Livable Green Lake

– Greater Awareness of the Impact of Growth in the Green Lake Community –

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has dropped a proposal to create a restricted parking zone (RPZ) around the Green Lake business district. The department summarized their decision in a letter sent to the community on September 9:

Because a majority of comments from the public hearing, online survey and emails to us reflected lack of support for this new zone, SDOT will not install an RPZ in the Green Lake neighborhood.

The idea for the Green Lake RPZ originated with the Green Lake Community Council, which in July 2014 asked SDOT to study its feasibility. In response, SDOT created a draft RPZ proposal and used feedback from a fall 2015 online survey to refine the plan further before presenting it at a public meeting at Green Lake in April 2016 for a final decision.

According to SDOT’s Ruth Harper, out of the 173 responses collected in the survey for the initial RPZ proposal, 121 had a “discernable” opinion. Those results are shown here:

Cleary, businesses found little to like about an RPZ. However, that shouldn’t be a surprise, since a daytime RPZ makes parking even harder to find for customers and employees who drive. And this includes workers who drive to jobs inside the large mixed-use complexes like Green Lake Village that provide underground parking—parking which is restricted to customers and residential tenants.

The opposition from residents—nearly 43% of that group—is less clear, although some of it likely came from individuals who wanted to see RPZ extended to their streets. This is indicated in the more detailed feedback collected from the April 2016 public hearing for the revised RPZ plan:

However, what is clear is that people gave the revised RPZ plan markedly worse reviews than the original proposal it was meant to improve upon as seen here:

How is that possible? Here are some observations:

  • The online survey conducted in fall 2015 to assess the initial RPZ plan and the April 2016 public hearing used to gather feedback for the revised RPZ plan were not rigorous, and it’s problematic whether either provided an accurate assessment of neighborhood sentiment. Moreover, the two surveys were done using entirely different methods—one was an online survey, the other required attending a meeting—so it’s also questionable whether they gathered feedback from similar audiences.1
  • The revised RPZ plan presented at the April 2016 public hearing differed from the initial RPZ proposal in several significant—and somewhat perplexing—ways. The revised plan increased the number of streets designated as RPZ. However, it also now restricted that zoning to one side of a street—the original plan included both sides—and so reduced the overall RPZ capacity despite the addition of more RPZ streets. As a result, the revised RPZ plan significantly reduced the ratio of individuals eligible for RPZ permits to total RPZ capacity by our estimation. On some blocks, residents would now be competing for half the RPZ space than the original plan had proposed for their street. Perhaps this was a nod to businesses, which expressed nearly unanimous opposition to the original RPZ proposal.
  • However, most businesses probably were never going to get behind RPZ since, whatever the specifics, one of its primary goals was still to limit parking for non-residents—non-residents that possibly included a significant number of business customers and employees. Adding Saturday to the schedule in the revised RPZ proposal probably didn’t improve this sentiment.
  • Residents of apartments in the RPZ area would also be eligible for RPZ permits. These would have included tenants of the nearly 300 units at Green Lake Village, the 130 units at 419 NE 71st St (under construction), and the nearly 90 units at 417 NE 73rd St and 442 NE Maple Leaf PL (proposed). In other words, while SDOT was proposing an RPZ to increase parking availability for existing residents, SDCI has been reducing it by adding hundreds of new residents.2

Adding RPZ to the Green Lake business district was always going to be a tough proposition, because of the difficulty of assessing its actual impact on residents and businesses, especially in such a rapidly evolving neighborhood, and because pleasing one group invariably meant alienating the other. Kudos to Ruth Harper, Kelsey Timmer and other staff at SDOT for the time and effort devoted to trying to find a way through this thicket.

1 For example, the online survey done for the initial RPZ proposal solicited 121 responses that were either for or against the plan, including 16 that were from the businesses community. The public hearing for the revised proposal invited just 47 responses that were either for or against it, including just three from businesses.

2 Unfortunately, SDCI does not collect data on vehicle ownership rates and parking behavior, including statistics on how many tenants park on the street rather than pay garage fees, for apartments and multi-use development. Otherwise, we would be better able to assess the impact their residents have on nearby parking demand.

Green Lake Mixed Use at 419 NE 71st St is a large, 130-unit complex currently under construction in the east Green Lake community. It first caught our attention because a project now under review at 417 NE 73rd St was required to look at its parking spillover as part of a cumulative parking analysis.1

We’ve written extensively about 419, including that it was impossible for us to determine how its parking demand estimates had been calculated based solely on the information provided in its traffic study. We’ve also noted that John Shaw, the Seattle DCI transportation planner responsible for vetting the study, did not respond to multiple email requests from Livable Green Lake asking for clarification regarding these estimates.

Seattle requires traffic studies as part of the review process for many new projects. The reports, which are funded by developers, are the primary means the public has of understanding the impact of new development on local traffic and parking conditions. It is the responsibility of Seattle DCI to review them for thoroughness and accuracy.

A key claim in 419’s traffic report, which was prepared by Transportation Engineering NorthWest (TENW), is that its proximity to the future Roosevelt light rail station (LRT) will reduce vehicle ownership of 419 residents by 20 percent.

Roosevelt LRT won’t open until 2021, presumably meaning that reduction wouldn’t be realized for at least several years after 419 is completed. We showed here, using the same methods TENW used in its analysis2, that until then parking spillover from 419 onto neighborhood streets would be extensive. This result did not appear in the study TENW provided to Seattle DCI, which only reported— based on the LRT reduction—that 419 would have zero parking spillover.

That’s the first problem with TENW’s LRT claim.3 The second is whether it’s correct.

TENW provided no analysis or other evidence for it in their report. In an email exchange with Livable Green Lake, the firm stated that they had relied on Sound Transit documents for their calculation:

There are a number of Sound Transit documents we used to calc the reduction.

However, they did not respond to an email from Liveable Green Lake asking for a document source.

Mr. Shaw also did not respond to email requests for documentation for TENW’s LRT claim. Moreover, it appears that he never investigated or tried to verify it and that he was unaware of any analysis TENW had performed related to it.

We issued public record requests to both Sound Transit and Seattle DCI asking for all documents that had looked at the impact of proximity to LRT on vehicle ownership of residents in mixed use or apartment developments. The request to DCI also included all communication between TENW and DCI related to traffic and parking studies done for 419.

Based on the records we received from Seattle DCI, there is no indication Mr. Shaw ever questioned TENW about their parking analysis for 419, and the handful of concerns he did raise were with the project’s architect. For one inquiry, in March 2015—a full three months after TENW had delivered their traffic report for 419 to Seattle DCI—there was this email exchange:

[Mr. Shaw]
Am I correct in reading your earlier e-mail that residential parking will be limited to the 60 parking stalls on the lower level? If so, the project will have spillover parking in the evening/overnight, and will need to provide a parking utilization study. If this is the case, I will document this request in a correction notice. I don’t have any other outstanding questions or issues regarding the traffic or parking impacts of the project.

[Architect]
Outside of peak business hours, all stalls in the upper floor would also be available for peak demand of residential uses, expected to not exceed 83 stalls during evening hours based on the parking analysis completed by TENW of the proposed 130 apartment units.

[Mr. Shaw]
Thank you for the clarification. As long as the parking on the upper floor would be available to residents during the evening and overnight hours (as well as the parking on the lower level), we do not anticipate that the project would have any impacts on nearby on-street parking, and do not need any additional information.

Had Mr. Shaw quizzed TENW and dug into their analysis, he would have known his claim (highlighted) was highly doubtful since, as we noted above, the methods the firm used show there would be substantial parking spillover, at least until Roosevelt LRT went into service in 2021.

And maybe even after it went into service.

Sound Transit was unable to identify any documents in its records that looked at the impact of proximity to LRT on vehicle ownership in response to our records request. Presumably, TENW reached its conclusion for the LRT reduction by performing its own analysis using other Sound Transit material.

Seattle DCI was also unable to identify any documents on this subject. Moreover, in response to DCI’s public disclosure officer, Mr. Shaw stated he didn’t “have or know of any additional analysis by Sound Transit that would address” the issue, and was able to provide only a single document, consisting of a list of projects being built or proposed near light rail stations.

Based on these results and the fact Mr. Shaw never questioned TENW about their parking analysis, it appears he approved their LRT claim without ever seeing the evidence for it.

And as of the date of this post, the public has also not seen this evidence, despite it being central to the conclusions in 419’s parking analysis.

* * *

Mr. Shaw is also the transportation reviewer for 417 NE 73rd, the project mentioned at the top of this column. Katy Haima, the Seattle DCI planner for 417, has assured Livable Green Lake that DCI reviews the traffic studies for these projects. However, as we’ve written here and here, there are also issues with the parking analysis done for 417, raising serious questions about whether the reviews of these developer-funded reports are anything more than cursory.

Seattle DCI transportation planners regularly go before Seattle hearing examiners to provide testimony in support of projects being challenged by local communities. In the case of an appeal for a project in Fremont, for example, Mr. Shaw found the project’s parking study to be “sound and consistent with the Code.” That appeal, like so many others of this nature heard by city hearing examiners, failed. No doubt, this was partly due to Mr. Shaw’s expert testimony.

In April, Livable Green Lake met with Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien to discuss the issues we’ve raised on this blog and in community meetings regarding the traffic studies done for projects in the Green Lake community. In response to that meeting, his office later got back to us, saying they had contacted Seattle DCI and assuring us “we will all continue to work on being sure that the rules and regulations are followed as written, and that the city upholds our piece in this.”

Based on our experience, those “rules and regulations” are either being regularly broken—or are, for the most part, non-existent.

1 A cumulative parking analysis estimates the parking demand of nearby projects that are either undergoing review or under construction in order to assess the potential combined impact on future street parking availability.

2 Our analysis included corrections for several errors found in the original report.

3 If TENW had concluded there would be parking spillover onto the streets, they would have been required to also do a time-intensive parking utilization analysis that measured on-street parking utilization in the vicinity of 419 when parking demand at the project was greatest.

Seattle DCI has posted an update to the traffic study for the apartment project proposed for 417 NE 73rd St. One of the reasons for the update according to HEATH & ASSOCIATES, the engineering firm that did the study, is they had mistakenly sent a draft rather than the final version to Seattle DCI in February.

That doesn’t surprise us. We wrote about a plethora of problems in 417’s traffic report in March. The revised report has many of the same issues and has added some new ones. We’ll get to that below.

It’s not clear what prompted the do-over, which is dated March 28, 2016, just four days after we posted our review. John Shaw, a senior Seattle DCI transportation planner responsible for approving traffic studies for projects undergoing review, presumably didn’t catch the errors since a correction notice was never posted by DCI requesting additional information.

That also doesn’t surprise us.

Here is a brief recap of 417. The project is a 6-story, 45-unit apartment complex with parking for 13 subcompact cars that is being proposed to replace the 19-stall parking lot behind The Great Hall currently used by patrons of Rosita’s Mexican Grill. Its impact on parking will be two-fold: (1) parking spillover from building tenants; and (2) Rosita’s patrons who will now have to park on the street.

In November 2015, HEATH’s initial traffic study for the project was posted on the Seattle DCI website. For the parking analysis, which we discussed here, DCI had asked the firm to provide estimates for the project’s peak parking demand and parking spillover. Instead of providing those numbers, however, HEATH discussed possible strategies for reducing the number of residents with vehicles, including using the application process and adding a passenger load/unload zone at the building entrance for taxis and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.

Apparently Seattle DCI wasn’t satisfied with that response. In January 2016, they issued a correction notice, again asking for a parking demand estimate, together with, this time, a parking utilization study and cumulative parking analysis.1

In February 2016, HEATH responded, providing the expanded parking analysis as well as an answer to the parking demand request. We provided a detailed review of issues associated with HEATH’s utilization and cumulative studies here. For the parking demand request, the firm expanded on its original response, but this time arguing that it would be impossible to provide an estimate without first identifying so-called Transportation Demand Strategies:

Parking demand for the proposed development is predicated on the Transportation Demand Strategies that were previously mentioned, such as loading/unloading zone for taxi services and other ride shares, transit pass subsidies, Zipcar subsidies, etc. Give the unique situation, there is no accurate way of quantifying an estimated parking demand until such Transportation Demand Strategies are set and in place.

In other words, it didn’t look like the community would be seeing parking data for 417 NE 73rd St anytime soon—if ever—and since Seattle DCI never issued a correction notice related to HEATH’s February report, it didn’t appear that they were much interested in pursuing the issue.

Imagine that.

And that brings us to the latest version of the traffic study for 417. Here are some of the highlights:

The Draft Parking Utilization Study Sent To Seattle DCI By Mistake Had Errors. So Does the Update.

HEATH’s update to their parking utilization analysis for 417 added data for thousands of feet of surveyed parked cars that was missing in the original report. Otherwise, the updated report has the same issues as the original, including incorrect street measurements and missing fire hydrants and driveways that result in inflated on-street legal parking capacity.

For example, on the south side of NE 73rd St between 5th Ave NE and Woodlawn Ave NE, HEATH claims that on-street legal parking capacity is 23 when in fact it’s 20. This is a significant error for just a single side of a block, and to put it in perspective, using the correct legal parking capacity of 20 the parking utilization of this street side increases from an already high 102% to a whopping 118%.

That’s a lot of illegal parking.

By overstating on-street legal parking capacity, HEATH understated parking scarcity and the impact of parking spillover from new development including 417. The firm also ignored the impact of the loss of Rosita’s parking lot—as many as 19 cars during peak hours—in their utilization analysis and reduced parking spillover from 417 to nearly zero using challengeable methods (see next section).

The errors we found in the parts of HEATH’s parking utilization analysis we reviewed should raise questions about their entire report. Thus far, however, Seattle DCI has not identified a single error in this work, despite being the party responsible for reviewing it.

417 NE 73rd St Will Have Vehicle Ownership Rates Similar to Student Micro-Studios Near UW

What a difference six weeks make. Apparently there was a way where HEATH could estimate parking demand without first having to identify Transportation Demand Strategies. In fact, in the latest version of 417’s traffic report, the discussion of TDS has been entirely dropped. Instead, we’re now informed:

Given the nature and style of the incoming project, there is no standardized methodologies in quantifying this type of project’s parking demand. However, in a parking study conducted in April of 2014, by William Popp Associates titled, “1731 NW 57th St Small Efficiency Apartments” a sample set of five small apartment congregates were surveyed to capture an estimated parking demand based on number of units.

There are numerous projects across the city including Crosby Greenlake at 414 NE Ravenna Blvd and several projects in Roosevelt similar to 417 that would beg to differ about the use of those standardized methodologies. However, those tools produce considerably larger parking demand estimates—and so parking spillover numbers—than the estimate HEATH arrived at using Popp’s survey results.

The King County Right Size Parking Calculator, for example, provides an estimate for vehicle ownership of .76 vehicles/unit. That’s more than twice the .35 vehicles/unit arrived at using Popp’s survey data and would dump 21 cars on the street compared to just one or two using Popp’s data.

That’s 21 cars in addition to as many as 19 more resulting from the loss of Rosita’s parking lot—enough cars to fill both sides of NE 73rd St and then some.

So, there’s no doubt Popp’s apartment data will significantly reduce parking demand estimates compared to other approaches. However, HEATH provided no evidence whatsoever regarding why the vehicle ownership rates for 417 should be similar to those of the apartments Popp surveyed. The firm simply states it as fact:

All locations were in the Seattle city limits and are of similar nature to the proposed 417 73rd Apartments project.

That prompted us to take a closer look at the apartments. Here’s what we discovered.

  1. Popp conducted his survey in the early 2000s, and not as part of the parking analysis done for 1731 NW 57th St. In other words, the data is old, and we have no idea how relevant it is nearly 15 years later. HEATH didn’t share this information in its report
  2. All the surveyed apartments are just blocks from the University of Washington, and so many if not most of their residents are very likely low-income students who don’t own cars. Popp assumed the residents of 1731 would also generally be low income and carless, which is why he estimated vehicle ownership rates for 1731 using the apartment survey data
  3. Popp’s parking analysis for 1731 also included much larger car ownership estimates using the “standardized methodologies” HEATH eschewed, including the King County Right Size Parking Calculator. HEATH also didn’t provide this information

One of the apartments surveyed by Popp is Husky Court Student Studios. These micro-studios are small compared to the units at 417—many are only 200 square feet—and are half the cost. But, they’re for students, after all.

Just a block north of the UW campus, Husky Court sits in census tract 43.02. 71.1% of the population 18 years or older in 43.02 is a college student according to 2014 US Census American Community Survey data. Not surprisingly, this population also has lower income levels, and the mean household income is only $26,535 a year. Also not surprising: this mostly student population owns far fewer cars than the general population. According to the census data, only 45% of the rental housing units in tract 43.02 have cars.

Contrast this to census tract 36 where 417 resides. Just 13.6 percent of the population 18 years and older in 36 is a college student according to the ACS data. No doubt, this helps explain why this group has much higher household income and car ownership rates for renters than Husky Court’s neighborhood, $89,302 and 77%, respectively.

Students at Husky Court own fewer cars because they can’t afford or don’t need them. The residents at 417 will be an entirely different demographic. If HEATH wants to claim that car ownership rates of these two very different groups are similar, they will have to have to provide the evidence.

And Seattle DCI, who is supposed to review these studies, needs to ask for it.

419 NE 71st St Will Also Have Vehicle Ownership Rates Similar to Student Micro-Studios Near UW

We wrote here how the first cumulative parking analysis done by HEATH ignored parking spillover from Green Lake Mixed Use, a 130-unit project under construction at 419 NE 71st St. Perhaps the firm read our report, because, in the latest version of their traffic study, they included it. In a subsequent story, we identified errors in the parking study done for 419 and criticized its assumption that 419 residents would have 20% fewer cars because of their proximity to the Roosevelt light rail station. That station will not only not be completed until 2021, but neither the firm that did the study, TENW, nor Seattle DCI—which approved TENW’s work—responded to requests for documentation that would substantiate the claim.

Enter HEATH.

The firm cited TENW’s claim that 419 would have no parking spillover, but still decided to conduct a separate analysis.

Their method?

You guessed it. They took the same approach they had for 417 and used Popp’s apartment survey data, achieving results that were much better than even TENW’s with their light rail assumption:

All units range from micro-studio to 1 bedroom units, so a reasonable parking demand of 0.35 vehicles per unit is used for estimation. (130 units x 0.35 vehicles) = 46 vehicles.

And, of course, with a further 20% reduction for proximity to light rail—again, Seattle DCI approved this tactic—that number becomes just 37. For a complex with 130 residential units and 106 parking stalls.

In comparison, our analysis, adopting TENW’s method but corrected for the errors mentioned above and without the light rail assumption, showed that 419 will create substantial parking spillover, with peak residential parking demand that could easily exceed 100 vehicles beginning in the early evening hours.

Perhaps Seattle DCI will be able to explain the discrepancy. Again, they should start by asking for the evidence that supports HEATH’s claim that the car ownership rates of people who can afford 419’s big, expensive apartments will be similar to those of low-income students living in micro-studios at Husky Court.

1 Parking utilization studies are intended to measure the amount of legal on-street parking capacity that is being used within a specified area when parking demand is greatest. A cumulative parking analysis estimates the parking demand of nearby projects that are either undergoing review or under construction in order to assess the potential combined impact on future street parking availability.

But didn’t.

We’re referring to the study for Green Lake Mixed Use, 419 NE 71ST St. We wrote about the report that was done, noting that it was impossible, based on the information provided in that document, to determine how specific results had been derived. Despite this, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (Seattle DCI, previously, Seattle DPD) still approved it.

It’s important to scrutinize developer-funded traffic studies, because too often questionable results are rubber-stamped by the city without proper due diligence, at the expense of the local community. 419 is also of interest, even though it’s already under construction, because a cumulative parking analysis required for a project still undergoing review, 417 NE 73rd St, should have included spillover parking from 419.

We dug into the study done for 419, including sending inquiries to Transportation Engineering NorthWest (TENW), the firm that prepared it for the developer. TENW answered enough questions so that we could reconstruct their analysis. However, the firm did not respond to a question about the source of a key claim regarding the impact of the Roosevelt light rail station (LRT) on vehicle ownership by 419’s residents. John Shaw, the Seattle DCI transportation reviewer for the project—and many other projects in the east Green Lake community including 417—also did not respond to email inquiries regarding the LRT claim or how TENW derived results in its analysis. As we noted above, it would have been impossible for Shaw to answer these questions based solely on TENW’s report.

419 will be a mixed-used project, with 130 residential units, 106 parking stalls, and over 14,500 SF of retail space that will be occupied by Bartell Drugs.

According to the parking analysis performed by TENW, the peak parking demand for the project from residential and retail users will be 99 vehicles. As a result, the firm concludes, “no on-street parking demand impacts are expected.”

Let’s assess how accurate that claim is. Here are TENW’s steps:

  1. First, it plugged 419’s residential and retail sizes and land use codes into tables from ITE Parking Generation, 4th Edition, to conclude that the project’s peak weekday residential and retail parking demand would be 120 and 37 stalls, respectively. You can have endless debates about the approach TENW took (including the fact that two-thirds of the project samples in the ITE table had vehicles per dwelling unit numbers that exceeded the .92 figure TENW used), but we’ll defer other than to adjust the 120 to 124 because of an error in TENW’s math.1

  2. Next, TENW used the proximity of the project to the future Roosevelt light rail station to reduce residential vehicle ownership for 419 by another 20 percent, from 120 to 96.2 TENW provides no support for this argument, only citing the existence of Sound Transit documents. However, as we noted previously, neither TENW nor DCI’s John Shaw, who approved TENW’s analysis, responded to requests for this documentation. Because of this, we’ve issued public-record requests to both Sound Transit and Seattle DCI for relevant documents.

    We’ve also researched US Census tables regarding vehicle ownership rates for rental housing units near Seattle light rail stations similar to Roosevelt and found nothing in that data that would support TENW’s claim.

    The Roosevelt LRT won’t be built until 2021, five years from now. That alone should remove it from consideration in any calculations involving traffic impacts for projects being built today. Nonetheless, until TENW or Seattle DCI can provide credible sources for the LRT reduction, it should not factor into the parking analysis. Claims that are fundamental to the outcome of a report provided to the public should be fully sourced.

  3. The third step in TENW’s parking analysis used 2010 US Census data for vehicle ownership for rental housing units in the census tract 419 sits in, tract 36.3 This data shows that 21% of the units in the tract didn’t have cars. For the Seattle metro area, this number was 8%. TENW split the difference between the two and reduced the residential vehicle ownership result of step #2 by 13 percent, i.e., from 96 to 83. They kept their estimate of 37 for the peak weekday retail parking demand.

    TENW’s use of Census data here is on shaky ground for multiple reasons, including the fact that the ITE tables in step #1, which use statistical data collected from existing projects, already have demographics baked in, and so there’s no basis for whittling results down in an additional step using census data. Nonetheless, we’ll use TENW’s numbers in our analysis.

  4. In the final step of its analysis, TENW adjusted its numbers to account for the fact that peak residential parking demand occurs during the evening hours, when people are home from work, etc. Peak retail parking, on the other hand, typically occurs during the daytime. For the adjustment, TENW used data from Shared Parking, 2nd Edition, which shows that residential parking demand is 25 to 35 percent lower in the daytime from its evening peak. Using the 25 percent figure, TENW reduced the residential parking demand estimate of step #3 to 62 (.75*83) for daytime hours. Combining this with the peak retail parking demand of 37, TENW concluded that the peak parking demand for 419 will be 99 (62+37).

    The problem with this approach is it’s a crude application of Shared Parking, which provides hourly parking demand rates for shoppers and residents. According to these rates, there are hours in the late afternoon and early evening when the combined parking demand of these two groups is far in excess of TENW’s estimates. For example, according to Shared Parking, residential parking demand at 6 PM is 90% of its peak. Just an hour later, this number rises to 97%. Meanwhile, retail parking demand during these hours has barely slipped from its high earlier in the day.

We performed an analysis of 419’s weekday parking demand, making adjustments based on the observations above, but otherwise using the identical approach taken by TENW. The adjustments include:

  1. In Step #1, TENW’s peak weekday residential estimate of 120 was revised to 124
  2. In Step #2, TENW’s reduction due to 419’s proximity to the Roosevelt light rail station was removed from the analysis altogether
  3. In Step #4, time-of-day factors for each hour from Shared Parking, 2nd Edition were applied rather than TENW’s single number

We’ve summarized our results here. For comparison, we’ve also included estimates using the King County Right Size Parking Calculator, which TENW used to measure parking demand just six months before at a nearby project, Crosby Greenlake at 414 NE Ravenna Boulevard. The data for the calculator was based on a careful analysis of 419’s apartment characteristics and rental fees for units at Crosby Greenlake and Green Lake Village.

Here are some key takeaways from our analysis:

  • Until the light rail station at Roosevelt is completed in 2021, analysis based on TENW’s own methods shows that weekday spillover parking from 419 will be substantial, averaging 26 vehicles from 5 to 9 pm. The spillover does not include parking for Bartell Drugs employees or guests of 419 residents.
  • The claim that the spillover will disappear after 2021 depends on the viability of documentation that thus far Seattle DCI has not made available to the public despite multiple requests.
  • A parking utilization study TENW did for Crosby Greenlake five months before their parking study for 419, showed that parking demand in the area would exceed 100% legal parking capacity once Crosby was completed and filled.

Regarding the third item, TENW would have had to perform a parking utilization study for 419 in addition to the one it had already done for the Crosby Greenlake if the firm had determined 419 would have spillover parking.

Stay tuned.

1 According to the parking statistics collected for land use code 221, Low/Mid-Rise Apartment, Weekday, Urban, the average peak parking demand is 1.2 vehicles per residential unit, or 156 vehicles for 419, which will have 130 units. However, rather than use 1.2, TENW used the smaller .92 that appears as the slope in the least squares fit for the statistical data, P = .92*X + 4, where X is the number of residential units. TENW omitted the 4 in the equation, and the correct result using this approach should have been 124 = .92*130 + 4, not 120 = .92*130.

2 No other project in the vicinity of Roosevelt LRT that is either under review or that has been approved that we surveyed has used this technique to reduce parking impact.

3 Examples include apartments units, a room within a house, or even an entire house.

Study requested by Seattle DPD identified where parking is legal in the parking crunched east Green Lake community.

In a correction notice dated January 4, 2016, Seattle DPD asked the developer for proposed project 417 NE 73rd St to conduct a study to measure on-street parking demand in the surrounding neighborhood:

Please conduct an on-street parking utilization study, generally following the guidelines for such studies as described in TIP 117. On-street spaces within 800′ of the project site should be included in the study area. Impacts should be documented during both the time period of peak residential parking demand, and the time period of peak parking demand generated by Rosita’s restaurant.

The request, no doubt, was prompted by the barrage of complaints that the community had made in meetings and online asking why a 45 unit apartment complex with parking for 13 subcompact cars was being built in a neighborhood where on-street parking already regularly exceeds legal capacity, especially during nice weather.

The developer wasted little time in producing a response. Barely two weeks after DPD made its request, on the nights of January 20 and 21, a transportation engineering firm was scurrying up and down the streets in the east Green Lake community taking measurements and counting cars. Just three weeks after that the numbers had been crunched and Seattle DPD posted the report online for review.

Presumably, they also read it.

However, before we get to that, we want to provide an overview of the basics of parking utilization studies.

The goal of these studies is to give a reasonable estimate of how much legal street parking capacity drivers use in an area, especially during peak periods. TIP 117 outlines a step-by-step process on how to go about this:

Define the study area. For 417, the study area consisted of all blocks within 800 feet walking distance (i.e., measured along streets) of the project site.

Determine the sections of a block where parking is legal. If a street side has a 20 foot wide driveway, a fire hydrant, and stop signs on both ends, for example, 30 feet would be removed for each stop sign, 30 feet would be removed for the driveway (20 feet plus 5 feet of clearance on either side), and 30 feet would be removed for the hydrant (15 feet on either side). The street sections that remain are where parking is legal.

Determine the legal parking capacity. For each street section where parking is legal, determine its parking capacity. Using TIP 117 guidelines, a section that is 16 to 31 feet in length will accommodate 1 car, one that is 70-91 feet will accommodate 4, and a section that is 260-281 feet in length will accommodate 14 cars, for example.

Count parked cars. On at least two different days, during peak demand, count the number of cars parked on each block face in the study area. According to TIP 117, this count should take place during the middle of the week and in the evening.

With this data organized, the parking utilization for a street side can be calculated. If a block face has two segments where parking is legal, one 150 feet in length, the other 250 feet, for example, then according to the TIP 117 guidelines 21 cars can legally park on that side. If the number of cars observed parked there is 16 on one night and 13 the next, then the parking utilization for the block face is 14.5/21 = 69% (i.e., the average of the number of parked cars divided by the legal street capacity on the block face).

As should be apparent from the description above, a parking utilization study is only as good as its data collection.

So how did the study conducted for 417 fare?

Not so well based on our review. Every street we looked at in the study area—and we only sampled a handful—contained errors. The details including photos appear below and a summary map can be found here.

NE 73rd St

  1. On the northwest corner of NE 73rd St and 5th Ave NE, the study claims that 20 feet of legal street parking exists, enough for one car. We found no legal parking on this corner. This would have been true even without the fire hydrant, which the study missed.
  2. On the southwest corner of NE 73rd St and 5th Ave NE, the study claims that 36 feet of legal parking exists, enough for two cars. We found only 11 feet, not enough for even a single car.
  3. On the southwest segment between 5th Ave NE and Woodlawn Ave NE, the study claims that 81 feet of legal parking exists, enough for four cars. We found 58 feet, barely enough for three cars.
  4. The study collected parking data only once for the south side of the street, not nearly enough for reliable parking utilization estimates. TIP 117 sampling guidelines clearly state that parked cars should be counted on at least two different days.

Based on our measurements, the study’s estimated legal street parking capacity on NE 73rd between 5th Ave NE and Woodlawn Ave NE was four cars greater than what it should have been. Using these measurements and the parking data the study did collect, this street section was at 110 percent of legal parking capacity during the periods when cars were counted.

NE Maple Leaf Pl

  1. On the north side of NE Maple Leaf Pl, the study missed a fire hydrant, inflating the legal parking capacity on that side by 30 feet.

4th Ave NE

  1. More than 450 feet of 4th Ave NE north of Woodlawn Ave NE was omitted from the analysis, even though it fell within in the study zone stipulated by Seattle DPD.1
  2. Not that it mattered. The study did not collect parking data for 4th Ave NE, and it provided no parking utilization rates for the nearly 1400 foot of portion of the street residing in the study zone.This omission violated Seattle DPD instructions.

Woodlawn Ave NE

  1. On the east side of Woodlawn Ave NE, between NE Maple Leaf Pl and NE 72nd St, the study missed an alley, inflating the legal parking capacity for this side of the block by 34 feet.
  2. The study collected parking data only once for the 1600 feet of Woodlawn between NE Maple Leaf Pl and NE Ravenna Blvd, not nearly enough for reliable utilization estimates. TIP 117 sampling guidelines clearly state that parked cars should be counted on at least two different days.

NE 71st St

  1. 419 NE 71st St, a project currently under construction, falls within the study zone for the 417 parking utilization study. Because of this, spillover parking from 419 should have been included as part of a cumulative parking study DPD requested from the developer in a January 4, 2016 correction notice for 417. It was not.

The study also provided an inexplicable summary statement:

Based on the data collected and completing the “Block Front Plan Data Sheet” for all applicable blocks, what was found was Day 1 to be at 106 percent of measured capacity and Day 2 to be 102 percent of measured capacity.

Since the study collected insufficient or no parking data for significant portions of the study zone—3500 feet according to our estimates—block data sheets clearly were not completed “for all applicable blocks” despite the claim. Also, TIP 117 only provides guidelines on how to calculate parking utilization rates for each block face in a study area, and the study doesn’t explain how it calculated rates for the entire study zone.

Inflated parking capacity, missing alleys and other critical street features, unreliable or missing statistics, mislabeled streets. Seattle DPD would certainly be aware of these serious issues if they checked the study—a study they requested in the first place. However, as we’ve discussed here and here, DPD has been supine when it comes to reviewing traffic studies in the east Green Lake community, and it’s not clear why this time will be any different.

Stay tuned.

1 All distances are for each side of a street.

We think so.

The project is Green Lake Mixed Use, 419 NE 71ST St, currently under development. 419 will have 130 residential units and 106 parking stalls (including 5 ADA).

The numbers in question are from the project’s parking analysis, which can be found here on page 10.

First, a little background on traffic studies performed for development projects. The goal of these studies, which are funded by developers and reviewed by government agencies, is to assess the traffic and parking impact of the projects. A variety of tools are used to make this assessment, including parking statistics provided by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Parking Generation manual, US Census data, surveys of similar projects that have already been built in the community (often, by the same developer), and, in the case of projects in Seattle and the surrounding area, the King County Right Size Parking Calculator.

The tools are often used together, employing methods and generating results that are sometimes difficult if not impossible to understand because the accompanying discussions are vague or leave out important details.

And that takes us back to the parking study conducted for 419. That, in its entirety, is here:

The Institute of Transportation Engineers Parking Generation, Fourth Edition, 2010, was used to determine parking demand for the proposed mixed use development at the Greenlake South Mixed Use project. Based upon Land Use Code 221 for a Low/Mid-Rise Apartment and Land Use Code 820 for a Shopping Center, direct application of published rates in Parking Generation were initially used to estimate the peak development parking demand (see Table 6). ITE rates however, do not consider time of day factors or shared used between on-site uses, and therefore, Shared Parking, Second Edition, Urban Land Institute, 2005, was reviewed for recommended time-of-day factors of residential and retail peak parking periods.

Based on the 2010 United States Census, approximately 21 percent of all households within Census Tract 36 have no vehicles (Attachment C), compared with an “all Seattle Metro Area households without auto” ownership of only 8 percent. In addition, the proximity of the Roosevelt Light Rail station, a reduction in reliance on automobile utilization of 20 percent for all transportation needs was also applied.

As such, when considering vehicle availability factors of similar residences within the neighborhood and the proximity of the Roosevelt LRT station, peak parking demand during the weekday (when commercial retail is at its peak) and evening hours (when residential uses are at their peak) is estimated at approximately 100 stalls and 83 stalls, respectively. Based on the proposed supply of 104 stalls, no on-street parking demand impacts is expected.

Here, roughly, is what the author’s doing:

  1. First, based on 419’s size and land use codes, he uses the ITE Parking Generation manual to conclude that the peak weekday residential parking demand is 120 stalls and the peak weekday retail parking demand is 37 stalls (top of Table 6)1
  2. Then, using US Census tract data and the proximity of the project to the future2 Roosevelt Light Rail station (LRT) he reduces the ITE estimate of 120 to 83 for a revised estimate of the average peak weekday residential parking demand (middle of Table 6)
  3. Finally, using time-of-day factors, he arrives at 62 for an estimate of the peak weekday residential parking demand during the day (bottom of Table 6)

And that reduction to 62 is important, because when it’s added to the peak weekday retail parking demand of 37 stalls during the day, it means that at most 99 stalls on a weekday will be required to accommodate daytime parking—less than the number of stalls the project is providing.

The problem for the public with this analysis is it provides virtually no understanding of how it produced its results. It provides no step-by-step discussion of how it calculated various parking demand estimates, first 120, then 83, and finally 62. It offers no explanation how the census data and LRT proximity were used together—let alone why they can be used together—to produce reasonable results. It provides no source for the 20 percent used for the LRT reduction.

Of course, the calculations should also have been a problem for Seattle DPD since they receive the same study the public does. So we emailed the individual at DPD who oversaw the 419 traffic study and asked him to explain the parking analysis they had approved, including the calculation of the parking demand estimate of 83 and the source for the 20% LRT reduction.

In fact, we did this twice, over a two-week period. We received no response to either inquiry.

We also contacted the engineer who prepared the study for the developer, Michael Read at Transportation Engineering NorthWest, to see if he could provide some clarification. Mr. Read, after a few brief responses, informed us he wouldn’t be able to respond much more unless we were a client.

And he is right of course, we’re not a paying client. On the other hand, we are taxpayers.

Why the focus on 419 at all, a project already under construction?

First of all, it’s connected to a nearby project currently awaiting MUP approval. In a correction notice for a proposed project at 417 NE 73rd St, Seattle DPD has requested that the developer “provide a cumulative on-street parking analysis, identifying any additional spillover parking demand within the study area generated by other development projects currently under review or construction.” That should include the spillover parking from 419.

However, we believe that 419’s parking analysis is suspect and that it understates the real impact of the project on neighborhood parking, perhaps significantly. It also doesn’t account for retail employees, who must park on the street.3 Without an accurate assessment of 419’s parking demand, an accurate cumulative parking analysis for 417 is impossible.

The second reason that 419 is important is it raises the broader question of Seattle DPD credibility. Traffic studies performed for new development need to be thorough, believable and documented so that the public can have confidence in their results. 419’s study is just one of several conducted for projects in the east Green Lake community that fail in this respect. The pattern reveals a troubling lack of oversight and due diligence by Seattle DPD.

And that, to us at least, would seem to be a problem that is much bigger than what typically goes before a hearing examiner.

1 These are, in fact, averages. The actual numbers could be much higher.
2 Scheduled for completion in 2021, five years after the completion of 419.
3 Parking studies typically ignore the impact of retail employees.

Traffic studies are required as part of the Master User Permit application for many building projects in Seattle. One of their primary purposes is to inform the public what the traffic and parking impact of development on the local community will be.

Developers pay for these reports, which are prepared by third party engineering firms, and they’re reviewed and vetted by Seattle DPD.

Or so we’re told.

A problem with many of the traffic studies that we’ve looked at for projects in the east Green Lake community is their methods are so problematic and explanations so terse that it’s difficult for the community to have much confidence in them or believe that the city has done more than a cursory review.

Take the study conducted for Project 417 NE 73rd St, for example. 417 is a 6-story, 45-unit apartment complex with parking for 13 subcompact cars that is being proposed to replace the 19-stall parking lot behind The Great Hall currently used by patrons of Rosita’s Mexican Grill. Its impact will be two-fold: spillover parking that can’t be accommodated onsite and that instead will have to find a space on the street, and displaced Rosita’s patrons who will have to compete for the same scarce stalls.

The traffic analysis for the project was placed on the Seattle DPD website for public review on November 12, 2015, and can be found here. The three primary goals of this study, which according to the report were discussed and approved by DPD, were to provide:

  1. An estimate of project-related trip volumes, daily as well as in the AM and PM peak hours
  2. An estimate of the project’s peak parking demand, and the amount of expected spillover parking (the demand that won’t be accommodated by the on-site supply)
  3. An estimate of the number of vehicles using the existing parking lot; what is the peak volume and when does this occur? Where are these vehicles likely to park when they are displaced from this site?

Let’s look at how the study addressed two of these issues, beginning with #3. Here is the description provided for the parking lot study:

The site was observed at several times of the week for usage with weekend nights showing that all 19 stalls were occupied. Occupancy during the weekday showed partial usage typically 4 to 7 stalls occupied during the site visits made. Once the site is developed the clients using the lot currently would relocate to other stalls as available such as the metered parking on Woodlawn.

In case you blinked, that was just three sentences to describe the analysis that was done. If that doesn’t give pause, the claim that a credible statistical profile of the parking lot can be achieved with just a handful of visits should. The lot could be 95% filled 75% of the time from 5 to 10 PM seven days a week, and this study would never reveal it. It could be 75% filled from noon to 5 PM, week in and week out, and the study also would never know that. And, of course, it can’t provide any visibility into seasonality—a vital factor in the east Green Lake community where traffic congestion and parking demand are significantly greater during the nice weather months—since it was conducted over a brief period during the fall.

And then there’s that last sentence. The observation that the displaced Rosita’s patrons will have to find parking elsewhere is not particularly enlightening. What a study should be providing the community is a reasonably accurate assessment of what the effect will be on parking availability on nearby streets over the course of a day, weekdays and weekends, especially during the summer.

You could go on and on, including the total absence of any documentation, but in the end, the only conclusion about the analysis that really matters is that it provides the public very little useful information.

Seattle DPD correction notices are intended to catch flaws in project work and ensure that problems are addressed. On January 4, 2016, Seattle DPD posted a correction notice for the 417 traffic study. What did they have to say about this analysis?

Nothing.

Other, that is, than a reference to it in passing as part of an on-street parking utilization study they now wanted the developer also to prepare:

On-street spaces within 800′ of the project site should be included in the study area. Impacts should be documented during both the time period of peak residential parking demand, and the time period of peak parking demand generated by Rosita’s restaurant.

If Seattle DPD was happy with the results they received for the parking lot—and they must have been, since they couldn’t find a single ill word to say about it—you can imagine how well they screened other sections of the traffic study.

Which takes us to the second item on the list of issues the traffic study was supposed to address:

An estimate of the project’s peak parking demand, and the amount of expected spillover parking (the demand that won’t be accommodated by the on-site supply).

Here’s the developer’s answer:

The project parking requirements for the site are zero given its location in a Frequent Transit Network area. The site will provide 14 stalls as part of the design. The project will most likely attract tenants with lower parking needs. In addition, lower parking requirements can be supported through the application process to better regulate the lower demand for parking by notifying prospective tenants of the need for alternative transportation. The proximity to multiple transit routes including high frequency routes with bus service every 15 minutes supports the need to provide less parking.

Well, at least, perhaps, to another question. Because the response pretty much ignores the question above and doesn’t even mention peak parking demand or spillover parking. Instead, it pivots to residents with lower parking needs and using the application process to encourage, presumably, greater numbers of tenants who don’t own cars.

Encouraging carless tenants is all well and good, but east Green Lake is a vibrant community that attracts higher-income residents, and if 75% of its applicants have cars, the apartment certainly won’t be turning many of them away. The community needs plausible numbers, not platitudes.

So how did Seattle DPD respond to this in its January 4 correction notice? Once more, a reader would never know from the limp reaction that the developer had failed to address the question:

Please provide an estimate of the project’s likely parking demand, taking into consideration any strategies to reduce parking demand that will be incorporated into the project proposal.

Imagine your high school teacher cutting you this much slack for those class assignments.

Just to be clear, the real culprit here isn’t the developer or the engineering firm that performed the study. It’s Seattle DPD, first for failing to provide clear and comprehensive guidelines on acceptable methodologies and modeling practices, then for failing to catch and call out the not surprisingly subpar results.

Why should we care? First of all, because bad traffic studies invariably mean the real impact of projects on local communities isn’t being communicated to the public. It’s why, after 5 or 10 years of densification in an urban village like east Green Lake, on-street parking quietly disappears despite one upbeat traffic study after another.

The second reason we should care is because taxpayers expect oversight by Seattle DPD to be thorough and objective, especially since the studies involved are paid for by a party with a vested interest in their conclusions.

Anything less than that is an abuse of the public trust and misuse of taxpayer dollars.

On January 20, 2016, residents and businesses from the East Green Lake Community gathered at The Great Hall to voice their concerns about project 417 NE 73RD ST, a proposed apartment complex that would feature 45 residential units with parking for 13 subcompact cars. It would replace the 19 stall parking lot currently used by Rosita’s Mexican Grill. Selected comments and a video of the meeting are posted below.

Love your store, but parking is a real challenge.Customer

We have a lot of grandparents who bring kids for story time to Mockingbird Books and they find it increasingly difficult to make that a part of their activities.Business owner

I had a customer this morning for my accounting practice who said she went around six blocks to the tune of about 20 minutes to try and find a place to park so she could come in and drop off her tax information. That was at 10:30 this morning.Business owner

We have huge concerns about the impact of parking for this community in an area that is already under so much pressure. We are seeing that our own families don’t have ways to get to our building already.Business owner

How many people here like what’s going on right now, with the parking situation, the development? There’s no show of hands.Resident

To combat urban sprawl, in 1994 Seattle adopted a growth management strategy based on the concept of “urban villages.” Selected neighborhoods would be targeted for growth by “creating attractive urban living environments replete with parks, shops, and restaurants, and a convenient mass-transit system,” according to one story covering the issue at the time. Three categories of urban villages were defined:

  • 5 urban centers – the densest of neighborhoods, and that would provide a diverse mix of uses, housing, and employment opportunities
  • 7 urban hubs – generally less dense than urban centers, and that would a provide a balance of housing and employment
  • 17 residential urban villages – the least dense of the villages, and that would provide a focus of goods and services for residents and surrounding communities but may not provide a concentration of employment

The neighborhood just to the east of Green Lake was included among the 17 planned residential urban villages. In the 20 years since, Green Lake Residential Urban Village has undergone substantial growth, with the addition of a number of large residential and retail complexes, including Green Lake Village (2014), Circa Green Lake (2008), Florera Greenlake (2007), and The Greenlake Condos (2003). According to a Seattle DPD report issued in July of 2015 on Urban Center/Village growth, 640 “dwelling units” have been added to the Green Lake Urban Village since 2005—nearly two and a half times the target set by the city for the period 2005-2024. If that pace continues, by 2024 the city will have exceeded its goal fivefold.

As of September 2015, projects are in the works (proposed or in development) that will add nearly 250 more units to Green Lake Urban Village over the next several years.

For more on Seattle’s urban villages see Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan—Urban Village Element.

For a zoomable high resolution map of the Green Lake Residential Urban Village click the map below. The map provides the zoning codes within this neighborhood. To understand those, see Seattle Zoning Codes.