Northgate P&R Origins and Destinations
Northgate P&R Origins and Destinations

In my last post on North Link, discussing the 30% open house, I alluded to the possibility that Sound Transit might construct a parking garage at Northgate, to offset the loss of park and ride capacity during and after construction of the Northgate Station and associated guideway. The Northgate P&R (which is actually a collection of different lots owned or leased by different agencies) has a total of a about 1500 spaces, and is currently close to maximum capacity. During the construction process, ST will displace about 450 spaces, and upon completion of the project, about 120 spaces will be gone permanently.

Last week, Seattle DPD hosted a community open house to present and discuss various urban design concepts for Northgate. Also present were Metro representatives, soliciting input on preferred parking mitigation strategies during construction, including (among other ideas) improved connecting service and parking shuttles to satellite lots. Before that meeting, Metro had conducted a very useful survey of weekday Northgate P&R users, interviewing a sample of riders to find their destination, and looking up home address records of a sample of license places, to find those drivers were coming from. The map above summarizes these results, with census tracts color-coded and labeled by number of origin drivers.

This map suggests a raft of excellent parking alternatives, based on our bus network. The areas of highest P&R demand are exactly those served by the 5, whose frequent service alignment should be extended to Shoreline as part of the Fall 2012 restructure; the 358, for which RapidRide E will bring improved policing (and thus improved passenger behavior — a serious problem on this route) as well as speed, frequency and reliability improvements in 2013; the 316, a commuter express with a limited span of service; the 345/346, local routes running from Shoreline into Northgate; and the local-service segment of the 41 to Lake City. ST could, at a relatively low cost, mitigate transient parking issues and create lasting value for transit by purchasing operating and capital improvements for those services.

Of course, this is Seattle, and nothing so sensible is so simple: a number of incentives combine perversely to lead ST towards building a parking structure at Northgate. While I was aware of ST’s legal requirement to perform “best effort” mitigation of temporary parking impacts, someone helpfully pointed me to the North Link Record of Decision, specifically a clause (on page 8) that requires ST to provide one-for-one parking replacement, in the station area, for any stalls permanently displaced by the construction of the North Link project. The ROD is a legally binding agreement between the FTA and Sound Transit; it is not renegotiable at this point.

Separate from ST’s legal obligation, Metro needs to rebuild the aging Northgate Transit Center, but has no money of its own to do so. My understanding is that instead, Metro wants to redevelop the surface parking lots around the TC, and use the proceeds from that to fund the rebuild. While not a strict legal obligation, it’s practically a necessity for Metro to come up with replacement parking for any displacement in this process. Requiring a potential developer to provide replacement parking for transit users in their project is probably not feasible. To compound this problem, Metro’s lease on several floors of the J.C. Penny parking garage will expire before North Link opens.

Thus we are left with the parking structure option: up front, ST builds a parking structure large enough to solve both the long-term and interim displacement projects, and ST has thus discharged its ROD obligation, and Metro’s plan to rebuild the TC and redevelop the surrounding area becomes viable. Three small issues make this option slightly less awful: the parking structure could be built with street-level retail or commercial space; it could easily be built with a podium for future tower development (although that would require an upzone); and it would probably be build next to the freeway, in the least-desireable land.

This leaves me with questions. Why would the Federal Transit Administration place such a restriction on a transit project, or did ST volunteer to enshrine this in law? If so, what were they thinking? Was Northgate then conceived as an urban center on the make? Perhaps the decisions that led to this outcome were made in the go-go days of the early 2000’s, before transit agencies realized how broke they could get. I wasn’t here then; I don’t know; but I do think this outcome is somewhat unfortunate.

POSTSCRIPT: Joshua Newman at Northwest Policy also wrote about this.

25 Replies to “More on Northgate Parking”

  1. Huh?
    Bruce said, “Metro needs to rebuild the aging Northgate Transit Center”.
    I thought that’s what North Link was doing. Does that statement mean the buses are going to be another afterthought of construction, ala the MLK-Link/Bus clusterfuck of transit integration. It’s an elevated station. The bus bays need to be right below it, not somewhere down the road and across a street.

    1. I was too hoping for better bus to. Link connections When I first read about Northgate, I was thinking TIB: get off bus, head up one level, tap ORCA, up once more, then board train.

      1. TIB is awful. You spend 3-5 minutes waiting at lights and looping around lots just to get “conveniently” below the platform.

        A Northgate transfer needs to be neither what MIke fears nor what Michael describes.

  2. Since ST has to build parking I would seriously hope that ST uses this as an opportunity to build off Metro’s effort to create catalyst TOD projects, perhaps by providing share parking? As the PPT you linked to talks about a structure like this would be well suited to “buffer the freeway” especially to the area to the south of the station along 1st. The strucutre could have aerial parking facing I-5 “wrapped” with apartments on the opposite side. This way at least you build the parking that is required but get the benefit of shared use (ie higher occupancy of parking) and make the area to the south more desirable to develop.

    1. Personally i would like to see parking garages between 1st ave and the freeway. But i know some of that land is considered Wetlands so im not sure if that is possible.

      1. I looked at that but there are just a lot of issues. First the guideway will take up some/all of that. Also WSDOT would probably be very nervous about having something like that very close tot the freeway, especially close to ramps that might need to be expanded in the future. And finally a narrow parking structure that could fit onto the site is certainly less efficient to build, so the cost per stall would be higher than normal.

        I think the best way to deal with 1st is to try to concentrate larger scale, less pedestrian oriented uses onto first where the noise is less important.

  3. The Northgate station is the one that makes me excited. An example of where there has already been TOD investment at the Thornton Creek properties and I can see the mall really benefiting from folks Capitol Hill being able to hop a train north. Plus the added benefit of additional service for ballgames…

      1. Al — pretty sure the reference to the extra time there is that delaying by even a couple of years will help clear the financial picture back up, allowing more progressive planning. Keeping 10,000 cars/day off the Final Five Miles to the CBD certainly advances the ball in terms of the transpo picture!

      2. Ya, I know. It’s just… wow. Northgate is the Last Great Hope for TOD between the U District and Lynnwood (*facepalm*), and it’s 2011, and we’re talking about saddling the area with two superblocks of parking garages. It’s depressing is all. We may be building the last ruins of our great civilization. The archaeologists will have a field day.

        You can’t keep 10,000 cars per day off the final five miles — if transit improves traffic conditions even more people will choose to drive even farther, sure as the sun shines. It’s been shown in lots of studies, one was posted here pretty recently.

        The wound is I-5. The only way to heal it is to shrink it.

  4. FYI, Bruce: In your first ¶, you refer to “Northgate P&R” when you almost certainly meant the Transit Center.

    Northgate P&R was the now-closed 66/67 terminus just to the north of Target & Best Buy (which used to make heading due south from Northgate Way toward the U District a hell of a lot easier than it is now).

  5. Why would the Federal Transit Administration place such a restriction on a transit project, or did ST volunteer to enshrine this in law?

    My conjecture: the power of metrics struck again. The FTA’s metrics favor(ed) projects with high numbers of commuters. Thus all those projects that are built where few people are but serve a lot of (suburban) commuters, e.g. Southwest Minneapolis LRT, as opposed to routes that actually go to places where people are. To get FTA funding you need the commuters, for which you need park&ride, for which you need parking spaces, which led to the ROD.

  6. I understood that the public policy intent for Northgate is to fill in the park & ride lot with affordable housing:
    PSRC has a big HUD grant to facilitate the development of this housing. It’s called the “Growing Transit Communities” program. Briefing of City Council at

  7. Another form of mitigation for loss of parking spaces would be the construction of the pedestrian bridge. If engineering-wise, it’s possible to build it now, without waiting until 2020, that would be even better. According to the map, I see a good number of park-and-ride users who would be within an easy walk of the station if the bridge were built.

  8. If you want to make huge parking garages less of a pedestrian-unfriendly nightmare, *don’t use the ground floor*, arrange to put rental space (commercial) there, and include only a ramp. Parking garages are much less disruptive to the urban fabric when they aren’t occupying the ground floor (are either above or below it).

  9. According to the OP map, a lot of Northgate P&R users come from north Seattle and Shoreline, areas with pretty good local bus service. My first thought is: why not survey the P&R users as to why they choose to P&R as opposed to boarding the bus at a stop near their home? This information could be very useful in a transit redesign.

    1. For me, I need to park my car at the Northgate Transit Center…I get off work after 11:30pm and there is no bus near my home in Shoreline at that time. I can take the #16 from work and hop in my car and be home in 40 minutes, door-to-door. Now, if the #347 ran late, I’d love to take it!

  10. Bruce’s implicit question: could the FTA restriction in the ROD be changed? Structured parking is costly and has negative externalities. they draw peak period traffic to the same arterials needed by transit flow. But ST seems quite comfortable planning 500 to 1,500 stall garages at all its Link stations. Maybe they cannot afford them. The funds spent on the garages could be used to improve service or transit speed and reliabilitiy. Any garages could be developed with joint uses so that their stalls are used multiple times during a day.

  11. Re: the routes mentioned. RapidRide will be a red-painted #358 in Shoreline, where 12 stops are indicated for their 3 miles of Aurora. BRT standards are stations that are at least 1/2 mile apart. Comparatively, Swift has 14 in its 17 miles from Shoreline to Everett. Shoreline officials would be derelict in their duties not to ensure that they get underlying local bus service from Metro, similar to what the #101 does for Swift, or else to reduce the number of their stops to 6, such as: 192nd, 185th, 175th, 160th, 152nd, 145th.
    I agree that the #5 should be extended. The #316: unless something’s changed in the last couple of years, it runs near-empty past 85th; this route should have been axed at least in the northern part-that is overlapped by the #346 and part of the #345-long ago. Even Metro’s 2010 performance reports list it as going to Aurora Village, which would be a good improvement, which might also alleviate some of the crowding on the #41 to Northgate (where people transfer to the #346, begrudgingly for those who enjoyed the one-seat ride of the old #317). The #345 would be more effective if, going north, turned on 115th as it does today, but instead of taking the tour of the Northwest Hospital parking lot, continued west to Aurora and resumed its northbound trek. This would also avoid the overlap with the #346 north of 115th. At Aurora Village, Metro could stand to make their signage user-friendly, ala Lynnwood Transit Center, and have bay assignments that reflected where people transfer from and to, e.g. the #301, #303, and #358 downtown express bays should be as close to Swift as possible. The #331 and #346 should nearby as well. The #373: not important to be nearby, same for many of the other Snohomish County-bound routes.

    1. I agree eleventy billion percent with your assessment of the 345. It shouldn’t take a half hour to get from 130th & Aurora to Northgate, it’s just totally ridiculous that it makes as many random detours as it does. I understand that a lot of old people ride the 345 from the Four Freedoms to their appointments at Northwest and the stop on the campus makes it so the elderly with mobility issues don’t have to walk from 115th to the main hospital buildings, so, if you’ve got to keep that detour into the hospital campus, OK I guess (although, shouldn’t Four Freedom’s shuttle buses be available for that purpose?). But there is absolutely no reason why that route has to stay on 130th all the way to Meridian before turning south to go around Haller Lake. Southbound, it should turn right on Aurora and follow it to 115th, where it should turn left, then turn right onto Meridian. There’s barely enough ridership to support one route running around Haller Lake, let alone two–it’s 100% single family homes in that area. And either the 345 or the 346 should turn left from Meridian onto Northgate Way and then right onto 1st to get the the Northgate TC, instead of going to NSCC. There are several routes going from NSCC to Northgate TC, so making one of these routes go a different way should have very minimal impact on NSCC folks trying to get to the TC. I’d vote for the 346 to be the altered route, since there may be folks coming from Shoreline CC that need to get to NSCC. Although, I’d want Metro to look at the data on whether folks are actually using the stops south of Northgate Way on either of those routes.

      Seriously, these should be really easy re-routes to dramatically improve both rider experience and the cost of the routes. I really don’t get why the 345 was set up this way in the first place.

    2. The Aurora Village transit center may move to the Shoreline P&R in the next several years. How would that affect your suggestions?

      I assume it means there would be a frequent route between the Shoreline P&R and Link (Mountlake Terrace or 175th/185th), which may or may not go past Aurora Village, and that other transit to Aurora Village would be reduced.

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