Will over at HorsesAss has weighed in on the Sierra Club’s changing goalposts for what they’ll support, and I certainly have an opinion. Parking places next to transit are eventually going to stop being a solution, but for now, they’re necessary.
ST2.1 won’t pass at all without park and rides. Only urban core voters – North King – will vote for a package without them, because they’re the only constituency that has existing development around potential stations.
Transit oriented development – building a mix of uses to directly take advantage of transit facilities – is slow. I mean, all development is pretty slow, but the process of going to city councils to change their city plan to build something that your neighbors are wary of – that can take a long time. In addition, this can be a multistage development process – you might not get mixed use all at once, it may take several investment cycles to fill in the space around a station. A parking structure brings potential users where few would otherwise tread. With fifty riders a day, no business can reasonably make a go next to a station where there is currently nothing – but with five hundred riders a day, they likely can. Those park and rides can eventually be torn down for more TOD, in a political climate where the vast majority of riders come from the adjacent mixed use. That has happened on Capitol Hill and downtown in recent years (parking structures and surface parking being replaced with mixed use).
Ridership would be abysmal for years without park and rides. We wouldn’t see another “Ridership Exceeds National Average by a Ridiculous Amount” piece in the P-I for a long time. Worse, and more importantly, you’d end up with newer ST lines branded as “poorly planned” as a result, compared to other systems in the US, and that’s big ammo to kill ST3. Just walking users don’t get you squat when all the nearby housing sits on full lots – the distances involved up near Shoreline and down near Federal Way are immense. Also note that there are often big parking lots along 99, so a South line would have nearly no walking ridership until TOD was in place.
In terms of environmental impact – in the short term, a short drive to transfer to transit for the longer portion of the trip (as we see with Sounder now) is by far a net environmental benefit, even if you account for the concrete structure. The vehicle miles prevented for those users vastly outstrip the ones they still incur getting to the station. That would be even more so with South Link, because you’d make the average trip for Sounder park-and-riders shorter (fewer people would drive over from Federal Way, etc, to get Sounder). In the long term, you give these people a permanent incentive to move closer to their rail station, creating demand for TOD. When they move (which they do, as we see residential development along Sounder), they open up a parking spot for a new person and the incentive recycles to a new user.
These park and rides aren’t perfect, but not building them is a good way to really damage ST’s public image and prevent us from getting more transit in the long run. I can’t say this enough, and specifically for you, Sierra Club leaders: The perfect is the enemy of the good. All of these environmental issues are complex, you know that very well. Addressing only part of any given issue, like park and rides, without looking at the whole thing, the overall environmental cost of sprawl, is a good way to lose sight of the real problems and the real solutions. We city people are going to be just fine walking to a subway station to get to everywhere we need to go – but someone in Shoreline cannot simply change their life to do that. The best we can do is provide them a choice that makes them consider their options. They will, and those park and rides are the best way to expose them to those choices.