December 12, 2006
Utopian social engineering at its worst
As expected, the Seattle City Council approved rules to make it harder for people to park near neighborhood businesses:
To wean people from their cars, encourage new small businesses and add greenery, the Seattle City Council told businesses and developers Monday they no longer need to provide parking in some areas but must plant more shrubs.
Car-haters approve, and wonder why a free-marketer like myself wouldn't applaud the relaxation of parking regulations. But not so fast. Businesses cause predictable externalities of traffic and parking. It's a legitimate function of local government to mitigate these externalities with prudent zoning and management of the traffic and parking. If the city doesn't require to individual businesses to provide customer parking, some businesses might decide it's in their best interest to provide their own parking anyway. Others might prefer to freeride and assume their customers will park in other businesses' lots (a form of theft, really) or park on nearby residential streets, to the detriment of residents. In the absence of adequate parking, some businesses will simply move. The Council's expectation that enough customers will start walking and busing to the same stores to which they are used to driving strikes me as unrealistic:
"This looks to the future for a vision of a city that is less auto-dependent," said Councilman Peter Steinbrueck.
A more realistic assessment from someone who will be affected by this:
"It's very business-unfriendly," said Dan Wiseman, the second-generation owner of Wiseman Appliances in the Admiral area in West Seattle. His customers, he said, "are going to go to the big-box stores that have the parking."
Indeed. More driving to distant stores, fewer local businesses. Utopian social engineering at its worst.
Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at December 12, 2006
12:03 PM | Email This
The residential streets are public streets, and anyone should be able to park on them. This will give the residents an incentive to vote the fools out that caused the traffic on their streets. Or more likely, they will start a parking permit program keeping everyone off the public streets, driving people to other busineses. And the libs will then blame WalMart for putting the 'Mom&Pop' stores out of business.
Ahhh, yes. The liberal utopia!
2. Reminds me of the City employee that "we only lost one business, and I think they were 'undercapitalized' anyway" when I questioned the effects of the City taking months to reopen a street they had closed. Made me want to "wean that person off oxygen" as a service to humanity.
Parking is a form of theft? I rather doubt that, and if you want your parking to be for your customers only you put up signs and engage the services of a towing company.
If I pull into a 7-11 and park while I go to the dry cleaners across the street and then get an mocha at the Tully's next door, I hardly consider it "theft" unless there is a sign that says "7-11 customers only".
Of course, truly visionary downtown planners realize those people that spend big money aren't assorted leftists taking the bus and provide adequate free or cheap parking for customers. When downtown is a shopping destination instead of a place to be avoided at all costs, you suddenly reap a lot of tax revenues.
4. Not to worry... they have a secret plan to turn I-90 and the Alaskan way viaduct into parking lots. What... they already are?
I have long wondered whether, in your dislike for the Seattle City Council and King County Council, there was anything they could do that you would approve of. With this post, I am getting closer to an answer. If the City Council had passed an ordinance stating that all businesses had to provide offstreet parking for 5 cars, I assume you would be screaming about the added regulatory cost imposed by the business-hating Council. I mean, you could certainly complain about the "green" aspects of the ordinance (which even a treehugger like myself thinks are stupid), but bitching about eliminating a requirement to provide offstreet parking? C'mon.
And as for Mr. Wiseman, competition sucks. I don't think there is anything in the new ordinance that prevents him from providing parking for his customers.
6. Snoqualmie is the "New Downtown" easier commute, free parking, building 1500 new homes in the next 2 years, Plenty of available Commercial Building sites. Why would any business or office that had the option, continue to do business in Downtown Seattle? Tolls and untold years of construction coming down the pike, crime, non-existent parking, Taxes and fees through the roof. People will seek viable alternatives and leave the corrupt collectivists to collapse under the weight of their own tax burden.
I am more opposed to letting residential development off the hook of providing adequate parking, as that will have a much more profound impact on neighborhoods and existing residents.
For businesses who don't have adequate parking, the businesses around it will be forced to defend its parking so that their own customers will have a place to park. This could create ill-will to that business who tows someone who might have gone across the street first and then intended to come back to the business with the parking. No one likes getting towed, and that person will certainly never go to the business that towed him after that.
Bottom line is that there is alot of freeloading that will occur because of this rule. It's pretty unfair to the existing businesses with parking to have to defend its own parking from those freeloading businesses who chose not to build any.
Anyone that seriously believes this is a good idea should be forced to take two young children on a bus downtown to do clothes shopping, then have them come back home with bags, packages, etc.
Do these idiots who oppose "sprawl" really believe this kind of thing is going to do anything but push more businesses to the Eastside?
I agree with the assessment that this is social engineering at its worst. I can see in my crystal ball mothers who will now take a comfortable half-hour drive to Alderwood Mall rather than a soggy 50 minute smelly bus ride to downtown. It's like Steinbrueck and his associated goofballs know nothing of human nature. Or maybe it's that they don't particularly care.
Say, wasn't it Sound Politics that discovered that Steinbrueck is the heaviest (drives the most) driver on the council? And that his greenhouse gas emitter of choice is a large SUV?
In the spirit of looking "to the future for a vision of a city that is less auto-dependent" I will once again propose: Make it mandatory that all government employees (to include the grandees on the city council) must take public transportation to and from work. This will instantly relieve Seattle streets and freeways of a major contributor to congestion and long commute times. This will also let that little hypocrite Peter put his time and money where his mouth is.
10. johnny, you forgot the smelly bums on the bus and the violent teenagers that hang out in the back. Who wouldn't love to live in this liberal version of paradise?
11. This is all something that would have been delayed or thought better of, if only I-933 would have passed. Maybe next time, so many city 'conservatives' won't vote against an initiative that makes a government body consider economic costs to regulations.
If any one wants to see this "urban village" nonsense in action, check out Ballard. It's bad enough the condo developers don't put in enough parking under the current guidelines and it will be worse under the new proposal. The Bartell's Drugs had to hire someone to stand in the parking lot to make sure people going to the Ballard library aren't taking customer spaces. Bartell's was smart to defend their space from the beginning, but a bronx cheer to the planners who thought people wouldn't drive to the library.
The parking situation near the post office is terrible and going to get worse with all the new buildings going up. Many of the condo owners not only have two vehicles (space is usually only provided for one), but the builder is allowed to put in "compact car" type spaces to meet the minimum requirements. So if you own anything larger than a Civic or Corolla, you park on the street. And people are using the buses for commuting, not shopping or a night out.
All council members should be immediately forced to give up their vehicles for the duration of their elected term. If Steinbreuck thinks this is going to help businesses or the environment, then he has been inhaling too much alternative greenery. What a hypocrital moron!!!
I thought I had seen it all, but...
The Seattle City Council shilling for Wal-Mart?
Am I missing something? This is a change to a REQUIREMENT that businesses provide parking, right? What would stop business owners like Mr. Wiseman from exercising their new-found authority to, well, provide their own parking?
If you think zoning is a legitimate government function, Stefan, sounds like you're behind in your reading of Richard Epstein. Back to the books!
15. And the number of parking stalls being deleted at City Hall is...May I have the envelope, please.
I think that this is a great idea.
And now that King county has made its thoughts known on reimbursing citizens for government "takings," I hope they simply create greenbelts where parking lots used to be.
I also think they should standardize stream setbacks statewide and plow under every human improvement within 100 feet of a streambed (or former streambed) in urban areas.
A bad idea is when urban folks think things are too crowded and thus set aside more rural land.
If it crushes the economy of King county to impose their utopia, then so be it.
Perhaps then depressed counties will be able to draw some business activities.
Perhaps then the validity of economics will make sense to the fuzzy-headed utopian liberals and the urban business elites who smile and nod.
"The city's Transportation Department also did a parking study in 2004 and found that many parking spaces sit empty. For instance, grocery stores are required to provide about three spaces per 1,000 square feet, but the department found that only two spaces per 1,000 square feet were being used."
Is this for during business hours or if you count every hour in the day? Have you tried finding a spot at the Met Mktg on QA or Safeway? How about the QFC on Capital Hill or even the QFC at U-Village...even during the summer it's tough. Transportation Dept....what an oxymoron in this region.
Seattle: failing schools
Seattle: families leaving
Seattle: business discouraged
Seattle: a dead city that doesn't know it yet.
How sad... may it rest in peace, Amen.
19. 1) Hey, Stefan, not to nitpick, but you've got a spelling error. That first sentence should read, "As expected, the Seattle Silly Council..."
2) The Council Who Says "Ni!" demands a tribute... more shrubbery! Contact Roger the Shrubber immediately. (I'm beginning to suspect that government in Seattle is not actually taken seriously by those carrying it out, but rather a very dry and subtle form of real-life performance comedy.)
Let's mix Washington's bad MATH with Seattle's parking free tree utopia...
picture a sign...
100 PARKING SPACES! ... with only 3.5 available...
Poor dead SanFranSeattle.
They don't like kids....think Chitty Chitty bang bang
I bet the voters are thrilled to find out that all those tax dollars they just approved for roads is not going to fix roads for cars but to revamp roads for busses leaving cars out.
This is just another step towards the city goal of banning all cars in the downtown are south of the ship canal and north of I-90
Thought I was watching Niles Frasier on TV but it turned out to be Steinbrueck. I can’t say he had a gleam in his eyes because he always looks like potential road-kill caught in headlights. He was talking about the Seattle Green Factor.
He said something about expanding landscaping in parking strips along sidewalks as part of The Factor.
That’s really going to be interesting when the feeding troughs attempting to be sidewalk cafes start adding The Factor and narrowing sidewalks even more. Wonder if Niles, I mean Pete, ever stopped to consider Americans With Disabilities Act requirements governing sidewalk space. He’ll think about it when the lawsuits start coming in.
24. "Green Factor"? In the name of common sense do these kooks really believe Seattle doesn't have enough greenery?
I truly believe these clowns have lost their sanity. In the next generation, we are gaining about 40% more population in this state, and most of Puget Sound's land is developed already. We will have more cars, not fewer cars.
I have had it. This year, we are breaking a 10 year family tradition of going downtown to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere (spending a lot of money buying presents, food, etc) because these people simply don't want my business.
It is going to Bellevue this year, and while Mayor Gridlock couldn't give a damn about my money, I'm sure the merchants of Bellevue will enjoy it for years to come.
These people are warped.
One look at who the county council just elected chair and "vice" chair (an apt title in the case of the latter) confirms your suspicion.
All can rest assured that there is going to be plenty of YouTube hilarity this coming year from both the county and city improv groups masquerading as government councils.
I think you're wrong on this one Stefan- let the free market decide how much parking is needed. No business parking- no customers.
Granted these morons are totally off the mark in their intentions. The approach is more libertarian than anything.
I guess they didn't really think through how this might effect handicapped access or access for the elderly.
28. Andy: They probably don't want the elderly or handicapped. Not good for the Seattle "image".
29. We are in the middle of a "recovery" that's been going on for four years. Yet "downtown" Seattle, especially around Rainier Square, looks like a waste-land. It will never come back. I'm a 60-ish Seattle native who has moved to Snohomish County, and I go "downtown" only for the Symphony -- no shopping! Be like Ralph Ellison in The Invisible Man: research your shopping on Amazon, then buy from an out-of-state site and pay no sale tax. Rot the government from home!
All you need is a "mail" box service with good parking. Even malls are starting to die: too many cars, too few and too narrow parking places.
With their anti car legislation, they'll be kissing their downtown businesses goodbye. My tax dollars go to Bellevue and other Eastside cities as I refuse to struggle to find parking downtown. If they want to keep cars out, they'll be keeping the tax paying customers away. Guess they'll have to settle for the "free ride" bus passengers that cruise downtown to panhandle. When the sales tax revenue dries up because businesses are forced to close due to no customers, then they'll be crying that they have no money to pay for all their "social experiments" gone bad.
Such a beautiful city and a beautiful state, but I've never lived anywhere that is more backward then here!
31. I agree with #25 that these people are insane. Mere stupidity doesn't seem adequate. I wrote to all of the council members last week, but, since I was not friendly in tone, I don't expect any answer. More businesses will try to open without any sort of parking provision. And probably soon close. Downtown will be less attractive than it was a decade ago during my last visit.
Stefan, it's comical that you fear small businesses will lose customers to big box stores who provide parking. Why do big box stores provide parking? Because their customers want it! Small businesses can continue to do they same thing, if they think that's what their customers want.
If the council required businesses to devote their valuable private property to parking spaces against their will, that would be a taking that they should be reimbursed for -- right?
Bruce -- You're right about supply and demand, but Stefan has a point here: externalities are messing with the pure supply and demand model.
You park in a 20-car lot in downtown Seattle, and you may well be within 150 feet of 20 stores. Whoever provided that lot for their customers, realistically, is providing it for the customers of 19 other stores as well. You park at WalMart, and you may well be within 150 feet of... well, WalMart, and that's about it. It's the "tragedy of the commons" all over again, but with cars instead of sheep.
And I define "taking" as government changing the rules of the game after you've bought your property, thus rendering it less valuable. If you bought your property back when it was required to provide x parking spaces for every y square feet in your store, you knew those were the ground rules going in, and nothing was taken from you by those rules remaining in effect.
Hats off to your libertarian instincts, but I think this is one of those legitimate places for local government to step in and prevent a free rider problem.
johnny 8 has it nailed.
same reason why certain commuters wont embrace busses--too much hassles with kids & commuting & other errands, etc.
this parking-shopping lesson happened in a big midwest city. main downtown shopping street closed. a mall for bus & walking. business dies. shoppers went to suburb malls. downtown reversed its parking/mall idea. downtown never recovered from that move. bettere stores moved out or closed. lessons were learned.
i sometimes wonder why urban planners just don't use some plain old (cheap) common sense & look around at what people are REALLY doing, not what they SHOULD BE doing.
besides, people now like shopping at suburban malls. why go downtown for anything one can get locally?
35. Well, that will guarantee I'll never shop in Seattle. I guess they want to kill those pesky little businesses by slow starvation. I'll go to the Mall where there's parking.
Bruce, I see you took Utopia 101 like I did. However, I went to the class that said Utopia was only an ideal and could never be.
The free market just doesn't operate the way you say. With cost of land in downtown Seattle so high, you would never see a big box there with lots of parking. But, at least your side is trying to learn about business, free markets, etc..
This is letting the free market decide parking, not government. Plus, the business community is happy about it, especially small business.
Isn't that what people want, less government regulation???
It's social engineering to force businesses to provide expensive parking.
You pose an interesting discussion on externalities. Milton Friedman uses the term neighborhood effects. However, there is no guarantee that people will park in some else's parking lot and there are laws against trespassing.
I suspect that if the City Council passed regulations on car pollution your response would be just the opposite even though pollution is a neighborhood effect and all cars pollute.
Sorry Stephanie, how can it be called social engineering when zoning and performance standards meet your definition. But when you outright steal the previously approved uses of my land in rural King County it's for the "common good". I say make the rules the same for everyone. No more building anywhere in Seattle (even verticle) unless you off set with mitigation open space in the neighborhood to create a sustainable livable environment, that sounds fair doesn't it
Maybe next the Seattle council won't charge any impact fee's because the infrastructure is already built and we are simply utilizing it more fully. But hey the businesses are really stoked about not having to pay for adequate parking. Let us know how that works out for you.
40. No Stephanie, it is making business mitigate the effect of their enterprize on existing businesses and the neighborhood in general by ensuring that the customers they invite have a place to park.
Candyman, where you been? You miss that same class in Utopia 101 that Bruce did? You ever been out in the real world?
Why would Bartell's have to hire people to protect their parking spaces if it was 'guaranteed' people would respect their privacy, no trespassing and all that?
42. There is no parking in New York, San Francisco, or Boston, yet these cities continue to expand. I took the bus all over SF when I went in January, it was cheap and quite reliable.
You saying the density in SanFrancisco and Seattle are the same all over?
Interesting you used the word 'bus' Cato. Buses are more mobile than the preferred rail lines. I think more buses, better designed buses and more routes are a better solution than rail. Agree with my 80-20 split?
Cato -- I lived in San Francisco for 13 years before I moved to Seattle. It's true, you can get around more easily without a car within San Francisco than in Seattle. But S.F. has more than twice the population density of Seattle. (about 150,000 more people in about half the area).
Look, I like the car-free urban lifestyle when it's practical. I lived in some great urban neighborhoods in SF. I liked that I could walk to stores, entertainment and restaurants and that I could go for days without having to get in my car. But (1) I was childless most of that time, so it was a lot easier than it is for me now, and (2) the geography in Seattle, at least here in the north part of town, is a lot more spread out and getting around without a car is much less attractive than it is in San Francisco.
Re: Cato (42)
Huh??? The Muni is a really good way to get rolled or stuck. I don't know what part of town you were in but I think maybe you weren't aware of the high rate of crime, esp gang related, on the muni bus system. I know its easy to miss that kind of thing, but there's been significant problems in SF with muggings of the bus drivers, let alone passengers, to the extent that its been a union bargaining point.
46. Cato #42 - it may have been cheap for you, but the good citizens of SF paid part of the fare.
I still fail to see why the free market can't solve this. Many businesses have free parking limited to customers and there are several methods that do a reasonable job of keeping non-customers out. And there are pay spaces, both public (parking meters) and private (parking lots). Then there is the combination -- pay lots with validation for customers of sponsoring businesses. Furthermore, technology is making pay spaces more convenient and economically efficient -- you can pay by credit card and pay for just the time you need.
Sure, some people will avoid stores without "free" parking, but nothing is really free and this seems like a reasonable choice to leave to the businesses.
48. I wish the council would have said they want to add "shrubbery" instead of "greenery." Then the Emerald City could finally claim the "Knights who say Ni" as residents. That would add to our social fabric quite well.
I wonder if Seattle has an official "Shrubber"?
I wouldn't be surprised.
Stephanies: "This is letting the free market decide parking, not government. "
Bruce: "I still fail to see why the free market can't solve this."
Oh, the free market will solve this, in the form of more customers shifting more of their business away from neighborhood stores and driving to suburban malls and big box stores that offer more convenient and predictable parking.
I'm not really complaining about the outcome, only pointing out that the consequences of this manoeuvre will be other than what its sand-for-brains promoters have intended.
And more businesses with parking that is currently free converting their lots to pay for parking with validation. Depending on what the parking costs, that might drive people away as well to places that offer the parking for free.
There used to be quite a few spots on Seattle downtown streets where you could find a free spot. It was kind of nice, and put you in a better mood for the rest of the day. Sadly, those days are gone. They have even taken away the joy from getting to a spot with some time left on the meter. We used to shop downtown alot more than we do now.
Sad to say, we no longer shop at our favorite fish market in the U-district. For years I could whip down there, shove a quarter in the meter, and do my shopping. Best crab in town.
Now you have to deal with one of those idiotic, annoying parking kiosks, or park way up on a residential street and walk through a bunch of drunken, agressive panhandlers. Or use the city's preferred alternative, ride bus #72 and make a half hour trip into a 2-hour odyssey complete with smelly crazy people. We said the heck with it, it's much easier to drive to the Northgate QFC.
53. Well the Mayor wants tolls and commuter taxes, has asked for and received additional paid parking taxes and an employee head tax. Add on the roads and the Viaduct replacement/repair no one will be able to afford to shop downtown. I can hardly wait for the crime and drug dealing that goes on directly across from City Hall to go mobile on the light rail system to the U-district and the 'burbs. Thug relocation program subsidized by their future victims.
"Encourage new small businesses???"
When I'm in Seattle on occasion, and I feel the need to stop along the way to pick up something to eat, I definitely do not stop for places that look to have zero parking available. Some small businesses are going to pick up and move because of this. When they start getting fewer customers AND have to spend money for more plantings, they will just up and leave.
Have you had enough, yet, Seattle businesses? Will you stop voting in these economic know-nothings who are trying to hurt you?
Misty writes: I definitely do not stop for places that look to have zero parking available. Some small businesses are going to pick up and move because of this.
So would this be their thought process? "Hmmm. No one is coming to my business because there's no place to park. I don't want to provide parking. Maybe I'll move to someplace else where I'm forced to provide parking."
Bill Cruchon laments: Now you have to deal with one of those idiotic, annoying parking kiosks ... it's much easier to drive to the Northgate QFC.
Hey Bill, if you can't handle sticking a quarter in one of those parking kiosks, how on earth do you manage to get onto the internet?
Stafen predicts: Oh, the free market will solve this, in the form of more customers shifting more of their business away from neighborhood stores and driving to suburban malls and big box stores that offer more convenient and predictable parking.
The root problem, Stefan, is that urban property is more expensive than suburban property. That's why you don't find malls with lots of free parking downtown. And why is urban property more expensive? Let's go back to Econ 101: Because more businesses want it. And why do they want it? Because they can make more money from it.
If fewer people shop in urban areas, the property value will decline to the point where it's worth putting in free parking. But currently downtown businesses can make more profit by using the space for sales and other activities than by using it for free parking. Obviously those sales must be to people who got there somehow. Some drove and paid for parking, some took the bus or train, some biked, and some even walked from their downtown homes.
The city's rule change reflects the reality that some Seattle neighborhoods are approaching downtown in density and property values, and this is pricing out small businesses. Therefore they are allowing small businesses the option to use their space as they wish, without requiring parking.
If you want to question the rule requiring shrubbery, go ahead. But I can't believe you want to require free parking. Is there really a free lunch?
"Hey Bill, if you can't handle sticking a quarter in one of those parking kiosks, how on earth do you manage to get onto the internet?"
Bruce, I thought you were a above stooping to the snotty kinds of personal attacks liberals are so fond of. Evidently I was wrong.
I believe the minimum you can get away with is $1.50 at one of those lovely kiosks I was referring to.
59. Bill-- You can put as little as a nickel in the pay stations (which will buy you 2 minutes of parking, plus a 2-minute grace period that everyone gets). But there is a $1.50 minimum to use a credit card. And please! I would never introduce snotty personal attacks to SoundPolitics! I was actually complimenting you on your internet skills.
60. I'm not an economist, Bruce, but I think your conclusions rests on unsound premises. I think it's much more likely that businesses will leave downtown than businesses, facing declining property values, will seek to bring up the property value by putting in parking. Once something is built without parking, I have a hard time seeing how parking can be added realistically. Second, once the city is unfriendly enough to cars anyway, "Bob's Diner" adding a few parking stalls isn't going to mitigate the fact that driving downtown is a pain in the can and most people would prefer to just go to the 'burbs. Need I mention that when one must actually carry purchases, such as groceries or large purchases at, say, a hardware store, the bus/walking argument is absurd? All I know is that I only go downtown when I absolutely have to, even though I work there. I never shop downtown, hate paying for parking and trying to find parking on the street, and go out of my way to avoid patronizing businesses downtown. I know dozens of people with exactly the same view. When we decide where to go out to eat or where to meet for a social occasion, downtown is nixed since it's an expensive pain in the ass. Municipal planners, downtown associations and other people with a stake in the matter should realize that, except for those who care only about getting everyone out of their cars, there is no reason why businesses can't provide parking *and* serve walkers, bus riders, etc.