City pondering new downtown parking plan

Aggressive enforcement of two downtown parking lots may have worked to keep spaces free and visitors moving along in the past, but no longer.

Aggressive enforcement of two downtown parking lots may have worked to keep spaces free and visitors moving along in the past, but no longer.

Despite issuing nearly 600 parking tickets last year, the Kirkland Police Department said at a meeting last week its efforts are having little effect on lots that are still jammed at peak lunch and dinner hours.

As a solution, the city’s Parking Advisory Board (PAB) last Thursday recommended a number of changes to downtown parking standards, proposing free parking during business hours, longer time limits during the day and charges in evening parking rates for the downtown’s two major public lots. The recommendation now goes to the City Council for approval. If approved, the changes will be phased in sometime later this year or early next, no later than March.

“You appeal to both those who want free parking and those who don’t mind paying,” city parking coordinator Tami White said of the plan.

The PAB, a city-appointed committee of downtown-area residents and business owners, recommended the standard changes for two downtown parking lots at its committee meeting last Thursday. Under the plan, day-time charges for parking would be eliminated from 30 spaces at the Lake Street and Central Way lot and from 28 spaces in a larger lot at Marina Park, while time limits for free parking would be extended from two hours to three. The plan also makes it $1 an hour for parking in all spaces in both lots from 5-9 p.m.

The changes are being recommended as a way to attract customers during the day while also encouraging turnover in the evening, PAB members said. A study conducted by the PAB last year found the lots were busy during lunch hour, but overwhelmed during dinner. The city’s response was twofold: seek a temporary solution with existing parking and look to build additional capacity elsewhere.

The total effort is being welcomed by downtown business owners.

“We need to look at this in a holistic way … the downtown area is in a state of change,” Howard/Mandville Gallery owner Pat Howard said.

Howard said she is concerned downtown visitors don’t stay long because of present parking restrictions, which means Kirkland loses business to other Eastside communities and Seattle. At the meeting, White referred to a letter submitted by a downtown salon owner who complained the current two-hour limit isn’t long enough for her customers.

According to statistics gathered by the city, motorists park in Kirkland’s paid spots for an average length of 1 hour, 58 minutes.

“We need to offer amenities that others offer,” Howard said of the downtown business core.

Additionally, the PAB decided to leave downtown pay stations unchanged and asked that the extra money earned from the evening parking charges — estimated to be around $100,000 per year — be saved to fund additional parking capacity.

The PAB’s next step is to hear proposals for a new parking garage. Estimates for the new garage range from $1 to $16 million for structures with 200 to 500 spots. Eight different sites are being proposed.

The group’s next meeting is May 1.

Contact Kendall at