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.

19 Replies to “We Do Need Park and Rides (For Now)”

  1. Moreover, we need to note that some people will always prefer to live in suburbs. True, maybe not *sprawling* suburbs as more and more folks realize the value of walkable communities, but far enough from the urban core to feel like they have a nice plot of land.

    I think parts of Redmond and Bellevue are both walkable and can use Park & Rides.

    And, as this post notes, these Park & Rides can eventually move into Transit Centers with TOD (this is happening right now at Redmond’s P&R/now TC).

    But many P&R’s will only grow in parking over the next decade (or more), because it took 60 years to build this sprawling infrastructure and it will take decades to move toward the elimination of it. Pierce county, in particular, has much of its long-term transit solution invested in Sounder. Well, commuter rail and only do so much to encourage walkable communities.

  2. I live in the suburbs. I have a farm, etc. I’m never leaving this area for an area of greater density.

    But 70-80% of the time I go to downtown Seattle, which is 1-2 times a week, I take transit.

    For me and my neighbors, there are two main factors which determine whether or not we get on the bus: 1) schedule frequency, and 2) Park and Ride capacity.

    The last 3 times I’ve been to Bear Creek or S Kirkland P&Rs, they’ve been full. Some days I have the time to wait for an available space, other times I just bag it and drive in.

    Park and Rides are a critical conduit to the transit system for many of us. The nearest bus stop is 4 miles away from my home.

  3. Not to mention the federal cost-effectiveness models where parking garages are treated with higher priority than TOD right now. If you don’t plan for parking, you’ll never get federal funding. You’re right that it needs to change, but right now you have to work within the current system.

  4. I agree that people will always want to live in suburbs. It’s the cost of that which will change, and that cost will be one of the least painful ways for people to make choices about living closer to the city. There are a lot of people who don’t feel very strongly about where they live, and those people alone likely account for the difference between European and US splits in living situation.

    It will take us decades to get back to a more functional split. We’ll end up with small town centers on these rail lines, but not if they don’t get built…

  5. The local SC acts like it’s been infiltrated by a cadre of eastside carhuggers, Kemper Freeman clones, now conjuring up additional reasons to again oppose expanding rail transit.

    They want SC to renege on its Prop 1 promise to support a clean “Plan B” without sprawl-inducing roads? ST is bending over backwards to give SC what it said they wanted, now they come up with other new excuses?

    Killing rail transit expansion only serves Kemper’s agenda, and the saner heads at SC have to realize that.

  6. I couldn’t agree more that we need significant park and ride capacity along our transit options.
    While not the best system in the world, the metro system in Northern VA/DC/Maryland has great park and ride capacity and it is always full. The trains are always full. I can’t see any reason that the same model wouldn’t work here.

  7. I should also mention that surface park and ride lots designed with future grid system of streets in mind are perfect ways to landbank so the market can mature to give you the TOD you want.

  8. For literally decades I’ve been watching the Sierra Club oppose rail transit in this region because it would “cause growth”. This is the insanity of ‘abstinence only’ applied to the world of transportation and development. And I’m willing to bet that Sierra Club members are, on the average, more likely to live in suburbia, and spend more money on cars, than the rest of us.

    In practical terms, it would be irresponsible for a transit agency not to provide park-and-ride lots and later, when density has increased, sell the land for development.

    Also, in practical terms, people are going to be learning they can ride bicycles further and faster than they thought, and people who started using transit by driving to the station will be riding bicycles instead. Others will turn to the traditional kiss-and-ride that lets a household get by with one car instead of two- a substantial savings.

    A big thank you to all the bloggers who have called ‘foul’ on this latest baloney from the Sierra Club.

  9. ben s, I agree with your comment but my point was that we shouldn’t pass ST2.1 with the idea that we’re tricking suburbanites into eventual density and they don’t know any better. I know you weren’t saying that necessarily, but let’s be careful to not appear high and mighty.

    Some people think, “you’ll take sprawl from my cold, dead hands!” We don’t need to promote the idea that we’re taking away sprawl/suburbs, we simply need to make the alternative as attractive as possible. And you’re absolutely right, $3.75 promotes an attractive alternative as good as any.

  10. rizzuhjj, I agree with you that some people want to stay living in sprawl. I’m happy to let them – they’re a tiny, but vocal, minority. They don’t have a big impact on overall emissions. My goals actually coincide with theirs, because I want to make the roads clearer for them!

  11. Isn’t the biggest fallacy of all that the Sierra Club, as an organization, honestly represents the ideology of its’ membership?

    I don’t know any SC members who agree with these latest positions taken by the SC. Not one.

  12. Umm, where exactly will there be new parking garages in ST 2.1? Does anyone know? All this theory talk is good, but how about we focus on the projects?

    After a quick look at the map, I can see that the only major points that don’t already have P&Rs built or funded are the Mariner P&R and the Mukilteo, Puyallup and Sumner Sounder Stations – correct me if I’m wrong.

    With the Sounder Train trips, this would reduce greenhouse gases of the individuals that would use transit since using the Sounder would probably make these people’s 30+ mile drive to Seattle a 3-10 mile drive to the Park & Ride.

    However, would building a 1,200 space P&R make it more enticing to live in Mill Creek, or the boonies of South Hill which most people will keep their car for? It’s hard to say what the net benefit/loss would be in terms of emissions. Sounds like a job for a travel demand modeler.

    Oh, and to clarify this, land use theory and simulations use levels of transportation access to assess the demand for land. Therefore any type of increase in transportation access (transit or roads) will make it more attractive to live in the area where it was built (to varying degrees depending on calculations that take hours to run on supercomputers).

  13. djstroky, a mode switch (a transfer between car and train at park and ride) is not particularly enticing, no. The factors that actually create suburbs are so much stronger that adding parking is negligible.

    As for the locations of parking garages – look at those proposed in ST2, at S. 200th St, for instance.

  14. Isn’t Microsoft’s bus system due to a government that “failed them”? Wasn’t Microsoft a big financial backer for ST2?

    It seems to me that if ST2.1 doesn’t make it all the way to Microsoft, they can quickly execute a plan-change on their bus service to get employees the rest of the way, while also planning for the eventual extension.

    I hate the delays that come with it, but sometimes I think you gotta “not go all the way.” A partial build is quicker, cheaper and gives people a taste. In the end, it takes longer and costs more, but if the alternative is a “no” vote… then it really isn’t a more costly and lengthy process.

  15. “moving goal posts’ is the perfect analogy for the Sierra Club. They will keep moving them until the goal posts are made from solid gold.

  16. Ben – Simply put: we need park and rides. It is Utopian thinking to believe otherwise.

    Without a place to park my car, I would be forced to drive into Seattle for work everyday. However, because I can park my car at a park and ride lot only 10 minutes from home, I can take the 545 bus in to work instead, and take my car off the road for those last 18 miles on my commute.

    So you and the Sierra Club would prefer that I and others like me drive?

  17. Yeah, dan, I thought the post made it pretty clear that I support park and rides!

    Again – for now. Maybe not in 30 years! We’ll see then.

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