Over the last year or so, we’ve covered the parking situation in the Northgate station area as it has evolved, consistently advocating against the use of scarce transit dollars to build parking in urban areas. Unfortunately, the situation is becoming more complex, not less, as time goes on and more details come to light, and in a pair of posts, I’m going to examine all the issues and possible solutions I’m aware of in depth. There are three distinct problems Sound Transit must address, and a handful of solutions, most of which involve ST building a parking garage and some (rather tenuous) ones which don’t.

First, let’s take a look at all 1,500 or so parking stalls currently provided, by public agencies, to transit users in the Northgate area. Below is a map of the area (from the recent Capital Committee presentation), showing the location and capacity of these lots, followed by a table summarizing all the information related to capacity and displacement, both at the height of construction and at the completion of the project; I’ll talk about the “private uses” section of the table later.

Current Northgate P&R Lots (ST Capital Committee Presentation)
Current Northgate P&R Lots (ST Capital Committee Presentation)
Type Sharing Public P&R
WSDOT Surface Exclusive 139 139 0
Metro West Parcel Surface Exclusive 289 289 117
Metro East Parcel Surface Exclusive 464 0 0
Thornton Place Garage Shared 350 0 0
Northgate Mall Garage Garage Shared 280 0 0
Parking loss for private uses (not shown on map)
Northgate Mall 451 62
Strip Mall * 11 2

Some more detail on those public P&R lots:

  • WSDOT Lot: This small lot is squeezed into a strip of land between 1st Ave NE and I-5. It’s probably not viable for development in the foreseeable future, and I don’t think anyone regards its continued use as a parking lot as objectionable.
  • Metro East and West Parcels: These surface lots are owned by King County Metro, and bracket the current Transit Center. The west side of the West Parcel will be the site of the future station, and the entire West Parcel will be used during construction. These lots are considered prime for TOD due to their location, and Metro hopes to fund the required rebuilding of the TC by selling development rights to these lots.
  • Thornton Place and Northgate Mall: Through partnerships between King County and private developers, transit users have access to certain stalls in these garages during the weekday, in return for Metro subsidizing a third to a half of the cost of construction for those stalls; they are not affected by construction. The Northgate Mall lease will come up for renewal in 2026.

The first issue I’ll discuss is perhaps the most challenging, and least understood.

Parking Loss on Private Property

Suppose you own and reside in a house, and a government agency wants to buy your house to build a public works project. It’s widely understood that the government must pay you fair market value as compensation for the loss of your property. Now suppose you’ve converted this house’s garage to a specialized workshop that’s an integral part of a business with substantial annual revenue. In this case, if the government wants to take your house, not only must you be paid the market value of the house, you are entitled to compensation for lost income due to the taking of your property. This compensation could take many forms, although in that case the agency would probably just offer a comprehensive relocation package to defray the cost of moving. That sort of easy option isn’t available here.

Simon Property Group, which owns the Northgate Mall property, has long-term lease agreements with a number of anchor tenants at the Mall, contracts which stipulate a certain amount of parking be available on the property. In losing parking by way of ST purchasing its property for the station and tail track, or leasing it for construction, SPG will find itself in breach of these contracts, which would lead to a contractual dispute with the tenants, thereby causing SPG to suffer losses due to the taking of its property, in turn creating grounds for a legal claim against ST. (Mall parking is well utilized during periods of high demand, so  it can’t be argued that 400+ parking stalls are surplus to requirements). In the worst case (which everyone wants to avoid), ST could be dragged into a complex legal dispute that could create schedule and financial risks for the North Link project.

As I understand it, in addition to the paying purchase or lease price of the land, ST’s options are: to pay compensation to SPG (and perhaps the tenants) for the loss of parking; or to provide replacement parking. The first option is a difficult one, as it’s hard to discern what the value of the lost parking is to SPG or its tenants, and the expense and uncertainty of possibly having to hash out that number in the courts, along with other factors I’ll discuss, is in total, probably more costly to the agency than just building a garage.

To be clear, this outcome is a result of the law related to property takings, and is independent of the North Link Record of Decision (ROD).

* The “strip mall” in this table is, confusingly, a small private retail development called “Northgate Station”. While the same problems arise with the strip mall parking loss as the Northgate Mall, I’m not going to discuss it as the scale of the problem is tiny by comparison.

In Part 2 (tomorrow) I’ll discuss the situation regarding future public P&R capacity, additional bus service as temporary mitigation, the 1:1 replacement stipulation in the North Link ROD, and how these things tie together.

15 Replies to “In-depth on Northgate Parking, Part 1”

  1. I hate to be a broken record on the parking issue, but with no net increase in parking and apparently no interest in truncating bus routes off I-5, how is this lone station going to generate twice the ridership of all three Bellevue stations combined?
    Would any insiders care to post the mode splits on those 15,000 boardings?
    Walk, Bike, Existing bus by route #, new riders, cars, carpools.

    1. I don’t recall where the 15,000 number came from, but we can run with it. Let’s see what I can throw out there (although I would like to see the actual official numbers).

      Based on the ’09 route performance summary and some quick napkin math I just did, about half of them (~7,200 boardings/day, if I have my service hours per day right) will be riders from the current route 41. Of course that doesn’t adjust for ridership growth between 2009 and the station opening.

      Increased frequency, shorter travel times, better connections (UW! Capitol Hill!), increased rider comfort, and better reliability are being counted upon to attract the rest, using the existing routes that serve NTC.

      Northgate Transit Center currently has very poor connections to neighborhoods to the south. The 41 – an express to downtown via I-5 – is its only frequent southbound route. I think it’s safe to say that there’s at least another 41 worth of riders to be had, when fast/frequent/reliable trips to the U-District and Broadway become available as stops on the way downtown.

      Also, the 41’s current frequency drops down to half-hourly after 8. Link will be never below 15 minutes, and it is known that frequency drives ridership.

      1. The boardings came from ST (http://projects.soundtransit.org/Projects-Home/North-Link.xml), actually 15,200 boardings from Northgate station, which would mean another 15,200 would arrive there, having boarded somewhere else for a total number of riders of 30,400.
        From MT 2010 ridership report, I added up all the MT41 riders and got 2,327,325, divide that by say 325 days in a year (weekends have fewer riders) to get about 7160 riders per day. Half going south, the other half going north gives 3580 potential boarding assuming everyone gets on a Northgate.
        That’s not the case. Many get on between Lake City, more get off at Northgate, being replaced by more ons, so being generous, I’d say the daily boarding on the MT41 are maybe 2500 from Northgate to Seattle. 1500 parking spaces would bump that to 4,000 per day boarding Link. Mall shoppers using transit add ???, but I’m stlll at a loss to find the 11,400 boardings per day as advertised.
        It’s important to know where they are coming from to ensure adequate facilities are part of the project. Suppose ST is counting on 3,000 per day from park and riders, yet only provide for the current 1500 spaces. What then?
        I don’t know how you can effectively provide input on the number of spaces needed, without looking at the model data. It’s a cart and the horse thing.

      2. In my opinion, a rider that requires a parking space is a rider we can afford to lose. It’s terrible land use in a designated growth area where developable land is precious.

        In my opinion, Northgate Transit Center is too deep inside the transit system and in too potentially dense of an area to continue to have a significantly sized park & ride. If preserved, these spaces should be moved to more distant lots in our park & ride system, where they can be of more use to residents without convenient local bus routes.

    2. Northgate TC is currently served by something like 15 bus routes from a variety of locations. I would imagine that a substantial number of people may choose to transfer at Northgate to go to routes in Shoreline, Bitter Lake, Haller Lake, Pinehurst, North College Park, Maple Leaf, and various neighborhoods in Lake City. I would venture all of the routes could generate 5000 to 7000 transfers per day to Link. I would hope that Metro reconfigures the routes to be more frequent and as necessary to terminate them at Northgate.

  2. Exactly, and it is probably going to get even more complicated from here as the start of construction approaches and the voices of all the players get more shrill.

    Bottom line: I just don’t see how ST is going to get out of providing permanent replacements to at least the privately held parking spaces that will be lost. Yes, we could just pay the owners for what we take, but ultimately it will probably be cheaper just to build replacements – and that is probably what the owners will hold out for anyhow.

    So just build the garage and get on with construction – just keep it as small and cheap as possible.

  3. Great post, Bruce. IT seems like the “east parcel” and “west parcel” need to be TOD. If we need parking, put them under it or something.

  4. An interesting post on a difficult subject. I look forward to part 2. We have to recognize behavior. Most people who might use this station will not use this light rail station if they cannot drive to it. This blog has done numerous reports on how far people will walk, and it isn’t encouraging. Bus transfers are fine in theory, but complex and unreliable with even the slightest disruption. So, parking is necessary around almost all these stations or they will not be used to anywhere close to capacity. The only exception is likely to be Capitol Hill, which is already very high density. Some of the others will eventually, over decades, become high density. But for the near term, Northgate needs its parking garages and the property owners need their stalls. And we will all need to foot the bill.

  5. I think some level of patience is required for development patterns to respond to new infrastructure. Our freeway centric pattern of development didn’t happen overnight either.

    Don’t fret about what, 200 parking spaces? Build them in a place and manner that supports a long-term vision and focus instead on making sure the long-term vision has the right incentives to happen.

    1. Speaking only generally, but I’m not completely sold on the ‘we can just make it better later’ attitude. As someone who lived outside Atlanta for 4 years, has friends and family down there, and who has spent some time on MARTA I gotta ask, ‘When was MARTA built?’ and ‘Since then how many of the parking garages they surrounded their non-core stations with have been redeveloped?’ and ‘Has that type of station construction generated the kind of landuse/transit use we want here in Seattle’?

  6. WTF, that was the shortest monorail project we’ve ever had. I think it lasted about 6 hours :)

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