"Diamond parking" by smohundro (not one of the lots in question)

After news last week that the city was sending cease-and-desist letters to private parking lots offering park-and-ride services along the light rail line, we and others editorialized harshly against the policy:

This must get fixed immediately: the cease-and-desist lifted, any fines refunded with interest, and the policy changed.  We should be helping these lots get the word out, not shutting them down.

Yesterday, Mayor McGinn’s office responded and announced that it would suspend enforcement of the statue that outlaws all-day paid parking near stations. McGinn’s office sent a press release saying it would propose a new policy within 30 days.

“The current law has good intentions — to promote mixed-use development.  But in today’s economic conditions it does not seem to make sense,” the press release quotes McGinn as saying. “We don’t want the primary land use around those stations to be parking, and we certainly don’t want businesses to be torn down for parking.” Even keeping these goals in mind, the press release continues, “it makes sense to consider allowing market-rate parking on existing lots near the Othello station and elsewhere in the city until the economy can support new mixed-use development.”

Color us impressed by the new Mayor’s swift response. We’ll have full analysis of McGinn’s new forthcoming policy proposal when it’s announced.

54 Replies to “City Suspends Policy Against Private Park-and-Rides”

  1. Ergh, I hate to see sprawling parking lots all over the place. Maybe there needs to be an addendum to say that these lots must provide other facilities to help benefit the entire neighborhood? Or at least cap the price that the plot of land can be sold for, for future development?

    What happened in Philly was that these lots were built, especially in the middle of downtown, and now there are just gaping holes in the middle of what would otherwise be prime real-estate. These parking lot owners hold on to the property until it becomes too expensive for anyone to buy.

    1. These are existing parking lots. City code continues to prevent construction of new park-and-ride lots in these areas.

      The choice for now is to have the existing lots full or empty. Acres of empty parking lots make an area look even more blighted than acres of full parking lots.

      The most absurd enforcement, in my opinion, was against the church-owned lot. A church parking lot, by the nature of the business, sits empty most weekdays; peak parking capacity is needed on weekends. To meet parking requirements, a church has to have significant parking capacity that is not used during the week. It’s hard to think of a more perfect location for commuter parking.

      1. Great point. In fact, church parking lots on Mercer Island were used to replace capacity when the Mercer Island Park and Ride was under construction.

      2. Several of the outlying Metro/ST/CT park-and-rides are church lots, too. Same is true in Portland.

        Also, somewhat unrelated but Aspira was built on Gethsemane Lutheran’s former parking lot, and First Presbyterian on First Hill has an RFA out for highrises to replace its parking lots and 1950s buildings.

      1. Why not churches? Most have unused parking lot capacity on weekdays, when Park and Rides are most needed.

        In the Midwest, a lot of Park and Rides consist of unused space at shopping centres, churches, etc. The Twin Cities didn’t have a lot of dedicated Park and Rides till the last few years or so….

        However, one advantage to Seattle’s system is you can use a P & R for 72 hours. We’re still limited to “no overnight parking” here….

  2. Well, I’m certainly no expert, so someone correct me if I’m wrong, but won’t the market control the size and number of the lots? I mean, the city is concerned about the area being taken over by “acres of parking lots”, but won’t it reach a point where there are more spaces than riders and it will no longer be profitable to build more lots?

    1. Paul, no one is building lots. The ones already there have existed for decades. It’s up to the lot owners to charge market-rate fees for parking.

      1. Then what on earth was the city afraid of, if the lots are already there?

        “We don’t want the areas around the light rail stations to become acres of parking areas and parking lots,” said Councilman Tom Rasmussen, Chair of the Transportation Committee.


        I am certainly glad Mayor McGinn stepped in and acted so quickly, but I am confused about what the fuss was all about.

      2. I think what they are afraid of is the parking becoming more valuable than other development and stalling density being developed around the stations. But I also don’t think that’s actually an issue. Which is why they moved so quickly to change this.

  3. What’s to not be impressed by? He quickly responded to the issue, allowing the lots, while taking time to be thoughtful about crafting a new policy,

    tough crowd

    1. He got put on the spot about the issue during his time on KUOW that morning. And pressed fairly hard, too, specifically about how long it would take him to make a decision.

  4. As long as they can restrict this to existing parking lots … that is the important aspect of this.

    1. It’s important to understand what “this” is.

      Any new parking lot would have to be permitted. That would violate zoning rules and permits wouldn’t be issued. “This” is just an allowance for existing parking to be used – it wouldn’t affect new permits.

      1. Exactly. Parking is not allowed as a primary use in station-area zoning, and would be grandfathered in as a non-conforming use.

  5. I am concerned about this reversal – we face the prospect of acres of ill-maintained parking lots. The City should be encouraging speedier development and adding more attractive lots should be a part of this.

    I urge the STB Board to consider that NOT everything on the McGinn agenda is to the benefit of the city at large. A Seattle Times editorial today provided a good example of thinking outside of the bun on a range of agenda issues.

    I am not opposed to parking lots on alone the line, but do think that the City needs more control and input on how the things are maintained and built. Just turning any weed invested space into parking doesn’t work for me.

    1. how is a “weed infested space” currently a zoned parking lot?

      This decision impacts existing parking lots. Not derelict lots – like Sound Transit has all along the rail line….

  6. I did some research on what new light rail lines opened up with less than 5 P&R lots and so far, only LINK is the only one that falls under the category. Virtually every other light rail system that has opened has at least 5 to 10 park and ride lots. I know virtually station South of SeaTac/Airport and North of the University of Washington will have park and rides but at least one at Othello or Rainier Beach would make the most sense.

    It does amaze me to see this even being a “issue” and it is clear that this was intended to be for existing lots, since afterall, that was what was targeted in the first place.

    Each to their own.

    1. In my visit to the area last summer, I was staying on the eastside in an area not served by transit. The closest transit line was about 4 miles away. I found it incredibly easy to drive 5 miles to the Issaquah P & R, park in a clean and pleasant facility and alight an express bus to downtown Seattle.

      It seems that many people here are so fervent in their advocacy for rail and bus transit that it ignores the present day reality that not everyone lives within walking distance of rail or a bus. Not everyone fits the same profile of being willing to walk the distances to catch public transit and you have to acknowledge that the terrain in the Pacific Northwest can make it challenging for all but the most physically fit to navigate any significant distances.

      Additionally, when times get tough, instead of increasing public transit services, they are often the most visible and first things that get cut by politicians. It raises the public outcry the most and suits their Machiavellian purposes. The public has to trust that transit would be there for them in bad times and good times if they are to consider giving up their cars.

      I am also impressed that the Mayor is willing to act quickly to accommodate the existing parking facilities near Link stations for commuter parking. I hope that the upcoming revisions to the policy will allow for limited additional parking capacity at additional stations such as Columbia City and Rainier Beach. I’d also like to see some provision for taxi stands and easy “kiss and ride” drop off points near stations. I think it would be ok, if the city stipulated in any permit process that the property must be developed within so many years to include mixed use or the permitted use would be revoked.

      1. There is a kiss and ride location near at least one of the stations in the RV, and there might be more that I haven’t seen since I rarely get off in the Valley.

      2. There is a delicate balance to be struck between providing service to people and providing subsidies to sprawl.

        In my opinion we should lean more towards encouraging people to move to areas where transit exists, creating more dense livable communities. Yes in the short term some people won’t have the easy access to transit they would like, but that’s the whole point of incentives right?

      3. Well big-picture wise “where transit exists” is Seattle instead of Maple Valley or Duvall. Compared to the region as a whole the City of Seattle is a fairly small area and has a fairly high density even in the lowest density parts.

      4. True. All I am saying is that if people work in Seattle then we need to do all we can to encourage them to MOVE to Seattle.

        Public Park and Rides do the opposite by subsidizing people who choose not to move to their area of employment, aka subsidize sprawl.

      5. I’m a huge fan of Charter Schools and partial Vouchers (like the Germans do, covers about 90% to make up for the special ed students that cost more than the average and would likely be ‘left’ in the public schools) so already advocating that as well.

      6. “I’d also like to see some provision for taxi stands and easy “kiss and ride” drop off points near stations.”

        Beacon Hill, at least, is well-configured for this — Lander Street is the kiss-and-ride location. It’s not an official taxi stand, probably because there’s not really demand for it at the moment, but I suppose there’s room for taxis there too.

    1. i don’t think that’s all bad. It might quiet the no-P&R haters out there and with the eventual disappearance of these lots, it will show them that the market can’t sustain park and ride lots in the long term.

  7. An much applauded step in the direction of reasonableness. Let’s hope he is as reasonable about density surrounding the stations.

    1. Yes, the entire 1/4 mile station area should have all height and density restrictions removed. Bring on the giant condo towers!

  8. when it comes to parking, you get swift responses. everything else has to slowly grind its way through the bureaucracy.

  9. It sounds like the mayor gets that this is a temporary measure, and the new policy will reflect that.

    1) There is inadequate east-west bus service for the entire valley to reach the train. Improvements on the Genesee & Othello bus were scaled back. The Mt Baker transit center is a little far from the station, with no pedestrian bridge. Temporary parking can alleviate these situations until better infrastructure is provided.

    2) Link has not been as popular in the valley as in other places. Nonwhite, poor, and non-English speaking riders are disproportionately fewer than expected. Temporary parking may increase Link’s initial ridership, which would benefit its long-term “integration” into the neighborhood.

    3) Better to drive a mile or two to a P&R than ten miles to your destination.

    4) The decision not to add parking at Rainier Beach may have been a mistake. South of Henderson has fewer buses than the valley. Parking might turn Skyway residents into Link riders. (The next station, TIB, is too far away for them.) Temporary parking would give the City breathing room to consider whether a non-free public/private P&R might be feasable in Rainier Beach.

    Hopefully the mayor’s proposal will outline both a short-term and a long-term plan. A five-year nonrenewable parking authorization might be just the thing.

  10. Exactly the right move, for exactly the right reasons, with exactly the right scope.

    Bravo Mr Mayor.

    1. I’ll third that. For someone who the knock was going to be indecisive and unable to “get it done” this was exactly what was called for. He’s not changing the law or zoning but acknowledges that there needs to be a review of the current policy and that this is predicated largely on the (hopefully) short term economic slump that we are in. The one quote that rang particularly true was that by Josh, “The choice for now is to have the existing lots full or empty. Acres of empty parking lots make an area look even more blighted than acres of full parking lots.” And the note in the blog post, “McGinn’s office sent a press release saying it would propose a new policy within 30 days” makes it clear this is a temporary measure and the underlying issues will be addressed quickly. Instead of jet setting around the globe to make speeches about global warming it seems the new Mayor is focused on what needs to be done here and now.

  11. Let’s see how this all plays out. I hope “renegade” lots (unregulated and unlicensed) don’t spring up as a way for some to make a fast buck. And I don’t want to hear from residents that there’s now “too much traffic on the streets” or from businesses along MLK that the commuters “parking all day long take up space that my customers need”. If there turn out to be none of these problems surfacing and the lots’ usage increases ridership, then great for now until denser development kicks in.

  12. Been riding Link to the Airport every week now, and enjoying it, from Mount Baker. Easy to connect by bus, or be dropped off.

    Still, ridership seems light no matter what time of day. I don’t think Link will ever hit its targets without all-day parking lots in Rainier Valley for some time to come, albeit with restrictions on no more lot building.

    I don’t think it’s time to be purists about limited parking around Link stations. I think it’s time to help more people get in the habit of taking Link. And let’s not forget they’re only running two-car trains right now, but could run three- or four-car trains, if ridership started picking up.

    I love the stations — the Mount Baker one seems more like a BART station than a light rail stop — but I wish they were busier. It would enhance a sense of safety for riders, and contribute to contagious sense of “everybody’s doing it.”

  13. Quoted from above: “I’d also like to see some provision for taxi stands and easy “kiss and ride” drop off points near stations.”

    Kiss-n-Ride is worse for the environment than having parking. You are encouraging double the auto portion of the commute. Once to drop your honey off and once to pick your honey up. It would be better to drive only once in each direction if it’s going to happen.

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