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The Ultimate Random Act of Kindness? Giving Away Free Parking in Seattle

Snagging a parking spot downtown that’s safe from being ticketed or towed can feel like a miracle these days. But miracles do happen from time to time: in fact, one Seattle business is giving away parking spots for free.

Steve Ritt, owner of Leather Care Inc. on Elliot Avenue, lets workers at nearby businesses park in their lot – for free. All they have to do is arrive before 9 a.m.

Leather Care doesn’t use all of its parking, which is why it decided to “donate” parking spaces to its tech neighbors. Of course from time to time they need to make room for delivery trucks, but they’ve worked out a system: they just leave a note on the windshield of a car to let drivers know they’ll need to move so Leather Care can do its business.

According to a long-time worker, the policy is all in the spirit of being a good neighbor.

“Our owner, Steve Ritt, his whole idea was, ‘let’s be good neighbors.’ We have this new, beautiful building next to us and there’s a need for parking, right? And we got this whole parking lot, and so long as everyone follows the one simple rule — if you block somebody in then leave your phone number so that way they can call you and you come out — and everyone has been really, really good about.”

This idea of acting “neighborly” feels unusual — even unreal — to many in the area. And with Expedia about to open a new building across the street, the pinch is only going to get tighter with parking.

While Leather Care took matters into its own hands and created a parking solution, parking for an entire city is becoming more and more complicated. According to the City of Seattle website, “SDOT sets on-street parking rates and hours of operation based on data to achieve a goal of one to two spaces available per block. This means that visitors and shoppers can find a parking spot more easily, with less time spent driving around circling in traffic.”

In 2010, the city council approved a rate hike from a maximum of $2.50 per hour to $4 an hour. The parking meters with the coin slots were replaced by solar-powered parking meters that cost the city $10 million, not including installation and annual operating costs.

In 2010, the city generated $26.5 million from parking into the general fund.

SDOT says it gathers data from all meters in the city each year. They study the information to set rates, time limits, and paid parking hours by comparing results to their targeted goal of 70 percent to 85 percent occupancy.

In 2016, prices were hiked once again to $5 an hour. Yet there’s no conclusive data that shows the city’s system of pricing and setting time limits is helping any visitor find a spot.

According to SDOT Communications Director, Mafara Hobson, the city expects to make $40.4 million in 2018 from parking revenue.

According to SDOT’s Director of Transportation and Mobility, Andrew Glass-Hastings, no one is getting gouged, “The program is working. And it’s working because there are more areas, more times of the day that are within the target range of parking available.”

Meanwhile, Ted from Prestige Cleaners says their policy of providing free parking has worked like a charm, “Everyone has been so appreciative to have parking and for us, it’s all about being good neighbors.”

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Emery Reddy