Tel Aviv Parking Lot (wikimedia)

[UPDATE: The Mayor has released a statement.  There is literally nothing I would change about what he says.]

Sara Nikolic at hugeasscity has a thoughtful piece about park-and-rides that disagrees with my, uh, extremely calm and measured support* of private lots for the time being.  Erica Barnett piled on a bit.  Goldy, the 37th District Democrats, Frank, and Danny Westneat agree with me.

There’s a lot to Sara’s post and you should go and read it, but to summarize the most crucial and strongest arguments are that (i) parking lots make the current environment worse; (ii) revenue from lots will make it harder for development to pencil out; and (iii) it’ll be hard to take away the parking once it becomes burdensome.  Rebuttals after the jump.

To the first point, I’m not the land-use professional that Sara is, but I view “empty parking lot” or “gravel pit” — the current alternatives — as worse than a parking lot.  They do even less to attract people to the neighborhood and look even more blight-y.

As for development penciling out, there are plenty of empty lots, generating no revenue for anyone, that are currently available for development.  We’re a long way from having to take out parking in order to build right next to the station.  At any rate, those parking lots would be lucky to gross $100/day.   I don’t know anything about real estate development but I suspect that kind of gross revenue isn’t deterring anything.

Her third point is the strongest one, and it’s one significant reason I’m glad there are no publicly owned lots in the corridor.  There’s always a risk that their presence gets too entrenched and makes it difficult to take out in the future.  Fortunately, we have a Mayor that’s very pro-density and lukewarm about cars, and a executive order that is designed to be a temporary exception.   Moreover, in the long run economic logic can induce a privately-owned lot to go away.  Sara’s right that we have to remain vigilant about this, but I’m more relaxed about it than she is.

In a few weeks I hope to bring this into a broader discussion of station access.

*Sarcasm doesn’t translate well online, but this is sarcasm.

61 Replies to “HAC on Park-and-Rides”

  1. Building new parking lots certainly makes the environment worse. But that’s not the choice the city is facing right now.

    These parking lots already exist.

    Is it better for the community that they be empty parking lots, or full?

    Is it better for the community’s long-term development that commuters continue to drive right past the area, or park in the neighborhood and walk to the train every day?

    Which encourages more pedestrian-oriented retail?

    Which exposes more people to the idea of living within walking distance of the train?

    Which gives more publicity to the many under-utilized parcels available near the stations?

    1. Wow, you have high hopes for a parking lot. I can see the people now… “Ooooh, I got to go to Schucks in Mt. Baker. I should move here.”

      1. Limes, come on. Step one is a bunch of people parking. Step two is a coffee stand by the station. Step three is a new building on one of the holes in the ground, with a few residential units and a shop or two on the bottom.

        That shop or two bring more people, causing another little new building, bringing more people, causing another bigger new building, and *then* people go “huh, I could just live here…

  2. Kudus to STB for this and other posts this past week. You have shown a respect to those arguing against your point of view and treated their opinions with respect. I wish some of our professional writers could treat subjects with this courtesy. Your standard of journalism impresses me.

    1. Thanks, Sam, for your cogent and accurate comment.

      I believe that temporary use of existing parking lots (and conceivably even new parking lots built on already-vacant lots) for commuter parking is a relatively benign undertaking and one that can be a net benefit to the community, both local and at-large. I’ll be proposing some specific ideas for Code changes to Mayor McGinn.

      Sara Nikolic reads like a purist out to score points with other purists. An approach not well grounded in the real world.

    2. I can’t tell if Sam is for or against temporary parking lots.

      People who live along the route are regional commuters. :) Link is for people making both local and long-distance trips, both into and out of the valley, and within and through the valley.

    1. I’m aware of 5 lots; I’d estimate there about 40 spots at each. Rates vary from $30/month to $5/day.

      1. Thanks, Martin. That’s about what I thought. This all seems like much ado about nothing. The mayor just returned to a status quo that was bothering no one. Two-hundred spots spread across SE Seattle are insignificant in terms of commuter behavior and won’t have any impact on future TOD.

  3. @Jason, I read in another post that current maximum spaces available for commuter parking next to stations in the rainier valley was in the range of 300-400. This was not including the vacant post office garage on 6th & Lander(?).

      1. I believe the garage is still for sale by the USPS but is currently used for employee and USPS equipment parking.

  4. Although I tend to agree with the cities anti-P&R stance, I don’t have any major heart-burn with what is currently being proposed. Yes, the long term goal should be TOD and walkable communities, and conversion of existing structures to new parking should be banned, but we are in a transitional period here and that transition is likely to be extended due to the current economic situation.

    I’d do the following:

    1) Maintain an absolute ban on converting existing structures to parking. I believe this is already the case and is unaffected by the Mayor’s lifting of the ban.

    2) Bias the future economics around LR stations to favor TOD over parking. This could be done by a gradual escalation of the cities parking tax for those P&R facilities offering long-term parking inside the LR exclusion zones. If the tax is properly set then economic factors should tend to favor development.

    The main thing is to keep the long term goals of walkable communities and the discouragement of parking facilities, but to be rational and not preclude short term business opportunities in the neighborhoods during the transition period.

    That said, I do find it interesting that the first decisive action of our supposedly anti-car Mayor is to “cave” to the car interests. Maybe he is a bit more practical than I give him credit for.

    And of course, if Link ridership goes up in the future, be assured that the STimes will give 100% of the credit to the availability of better parking. The automobile is King after all…..

      1. What he said was meaingles. I’m disappointed that you can’t do better.

        “Cities are for people, not cars”.

        OK. So every bit as relevant and legitimate:

        “Cities are for people, not bicycles”.

        “Cities are for people, not department stores”.

        “Cities are for people, not dogs”.

        “Cities are for people, not lattes”.

        Sheesh.

      2. Again guys – the best you can do?

        How about this one: “Cities are for people, not Utopianist Grad Students studying to be urban planners”.

        I like that one best.

      3. Not letting Southeast Seattle turn into a sea of parking for suburbanites to store their car during the workday is a Utopian vision?

        I thought your original question was rhetorical, but I guess not.

      4. Seriously, Zed. So many people who want parking lots around the station are people who don’t live near the stations. Of course they like the idea — they don’t have to live with the consequences.

        In my nightmares I see the current fenced empty lots around Beacon Hill Station as parking lots. Ugh.

      5. Jeff, Ryan’s answer is perfect because it pithily distills the usual talking points that we’ve all heard a zillion times, but if you want a different answer you should ask a better question. Do you want to know why TOD is good, why walkable communities are good, why tear-downs for parking are bad, or all three? Just asking “why” to a statement containing multiple points is not likely to engender a terribly serious response.

        And as Zed asked, what exactly is utopian about wanting a decent train system and neighborhoods free of acres and acres of parking lots? Under that theory there are literally hundreds of utopias around the world. Who knew?

      6. Jason,

        Regarding distillation, I suppose so.

        Regarding my knee-jerk response, anytime a sentence starts out “the long term goal should be. . .”, my reaction is “according to whom?”

        Cities are all kinds of things, and I’m all for improving and enhancing the quality of life of human beings at moderated impact to the world at large, and preferably in a way that maximizes individual freedom and choice.

        The latter two concepts are NOT central values in the Utopianist paradigm.

      7. Jeff, instead of wasting our time with attacks on the ‘utopianist paradigm’, why don’t you get on the neighborhood’s design review board to make sure these developments improve and enhance quality of life?

        And the freedom and choice stuff – you get more freedom and choice from rail lines than you do cars.

      8. Do we actually know where the cars that are parked in these lots came from?

        In other words, are they from local neighborhoods that are just a tad too far, or outside of convenient bus service, but still want to make use of Link, or are they long distance commuters, using these lots as low cost ‘satellite’ parking, with Link as their downtown shuttle?

      9. Ben,

        I don’t consider any expression of view a “waste of time”. Your mileage may vary. Your suggestion that I shut up and serve on a board is unwelcome – and back atcha.

        As for rail lines offering “more freedom and choice” than cars, once again you’re missing the point (as well as making one that while debatable, I don’t care to debate). Utopianists aren’t interested in supporting or expanding choice – but eliminating choices (like bus and cars) so that people will HAVE to use rail. Not sure how eliminating or limiting one choice in favor of another offers “more choice”, but that’s your logic model, not mine.

  5. Martin

    The picture you included says it all as to why we don’t want acres of these things down MLK and other areas traversed by Link. They are unsightly, igly, blight driving examples of land use being driven in the wrong direction for communities.

    I don’t have any objection to structures that blend in well with their communities and which could become part of any TOD, but just turning empty spaces into poorly maintained parking lots is not a good idea.

    Why would McGinn who is anti car and pro walking and bicycling, take up the baton on this one. I am confused, unless he is supporting it to provide us with constant visuals as to why he doesn’t like cars? I am not pro car which is why I don’t like seeing them in huge cities – a more consistent viewpoint than that being shown by the mayor perhaps.

    1. They are unsightly, igly, blight driving examples of land use being driven in the wrong direction

      As opposed to empty parking lots and gravel pits? No one is advocating vast areas of parking, merely use of lots that already exist.

      1. Well, we should close them down and redevelop them if we can. I assumed all of those empty lots were there for redevelopment purposes?

      2. I’m sure the current owners will be open to your offers to buy and develop. Personally I’m a bit short of cash right now.

      3. I thought you were a Republican. Who the hell is this “we” you’re talking about?

        Just a little reality check here: “all of those empty lots” are “there” because large portions of the Rainier Valley have suffered economic dislocations while Issaquah boomed. They didn’t get trucked in from some repository of weed filled lots down near Pe Ell.

      4. Me a Republican! You’ve got to be kidding me, right? I would call that an ad hominem attack. You really don’t know me if you think that!

        In what way, has Issaquah boomed at the expense of the Rainier Valley or anywhere else? It is a residential community, not industrial.

        What is Pe Ell?

        We are supposed to be filling in these empty lots with transit-oriented-development – at least that is partly the point of our supporting Link through the Rainier Valley. It is supposed to be a game changer in this respect and buying up or using vacant land for parking vehicles is not part of this. I seem to remember that there was a time when everyone was supposed to walk to the stations.

      5. Anandakos, your a reply was a little to bitter for this site.

        Tim, I think the point some are trying to make is that it isn’t “we” who develops on this land, it’s private real estate development companies. Since they don’t have capital, and it’s hard to argue if there’s much demand right now, things aren’t being built.

    2. To me, it really sounds like this temporary change is to allow the owners of the land to earn a bit of money from people that may not want to us Link unless they can drive from an outlying area and then park cheaply. Maybe they don’t want to take a 30 minute bus ride, waiting in the cold and rain, when they can drive, park for $5 a day, and take Link to downtown. I applaud the Mayor for allowing this–temporarily–while the economy is down and the land is available. Like said above, if the land isn’t going to be used as a parking lot, it would just be empty, growing weeds, trash and graffiti. Maybe later this year, or next, as the economy improves, that land will be converted to something more. But for now, give people a break, whether its the landowners who will be happy to gross $100 a day, or the people that may be inclined to take Link now that they can park closer to a station.

  6. I would argue that having these lots filled with commuter’s cars, rather than left empty, would encourage development. Almost nobody wants to be the first to build in a dead neighborhood, the cars show that the station location is good for commuters.

  7. I fully support keeping the lots as is for now. Being from West Seattle, there’s really no way to access the train except by driving to it. Several people I know have either driven to Tukwila or to SODO expressly to use the system. Bus/walking/bike is not available to everyone who *really want* to use rail.

    1. This is amazing, Al. Drive miles and miles just to ride Link light rail, when you maybe could’ve just gotten on a bus in West Seattle that would take you directly to your destination (downtown, the Airport).

      I mean, it’s great you want to ride the train and all, but the train is just one part of a public transit SYSTEM, which of course includes a lot of perfectly serviceable bus routes.

      1. Some people, just. don’t. like. buses. Doesn’t mean they don’t think buses are a vital component of a transit system, just that they personally don’t ride them. *shrug*

      2. “which of course includes a lot of perfectly serviceable bus routes.”

        But it also include a lot of perfectly abject bus routes and conditions in the buses that travel on them.

        Rail is far superior to buses on several qualitative measures that matter directly.

        I’m with Al. The buses have historically been terrible in this city and I won’t take them any more. The train is wonderful and I will take it whenever I can- even if it means a longer trip.

        That may not be rational to you, Transit Guy, but that’s the truth.

      3. For whatever reason, maybe a person just doesn’t want to ride a bus, but making it easier to get to, then ride Link, doesn’t that bring NEW people to public transit?

    2. Al,
      While I get the spirit of your comment, I should point out that my co-worker found a way to access the train by walking to it.

  8. Mike,

    Rail is far superior to buses on several qualitative measures that matter directly.

    That “matter directly” to WHOM?

    So much for that “no fight to the death between buses and rail” thingy.

      1. Zed,

        Feel free to permit Mike to answer for himself. I’d guess that he believes he’s speaking for a wider constituency, otherwise he would have added those verbose two words “to me”.

    1. There’s no fight to the death because nobody wants more money for buses, except for people already in the bus industry.

      1. Actually I think a lot of us would like to see a lot more money for buses, but at the same time we want more money for streetcars, light rail, metros, commuter rail, and intercity rail.

        I’d like to see the US treat its transportation systems more like cities in Europe and Asia. While that means a lot more investment in rail it also means a substantial improvement in bus service from what is currently considered acceptable in the US.

        I’m for better transit generally, but I’m all for picking the appropriate transit solution for the problem at hand. Sometimes that means some level of bus service from a DART van to a full BRT line or HOV express route. Sometimes that means rail anywhere from a streetcar to a underground metro or an intercity HSR line.

      2. I have to agree with Jeff, Ben. Everyone’s screaming about trying to avoid cuts and even adding more service.

        If you mean “quantum leap in bus funding,” I agree that most people willing to swallow a huge tax hike are probably looking to spend it on rail.

  9. Hey STB staff,

    This isn’t really that important, and maybe not the best topic for my first comment on the site…but could you do me a favor and try to be more careful about using non-informative photos to illustrate articles? I initially thought that parking lot was actually in the Rainier Valley, and that you were trying to show that lots there are well-utilized or something, but after looking at it a little bit closer (and checking the URL) I figured out that it’s in Tel Aviv. I just find it a little bit unfriendly that I had to spend a minute or whatever to determine that I shouldn’t draw any conclusions about parking in the Rainier Valley from that photo.

    Similarly, when you posted about this topic a few days ago, you used a photo of a Diamond Parking sign (with the daily rate photoshopped out), and that initially confused me as well as at least one person in the comment thread, who thought that that was showing the actual pricing at a lot in the RV. (Turned out it’s a lot lower, which would have made sense if I had thought about it.)

    Sometimes when you’ve used irrelevant photos in the past, you do point that out in the article body (or, less commonly I think, in the caption), but if someone is skimming the article they might not see that–but they’ll *definitely* see the photo itself, probably before they even look at the rest of the article.

    So my suggestion would be to make a habit out of adding descriptive captions on every image, and making it clear directly in the caption if the image is purely aesthetic as opposed to informative. I guess that does feel a little bit formal, but as your audience continues to grow, and grow broader, that kind of thing becomes more important.

    Anyway, now that I’ve attempted to tell you how to do your jobs that you actually do for free, I’d like to say that I find this blog completely invaluable, not just for the ever-informative and insightful posts but also for the generally high SNR in the comments (which I know takes a fair amount of effort on your part to maintain!), and the fact that you’re willing to address comments directly and engage commenters in extended and substantive debates, unlike a lot of actual professional journalists. Plus it’s virtually ad-free!

    And I also want to mention that I find your coverage a lot more even-handed than certain commenters *cough* seem to give you credit for. Although maybe that’s just because I tend to agree with it. :-)

    So basically, keep up the good work, but I hope you consider my little suggestion (which shouldn’t be too onerous to implement, I think). I’ll try to make my next comment a better contribution to the discussion.

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