Photo Caption: Restaurant owners say their businesses are hurting to due myriad transportation and parking issues in the Chinatown-International District. Photo credit: Atia Mutasazy.

The City of Seattle’s decision to roll back parking rates throughout the Chintown-International District (CID) and eliminate evening parking rates in some streets is welcome news to almost everyone in the neighborhood. For the businesses and organizations who clamored at the mayor’s office for this, the decision represents a victory and model for future collaboration.

For many, however, the decision only  touches the surface of a myriad of transportation issues. Streetcar construction, which is not slated for completion until mid-2014, the elimination of the downtown ride-free zone and other construction projects are also major concerns.

“Customers, especially those who come with a party of two or three cars, tell me they would rather go to Bellevue because the cost of parking really adds up here,” said Nancy Chan whose husband is a partner at Purple Dot Café in the CID.
Starting March 18, evening parking rates will drop from $2.50 to $1.50 per hour, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the core of the International District. Daytime rates will be lowered to $2 in this area.

In the outlying blocks, evening parking will be free once again. This comes after an 18-month trial period in which the city charged the majority of the neighborhood for street parking from 6 pm. to 8 p.m.

Chan said she “definitely” noticed a decline in business during this trial period. People just don’t want to “have to watch the meter” as they’re eating dinner, she said.

The International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), the Seattle Chinatown-ID Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), InterIm Community Development Association along with local restaurant owners and other community groups rallied against the evening parking measure. They collected data on the dip in dinnertime business, estimated to be about 20 to 30 percent on average.

Benny Huang, an employee of Jade Garden, said many customers call to complain about parking price or lack of parking space.

“One order of soup is around $6, but when you add $2.50 for parking just for one hour, the meal is suddenly $10, and it becomes too expensive,” said Huang.
He also mentioned that many potential customers stay downtown for lunch to save on bus fare, since the elimination of the ride-free zone in September 2012.
After months of community complaints, the mayor’s office rolled back evening parking meter fees.

“I’ve seen headlines that the ID is getting special preference from [Mayor Mike McGinn], but it’s not true,” said Frank Irigon, a retired social worker who has been involved with the CID neighborhood for more than 30 years.

Chan also disagreed with the belief that the CID is getting preferential treatment, mentioning lack of accountability when it came to street projects.

The city said it would take one month to fix the sidewalk in front of the Purple Dot Café. Instead it took three months. Chan, concerned about her business, asked city officials about this, but they would “blame other departments,” she said.

Irigon said that parking is a “business decision” and McGinn was willing to “meet us halfway” and be “business-friendly.”

On the other side, community members were able to shape the near-future of their neighborhood.

“It was an example of good partnership between multiple city departments and community groups like ours and BIA and others,” Joyce Pisnanont, program manager at SCIDpda.

This model of interdepartmental cooperation will continue for future projects that deal with complicated issues in the CID, such as the elimination of garbage in alleys.
Pisnanont, Irigon and I-Miun Liu, owner of Oasis Bubble Tea and board member of CIDBIA all agreed that it required data and hard evidence to prove to the city that the parking policy was affecting businesses.

“The businesses took a hit, but I am happy that the community was patient,” said Liu. “As for the mayor’s response, obviously everyone wants change faster, but we also had to look at the bigger picture.”

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