Last week, the Seattle Department of Consruction and Inspections (SDCI) released a draft proposal to improve parking availability in neighborhoods and reducing costs associated with parking requirements. The proposal focuses on providing flexibility in how parking can be utilized and reforming parking regulations.

In article earlier this week, Doug Trumm touched on the high-level features of the proposal. This article, however, takes a deeper dive into the proposal.

Flexible-Use Parking

One feature of the proposal entails establishing a new parking category in the Land Use Code called “flexible-use parking”. This parking type would allow more extensive use of new and existing parking facilities, particularly in denser residential zones (Lowrise 3 (LR3), Midrise, and Highrise), virtually all Dowtown and commercial zones, and some industrial zones.

In essence, flexible-use parking would constitute extra parking spaces, whether in an open or garage, that are not already reserved for a particular use, such as a dwelling unit or establishment. These extra spaces could generally be dedicated to short-term and long-term parking uses more freely. One can imagine greater use by nearby properties, residents, and carsharing companies that may choose to rent these spaces.

The ability to create or opt-in to flexible-use parking would be controlled, in part, by zone-based regulations. For instance, in the Downtown Office Core (DOC1 and DOC2) zones and Downtown Mixed Commercial (DMC) zone, flexible-use parking garages for short-term parking could be permitted through a conditional use process. In DOC1, flexible-use long-term and short-term parking would not be permitted as surface parking, but in the DOC2 and DMC zones, it could be in certain areas through the administrive conditional use process. These regulations are based upon exising provisions for principle use parking

Refining Parking Amounts

Parking amounts would be refined in a variety of ways. For instance, parking requirements for income-restricted housing would be reduced broadly to 0.2 spaces per dwelling unit. This is actually quite consequential for housing designed for households at or below 60% of the area median income. The current standard generally ranges between 0.33 and 1.0 spaces per dwelling unit. Likewise, income-restricted housing designed for households at or below 80% of the area median income would range from 0.167 and 0.33 spaces depending on certain factors like disability and age or neither.

Other changes would include:

  • Removing an exception in Downtown zones that allows more parking than the general maximum parking limits.
  • Exempting public uses and institutions within a frequent transit service area from parking requirements.
  • Allowing parking in parts of Northgate to exceed the maximum parking limits if associated with the Northgate Transit Center or if there is a demonstrated need.
  • Allowing reductions to parking requirements in any zone, except for Downtown zones, to the minimum necessary to support the proposed activity. Applicants would need to demonstrate that the reduction is warranted.

Bicycle Parking

The bicycle parking requirements could see significant changes. On the whole, bicycle quanities related to use would increase. Performance standards would be improved requiring better deployment of bicycle parking facilities.

For a bit of background, the Land Use Code differentiates between short-term and long-term bicycle parking. Short-term is defined as less than four hours of a parked bike while long-term is four or more hours.

Proposed changes to the performance standards would require “highly visible” bicycle parking, encourage convenience for users, and implementation of theft deterrence in design. A future rule by the Seattle Department of Transportation could provide added specificity to address bicycle parking design. Some considerations that the proposed changes would address, include:

  • Secured facilities and placement of long-term bicycle parking. This could include things like bicycle locker rooms, cages, or individual lockers.
  • Sufficient lighting for bicycle parking areas and access routes to them.
  • Reasonable pedestrian and bicycle access to long-term bicycle parking facilities. Access would need to be separated from motorized vehicle entry and exit points.
  • Signage to provide wayfinding to bicycle parking facilities. This would need to be provided if bicycle parking is not directly visible from the street or sidewalk.
  • Ease of access to long-term bicycle parking. Long-term bicycle parking would need to be accessible without having to carry a bicycle using stairs.
  • Better weather protection. Long-term bicycle parking would need to be fully protected from the elements. Currently, this is only mandatory if covered automobile parking is also provided.

To encourage more flexibility in located bicycle parking, both long-term and short-term bicycle parking could be located at an off-site location within 800 feet of a devdlopment site. Currently this is only allowed up to 100 feet away and it can’t be shared. The proposed standards would allow off-site bicycle parking to be shared. Short-term bicycle parking could be provided generally in public spaces, whether on the public right-of-way or on other public property, giving more flexibility in locations.

A big policy idea is a requirement for bicycle commuter shower facilities. Any structures with 100,000 square feet or more of office space would need to provide shower facilities paired with clothing storage areas. A ratio of one shower per gender would be required for every 100,000 square feet of office space. Naturally, these facilities would need to be easily accessed.

Under current code, there is no bicycle parking for uses not listed in the bicycle parking table (SMC 23.54.015, Table D). The proposed standard would set a minimum of one bicycle parking stall per 10,000 square feet of gross floor area of a structure. The bicycle parking stalls could be either short-term or long-term bicycle parking stalls. To give a sense of the general changes for common uses with short-term and long-term bicycle parking requirements, see the following table:

UseBike Parking TypeCurrent RegulationProposed Regulation
Eating and Drinking
Long-Term1 per 12,000 square feet1 per 5,000 square feet
Offices and Laboratories, Research and DevelopmentShort-Term1 per 40,000 square feet1 per 12,000 square feet
Sales and Services, GeneralLong-Term1 per 12,000 square feet1 per 10,000 square feet
Sales and Services, HeavyLong-Term1 per 4,000 square feet1 per 2,000 square feet
Community Clubs or CentersShort-Term1 per 4,000 square feet1 per 1,000 square feet
MuseumsShort-Term1 per 4,000 square feet1 per 2,000 square feet
Rail Transit Facilities and Passenger TerminalsShort-TermNoneSpaces for 7% of projected daily ridership during the morning peak period

Frequent Transit Service Measurement

In many areas that have frequent transit service within a quarter-mile, parking requirements can be waived or reduced for residential and non-residential uses. However, the standard for measuring frequent transit service has recently been challenged through the appeals process at the project review level.

In one high-profile case, community members in Greenwood appealed a land use decision on the basis that the Route 5 corridor failed to meet a consistent level of frequent transit service. The City Hearing Examiner concurred with this assessment and sending an approved project back for further review by SDCI.

The draft parking changes would generally resolve this by revising the definition of “frequent transit service”, adding a new term for “transit service headway”, and establishing a new rule in determining frequent transit service.

“Transit service, frequent” means transit service defined as frequent by a Director’s rule. ((headways in at least one direction of 15 minutes or less for at least 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, and transit service headways of 30 minutes or less for at least 18 hours every day.))

“Transit service headway” means the scheduled time interval between transit vehicles, associated with single or multiple transit routes, running the same direction at a particular transit stop.

The new rule would map recognized frequent transit service areas. The map would accordingly be updated every two years to capture the inevitable changes in transit service, which is generally planned to improve. This should ensure that new developments in areas nearby frequent transit service could reduce or waive parking requirements, with the idea being that transit service and other means of transportation would generally facilitate mobility needs.

The draft rule specifies a precise means to define and map frequent transit service. An area would qualify as frequent transit service area if it is:

  1. Within a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) walking distance from a transit stop; and
  2. The transit stop achieves one of two scheduled service headway standards. These are as follows:

Transit trips for at least 12 hours per day, 6 days per week with intervals between service of no more than 18 minutes and a frequency of not less than four scheduled trips per every 1.10 hours (which denotes a 10% hourly limit on variability in transit scheduling practices); and

Transit trips for at least 17 hours of every day of the week, with intervals between service of no more than 35 minutes and a frequency of not less than two scheduled trips per every 1.10 hours (also denoting a 10% hourly limit on variability).

The methodology to measure distance from transit stops is clearly outlined in the draft rule making it easy to replicate.

Other Changes

There is a smorgasbord of other changes proposed to parking regulations. These include:

  • SEPA policy updates. Updates to environmental policies under the SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) chapter are proposed to better align with policy direction in the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Mobility mitigation. Subsidies for participation in a carsharing, bikesharing, or similar type of mobility program would be added as an option for parking impact mitigation under SEPA conditioning authority.
  • Reforming spillover mitigation. The scope of reduced densities under parking impact mitigation using SEPA conditioning authority would be limited to only non-residential development when it can be shown that reduced density would result in reduced parking spillover.
  • Incentivizing carsharing. New incentives would allow up to three carsharing parking spaces to be located in front and side setbacks in some commercial (NC2, NC3, C1, and C2) and residential (MR and HR) zones.
  • Unbundling parking requirements. New requirements would be added to unbundle any accessory off-street parking in a new rental multi-family residential development with 10 or more dwellings, except for income-restricted units that are required to have parking. Likewise, most rented or leases commercial uses in structures that contain 10,000 square feet or more of gross floor area would need to be unbundled. The standard terms of the rental and lease agreements could not automatically include parking. Instead, a parking agreement would need to be separate and voluntary.
  • Parking distance. Required accessory parking would generally be allowed to be located further away from a development. The standard is currently within 800 feet, but this would be increased to a quarter-mile (1,320 feet).

SDCI Takes a Stab at Parking Reform

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Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound 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. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.