Private garages, mobile apps and the quest to save waterfront parking

Waterfront construction will cost nearly 900 parking spaces by 2019. Here's how Seattle plans to mitigate the loss.
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Seawall construction began under the Alaskan Way Viaduct last week, further imperiling scarce waterfront parking.

Waterfront construction will cost nearly 900 parking spaces by 2019. Here's how Seattle plans to mitigate the loss.

On a crisp afternoon last week, traffic hissed and groaned overhead as a worker operating a Caterpillar excavator ripped up parking spaces beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Removing parking areas beneath the overpass is one of the first steps in the Elliott Bay Seawall replacement project. According to state and city estimates, infrastructure upgrades on the waterfront, including the seawall replacement and State Route 99 tunnel, will eliminate over 850 existing downtown parking spots by 2019.

The lost spots pose a problem for waterfront businesses. “When parking goes away sales go down,” says Ivar's president Bob Donegan. As head of the iconic Pier 54 restaurant, Donegan has served on stakeholder committees throughout the waterfront planning process. The parking shortage is especially hard on families with kids, adds Donegan. Parking even a few blocks east can mean going up and down a steep hill and “with a three year old and a four year old and a stroller, that doesn’t work.”

Estimates prepared earlier this year by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) show that there were 1,054 public parking spots available near the waterfront in 2008. By 2019, all but 176 of those spaces will be wiped out by construction. In the viaduct budget, $30 million of state money is set aside to mitigate that loss.

Already, WSDOT and SDOT have arranged monthly payments for seven downtown parking garages that will price about 800 spaces at $3 per hour, for up to four hours, during the next several years. The two transportation departments have also either completed, or nearly completed, longer-term contracts with two garages. In exchange for up-front, lump sum payments, the garages would charge public rates for a total of 375 spaces through 2028. In addition, the City Council recently voted to use either negotiation or condemnation to acquire a 134-space parking lot near the viaduct that is owned by an elderly Spokane woman.

SDOT also intends to preserve as much parking as possible during the seawall replacement project. By January, the department plans to have a segment of Alaskan Way temporarily rerouted underneath the viaduct to make way for construction. Once rerouted, portions of the existing roadway will be striped with back-in angle parking spots.

“Anywhere we’re not working we’re trying to create short-term parking,” says Jessica Murphy, an SDOT project manager. The number and availability of the spaces will vary depending on the type of work taking place and where construction equipment is staged. “I’m trying to consolidate the construction areas to maximize the parking,” she says.

“Clearly our project has construction impacts and we want to mitigate those impacts,” says KaDeena Yerkan, a spokesperson for WSDOT, which is overseeing the tunnel project. “We want businesses to be healthy on the waterfront and in Pioneer Square.”

One of the near-term efforts to keep businesses healthy involves the seven garages offering $3 per hour rates. The seven, which are scattered west of Second Avenue, between Pine and King streets, are advertised on WSDOT's downtown parking website. The participating garages get paid by the state to keep their prices in line with on-street parking rates. The payment — and the terms of the agreement — varies for each garage; overall, there is about $2.9 million available for the program. “In general,” Yerkan says. “We pay them monthly, for the people who do indeed use the $3 rate.”

By comparison, weekday prices at privately owned lots not participating in the program can range from $3.00 for thirty minutes, $6.15 for up to one hour, $7.38 for up to two hours, or $25 for the day. On-street prices are between $3.00 to $4.00 per hour, with the less expensive parking spots further south in and around Pioneer Square.

The arrangements “are only meant to last until more permanent garages [those with covenants] are online,” wrote Yerkan in an email. The current agreements, she says, run through 2014 or 2016 and can be renegotiated. The “covenants” reference is to the longer-term agreements that will last through 2028.

WSDOT and SDOT recently finalized one such covenant with the Stadium Place parking garage, at 530 Occidental Avenue South near Century Link Field. The state will pay the garage owners $3 million up front in exchange for all of its 75 parking spaces. The garage is currently participating in the near-term program. Once the covenant goes into effect, all 75 parking spots will remain $3 per hour. After 2016, Stadium Place and other parking lot operators who enter into covenants will be allowed to raise their prices if on-street parking rates or taxes go up.

Another 300 long-term, public-rate parking spots could become available through an agreement WSDOT and SDOT are working on with the Pike Place Market Development Authority, the independent city government entity that runs the Public Market Parking Garage. Ben Franz-Knight, the development authority’s executive director, said the facility would aim to have the new spots built by 2016, the year WSDOT plans to begin demolishing the viaduct. The amount the state will pay the garage has not been finalized, but SDOT planner Brian Henry estimates the cost at about $5 million. 

And then there’s Myrtle’s Lot. Myrtle Woldson, a 103-year-old Spokane resident owns a parking lot at 1101 Western Avenue, one block east of Alaskan Way.

Initially, the city wanted to buy or lease Woldson’s lot. Unable to make a deal, the City Council voted in September to acquire the property using its power of eminent domain instead. This means the city can take the lot and pay Woldson “fair market value.” The appraised 2013 value is $8,808,200, according to King County Assessors Office records. The person overseeing the eminent domain case for the City Attorney’s office could not be reached for comment last Friday.

Adding spots is not the only mitigation strategy. WSDOT and SDOT are also spending approximately $4 million on advertising; $800,000 to research and implement parking policy changes; $400,000 for right of way improvements, such as better lighting; another $400,000 on better pedestrian and traffic signage and $100,000 to develop a mobile app that helps drivers find parking spaces.

“SDOT’s been working with us,” says Kevin Clark, president and CEO of Argosy Cruises. Argosy runs harbor tours and boat trips to Blake Island’s Tillicum Village from its homeport on Piers 55 and 56. The parking lot directly across Alaskan Way is fenced-off now for the seawall construction. While he's excited to see the waterfront construction projects underway, Clark is adamant that parking needs to be maintained if area businesses are to survive.

“There’s no mass transit on the waterfront," he points out. "Nothing that runs down the hill. If, when the lights come back on, when the project’s over, there’s no parking, it just won’t work.”


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