Downtown Spokane Parking Lot

10 Ways to Fix Downtown Spokane’s Parking Problems

Downtown Spokane’s parking and business improvement area is soooooo mid ‘90s. It’s like an episode of Friends – predictable and stale and all the actors from that era are old and pining for their glory days. Municipal systems that are not in a constant state of innovation are municipal systems that fail their people.

Here’s how to fix downtown Spokane’s parking problems:

Build More Public Parking Garages

A long time ago Boise figured out that an abundance of parking garages downtown are well worth the investment. Their strategy for downtown revitalization was simple: make it as easy as possible for people to park downtown. Two or three new parking garages in downtown Spokane, including one in the University District, is a prescription that will cure what ails you.

How do we pay for new garages? Read on…

Don’t Emulate the Riverpark Square Fiasco

For those of you that are new to Spokane, back in the 1990s the city entered into a public/private partnership with the owners of Riverpark Square to help them revitalize the shopping area. The City of Spokane took on the task of improving the parking garage and we’ve paid dearly for it ever since.

Did revitalizing Riverpark Square back in the ‘90s save downtown Spokane? Yes. Did we bungle our way into the transaction? Yes. Did we get raked over the Cowles? Yes. Are we paying far more than we should have for the deal? Yes. Whatever the question might be that points toward utter incompetence on the city’s end when structuring the Riverpark Square deal, check the box yes. Conclusion: don’t structure deals like that anymore.

Funding parking structures is not complicated. All we need is a revenue stream that can cover debt service. It just so happens that Spokane generates about $4 million a year in parking fees. Strikes me that parking fees are a logical revenue stream to help improve downtown Spokane’s parking system. We have other tools, too, that can help if the situation calls for it.

Short of me writing a post that attempts to regale you with a bunch of finance jargon, pro formas, and citations from current indentures of trust, trust that funding new parking garages downtown is feasible.

Lower All Street Parking Meter Rates to Zero

Here’s where I start scoring points with economists. Establishing dynamic pricing that increases as demand for parking increases is fair for all who park downtown. Eighty percent occupancy is the magic number. If 8 out of 10 spaces on a given block are occupied, prices go up. If less than 8 out of 10 spaces on a given block are occupied, prices go down. Prices change on the hour, every hour. Thus, the spaces right in front of the Apple store will be in high demand and priced accordingly, but spaces further away from busy areas downtown will likely be free to park most of the time.

How Hard is It to Build a Parking App?

We can’t have a smart parking system without having an app to help customers find and pay for a parking spot. Other cities, like Boise, have implemented great applications.

It’s exhausting being the city that’s always trying to catch up with everyone else.

Reduce the Price of Parking Tickets to $5.00 and Make It Payable to an App (like the one mentioned above)

High parking ticket prices leave a bad taste in the mouth. We all know the feeling of approaching your car and flapping beneath the windshield wiper is a small envelope. We can change disappointment into a pleasant surprise with low parking ticket penalties.

If parking ticket penalties are low, however, penalties for serial offenders with unpaid tickets must be high. Don’t be shy when wielding the dreaded boot.

Stop with the Arbitrary Two-Hour Parking Limits  

Who chose two hours, anyway? Obviously, movies and dinners have a tendency of lasting longer than two hours, at least the good ones do. I know, I know, you’re going to argue that I’m not considering the need to turn over parking spaces, hence the two-hour limit. Worry not. If true dynamic pricing is implemented, the cost to stay in the parking spot rises and falls over time accordingly. I suspect you’ll see a bunch of spaces turn over as prices rise throughout the course of the day.

Zero Out Minimum Parking Requirements Within the Zoning Code

Now that you have some shiny new parking garages and dynamic pricing and an app that guides the populace and cheap parking tickets, pass an ordinance that strikes all minimum parking requirements from the zoning code.

Want to see real estate investments go through the roof downtown? Build parking garages and zero out the zoning code.

Carrots and Sticks for Diamond Parking

Surface parking lots are cancerous within urban environments, and downtown Spokane has a bad case of Diamond Parking.

Diamond Parking is a private company that specializes in managing surface parking lots, most of which they own directly. Their business model inherently promotes poor urban health. We have tools, however, that can act as white blood cells counteracting Diamond’s mutations, such as:  

  • Increase assessments on Diamond Parking spaces. It’s tricky for the city to pass a tax that discourages surface parking, but they can pass an assessment that discourages it. Within Washington state law, assessments look, smell, and feel like a tax. Asses the hell out of all surface parking lots downtown.
  • Purchase their surface parking lots and then bid them out for development concepts.
  • Incentivize Diamond Parking to build on their surface parking lots. Nothing is stopping Diamond from becoming a player in the real estate development game. Let’s help ‘em do it.

Don’t Let the Downtown Spokane Partnership Lead the Conversation

Why? Because this conversation is well beyond their level of sophistication. They manage a meager $1.2 million in annual assessment revenue and their very existence is at the mercy of Spokane City Council. More importantly, their parochial approach does not lend itself well toward a best practices conversation, much less innovation.

Create a Public Development Authority to Run the Whole Enchilada

Now that we have dynamic parking, public parking structures, and a great new parking app, let’s create an arm’s length relationship between parking services, the City of Spokane, and the business community, so none of them can screw this thing up. Oh, yeah, and also pledge that $1.2 million in annual parking and business improvement area revenue to the PDA. Here’s a post I wrote on this very subject: The Case to Increase DSP’s Budget by $4 Million Per Year