North Link Open House
North Link Open House

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

55 Replies to “In Depth on Northgate Parking, Part 2”

  1. Bruce – Why do you assume an office overbuild for the garage? Why not housing?

    1. ST staff seem to be assuming it would office. I don’t think there’s a structural or legal reason why it couldn’t be residential, but I think most developers prefer below-grade parking for a residential structure, as above-grade parking looks bad. There are a couple of older condo towers in Belltown that are overbuilt on parking (e.g. the Grandview) and they’re ugly as hell from street level.

      Either office or residential would generate lots of ridership.

      1. There are newer buildings in Seattle than the examples you mention in the Regrade with above grade parking, that might surprise folks have parking up high.

        I believe those Belltown towers would have been ugly at the street regardless of where they placed their parking – bad design is bad design.

        Office is safe to assume because the parking footprint will lend itself to an office use without creating either residences too deep for light to penetrate into the far inside of the units, or a need to create a courtyard.

    2. Sara is correct to question office. Commuter parking and office use stalls at the same time of day and are not complementry. Movie theatres, churches, and entertainment venues are better, as they use stalls at a different time of the day. Note that during this recession, the office park south of NE 100th Street seems to have significant vacancy. Housing results in all-day transit ridership.

  2. On the other hand, there is the Waterfront Building downtown that has the full meal deal: retail, with parking above, with office above that, with residential above that. One thing few people realize about the Northhgate area is that a highrise (above 8 stories or so) can have views of both Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. And with a highrise, the elevation helps with freeway noise attentuation, which I would think would be a concrern for a housing developer. Thatw ould take a rezone, but I think it is worth consideration.

    1. Yeah, views of Baker and Rainier; easy shopping; easy trips to the U-District and downtown. If you can’t sell that, you don’t belong in the real estate biz.

  3. If the loss of private (Mall/tenant) parking is the problem, that strikes me as unreasonable. It seems like the installation of a very expensive regional transportation link should more than offset the loss of private spots as far as the mall is concerned. I guess I just want to ignore legal realities and appeal to sensible minds and amend the agreements? I suppose if it were this simple we wouldn’t be having the conversation…

    1. That might be a pretty compelling argument for the permanent loss from the Northgate Mall (lose 60 or so parking spots, gain access to a multi-billion dollar regional transit system within walking distance) but probably isn’t going to fly in the interim, when the mall will be out more than 400 spaces with, at most, some more bus service.

      1. Is Northgate mall going to lose these spaces during one or more holiday shopping seasons? Because that’s the peak-time their lots are sized for.

        We could probably get away with no parking expansion 9 months out of the year, and then gravel some temporary lots for use October – December.

      2. I think they lose the spaces during the entire multi-year construction period. It would be several holiday shopping seasons.

  4. If the private lots are the problem, that’s easy enough to solve. Let them use our lots for 5 years. Give Northgate Mall our Northgate Mall Garage space, and some of the Thorton Place space.

    Of course now we’re even more short on P&R parking. So we build a pedestrian bridge to NSCC, and gravel over enough of their landscaping to meet our temporary parking needs.


    1. I like the ‘garage swap’ idea, and had thought the same thing after looking at the numbers yesterday. At least that way all the parking problems are ‘in house’ with the transit agencies.

    2. Even better than gravelling NSCC landscaping, ask them to charge a bit more for parking and give free transit passes to students. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s commuters, after all.

      1. Ask NSCC to give free transit passes to students? It’ll never happen.

        My wife is in one of their vo-tech programs, and trying to get one of their current mildly-discounted transit passes out of them now is like pulling teeth! The website says they offer them, but the people actually working on site will give you 15 different stories about how to get one, or say they’re out, or say “we don’t do that anymore”.

        So we buy a full-price pass from a TVM every month.

    3. NSCC has, I’m told, no interest in getting into the parking business, and as a public entity, ST can’t eminent domain property from them (same reason the UW station is in the boonies by the stadium, rather than the middle of campus).

      1. Even in the short term, in exchange for a pedestrian bridge and transit passes for students? It sure seems worth their while. Maybe ST should ask again.

      2. Wouldn’t they be open to a financial incentive to redevelop their brown open space?

      3. That’s a shame because NSCC has a lot of parking capacity which, on weekends, is nearly always just sitting there empty. Build the bridge and make an agreement with NSCC to allow a certain number of parking spaces, on weekends, to be used as overflow parking for Northgate Mall. This number would exactly match the number of permanently displaced parking spaces, thereby fulfilling ST’s obligation to replace the spaces on a one-to-one basis.

        If the spaces are not available on a weekday, that’s not a problem because the mall’s peak parking demand is on weekends when people have time to shop, not on weekdays when everyone is at work.

      4. Pretty much no one will be willing to park at NSCC to go shopping at Northgate. Even with a pedestrian bridge.

      5. [Brad] You misunderstand. The parking woudld be replacing park and ride space lost, and park and ride space traded. We’d lend the mall some of our park and ride space near the mall.

      6. OK, we’re beginning to see a possible deal. Lend the Mall the existing park-and-ride spaces during construction. For permanent spaces, build 170 spots, partly on-street parking, partly on the NSCC side of the highway. Build the pedestrian bridge. Convince NSCC to allow ST to have some land for this in exchange for…. the pedestrian bridge.

        Of course, perhaps NSCC doesn’t care either about parking OR about pedestrian access to the train station, but seriously, one would hope they could be offered the correct incentives.

  5. Another option(?): Lend the mall our parking, then charge for the parking we have left. Damand for parking on our lots would decrease, and we’d shift many of these drivers to other forms of transit. Would this be allowed?

  6. Do those long-term lease agreements between SPG and tenants mean redeveloping any part of Northgate Mall’s surface parking would require replacement with standalone garages or parking in the new buildings? Though by the time they want to redevelop the lot, their minds would’ve changed on the parking replacement issue once North Link opens.

  7. Northgate Transit Center does not need P&R parking any more. It might have been appropriate when Northgate was a far-flung suburb and Blue Streak express service to downtown was a new phenomenon.

    Now it’s just terrible land use in a designated growth area where developable land is precious. The vast majority of Northgate P&R users already have usable local transit service to the transit center.

    Replace the parking, but replace it at other, more far-flung P&R’s where local transit service is sparse or non-existent. That is the purpose of a park & ride, to provide an interface between areas with transit service and areas without. I think me and Bailo would probably even agree on this.

    1. I agree, and so does the author (in principle). But the specifics of the legal agreements suggest that simply not building the parking would be very difficult. In other words, it may be cheaper and better in the long run if we just suck it up and build the stupid parking lot.

      As much as I think it is a waste of money, I see some value in a Park and Ride. Not for day commuters, mind you, but for evening and weekend event parking. Parking there and riding a train back and forth to the stadiums or the U-District could really increase ridership. I know the folks could just take a bus, but a lot of people feel uncomfortable riding a bus at night, but don’t mind riding a train.

  8. Good article, although a bit depressing. I was ready to fight the good fight against the parking, but like you, I see no alternative.

    This might be a minor point, but I think you have your neighborhoods or your route numbers wrong. The 66 and 68 don’t go through Pinehurst. They go through Maple Leaf. The 41 and 348 go through Pinehurst. This brings up a couple of interesting points.

    If the bulk of the park and ride users are from Maple Leaf, then the demand will go down as soon as the train is built. If you live in Maple Leaf, then it makes some sense to drive north to Northgate, and then take the express bus downtown. Once the train is built, that is silly. You can just go south to the other park and ride (and Roosevelt) or take one of the buses which will take you there. If they don’t go often enough now, they could certainly do so in the future.

    If the bulk of the users are from Pinehurst, then these folks aren’t taking the 41 or 348. The 348 is a small bus which doesn’t travel very often. The 41 is the opposite. It travels quite frequently from Lake City to Northgate. It could certainly go more often, though, which would make it resemble the 44. It could do so by just skipping the “Northgate to downtown” section. In other words, Metro could just do a re-route, and not add any service, and greatly decrease the need for the park and ride. Given the number of folks in the Lake City area that would love to ride the train, this seems quite likely.

    The bigger question, given adequate, if not great service to Northgate, why people drive there instead of taking the bus. The obvious answer is time. Oddly enough, both drivers and buses suffer the same thing close to Northgate. It gets really bogged down there. It sometimes takes the 41 more time to travel the last few blocks to the station than it does to get from Lake City to 5th. I don’t have a magic solution, but if there is some way for the buses to travel faster than the cars, then demand for the park and ride will be reduced dramatically. Maybe bus lanes are in order.

    1. You can just go south to the other park and ride

      What other P&R?

      From all discussions I’ve heard, the 41 will live on at current or expanded service levels, of course shedding its NGTC-Downtown segment.

      The bigger question, …[is] why people drive there instead of taking the bus.

      Cuz the connections suck? Look at the area west of I-5. If you aren’t near College Way, driving makes a lot more sense. If you’re south of, say, 125th (a reasonable walking distance to the 41) and east of Roosevelt, your only options are 66/67 (a bit of a walk east of Roosevelt) or 68 (takes forever due to going up to Northgate Way).

      1. A flat, shortish walk, five minutes at the most. Longer than a park n rider is accustomed to perhaps, but well within the distance of an ordinary station area.

      2. I’ll admit to never having been west of Roosevelt Way NE on NE 65th in my recollection.

      3. Actually I’m rather suppressed how many spaces there are at the 65th & I-5 P&R, 411 according to metro and another 125 at the nearby church.

  9. Regarding the bridge, I think the pedestrian bridge has great value, regardless of what we do with regards to parking. Not only that, but it would be of great value right now. It makes housing on both sides way more valuable. If you lived at Thornton Place and went to school at NSCC, you would walk over the bridge (instead of waiting for a bus, driving around or riding your bike up and down the hill). It also makes for a great bike route through the area (connecting both sides without busy roads or hills). Bus routes could be altered and simplified to support one side or the other. In other words, a bus could cut over from Aurora and stop next to campus and then head back to Aurora. The same would be true for buses on the other side. This would mean that if you wanted to go from say, Maple Leaf to Shoreline, you would take a bus to Northgate, cross the bridge, then take a bus that goes up Aurora. That would be much faster than taking a bus that serves Shoreline and Northgate.

    From a political standpoint, I think we have been going about this all wrong. We (and I include me in this) have been saying “don’t build parking, build a bridge instead”. But as you point out, it isn’t that simple. I think a better approach would be “OK, if you insist on parking, at least build us a bridge”. At this point, that seems like it would be a far more successful approach to take.

    1. It would be plausable if there’s money for both. But if the parking garage costs $15 million, the bridge costs $10 million, and we only have a combined $15 million available, we end up not getting the bridge.

      1. Minimum the parking garage is $20 million. Amazing coincidence the quoted price for a bridge is exactly the same. Somebody had the answer and worked backward. The bridge should be in rough numbers about $500K. If it was a private company building it on a corporate campus it would be more like $200k.

    2. The last paragraph sounds great, but who’s “you”? Sound Transit has an obligation to provide replacement parking. The mall tenants don’t have an obligation to do anything. Sound Transit wants to build a bridge but doesn’t have the money. So who’s the “you” you’re bargaining with?

    3. Regarding the bridge, I think the pedestrian bridge has great value

      I don’t think many people would disagree.

      If you lived at Thornton Place and went to school at NSCC

      Who the hell can afford $1,200 for a Studio while going to school at a CC?

      a bus could cut over from Aurora and stop next to campus and then head back to Aurora

      That sounds like an incredible waste of time.

      But as you point out, it isn’t that simple.

      Of course not. There’s no money to build a bridge.

      1. Who the hell can afford $1,200 for a Studio while going to school at a CC?

        Maybe not a studio but it’s not unlikely a spouse or child might be living with family and attend NSCC. I’m almost retired and looking at classes at Lake Washington because they offer things I’m interested in learning… or relearning as the case may be.

        There’s no money to build a bridge.

        There’s no money for the 520 segment from Montlake to I-5. Is that stopping anything?

      2. There’s never any money to build anything, until you start building it and it’s too late to stop. :)

        As Bernie said, not everyone attending community college is just out of high school. Many people are “lifelong learners”; maybe they’re taking classes part-time to try to get into a new field, or maybe they’re just curious.

        Also, I’ve been consistently surprised by the number of people who live in fancy new buildings despite having very little money. The key is that they have roommates (and I don’t mean suitemates). You can fit 5-6 people in a 2BR if you try (2 per bedroom, 1 for the common room), and many people do.

  10. First off, I’d like to thank you for the time and effort you spent on getting the big picture here. Unfortunately you posted it at the same time that this most recent monorail ‘plan’ was announced, so isn’t getting the attention/discussion it deserves.

    On topic, I have to say that you have pretty much convinced me that a garage is inevitable at NTC. So now the questions are how much, WHERE (as far as reasonable IMO), and in what form.

  11. This whole thing is very depressing. Why is enough parking capacity for everyone who could possibly want to be able to train be able to drive there considered a must-have, while safe, comfortable bike/pedestrian access to the station is considered merely a nice-to-have?

    1. Maybe it’s not about the train? There is a demand for parking currently at Northgate. That demand is only going to increase with light rail. Mitigation for Transit Oriented Destruction is mandated.

  12. I’m still baffled why we’re working backwards towards an outcome. I asked for the mode split of the 15,200 boardings per day and so far have nothing. What’s the point of figuring out how many parking spaces you want, before you know how many you think you will need?
    This really does matter, as there are no provisions for increase bus throughput in any of the plans, and NGTC bus bays are really full sometimes. The walkshed is finite, so they mostly get there on a bus or in a car or don’t get there at all.
    Which is it going to be?

    1. “I asked for the mode split of the 15,200 boardings per day and so far have nothing.”

      Why don’t you make yourself useful and ask someone who actually works on the project.

    2. Sound Transit is not going to significantly expand the total amount of parking at Northgate. This discussion is not about how much parking is “needed” to reach some ridership “target”, it is about how best to provide required parking mitigation during and after construction.

  13. I just wrote a post about this on the bike blog:

    Another parking mitigation option to consider: Adding on-street parking to 1st and/or 5th Avenues NE flanking the current parking lots. This could create hundreds of parking spaces both for the temporary and permanent displacement issues. And it would improve the walking/biking environment and decrease car crashes, goals the city holds already. And it costs comparatively nothing (maybe $100,000 max, depending on scope of the redesign).

    Daily traffic volumes on 5th Ave NE are less than 23,000, which falls within the city’s guidelines for three-lane roadways (currently, it is five w/o any parking). I don’t know the traffic numbers for 1st Ave NE.

    Plus, as this post points out, the largest group of parkers live within 1.5 miles of the Station. adding parking will improve the pedestrian environment by making it possible to create new safe crosswalks (currently impossible). This would help make some of those car trips disappear entirely while simultaneously easing parking displacement costs. That’s win-win-win. Oh, and you save like $14 million…

    1. 1st Ave NE will have plenty of disruption during North Link construction. On-street parking there might mitigate some of the permanent displacements, but many of the temporary displacements are right along 1st Ave.

  14. My proposal: put the added parking on the west side and attach it to the pedestrian bridge, while connecting the pedestrian bridge to the Mall etc. Add the proposed street parking as well.

    Talk the private parties into accepting less parking in exchange for *better located*, *better distributed* parking which allows for easier access to their locations.

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