Neighbor-to-neighbor: Parking woes in the RPZ

Photo by Wendi.
Photo by Wendi.
What are your experiences with the new RPZ (Restricted Parking Zone) in Beacon Hill?

Since 2003, I’ve parked my car in front of the house on the concrete area between the sidewalk and the street. There are two spaces and the curb is cut to allow car access to the area. The car doesn’t block the sidewalk. We considered this area a parking strip. According to the brochure left on my windshield, the City considers it a planting strip and it is illegal to park there.

I’m not the only person on our block to use this area for long-term parking. If I park on the street, I have to move my car every 72 hours–even if I have nowhere to go. I thought parking on the parking strip was responsible; I’m frustrated that it’s not allowed.

We chose this neighborhood in part because the location encourages and supports leaving the car at home. I walk to Red Apple and restaurants and we both take mass transit to work. We have cars because occasionally we need them–but rarely every 72 hours.

How does a law that requires every car in the city move every 72 hours encourage people to get out of our cars? How is parking in a paved area with curb cutouts worse than parking on the street?

Does anyone know the process for initiating changes in parking policy?

14 thoughts on “Neighbor-to-neighbor: Parking woes in the RPZ”

  1. Well, we have two cars and a little truck, which is one more vehicle than the number of drivers. Someday we want to rectify that, but for now we’re just making it tough on ourselves. But, if we haven’t moved one of our cars for 72 hours, we just drive it around the block and park it in a different spot. It’s not like we’re being forced to drive it to work or something. Considering the number of abandoned cars I’ve called in on our block over the past few years before the RPZ, I have a hard time getting too worked up about this one. And having lived on Capitol Hill, I can’t believe with what the rest of the city, including Beacon Hill has been getting away with.

    When we were out of town for a couple weeks, we parked one car at a friend’s house down past Rainier Beach and finagled our little truck into our essentially unusable driveway leading to the inaccessible garage that so many houses from the 20’s have.

    In general, I like what we’re getting from being in the RPZ. If we’re slightly inconvenienced because of it, it’s no big deal.

  2. @Brook–I share your concern about actual abandoned vehicles and your experience living in other parts of town–it’s really bad in the U-District and Capitol Hill is a nightmare.

    @Ash–I agree with the principals of the World Changing article (and great site–thanks for sharing). I absolutely support the idea of changing zoning requirements for off-street parking, especially in commercial and public spaces. However, I’m still confused about street parking.

    I’m allowed and encouraged to plant trees and/or garden in the unpaved area between the street and sidewalk. I’m not allowed to take out the pavement and plant anything or otherwise block access to the cutout. What is the role of that area in urban design?

    My primary frustration is with the 72hr requirement applying to legally parked, permitted vehicles. If my car has a permit (traceable to our address) and is legally parked on a side street, why am I required to move it?

    I’m trying not to drive. Parked cars take space, which is a resource. Cars on the road take up a lot more resources. Shouldn’t zoning/parking requirements encourage me to leave my car at home instead of starting it up and driving it around the block for no reason?

  3. I used to live in the heart of Fremont, right at the corner of 36th and Evanston. I left a completely disabled Volvo in front of our apartment for over a year without moving it. This was back before Fremont became Fremontland and got zoned parking, but it was still an active neighborhood with highly competitive parking. When someone on the block finally got annoyed enough about driving around and around the neighbohood the lived in, unable to find a parking spot but seeing my car sitting there unused, they called it in. I got a ticket, and the motivation to send the car to the wrecking yard where it belonged.

    The 72 hour law puts the onus on the car owner to demonstrate that they aren’t doing what I did. Your position would let me still have that car sitting in Fremont.

    As you said, parking is a resource. If a car is not being used, then why should it be using that resource? Street parking is a government subsidy to car owners, and the law is designed to ensure that subsidy isn’t being abused.

    Really, what it comes down to is this: If you can go more than 72 hours without using a car, do you need a car? Or could you park your car somewhere other than in the city and only get it when you need it? The law isn’t about encouraging people to drive, it’s about encouraging people to get rid of cars if they don’t really need them.

  4. On the other hand I can imagine that it would be nice if there was a way around the rule for cars that clearly aren’t abandoned but have a need to be in place for a bit.

    The one time I had a problem with this law was back when the rule was 24 hours, not 72, and I lived in Wallingford. Something happened to my car on the way home. It was not running right, but I managed to get it home and parked it in front of my house. And then lost the ignition key that night, probably outside while looking under the hood. (Old 1970 Mazda 1800 which had separate keys for the ignition and the door.) I looked and looked for the key, and put signs up on the block asking if anyone had found a missing key, but couldn’t find it, and couldn’t start the car without it. I could not move the car because I couldn’t start it without the key. So I made arrangements for a friend to come by the next weekend and hotwire it, and also try to fix it. The neighbors a couple of doors down reported it to the city, which had it towed before the weekend. And the thing was, it obviously wasn’t abandoned, as until that week it was a daily driver and the neighbors had probably seen it parked near our house, but moved frequently, for a year. It seemed kind of unneighborly to call it in for a tow that quickly. The space was promptly filled by one of their multiple SUVs.

    (We went to the tow yard and paid the ridiculous amount of money to have the car released, and my friend hotwired it on the street outside the tow lot. Where we determined that, yes, the car was actually not going to be drivable and I might have been lucky to get it home at all the night I had parked it. And we did not abandon it outside the tow lot — we had someone come take it away the next day.)

    Now, I wonder if, in a situation like that, it would have been feasible to have some sort of temporary “license” to leave a car on the street for a few extra days. Something you have to justify with a good excuse, and give a specific reason. So I could have perhaps gone downtown or something and explained that my car would need to be in place until the weekend, but it would be moved then. Or if I was going on vacation for a week, I could ask for a temporary permit to leave the car in place while on vacation. And there would be some sort of limit to avoid abuse — perhaps only 3 times a year or something.

    For people like Melissa, maybe some sort of “Weekend Driver” permit where the car is allowed to stay in place from Monday-Friday but must be moved every weekend, for example. While tying up parking a bit, this would also encourage people not to drive as much, which is a more important issue.

    This is just random brainstorming, though — I suppose we don’t need more parking bureaucracy.

  5. Ash, I’m not sure I understand your point. This isn’t about filling neighborhood parking lots with unused cars. In fact, just the opposite. These pads are adjacent to single-family homes, who’s owners pay taxes by the way, and quite often would be usable for a parking space with no impact to surrounding neighbors. I’m not sure what the “taxpayer expense” is there. The parking strip may not fall within the boundary of the single-family lot, but it is the responsibility of the owner to maintain it and it is not available to be used by other “taxpayers”, as far as I know. I have to get a permit just to plant a garden in the strip. I’m not sure I understand the drawbacks of allowing a car, motorcycle, scooter, etc. to park on a pad within the strip.

    Regarding the extended parking issue; parking enforcement will soon be going to an advanced gps-based system, eliminating the need for the tire chalking method everyone is familiar with. It seems like they could implement a system similar to what you do if you need to park construction equipment or a dumpster and just get a temporary permit to park your car for a reasonable duration beyond the 72-hour period, provided it is parked in a spot that you would normally park in anyway, like within a block of your house. Seems like an easy solution with the new system.

  6. Chris, I appreciate your use of the term parking strip. I’ve also seen it referred to as a planting strip. When it’s part of the right-of-way to a house (there’s a cutout to the driveway) I don’t see how it’s a problem for the person living in the house to park there.

    I’ve been parking in what I considered an extension of my driveway. This space is designated for cars–and it’s designated specifically for our home. How is it better (environmentally, economically, socially, from a design or traffic flow perspective) for me to park my car on the street instead of in that spot?

    What other function does that area have?

    The simple answer to “If you can go more than 72 hours without using a car, do you need a car?” is yes.

    “Or could you park your car somewhere other than in the city and only get it when you need it?” no.

    Where “outside the city” is a better place to park a car?

  7. > Where “outside the city” is a better place to park a car?

    A friend’s house? A family member’s house?

    Another personal anecdote…

    When we lived in San Francisco, we mostly only drove on the weekends, both to do big shopping trips and to explore. We paid $100/month to park our car in a garage several blocks from our apartment.

    San Francisco is a very dense city with a good public transit infrastructure. We could have gotten by just fine without a car, but because we chose to live a lifestyle which involved owning a car, we accepted the extra expense and inconvenience of it.

    As Seattle continues to mature and back-fill with density, people will increasingly need to make similar choices here. It’s just not practical to expect the government-supplied amenities of a suburb to exist side-by-side with the government-supplied amenities of a transit-oriented neighborhood. We all accept compromises when we choose our lifestyles, because we can’t have everything.

  8. I’m still curious about the intent behind the strip between sidewalk & street. What’s the perceived value to the community of not parking cars there–when it’s paved and cut out for driveways. There’s value in gardening there, of keeping it litter free, of placing pink flamingos or lemonade stands. Why not a car–leaving more space available for public street parking.

    What if I pay for use of the space? (Beyond maintenance and taxes.) Could there/should there be permits available to homeowners or renters to use that spot for parking? If so, should those permits be available to the public? Is it fair/reasonable for a homeowner or renter to have a voice in the use of public property adjacent to their home?

    I like Chris’ suggestion of using technology to refine some of the particulars around parking. There are many nuances, but with more tools it shouldn’t be hard to have a parking system that responds better to the needs of the community and the individual–including incentives to encourage people to drive less and penalties for people abusing the resource.

  9. I suspect that one of the reasons for not allowing parking there is to prevent people from paving over them in the first place. (Though, theoretically you need a permit to pave it anyway, don’t you?) If they said “You can’t park on a planting strip unless it is paved,” I have a feeling there would be widespread paving within days. 🙂 And, truthfully, that would make the city a much uglier place.

    However, if it’s already paved, I feel that you should be grandfathered in and allowed to park there, as there really isn’t much else you can do with it.

  10. I have also been frustrated with the 72 hour thing in the past. When I lived in Queen Anne, I used to bike to work and I didn’t need my car at all during the week. It was so ticked when I got a ticket for leaving it in one space. I know this rule helps clear the street of abandoned / stolen cars, but maybe they could extend it to 1 week instead of just 72 hours.

  11. I left the country for 4 months May-Sept. 2009) and needed someone to collect and save my US mail, since the Post Office does not hold mail for more than 2 weeks. I had no friends or relatives willing to accept my mail diverted to their address, and the post office did not allow me to replace my regular mailbox with another much bigger one, similar to the one the Post Office uses in the streets. Also,there was no large enough Post Office Box provided by the Post Office. The Postal manager could not think of any other ways to help me. Finally, I suggested that I could park a car of mine in the street next to my mail box and request of the mailman to drop the daily mail into the car through a narrow window-opening (without the mailman having to step out of his car, of course.) The post Master thought the suggestion was the only feasible one and was a…….brilliant one.
    I did that but when I came back I found in my mail an anonymous letter from some neighbor(s) who complained (1)that leaving my “mail-car” on the street for nearly five months created the potential for a……..traffic bottleneck!!!(our neighborhood is a very thinly populated area), (2)that the sight of a seemingly abandoned car (a car that belonged to a neighbor) created an “unacceptable condition for our neighborhood” (why??):, and (3) using the car as a mail repository was also unacceptable (to whom? certainly not to the Postal Manager and mailman.
    I am requesting of you, the readers of this, and also of the anonymous author(s) — now that he/she/they know more about this issue — to send me your comments about the anonymous letter, and, also about any other proposals you may think for getting my US mail during my multi-month absence from the country without offending the sensibilities of the anonymous neighbor(s).

  12. I might have missed the boat on this conversation, however I’m leaving my 2-cents anyway…

    @Brook – I live in a house near a busy commercial area. Why should temporary commercial parking continually overrule my ability to find parking near my residence?

    Also, why can’t the “72 hour rule” be more reasonable in residential areas? Maybe two weeks? Getting your car towed because you leave for the weekend (or it’s temporarily broken down) is quite different from leaving your car abandoned in the same spot for over a year. The currently system is solely based on how much your neighbor likes or hates you.

    I don’t have “friends” or “relatives” outside the city to leave my car. That’s not a solution. Everybody’s situation is a little different.

    I would much rather see people leaving their cars parked at home and use public transportation. The highways are a limited resource as well. And Seattle is not yet SF… Owning a car is not a “lifestyle decision” for most people.

    There’s no reason why the city can’t institute some sort of zoning system that allows people to park in their own neighborhood and remain in the same location for more than 72 hours. People could still call in junkers parked on the street for extended periods of time. The number of parking permits could be limited per household.

    My 2-cents…

  13. Seriously, to everyone who replied. The parking strip serves only one purpose, to park your vehicle so other vehicles can pass through. You can’t without a permit take up the concrete and plant anything. The parking in our neighborhood, Beacon Hill, is limited, the strips are in front of our homes, we pay taxes and then are made to pay for zone parking and still we must move our vehicles every 72 hours! Goodness, where is the outrage. We pay for a zoning pass, we pay our taxes and the city had these strips built for potential drive ways and we cant use them? I am just amazed at how many are just like “oh well”. I am pissed and I am contesting my ticket. The biggest frustration is the arbitrariness of it. I have parked on that strip for nearly a year and nothing, then, oh one day for no particular reason the meter person decides,, “hey let me issue a ticket”. No way, time to protest this if only for the arbitrariness of it.

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