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Originally published July 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 16, 2009 at 2:11 PM

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Would-be light-rail riders bemoan lack of parking

Light-rail stations in Southeast Seattle are surrounded by restricted-parking zones. Enforcement starts Monday, and anyone who violates the two or four-hour limit is subject to a $44 fine.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Link light-rail basics

SERVICE BEGINS SATURDAY after trains carrying the mayors of Seattle and Tukwila meet at the Mount Baker Station for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Special hours this weekend: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Rides are free both days.

Regular hours: 5 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 6 a.m.-midnight Sundays, holidays. Trains will arrive as often as every 7.5 minutes at peak times.

Fares: $1.75-$2.50 for adults; FlexPass, PugetPass and bus transfers may be applied to the fare. (Details on fares, passes and transfers are available in our interactive guide at seattletimes.com)

Bikes: Each station has bicycle parking; at six stations, bike lockers can be reserved. To take a bike on the train, board at the doors marked with a bicycle symbol. Use hooks in the bicycle-storage area of each car. Limit: four bikes per car.

Parking permits

Within about a quarter-mile of light-rail stations, residents and businesses will need permits. The city is providing two free decals per household and business until spring 2011. Residents and businesses are also allowed one free guest pass. Additional permits cost $45 each.

How to apply: Visit www.seattle.gov/transportation/parking/lightrailparking.htm

Click on your station to download the permit application.

Contact: The Seattle Department of Transportation is accepting feedback on the new parking zones. Call 206-684-8186 or e-mail lightrailparking@seattle.gov with questions or concerns.

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Jammie Hunter thought she had her new commute all figured out.

Sound Transit's light-rail line, which opens Saturday and rumbles past her Columbia City home, would make getting to work downtown a breeze. Her train station is about a mile away — "little more than walking distance" — so Hunter decided to drive, park on a nearby street and get on board, she said.

But new restricted-parking zones set up around stations in Southeast Seattle put an end to that plan. Enforcement starts Monday, and anyone who violates the two- or four-hour limit is subject to a $44 fine.

The only park-and-ride on the 14-mile light-rail line is in Tukwila.

"Why would you invest so much taxpayer money into public transit and take away parking?" Hunter asked. "If they want to maximize ridership, that's not the way to do it."

City officials say the new restrictions — which stretch about a quarter-mile around each of the stations from Beacon Hill to Rainier Beach — are needed to protect residents and businesses from a surge of motorists who park their cars on neighborhood streets during the day then disappear.

In fact, there's even a name for the so-called offenders: "hide and riders."

"Light rail was meant to be fed by people taking the bus, walking or biking," said Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). "It was not meant to be fed by cars."

For years, the city of Seattle has had a policy of discouraging park-and-rides. Garages, Sheridan said, create traffic and don't add to the quality of life of a neighborhood.

Essentially, Seattle planners looked to light rail with a long-term eye. They saw dense pockets of residential and commercial growth along the Link route. Garages with hundreds of parking stalls didn't fit into this vision, Sheridan said.

The restricted parking zones, known as RPZs, will mainly be in effect 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Residents and businesses in the area will need to apply for permits.

In 2003, SDOT officials started talking to communities in Southeast Seattle to get feedback on how to deal with hide-and-riders.

"It was clear there would be a parking impact," said Meghan Shepard, strategic adviser for SDOT. "We heard from people that the RPZs were the way to go."

After dozens of meetings, zones were mapped out and signs went up. Eight new parking-enforcement officers are being added this year, and part of their coverage will include the new RPZs, said Andrew Glass Hastings, the mayor's senior transportation adviser.

Under the new rules, residents and businesses are eligible for two free decals. Each additional permit is $45 and expires in 2011.

This cost upsets Jeri White.

As executive director of Southeast Youth and Family Services in Columbia City, White oversees a staff of nearly 25 teachers and counselors who need their cars for case visits.

On-street parking was never a problem before; but with the restrictions, "having to move every two hours would cause for some crazy-making," she said.

Her nonprofit agency can't afford to cover the additional permits, she said.

"So how do you decide who gets the two coveted free passes?" she asked. "These folks work extremely hard for low pay. I can't ask them to take on another expense."

It's just one problem White has with the light-rail line in general, she said. Like others who live and work in the Rainier corridor and endured construction for five years, White was, at first, enthusiastic about the project. She lives on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and can hear the bell as the trains roll past on their practice runs.

At 53, White suffers from arthritis and fibromyalgia, which makes walking the half-mile to the Rainier Beach station out of the question — especially in winter, she said. With her Metro bus stop in flux, she said, she'll probably end up driving to work.

Hunter said she'd be happy to take the Metro bus to the station, but it's still unclear how her route might change because of light rail.

Shepard stressed that the city is open to changing the parking restrictions if the community calls for it. A formal review is scheduled at six months and one year out.

"It's a totally fluid process," Shepard said. "We're all working together to see what works and what doesn't."

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or seattletimes.com">skrishnan@seattletimes.com. Staff writer Bob Young contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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