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.

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