Seattle's economy is roaring. Construction cranes fill the sky. Amazon.com has been on a hiring spree, adding thousands of new workers all by itself.
Overall, Seattle was the fastest growing one in the country in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and it's not slowing down.
One downside of that growth -- higher costs for parking in Seattle's busiest commercial districts, prices that are starting to rival places like San Francisco and Manhattan.
"It's hard to wrap your head around $4 an hour," said Ingrid Hurley who was visiting from Huntsville, Alabama. "Where I come from it's 50 cents at the parking meter and in other areas, it's free." Hurley paid $16 for 4 hours.
Parking in lots and garages costs a bundle too.
A 2013 study from the Puget Sound Regional Council documents just how pricey parking has become, with monthly prices ranging from $40 on Lower Queen Anne to $492 a month in the Denny Regrade.
For daily parking, the costs were even more eye-popping. At one lot across the street from the Columbia Center, 30 minutes of parking costs $10 plus tax. A full day at the same lot -- $54.90. Even at those prices, the lot is regularly full of cars.
Bob Winters, who lives in nearby Belltown, paid $25 for just over an hour at that lot. He says it feels like Seattle is "waging a war on cars."
To help drivers find available spots, SDOT installed electronic readerboards on several avenues feeding into downtown that lists the number of open garage spots and where drivers can find them. But drivers may be skipping garages in a search for street parking they see as more convenient or cheaper.
Scott Kubly, director of the city's transportation department, said the prices reflect high demand for parking in the city's downtown core.
"We have a growing city with a growing demand for parking, so what we try to do is take a more market -based approach to parking downtown, make sure always some spaces available in downtown for people to park on the street," he said.
Street parking remains an option, but it's and increasingly scarce one. Construction projects and reconfiguring major avenues for bicyclists and pedestrian traffic has cut the supply of street spaces in downtown. Scarcity means higher prices. Currently, it costs $4 per hour to park near the waterfront, $4 per hour in downtown, and $3.50 per hour in Capitol Hill North. (SDOT parking map.)
Ditching the car
Jon and Karen Sumple moved to Seattle's First Hill neighborhood six years ago from Florida. They brought their car and tried, at first, to park on the street. But that became a real hassle.
"It's late and you're looking for a spot, you're circling around and around for, one time, 45 minutes before we found a spot. Frustration, you just want to be done with this car," said Karen Sumple.
The Sumples broke down and put their car in a garage at the cost of $190 a month. The couple works from their home and soon realized they were paying to house a car that they didn't drive much. The crunched the numbers on their monthly vehicle costs -- parking, insurance, maintenance etc -- and realized they were spending nearly $600.
So the Sumples did what the once thought unthinkable -- they decided to go carless, selling their VW Rabbit to a dealer in Bellevue.
"It was an unbelievably simple decision to make," Jon Sumple said.
Now Jon writes a blog about their experience to help others figure out ways to go carless in Seattle. It's called Withoutwheels.com.
Meters on the march
SDOT's Kubly notes that there are a half million street parking spots in the city. And most of those spots are unrestricted, with no meter or special zone sticker required. But Seattle grows, the meters are rolling out in new places.
Take the intersection of E. Union and 14th Ave. on the edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Right now, street parking is largely unrestricted. Every year, however, SDOT studies traffic data to see if demand is exceeding supply. A first step is to place time limits on street parking. If that doesn't achieve enough turnover, the city would consider adding meters.
As SDOT explains on its own website, "paid onstreet parking would be considered if and when the time limits were not effective at encouraging parking turnover. High utilization, a high percentage of vehicles overstaying the time limit, and low turnover are typical indications that time-limit signs should be converted to paid parking to achieve the desired turnover for short-term customers and visitors."
Most recently, this process recommended more paid parking in Ballard, south of NW Market Street, with new meters to be deployed this spring.
For more information on where to find the cheapest street parking, go to KING 5.com/parking.