More on the “900-stall garage”

Seattle City Council Member (and Sound Transit Board Member) Richard Conlin was cited as a source in the comments on my last post about the currently-circulating rumors of a “back room deal” for a 900-stall parking garage at Northgate. I asked him for comment about this, and here’s what he had to say:

ST has not made a decision on this, there are several options under consideration.  Not sure why I was cited as a source!  There are some 900 spaces being displaced, half from Metro and half from the Mall, the question is what is the right approach to mitigating this.  ST is required to provide mitigation, but exactly what mix of parking and other access options is still under discussion.

Let’s zoom in a little bit on what Conlin is saying, because I’ve covered this all at great length, but it’s evident from the comments on my previous post that many people are sounding off before they have bothered to educate themselves about what’s going on here; perhaps a summary will help. There are four pieces to the parking puzzle at Northgate:

  1. Temporary Displacement of Private Parking: 462 stalls. For several years during construction, ST will need to use a substantial part of the Northgate Mall property for construction of North Link. ST is legally required to provide compensation to the owners for loss of those parking spaces, compensation which could take the form of replacement parking, or cash — potentially lots of cash, while still incurring legal hazards. This has nothing to do with the Federal Transit Administration or the North Link Record of Decision, or whether you or anyone else thinks there ought to be parking structures at Northgate, this is a consequence of widely-applicable law related to the power of eminent domain. See this post for all the details.
  2. Permanent Displacement of Private Parking: 64 spaces. Some of the tail track and other supports for the North Link guideway will be located on private property, resulting a permanent loss of spaces. For exactly the same reason as in (1), ST needs a permanent solution for this displaced parking.
  3. Temporary Displacement of Transit P&R capacity: 428 spaces. Under the terms of the North Link ROD, ST must provide “best effort” mitigation for P&R capacity lost during construction. This could be improved bus service (either direct to downtown, or connecting service to Northgate), pedestrian and bike infrastructure improvements, satellite parking lots with shuttles, or (theoretically) more structure parking. I personally think it’s highly unlikely ST would choose to build additional structure parking to meet this requirement, because such parking is around $30,000 a space for ST to construct, making other potential options rather cheaper, in addition to much more politically palatable.
  4. Permanent Displacement of Transit P&R capacity: 117 spaces. Under the same ROD, ST has committed to the FTA to provide one-for-one replacement of all P&R stalls permanently displaced by the project; if the ST board were so inclined, it could petition FTA to remove this requirement*.  This is the only place where policy arguments about pedestrian vs. car infrastructure at Northgate could reasonably be put in play, but is somewhat moot due to the much more stringent constraints imposed by the requirements in (1), which militate much more strongly towards building a larger structure. In other words, if ST just builds a 460 space garage to mitigate temporary parking loss at the Northgate Mall, that same structure would more than suffice to offset the permanent loss in P&R capacity after construction is complete.

The “900-stall garage” rumor presumably arises from the belief  — which, to my knowledge, nobody has provided evidence for, and which Conlin and ST Spokesman Bruce Gray have explicitly denied — that a fix is in for ST to solve both problems (1) and (3) by building structure parking (462 + 428 = 890).

Whatever you think about the future of Northgate; even if, like me, you are horrified to see scarce transit dollars spent on “free” structure parking, and you think those millions could be spent in any number of better ways, if your comments fail to acknowledge and attempt to address the reality of Sound Transit’s legal obligations (as I’ve summarized above, as best I understand them), they are pointless, irrelevant, and a waste of everyone’s time.

* There would be a pretty good factual basis for such a petition, as the North Link ROD predates the ST2 ballot measure that extended the formal scope of the North Link project to Northgate; the initial scope under the Sound Move measure was only to 45th St, and had no P&R displacement.

UPDATE 5/26: Shortly after I published this, Spokesman Bruce Gray and Board Member Richard Conlin wrote to me with clarifications.

Conlin:

This is a good article. One nuance that I would clarify. While no decision has been made a 900 stall garage is one of the options in the mix. With st serving 15000 riders compared to metros current 5000 there is a rationale which includes replacing mall parking that can be used for tod and or supporting future tod on metro property that will want some parking. Of course if it is supporting other development it would not be solely financed by st. And I have never seen the 40 million dollar figure and don’t know where that came from.

Gray:

Just saw your latest post about Northgate. Good stuff. Staff will have all the details for the Board tomorrow. A 600-900 stall shared use/cost (with Northgate mall) garage is an option they will be discussing as part of an idea approach to turn about seven acres of parking into about an acre of parking – freeing up the other six for TOD.  Costs are a big unknown but it’s safe to say the $40M number that’s been tossed about would be a non starter.  Also interesting ideas about long-term use of the garage as transit’s share of getting people to the station increases exponentially. Tomorrow will be a good starting point for an informed discussion over the next month or so.

Comments

  1. Lloyd says

    Thanks for reinforcing what we all need to be more careful about, namely turning on the verbiage spigot before having all the history and facts absorbed into the grey matter up top. A useful reminder for every single blogger and blogette that participates in STB.

  2. says

    I am certainly not knowledgeable enough to comment intelligently on the number of parking spaces in a garage, and I’d guess that most people that will do so will not be either. The number of spaces and whether parking is free or paid will be determined by inflexible, formulaic laws and legal agreements; not as intentional decisions informed by plans and desires for the station, the neighborhood, and the region.

    The best hope for advocates is to focus on design that puts pedestrian access from existing nearby places at the fore and compromises it for nothing; that then allows for straightforward, efficient bus routing; that then allows for bike access and has high-quality public bike parking; that then maximizes development potential within walking distance of the station. Well, that’s my order of priorities, at least. In the future if parking supply is insufficient we should at least consider charging… though that sort of decision should be made across the region wherever P&Rs are full.

  3. Rob says

    a great mitigation for the temporary loss of parking would be the oft desired overpass over I-5 to NSCC.

    • Groan says

      I would hope this plan could get attached to a levy. Seattle would get behind building this bridge…

      • lazarus says

        The bridge might be a good idea, but it does exactly zero to satisfy #1 and #2 above, and maybe nothing for #4 either. A parking garage will still be required.

      • asdf says

        Ideally, the bridge would help satisfy 1) and 2) because the bridge is not just about transit – it’s also about people living west of the freeway going to the mall. If the bridge enables them to walk instead of drive, they’re not consuming a parking space.

        Unfortunately, given the auto-centric nature of society, I’m resigned to the conclusion that, legally, any access to Northgate Mall other than private car access is with exactly zero in compensation for the loss of parking.

      • Jack says

        Why would ST build a garage to mitigate a temporary loss of parking? Only 181 spaces need to be replaced, the rest can be leased from adjoining lots.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        What adjoining lots? The adjoining lots are the lots where parking is being displaced from.

      • Jack says

        This temporarily displaced parking spaces DO NOT have to be replaced with more parking. ST can lease the land from Northgate or another neighbor and financially compensate them. P&R loss can be mitigated with remote lots at Northgate, North Seattle College, etc.

        I think the 181 spaces that have to be built could be done within the station design.

    • asdf says

      Only if the bridge gets built now, rather than in 10 years. If the bridge doesn’t open until the station opens, it will mitigate the permanent loss of parking, but not the temporary loss of parking.

      • PSF says

        Pity they can’t build the ped bridge and lease parking from NSCC.

        You’d think cash strapped community colleges would be eager for new revenue sources.

      • RossB says

        Building the bridge now would help the transportation situation now. You could close down the transit center (not allow buses) and people would still use a bridge. As it is, I’m sure a lot of students who take the bus from downtown would love to just take the 41 and walk over the bridge (it has to be faster and/or more frequent than the alternative).

        Having NSCC lease spots on a temporary basis might be a good way to solve the legal requirement while giving people in the area a nice bit of low cost, low maintenance transportation infrastructure.

      • Nathanael says

        It does sound like building the bridge *fast* and leasing spaces from NSCC would have some major ameliorating effects immediately.

  4. from_beijing says

    It’s surely too late for this daydreaming, but in places like Japan and China it’s common for a subway station, mall and parking to be integrated such that the subway pulls under or into the mall. The mall’s foot traffic (and I assume sales) increase because those who park or walk to the subway station must walk through part of the mall before reaching the station.

    It’s a shame an integrated space like this won’t be built at Northgate. The income generated by increased foot traffic might make up for lost revenue from missing parking spaces. And a public/private partnership with the owner’s of the mall might losen up money for a public amenity such as the bridge over I-5.

    • says

      A lot of people walk through a small corner of Westlake Center to get to Link. Or to the monorail. There’s also the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, which isn’t a typical mall (it’s sort of a mall for interior designers, plus with some office space and other random stuff, and a food court), but basically fits the pattern. In this situation station access depends on the mall building being open. For our Westlake station that means one of the entrances is closed sometimes. At the Merch Mart (where all the turnstiles are located on the second floor of the building) they have to keep at least the eastern end of the building open whenever the Brown Line is running (and the non-shuttle Purple Line… and presumably they have to keep it open 24 hours when the State Street Subway is undergoing work and the Red Line is running elevated), which surely comes at a cost (at the other end of the Mart a pedestrian bridge across Orleans St is generally open to the public, so the Mart gets lots of cut-through foot traffic all day).

      On the more suburban end of things, the Mall of America has a rail station, but I haven’t been there and have no idea how it works (is there a P&R? is pedestrian/bike access to the mall building whatsoever plausible? how is connecting bus service? assuming there’s a bus loop through the mall, how inefficient is it?). Northgate is probably somewhat more urban and a much smaller mall building than Mall of America.

      I’m not sure this sort of arrangement is necessarily good or bad. It works pretty well for an urban mall like Westlake or the Merch Mart, which is already a semi-public pedestrian space that’s not physically surrounded by acres of parking. In Northgate a station that required access through the mall building would make mall access easier but access to/from anywhere else harder. Not that there’s an ideal siting when you’re surrounded by as much parking as Northgate is. It’s sort of like airport rail stations. Chicago-Midway and (to some degree) SeaTac have rail stations with pretty convenient street access, but it’s a hike to the terminal. Chicago-O’Hare has more convenient terminal access but is basically inaccessible from outside the airport.

      • Nathanael says

        In the Twin Cities, the rail station was stuffed into one of the parking garages at the Mall of America. It’s located between the parking spaces in the garage and the Mall, on the basement level I believe. The trains come in from the *south* side for various silly reasons (so they’re pointing the “wrong way” for extensions).

        The buses stop at the ground level in the same garage. (The parking is on higher levels.) It’s not that much of a detour due to the fact that most buses terminate there (there’s a bunch of lakes to the south and east, and the airport to the northeast); only Cedar Avenue north-south buses have the potential to run through, and they mostly don’t either.

      • Nathanael says

        Of note, the Mall of America officially won’t allow its parking garage be used as a Park-and-Ride.

  5. says

    Not much point in debating this, since all this and more are going to be presented, discussed, and have comments accepted at:

    Sound Transit will host a second open house to discuss Northgate construction plans, including a potential shared use, replacement parking garage and an integrated station access plan.

    Join us to learn more and to share your thoughts and ideas.

    When: Monday, June 4, 6 – 8:00 p.m. (presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.)

    Where: Olympic View Elementary School Cafeteria, 504 NE 95th Street, Seattle

  6. Bernie says

    If it weren’t for the mall I’d say building a parking palace anywhere but an outer node would be terrible policy. And even there it’s probably a sign the line was extended too far or too soon. But at least stalls at Northgate can be sold to business if/when not needed for transit. That would allow higher density development along the lines of Bellevue Square and Pacific Place. Not so when you build the palace between a cliff and a swamp as in South Bellevue. I fully agree that structured parking should paid parking; at least on weekdays during peak commute hours.

    • Andrew Smith says

      For comparison’s sake, the mall and just its parking is about 62 acres, so about three times the size of yesler terrace. Yes, we are missing opportunities.

  7. Lack Thereof says

    How does the Thornton Place underground parking play into all of this? Metro is currently using 350 spaces in that garage. Shifting those spaces from the P&R use to Mall use would go a long way towards covering the mall’s temporary displacement.

    Then that 350 space burden would be shifted to item #3, allowing us to mitigate those 350 spaces with something more creative.

    • archie says

      This seems like a great idea. If this works, a 181-spot garage would satisfy 1, 2, & 4 in one fell swoop. And if item 4 can be negotiated away, only 112 spots (462-350) would be needed to cover item 1 and 2.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      Lack beat me to it.

      A. Build a pedestrian bridge (immediately).
      B. In the short term, convert P&R spaces to mall spaces.
      C. Build a small, temporary modular garage as far from pedestrian use as possible for the few spots not covered by A and B.
      D. When done, sell off C.

      • JohnS says

        Perhaps ST would be willing to commit to some portion of the bridge construction – say half? Then, given the station design already includes access to the bridge if/when it is built, there would be plenty of time for Seattle to go after the remaining chunk. I’m not sure you could build the bridge immediately since its eastern terminus would be at the station…

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I don’t understand why they couldn’t pay for the whole thing, considering the money saved from not building parking structures. I would think they should build it immediately to remove the need for some of the temporary parking spots. Yes, the bridge connects to the station. But it wouldn’t be a huge trick to have temporary access to the bridge around or over the construction site.

      • JohnS says

        Politically I suspect it would be easier for them to pay for part of it. But yes I agree I would far rather see them spending the $$ to build the bridge than parking space.

  8. Matthew Johnson says

    Thanks for laying it all out again. However something this post failed to mention (or any other post for that matter) is the Metro P&R at Northgate. What is the status on that, how does it fit into the puzzle and is it part of any ‘Grand Bargain’ as commenters in the other thread stated?

    • Lack Thereof says

      Huh? The P&R issues are laid out in items 3 and 4. Or am I not understanding you?

  9. Jackson says

    The parking garage built on 1 acre of land will help open up 6 acres of TOD.

    Isn’t that a pretty good trade off?

    • Chris Stefan says

      That is probably the best reason for the garage, to open up the Metro lots on either side of the TC for development as TOD.

      The new garage should probably have spaces for ground floor retail rather than just parking.

  10. Eric H says

    Does the ROD specify that replacement parking must be provided free of charge?

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      I doubt it deals with this issues, because ST doesn’t have a policy on free vs. paid.

      • Eric H says

        It should then be easy enough to slap a charge of a buck or two on whatever interim parking facility is built. Better yet, start charging on the existing facilities.

        Whatever you do, the last thing you want is to build a precedent for free parking next to a rail station.

  11. Brent says

    Thanks for mentioning the tail track. (If there weren’t tail track, the privare parking spots would eventually be displaced by Lynnwood Link, anyway, and I presume more parking spots will get displaced for Lynnwood Link construction area abutting Northgate, at least temporarily.)

    Are there any plans for pocket track at either Northgate or Lynnwood?

    For the taking of private parking of local businesses, is there no possibility the City could offer to waive parking minima (which might apply to a handful of smaller business) as part of the eminent domain settlements? After all, all the small businesses lucky enough to own land next to the station are gonna make a killing off of the station being there, and bringing them lots of customers, who won’t be parking.

    Is there a parking minimum requirement Northgate Mall and the other nearby strip malls are having to deal with? Could the City arrange to release them from such requirements?

    Could a joint-use agreement between the mall, ST, and Metro allow the mall to use spaces on Friday evenings and weekends, and ST/Metro use them on weekdays? Could all three bodies agree to hire a parking charge vendor, with the understanding that, on weekends, parkers could get their parking validated at the mall?

  12. the358 says

    So, let me get this straight: #4 means there has to be 1 to 1 replacement of those parking spots, is that right? But for #3, we don’t have to do parking, and for #1 and #2 we can just give them cash? Is that right? Meaning, we just need to add 117 parking spaces as part of the final station design?

    • the358 says

      Also, how would a ped bridge factor into this–does that mean we could count the spaces over at NSCC as parking replacement, assuming NSCC lets people use spaces there for P&R? Or no?

      • Lack Thereof says

        Odds are NSCC would not volunteer any of their parking for P&R purposes. The entire lot is paid parking, anyway.

        I think the ped bridge to NSCC isn’t the panacea everyone makes it out to be, either. There’s already a veritable convoy of well-used buses running from NGTC to the front door of NSCC during business hours, so it actually wouldn’t offset P&R use that much. Most of the walkway users would be people who otherwise would have caught a connecting bus.

        Also, once this pedestrian walkway has crossed the freeway, the college parking lot, and the college campus, it’ll be about 1/2 mile long. I think that’s probably a bit longer than most people from the neighborhood are willing to walk to the station.

      • Nathanael says

        “I think the ped bridge to NSCC isn’t the panacea everyone makes it out to be, either”

        It should cut the amount of traffic crossing under the highway.

        “There’s already a veritable convoy of well-used buses running from NGTC to the front door of NSCC during business hours,”

        If those are actually *more* full between NGTC and NSCC than they are along the rest of the route, then providing the walking path would relieve pressure on the buses…

        “Also, once this pedestrian walkway has crossed the freeway, the college parking lot, and the college campus, it’ll be about 1/2 mile long.”

        There is that. Personally, I was imagining the walkway mainly as a way of splitting the parking onto both sides of the freeway in order to reduce cross-freeway traffic, since crossing the freeway is a bottleneck.

    • groan says

      Very , very full from what I have seen, a lot people actually park in the Licton Springs neighborhood as well since NSCC charges for parking via permit

    • Mike Orr says

      So leasing spaces from NSCC is not an option, because merchants expect parking to be available during the day as well as evenings and weekends.

      • Bernie says

        Not to mention shoppers aren’t going to A) know they can park on the west side of I-5 and B) ain’t going to hike that far even if they do. You’ve probably seen the typical shopper cruise the lot looking/waiting for a spot close to the entrance rather than park farther out where there’s lots of empty spaces.

  13. Z says

    This would be a great oppertunity to introduce paid parking into the region. Build a large parking structure connected to the light rail station/bus platform, and the shopping mall. P&R users pay a modest fee to use the garage, while shoppers get their parking validated at a merchant in the mall with purchase and get free parking. The two wont conflict very much, save for the week before christmas since most people will be using it as a P&R during the day, and for shopping on nights/weekends.

  14. says

    Bruce et.al: Thank you for setting out the facts and for responding to the comments in such a thoughtful way. As chair of the City Council’s Parks and Neighborhood Committee, I am a champion for our Neighborhood Greenways and separated bike and ped connections. Leveraging the work of our dedicated neighborhood advocates with this Sound Transit project is an excellent opportunity to make the safe, green connections we envision.

    On a related note, I met with the president of the North Seattle Community College a couple weeks ago and spoke to him about the ped/bike bridge from the transit hub to NSCC. He understands how important it is for his students and faculty to be able to readily walk from the Northgate Transit Center to their campus, and NSCC has a strong faculty/student contingent focusing on sustainable transit solutions. I hope they have been invited to participate in the June 4 discussion.

    Also: Lots of conversations are underway to consider possible design options across the freeway. Admittedly, we need to solve the major funding problem and consider various state/feds/local sources. The good news is this bridge is becoming a priority focus as more people are talking about it. I’ve heard recent talk about a suspension bridge. A gondola? A design charette maybe?

    I also want to advocate for something which I know brings down the wrath of some — sustainable transit solutions for people who live outside walking distance northeast and northwest of the station. I lived in Lake Forest Park for 20 years and the bus connections then and now are truly limited. While I worked at the UW, I could ride my bike via the Burke Gilman. But when I changed jobs to work downtown, that was a different story. The only reasonable option to driving downtown when I worked past 6:30 p.m. was to become one of those “park and hiders”, to get close to a bus route with frequent service. I know this drives some neighborhoods crazy.

    As we are thinking about Northgate and our desire for better bike and ped connections, I also want to consider the needs of families with school aged kids and those with aging parents, or of those who are unable to walk far or ride a bike. As part of the longer term conversation around transportation, will we advocate and unite to tax ourselves for more frequent east-west Metro bus or circulator service to connect us to light rail? Can we also require well designed park and ride structures at or near the light rail stations so people who live in outlying neighborhoods will choose to take light rail downtown instead of drive all the way?

    I hope to see you on Monday June 4 so we can continue this conversation. Thanks to all for your interest in making our city a safe, green, and connected place to live. — Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council

    • Melissa says

      Thank you Sally for your thoughtful response–and for coming clean as a park and hider. It’s vital to consider “feeder” routes for those too far to walk and/or unable (for whatever reason) to bike to transit hubs.

    • Mike Orr says

      Yes, feeders! Many of us are hoping that when Metro truncates the 71/72/73X and 41, they will turn into frequent feeders. Link is the kind of all-day, frequent express that all parts of they city need, not just those near I-5. It’s frustrating to get off a 10-minute train and wait for a 30-minute bus. Frequent feeders from Ballard, Lake City, Geeenwood, Ravenna, Shoreline CC, etc would make a significant difference in whether people choose to take transit.

      Rainier Valley is still waiting for its feeders too. The 39 and 107 are skeletal. Fortunately the service on Genesee & Othello will be improved in September when the 39 is replaced by the 50, but it needs to be brought up to 10- or 15- minute frequency.

      The Shoreline expresses (301 etc) should also be turned into all-day feeders when the Lynnwood extension opens. That would allow people in Lake Forest Park, North City, Aurora, and Richmond Beach to get to Link easily.



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