Update: This morning the DJC reports that Sound Transit real estate people have toured the facility and are considering buying it. The six-storey garage is at 2460 Fourth Ave. S and has 970 stalls. The garage is likely to cost more than $20 million.

Original post published Jan 29 at 9:35pm is below:

Starheadboy, 10Tacles, and 337
Post Office Parking Lot, Sodo, by Slightlynorth

The DJC ran a piece about parking around Light Rail station, and the rules changes that the city is looking into. It’s easy to figure out what to do in Southeast Seattle: residential permits and only short stays for those without permits. But what can be done with Sodo? Here’s the gist:

Few people live in that neighborhood [Sodo], but there are numerous small businesses, many of them industrial. The Manufacturing Industrial Council estimates that between 40,000 and 60,000 people work in Sodo.

One problem is that commuters are already parking in Sodo and taking the bus, according to SDOT planner Dante Taylor, who has been going door-to-door in the neighborhood collecting feedback on parking proposals since December.

Most of the local businesses don’t have parking lots, and rely on street parking.

Almost 1,300 parking spaces around the sports stadiums will be lost during Alaskan Way Viaduct construction, … Another 50 spaces will be lost to construction on state Route 519,  … another 200 spaces will go away temporarily while First Avenue South is paved and Spokane Street viaduct construction … The city estimates there are 4,500 parking spots in Sodo now.

Some employers in Sodo want SDOT to issue parking permits for their employees.

With more commuters likely to be parking in Sodo once the train starts running, some people are wondering why SDOT doesn’t buy the post office parking lot, which is very close to the Sodo train station and is up for sale.

To support a “pedestrian and transit-friendly environment,” the city has a policy that discourages parking lots, Shepard said.

“Parking lots attract cars but they are not always good neighbors,” Shepard said.

You can learn more about the City’s light rail parking designs here. I’m going to look into which parking lot is the post office lot mentioned in the DJC article, but you can see the station here, and notice there’s a Post Office facility directly to the west of it. I kind of torn. On the one hand, I think a park-and-ride in the Sodo area, especially one very near to the Spokane Street Viaduct, is a great idea if the number of spots is sufficiently large to attract riders. On the other hand, that lot could be a great candidate for some TOD office space.

So what do you think about permit parking for workers? How about a park-and-ride at Sodo station?

34 Replies to “Parking Near Stations in Sodo”

  1. I’m pretty sure the parking lot they’re talking about is the post office parking garage, a few stories tall, down across the Busway from the SODO station. I dunno about a Park & Ride… Most people would just ride the Link for two or three stops north of there. But it might still be a good idea, if just to make sure the neighborhood businesses have enough parking for their employees (though I hope they’ll take light rail).

    1. To my knowledge you are right: it is the garage. The garage is currently for sale by the postal service because they have not been able to fully utilize the building since new 9/11 related restrictions took place.

      In my opinion, ST should buy it.

  2. I can’t help thinking that a P&R that close to downtown would defeat the object of Link. It would only eliminate a couple of miles of driving, and if anything it would turn Link into a driving enabler given the difference between the likely cost of a Link season ticket and the current cost of parking downtown.

    1. You’re assuming that the primary purpose of Link is to ease freeway congestion. In reality, the downtown street grid and parking infrastructure is much more congested. Relieving the pressure on downtown parking and the street grid is a very worthy goal. If a park-and-ride in SODO would help, it’s well worth it. It’s much cheaper to provide the parking in SODO, even if it’s structured than it is in downtown and parking and traffic kill the urban form as well as the pedestrian, bicycle and transit environment downtown.

      1. I’m actually not assuming it’s to ease congestion at all, but I am assuming that one of the justifications for the investment is reduce vehicle miles travelled. You’re right about urban form—that at least is an argument for moving parking out of downtown—but it would completely fail at keeping cars off the road.

    2. I agree! This isn’t like a P&R at the end of the line, it’s a P&R just a couple of stops from downtown.
      If you put a P&R there, then you’ve made it way too easy to drive downtown.

      1. How do you define “too easy”. How easy should it be? How hard should it be? There is a significant problem with building Park-and-rides at the end of the line, which is that it encourages sprawl.

        The thing that keeps people in a compact form (i.e. prevents sprawl) is the full cost (time + money) of their commute. If a new technology developed that enabled people to travel at 500 miles per hour to anywhere they wanted, Seattle would sprawl all the way to Montana.

        Right now, congestion adds to the time cost of commuting and high gas prices add to the monetary cost. These are the primary constraints on sprawl. If you give someone a light rail line, at taxpayer expense, with a park and ride at the end of the line, you have just reduced their commute costs. Whereas without the light rail, person X would have given up their suburban house for an in-city condo, now they can continue to enjoy the benefits of suburban living while passing the costs onto the taxpayer.

        A park-and-ride on the outskirts of downtown does not have this effect. The suburbanite still has to pay the costs of his commute.

        Does a park-and-ride on the outskirts of downtown reduce VMT? Yes, far more so than a park-and-ride at the end of the line, counter-intuitive as that may sound. The reason is that, per my first post, getting the cars out of downtown makes downtown a much more pleasant place to be. It also makes downtown development much cheaper. Both of these things encourage more commercial development downtown, which increases downtown’s gravity. Now, because we have not built a light rail with parking at the ends, people have to face congestion on their way TO downtown, but not in downtown itself. This gives them a powerful incentive to move closer in creating a more compact urban form. This reduces total VMT because origins and destinations are closer together.

        Contrast with our current plan to spread light rail for 30 miles. As mentioned, this makes suburban living cheaper and encourages sprawl (if there are park-and-rides at the end of the lines). As the population spreads, economic activity also spreads. As jobs spread out, they become virtually impossible to serve with transit, and these clusters act as a counter-gravity to downtown, effectively pulling people away. Why live in Seattle? There’s just as many jobs on the East Side and land is cheaper.

        No amount of light or heavy rail can overcome the increase in VMT that is caused by a more dispersed urban form.

        Now back to our discussion of a Park-and-ride in Sodo. Such a park-and-ride would be of great value to the people of West Seattle, thus this facility makes living in West Seattle more desirable. Without it, living in west Seattle is less desirable. Putting a park-and-ride at the end of the line, means that people who live close in (e.g. West Seattle) still have to drive into downtown and face all the horrors therein, while people in Lynnwood get to use a park-and-ride and take the train. This system essentially makes the commute from Lynnwood easier than the commute from West Seattle and thus encourages people to live in Lynnwood rather than West Seattle, despite the fact that West Seattle is closer in and has the potential to be much more energy efficient if it were only planned for.

        We’re shooting ourselves in the foot with this whole park-and-rides-at-the-end-but-not-in-the-middle thing. One should note however, that Sound Transit doesn’t even measure the effects their projects have on VMT, on congestion, on sprawl or on greenhouse gas emissions. That is not their mission. Their mission is to build a regional transit system and that is what they are doing. If you want a system that reduces VMT, the key is to tell the planners and engineers that that is what you want. Same goes for congestion or global warming. If we are not clear as to what the goals are, engineers and planners can’t achieve them.

    3. If keeping cars off the road is the goal then the best way to do that is to increase congestion. That’s the reason I will not drive downtown (I live on the eastside). There are a lot of events I’d like to attend but just won’t go if transit isn’t an option. Late night it’s usual not so for the most part I just don’t go there. I guess if VMT is your metric then oppose the garage becoming a P&R because it will enable more people to attend events downtown.

      During the commute I don’t see it having a noticeable affect. If it enables some people to drive the increased number of cars clogging the roads will drive other people to transit. It will certainly drive up ridership on LINK and most likely it’s financial bottom line. If it improves mobility in the Seattle area it will mean more jobs and more people will go out and enjoy things like concerts. Both of those will increase energy usage, VMT and GDP. No free lunch.

      I’m OK with it being hard to drive downtown. I don’t think more cars is the answer; it’s already the problem. The issue with this parking garage isn’t that cut and dry. I’d like to see it as a step toward gradually moving the cars farther away from the downtown core and increasing transit options.

      Letting the private sector buy the property might be the preferred way to decide what is the best usage; both now and as things change going forward. Unless there’s some reason to believe that a private buyer would do something contrary to the best public good then why should ST invest it’s capital in the property? There’s certainly no lack of projects which the public sector will not fund which ST is mandated to enable.

      1. Assuming Sound Transit charged market rates for the parking I see no reason other than possible TOD why ST shouldn’t buy the garage.

        While it would potentially tie up money that could be used for something else, the parking garage would also be a potential source of additional revenue.

  3. A P&R there would be good for commuters from West Seattle, since that’s the closest Link gets. It probably wouldn’t be too busy now, but once University and North Link open I can see people driving there and taking the train the rest of the way. I’m not sure how much faster that would be compared to busing downtown and transferring to Link.

  4. I disagree with your assumption in the original post: that park-and-rides are a bad idea in the Rainier Valley. In reality, they could substantially increase ridership, reduce traffic congestion in the neighborhoods help local businesses and generally increase human health and happiness.

    The city’s prohibition of park-and-rides within the city is a well-intentioned but sorely misguided policy. It is causing much more harm than good. Every station in the city other than Downtown should have a park-and-ride.

    The key is to charge a fee for the use of the park-and-ride, enough of a fee to pay for the cost of the structure. (They have to be structures, no surface lots). As long as the price is less than the cost of parking downtown, but more than zero, park-and-rides are a fantastic tool to complement transit.

    1. I don’t agree. I think it’s a bad idea to have a lot of people driving into neighborhoods. The neighborhoods around Link in the Rainier Valley should be moving toward less roads and more density, rather than more cars, especially cars that are only coming there to be parked while the driver goes somewhere else to work. A pedestrian friendly neighborhood can’t really be properly built around a 600-stall garage, even if there’s a train statin.

      Sodo is different since there are so few residents and not a lot of plans to bring more.

      1. A pedestrian friendly neighborhood absolutely can be built around a 600-stall garage. It can’t be built around a sea of asphalt, but there are countless examples of walkable neighborhoods with parking garages. Take downtown Seattle for example, or UW, or the TODs that are being planned around Sounder stations.

        It is actually far easier to build a pedestrian friendly neighborhood around a parking garage than it is to build it around a bunch of building that all provide their own parking.

        Also, we are not talking about people driving into the neighborhoods, we are talking about people who live in the neighborhoods, but not within walking distance of the station (which is the majority of the population of SE Seattle) driving to the heart of their neighborhood and then stopping, parking and getting on a train. The alternative is that these residents drive through not only their own neighborhood, but every other neighborhood on their way to downtown.

        A true neighborhood center ought to be a magnet, drawing people from all around. You can’t support substantial retail solely based on people within walking distance unless you are in Manhattan. Even Belltown and Capitol Hill draw patrons from farther afield and utilize public parking garages and on street parking.

        We also have a chicken and egg thing here. Why would people want to live in a dense neighborhood unless the majority of their daily needs can be met within the neighborhood? That means retail development. You can’t draw people to density without the retail and you can build the retail without the density. The solution is a park-and-ride which draws the existing population to the center, then you can build the density over time.

        Finally, we’ve been assuming that this park-and-ride we speak of is a single use facility. In reality, it would work far better as shared parking. It could, for example provide all the parking for TOD residents. Thus, new TOD buildings could be built without any of their own parking. This makes development far less expensive, allowing for greater affordability and density. It also decreases the temptation to drive since the residents have to walk a few blocks to get to their car, and once they’ve done so, they are already at the train station so they might as well ride.

      2. I have to agree with you, Tony. I’ve been to many vibrant small downtowns that utilize well-designed parking garages. Remember that having a few parking garages allows for all those private parking lots to be redeveloped as other uses. We want as many people as possible to leave their cars at or near their homes.

        If it’s between walking/biking (free), taking the bus (free w/ transfer), and driving to the light rail station ($5-6 per day), people will have a choice to make, and I don’t see an issue in providing a bit of parking for people who are willing to pay for it and/or are unable to use other modes for whatever reason. Plus parking garages are great for local businesses and reduce the amount people drive around looking for parking.

  5. My experience with BART in the East Bay is that there is never enough parking. I say buy it from the Postal Service now. Keeps all those cars out of downtown, and away from competing for street space in the industrial area.

  6. Add a vote for the parking structure. I’ve often thought a great transitioning urban design would be to build a few giant parking structures right next to freeways and mass transit just outside of downtown. For every parking spot you build there, remove one from downtown.

    Done well enough, this could even result in a car-free city. If/when car use ever declines these could be converted to TOD.

    1. That’s a good point. And since the parking lot’s already built, it’s not like you’d be building a new parking lot, just re-purposing an old one.

    2. I don’t understand what this is transitioning to — people being just as dependent on their cars but transit agencies getting some additional ridership? We don’t need increased transit ridership for the sake of transit ridership. We need to get people out of their cars. Transit is a big part of this but a bigger part are changes in land-use that transit enables. Then people can go about their day-to-day activities without even needing a car.

      Giant parking structures on the edges of downtown won’t encourage any of these changes — it will just change where people park.

      I’m not a fan of park and rides as I don’t see them encouraging changes in development or behavior. I can understand park and rides far away from urban areas as they, at least, significantly reduce SOV miles driven, but a park and ride that close to downtown won’t even have that benefit.

      1. What we are doing is creating a pedestrian, bicycle and transit friendly downtown by getting the cars out of it. Downtown traffic is not only miserable for driving, it is miserable for all other forms of transportation as well. We are creating a downtown that is a pleasant place for people to BE, thus encouraging more development and gravity downtown. Once you push the cars to the edge of downtown, you can convert more of the highly limited right of way downtown to wider sidewalks, bike paths, sidewalk cafes, etc. You also reduce noise and pollution. Have you ever tried to ride a bike downtown at rush hour? You choke on exhaust.

        The other thing we are doing is potentially using park-and-rides as an anchor tenant for a mini-hub that could eventually develop into a full fledged TOD. Though the SODO example is not the best here. A far better example would be if we built light rail to West Seattle Junction and put the park-and-ride there, or Ballard. The park-and-ride brings everyone to a single place, where they stop, get out of their cars, and get on a train. Once you have a hub like this, there is an incentive for developers to build retail and services at the park and ride to enable trip-chaining. For example, a daycare and a grocery store could be built near the park-and-ride so that people can drive to one place, drop their kids off at daycare and then ride the train to downtown. Then, on their way home, pick up their kids go grocery shopping and drive home. All in a single vehicle trip (home to park-and-ride) rather than several spread out over several locations.

        Once all these services are in place at the park-and-ride, the next step is to build housing within walking distance so that SOME people can skip the drive and do everything car-free. The critical thing to remember though is that you can’t build those retail services on a customer base within walking distance alone unless the density is through the roof. The only way to create a center that has everything a person could need within walking distance is to have that center ALSO draw customers from the surrounding area.

        Even if the intent is ultimately to build density through the roof so that the park-and-ride is no longer necessary, this can’t be done overnight, so the park-and-ride serves as a transition facility while the density is being built.

    1. Maybe that’s the new Post Office parking lot. Expect slower grease and sugar spotted mail delivery.

  7. A free park & ride in SODO would be a disaster. Traffic is more than bad enough getting on & off I-5 at both I-90 and Spokane St.

    I hope that Sound Transit doesn’t waste dollars on a garage within City limits. If Sound Transit doesn’t buy this structure, a private developer will, and will charge for it.

    I’d be shocked if any developer bought a three story parking garage in SODO and tore it down for TOD. It seems more likely that nearby single story structures will get the axe first.

  8. I can’t really understand why anyone would use it, but if the demand is already there, might as well.

  9. I’m all for it if ST charges enough to make it profitable. It should be cheaper to park and ride LINK than drive the extra few miles and park in a downtown lot. I would include the price of a LINK ticket with the charge for parking to prevent this from just being “cheap seats” for a ball game. As for employers, maybe a limited number of permits based on how much curb the business boarders but I don’t think it’s the cities responsibility to provide the parking. The business should be jumping for joy that their workers have such great public transit options instead of driving.

    Following a lot of events late night transit is spotty to non existent. The option to park near the station in SODO and take transit downtown or to the Seattle Center would work [especially for West Seattle] and remove a lot of cars that would otherwise be attempting to battle their way through downtown traffic during the evening commute.

  10. How many riders would it attract that would otherwise not ride transit? What is the opportunity cost; or, how many riders would be attracted by alternative North King County ST subarea investments? Would it attract additional traffic to already congested SODO arterials that must carry transit and freight? Could the land be used more productively with another use?

  11. Purchasing a huge parking garage in this location would allow people to more conveniently drive to downtown Seattle. Yes, congestion on streets in the core may be reduced but congestion on I-5, the Viaduct, the West Seattle bridge, and the surface streets in SODO is not insignificant. This garage would provide an attractive reason for people to drive to downtown Seattle rather than getting on transit close to their homes. Transit dollars should not be spent on this project. Let a private party buy it if there is enough demand, but ST should be focusing on transit service not accomodating more cars.

    1. That’s a good point. If it’s a good investment why isn’t it better to let a private party buy the garage? If it’s best economic value is as a parking garage then that’s what it will remain. The private owner will undoubtedly run it more efficiently (or go out of business). If TOD is or becomes the highest economic value then that’s what a private owner will do; and much quicker than if it’s owned by ST.

      The only argument I see for ST buying it would be that public money should for some reason, and maybe there’s a good one, subsidize and preserve parking there. One thought is that if ST buys it they can charge for parking and transit (e.g. you paid to park you paid to ride). Or, maybe there’s some other high value reason like maintenance facility which ST has in mind now or in the future.

      I’m not sure that it’s a given congestion on I-5, the Viaduct and the West Seattle bridge would increase. I guess that somewhat depends on pricing. A private owner would likely charge more and mitigate that effect. For evening events I think it would increase transit use from people that need the car after the event and would otherwise park downtown or at the Seattle Center.

    2. There is no transit close to their homes, and it is impossible to build light rail to within walking distance of even a tiny fraction of the region’s population. Park-and-rides allow the car and transit to work together rather than compete with each other. And frankly, until gas is $20 per gallon, if you pit cars against transit, cars will win, so you don’t want that fight. Opposing park-and-rides is letting the unattainable perfect be the enemy of the attainable good.

  12. Unless I missed it in any of the comments, I didn’t see any linkage to the airport connection that is upcoming on LINK. There are more than a few of us that work in offices in Sodo and travel on business occasionally. The USPS garage is right next door to Lander Station which will be the most convenient station from which to board light rail to the airport and avoid lots and lots of car trips, costs of parking at the airport, hassles of waiting for an expensive shuttle or taxi, or that ubiquitous office mate dropping you off at the airport scenario. Even worse is the “I’m coming in for the day can someone pick me up at the airport” scenario. “No but I’ll be glad to pick you up a few blocks away from the office at the Lander Station, just hop on the light rail after you pick up your bag”. Will that idea survive the taxi and shuttle lobbies? We’ll see.

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