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.