Future parking in Olympia: Eco-friendly or a public menace?


On 17 April 2023, the Olympia Planning Commission (OPC) decided to propose to the City Council that it eliminate parking requirements for residential units of various housing types: single-family houses, multiplexes, townhomes, cottages, and apartments. This means units could be built with absolutely no off-street, on-site parking.

Present regulations require 0.75-2.0 parking spaces per unit for such structures. The proposed reduced parking requirements would no longer provide an adequate basis for either the handicapped or EV (electric-vehicle) charging. This is despite 2/3 of the public providing comments opposed to the regulations. and the lack of any parking study that the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA) had recommended.


Hence, this radical change seems to be “shooting from the hip” to hurry the measure through, given Olympia’s housing shortage and the risk of missing a deadline for grant funding from the Department of Commerce. Based on the comments given to the OPC, it appears that many of the people supporting the proposed parking deregulation were from Olympia for People Oriented Places (OPOP), the same group that promoted the Missing Middle. Hence, it was no surprise that people perceived as older, well-to-do, white residents were disparaged for opposing such “progress”, familiar ageism of OPOP whenever there’s public opposition to things that they support (like no parking). In contrast, tribes respect their elders and their wisdom. I want taxation with representation, not faux public meetings (“done deals”) that are essentially executive orders.

At Olympia’s Land Use & Environment Committee’s public meeting on April 27, a number of citizens expressed concern about OPC’s heavy-handed advice to greatly reduce parking requirements (down to 0-1.25 parking spaces per unit) for new developments. The rationale for deregulating this requirement, i.e., leaving such decisions to developers, is that they know best what their clients want for parking. Additionally, it was felt that by not requiring parking, housing will be cheaper to build and become more affordable (see However, there's no guarantee that developers will pass these savings on to home buyers or renters.

Ignoring the needs of the disabled

But as Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gilman (who as a committee member voted against the proposal) emphasized, vehicle use continues to increase in Thurston County, and building multiplex units with no parking could alienate neighbors. Unfortunately, Councilmembers Dani Madrone and Jim Cooper didn’t agree. The Committee decided to forward the proposed parking regulation to the full City Council, despite staff having to rethink lack of parking requirements for disabled people. But because handicapped- and EV-parking requirements only kick in if parking is provided, these needs will still not be met in proportion to the population that require them (including people temporarily incapacitated by injuries). So Olympia is ignoring the needs of people who are handicapped and undermining its own climate policy (to promote alternative-energy sources).

A personal note about alternative transportation here

I’ve seen Intercity Transit greatly reduce bus service during the pandemic, particularly at night and on weekends, so it cannot meet people’s transportation needs, especially those who live vs. work in different townships. Hence, I have done most of my own transportation by bicycle since 2020, weather permitting. Additionally, people working multiple jobs usually need a car to get between jobs in a practical time frame. The alternative is to combine bus and bicycle use, like I used to do, but there are only two bike racks per bus, which quickly fill up during rush hour.

Another big concern is spillover parking into neighborhoods from people who can't find parking spaces. Many of these streets still lack sidewalks. More street parking could interfere with needed space for utility bins, mail trucks, and bicycles, the latter being safest in bike lanes. Indeed, when cars park within bike lanes, cyclists like myself must move out into traffic, far enough away from parked cars to avoid potentially opening car doors, but then at greater risk of moving vehicles.

Minority report

Finally, two OPC members voted against the proposal for a number of reasons. Notably, there would be street-parked cars subject to greater vandalism; lack of safety for people walking distances home at night, given the lack of parking; fire trucks unable to pass through parked-up streets; and lack of accessible parking. Moreover, increased expensive housing costs in Olympia (see could cause people to double up in housing and actually increase parking needs.

And I agree with the OPC's minority report that government, not developers, should decide on parking requirements for the greater public good. Indeed, essential resources shouldn’t be privatized/deregulated. Examples include: how deregulating banks caused the Depression and Great Recession, how water became more expensive/less available when Atlanta privatized that service, how water became contaminated when Flint, Michigan allowed a company to build a new/expensive/unnecessary pipe, and how Canadian mail slowed down after privatization (to become the “pony express”, particularly for mail crossing the international border). Government needs to take responsibility, rather than to shirk their public duty to guarantee public safety, notably for pedestrians and cyclists who are the ones actually reducing car use in Thurston County.

If Olympia’s goal really is to reduce car use, then providing monetary incentives to bus users, pedestrians, and cyclists would make more sense, e.g., via reduced property taxes or rent. Unfortunately since the pandemic, top-down management has prevailed in government, with less concern for worker or citizen opinions. Many Olympians and neighborhood associations have spoken out against these unrealistically draconian parking regulations. It’s time that the OPC and City Council listen to the public. The present proposal is a “greenwashed" menace that insults present residents.

          ~ Bob Vadas, Jr., long-time Olympia resident in both apartments and houses

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily those of  The JOLT's staff or board of directors.  Got something to say about a topic of interest to Thurston County residents? Send it to us and we’ll most likely publish it. See the Contribute your news button at the top of every page.


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  • longtimeresident

    Thank you, Bob Vadas, for your comments. I think there are still a lot of residents who are unaware of the plans being made to limit parking spaces in new development; these residents need to pay attention and voice their opinions before it is too late. It is our community not just that of the Planning Commission members and the City Council who are supposed to be representing us!

    Tuesday, May 9, 2023 Report this

  • DHanig

    Interestingly, the detrimental impact of parking requirements was just showcased in NPR today. See

    Tuesday, May 9, 2023 Report this

  • Callie

    I also - as another commenter mentioned - heard about the book Paved Paradise - as a society we have built for cars.

    We can manage with fewer parking spaces. I'm not ready to say what the right number is.

    I am sure that every apartment house needs a safe place for a U-Haul size truck to linger for loading and unloading.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2023 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    Removing minimum parking requirements is a great thing. In fact, over 200 cities across the country have already done it and are seeing the successes that come with more flexibility in building. Parking can be costly to build in many instances and we often require more than necessary. There is even a bill being introduced in Congress this week to end parking mandates everywhere. Cities who have done this are seeing and ten-fold increase in the building of truly affordable units. This is ultimately the future. Walkable cities with improved public transit and catering to people instead of cars. Either Olympia will get with it, or be left behind.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2023 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    Also, let's get the facts straight. Nowhere that they have removed minimum parking requirements is there zero parking being built. The parking is being built to meet the need and not some arbitrary number that a government entity decides is needed. Guess what, growth is coming. It is inevitable. If you live in the city and don't want more neighbors, I've got some bad news for you. Removing minimum parking requirements will greatly improve our ability to build truly affordable housing.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2023 Report this

  • fredjackson

    If we want to have affordable housing, people should remember that sidewalks exist and that free public transit exists. There is (emphasis: SHOULD?! emphasis: WILL?!) be no reason a person should have a vehicle in Thurston County, absolutely none.

    Having no vehicle to pay gas for, nothing to insure, no automotive repairs, it could go towards something else. Gee, like a mortgage?

    Return your soul to Mother Earth and get some flipping exercise. Humans were born to put physical effort to move around the planet by walking, we haven't arrived by way of the womb with our own set of wheels.



    Brilliant concepts, I know. But I think there's enough creative people in these parts of the world to think outside of the box in regards to personal transportation and mobility.

    At least.... I HOPE THERE IS...

    Wednesday, May 10, 2023 Report this

  • Larry Dzieza

    Judging from the comments in The JOLT and at the meetings, it appears the city failed to do what it knows it needed to do regarding a difficult issue like parking. The city grant application reads,

    "We anticipate conducting an especially high level of public outreach around the reduction of parking requirements (Objective One) so that we can build stronger understanding of why this is an important step for meeting housing, land use, transportation and climate adaption goals along with address concerns about parking impacts to surrounding neighborhoods."

    The city failed to live up to their grant proposal. Further, what was shared with the community was severely changed with no advance notice by the Planning Commission and then again by the Land Use Committee. No time for public engagement on what was being proposed.

    Respecting the grant commitment and the community calls for delaying the zero parking changes while the city does the right thing – the thing they knew they should do in the first place – and build a “stronger understanding” and “address the concerns about parking impacts to surrounding neighborhoods”.

    Take the time to do this right. It is foolish in terms of community cohesion to rush through a divisive action under the excuse of meeting a grant deadline.

    Fact is, there is zero requirement in the Commerce grant for a zero-parking ordinance change. In fact, the Olympia Planning staff proposed reductions, not eliminations of minimums. The City Council could meet the deadline by adopting changes that are reasonable reductions, get the small amount of money that this last deliverable entails ($16,000) and continue to have a dialogue with the community about any further reductions.

    As many commentators have said, a blanket city-wide application of parking requirements in the ABSENCE of a neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis is not good planning or management and, as we can see, unnecessarily increases divisions at the cost of “stronger understanding”.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2023 Report this

  • fuzzyland

    Zero parking and putting roundabouts everywhere are the latest trends with our city planners. Here in rural Thurston, where there is no bus service, we will still be taking our vehicles into town to shop. If it gets too hard to park in Olympia, what with all the ugly, cheap 4- and 5- story high-density (and high rent) apartments being added by developers, we will do our shopping in Lacey and Tumwater, where there is still room to park. Olympia is not New York City, nor do we want it to become like that. It is time that common sense prevailed.

    Sunday, May 14, 2023 Report this

  • bobesan

    Something that anti-parking bullies avoid is how to address concerns that their "opponents" raise. Effective negotiations require that people think "outside the box" for "win-win" solutions, rather than arm-twist for a "winner-take-all" approach that could reduce resident quality of life, including safety, etc. Notably, it's unrealistic to completely go w/o cars, as non-motor transportation is best done when weather is safe (i.e., not too rainy or windy). Moreover, if one wants to commune w/ nature, then 1 will often have to drive outside city limits. Yes, there are local parks that we can use, e.g., the LBA Woods that I make great use of, but you can't get to ONP or Mt. Rainier via public transportation.

    Sunday, May 14, 2023 Report this