"Metro banishes Mercer Island to the bottom of Lake Washington", by Oran

Mercer Island is going to experiment with a shuttle van up Island Crest Way to feed the Park & Ride, which on average is 100% full:

City Administrator Rich Conrad said Metro has agreed to supply a van and assist the city with the task of searching for a securing parking. So far, the city has agreed to provide volunteer drivers…

The need for a north-south shuttle stemmed from lack of parking at the two-story Park and Ride, which was expanded more than two years ago in an effort to add more parking. Parking spots increased from 250 in 2006 to 447 in 2008 after a two-year, $19.1 million expansion project.

What’s curious about the article, an earlier article on the subject, and a related editorial in the Mercer Island Reporter, is the failure to even mention existing Metro bus service. The 204 provides mid-day and weekend service in that corridor, while  the 202 covers both directions in the peak and goes on to Downtown Seattle. In either case, headways are roughly a half-hour. Both are middling routes by Eastside performance standards, a little below average but by no means dogs.

I suspect that making the shuttle distinct from Metro may save money by not having to pay into Metro’s relatively high cost structure. It’s elsewhere referred to as a “vanpool experiment” and there’s talk of volunteer drivers, so it’s clear they’re looking to do it on the cheap. On the other hand, not integrating with the network is only going to make it harder for people to find out about it and make it less reliable.

Attempts to contact Mercer Island leaders and staff on the shuttle proposal did not produce a response. More on the parking shortage after the jump.

It must be said that said that the parking crisis is partially a result of earlier shortsightedness by the Mercer Island Council:

“Sound Transit came prepared to expand the lot — they had enough money to add hundreds of stalls — but the Council opted for a smaller expansion,” Conrad said.

He said the Mercer Island City Council asked Sound Transit to almost double the size of the lot, which held 257 cars before the expansion, and spend the other money allotted for the project on building more parking space east of Mercer Island. The Council hoped that doing so would reduce the number of cars from off-Island that tended to park in the Mercer Island lot, Conrad said…

Sound Transit suggested building a taller lot to cut costs per stall, but the City Council opposed this idea to protect the surrounding neighborhood.


(H/T: Jonathan Frazier)

29 Replies to “Mercer Island Considers a Shuttle”

    1. presumably super-massive parking lots and the traffic they draw are ugly and detract from surrounding development. personally i’d rather see denser development near transit hubs than park and rides, if the two things really are mutually exclusive.

    2. A lot of people on the Eastside would like to drive to the Mercer Island park n ride if there were space. Mercer Island doesn’t want a huge P&R dominating the village that mainly provides parking to non-residents.

      As for people not knowing about the vanpools, surely word gets around on a small island? Or at least that’s the way it is on Vashon. Isn’t there a Mercer Island newspaper?

    3. It’d be an eyesore for the houses north of the P&R, never mind the bus accessibility! (Or the existing sound wall on the north side of the P&R…)

  1. if park and rides aren’t the long term answer, and i dont think they are, maybe it isn’t so bad they nimby’d the extra tall lot.

    that said, this vanpool doesn’t sound like a long term solution either. hopefully i’m wrong.

  2. Why not have more peak-hour buses serving all the arterials on Mercer Island? There aren’t that many of them.

    … to protect the neighborhoods?

    1. presumably that is a larger long term cost [for government] than pouring some additonal concrete once for an expanded parking tower.

  3. Thanks Oran for letting us know Mercer Is, sunk, probably as a result of all the gold hoarding going on over there. I see the routes are all water taxis now, and the stops a bunch of marker buoys. Can’t wait to see the E-Link Barge drawings:)

  4. Pace in suburban Chicago is using this “Community Vanpool” idea to help fill service gaps. Pace provides the vehicle and maintenance and the municipalities provide the operators.

    It’s a way to provide service to areas where running fixed route service is just not that effective.

    Results have been mixed.

    1. That sounds like the vanpool/carpool service available through http://rideshareonline.com

      I may be wrong, but I think this is a direct “express” shuttle between the South End Shopping Center Park and Ride, listed as SE 68th St & 84th Ave SE at

      I can think of a few reasons it might be preferable over the 204:

      * they may justifiably be worried about service cuts

      * a shuttle could leave “on demand” instead of on a fixed schedule

      * a shuttle would not need to make all stops along the way and could take an alternate route depending on time of day, construction, etc

      It actually strikes me as similar to all the private shuttles around like UW, Hutch, Seattle Childrens, etc though they have professional union drivers.

  5. If you do the math that comes out to a cost of ~$96,000 dollars per additional parking spot. Is this really the best way to spend transit dollars, espeically if these parking spots are just being used by people avoid paying for parking downtown? In my opinion if there is any P&R that needs to be pay parking, this is it.

    1. Absolutely. Mercer Island has some of the best transit service in the region relative to its density. To Bellevue and Eastgate/Issaquah they have frequent express service all-day (15-minute headways even off-peak on the 550 and 554), and 8 buses-per-hour OFF-PEAK to the Seattle CBD. Pair frequent, high-quality service with fully-subsidized parking, and it’s no wonder the P&R is at crush loads all the time. 15-minute service on the 204 and a $5 parking fee would fix this ‘problem’ instantaneously. We’ve got to remember that even that a full P&R is the equivalent capacity of only 5 articulated buses.

  6. Can someone tell me why we aren’t charging for parking at this lot? Free parking with easy access to downtown? Maybe I’ll start driving out and parking there.

    Let’s see… it’s a free valuable good right in everyone’s path to work. Gee, I wonder why it’s always 100% full.

    I don’t even see how ST or Metro can justify this park-and-ride. It’s not like it saves much driving (it’s what, a few miles to downtown Seattle?).

    1. … and even fewer miles to the auto owner’s residences.
      Walk or bike to the garage or take a bus to and change at the P&R, but leave the car at home, please.

  7. To protect the neighborhood: I once arrived at the pre-double-decker lot too late to get a spot, so I drove into the neighborhood and parked vext to a newly installed but still signless post. When I got back to my car after work there was a really nasty note under my wiper – assuming that I’d driven in from off-island to mooch off their lavish infrastucture (which wasn’t actually the case). I’m sure that post now mounts a parking with permit only sign.

    They hate them some carpet-baggers on the Island.

  8. The 202 should be truncated at the P&R and the saved service hours pooled with the 204 to create all day service from the south end of Mercer Island. Headways should be at least every 30 minutes – more during rush hour. Good luck to MI on the vanpool shuttle idea. If you can find reliable volunteers it could be a relatively low-cost option. That said, I’m not terribly confident they will be able to create a service that is robust enough to attract significant ridership.

    Cycling is an option in the area around the commercial district on the North end – It’s relatively flat, there are some existing bike lanes, and traffic is pretty calm. I prefer to bike to Merer Island when I need to do some light shopping, rather than deal with Bellevue. I’ve also watched the bike racks at the Park & Ride fill up over time.

    Further to the South you’ll run into more hills, nutjob drivers, and a dearth of bike lanes – Sadly Mercer Island has taken out some of the bike lanes I used while growing up there in the 70’s and 80’s – Specifically along NE 40th St. While the city is doing a pretty good job with cycling infrastructure, I don’t see them promoting cycling very much – it seems like more could be done there.

  9. I’m also wondering who these volunteers are. Would you volunteer to get up at 5am and drive a bus all morning? All for the feeling that you’ve made an entitled rich driver’s commute a little bit easier for not having to walk to a bus stop.

    1. There are a lot of reasons why people volunteer for jobs like this.

      That said, I certainly wouldn’t do it…

  10. It seems that ST should really be considering parking charges, especially at those locations that are regularly full (including MI, South Bellevue, and most of the stations along Sounder). Paid parking could manage demand and provide ways for communities to ensure that their own citizens get access (for instance, maybe ST could charge at MI but give partial refunds to those with an MI address). Rates could be charged in order to encourage people to use less-busy or further out lots. Or, even better, use transit connections.

      1. Yes! Charge for parking everywhere! The parking fees should recoup the cost of the garages. It seems insane that we’ve never charged.

      2. One of the main concerns that torpedoed this four years ago was that people would park in adjoining neighborhoods. That problem is easily solved with additional parking laws.

  11. Lol should show out-of-towners that map and explain that Mercer “Island” is really a conglomeration of houseboats served by frequent water taxis.

  12. Could Mercer Island use http://www.avego.com/ instead of or in addition to volunteer driven shuttles? I’ve been watching this tool for a while but it’s still not quite ready for prime-time in my mind. Still, this, or some other real-time ride-sharing tool may be able to help out…

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