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Downtown Parking

This page provides information about downtown parking for local governments in Washington State, including helpful resources and examples of local plans and regulations.


What Makes Downtown Parking Special?

There are special issues associated with parking in downtown areas where land is valuable and relatively scarce and large numbers of people converge to work, shop, and visit. The lack of parking is sometimes cited as a reason for the declining vitality of a downtown business district. Some downtowns seem to thrive despite a shortage of parking because of the attractions they offer, as long as they provide alternative ways of getting there and getting around. Parking is not an end in itself but is intended to serve the needs of the various users of downtown, including workers, shoppers, tourists, and others.

Provision of adequate parking can be challenging in downtowns of all sizes. In large cities and major metropolitan areas, transportation policies typically emphasize the use of transit and ridesharing programs instead of providing low-cost downtown parking. Some smaller communities, especially resort communities, have developed systems of parking lots and shuttles to reduce the demand for parking in the town center. In most cities, there is likely to always be a need for a certain amount of parking, whether it be on-street or off-street. Some downtowns predate the widespread use of the automobile and were not laid out with parking in mind. Downtowns are typically compact, which also means that there is limited space for parking. In metropolitan areas, for downtown businesses to successfully compete with suburban shopping centers, a workable balance of parking, transit service, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and other access options is essential.

Decisions about downtown parking and other access solutions require trade-offs between the use of expensive land to achieve a viable and attractive downtown and the provision of workable parking and access programs to support downtown's vitality. Thus, parking is only one element in a broad range of access and circulation options for downtown.


Downtown Parking in General

This section includes general materials addressing basic downtown parking issues, principles, and goals.

  • Parking management made easy: a guide to taming the downtown parking beast () prepared by the Oregon Downtown Development Association for the Transportation and Growth Management Program, 06/2001. Useful step-by-step handbook to addressing downtown parking issues including inventories and potential solutions
  • Downtown Parking Made Easy: 6 strategies for improving the quality and quantity of downtown parking, by Mary Barr, Downtown Research & Development Center, 1997 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)

Downtown Parking Studies and Inventories

Many communities have undertaken parking studies and inventories to assess their downtown parking situation and have developed plans to address downtown parking issues. This section includes examples of parking inventories, studies, and reports.

  • Bellingham Final Parking Study, Downtown Sub-Area , Transpo Group, 03/2013 - Recommends near-term and long-term strategies to address current and future parking needs 
  • Everett Downtown Parking - Results of 2007-2008 Downtown Parking Management Study; includes phased implementation plan 
  • Puget Sound Regional Council Parking Inventory page - Reports and datasets from PSRC’s periodic inventories of off-street parking facilities in the central Puget Sound region. Survey areas include the central business districts (CBDs) of Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Everett, and Bremerton; Seattle’s First Hill, Lower Queen Anne, and University District neighborhoods; and selected ferry terminals at Bainbridge Island, Kingston, and Southworth
  • Redmond Downtown Parking Study - Links to 2008 reports
  • Seattle Performance-Pricing Program Reports - Links to a variety of parking studies and reports
  • Westport Parking Study and Commercial Design Guidelines, City Council presentation, 02/13/2007

Downtown Parking Management and Regulations

Downtown Parking Plans and Management

The management of downtown parking includes strategies to increase efficiency, parking guidelines and actions to address downtown parking needs, and downtown parking advisory committees. Communities have developed downtown parking management plans to guide these efforts.

Downtown Parking Code Regulations

These are sample general downtown parking regulations. Additional specific regulations addressing fee-in-lieu of parking, parking maximums, and shared parking are found in separate sections below.

  • Issaquah Municipal Code Sec. 18.09.130 - Downtown parking provisions - Includes parking reductions and displacement parking credit 
  • Kirkland Zoning Code Ch. 50.60 - Special Parking Provisions in the CBD 1, 2 & 8 Zones
  • Sumner Municipal Code Sec. 18.42.045 - Parking in Central Business district - Exceptions to parking requirements in downtown
  • Vancouver Municipal Code Sec. 20.630.060 - Parking control in downtown district

Downtown Parking Solutions

This section contains local government strategies to address downtown parking, including techniques for addressing downtown parking issues. Communities have adopted a variety of specific solutions to address downtown parking, such as parking and business improvement areas, parking pricing strategies, shared parking policies, fee-in-lieu of parking, employer programs to encourage ridesharing, remote parking lots, and commuter financial incentives.

Commuter Financial Incentives

These are incentives for commuters to encourage use of alternative travel modes (such as transit, bicycling, or walking) and to reduce the use of parking facilities.

  • Commuter Financial Incentives, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Incentives include parking cash out, travel allowance, transit benefits, and rideshare benefits
  • Smart Growth Network Multimodal Incentives, 2012 - Discussion paper regarding incentives that make alternative transportation modes an attractive alternative to commuters 

Fee-in-Lieu of Parking

Some cities allow developers to pay a fee in lieu of providing the parking spaces required by zoning ordinances and use this revenue to finance public parking spaces to replace the private parking spaces that developers would have provided. This is particularly useful in downtown areas and can help to fund a central municipal parking facility. This mechanism can provide flexibility and efficiency in providing parking in downtown areas and other commercial districts to meet the needs of new development; however, it cannot be used to remedy existing parking shortfalls.

  • In-Lieu of Required Parking, by Donald C. Shoup, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Vol. 18, January 1999 - Useful overview by national expert
  • Redmond Zoning Code Ch. 21.40 – Parking Standards (see Sec. 21.40.010(F)(2)) - Regarding in-lieu parking fees
  • Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 16.25 (see Sec. 16.25.110(D)) - Off-street parking for Central Business District
  • Friday Harbor Municipal Code Sec. 17.68.050(A) in Title 17 - Fee in lieu of parking spaces in downtown core

Meters and Pay Stations

Quite a few communities, including Bellingham, Kirkland, Seattle, and Tacoma, and Vancouver, are using automated kiosk pay stations for parking in downtown areas.

  • Bellingham Parking Pay Stations - Includes Frequently Asked Questions
  • Seattle Department of Transportation Meters and Pay Stations - Seattle has replaced parking meters downtown and in other neighborhoods with automated kiosk pay stations

Parking Maximums

Limits on the number of parking spaces to be provided through off-street parking requirements can help to encourage transit use and other alternatives to single-occupant automobile use. Parking maximums are used in downtowns and commercial centers where land is scarce and expensive.

  • Parking Maximums, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
  • Bellevue Land Use Code Sec. 20.25A.050(B) - Minimum and maximum parking requirements for downtown
  • Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 16.72 - Off-Street Parking and Loading (see Table 16T-13) - Includes maximum and optional minimum parking requirements for various zoning districts
  • SeaTac Municipal Code Sec. 15.35.810 - Maximum parking requirements for city center
  • Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 23.49.019(C) - Sets maximum parking limit of one space per 1,000 square feet of nonresidential use in downtown
  • Portland, OR Zoning Code Ch. 33.266 - Parking and Loading (See Sec. 33.266.115 - Maximum Allowed Parking Spaces)

Parking Pricing

Parking pricing means that motorists pay directly for using parking facilities. It may be used as a transportation demand management strategy, as a parking management strategy, to recover parking facility costs, to generate revenue for other purposes, or for a combination of objectives.

Donald Shoup advocates eliminating off-street requirements and charging market rates for parking.

  • The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald C. Shoup. Chicago: American Planning Association, 2005 (Available through MRSC Library Loan)
  • Turning Small Change into Big Changes, Chapter by Douglas Kolozsvari and Donald Shoup, excerpt from The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup, APA, 03/2005 - Article explains how cities can allocate parking meter revenue to business districts

Shared Parking

Shared parking is often encouraged in downtown areas but may be used in other locations as well. This approach works best when parking is shared by businesses operating at different times of day. A signed legal agreement is generally required.

  • Shared Parking, Sharing Parking Facilities among Multiple Users, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Useful overview of topic
  • Gig Harbor Municipal Code Sec. 17.72.060 - Joint use of required parking spaces for downtown zoning districts
  • Port Townsend Municipal Code Sec. 17.72.140 - Joint use of parking - Authorizes binding legal agreement between daytime and nighttime uses
  • Puyallup Municipal Code Sec. 20.55.050 - Joint use of parking facilities
  • Renton Municipal Code Sec. 4-4-080(E)(3) - Joint use parking facilities - Includes some maximum distance requirements outside of downtown
  • Sumner Municipal Code Sec. 18.42.056 - Dedication of joint parking in East Main Street area (includes fee-in-lieu option)

Remote Parking

The provision of remote parking may work well for smaller communities, particularly resort communities. This approach has been used successfully in Jackson, WY, Whistler, BC, and Aspen, CO as well as in La Conner and Winthrop in Washington. In some locations, shuttle bus service is provided between the parking lots and downtown or ski resorts.


Promoting Downtown Parking

Cities have developed brochures, maps, marketing programs, and websites to provide information on downtown parking and access opportunities.


Last Modified: August 24, 2017