Take a time machine back to before the new millennium, and drivers may appreciate the three-day parking limit a bit more — the city’s previous law required people to move their vehicles every 24 hours.
Gregory Scruggs, 31, of Capitol Hill, uses his Subaru Outback only for weekend trips to the mountains or for occasional drives during the week. Otherwise, he says, the car stays parked and he gets around by foot.
But even for low-key drivers like him, parking in Seattle remains front of mind: A city law forbids cars to stay parked on the same block for longer than three days.
To answer, we dived into The Seattle Times archives to research the on-street parking rule’s history — the city’s former law required drivers to move their vehicles every 24 hours — and looked at how Seattle police enforce it.
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The 72-hour parking limit does not apply to metered spots or places with, for instance, two-hour limits. Authorized vehicles, such as police cars or medics, are exempt.
Take a time machine back to before the new millennium, Scruggs, and your criticism of the three-day rule may turn to appreciation.
The current city code (11.72.440) replaced the former 24-hour policy in 2000 as part of officials’ push to incentivize public transportation and give drivers more flexibility.
“I would be mad as all get-out if I took the bus to work and I came home and had a ticket on my car,” City Councilman Richard McIver, the ordinance’s author, said at the time. McIver died in 2013.
Supporters shared Scruggs’ perspective about how the parking rule affects people who do not rely heavily on their cars.
A city transportation official said “requiring people to move their cars every day … is a burden for those who use their cars infrequently and who wish to commute by bus, car pool or other nonauto modes of transportation,” The Seattle Times reported in September 2000.
Critics expressed concern that the change would lead to more abandoned cars on neighborhood streets.
And, in short, that remains why the 72-hour parking rule is in effect.
“City leaders’ intent in passing this ordinance is to prevent the storage of junk and abandoned vehicles on city streets,” Seattle Department of Transportation spokeswoman Mafara Hobson wrote in an email.
Scruggs is not the first person, though, to suggest a longer parking limit.
A 2008 Seattle Times story featured a man living in vehicles in Queen Anne who suggested the city extend the 72-hour rule to a week, citing the money he spent on gas to move the cars every three days.
Local municipalities in Washington decide for themselves if or to what extent they want to limit on-street parking. Bellevue, for instance, prohibits parking longer than 24 hours on public streets. Some states, such as California, with a 72-hour rule, have laws that apply statewide.
As for enforcing the parking rule, Seattle police spokesman Patrick Michaud said officers typically rely on reports from citizens. People can make those calls by using the department’s nonemergency line, 206-625-5011.
He said officers tend to use the “chalk method” to verify a vehicle’s parking time, which requires tagging a tire and then checking if the mark is in the same spot when they return later. Or, officers take electronic notes for tracking parked cars.
“We can leave a note in our computer system,” Michaud said. So “when we go back out there we can see it and verify how long the car has been there.”
Violators of the 72-hour rule face $44 tickets and the risk of getting their vehicles towed, costing upward of hundreds of dollars.
The Seattle Municipal Code also prohibits RVs, tractor trailers and large trucks from parking on streets or in alleys outside of industrial areas between midnight and 6 a.m.
An ordinance being developed by Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, however, could loosen rules on parking for people living in their vehicles. The city in recent months opened one “safe lot” for RVs to park without risking fines or towing as part of its efforts to address homelessness. Officials backed out of plans for more lots amid rising costs.
As for added vehicle emissions, the bigger issue in Seattle is motorists driving around in search of parking in general — not just to escape the three-day rule.
Drivers here spend an average 58 hours each year looking for a parking space, which is more than triple the time for Americans on average, according to a study by Kirkland-based INRIX. That time ranks No. 5 highest among the nation’s largest cities.
That extra driving costs an average motorist about $1,200 in “wasted time, fuel and emissions” annually, the report says.
But understanding Seattle’s rules on parking, like the 72-hour on-street limit, will mitigate some hassles of driving in our increasingly congested city.
Also, per city rules, drivers must move their cars off a block for a while once the parking time limit there expires. And motor vehicles, whether parking or making brief stops, must steer clear of bike lanes.
Got a question for Traffic Lab?
If you have a question or idea for us, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may feature it in an upcoming column.
Last week, we took a look at the city’s law aiming to keep vehicles out of designated bicycle lanes. The week before, we tackled questions about Metro Transit’s bus service and routine for cleaning stops, as well as the rules for Seattle’s traffic circles.