Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Final Report & An End to the Experiment



A year and a month ago, I started this project as a way to get a sense of what parking was actually like in Seattle. Parking in Seattle is often a contentious topic. On the one hand, we have people believe that parking in Seattle is too expensive and too difficult. Routinely . On the other hand, there are people like me who acknowledge that parking in the heart of a busy city is going to cost more than in areas where demand is lower and parking is subsidized.

In the middle of this argument, I realized that I had access to original data on the issue and that measuring it could actually give both sides something to talk about. Both sides make assumptions about the nature of parking in the city, but what is it really like to in Seattle? What would happened if you started keeping track of it? This blog was an attempt to do just that, in a completely unscientific but honest way. Using a combination of Google Docs and Blogger, I would create a log of where I park, how long it took to find parking and how far off it was from my destination. Now, after a year and 127 entries, this will be last post and the summary of the findings.

How did this website work?

Data collection for this website was done with my smartphone by using a Google form, which can be viewed here. In the background, there is a Google action script that that takes the final row of the table and then posts it to blogger when a a report is submitted. The statistics are generated based on what is in the table at the time of posting. The only manual work that I have is tagging the posts with the neighborhoods when it is done. The code for pushing the form data to the blogger can be found here, in case you would like to do something similar.

Is this a scientific study?

No. It is a series of observations, but it was not collected under strict scientific standards. However, the information is also not useless: We have nearly 130 reports over the course of about a year and my methodology errs on the conservative side: I only collected data in places where it is "difficult" to park, excluded instances where I used my RPZ sticker to park for longer periods of time, I stopped data collection in areas that I felt were too easy, and tended to be more diligent about reporting difficult parking experiences than easy ones. The final results more accurately reflect my parking experience at the worst. There was no cherry picking data here.


Distribution of Results

The five most frequently visited neighborhoods where parking was recorded were: Capitol Hill/Broadway, West Seattle, Georgetown, Fremont, and Downtown. I stopped collection data in Georgetown and Fremont at 10 visits because I did not face any difficulty finding parking in either neighborhood.

In much of the city, I didn't record my parking at all. There is simply no need in most areas because there isn't high enough demand to make parking challenging. As a result, I limited my data collection only to destinations in the areas below. I focused on neighborhood businesses and anywhere that people might consider "hard" to park.

View Areas where I log Parking in a larger map


Difficulty of Finding Parking

Difficulty was measured in two ways: The first was how long it took to find parking and the second was how far from the destination the parking spot was. The ideal is to be located close to your destination and not spend an inordinate amount of time finding parking. On average, I found parking well within 2 blocks of my destination and well within 2 minutes of first starting to look for parking, even in the busiest areas of the city. Parking downtown, which was most often to visit the Pike Place Market, yielded a parking spot within 2 blocks of my destination and took on average 3.3 minutes. First Hill was the most difficult (3 minutes on average and 2.5 blocks away on average), followed by Downtown (3.3 minutes on average and 1.9 blocks away on average), followed by Pioneer Square and then Capitol Hill (both under 2 minutes on average and within 2 blocks from the destination on average).

The longest time spent looking for parking was 15 minutes on Capitol Hill. However, this was unwittingly during the evening on pride weekend. The second longest amount of time spent was 9 minutes near Melrose Market. The furthest for my destination was 7 blocks, but that was the outlier. Generally, parking was found no more than 4 blocks from my destination.

Interested in seeing what a parking looks like in practice? Here's me finding parking at the Pike Place Market. For the purposes of this site, I would have started the clock for "looking for parking" at about 2nd Ave. Before that, I would consider myself "in transit" and would likely pass a spot for a closer one. However, once I get to 2nd Ave, if anything popped up, I would have grabbed it. The timer would have stopped when I turned the engine off at the end. This is fairly representative of my experience parking in Seattle.


Cost of Parking

On average, it cost $0.31 per hour to park, or $0.47 per park on average. That amount includes a $25 ticket for overstaying my time in a private parking lot in West Seattle. If that ticket is removed, then the total cost per hour was $0.18. You could add a $125 of parking costs and still not break $1 per hour on average. Reviewing the data, I do seem to be missing a Sounders game last month that was $20 and would take the average cost to $0.41 per hour.

The reason why this is so low is mainly due to my parking habits: I tend to take transit more than I drive, tend to visit downtown on Sundays, tend to visit to frequent neighborhood businesses outside of downtown, and I don't mind walking a little ways to park for free. The cost of parking in my experience is effectively negligible.

Here's the breakdown by neighborhood (Sorted by total time):
Neighborhood Total Time Parked in Area (Hours) Total Amount Paid Overall cost per hour (Cost/Time)
West Seattle 44.3 $25.00 $0.56
Capitol Hill/Broadway 40.3 $9.57 $0.24
Downtown 25.5 $12.59 $0.49
The University District 23.55 $4.90 $0.21
Fremont 12.25 $1.75 $0.14
Ballard 11.5 $1.56 $0.14
Madrona 8.5 $0.00 $0.00
Lower Queen Anne 5.25 $0.00 $0.00
Wallingford 4.25 $0.00 $0.00
SLU/Cascade 3.8 $0.00 $0.00
International District 2.75 $4.97 $1.81
Pioneer Square 2 $0.00 $0.00
Belltown 1.5 $0.00 $0.00
First Hill 1.5 $0.00 $0.00
Montlake 1.5 $0.00 $0.00
Ravenna 1.25 $0.00 $0.00
Georgetown 1.15 $0.00 $0.00
Alki 1 $0.00 $0.00
Green Lake 1 $0.00 $0.00
Leschi 0.5 $0.00 $0.00
Magnolia 0.5 $0.00 $0.00
The Central District 0.25 $0.00 $0.00
Little Saigon 0.1 $0.00 $0.00
Grand Total 194.2 $60.34 $0.31


Conclusion & Thoughts

This is by no means a definitive study that will end the debate of parking or the scarcity of it in Seattle, but in these observations parking in Seattle is not especially expensive or difficult. Parking was usually readily available, even in the downtown core, and occasional one-time high prices for parking, such as when issued a ticket by a private parking lot or the occasional on street parking charge, averages over time to a very low per hour cost to park.

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