Kent’s Mill Creek neighborhood residents are tired of Sounder train commuters who fill up their streets with parked cars.
Each weekday morning drivers park in front of homes and walk to catch the train because the Sounder parking garage at Kent Station fills up or drivers want to get home faster when they return in the evening from their jobs in Seattle.
“We have had parking problems for about two years now,” said Sharon Bersaas, president of the Mill Creek Neighborhood Council. “Residents who live on Kennebeck, Clark and Woodford and now Jason report they sometimes cannot find parking by their house or even worse their driveway is blocked. People who cannot get a spot in the Sounder parking garage come hunt in Mill Creek since there are very little all day street parking on non-residential streets close to the station.”
Drivers aren’t parking illegally, unless they block driveways or sidewalks.
Sound Transit runs nine trains from Kent to Seattle each weekday morning between 5:25 and 8:25. Ridership is expected to hit five million annual passengers for 2017, according to city staff. Data for last year is not yet available. Sounder trains carried just one million passengers annually in 2004. The number hit 2.4 million in 2016. Sound Transit added two trains in November between Seattle and Lakewood.
Jim McHugh, a 35-year resident of the neighborhood, at first thought it was Green River College students parking in front of his house to get to the school’s Kent Station campus. But then he found out it’s the people who commute by train to Seattle. He believes they park in the neighborhood for a quicker route home east of the tracks.
“Rather than getting out of the garage, waiting for a train, getting across Central, it’s faster to walk over here, jump in your car and you’re home,” said McHugh, whose friends cannot find a place to park when they visit him. “They probably gain 10 to 15 minutes by parking here. They say the garage is filled and it probably is, but at the time a lot of these people start parking here there’s probably still parking down there.”
Sound Transit plans to build a second parking garage in Kent with possibly as many as 550 spots. But the agency doesn’t expect to complete that project until 2023.
Mill Creek residents have complained to city officials. The City Council’s Public Works Committee discussed the issue at its Jan. 8 meeting. City staff will study whether to implement a Residential Parking Zone similar to the one in North Park created in 2009 when the ShoWare Center opened to keep people from parking on the streets during events at the arena.
The North Park system includes signs posted that state no parking allowed except by permit. Residents in the neighborhood receive free permits for their cars and guess permits for visitors. Drivers who park illegally can be ticketed and subject to a $50 fine.
“We’ve got one, I’m not sure why we couldn’t have two,” Councilman Dennis Higgins said at the committee meeting about a second Residential Parking Zone.
Higgins also wants the city to encourage more people to park at Metro’s James Street Park & Ride lot, 902 W. James St., that doesn’t fill up.
“We need an incentive program to use that lot,” Higgins said. “We don’t want to apply the hammer without a carrot. But 2023 is too long to wait for us to just sit back, we need to keep on this.”
City staff plans to meet with Mill Creek residents to help identify a boundary for a parking zone. The council would need to approve a new zone. The costs of establishing the parking zone have yet to be determined and will depend on how many streets are part of the zone, said Kelly Peterson, city transportation engineering manager, in an email.
“With the permits for homeowners, temporary passes, educational materials and signs, the rough estimate to create the zone is between $15,000 and $25,000,” Peterson said.
If the council approves a parking zone, the goal is to install the zone by the end of the year, Peterson said.
McHugh said people start parking on the Mill Creek streets between 7 and 9 a.m. He has put notes on cars to ask people not to park in front of his home. He said some honor the request. Others write a nasty note back and toss it on his lawn. A few times he’s talked to people, which hasn’t always gone too well.
“I went out to this woman and said, ‘Do you mind parking somewhere else and not in front of my house?’ The woman said, ‘It’s a public street I can park here. I’ve got a train to catch.’ She was nasty. Most people they park and take off before you can stop them. About 80 percent of people are real polite.”
But McHugh and his neighbors prefer a permit system rather than trying to talk to people, which hasn’t worked anyway.
“The residents of Mill Creek Neighborhood and the Neighborhood Council support the idea of permitted parking for residents,” Bersaas said. “This problem is only going to get worse as we understand that half of the parking garage for Sounder commuters will be paid parking stalls soon. Those that don’t want or can’t afford it will try to head for the available street parking and aggravate the problem even more.”
Sound Transit is considering selling paid parking permits for the garage and the agency is expected to decide on that later this year.
McHugh has watched train commuters park on downtown streets and in private parking lots as well. Bersaas is ready for a permit system.
“I feel sympathy for the people trying to get to work, but our residents need to be able to park where they live,” she said.
Councilwoman Toni Troutner heard the city staff’s plan at the committee meeting.
“This is a big concern for residents who live in the area but it’s also hard for commuters looking for a spot,” Troutner said.
Higgins, who commutes by train to Seattle, admitted he has a few times parked in the Mill Creek neighborhood. But he said he knows one of the residents and lets him know when he parks in front of his house.
“It is a problem, we can’t ignore it,” Higgins said.