This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Futurewise’s Sara Nikolic, writing at hugeasscity, argues against allowing property owners to use their existing, empty parking lots as “park and rides,” saying that it constitutes a “flagrant disregard” for the city’s vision for the Rainier Valley.
Nikolic does make a good point: the ban on all-day-parking lots in the Rainier Valley (within 1/4-mile of light rail stations) was instituted as the result of a long, involved neighborhood planning process, and we shouldn’t throw them out willy-nilly. But I do think they’re worth revisiting nonetheless.
As I’ve said before, the various local agencies have done a good job of creating policies that are friendly to transit-oriented development (unlike, say, the State of Washington). On the surface, allowing “park and ride lots” around seems to be at odds with this vision of more densely-populated live/work/play communities.
It’s worth taking a moment to define our terms here. In my mind, parking lots (or pay lots) are operated by private individuals and charge money in exchange for allowing you to leave your car with them for some period of time. park-and-ride lots are typically operated by a government or transit agency specifically for commuters, and are typically “free” (i.e. taxpayer-subsidized).
Allowing park-and-ride lots in the Rainier Valley would be a terrible idea. Thankfully, no one’s proposing that. What is under discussion is whether or not to allow existing parking lots to be used for paid, market-rate all-day parking.
It’s worth putting this in context. One can, today, park at a U-park lot in Fremont or Wallingford for $5 a day or so, walk a block to an express bus and be downtown fairly quickly. And yet, Fremont and Wallingford manage to be vibrant communities that aren’t overrun by parking lots.
Light rail is cool and all, but it isn’t so cool that the results would be significantly different in the Valley. Why? downtown parking costs, roughly $15-$20 per day (there are a few $10 early-bird specials), which means that you could never get away with charging that much money at a parking lot in the Rainier Valley, especially when the cost of the train fare and the time lost in switching modes are factored in.
When downtown Seattle was less desirable (read: expensive) than it is today, many properties were converted by their owners to parking lots, which made sense as a lower-intensity use of the land (though it cost us, sadly, some beautiful buildings). When downtown prices shot up again 5-10 years ago, those lots were converted back into higher-intensity uses as the market dictated, such as condos, apartments, and offices.
I’m confident we’ll see the same dynamic play out over the next 20 years in the Rainier Valley. A few hundred commuters per day will pay to park in a couple dozen lots near the 3 or 4 stations or so where these lots already exist. Eventually, apartments will go up nearby with banners reading “if you lived here, you’d be home by now.” People will start to move into them, and in a few years, the property owners will find it’s much more profitable to sell the land or develop it than maintain the parking lot. In the meantime, we get more people riding light rail.