Is Seattle's International District getting special treatment at parking meters?

by: Chris Legeros Updated:

Seattle - For months, restaurant owners in Chinatown complained they were losing customers, those customers who didn't want to feed parking meters until 8:00 p.m. in order to eat dinner.

Seattle's Department of Transportation lowered the evening parking rate in the neighborhood's central core from $2.50 to $1.50 an hour. It stopped charging at the meters along the edges of the neighborhood after 6:00 p.m.

City Councilmember Tim Burgess believes the neighborhood is getting special treatment. He said in a transportation committee meeting, ""It looks like the system is being manipulated, that favoritism is being shown."

Some city councilmembers said the DOT didn't follow its own parking management plan, which adjusts meter rates up or down based on the measured occupancy of parking spaces. When demand is down, prices are lowered. When demand is up, the rates are bumped up to increase turnover and access to businesses.

Last October, 90 percent of the parking spots were occupied in the heart of Chinatown at 7 p.m. City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said, "The data shows that the parking meter rates should have gone up, rather than down."

Seattle's DOT said no favoritism was shown. Instead of treating the neighborhood as one big area and applying the same parking rate to the whole neighborhood, it split up Chinatown. The goal was to spread out those looking for parking, and encourage more drivers to find spots along the edges of the International District.

The DOT's Mike Estey said, "We'll keep collecting data to see if we've got it right, and if we didn't get it right, then we will adjust accordingly."

We asked Mayor Mike McGinn's office whether favoritism was shown to Chinatown. A spokesman said parking rates or time limits were adjusted in 16 neighborhoods as part of the DOT's 2012 work plan. He said adjustments were made based on the DOT's analysis of data in each neighborhood.