This is the second of two posts on this subject; you can read the first one here.
In the previous post, I discussed the difficult problem Sound Transit will face in providing the legally required compensation for lost parking on the Northgate Mall property during construction. In this post, I’ll discuss the two other issues in play.
Long Term Park & Ride Capacity Loss
As is well known by now, the North Link ROD stipulates 1:1 replacement of all P&R capacity permanently displaced, and this fact has dominated most of the previous coverage of this subject, including mine. In learning more, I’m increasingly convinced this is perhaps the least vexing of the problems that faces those of us who don’t want publicly-financed garages at Northgate. Let’s look at this in more detail.
First, the 1:1 stipulation does not require that the current total capacity of roughly 1,500 stalls be maintained indefinitely into the future, and even if the language of the ROD did not change, it could perhaps be skirted by simply reducing total P&R capacity independent of the North Link project.
More importantly, the ROD dates from 2006, before the 2008 ST2 ballot measure, so the ROD actually refers to the original “North Link” project that extended as far as Brooklyn Station and was subsequently extended to Northgate with the passage of ST2. There would be a compelling case to go back to the FTA and argue that circumstances have changed since the signing of the ROD, and that the language of the ROD no longer aligns with local policy as applied to the extended project. The biggest hurdle would be getting a majority of the ST board to agree, which isn’t a vote I’d care to wager on either way.
More after the jump.
Short Term Park & Ride Capacity Loss
One of the mitigation measures for short term P&R capacity loss suggested by many (including myself) is for ST to pay for a improved transit service to Northgate and to downtown Seattle. The P&R utilization map shows that most riders using the Northgate P&Rs appear to live in Seattle, not far from the station, with the highest concentrations of users roughly in a rectangle from Haller Lake to Pinehurst. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculations to see how much substitute bus service we might be able to get for the price of a garage.
- Parking Garage: A parking garage with ground-floor retail is, I’m told by ST staff, about $30,000 per stall as a ball-park figure; times 500 stalls, that’s $15 million*. Because the mall’s periods of peak demand occur at times of low commuter parking demand (evenings and weekends), a shared arrangement such as that at the current Mall garage could be used, providing both replacement commuter parking and replacement mall parking during construction.
- Metro Bus Service: There will be five years of parking displacement at Northgate, and there are about 250 weekdays per year. Metro bus service is about $120 per hour, so we could get roughly 100 hours per weekday of Metro service for the price of a parking garage. To put that in perspective, the 346-347 route pair (which cover much of the areas of densest P&R usage) have a scheduled run time of a bit over an hour (the two routes are through-routed at NGTC), and it would take roughly 30 trips per day, per direction, to raise that route to full-time weekday frequent service ’til 10 PM, so that’s at least 60-70 service hours per day — more than half our notional budget — for a serious improvement to two of the many connecting routes from the north. Creating high quality new routes, or a major addition of direct alternative service to downtown (e.g. on the 316) would be be even more expensive.
There’s another factor to consider with respect to bus service: many of the areas that have the densest P&R utilization already have good connecting service to Northgate, and it’s not clear whether, all other things being equal (and by that, I mostly mean “parking remains free”), throwing more service at those routes would drive down P&R demand. Haller Lake has frequent service from the 345/346 combination, and Pinehurst has the frequent 66 and (20-minute headway) 68.
The Final Analysis
As I see it (and this, along with everything else in this post, is purely my own opinion, derived from the information in the presentations I’ve linked to, and given in the open house), I see three conceivable ways forward:
- Sound Transit writes very large checks to King County Metro to provide a major improvement to alternative bus service, and to SPG and the Northgate Mall tenants as compensation for parking loss — quite possibly a larger total cost than that of a garage.
- Sound Transit writes the same check to Metro, and a big check to a law firm to try and wriggle out of having to pay significant parking compensation to the Mall and its tenants. This creates legal, financial and schedule risks for the project, as well as enraging a neighboring land owner, and there’s no guarantee this option would be cheaper than a garage in the end.
- Sound Transit builds a parking garage with ground floor retail, and structural element required for TOD overbuilding, shared during construction with the Northgate Mall, to provide both replacement parking for commuters and the Mall.
Most of the other ideas I’ve seen mooted (satellite leased parking lots with shuttle services, an I-5 pedestrian bridge, leasing more P&R stalls from neighboring properties) have a common flaw: they’re all plausible contributions to a solution to the P&R stall problem (and an I-5 pedestrian bridge has merits in its own right), but don’t address the private parking loss, which, I believe, turns out be the biggest problem.
You can probably tell by now that I’m somewhat resigned to the likelihood that we’ll end up with Sound Transit building a parking structure at Northgate, albeit one that may turn into a mid- to high-rise office tower at some point. If you can dream up some way out of this dilemma that I’ve not thought of, please feel free to explain it in the comments, as Sound Transit staff do read them, and I suspect they’d love to hear it almost as much as I would.
UPDATE: Here’s a very interesting detailed report about a survey Metro performed on Northgate Transit Center users.
* If a garage were built, it would almost certainly be built with additional structural elements to support a future office TOD overbuild, at a premium of about 25% — but that premium would probably be recouped to a large extent by the sale of development rights. I’m sidestepping that complexity in this analysis.