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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: New $3/hour parking rates, fines could come soon to downtown Spokane

City of Spokane Parking Enforcement Specialist II L. Morse issues an overtime citation to a vehicle at a parking meter on Main Avenue at Post Street, Friday, April 23, 2021, in downtown Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
City of Spokane Parking Enforcement Specialist II L. Morse issues an overtime citation to a vehicle at a parking meter on Main Avenue at Post Street, Friday, April 23, 2021, in downtown Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Just imagine you’re fully vaccinated and COVID-19 cases have plummeted.

Feeling safe, you decide to attend your first live concert since the pandemic began when Wilco and Sleater-Kinney roll into town. (Who put those two bands together, anyway?)

Meeting up with friends for drinks ahead of the show, the ghost of Bing Crosby must be watching over you, because you manage to nab a parking spot downtown and pay – wait – $3 per hour?

The cost of parking – and the punishment for not paying for parking – could soon increase in downtown Spokane.

City staff finalized the details of a long-awaited legislative proposal last week that would set parking rates between $0.50 and $3 per hour in downtown Spokane, depending on the demand for spaces in that area.

Pending approval from the Spokane City Council, which could come as early as May, the city is targeting a June 28 effective date.

Hourly rates won’t increase immediately, as the city plans to track occupancy rates of downtown parking spaces before making adjustments.

The new rate system is coupled with a proposal to significantly increase fines for parking violations. What was once a $15 standard fine for an expired meter, for example, would become a $30 fine.

It’s all part of the city’s ongoing efforts to implement the findings of a 2019 study that concluded Spokane charges too little for parking.

The city’s aim is to achieve 85% occupancy rate in its downtown parking spots. Any higher, and it risks turning people away from downtown – and its businesses – altogether. Any lower, and it might be proof that people believe the cost of parking isn’t worth a trip downtown, or there’s a better alternative elsewhere.

Parking meter rates would vary between $0.50 and $3 based on the occupancy tracked in that area. Areas with occupancy well below 85% would have lower rates, while those in higher demand will see higher prices.

Rates would be adjusted no more than twice per year and by no more than $0.50 at a time.

Initially, the city had contemplated hourly rates as high as $5 an hour. Council President Breen Beggs voiced concern that such high rates would price low-income people out of downtown parking.

The parking study, conducted by consultant Nelson\Nygaard and completed in 2019, tallied about 37,000 parking spaces across downtown Spokane and surrounding areas. It found that the average off-street parking in the downtown core costs $2.65 an hour, compared to $1.19 an hour for on-street parking.

That makes on-street parking a good deal if you can get it, but about 85% of those 37,000 parking spaces were off-street.

The same study found that fines for parking violations were greater in cities including Seattle and Portland. The current fine structure and hourly rates downtown basically incentivize risk-taking, officials have argued. Parking all day at a series of two-hour meters costs about $13.20, compared to the $15 fine a person might incur if they don’t pay anything at all. So why not risk it?

Under the proposal, parking fines would be evaluated annually and adjusted if need be.

Occupancy rates will be tracked by license plate recognition devices.

“Staff will drive predetermined routes through the metered area at consistent times throughout the day,” explained city spokesperson Kirstin Davis in an email. “The LPR equipment will record whether a vehicle is parked in each on-street parking stall.

“The data is sent back and compiled into Occupancy Maps and can be filtered by time of day and date range.”

Work to watch for

As part of the Sprague Avenue rebuild between Division and Grant Street, the right two lanes of Division Street will be closed in that area starting Monday. They are expected to remain closed for about three weeks.

Time is running out to provide feedback on the Spokane Regional Transportation Council’s US 195/I-90 Transportation Study. The online open house and accompanying survey are intended to gauge public response to two packages of proposed improvements to the area. The details can be found at us195transportationstudy.com.

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