A recent Wired Magazine article by Liz Stinson titled, "LA’s Proposed Parking Signs Are Brilliantly Simple", describes how Los Angeles has a pilot program installing new parking sign design that "condenses a hodgepodge of regulations into one easy-to-read grid."
A hodgepodge of regulations aptly describes downtown Kirkland's public parking situation which creates confusion, inefficiency and even prevents visitors from returning after a bad experience.
Here is my recollection of the parking rules in downtown Kirkland (forgive me if I am not current): You can have two hours of street parking between 9am - 7pm, three hours of free parking in certain lots between 9am and 5pm, after which it costs $1/hour unless it is Sunday or unless you are in the Library Parking Garage, which is 4 hours of free parking on certain levels, other levels require are marked Permit Parking Only during certain hours and others spaces are reserved for Library patrons only. Then there is the Antique Mall Lot, which is $1/hour between 9am and 9pm unless it is Sunday or a holiday. Some street parking spaces on Central Way have a 4 hour parking limit. Violate any of these rules and you will receive a parking ticket of $35 which must be paid within 15 days or it becomes $65.
Admittedly, I may be off on a detail here or there but the point I am trying to make is that for an area as small as downtown Kirkland, we have a dizzying array of parking rules. It is no wonder visitors complain about parking here.
Oh, then try to pay for parking and you enter a whole other world of hurt. Our paid parking meters are confusing to say the least. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen poor visitors to downtown Kirkland standing in the rain in front of a parking ticket spitter trying to understand not only IF they need to pay for parking, but HOW to pay for it? Our parking system is overly complex and it is not very user-friendly.
How is it that Kirkland has the what some have joked as "the most confusing parking pay stations ever made?" I do not know. SeaTac Airport, as an example, has a system which is simple and efficient and it works for large volumes of users, many of whom come from other countries. Seattle's public parking system even accepts payments via cell phone, although their chosen system is so poorly implemented that I gave up after my first attempt of using it.
There are successful models we can learn from in other cities across the globe. Parking technology is rapidly changing and we need to be open to new methods of signage, way finding, monitoring parking availability, and user-friendly payment systems.
I'd like to make a payment from my mobile phone just like it were a credit card. This simple and easy solution is technically possible. Should we adopt it? I say yes.
Perhaps Kirkland should look to the ideas of Brooklyn designer Nikki Sylianteng for inspiration on signage as a first step.
Beyond signage, there are other ways to improve parking. LA is planning ahead and betting on technology. According to Wired, "the city has been attaching Bluetooth beacons to every new sign erected with the hope developers eventually create an app that makes parking signs irrelevant. Husting calls this “phase two” of LA’s parking overhaul. Imagine pulling up to a parking spot and having your phone simply say “yes” or “no.” Or better yet, having your car tell you. "
We used to have a Parking Advisory Board which got little respect in City Hall. Right now we have the city exploring what to do about parking in downtown and I think we can do better and improve the current system. I look forward to learning what their plan will be. What do you think?