Parking Frequently Asked Questions

How does the City manage parking?

The City of Bellingham manages parking on the street as part of the overall transportation system. Tools such as parking meters, time limits, permits or color curb regulations help manage parking demand in different areas of the city. As districts, urban villages and neighborhoods change, the rules for p​arking on the street may be adjusted to address challenges or meet goals. For instance, in high demand areas (like downtown and Fairhaven), paid parking meters and time limits encourage shorter stays, prioritizing those parking spaces for customers and visitors by creating more turnover. Employees (and others seeking longer-term parking) are encouraged to park in off-street garages or lots. Employers who provide information about off-street parking options and provide incentives for their employees to utilize alternative transportation in these busy areas help ensure their customers get the best parking spots!

The City manages several public parking lots and garages. Permits are sold below market rate to encourage employees and others to park in these longer-term areas. Many of these lots are free and available to everyone before and after business hours. A complete list of lots, rates and hours is available on the Downtown Bellingham parking page. ​

Why is it getting harder to park downtown, in Fairhaven, and other busy commercial areas?

There's a lot happening in Bellingham these days!  Busy streets and parking stalls are symptoms of our success. You might notice times where parking is free (or not otherwise managed) are often the most challenging to find a space, such as weekends, evenings or holidays. Other peak times include lunch hour on the weekdays, when many employees are running errands, or during large events that draw people from all over the region. Even when off-street parking is required, it often does not satisfy the demand for spaces from all the people visiting these areas for work, errands or recreation.

The community has established goals and policies that prioritize people over cars, directing the City to invest in safer travel for people on foot and bicycle, and in projects that create a more comfortable, healthy environment. Limited land area can often mean a tradeoff between spaces for people and spaces for storing cars. And the more challenging parking becomes, the more willing people are to consider other modes of transportation that are more efficient and less damaging to the environment and our health, such as buses, bike rides, or walking.​

Why doesn't the City build more parking garages in these busy areas?

Parking garages are incredibly expensive and do not pay for themselves with what can be charged for their use. Current parking demand does not justify this expense, which would take away funding from other community priorities. The City is open to partnerships that could provide additional off-street parking options in a way that shares these costs and benefits. The City is also investing heavily in transportation infrastructure that supports people walking, using personal active transportation such as bikes and scooters, or ride share and transit, in alignment with adopted transportation and Climate Action Plan goals.​

Why aren't developers required to provide more off-street parking with new development?

Off-street parking is required for all new development in the City, except for the core areas of Fairhaven and downtown, which are already substantially built out. Additional parking is typically not required for the reuse of an existing building. In most areas, the number of required parking spaces may be reduced based on the characteristics of the project or the neighborhood, such as proximity to transit, housing senior citizens, or other evidence of a lower parking demand. These reductions sometimes require infrastructure improvements or other methods of improving the overall parking situation.

City policies encourage activation of vacant buildings and redevelopment in areas with existing infrastructure. Additionally, excess parking adds significant costs to new housing, which adversely effects housing affordability. Parking requirements and reductions reflect these goals. ​

Is the City using technology to make parking more convenient?

Yes! The City recently adopted mobile payment technology (Pay by Phone) for downtown parking meters, which allows users to pay and add time to their parking meter using a smartphone (or by calling a toll-free number). Users of the app appreciate the convenience of easily paying for parking, receiving reminders when the meter is about to expire, and adding more parking time remotely using their phone. The app also provides an interactive map showing nearby parking options and their hours and restrictions. Since the adoption of mobile payment, the number of parking citations for expired meters has dropped by nearly 50%!

License Plate Recognition (LPR) software now monitors the vehicles of permit holders without requiring the placement of a large sticker or parking pass on the vehicle, and also aids in more efficient enforcement of those violating parking rules. Other developing technology, such as products that provide real-time information about the number of stalls available and their location, are being investigated and will be considered as the costs and technology becomes more stabilized and predictable. For example, the City will eventually replace coin-operated meters with electronic pay stations in the downtown district, allowing users multiple payment options and flexibility in the amount of time they can park in a single location.​

How does the City use the money generated from parking tickets and meters?

Parking-related activities generate approximately $2.2 million in revenues annually. Most of this revenue is used to cover the operating costs of the facilities, as well as enforcement costs and parking management. Some parking revenue is also used to fund district improvements and business support through contracts with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and other organizations.​

Parking in commercial areas is one thing, but it's becoming challenging to park in front of my own house! 

The public right-of-way (including the sidewalk and street in front of most homes and businesses) is not private property. According to State law, these on-street parking spaces are available to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis and may not be reserved by the adjacent residents. Residents who are mobility-impaired may request the addition of an accessible parking space in close proximity to their home. Residential areas experiencing demand from adjacent businesses or student activity (for example, near WWU) may benefit from tools such as residential parking zones (RPZs) to better manage demand.

As the city continues to grow, demand for these spaces will increase. However, residents will reap the benefits of new businesses and amenities, as well as the increased desirability of their neighborhood.​​

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