LETTER | City must adopt a fair policy for parking

City Council,

I am writing to you as a result of the many discussions going on concerning parking for the downtown area / Central Business District of Kirkland.  As a 10-year resident of Kirkland and Norkirk and Market neighbor, my family loves Kirkland and frequents the downtown area for its shopping, restaurants and parks.  The proximity to downtown is one reason we chose to live here.

I hope that the City Council will reaffirm their responsibility for the safety and preservation of the neighborhoods and residents when deciding how to improve parking for downtown.  My concern arises when I read and hear comments that the neighborhoods surrounding the business corridor should be expected – even encouraged – to take spill-over parking for Central Business District.  The City must adopt and enforce a fair policy for dealing with this business parking in residential areas.

Customers, visitors, employees should have easily-accessible parking close by.  But shouldn’t the businesses be responsible to support those parking needs?  New developments should always include adequate parking for their employees and customers.  Older developments that have outgrown their parking should develop new parking, or lease it from appropriate sources (e.g., businesses with unused parking or public/private partnerships such as churches).  Some businesses lease their building from out-of-area property owners who aren’t interested in paying for development of parking areas.  Of course not -- why would any building owner pay for more parking when our City is willing to push that burden to the neighborhoods?  It isn’t any stretch of imagination to have businesses encourage employees and visitors to utilize free parking in the surrounding neighborhood streets, then catch a shuttle ride into downtown, or have valets parking vehicles in residential areas.  Too bad for the residents of that neighborhood.  It’s free parking for the business. 

Of course, putting in additional parking in the downtown core- where is it needed- is not fast, and certainly not cheap.  But until the City finally considers a larger facility within the downtown core, there are many solutions to the problem which do not require the residents who live nearby to take the brunt of the pain. Improved signage, mobile apps, improved enforcement, and shared parking are on the table as options: additional neighborhood parking should not be. 

The core of the policy already exists, but is being completely ignored the rush to find a simple answer to a complex problem.  Policy G-11, last amended in 2013, contains the City’s “Parking Guidelines for Downtown Kirkland” which specifically states that parking “will be managed in a manner that minimizes and mitigates spill over of commercial parking demand into residential areas immediately adjacent to the central business district.”  Minimize -- not encourage increasing amounts of it.

The time has come for the City to discourage spill-over parking by utilizing some type of residential or zone permits – in all areas impacted by this.  In combination with time restrictions or pay parking, this would allow the residents, guests, and visitors to those neighborhoods to park freely along their streets.  Downtown users should park on residential streets only in times of greatest need (e.g., a festival or event) rather than as a regular alternative.  It shouldn’t be free and it shouldn’t be unrestricted.  It should be enforced, seven days a week.  Yes, it is a cost burden to the businesses to find or develop additional parking.  The City can help to support businesses and visitors by building or expanding current lots, negotiating leases, improving signage, and providing regular enforcement (including Sundays).  But the City should also discourage the cheap-and-easy approach of dumping parking on the back of nearby residents and neighborhood streets.

When reviewing parking options, I urge the Council consider an Ordinance or other guiding philosophy that includes the following:

-- the City understands that it has a primary responsibility to the safety, security, and preservation of the residential areas of the City,

-- the residential neighborhoods of the City should not be considered free parking lots for businesses or non-residential uses simply due to their proximity of a commercial area or business,

Therefore the City should actively DISCOURAGE spill-over parking in residential neighborhoods through one or more of the following mechanisms:

(1) Residential permit or zone parking permits, allowing residents unrestricted parking in their own neighborhoods.

(2) Time limits and/or pay parking for those vehicles without a residential/zone permit that is at least as restrictive or expensive as any other parking within several blocks of the residential street.  Late evening or overnight parking should be prohibited.

(3) Active enforcement 7 days a week of all impacted neighborhood streets to ensure compliance.

 

Julie Taylor