Parking issues in Eastlake

Why parking matters and how it is at risk

Parking is no frill or luxury; it’s central to neighborhood safety, success, and livability; to the vitality of businesses and access to jobs; and to mobility for children, seniors, the disabled, and others. Eastlake’s 5000 residents and 5000 employees are among Seattle’s highest users of transit and bicycles. But many own a car, and others rent or share one. All have visitors or customers who arrive by vehicle and all receive deliveries and services by vehicle. Without on-street parking places and loading zones, our residents could not go about their lives, and without them our businesses—especially restaurants and other small businesses–could not survive.

Seattle’s Land Use Code long supported urban villages like Eastlake by requiring on-site parking in new office, apartment, and condo buildings. There was, of course, the problem that some building owners charged for their required on-site parking, causing tenants to park on the street; that developers got to move some required parking to off-site accessory locations; and that the City was gradually lowering on-site parking requirements. But in the last few years the developers hit the jackpot: over the strenuous objections of the Eastlake Community Council and neighborhood groups elsewhere, the Mayor and City Council dramatically reduced or outright repealed the on-site parking requirements in residential and office buildings that are near “frequent” bus routes.

Result: none of the new townhouse, apartment or condo buildings now going up have enough onsite parking for their residents–and some have none at all. The “microhousing” project built at 2371 Franklin Ave. E. the one being built at 2820 Eastlake Ave., and several others now proposed in the Eastlake neighborhood, lack any parking on-site or even an on-site loading zone. Residents of 2371 Franklin are already purchasing more restricted parking zone (RPZ) stickers for on-street parking than DPD and SDOT claimed they would.

The effort by the Mayor and City Council to reduce the supply of parking seems to be based on the theory that it will and should cause reductions in car ownership and driving. The Mayor and City Council do not appear to be giving equal consideration to the ways that parking contributes to the livability and economic survival of neighborhoods like Eastlake.

The Mayor and most City Councilmembers claim that the market will motivate builders to include enough on-site parking. More likely is the “tragedy of the commons,” with developers taking a profitable free ride on current on-street parking, exiting with their windfall before parking demand fatally overmatches supply. The result is an unseemly land rush, buildings with far more parking demand than supply, and a worsening of Eastlake’s already fierce competition for on-street parking.

The Council’s 2011 changes in the Land Use Code excuse developers from on-site parking requirements on the claim that Eastlake has “frequent” bus service–ignoring that our buses may have no seats left once they get here and increasingly do not even stop because of a lack of standing room; and that recurrent Metro budget crises threaten bus service in the future with, of course, no recourse for neighborhoods overbuilt based on promises of what the bus service would be.

Why parking is tight in Eastlake

While parking is getting tighter throughout Seattle, it is particularly tight in neighborhoods like Eastlake, as anyone can attest who has circled vainly, walked groceries home from their car blocks away, or seen cars parked across driveways, hydrants, on sidewalks and planting strips and at corners. Here’s why:

(1) Eastlake Ave. and some other streets have a lot of business frontage that precludes extending the RPZ. Eastlake Ave. also has a peak-period, peak direction parking restriction that encourages automobile commuting through our neighborhood and takes away parking needed by residents and retail/restaurant customers alike.
(2) Some other streets (like Boylston, Newton, Roanoke, Shelby, Yale Terrace, and parts of Louisa and Yale) are narrow with either no parking, or parking on only one side. School bus loading on Louisa excludes parking for much of the day. Nearby arterials allow no parking (Fairview Ave. N., Roanoke St. east of Boylston) and parts of Boylston Ave. E. and Harvard Ave. E.
(3) In part because of the lack of alleys on some blocks, a proliferation of driveways has occupied space that would otherwise be on-street parking.
(4) While other neighborhoods can seek parking nearby, our neighborhood is surrounded by Lake Union, the Ship Canal, and I-5–obviously no on-street parking, plus a barrier to parking beyond.
(5) Many of Eastlake’s apartment/condo and retail/restaurant buildings date to the streetcar era (pre-1941) when fewer people owned cars, or to before the City’s 1967 requirement for on-site parking in new construction.
(6) Parking isn’t allowed over water, so Eastlake’s 350 houseboats and some marine businesses lack on-site parking, with few having access to private “accessory” parking.
(7) Eastlake’s proximity to downtown, South Lake Union, and UW, and to bus routes, attracts “hide and ride” drivers who don’t live, work, shop, or dine here. They park free on our streets while spending the day downtown, at UW, or even flying out of SeaTac.

Origins of RPZ Zone 8, and why it must be defended and expanded

Beginning in 1979, City ordinances created residential parking zones (RPZ) in 33 neighborhoods, with each side of each block qualified by petition signatures from 60 percent or more of the residents. Eastlake Community Council volunteers undertook parking surveys (later confirmed by City surveys) showing that many blocks were MORE than 100 percent utilized (because of illegal parking). ECC’s volunteers engaged in years of liaison with the City officials, collected more than 1100 petition signatures, and Zone 8 was created by City Council ordinance in 1993.

Zone 8 in its design is friendlier than any other RPZ to neighborhood businesses, park visitors, etc. During the daytime, those without a permit can park for up to 4 hours on one side of the street and up to 2 hours on the other. Even after 6 p.m., those without a permit can park for up to two hours except for streets like Boylston and Minor that have parking on only one side.

The Zone 8 boundaries established in 1993 missed some blocks where not enough petition signatures could be collected. It would only take signatures from 60 percent of the blocks residents to add parts of Fairview, Newton, Boylston, Shelby, Edgar, Hamlin, Howe, and Franklin Place E. If you live there or on any other street that should be added to Zone 8, please get your neighbors involved, and contact ECC for help:

But SDOT, working with the Mayor and City Council, couldn’t leave well enough alone. The permit price has steadily increased (originally it was $27 for two years, it is now $65, with a guest permit $30–$16 for those without a car). Because of spillover parking from the UW, the university subsidizes Zone 8 permits north of Roanoke St., but they were once free; now they cost $16.

Unfortunately, a combination of decisions by SDOT and DPD led to have led to a gap between the growing number of RPZ permits sold for Eastlake’s zone 8 and the shrinking number of parking places available on-street. According to SDOT’s own figures for 2015, about twice as many RPZ permits are sold for Eastlake as the number of parking places available on-street! Instead of addressing how City policies are largely responsible for this growing gap, SDOT seeks to address it by greatly increasing the price of RPZ permits, a step that would make the permit unaffordable for many people. Of course, all of the revenue from RPZ fees goes directly to SDOT and the Police Department, so SDOT has every incentive to seek fee increases and little incentive to seek other, more sustainable and fair alternatives such as proposed in the next section below.

In 2009 without notice to the permit holders and against fervent opposition from ECC and other groups citywide, the City Council weakened the program in many ways, even removing the term “residential” and renaming it “Restricted Parking Zone.” Other 2009 changes: motorcycles and motor scooters exempt from needing a permit; a permit may be used only within six blocks of one’s home; extra permits guaranteed to congregate residences (microhousing like the 2820 Eastlake proposal) and adult family homes; and repeal of the listing and protection of each RPZ in ordinance, now made subject to SDOT’s administrative discretion.

In 2012 the City Council exempted Car2Go rental cars from needing a permit. And the worst change yet (again without the courtesy of notice to the permittees or to neighborhood organizations that had commented on previous changes) was its 2013 ordinance 124220 which allows employees in every RPZ to apply for a permit, with only SDOT’s discretion standing between us and the complete destruction of Zone 8. We need a City that will restore and protect the RPZ program, not quietly undermine it at every opportunity.

The RPZ program was originally developed in close cooperation with neighborhood organizations, but SDOT has not engaged cooperatively in the changes made in the RPZ program in the last ten years, nor in the program’s recent administration, nor in how the present review (see below) is being conducted. Despite the large amounts of permit fees going into the program, SDOT has not maintained accurate records of parking capacity in each RPZ area, nor apparently has it done studies of the pattern of car ownership and of RPZ permit purchases in those buildings exempted in recent years from the on-site parking requirement, with the result that the 2015 parking study (see above section) that purports to back up this exemption and was prepared jointly by DPD and SDOT for the City Council is grievously flawed–it is ideology, not science.

SDOT’s 2016 review of Restricted Parking Zones was never really concluded

In late 2015 the Seattle Department of Transportation began a citywide review of the restricted parking zone (RPZ) program, toward making possible changes. Some background is available on the SDOT RPZ review’s web site by clicking here.

Because past changes in the RPZ program had an adverse impact on our neighborhood (see above), it’s important for people in Eastlake to be involved in this current review. SDOT seems to regard higher fees as the main way to address the growing imbalance in number of permits over the number of potential parking places. SDOT does not seem to recognize how City policies themselves are causing this imbalance by (1) diverting on-street parking places to other uses; and (2) eliminating required parking onsite in residential and commercial buildings that are bringing thousands of new drivers with nowhere on-site to park them.

SDOT’s extreme focus on demand management misses the importance of conserving and increasing parking supply on-street and on-site. Initiatives that were not on SDOT’s list as of the on-line survey it conducted in early 2016 include the following: (1) Do not allow purchase of RPZ permits by residents of buildings that were constructed under an exemption from the on-site parking requirement because of “frequent transit service”; and (2) Restore the on-site parking requirement for new buildings in those neighborhoods where RPZ permits sold exceed the number of available on-street parking spaces.

ECC welcomes your questions and suggestions (to regarding what positions it should take on various aspects of the RPZ program.

Two-hour parking

In areas abutting business uses that are not eligible for the RPZ, “hide and ride” is a problem, as is a tendency for employees to park on the street in preference to the on-site or off-site parking required to be available them. In such cases, two-hour parking requirements can help free up spaces for retail and restaurant customers and park users. An example is part of Franklin Ave. E. that abuts the I-5 Colonnade Open Space, whose off-leash area is plagued by a parking shortage. Normally, a two-hour parking requires support from the abutting property owner.

City’s 2015 “study” whitewashed policies at root of parking problem

Recently adopted City policies are worsening the imbalance of demand and supply for on-street parking. The City Council has heard the concerns loud and clear, and in 2014 requested a joint study of the issue by the Seattle Department of Transportation and the then Department of Planning and Development (now two separate agencies–the Department of Construction and Inspections, and the Office for Planning and Community Development). The City Council requested that study examine how the current policies affect neighborhoods, and that it propose possible legislative improvements. In April 2015, the report was released and is available at

Released in April 2015, the City parking report is worse than nothing. It fails as a balanced look at the issue, doesn’t even try to look at the neighborhood impacts, and speciously and misleadingly endorses the current discredited policies. The Mayor and City Council must insist on better data and analysis and they must turn around the bad policies that are enriching developers at the expense of neighborhood safety and livability.

The April 2015 DPD/SDOT report argues that “continuing our current parking management strategies is the most responsible and equitable choice we can make. Increasing parking requirements for vehicles would be costly and counterproductive.” But in support of this foreordained conclusion, the report violates logic and evidence in ways that wouldn’t pass the most basic policy class. The DPD/SDOT report claims that again requiring onsite
parking would make housing less affordable, despite evidence that cost savings from the lack of on-site parking aren’t passed along to tenants, but rather increase developers’ profits. To claim that on-site parking requirements cause unaffordable housing, the report misquotes a 2012 Oregon Bureau of Planning and Sustainability study that actually shows the opposite. To claim that parking in neighborhoods like Eastlake is in oversupply (!), the DPD/SDOT study misuses countywide figures from a King County study that, when disaggregated to Eastlake and similar neighborhoods, show the opposite.

Without the slightest evidence or adherence to basic logic, the April 2015 report claims that requiring on-site parking for new projects would actually increase congestion, allegedly because residents would choose to park on the street rather than pay for parking available in their buildings. There’s no evidence for this claim, but even if true, the report fails to consider ways to address it, such as requiring on-site parking to be provided free or at a discount; or including in the lease a limit on car ownership or RPZ permits if the building has no on-site parking. In fact, the study undercounts current and projected projects without on-site parking and fails to report the current or projected cars and RPZ permits associated with each unit.

The City Council’s 2011 changes in the Land Use Code excuse developers from on-site parking requirements on the claim that Eastlake and similar neighborhoods have “frequent” bus service–ignoring that our buses may have no seats left once they get here and sometimes do not even stop because of a lack of standing room. But even assuming that bus service is frequent, there’s no evidence that it causes most people to give up their cars, as bus service is often not a suitable alternative for shopping, recreation, commuting, etc. The assumption has turned out not to be true that persons living near transit would give up their cars.

Eastlakers should tell the Mayor and City Council that the 2015 DPD/SDOT study fails to address our parking problems, and that it’s essential to re-institute on-site parking requirements for new buildings. The Mayor and City Councikl need to empathize with actual neighborhoods where parking contributes to livability and economic survival.

In April 2018 vote, City Council moved goalposts after referee called foul on repealing parking requirements for new buildings

Despite widespread opposition from neighborhoods across Seattle, on April 2, 2018 the City Council gutted the Seattle Municipal Code’s long-standing requirements that new residential and commercial buildings include on-site parking. The Council even voted down Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s amendment to restore parking mitigation authority to Seattle’s ordinance implementing the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Until a shifty 2010 Council repeal hurting “frequent transit areas” like Eastlake, City planners could require on-site parking in a new building in an area where on-street parking exceeds 85% utilization. Thus we have the bizarre situation that parking utilization studies the City requires of developers show no capacity to absorb more on-street parking–yet City project reviewers are powerless to impose reasonable mitigation. High-density (and high-profit) projects with no parking for either tenants or customers overwhelm on-street parking with excessive demand. Mitigation must allow project reviewers to require some onsite parking, and to limit demand with a car-free lease, sharing cost savings from building less parking with tenants who agree to the conditions not to create parking demand.

On-street parking is central to neighborhood safety and livability; to business success; and to mobility for children, seniors, the disabled, everyone. Eastlake’s 5000 residents and 5000 employees are among Seattle’s highest users of transit and bicycles. But many own, rent, or share a car, and need to park on the street at times, or even regularly. All have visitors or customers who arrive by vehicle and all receive deliveries and services by vehicle. Without on-street parking, our residents could not go about their lives, and our restaurants and other small businesses would suffer or fail. The same is true in countless other neighborhoods nationwide.

Seattle’s Municipal Code long required on-site parking in new office, apartment, and condo buildings. But despite opposition from the Eastlake Community Council and other groups, recent mayors and the City Council have virtually repealed the on-site parking requirements in new buildings, waiving them near “frequent” bus routes–defined by SMC 23.84A.038 as “headways in at least one direction of 15 minutes or less for at least 12 hours per day, 6 days per week, and transit service headways of 30 minutes or less for at least 18 hours every day.” This poorly drawn law did not even require such service to be in both directions or round the clock. Now the April 2 changes have made it worse.

The effort to waive on-site parking requirements stems from a misplaced effort to discourage car ownership, and it is not working. Contrary to claims that few residents of the new buildings will have cars, many do and are purchasing restricted parking zone (RPZ) stickers, which increasingly exceed the available on-street spaces. The imbalance of excess of parking demand over supply is hampering safety, livability and commerce for neighborhoods like Eastlake.

The result of the change in law is that none of the townhouse, apartment or condo buildings now going up in Eastlake and many other neighborhoods have enough on-site parking–-and some have none at all. It’s contrary to what City officials now promise in their uncharacteristic passion for an unregulated market. They claim that builders will include in their projects enough on-site parking to meet the public interest. The reality is a “tragedy of the commons,” with on-street parking being sacrificed long term for a profitable free ride now. Having exited with their windfall, developers leave the neighborhood to reap the whirlwind of parking demand that fatally overmatches supply.

Waiving on-site parking requirements on the claim that Eastlake and other neighborhoods have “frequent” bus service ignores that Metro buses chronically fall short of demand, sometimes with no seats left once they get here, or entirely skipping Eastlake stops because of a lack of standing room. There is, of course, no recourse once a project is allowed to be built without parking, based on assumptions that bus service is better than it really is.

In 2017 in an administrative appeal brought against a project in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, the City’s hearing examiner agreed with evidence (including some from Metro Transit’s own files) that the actual bus performance did not live up to what was on the schedules, and therefore was not “frequent.” But as appeal leader Irene Wall reported as guest speaker at ECC’s Oct. 17, 2017 public meeting, City regulators have not stopped waiving the on-site parking requirement. Now that their own referee has ruled against them, they are trying to move the goalposts.

The legislation that passed on April 2 further loosened the definition of “frequent transit service” to 18 minute headways (contrary to Metro’s definition of 15 minutes); assumes as “frequent” any route even if it is not (by putting it on an approved list that would be updated only once every two years); and satisfies any non-waived parking requirement with off-site spaces up to a quarter mile from the proposed building. The new law also satisfies formerly on-site parking requirements with off-site spaces up to a quarter mile from the proposed building. For independent analysis of the legislation, and the suggested amendments that were ignored, see, where one can also donate to the legal expenses of the appeal that exposed the City’s misuse of the “frequent transit” designation. For the official case for the fraught Council Bill 119173 that passed, see the Feb. 21 Council public hearing agenda.

Parking utilization surveys. To make the case to elected officials and SDOT on a need to improve their parking policies for Eastlake, ECC needs you and other volunteers on your block to do “parking utilization surveys,” using the City’s own methods, of the number of cars parked on the street at different times of the day and of the week. Such surveys made a big difference in the 1990s, and they can again today. See the top of this web page to volunteer for the Oct. 25-26, 2016 Eastlake Parking Utilization Survey. You can also do parking utilization surveys of your own block on your own schedule. For guidance, click here. For a sample of a Block Front Data Sheet, click here.

Your help needed in analyzing the completed block sheets from the Oct. 25-26, 2016 Eastlake parking utilization survey; and to improve the sheets for the next parking survey

A parking utilization survey identifies how many potential on-street parking spaces a neighborhood has, and how many of them are actually occupied by vehicles in a period of high demand. Such a study is urgently needed to show how tight on-street parking is in Eastlake (we know, but we need to prove it to the authorities!). The City refuses to do such a study, while adopting many policies that reduce the parking available on our streets and in new buildings.

A parking utilization study done by a paid consultant can cost $25,000 — a price our neighborhood cannot afford. But devoted volunteers can make possible a high-quality survey that may help convince City officials to ease or end Eastlake’s parking perplexities. And on the cold and rainy nights of Oct. 25-26, 2016, twenty intrepid volunteers conducted a survey of actual parked vehicles on Eastlake streets, according to guidelines from the Seattle Department of Transportation. The survey forms for every block were prepared in 2014 under a very small contract with ECC by former and future ECC board member Joyce Lane through laborious measurements and drawings.

Volunteers are now analyzing the October 2016 results, and you can help. If you have any suggestions, or would like to help the committee of volunteers who are compiling and analyzing the results, contact ECC at, with “parking survey” in the subject line. We also need your help in identifying any needed changes in the blank survey forms, so even if you didn’t do the survey, we welcome your suggestions regarding the form for any block you are familiar with. Thank you!

Completed block forms from the Oct. 25-25, 2016 parking survey (see above explanation and request for your help)

introduction and completed block front data sheets numbered 1-30
Completed block front data sheets numbered 31-60
Completed block front data sheets numbered 61-90
Completed block front data sheets numbered 91-121
Completed block front data sheets numbered 122-151
Completed block front data sheets numbered 152-181

Blank block survey forms

We need your help in identifying any needed changes in the blank survey forms, so even if you didn’t do the survey, we welcome your suggestions regarding the form for any block you are familiar with.Below are the block survey forms that ECC had prepared in July 2014, showing the location and number of potential parking spaces believed to be available at that time. On some block faces, changes have since occurred, such as parking spaces taken away for loading zones, ZipCar, new driveways, new no-parking zones, etc.; or parking spaces added because of driveways closed, construction ended, etc. Rough measurements are also welcome. ECC has a measuring wheel we can lend you to make precise measurements. Members of the public are encouraged to view the drawing for their block or another they are familiar with; and to tell us in words, photos, or drawings if and how the situation has changed, so we can update the drawing and the estimate of legal parking stalls. Thank you!

Also, if you wish, you can survey your own block any time you want; if you do, please send the results to ECC at Also, it would be very helpful for ECC to receive you estimate of the number of parking spaces lost to temporary construction closures or construction-related parking restrictions (a problem we need to document so that the City not so cavalier about granting these closures.

Click here for a list of the block survey forms; note that there was some inadvertent duplication of some blocks. Although the block front data sheets of course have the exact street and block face listed, they are also numbered in the upper right corner 1, 2, 3, etc. The block front plan data sheets are provided here as parts of six PDF packages with the numbered ranges:
Block front data sheets numbered 1-30
Block front data sheets numbered 31-60
Block front data sheets numbered 61-90
Block front data sheets numbered 91-121
Block front data sheets numbered 122-151
Block front data sheets numbered 152-181