Ballard Could Soon Get New Restricted Parking Zones, And So Could Other Areas Of The City


Ballard has increasingly become a major nightlife area and employment destination in Northwest Seattle. And with that, demand for access to the area has resulted in serious pain points for local residents. On-street parking has become a pretty hot button issue throughout the neighborhood as shortages have risen block by block with demand.

In 2014, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) inventoried on-parking throughout the core neighborhood business district and found that utilization on any given block face ranged from 109% to 58%. SDOT made sweeping changes in response to this last year by introducing expanded paid parking areas. But now SDOT is considering further changes in the form of a new Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) beyond the core neighborhood business district.

The RPZ is a program to help mitigate high parking demand by giving local residents on-street parking priority. Residents can register their vehicles (up to four per household plus one guest permit) and purchase permits to park 24 hours per day in zones that ordinarily would be time restricted, and each pass is valid for two years and typically costs around $65 (low-income households can purchase passes at reduced rates). Currently, there are 31 different RPZs across Seattle, but three more areas could be added within the next year. For an area to qualify for the RPZ program, a few pieces of criteria must be met:

  1. At least 75% of on-street parking spaces must be occupied;
  2. Of those occupied parking spaces, at least 35% must be used by non-resident vehicles;
  3. The area proposed for an RPZ must be at least 10 contiguous blocks (or 20 block faces); and
  4. There must be a clearly identifiable generator for parking demand (e.g., a university or medical center).

2015 parking study results. (City of Seattle)
2015 parking study results. (City of Seattle)

Residents in Ballard (Central Ballard Residents Association) came together in late 2014 to submit an RPZ request that would cover dozens of blocks in central Ballard. SDOT followed up on the request and conducted a parking study in September 2015. The study revealed two key statistics:

  1. An average of 93% of all on-street parking was being utilized during the day; and
  2. More than 35% of all vehicles parked on the street were not owned by local residents.

This means that the first three pieces of criteria for RPZ were met by the study. But the neighborhood also has obvious parking demand generators like local business and the Swedish Medical Center campus near Market Street and Tallman Avenue.

The proposed RPZ for central Ballard. (City of Seattle)
The proposed RPZ for central Ballard. (City of Seattle)

SDOT’s proposal is to sign approximately 30 block faces as RPZ in the north and east frame of central Ballard. Residents would be eligible if they live on block face designed as RPZ or fall within the larger RPZ area (see map above). If approved, the RPZ for this would area would be in effect during weekdays from 7am to 8pm. Those without an RPZ permit would be subject to a maximum time limit of two hours on any given block face. As a matter of policy, SDOT does not mark on-street parking areas in front of ground floor retail or non-residential uses as RPZ. And any existing parking restrictions, whether time limited or paid, would not be changed either.

More RPZs Coming

It’s not just Ballard that could get an RPZ this year. The University District, Capitol Hill, and Greenlake each could see either RPZ expansions or the creation of a new one.

Zone 10 in the University District will be expanded in the northeast of the neighborhood later this spring. At least 17 block faces will be added to the zone, typically on one side of a street. Many blocks in the area are still eligible to be designated RPZ, but those streets won’t be designated in this expansion. All residents in the affected area are eligible to participate in the program. Two-hour time limits will be effective from Monday through Saturday from 7am to 6pm, except by permit.

University District RPZ expansion plan. (City of Seattle)
University District RPZ expansion plan. (City of Seattle)

Zone 2 in Capitol Hill could be expanded north of E Spring St and E Union Street. More than 40 different block faces could join the Zone 2 RPZ, which has an existent patchwork of signed RPZ block faces north of Union and Spring. This expansion proposal would essentially fill in many of the gaps and add in some new blocks as well. Two-hour time limits will be effective from Monday through Saturday from 7am to 6pm, except by permit. But uniquely, residents south of Union could get free permits, which are jointly subsidized by Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill and Seattle University.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 18.21.47

Greenlake is slated to get a new RPZ as well. More than 40 block faces could be signed near the neighborhood core, just beyond where paid parking was recently implemented in fall 2015. The RPZ could extend from about NE 76th St to NE 65th St and I-5 to 1st Ave N. SDOT is proposing the RPZ to be in effect Monday through Friday 7am to 6am. A final decision on the proposal will be made sometime this summer and could go in effect late in the year.

Proposed Greenlake RPZ. (City of Seattle)
Proposed Greenlake RPZ. (City of Seattle)

SDOT is taking feedback on the Ballard proposal through May 30th and offering an online survey.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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Nothing fair at all about just giving away public property that would cost about $1,200/year to rent at a pay lot.


If we discourage or prohibit parking in new residential construction, then clearly provisions need to be made for tenants to park their cars on nearby streets. In Seattle, the tool to enable that is RPZs. We can’t legally prohibit those residents from owning cars, and many of them will. They need to go somewhere. I spent a few weeks in Rome last year, and their tiny cars are most often parked on sidewalks. Not a good solution for Seattle.


Seattle is not discouraging or prohibiting parking in new residential construction. Nowhere in the city does the zoning code specify a maximum number of parking spaces. What *has* happened is that parking minimums have been reduced or eliminated in certain areas.

In the past these minimum requirements have resulted in an oversupply of parking, such that many off-street and on-street spaces sat empty. When you have so many empty spaces, a landlord can’t charge more than a token amount for an off-street space because tenants will just park on the street for free instead.

Now it seems that the minimum requirement is often less than the number of cars that tenants will own. This is a good thing! Remember there is no maximum. Right now we’re seeing many buildings go up with no on-site parking because the market price to rent a parking space is still below the cost to build and maintain that space. But as more people move in, they’ll drive up the price and new buildings will start to have more parking.

Over the long run we should expect that the new parking spaces will exactly match the new number of cars added to the neighborhood. Real estate developers tend to be pretty good at finding ways to make a profit, and parking is no different. People who choose to live in buildings without parking will need to rent a spot in a different building, rent a street spot from the city (which will need to cost more than $65/year to not be over crowded), or go without a car entirely.


If you own or rent housing on a piece land that has private off-street parking (like a driveway), it’s interesting to calculate what percentage of the land is taken up by it, and what portion of your monthly mortgage or rental payment is paying for that parking. Then compare that to $65 for TWO YEARS- $2.71 a month! (do I read that right?)

It’s true that the owned driveway land gains equity and is repurposable- someone without a car or as many cars as the driveway can handle can devote it to other purposes. Why not flip that around and allow a RPZ permit holder to install a parklet at their own expense instead of parking a car there?


I generally don’t support RPZs. The street parking is a public resource, and as such it should be available on an equal basis to all. Clearly something needs to be done where the existing free parking is overly full; to ignore the problem just leads to more traffic as people endlessly circle the streets looking for an available space.

However I don’t think reserving these spaces in a way that privileges neighborhood residents is the right way to go about it. This just serves to reinforce the common misconception that existing residents have some claim over the street parking spaces where they typically store their cars. This belief logically leads to the also-common belief that new developments should be required to have so much on-site parking that the price and availability of free street parking will not be affected. Such requirements are directly in opposition to urban density, particularly affordable density.

Instead of reserving these permits for residents, why not let anyone who wants a permit buy one? Set the price as needed to ensure that the number of issued permits will be just less than the number of spaces. Two-hour free parking for non-permit-holders seems like a reasonable thing to try initially. If the spaces still fill up, install parking meters.