At the meet-up, we had a short discussion of suburban park-and-rides that got me thinking. Giant parking garages are really a double-edged sword.

First, I’d like to dismiss the utopian-environmental argument that potential train riders will take the bus to the park-and-ride if there is inadequate parking. This is nuts. The whole idea of using transit for strictly local travel doesn’t really take off until non-car-ownership is a reasonably convenient option, which it most definitely is not in the suburbs. People spurned at the garage will drive to work. So you’re losing ridership, short term.

On the other hand, as Ben pointed out to me this weekend, put too many parking spaces around a station, and you suppress transit-oriented development (TOD). I grew up not far from the Shady Grove terminus of the DC Metro, which has 5,467 parking spaces (!) that totally surround the station Dodger Stadium-style. Now, the rules are a bit different for the end of the line, because you want to capture all those people driving from points north, but it’s been over 20 years now and I can’t help but notice the lack of TOD around that station.

So there’s a definite short-term vs. long-term tension there: put in too little parking, and no one rides your system; put it too much, and you end up suppressing the TOD that’s one of the big benefits of rail in the first place.

There are a couple of courses of action this points to:

(1) Build vertically. If you must have lots of parking, build that garage high so as to not take away vital real estate from long term development options.

(2) Manage demand. As I’ve mentioned previously, a nominal parking fee may allow to utilize resources more effectively. For a buck or two, someone who actually would consider taking a bus, bicycle, or walking, might choose the alternate mode instead of going for the most convenient option. A dollar or two also won’t discourage too many people from riding.

As a fringe benefit, this kind of demand management could fund electronic signs to let drivers know when the lot is full, reducing commuter frustration. As commenters from a previous post suggested, this is a major bummer when you have a train to catch.

10 Replies to “The Park-and-Ride Dilemma”

  1. I feel like if you build parking, you are encouraging people to drive in and the risk is if they find the lot full, they’ll just drive to work.

    I think building big garages undeground, or in partnership with the surround business (like northgate mall has) is a good use of space, since not a lot of people are shopping at the mall during the early commuting times.

  2. I strongly agree with the “build up” idea. The only reason to ever build a flat parking lot is to reduce cost, and it’s always a bad idea – even the people parking there hate how far they have to walk.

    Extending the parking conversation, I’d love to remove street parking downtown. Put in a good transit system and build large lots on the outskirts for all day parking. Convert in-city parking for short term use (maybe even by law). This would remove all of the traffic caused by people circling for spaces, and add street capacity throughout the city – certainly enough for a good transit system.

  3. I’m all for a network of transit-only lanes across the city. If Seattle voters are so progressive, it should be something they’d get behind.

  4. I like the build up idea as well. This is what I think (and really what do I know) should happen at the centers where transit hot spots occur (ie. Northgate, Fed Way, Auburn). There would have to be height bans lifted I am sure. I doubt Northgate would allow such things to happen without contest. If you look at the Vancouver Light Rail, when you get on the Blue Line (I think that was the one I took) in Surrey you notice that the towers start sporadically along the lines stations. This is a really effective way to get people to use the system without having park and rides. Although, I did use a park and ride in Surrey (for $1 US at the time). I think it is true though that having it available can increase transit usage. Is it better having someone in Auburn only driving to Auburn to catch the Sounder to Seattle, I will argue yes. Is it smart growth? Probably not. Sounder stations are at or over capacity, I think that is indication that alternatives need to be looked at. I know there are condos going in at Kent Station. Little things like that will definitely help.

  5. I agree that it is best to “build up,” however I caution that there are definately limits when it comes to parking garages. If you build them too high then no one will build next to them…unless you allow 20+ stories of course. Building underground parking in a mixed-use park & ride development is essentially ideal, however very costly.

    Overall, although I do not like surface parking, it is sometimes the only cost-effective way to get transit hubs to outlying areas. The good thing is that if the government understands the big picture, they will sell off chunks of the land to developers over time in order to re-develop into TOD. With this new money from increased land value, garages can be built on the remaining site. (Redmond is actually doing this right now.) Basically, my idea is get people riding transit first (using large park & ride lots if necessary) and develop the land later. If the lot is already as big as people can stand, (too much walking to the train, very ugly) then charging a little is the way to go.

    Honestly, parking downtown is terrible, and only getting worse. I think that once people are used to transit they will prefer it if they work downtown. Espically if we begin to make more bus-only streets.

  6. Let’s get real here: people need encouragement to use transit and convenience. I use the Bear Creek Park & Ride in Redmond and it is packed by 8am. We need more parking spaces because if that lot and the overflow lots fill up, all you can do is drive in.

    The Overlake residential + parking solution is one way to add density and parking at the same time. Downtown Redmond is due to have another of these types of developments.

    But if you want people to use transit, give us a place to get out of our cars and onto buses. Park & Rides do that – they’re just short on parking spaces at a number of popular locations.

  7. I also agree, build up! Up here in Snohomish County I can’t stand driving on I-5 in the morning anymore, so for the past couple of years i’ve been taking the bus, sometimes Sounder. But again, parking is the problem. Marysville is packed, Everett is packed, Lynnwood is packed, and Mountlake Terrace is closed (for a new parking garage YAY!). We need to build up (or down) to support multiple uses for the parking complexes. For example, a UW campus at Everett Station would utilize the land currently used for parking, but eventually, parking garages will need to be built and campus buildings above it.

    Now that’s kind of the thing we need!

  8. Parking garages in Munich charge one Euro a day. Seems reasonable to charge $1 per day to park at a large P&R or garage in Seattle. I like the idea of using the money to fund readerboards that show how mny spaces are available.

  9. Although my case isn’t so bad, bus service in suburba isn’t all that great. You’re lucky to see buses coming every half-hour, and even then the stops can be pretty far-spread. Even the bus lines leave huge gaps. I can point out several square miles of area between Bothell, Lynnwood, and Mill Creek CT doesn’t serve very well, other than SR-527.

    Although, this is suburbia to begin with, so getting decent ridership is a problem.

    – Neil

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