By Marino Saito
Northwest Asian Weekly
A year has passed since the parking rates in the Chinatown-International District were lowered, after negative feedback from local businesses in response to a raise in rates in 2011. After the rate reduction, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) had promised to revisit the issue in six months and determine the effect of the lowered rates on local restaurants and other businesses.
According to Don Blakeney of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), SDOT resurveyed the neighborhood in 2013, and determined there was no current need to alter the rates any further.
“Although the City has not completed a comprehensive follow-up study yet, anecdotal information that they had collected shows that last year’s changing rates has been a great help to retain the customers that drive to Chinatown-International District.” said Blakeney.
In 2011, the SDOT formed the Parking Sounding Board, which holds meetings and discussions with private parking operators, members of community councils, and neighborhood chamber groups. The City is working with CIDBIA to update the community parking plan in 2014.
The rates have affected different businesses in the International District in different ways.
“Luckily, my business was not affected by parking rates when they were raised [in 2011],” said Wendy Lu, owner of the Green Village restaurant in Chinatown. “But in general, most restaurants located in Chinatown-International District had a decrease in customers because of the high parking rates at that time.”
The differences in parking rates between outer areas and inner areas in Chinatown-International District have been considered by some to be unfair. “The parking rates should be the same and equal in all areas of Chinatown-International District, so that this district will grow a lot and become a more prosperous area,” said Lu. “Not only my business, others need to be happy at the same time, by getting more customers, to be a successful community.”
Blakeney said it’s important to listen to local businesses and residents. “Parking is personal, and people care about it more than a lot of other city issues,” he said. “Engaging communities early on and finding common objectives that meet the City’s sustainability goals goes a long way towards positive outcomes.
Vibrant neighborhoods with successful businesses are also key to urban sustainability — this is why the City has the community at the table as we begin to update the community parking plan in 2014.”
In the outer area of the CID, on-street paid parking hours moved back from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m., and rates were lowered to $2/hour. In the inner retail core area, rates from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. went from $2.50/hour to $1.50/hour, and daytime rates stayed at $2.50/hour from 8 a.m to 5 p.m.
Construction in the International District also presents an ongoing problem. “Access is a primary concern for the district,” said Blakeney. “The incoming construction to Downtown Seattle will rival lower Manhattan or any North American cities that have hosted the Olympics. This will have an effect on parking, transit, access to businesses, you name it. We have to be at the table with the City preparing for this high level of investment, so that we don’t lose out in the process of progress.” Blakeney added.
The upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations could present problems beyond parking. According to SDOT, up to two lanes on the northbound I-5 Collector-Distributor will be closed from 9 a.m. on Jan. 31 to 10 a.m. on Feb. 3, while crews replace expansion joints on the freeway.
The northbound I-5 on-ramp from S. Dearborn Street will be closed as well. The James Street and Madison Street exits from the collector-distributor will remain open. In addition, SDOT will close lanes on northbound or southbound I-5 in downtown Seattle for nine weekends between January and spring 2014. Drivers are encouraged to plan ahead or take public transit. (end)
Marino Saito can be reached at email@example.com.