Fremont parking: a problem and an opportunity

When you think Fremont, you think artistic and funky. We foster our image as an "Imagi-nation," as stated in our Proclamation of Independence.

Underneath, we are a Mayberry, populated with more town characters than Andy could have withstood. Like a small town, a strong mix of residences and businesses fill our quirky, old buildings, existing shoulder to shoulder.

People live and work here, sometimes both but too often only one or the other, and they park along all our streets.

At a meeting last November, Fremont businesspeople got slapped in the face. The City of Seattle - in the form of Julie Erickson, representing the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) - approved a Residential Parking Zone (RPZ) for Fremont. And the businesses have no say.

A November 2000 letter to the SDOT, written by a few Fremont residents, requested an RPZ study. This city program restricts parking on residential streets to only those who actually live in the posted area. Cars without a permit during enforced hours will incur a $44 fine.

The RPZ program ran out of funding, so the study waited until May 2003. At 5 a.m. one day, the city counted cars parked on residential streets for a baseline. They counted again at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on both a Thursday and Saturday. Fremont qualified, and the SDOT informed the City Council that it approved an RPZ for daytime hours.

An RPZ sounds the final salvo in a battle to reclaim parking for tired and frustrated residents. It is the big gun and could blow up in many faces.

The restrictions say curb parking belongs only to those who live on the streets marked, without considerations for visitors, overflow or the ill-prepared.

It gives no allowance to a business district tightly wedged between residential streets and a ship canal. Businesses that often occupy buildings without free off-street parking, like the residents themselves.

Small businesses - quirky, quaint or just plain odd - thrive in Fremont. Past Fremont Neighborhood Council meetings erupted in passionate speeches against national chains that kill off boutiques and independents.

However, big business provides parking. One of our largest employers, Adobe, built a huge parking structure, plus provided subsidized bus passes for its employees.

A small store selling nifty knick-knacks in a converted mattress factory can't pay a clerk more than minimum wage, much less provide a parking pass. Neither can they offer customers - their life blood - free parking like the malls.

Would residents rather have private parking or a healthy small-business district?

Parking is a genuine problem. Residents want to park in front of their homes, no matter where they live, but at what expense?

The SDOT received another request in November to study more of Fremont and include nighttime hours. An additional study delays the next step in the process: the collection of signatures on a petition of the affected home, condo and apartment dwellers - and the imminent restrictions.

This delay gives time, but no solution. Fremont has a history of creative problem-solving. Our Proclamation of Independence, done tongue-in-cheek, came in response to threatened Urban Village restrictions.

When we wanted a cash machine and every bank turned us down, we started our own bank. It worked.

Residents have a right to an RPZ. Shoppers have a right to choose the mall with its plentiful parking. Businesses have a right to move to malls, foregoing "character."

And I have a right to my hopes, no matter how idealistic and perverse, that people might look beyond these rights to find a mutually beneficial solution.

Kirby Lindsay waits in Fremont, monitoring the RPZs. Expect to hear more. She welcomes your comments and concerns at

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