Tong Chen, owner of Hong Kong Bistro, had two words to express how parking fees have affected his business: “Too bad.”
Since August 2011, many restaurants in the International District have been reeling from the loss of potential consumers. The city then decided to extend parking meter hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Because of that, The Seattle Times reported Feb. 23 that some businesses in the International District have lost up to 50 percent of their business.
“I’ve lost 20 percent of business,” Chen said. “At least.”
The plan was intended to increase revenue for the city. However, many businesses and community leaders are concerned that the new rules are driving away people from the International District.
“After 6, everyone goes out and has dinner,” Chen said. “No one wants to come for dinner after 8.”
And it’s not just businesses, community leader Frank Irigon said.
“Even at the senior housing when families come to visit, it’s difficult for them and they don’t stay too long because of parking,” Irigon said.
At $2.50 an hour, the city could possibly earn an extra $470,000 from the two extra hours of parking, the Seattle Department of Transportation predicts.
In December, leaders, including Irigon, and restaurateurs collectively wrote a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn, asking to repeal the extended parking fees.
In a letter back to them, McGinn politely refused.
The city council and McGinn decided to place such regulations in the first place for a number of reasons. One was to free up parking spaces for access. Another was to reduce congestion and emissions from drivers circling blocks looking for parking.
Currently, when looking at the raw data, the city’s plan is succeeding. From information collected by SDOT from the pay stations, on average throughout the last six months at 7 p.m., 78 percent of the parking spaces in the International District were filled.
To Irigon and Joyce Pisnanount, program manager for Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), the intangibles not collected by SDOT need to be addressed.
“I’m more concerned about the process than the results,” Irigon said. “The process needs to create results that are positive.”
Ideally, both Pisnanount and Irigon, who were involved in the initial query in December, would like the parking meter hours to be rolled back. Instead, as McGinn stated in his reply to them, the city and SDOT are committed to evaluate the parking program presently implemented.
Throughout March, SCIDpda is working with SDOT to get more comprehensive data. This will then be analyzed in order to progress with a better plan.
“To better understand the impact of parking and its costs, we’re collecting intercept surveys and randomly interviewing people in the area and local businesses,” Pisnanount said. “In order to make a decision, we need to get better data.”
Certain aspects, such as business traffic, were overlooked in the initial study for the decision to extend parking meter hours.
“We hope to integrate the economic data of local businesses in our studies to factor into the decision,” Pisnanount said.
“And we will have a better idea about the turnover of parking, how many spots available versus how many have been filled.”
Prospectively, in his reply, the mayor stressed the link between increased parking fee hours and the construction of the First Hill Streetcar. In the spring, the city will break ground on this $130 million project which will connect Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill via South Jackson Street.
“The potential of the construction is very good for the area,” Pisnanount said. “Development is important, but it needs to be responsible and equitable for the community.”
For businesses, the streetcar will make the International District more accessible, drawing in new and more patrons. On the flipside, development can increase rent prices.
“Businesses that make the area unique will stay because they will ride the wave of construction,” Pisnanount said.
Therefore, to sustain the economy of the area, she emphasized the importance of increasing density and attracting more residents.
With so many different factors to be weighted both within the community today and in the long run, Pisnanount underlined the importance of gaining a complete understanding of the impact of parking. She hopes for a more nuanced parking policy that will take a multitude of these factors into account.
“Hopefully, we can create a system that works better for everybody,” Pisnanount said.