Back in October, on a Sound Transit 554 Express to Issaquah, I overheard a conversation between an elderly passenger and the bus driver. The older gentleman praised our bus system (in comparison to MTA in Los Angeles) and lauded the ease of traveling between Issaquah and Seattle. After a few minutes, the conversation shifted to Link Light Rail, where the passenger further expressed content with the region’s efforts to expand rail. The driver had an interesting response: “You know what’s really dumb, though? They didn’t build any park and rides along the line! How are you gonna take the train if you can’t even get to the station?”
With the exception of Tukwila/Int’l Blvd. Station, the decision not to add park and rides along Central Link’s initial segment has touched off this fiery debate among transit proponents: should parking be added at rail stations? This issue has been a bigger point of contention when it comes to low-density suburbs, like South Bellevue. However, the absence of park and ride facilities in the case of the Rainier Valley segment was probably a wisely measured decision by Sound Transit. Most importantly, we should remember that the benefits of disallowing parking at rail stations aren’t generally realized in the short-term. Rail and real estate development, being long-term investments, yield tremendous return when done right in the present.
More below the jump.
Park and rides tend to make more sense in low-density suburbs because they target the primary commuting audience: drivers. In single-family low-density neighborhoods like South Bellevue, single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips tend to dominate the mode shares. But the need for attracting drivers diminishes when considering the higher transit availability and usage in the Rainier Valley. With less existing demand for parking and more alternate mode choices, encouraging more car trips would not make much sense. It’s plausible to assume that some who cried foul at the initial segment’s lack of park and rides were unlikely planning to take Link in the first place.
This forms a good basis for the generic argument against park and rides. Ultimately, using transit funding to build parking subsidizes automobile use and subsequently cheapens the cost of driving. It would be nefariously ironic if that happened on behalf of our efforts to diminish the marginal cost of transit. Added parking to attract drivers also encourages more car trips that don’t really go in the way of decreasing the SOV share. As long as those vehicle trips remain, the congestion will still be there, whether on highways, major arterials, or local surface streets.
In terms of real estate, park and rides tend to consume land that could otherwise be invested for TOD (transit-oriented development). Having transit agencies fund parking lots now only to end up tearing them down later for development doesn’t make too much sense when political pressure mounts to retain options for drivers. Ultimately, that could end up being a quagmire with the pressing question: “If you don’t develop this land now, then when?” If you aren’t angering drivers by denying them parking now, you’ll be really angering them by taking it away later. Luckily for Rainier Valley, the private pay lots that are available now will face far less pressure to be demolished when the time comes.
Again, while building park and rides is far more contentious with areas like South Bellevue, the Valley is an ideal place to disallow them because the long-term outlook is more favorable. While ridership is sacrificed for the time being, Link will end up being a much more satisfying investment thanks to more accessible TOD potential, the jurisdiction of a more progressive planning agency, and a high existing transit share.