Proposed Westlake parking plans cause uproar

Parking along Westlake Avenue North is already a hassle, and it's only going to get worse when the South Lake Union area is redeveloped, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

But an SDOT proposal to fix the mess with paid parking and Residential Parking Zones (RPZs) ran into a solid wall of opposition at a packed lunchtime open house and meeting last week.

No one who spoke at the meeting-not the residents, not the houseboat live-aboards and certainly not the business owners-liked the ideas.

The introduction of paid parking to the area came under especially intense fire, and many at the meeting were wearing Westlake Avenue North Association stickers that read, "No Pay Stations, No Paid Parking."

"We were promised no paid parking unless business owners requested it," said Lynn Reister, a member of the association. "The city is changing its tune here."

SDOT Director Grace Crunican acknowledged that switching from free to paid parking is a controversial move. "It's going to be a tough job," she said.

But the city has to do something because the area is changing, said Crunican, who pointed to the 2007 start-up of the trolley system in the South Lake Union area as one factor.

Even now, the free parking on Westlake attracts motorists who work downtown but don't want to pay for parking there, she said. "We need to make sure residents have access to parking."

Still, the city is trying to balance the needs of everyone who lives and works along the corridor between Valley Street and Westlake as it passes under the Aurora Bridge, according to Crunican. "This is not a one-size-fits-all plan," she stressed.

Wayne Wentz, acting director of traffic management for SDOT, noted that a 2005 study concluded that there are 1,200 parking places along the affected stretch of Westlake. Some of the parking areas are congested; others aren't, he said.

The city's approach to the problem is a novel one, he acknowledged. "We are proposing something much different than we've ever done before," Wentz said.

Indeed, the SDOT proposal includes three distinct areas of parking. Only those with RPZ permits would be allowed to park in RPZ zones at the northern end of Westlake, near where houseboats are moored. The permits cost $35 for two years and would be available only to those who live on the east side of Westlake.

A section south of that and roughly north of McGraw Street would be reserved for RPZs and general parking. Holders of RPZ permits would be able to park there for free, while residents, employees and long-term users would pay 50 cents per hour for up to a week or more at a time.

South of that would become a premium parking area, where the rates would be $1 per hour for up to a week or more at a time and where RPZ-permit holders would have to pay the same as the general public. Parking fees would be collected at new pay stations that feature numbered spots or issue receipts motorists place on their vehicle windows.

The difference in general- and premium-parking cost is called "performance-based pricing," Wentz said. Parking places in high demand would turn over more because the fee is higher, but the goal is to achieve an 85 percent occupancy rate, he explained.

There are signs on Westlake that limit parking in one place for one or two hours, but that method of ensuring turnover "never, never works," Wentz said.

That's not strictly true, according to Vicki Boyd, a psychologist who has had a practice on Westlake for 14 years. "If I come in (to work) after 9 o'clock, I'm doomed," she said of finding an unrestricted space.

That leaves her only the time-restricted spots, and Boyd said she has to run out, move and spend a fair amount of time finding a new spot. Otherwise, Boyd is facing the possibility of a $36 parking ticket, she said.

Crunican denied it, but one man who spoke at the meeting complained that the parking proposals were all about the city making money from business owners, residents and boat owners at Westlake marinas. "Why don't you just issue these people permits and have paid parking for visitors?" he wondered.

The answer is simple: because it involves public rights of way, according to Wentz. "Our state does not allow us to do that," he said.

A man who lives in the area designated for premium parking groused that the city would be discriminating against him with the new parking proposals. Wentz denied that, saying, "If you want guaranteed free parking, you have to go to the nearest free parking area."

A man who has moored his boat on Lake Union for the past decade complained that recently completed improvements on Westlake are drawing outsiders to the area, but he also had a more fundamental objection. "To me," the man said, "paid parking destroys the character of the community."

A restaurateur at the meeting said a lot of his staff won't be able to afford paid parking, and he complained that since many of them are Spanish-speakers, they have no idea what's going on.

It was a complaint echoed in part by Reister from the Westlake Avenue North Association. Members of the association have been left out of the loop by the city, she said. "We formed just to be able to have a voice here," Reister added. "They haven't involved us in the decision-making."

Wentz said SDOT had already received more than 300 public comments about the parking problem on Westlake, but Reister urged the city to have a series of meetings involving all the stakeholders on Westlake.

"Yes, we will meet with you some more," said SDOT director Crunican, who noted that the comment deadline is July 7. But that doesn't mean an end to discussions, she added.

Comments can be directed to Mary Catherine Snyder at 684-8110 or

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]