Downtown Edmonds parking: Relief in sight?

Parking is tight on a typical weekday in downtown Edmonds.
Parking is tight on a typical weekday in downtown Edmonds.

With the holiday season upon us, downtown Edmonds is buzzing with special events attracting residents and out-of-town visitors to join in the festivities. But the busiest season of the year has brought into focus an ongoing problem for Edmonds business owners and shoppers — where to park.

It’s a frustrating situation that is getting worse. But according to Jamie Reece, who chairs the City of Edmonds Citizens Economic Development Commission (EDC), it’s not all bad news.

“From an economic development perspective, this is a great problem to have,” he said. “Five years ago we had numerous shuttered storefronts, downtown wasn’t drawing visitors like it does today, and parking was plentiful. The tight parking situation, frustrating as it is, is a sign of a vibrant, growing, in-demand community.”

But growing pains or not, those affected by the parking crunch agree on two things: 1) it’s great to have the “Deadmonds” years behind us, and 2) more parking is needed in downtown Edmonds.

During a recent Edmonds City Council meeting, Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas put it succinctly. “Without parking, we have no business. Without business, we have no community, no vibrant city.”

But how to do it?

Patrick Doherty
Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty (City of Edmonds photo)

The City’s Director of Economic Development, Patrick Doherty, who provides staff support for the EDC, said the commission has made parking a top priority.

“Last year the EDC appointed a special parking subcommittee to study the problem and develop recommendations,” he said. “The group focused on identifying strategies that lend themselves to quick implementation and promise to bring immediate relief.”

In late October these were submitted to the mayor and city council (see report here) with additional clarification in mid-November (see memo here). In response the mayor has appointed an interdepartmental task force to work on implementation. “I expect we’ll see some of this on the ground in early 2017,” Doherty said.

Looking beyond short-term solutions aimed at more efficient management of the parking spaces Edmonds already has, Doherty doesn’t see significant new parking as a viable alternative for Edmonds. “We simply don’t have the space for new surface lots of a size that will make a difference,” he explained. “And with new surface parking garages costing between $25,000 and $30,000 per space, the price would be prohibitive.”

One recommendation of the Economic Development Commission is additional signage to help direct motorists to Edmonds' existing municipal lots and other public parking areas.
One recommendation of the Economic Development Commission is additional signage to help direct motorists to Edmonds’ existing municipal lots and other public parking areas.

With these gold-plated solutions off the table, the EDC-recommended strategies fall into four areas: Enhanced enforcement, reconfiguring the city’s downtown employee parking rules, implementing a “good neighbor” program whereby businesses like banks would make their parking lots available after hours, and adding improved signage directing drivers to parking in downtown Edmonds.

All those interviewed agree that job one is more emphasis on enforcement, a situation that was brought into the spotlight by last April’s retirement of the city’s main parking officer, Debbie Dawson. While the police department did its best to spread available staff to cover this task, higher-priority police work all too frequently bumped parking enforcement. In August, Dawson agreed to temporarily come out of retirement to work half time while the city advertised for a replacement. While this helped, it did not restore parking enforcement to the level it had previously enjoyed, and many who park overtime or illegally were still falling through the cracks.

The application period for the replacement closed in late November, and according to Chief of Police Al Compaan the department is looking at late spring before the new person is hired, fully trained and up to speed. In the meantime, the city council has proposed adding an additional half-time dedicated parking enforcement position to the 2017 city budget, at a cost of $41,150 a year. There is still time to comment on this budget addition by attending the Tuesday, Dec. 6 council meeting.

Pam Stuller, owner of Walnut Coffee and past president of the Edmonds Downtown Alliance (Ed!), has seen the parking situation worsen over the 10 years she’s been in business. “One of the reasons I chose my location is that it’s far enough from the heart of Edmonds that parking would be relatively easy for my customers,” she said. “But as the years go by parking just keeps getting tighter, and the recent slowdown in enforcement has only made it worse. I see lots of cars overstaying the limit and not being ticketed.”

The present downtown parking enforcement zone limits cars to 3 hours on city streets.

Stuller believes that enforcement is the necessary first step to addressing downtown parking. “We need to fully enforce the rules we have now before we can make intelligent decisions about what to do next,” she explains. “We need that baseline first.”

This was echoed by Karen Wiggins, past chair of the now defunct Edmonds Parking Committee, who testified at the Nov. 15 city council meeting about the need for more enforcement. In her comments, Wiggins pointed out that a half-time position would need to be structured in such a way that the workday was long enough to allow chalking of tires, waiting three hours and then issuing citations. “A four-hour shift would not work,” she added. She went on to suggest that the enforcement area be enlarged to discourage commuters and others from parking all day on residential streets just out of the current enforcement zone, saying that in addition to providing more revenue from parking citations, this would ease congestion for residents of these neighborhoods.

Wiggins also spoke to the economic impact of parking, saying that each parking space adds “an estimated $100,000” to the local economy, “which means more sales tax.”

While enhanced enforcement is the top recommendation of the EDC, committee chair Jamie Reece cautions to implement this in a way that is friendly to business and not scare customers off. “A simple warning or discount for a first offense would help keep Edmonds friendly for visitors,” he added. Reece also favors providing ongoing parking enforcement feedback to business owners and other stakeholders including metrics such as numbers of citations, warnings, revenue from parking fines, etc.

Employees who work downtown are eligible for special parking permits that allow them to park all day on side streets adjacent to 5th Avenue. One proposal under consideration is to move the employee parking zones one or two blocks up the street, thereby freeing the spaces directly adjacent to 5th Avenue.
Employees who work downtown are eligible for special parking permits that allow them to park all day on side streets adjacent to 5th Avenue.

Going beyond enforcement, the EDC wants to make more hourly parking spaces available by reconfiguring the existing downtown employee parking program. As the program currently operates, employees of downtown businesses are eligible to purchase a permit that allows them to park all day on several side streets in the blocks directly adjacent to Fifth Avenue (e.g., Walnut Street, Maple Street). Permits cost $50 annually, and many businesses simply buy them for their employees.

“We’re looking at moving the employee parking a block or two up the side streets, which would leave the blocks adjacent to the business district open for public parking,” said Doherty. “It would mean that downtown workers would have to walk another block or two, but it would create additional convenient parking for customers of those businesses.”

Another strategy recommended by the EDC is to institute a “good neighbor” program with downtown property owners who have existing parking lots. “Many of these businesses operate only during daytime business hours,” said Doherty, “and with our restaurants, cafes and theaters open into the evening the additional parking would be a tremendous asset. One issue we need to work on is liability, to make sure that the property owner is covered should someone suffer an injury while using their parking lot.”

The fourth EDC recommendation is to build on the recent improvements in downtown signage by implementing bright, easily visible and identifiable signage directing drivers to parking in downtown Edmonds.

While not part of the EDC report, Doherty stressed the value of promoting a “one car, one space” ethic to make more efficient use of curbside parking by encouraging drivers to not take up more space than they need. Just about everyone has experienced the frustration of looking for a parking space and finding a car parked in such a way that it is occupying two spaces. Addressing this could be as straightforward as adding striping to the curbside spaces with tick marks indicating where one space ends and another begins. Backing this up with an ordinance and appropriate enforcement could provide the needed incentive for drivers to respect the “one car, one space” ethic, Doherty said.

Taken together, these measures could go a long way toward alleviating Edmonds’ parking problems, Doherty added. “I think we can reasonably expect that we could make between 200 and 300 more spaces available downtown with these simple measures,” he said.

While he admits that festivals like the Taste of Edmonds and the Edmonds Arts Festival would continue to strain Edmonds’ ability to accommodate large numbers of cars, Doherty stressed that the approaches now being considered would be a major step forward in easing Edmonds’ day-to-day parking crunch.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. I fully agree with doing some type of striping to indicate parking spaces. I often walk the downtown and see situations where instances of cars parked far enough apart that if moved a little closer they could easily accommodate another in the allotted space. An example is in front of the bakery where there often are two cars in space that three could easily occupy.

  2. Well at long last the City is addressing this long overdue problem.
    Why leave it until it is an emergency?
    6th Ave near the Town Hall is free parking all the time. Why? Business cars and vans leave their vehicles there all weekend, impinging the parking for the summer market. The City has done nothing to about this. The Library has staff and ferry traffic cars parked there with no restrictions, and this has not been addressed.
    Come on City, put 2 hour parking instead of 3 hours and get a full time traffic warden. Surely the fines will cover the salary of that person?

    1. modified?

      during expected busy hours – set up an “uber” type system where patrons can be shuttled to a nearby parking lot – local school and/or church parking lot?

      of course comes the real question . . . who pays???

      seeing as how the city is just dripping oodles of extraneous billions of dollars, we could have the citizens pick up the tab?

      we really couldn’t ask the downtown businesses to pay – they already are overloaded with taxes . . .

      or ???

  3. All of these parking, traffic, auto and yes even the ferry issues are going to be affected tremendously by robotic vehicles in the next decade. Far fewer people are going to own cars. Robot car/vans will shuttle people everywhere they want to go and most will be electric. Cross sound auto traffic will decline because you will be able to catch a robot car to take you places. The expanded proposed “Multimodal” new ferry dock will be a white elephant on our beach! Do not allow the Edmonds Crossing project to ever be built!! It is a freeway on our beach!!!!

    Rising sea level and tsunamis threat mean that no residences should ever be allowed along Railroad Avenue and in the Harbor Square area. It is just to dangerous.

    We should make the freight trains have distributed power to all of the freight cars. Every freight cars should have an electric motor with regenerative braking. This would allow taking our tunnel machines when they are done with the Big Bertha hole in Seattle to make a tunnel and cut and cover route from Monroe to Renton. This will get the train off the beach!!! because in the tunnel the train can use the electric grid and shut down the diesel turbine generator on the locomotive.

  4. The limited enforcement harms both residents and businesses. Ferry riders take space the guests and customers would use. Not only do we need more frequent patrols, we need some way to discourage the use of employee permits by employees who work in Kingston.

  5. I feel making the parking time limited to less than 3 hours would make it challenging to enjoy time in Edmonds or use business services such as shopping, dining, salons, the library and the beach. I would hate to have to run out of the salon wth my color dripping down my face because I have to move my car, then return to the salon. If businesses want customers in Edmonds, they need to encourage people to stay and hang out.

  6. These are good suggestions. Actually though, I’ve never had a problem parking in Edmonds. Even on the 4th of July or Halloween I’ve been able to park within 3 blocks, maybe 5 blocks at the most, from where I was going. It’s not a big deal to walk or take the bus here, so I think the issue is really helping people find the existing parking and figuring out how to use alternative ways of getting around. Protected cycle lanes would encourage more cycling to downtown businesses. Would much rather see paid parking that generates revenue for downtown improvements instead of time restrictions that just make employees and people shopping move their cars.
    There are 2 ways to double the number of people shopping in the downtown… 1 is to build twice the parking, spend lots of money advertising to beg a few people to come to the stores remaining after half the lots are bulldozed and paved over. 2 is create a beautiful, vibrant, walkable space with lots of interesting shops close together, well served by transit, where people want to stay for twice as long as they do right now. I prefer #2.
    Providing expensive parking for private vehicles at public expense is inappropriate when we have other pressing needs like homelessness and hunger. If a private company saw a market for developing a structure with paid parking to serve downtown, I would have no objection (assuming a decent design) and might be supportive, but no more public expense and no more surface lots are needed here.

  7. PLEASE don’t neglect disabled spots in the downtown area! There are a few, but I’d say that 2 times out of three when I come to downtown to shop or dine, the handful of spots are taken. With very limited walking range (temporary! but now I know what others go through) I have to turn around and come home far too often. We also need stringent enforcement of permit-only disabled parking!

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