Paid Parking Changes

On Oct. 25. 2021, Bellingham City Council will host a public hearing on proposed changes to parking codes that will impact aspects of paid parking in downtown and Fairhaven. The proposed changes are based on local parking studies and nationally proven strategies, as well as community input. The hearing will be an opportunity for residents to comment on staff recommendations.

Parking management is essential to support businesses and residences in our growing community. Monitoring these Bellingham business districts has shown that the rules for parking on public streets need to be adjusted to address community goals to continue to support a vibrant local economy. Paid parking and time limits help encourage saving on-street parking spaces for customers and visitors by creating more turnover. Meanwhile, parking garages and permit lots are available – at a significantly reduced rate – for employees and others seeking longer-term parking. The proposed changes will also result in additional financial support for enlivening and beautifying the business districts.

Businesses and community members representing downtown Bellingham and the Fairhaven district support parking management updates. The recommendations helped inform the proposed parking changes that will be considered by Council at the October meeting. 

Parking management maintains turnover of on-street spaces and is recommended when demand reaches a level of 50% or more. This is a recent timeline of parking management milestones:

  • 2005: Downtown parking study recommends changes to metered rates and areas based on 85% utilization
  • 2008: 85% utilization reached, but rate changes put on hold due to recession
  • 2012: Downtown parking study update recommends implementation of pay stations with variable pricing, license plate recognition, and pay by phone
  • 2018: Implementation of pay-by-phone and license plate recognition (LPR) technology
  • 2019: Time-limited parking recommended by Fairhaven Parking Task Force to manage turnover. 

The proposed changes are based on the need to effectively manage parking demand and make paid parking as convenient as possible. Revenue that is generated is reinvested into the business district.  

Now is the opportunity for residents, Bellingham merchants and community groups to comment on staff recommendations. To that end, the following changes are proposed.

  • Manage Demand: Meet and manage supply and demand through parking strategy. The proposed changes to strategies include:
    • Locations: Add paid parking to Fairhaven, based on recommendations from the Fairhaven Parking Task Force.
    • Rates: In order to charge the right price to encourage turnover, hourly rates (which have been unchanged from 75-cents per hour since 2008) and permit fees need to increase. The proposed new hourly rate, for both downtown and Fairhaven is $1.50 per hour. Additionally, a progressive rate structure will be implemented by the end of 2022 to allow longer periods of on-street parking at a higher cost per hour.
    • Times: Enforcing parking during the highest demand times is essential to parking management. Based on parking studies, highest demand within Fairhaven and downtown is Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Parking would remain free outside of these hours.
    • Infraction costs: Increasing the cost of expired meter parking tickets helps encourage drivers to pay for their parking. The proposed increase to $41 will match the parking fine rate on the Western Washington University (WWU) campus.
    • Booting: Enforcement for unpaid parking fines is resource-intensive. In 2022, changes will be proposed to add the use of tire boots (an immobilization device placed on a vehicle with multiple unpaid parking infractions) as an additional and more effective tool. Tire boots are less expensive for both the City and the vehicle owner. This type of program helps residents pay down their fines rather than continue to increase and build up the fines. It protects enforcement officers from situations that have the potential to become hostile. It also helps the city collect on unpaid fines; for example, WWU has a 100% compliance and collection rate using the booting program.
    • Incremental management: When the parking updates go into effect, staff will continue to monitor the impacts and adapt to new needs as they arise.           
  • Convenience
    • Convenience for the customer: utilize the technology available to maximize efficiency of use, including acceptance of both credit cards and coins. Technology upgrades are being considered, such as real-time parking availability.
    • Support businesses: by encouraging turnover of spaces, and also make reasonable accommodations for those who need access. Proposed changes will add service providers as a category for street permits. Accessible parking will continue to be free for anyone with appropriate licensing.
  • Reinvestment: The parking fees collected go to support the city’s parking operations and help fund support of downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven district organizations as well as other investments into the neighborhoods. This reinvestment increases cleaning, landscaping and graffiti removal services, economic development services (business support, retail advocate, downtown advocacy, etc.) and events, marketing and promotions.

  • October 25, 2021 – Public Hearing on code revisions
  • November 22, 2021 – Final reading during City Council meeting; if approved, parking ordinance goes into effect
  • December 2021 – New pay stations begin to be installed in Fairhaven
  • Spring 2022 – Paid parking begins in Fairhaven, rates equalized in downtown
  • December 2022 – Progressive rate metering implemented

Visit the Engage Bellingham page to ask questions. Join the public hearing during the October 25, 2021 City Council meeting. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Information about how to register to make a public comment can be found at www.cob.org/meetings. Send a written comment: askPW@cob.org.

2022 Parking Updates Frequently Asked Questions

On-street parking is limited resource and is not free. In addition, as demand for a limited resource increases, charging for parking helps manage the demand. Charging for parking helps business by promoting turnover, thereby making parking spaces available for new customers.

The final amount of the increase is still under consideration; part of that consideration includes Council and public input. Our proposed increase is based on the length of time the price has remained fixed – it has been $0.75 since 2008 – which is unnaturally low based on other municipalities and best practice.

Based on parking studies, these are the busiest times which means the hardest times to find parking spaces. Implementing paid parking during these times will help with turnover and make it easier for you to find parking during these busy times. Busing, biking or walking during these busy times help reduce the demand, and then you don’t have to worry about finding a parking space.

The City Council will review staff recommendations and Parking Ordinance updates at their meeting on Monday, October 25. If approved by Council, paid parking changes are projected to start in spring 2022.

Changes to the cost of parking and other parking policies are under the purview of the City Council with support from the Transportation Commission as an advisory body. In addition, input from businesses, property owners and residents will be sought through meetings with neighborhood associations, business groups and Engage Bellingham. Comments can be delivered during the October 25 Public Hearing or submitted via email to askPW@cob.org.

The Fairhaven Parking Management Plan, which was created by the Fairhaven Parking Task Force, identifies a progressive strategy to manage available parking supply. Based on parking studies, parking availability has exceeded the 85% occupancy threshold that was established to determine when paid parking should be used to manage parking demand

Permits are available for parking garages and lots. In Fairhaven, a permit parking area is being proposed on one block of McKenzie Ave.

Residential Parking Zones (RPZs) are often utilized to help preserve residential parking in busy business areas, and as Bellingham grows, the use of RPZs needs to be revisited. The current code does not allow new RPZs and staff are planning to address these codes in late 2022. The updates will create a data driven and responsive process for creating new RPZs that will apply to all neighborhoods.

It is important to know that 100% of parking revenue is spent on parking-related activities and to support business district enlivening and beautification. This reinvestment increases cleaning, landscaping and graffiti removal services, economic development services (business support, retail advocate, downtown advocacy, etc.) and events, marketing and promotions, such as downtown events (Best of Bellingham) and activities such as the annual Holiday Tree, Downtown Sounds, the Commercial Street Night Market and organizations like the Downtown Business Association.

Yes, only the Fairhaven and Downtown core are currently planned to be metered. People can find “free” parking along those streets that are not metered. But, to reiterate, parking is not free. Where demand for parking is low, the hourly cost for parking can be set at $0.00 with time limits established. The City has a 72-hour limit on all on street parking. Some locations have 8-hour, or 2-hour parking restrictions. As demand increases the hourly cost increases in response. Regardless of the hourly cost at the meter, the City and the community pay for all available on street parking through taxes and utility rates and lost opportunities for other investments to build and maintain on street storage for vehicles. (For more detailed discussion on this topic please see “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Don Shoups.)

The progressive parking rates are to encourage use of permitted garages for those who are intending to remain in downtown and Fairhaven for longer periods of time. The parking garages represent a great value for those needing longer term parking: the cost of parking two or three days on the street downtown would pay for a monthly pass at an off-street parking area. The goal of paid metered parking is to support businesses and customers. Allowing a few customers to park longer than the standard two hours helps meet this goal. We’ve discovered that the average duration of stay is typically one hour in both downtown and in Fairhaven, with some users staying longer. The goal is to encourage enough turnover to ensure that at any given point in time there is at least one parking space open. This is measure using the 85% occupancy metric. The premise of allowing longer term parking at higher cost encourages turnover by raising the cost by the hour which should motivate most outlier users to park for the least amount of time possible while providing flexibility for business customers.

We are investigating new software with the implementation of progressive parking rates. This software identifies free parking stalls so that people can go directly to free spots that are closest to their destination without having to circle.

The City lot to the north of Municipal Hall is only reserved from 9am-5pm and open to the public outside of those hours. The Commercial Street Garage is also available, and closer to nighttime events. We do not have jurisdiction over the County lots and encourage you to reach out to them directly on this.

We are exploring options for evening and weekend use of the parking structure.

We will look into availability on the weekends and after enforcement hours during the evening.

This area does have an 8-hour parking limitations; however, there are limitations due to current eviction restrictions. As housing, this is a different issue than paid parking.

For now, the outdoor dining in parking spaces will remain, as they have helped businesses stay in operation during the pandemic.

Yes, we agree. All City meters will still accept coins.

The City complies with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) for the number and location ADA accessible spaces available with on street parking. As additional paid parking areas are identified and put in place, additional ADA spaces will be created. The City intends to continue to meet those requirements. At the same time any individual with a properly displayed placard may park at no charge and without time limit in any metered parking space.

Yes, we plan to continue to consistently measure demand in order to adjust prices to promote sufficient turnover. All fee changes by the City are set by council action, so community members and businesses will be able to provide comment on any future fee adjustments.

The changes are intended to provide an opportunity for a better customer experience through improved options and convenience. A significant change will be the full conversion from coin-operated meters to electronic pay stations. The coin-operated meter was invented in the 1930s; fifty years later, in the 1980s, the first digital parking meters came into use. Now, in the third decade of the 21st century, the City of Bellingham continues to use some 1930’s technology. Newer technology has the opportunity to increase convenience for customers and simplify operations. Consumers’ rapid adjustment to and adoption of the Pay-by-Phone suggest that the community is ready for a change that will move us into more modern services. By using newer technology, the City can help provide a positive customer experience where paid parking is a necessity.

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