Home > Car Culture > “Free” parking, only $45,000 per stall

“Free” parking, only $45,000 per stall

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Know your audience. It’s a common phrase but sadly, many fail to heed those wise words. Case in point: A herd of bicycles with helmet-clad riders standing in front of the King County Library in Bellevue listening to a talk delivered by an official from the library system.  A statue of Ghandi, commissioned by the Indian government, is pointed out as is the award winning architecture.  The library already has very respectable patronage but is underutilized, given it’s size.  The solution? A new parking garage. When you learn that these cyclists are touring the city of Bellevue brainstorming ideas for improved bicycle access, you may wonder if there is a bicycle-themed speech being delivered to a group of patrons who arrived by car.

Even after setting aside the “know your audience” issue, the facts presented do not convince us that a garage is truly needed.  One example: Many parking spots were freed up after the Library hired a parking management company and asked patrons to register for visits longer than 3 hours. Additionally, 25% of visits to the library are to drop off or pick up reserved materials and yet there are were only two parking spots reserved for short visits. To top it all off, charging for parking was considered but rejected since the library board has a philosophy of services being available “free to all”.

Let’s dig into the numbers a bit. The parking facility currently being built will house 362 cars, up from 199 before construction started. The cost of the additional 163 parking spots will be, depending on the number you use, anywhere from $7.4 and $11.3 Million. Using the lower cost estimate of $7.4 million, which is more recent and presumably reflects lower current construction costs, that works out to over $45,000 *per additional parking spot*. Read that number again: $45,000 per additional “free” parking space. I’m left wondering how many books or librarian hours that $7.4 Million, not including financing costs, would buy.

I’m not suggesting that the majority of Bellevue library patrons will always be able to take the bus, bike, or walk to the library. But plenty of viable alternatives to the private automobile exist today. The Bellevue Transit Center is a short walk from the library, 4 Metro bus routes have stops within 2 blocks, and the highest ridership route on the eastside, the Sound Transit 550, terminates at the library. Looking out further, SoundTransit’s light rail will serve the Bellevue Transit Center, a bike facility along NE 12th will connect to the mixed development slated for the Bel-Red corridor, and people are already moving into homes in downtown Bellevue just a short walk away.

All of this comes after the Library asked for and voters approved a tax increase in 2010 to continue funding library services at current levels. Given all of this, is it really that difficult to contemplate a library parking lot with reasonable restrictions and fees?  If the Seattle central library, with only 143 parking spots and 20 minutes of free parking for patrons picking up materials, can do it, why not the Bellevue library?  I have always been an outspoken supporter of the library system and have voted for every library ballot measure that has been put before me. But I’m more interested in books and the online databases the library gives me access to.  If I really need to stash my car at the library I don’t expect the taxpayers of King County to pay for my parking, especially since there are so many other ways to get there.  For me, the days of reflexively voting for additional library taxes are over: More library services? Yes. More publicly subsidized “free” parking? No.

  1. February 7, 2012 at 7:36 am

    works out to about 2 cents per car parking there over the course of 50 year life of facility.

    • February 7, 2012 at 11:49 am

      $.02 per day? That’s interesting math you’re using there. Dividing 50 years worth of 365 days I calculate a cost per stall of $2.47. To get to $.02 per car, you have to assume 123 cars are parked in every parking stall every single day of the year for 50 years. That wildly optimistic number that you’ve pulled out of a hat doesn’t even consider holidays, cost of maintenance, and cost of financing.

      My point is that the existing lot would likely be sufficient if patrons were asked to contribute to the cost of providing parking. The result would be no need to spend over $7 Million on a parking garage and a modest revenue stream to boot. Sounds pretty conservative to me…

  2. February 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I live in rural Whatcom county (East of Bellingham) but come to Seattle often.

    My vehicle of necessity is a Ford F-350 with full cab and full bed (I farm as well as doing ornamental iron and blacksmithing). It is getting very difficult in Seattle to find parking for adult vehicles. Will this new facility have the resources to deal with my needs or will “they” be discriminating against the people who provide urbanites with food and art.


  3. June 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    How often is the library’s parking lot at capacity anyway? In my neighboring city of Palo Alto, CA, residents complain about how there’s not enough parking downtown. So on a Friday night at 8pm (prime time for this restaurant row) I rode our bikes up to the top of the massive parking structure they built about 10 years ago at about $35k per spot. The first three floors were indeed full, but the last two floors were less than 1/3 full.

    The garage is right in the middle of the district, right behind the storefronts, and the whole downtown is only six blocks long. There are two older garages on the other side too. I think the issue is that people (a) get frustrated in the traffic (b) think they should be able to park on the street within two blocks of the restaurant or store (c) don’t know where the parking garages are.

    The fact that all parking is free downtown doesn’t help either. Fortunately, the city is not keen to pay to build another garage, nor are the merchants.

    • July 2, 2013 at 7:14 am

      It used to be chronically full. Trouble is, they never charged for parking, even though this new garage is enormously expensive to build.

      The Library is the primary trip generator in the area so it’s not even like they will be able to charge for parking at night.

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