive and find another way to get from Point A to Point B, it frees up the roads for drivers who absolutely have no other option.
These days, I get around via walking or busing, with an occasional Lyft or Car2Go trip thrown in the mix. I try to avoid driving my car in the city at all costs. (I would get rid of it in a heartbeat if I didn’t regularly use it to get to the mountains.) On the rare occasion when I find myself in my car needing to park on the street, I’ve learned to forgo the endless circling and park it overnight on Broadway, which requires walking three blocks to move it before the meter starts at 8 a.m.
Is it inconvenient? Sometimes, yes. But life is about choices and trade-offs. For me, the lack of parking is part of living in a lively, centrally located neighborhood in one of the country’s fastest-growing cities. And during rush hour, alternative modes are often faster than driving.
Do I ever think about moving? Sure. But we didn’t originally choose to live in Capitol Hill because it had ample parking. We chose the Hill because our grocery store is three blocks away and my commute is a 15-minute walk. We enjoy the convenience and sense of community that comes from having parks, bus lines, the library and the local watering hole all within a few blocks. In the end, the convenience of walking everywhere has outweighed the inconvenience of not being able to park anywhere.
Reader’s column included a few jabs at millennials like me: “Not everyone, it turns out, is a childless, 27-year-old triathlete with a high-paying tech job and an aPodment on First Hill.” His stereotype isn’t that far off (for the record, I’m 29, I own a unit in a century-old co-op, and I prefer climbing and skiing to running triathlons), but his frustrations stem as much from his choices as by the city’s growing pains.
Whether it’s possible to raise kids in Seattle is a topic that many of my peers are facing, and the things giving us pause go beyond the availability of parking. More transit, stronger schools and a range of housing types are also needed if Seattle is going to continue to be a family-friendly city. Reader chose the suburbs, which is fine, but for the younger generation, putting down roots anywhere that requires a car commute no longer seems like a sustainable option.
The city’s parking problem isn’t one that can be fixed. It’s a symptom of the challenges accompanying Seattle’s growth: the need for a comprehensive, reliable transportation system and more affordable housing closer to employment centers.
These are the real issues city leadership needs to focus on — not the solo drivers who refuse to pony up the money to park in a paid garage.