Olympia Parking Program specialist discusses strategies to support business and resident parking needs


Olympia's Parking Service Program specialist, Chelsea Baker, presented the city's plan to improve downtown parking, outlining strategy aims to serve drivers, pedestrians, and local businesses.

At the city council meeting held Tuesday, April 16, Baker outlined the challenges of maintaining an 85% parking occupancy rate in the busy downtown block, which has limited parking compared to the number of residents, employees, and customers.

Baker said the transportation industry aims for an 85% occupancy rate.

She explained that a maximum 85% occupancy rate downtown means there should be approximately one open parking spot per block face. That allows anyone coming downtown to find a desirable parking spot close to their destination without the drivers having to circle the blocks, burning extra gas, and wasting time as they search for a place to park.

"Getting that 85% occupancy rate is much harder than it looks," Baker said, citing one busy downtown block with 29 parking stalls. The block houses 22 businesses, 107 apartment units, and associated employees and customers.

Baker calculated that this could equate to over 150 cars needing parking with only 29 spaces, far exceeding the 85% goal.

Baker also mentioned other challenges, like blocks reaching over 100% occupancy during evenings, cars parked illegally, and blocking traffic flow. Another issue is ensuring accessible parking is available for those who need it.

The specialist added that these capacity and compliance challenges make maintaining the optimal occupancy rate difficult.

To address these challenges, Baker discussed the parking strategy passed by the city council in 2019, which provides recommendations and best practices for keeping the occupancy rate below the 85% mark.

The parking strategy was a project that stemmed from the Olympia downtown strategy. Its goal was to develop a plan for ensuring downtown remains accessible for residents and visitors to engage with local businesses, cultural activities, and community events.

It talks about some points that the city would work on to improve parking in the city:

  • Updating parking management tools includes improving data collection methods and implementing license plate reading technology to track parking usage better. The city also aims to update enforcement software and offer a mobile payment option for more efficient management and payment processing.
  • Improve on-street parking, which includes raising or lowering prices as needed to maintain the 85% occupancy rate goal. The city plans to expand three-hour parking limits and begin evening and weekend enforcement.
  • Reinvigorate off-street parking, including implementing more electric vehicle chargers to accommodate rising EV use. The city also aims to reduce parking minimums and install more wayfinding signage to make off-street parking easier to find.

Barker mentioned that the strategy calls for pursuing public-private partnerships around parking. She noted that many downtown lots are privately owned, limiting the city's control over use. She added that the city aims to start discussions with these lot owners. The goal is to encourage owners to open their lots to public parking, with the potential to generate additional revenue.

  • Improve access to downtown - includes expanding bike and pedestrian infrastructure with ADA improvements to make bicycling and walking into and through downtown more accessible. Baker also mentioned the plan to increase transit frequency and give away free bus passes to encourage more people to take public transportation instead of driving downtown.

Baker informed the council that Intercity Transit made all its bus routes fare-free in January 2020, a few months after the city council passed the parking strategy.

  • Support residential and employee parking- this strategy aims to support residential and employee parking by incentivizing off-street parking options. The city would also educate downtown workers about where and how to park. The plan also involves increasing permit prices to encourage more people to walk, bike, or use public transit to go downtown.
  • Improve disabled parking management, including updating parking lots to achieve better ADA compliance. Baker said the city wants to reduce placard misuse by lobbying the state for stronger laws against abuse of ADA placards. She added a four-hour time limit that had already been implemented for ADA stalls downtown. Additional ADA access will be provided in high-demand areas for those with parking needs.


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  • ssfell

    Downtown has needed a parking garage for over 20 years.. then folks can know there is a spot to park, even if one has to pay. I have driven through and around downtown looking for spots, not finding one , and so just deciding not to shop there. Last Sunday was the Olympia Symphony, at 3:00 pm..and folks had to even park by the library... and walk. Santa Fe is an excellent example of good and convenient parking lots.

    Tuesday, April 23 Report this

  • Richard

    The parking lot "park" with a fence around a fence is an insult to people who would like to be proud of Olympia. It is the center of downtown and stands as a testament to unrecognized bad public policy.

    Tuesday, April 23 Report this

  • DudeInOlympia

    "and begin evening and weekend enforcement."..... This is crazy. It is correct though, if you tow cars away the spots do open up.

    Monday, April 29 Report this