Unprecedented Spending on Ballard Park “Concierge”; Car2Go Will Let You Park in South Seattle, But It’ll Cost You

1. Last week, Share Now, formerly Car2Go—one of two surviving private car-sharing services in Seattle—announced that it was instituting a new “zoned pricing” policy that imposes penalties for parking their cars in certain areas (generally speaking, most of West Seattle, Southeast Seattle starting at Rainier Beach, and parts of far North Seattle). Anyone who drives into these new “Zone B” areas (designated as dark blue on Share Now’s map) from a light-blue “Zone A” area will have to pay a $4.99 penalty, plus tax. People who drive from “Zone B” to “Zone A” will receive a bonus of up to $4.99, according to the announcement.

The new policy is reminiscent of Car2Go’s initial “service area,” which barred members from parking anywhere in South or West Seattle, parts of town that a Car2Go rep described as “new and developing” areas. Those areas, like the new “Zone B” coincide closely with neighborhoods that are lower-income and more racially diverse, leading to charges that Car2Go was only serving wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

Kendell Kelton, the North America communications manager for Share Now, says the new policy is designed to eliminate the problem of cars getting “stranded for 12 hours or more, effectively making them unavailable for a majority of our Seattle members who would otherwise use those vehicles.” Currently, she says, one in five Share Now cars has to be relocated “in order to be close enough for members who need them.” (That might explain why it’s consistently so hard to find cars in West and Southeast Seattle.) “It should be noted we see much higher usage in more commercialized areas than residential ones,” Kelton says.

Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, say Share Now did not have to seek the city’s permission to start charging its customers more to park in certain areas. SDOT consulted with the city attorney’s office, and they “advised us that because Car2Go continues to serve the entire geography of the city, they are in compliance with the municipal code and their permit,” Bergerson says.

A spokesman for Lime, which runs the city’s other remaining carsharing service (a third, ReachNow, shut down abruptly last month), told me they do not charge differential fares based on where a car is parked.

The Ballard Commons has the unique distinction of being the first park outside the city core to get this extra attention and funding, the city is spending about three times as much on Ballard’s concierge program than it has on similar parks activation programs.

2. As KOMO reported last week, the city is instituting a “concierge” program at the Ballard Commons Park in order to (as the “Seattle Is Dying” TV station put it) “make sure families feel comfortable using the space.”  Parks spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin says the program will consist of two new staffers, whose jobs will be to “program activities and events for park users and assist in making the park welcoming to all visitors.” The staffers will cost the city $130,000.

The Ballard Commons park has been the source of frequent complaints from neighborhood residents about visibly homeless park users, many of whom participate in a hot lunch program provided by a nearby church. The park is adjacent to the Ballard public library, whose sidewalk (which is not in the park) is the site of a recurring encampment that has been removed many times.

Clearly, parks should be accessible to all users, and people engaging in illegal behavior or setting up tents are breaking existing city rules barring things like drug use and camping in parks property. However, it’s worth putting the city’s $130,000 expenditure on this small (1.4-acre) park in both financial and geographic perspective.

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First, no park south of downtown Seattle has similar staffing or “activation.” (Generally speaking, south Seattle is lower-income and more diverse than North Seattle, and Ballard is one of the whitest neighborhoods in an already very white city, with some of the highest housing prices.) In fact, the Commons has the unique distinction of being the first park outside the city core to get this extra attention and funding. Five parks have a full-time, year-round concierge —Hing Hay Park, Pioneer Square, Victor Steinbrueck Park, Westlake Park, and Occidental Square—and four more offer weekday or seasonal concierge service. All are downtown or in South Lake Union.

Second, the city is spending significantly more money into the Ballard concierge program than it has into other, similar programs, which typically cost a third of what the city is pouring into the Ballard Commons. The concierge programs in Hing Hay Park, Pioneer Square, Victor Steinbrueck Park, City Hall Park, Denny Park, and Cascade Playground all cost $40,000 or less, while the concierge programs in Westlake Park, Occidental Square, and Freeway Park are staffed by local business improvement groups at no cost to the city.

Schulkin, with the Parks Department, says the funding for the two concierges at the Ballard Commons comes from a balance from the city’s levy-funded Parks District account, which will replenish by 2023.

9 thoughts on “Unprecedented Spending on Ballard Park “Concierge”; Car2Go Will Let You Park in South Seattle, But It’ll Cost You”

  1. The whole Share Now debacle really stinks. The shuttering of Reach Now, the Car2Go parking surcharges in our neighborhood. Having easy access to cars when necessary was going to be a big part of our family forgoing car ownership for e-bikes/bus/car rentals. Now rethinking. Wish I wasn’t relying on private services for transportation at all.

  2. About your scare quotes around “activation”: is this a new barbarism join ing Seattle’s vocabulary of can’t, or an already established usage in the global can’t community?

    1. It’s a general term the city uses to describe a whole series of strategies in parks, including ping-pong tables, live music, giant versions of games like chess, Jenga, and Connect 4, etc. etc. “Activation” (in quotes) just saves me from having to explain and write out the whole list.

  3. >>A spokesman for Lime, which runs the city’s other remaining carsharing service (a third, ReachNow, shut down abruptly last month),

    Do you know something about Zipcar that I don’t?

      1. It does and it would make sense if Erica *meant* to limit the discussion to no-assigned-parking services, but that’s not what it *says*, which is why I’m confused.

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