Is FREE Parking the solution for Downtown Kirkland?

A former city councilmember thinks the solution to downtown parking is to make it free which is in direct contrast to plans being considered by City Hall.

On March 6, 2012, former Kirkland city councilmember Jessica Greenway presented to the council a parking study of downtown Kirkland with some interesting conclusions. While on the council's Economic Development Committee, Greenway started a months-long process of interviewing downtown business owners on the ever hot topic of downtown parking. Greenway presented her findings to the Kirkland City Council twice this month, in an effort to shed some light on some issues which may be hindering downtown businesses. The City Council is currently considering advise from the Parking Advisory Board to once again change the way Kirkland manages downtown parking. This time, the plan is to charge one dollar per hour, all day in three city-operated downtown parking lots, with no time limits.

Greenway has a different suggestion. She advocates free parking at all times in downtown Kirkland and she has conducted a downtown Kirkland parking study which supports her conclusions.

During her interviews with downtown businesses, Greenway was surprised to learn the following:

  • The eagerness of business owners and managers to talk about downtown parking, even though at the time she was clearly a representative of Kirkland city government. "It was like no one had ever asked their opinions before. Each interview took at least half an hour and some lasted an hour and a half,"  said Greenway, "the floodgates opened."
  • How much downtown business owners and managers feel ignored, slighted, and wronged by Kirkland city government.
  • How wrong-headed many business owners think the downtown parking policies are (present and proposed).

Downtown parking has always been an issue in Kirkland. Every 4 or 5 years we seem to conduct new parking studies, solicit volunteers to serve on the Parking Advisory Board (a thankless job if ever there was one. Thank you to all of the past and present PAB members!) and try to fix our problem of too many cars needing to fill too few parking spaces.

Year after year, the question we keep asking ourselves is this: How Do We Solve The Downtown Kirkland Parking Situation?

One possible answer is presented below. The following is the text of a speech to the city council given by Jessica Greenway on March 6, 2012.

The study to which Greenway refers is available for download:

[box type="download" style="rounded" border="full"]Download DOWNTOWN PARKING STUDY.pdf”.[/box]

Date: March 6, 2012

Subject: Downtown Parking

Greetings, Everyone: nice to see you again. I am here tonight to talk about downtown parking.

I think you all consider yourselves “Business Friendly” and I imagine that you want to do whatever City Government can do to help business be successful, to encourage business to come to Kirkland, to create jobs, and stimulate the economy

You are about to make a very “Business UN-friendly” decision if you approve paid parking in the Lake & Central and Marina Park lots during the day.

I assume you have all read the Downtown Parking Study I did.

I want to read you a quote from a prominent downtown business owner:

“I feel like I am fighting the recession, fighting competition from downtown Bellevue, and fighting Kirkland City Hall”

Downtown Kirkland is an exciting, interesting, unique and important asset for the City of Kirkland and its citizens. You need to do everything you can to help, not hurt downtown.

Paid parking will be a deterrent for customers. It will be another reason for customers NOT to come to downtown Kirkland. Kirkland will be the only Eastside city that charges for parking.

Bellevue, Redmond, Edmonds, Snohomish all have ample free parking. Downtown Kirkland is fabulous, but struggling. Are you going to do something that will make success and even survival, harder?

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

The Parking Advisory Board says the problem is employee parking taking up customer spaces and that we need more “turnover”.

Business owners say we need to attract more customers to downtown Kirkland, create a positive downtown experience, and encourage customers to stay and experience everything downtown has to offer.

What is the solution?

1. Identify the problem you are trying to solve by talking with business owners. I talked with 20 and 90% of them said paid parking is a negative for their success. Find out from business owners what parking strategy is “BEST FOR BUSINESS”.

2. Explore strategies to solve the problem. Give the PAB an assignment to develop strategies to address the actual problem.

3. Paid parking from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm is like using the atom bomb to address a “mosquito problem”. This proposal will destroy more than it will help.

4. Consider making parking free all the time. This will end confusion.

5. Manage parking with time zones and keep it simple.

6. Make parking a positive experience: advertise free parking and publish locations and time zones, including the Library Parking Garage.

There is much government cannot do to help business succeed. What government can do is “get out of the way” and not create obstacles The proposal to make these two lots paid all day and into the evening, is a classic example of government getting in the way and making things harder.

Instead, use the downtown parking resources we own to make coming and experiencing downtown Kirkland positive and easy. Create an environment that makes people want to come back.

Thank you!

Jessica Greenway