Consider the plight of the average West Seattle commuter: No light rail coming, no monorail planned anymore, the all-important viaduct seems destined for a toppling, and drivers are treated to rush-hour snarls and fiery mishaps on the bridge.
On the other hand, once you get to West Seattle, there's free parking—mile after mile of it. From Alki's heavily cruised beachfront to Fauntleroy's ferry lineup, the most restrictive zones are gratis two-hour on-street spots in busy commercial districts. Not a single $1.50-an-hour electronic parking kiosk can be found on the sizable peninsula.
As part of an ongoing expansion, the city is converting 2,000 free or time-limited parking spots to paid spaces all around town. Ballard has pay stations now; so do Green Lake and Roosevelt. Westlake is getting them. Even the bustling Republic of Fremont might be so destined. "There's nothing definite," says Fremont Chamber of Commerce director Michael Jerrett, "though there's been talk about the city putting in kiosks."
But similar suggestions were quickly suppressed in West Seattle's Admiral District and the Junction, where, streetwise, California meets Alaska and Oregon.
"There was some discussion about kiosks on California," says David Montoure, president of the West Seattle Junction Association. "We told the city we don't want paid parking."
And that was that.
Furthermore, says Montoure, who runs the Junction's hip West 5 bar and eatery (home of the herbal Chartreuse Martini), West Seattle had parking meters a decade ago, and the city took them out. "We lobbied to have those removed," he notes.
Aside from the loss of city revenue generated by the kiosks, a meterless West Seattle stirs up a bit of envy elsewhere. "Compared to here, West Seattle seems like a suburb," says Michael Wells, president of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. "They have certain advantages besides free parking, like no kids with blue Mohawks."
But then, says Wells, who runs Bailey/Coy Books, businesses in densely packed Capitol Hill would suffer if there were no paid spaces along Broadway to create turnover. Besides, "If spaces were free," he says, "people would probably live in them."
Paid parking in West Seattle clearly isn't on City Hall's to-do list. "Not this year," says Mary Catherine Snyder, a parking planner with the Department of Transportation (DOT). "We're concentrating on Westlake and South Lake Union in 2007."
Ask West Seattleites about their parking utopia and you're likely to be shushed. Or, as one longtime resident puts it: "Let's not bring any attention to something that's going to hurt me in the ol' wallet." Still others will tell you that West Seattle is different from the rest of the city's neighborhoods in that the mayor doesn't live in them. And since Greg Nickels is a longtime resident of the Admiral District, the conspiracy theory goes, he must have ordained—or made tacitly clear to city officials—that his home hood is to remain kiosk-free.
"Yeah, I've heard that, too," says Capitol Hill's Wells.
It turns out to be a suspicion frequently voiced at City Hall, especially by critics from kiosk-beleaguered communities. "We get that every day, every day," confirms DOT spokesperson Gregg Hirakawa. "I'm not sure where they'regetting that from, but I'd guess it ranges from being a misunderstanding to a flat-out lie."
Actually, he says, there's an opposite rumor going around, too: that West Seattle is about to get paid on-street parking. But that's also untrue. "That's not in the foreseeable future," says Hirakawa. "During the repaving of California Avenue, that rumor kept popping up. The [West Seattle] Chamber of Commerce asked us about it, and we told them there has been no discussion of paid parking in that area."
So why does the ever-more-popular neighborhood remain kiosk-free? "In a sense, the only reason you have paid parking is to flip the space, to keep cars moving in and out," says Hirakawa. "Right now, merchants don't think that's a problem in West Seattle. Generally speaking, the community will know when it's time for paid parking. They'll come to us."
And on balance, the alternative of charging for parking could prove to be a bigger deterrent to shoppers. "Motorists always look for the path of least resistance," Hirakawa adds.
But West 5 owner Montoure thinks there's a simpler reason that the Junction, at least, needs no paid parking spaces: They've already got 300 free ones in place at nearby parking lots. Junction business operators bought the land and developed those lots 60 years ago, in part to head off the competition of shopping malls offering easy parking.
"That was very visionary on behalf of our forefathers," says Montoure of the lots, now under lease to the nonprofit Junction Association. Even if the lots are developed, the parking, by covenant, has to be replaced. "That's free parking in perpetuity."