John Niles and I definitely disagree about the significance of current Link ridership to the project as a whole, but I’m for adding more people and this is a constructive question:

If Sound Transit were to have an incremental 50 million dollars (pick a number) to invest in either (1) additional parking at Tukwila Station or S 200th Station, or (2) TOD at any light rail stations of its choosing from Husky Stadium to S 200th, which investment would provide the largest increase in light rail ridership?

Follow-up question, which investment would most meet the intent of regional public policy?

Additional follow-up question, which investment would be best for the sustainability of the region and the planet?

and in a later comment:

I’m pretty sure that providing as much parking as possible at Tukwila or the new S 200th station with giant promotion of its availability would drive up Central Link ridership more than anything else Sound Transit could do. But let’s discuss if that’s the right thing to do.

The shame of it is that Sound Transit itself has little power to do anything at this point. There were multiple decisions in the period 1995-2005 that could have dramatically improved 2012 ridership1, but now most of the power lies with Metro and the City of Seattle.

In terms of small-bore things ST could do today, Mr. Niles is posing in the first case an empirical question. I don’t have at hand decent planning assumptions for cost per space, new rides per space, cost per housing unit, and new rides per housing unit, but perhaps readers do.

However, I’d add three more possibilities. One is improving operations, getting true real-time information and/or paying Metro to take some buses out of the DSTT. These measures would reduce perceived or actual travel time, respectively, which the formulas say will boost ridership.

A cheaper option is to truncate buses at Rainier Beach, which would simultaneously boost Link ridership, reduce ridership on those routes, and free up resources for new service. Boosting Link ridership by cutting overall system ridership is counterproductive but oddly politically attractive2; whether new bus service would cancel out the losses is another empirical question.

Lastly, charging for parking ought to be both at least revenue neutral and improve ridership.  A nominal parking charge will drive some people away, and induce others to endure the inconvenience of a bus transfer, carpool, or walk to the station. At lots limited by supply, others that have no plausible option but to drive will suddenly have spaces available, turning them into system users.

1That’s a whole different post.
2Because approximately zero people care about ST Express ridership numbers.

178 Replies to “Improving Link Ridership”

  1. Thanks, that very first question has helped change my thinking. I’ve always been a fan of TOD but I’ve always thought it must include a parking garage (preferably hidden behind commercial and under commerce or residential, but considering the fact that I know of no such thing in the areas I’m familiar with, forcing me to choose really helps me to pick the right choice (not the choice that benefits me).

    1. living on graham street for the last two years I would have loved a station there. Anything is better than riding the 7!

      1. I am not sure about that. They did build the street and tracks at Graham so that they could add a platform.

      2. Right? I mean if we can build the entire SLUS line for $50 million, how much more can an infill station cost? One would assume (and certainly hope) that station design in the valley is fairly cookie cutter now.

  2. If ST wants to build a park & ride facility on the LINK route, the best location is likely somewhere in the Boeing Access Road/Metro South Base vicinity. There’s close access to the freeways, plenty of available land and the buses would have a shorter commute to/from base. Rainier Beach Station is not the place to do it.

    1. I would agree with this, except there aren’t any stations anywhere near that base.

    2. He’s talking about the cancelled Boeing Access Road station or the unofficially proposed S 133rd St station. BAR would have been where Sounder/Amtrak cross underneath the road. 133rd is near a Metro base, the 150 could be rerouted to meet it, and there’s underused industrial space around it that may be suitable for a P&R.

      1. I’ve been thinking about the Boeing Access Road Station. If they could find funds to rebuild I-5 through the area, you could add a HOV stop on one side of the LINK station, and a Sounder stop on the other side of the station. Another good spot for an HOV station would be at Southcenter for transfers to the RR “E” or is it F line connecting the airport to the Sounder station via the LINK staiton, Southcenter, and the proposed freeway station.

    1. [comment policy whining] Park and Rides should be seen as the great olive branch between all sides, instead this blog demonizes them and anyone that uses them. The reality of it is, public transit isnt nearly as convenient for folks in the vast majority of our metro area to walk from their house to a bus/rail stop. Park & Rides make up the difference tremendously. Remember that about 1/3rd of Link is currently a suburban commuter system, and without the Tukwila P&R you just won’t get the riders. I can imagine I’ll be flamed for thinking out of the box but its reality, say what you want about the merits of P&R’s, but the induced ridership speaks for itself in the burbs. And you can attack the concept of suburbanism all you want, but remember that this is a capitalist society where value matters. To the AVERAGE dual income family with a kid or two, a suburban home with a yard and covered garage parking is more desirable than an urban dwelling that costs twice as much.

      1. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that “this blog” demonizes P&Rs. Please link to a few examples.

      2. Honestly, this blog used to be one where there was good discourse and equal thought put to both sides of transit policy. Clearly we are all here because we all are interested and concerned about discussing transit topics and policies. But when only certain view points are included, that represents a problem to providing a vibrant discussion.

        Per the war on P&R’s
        “This forms a good basis for the generic argument against park and rides. Ultimately, using transit funding to build parking subsidizes automobile use and subsequently cheapens the cost of driving. It would be nefariously ironic if that happened on behalf of our efforts to diminish the marginal cost of transit. Added parking to attract drivers also encourages more car trips that don’t really go in the way of decreasing the SOV share. As long as those vehicle trips remain, the congestion will still be there, whether on highways, major arterials, or local surface streets.”
        I think you may respond saying “well, in that situation, a P&R should not be allowed.” Fine, but broad-brushing all P&R’s is a bit of a stretch. Saying they only provide ridership for commuters is probably pretty much true. But transit stops near colleges/universities are only providing a ride for students who are probably avoiding expensive parking costs on campus, so is that really any better?

        There are others but then there was 1 very level headed post by Ben a while bakc which I applaud as it represents the best grasp of the reality of park and rides I’ve seen on here…


        Maybe the best way to put it is that park and rides belong adjacent to freeways (where most are). The land in those areas is generally not desirable to live and it provides a convenient use for folks commuting. Yes its true that it does not provide midday use generally, but I’m still confused why thats such a terrible thing? If the density doesn’t exist to provide a stop in neighborhood X, why not have folks pay to get their way to a park and ride. If 2/3rds of the 1000 spots at Issaquah Highlands P&R ride either 218/554 to Seattle to commute, thats ~670 cars off of I-90 per day or 335,000 yearly trips. Thats about 16 runs of busses nearly full (sometimes SRO) keeping roads just a bit clearer for folks who choose to drive and freight.

      3. First off P&R around Link are different than P&Rs served by more commuter oriented bus routes.

        P&R are good for building commute related ridership on bus routes into regional centers, when land values are cheap and the surrounding land use patters aren’t able to support transit service level from walk up trips only. Benefits in ridership are fast, but max out and have no positive externalities or multipliers. This is very different than around Link stations.

        Link is a huge investment both in terms of service and capital expenses. A single Link station will drawf the ridership of commute oriented, P&R fed bus routes as I described above, and thus structured parking is needed. This is where the P&R model fails. It’s simply too expensive to build a $15-20k parking stall to increase your ridership by 1 rider, which then also precludes the construction of housing, commercial or office spaces. There simply is a huge lost opportunity cost with structured parking around Link stations.

        If the end goal of transit agencies is to maximize ridership of their investments it’s much more financially sustainable for agencies to push a land use based solution, which is essentially free, over building parking, which cost money and once the lot is full, all benefits are capped out.

      4. How are the P&R’s different for link? I wouldn’t really call Tukwila Station a “vibrant, walkable area”; it’s surrounded by car rental lots and long term parking lots.

        Is that what a parking stall really costs? 15 to 20k? I’d like to see some numbers behind that. While I’ll agree that parking stalls max out, so do apartments. You could probably fit 200 stalls in the same area of 20 apartments. Maybe 160 of those stalls are used by rush hour commuters, in the same way, 15 of those apartments are probably used by commuters who will make 2 trips on the system typically.

        Another question I have is, you contrast link and commute hour busses, but link is more heavily used during rush hour…correct? Sure link CAN transport more riders, but it also costs much more. It would be an interesting metric to run a cost-per trip including maintenance and capital costs for rush hour link vs rush hour bus and P&R.

      5. The examples you provide are a long way from demonizing. I’d offer also this:

        There are twelve different staffers here with somewhat different opinions. I’d say, in general, when there’s the possibility of really dense development we’d prefer that to parking spaces. But we’ve hardly been critical about the P&Rs ST is planning to build in the outer reaches of Link, to say nothing about the tons of bus P&Rs that are all over the county.

      6. I think you’re completely missing my point. Tukwilla isn’t walkabout but that is because ST built a parking lots right next to the station. Large scale TOD, in could takes non-walkable areas and transform it into a walkable area. You can’t do that with parking lots everywhere.

        See page 2 for structured parking cost. http://www.vtpi.org/tca/tca0504.pdf

        As for the number of trips you get out of a parking space vs housing/retail/commercial just go to any P&R during the middle of the day and then go to a mix-used neighborhoods and tell me with a straight face that the parking lot had more activity. Activity equals trips.

      7. Martin, you’ve proved my point. Dissapointed this blog has become so slanted. Apologies for the rants, but this post and the slanted questioning really, not so much the first, but more the 2nd and 3rd. Of course the answers to those are obvious, but at the same time you make a huge assumption that you build it, people will come. And while its true they will, are you sure they won’t bring their vehicle also? TOD hinges on folks living close to public transit so that they reduce their vehicle usage…what if its only 25% reduction in trips via SOV? If someone makes 4 trips a day via car, they would only use transit for 1 of those. I don’t think the numbers yet exist to show those trends.

        I guess I understand your point but can you provide a quid pro quo example where magically overnight an existing P&R could be swapped for a TOD development and get the same ridership? S. Bellevue? Eastgate? Northgate?

        Also, this isnt a clean swap, yeah provide TOD at Park and Rides but you will kill ridership without P&R stalls at suburban locations.

      8. you will kill ridership without P&R stalls at suburban locations.

        Imagine Metro route 666. Instead of collecting fares you have to hand out $5 bills as people board to create ridership. Would you keep that route? It’s not anti P&R, the issue is providing a costly ammenity to a small number of riders for free. I understand why we do this for the disabled but explain why we should do it for the auto enabled. Maybe Metro should expand ParaTransit to AutoTransit.

      9. Goodluck,

        I suggest you look at Canada for some examples where PR’s were replaced by TOD.

        It is my understanding that the modus operandi in several Canadian cities was for private developers to operate park-and-rides, and when the economics were right, they then coverted to TOD.

      10. “Is that what a parking stall really costs? 15 to 20k?”

        Yes, it does, and more. Bernie got me interested in this by griping about how much East Link’s South Bellevue station will cost. I don’t recall those numbers but I wrote up a piece about the cost of adding parking to Bellevue’s library here. These numbers are not unusual. Mercer Island P&R parking spots are around $40,000 each, Redmond around $27,000, etc… The numbers aren’t hard to find and are remarkably easy to calculate.

        I personally don’t have a problem with well-sited Park & Rides, but you do have to recognize their cost. At some point, we need to start charging a fee to manage peak demand. You’ll be hard pressed to charge enough to make them pay for themselves. I’ve seen at least one survey that show a dramatic dropoff in potential P&R usage with just a $3 parking fee.

    2. I have no idea what I’m responding to, but it seems to have been a trollish comment about providing free parking at train stations.

      I’d prefer market-based pricing on the spaces, but that doesn’t seem to be where Metro and ST want to go.

      There are other options, of course, such as providing more HOV parking spots than they think will be used, until those spots fill, and then increasing the number of HOV spots. There could be HOV 3+ spots, HOV 4+ spots, etc, with each section growing as usage increases. A couple attendants watching the lot, with cell phone cameras in hand, could do a pretty adequate job of patrolling the lot during morning peak hours.

      Someone mentioned Auto Transit and paratransit. Actually there is something to that… Have sufficient spots reserved for cars with disabled parking stickers. And don’t just stop there. Spots reserved for senior RRFP holders might be a politically astute option. In all cases, have the attendants log the usage, and report the need for increased slots.

      That goes for the bike lockers and bike racks, too. The space of one parking stall can hold a whole bunch of bikes, and several bike lockers (which bring in revenue).

      So, if Metro and ST won’t touch the idea of market-based rationing of parking, HOV- and needs-based usage rationing might achieve a similar effect of getting more riders out of the same number of stalls.

  3. Ugh. Ridership should not be the primary goal of Link. We’re building a region here, and transit is a tool in its construction. If we end up with a million people driving from the middle of nowhere to park in big Link parking lots, we have lost.

    Ridership numbers can make great politics and terrible policy.

    1. Hmmm…maybe I don’t understand then. If ridership is not the goal, then what is it?

      Frankly my main grievance with Link at this point is just how slow the construction is taking. It’s still going to be a decade before we reach points north of Husky stadium. And I honestly don’t understand the Husky station. Maybe someone can explain it to me. It doesn’t seem like it really serves UW all that well. I guess it’ll allow faculty, staff, and students to live along the line. But it doesn’t serve the U-district or U-Village. I’m also curious to see how transfers across the bridge are going to workout. Husky Stadium is already a massive parking lot. I don’t think much TOD can go up there as it is. Can/Will these parking lots around the stadium be used as a park and ride? I think the answer is no, but maybe I’m wrong.

      I live in NE Seattle (not exactly Capitol Hill, but hardly in the middle of nowhere) and the only walkable option to getting downtown takes a freakin’ hour! That’s just flat out ridiculous. The actual fastest way downtown is to _drive_ to the Northgate Transit Center and take the 41. If the Express Lanes are in our favor this is a great way to go. If not, then we are just a bus stuck in traffic since I-5 south from Lake City Way to the Bridge is a mess at almost any point in the day on any day of the week (this has always perplexed me). So if I had $50 million dollars I would totally selfishly ask that there be parking at Husky station so I could park and ride there, at least for the next decade until it moves further north.

      1. Think of it as the Health Science and UW Medical Center station. As for serving the campus it’s just as likely to be closer to someones first class as Brooklyn. It’s also right next to Hec Ed which has a number of events throughout the year not limited to just sports. And of course Husky Stadium is the largest stadium in the Pacific Northwest.

      2. “It doesn’t seem like it really serves UW all that well.”

        That’s because the university refused to allow any stations in the middle of campus. The university (being a state institution) is a higher public entity than Sound Transit, so ST couldn’t use eminent domain to force a station at the HUB. The university is shooting itself in the foot, doing a disservice to its students and staff, and will have a lower percentage of people arriving by transit than it could have had. The same thing occurred in Washington DC where Georgetown didn’t want a metro station so it went around the area, and now the university and commercial area people wish they didn’t have to walk as far to the nearest station. Fortunately, the Husky and Brooklyn stations are closer to the center of the U than the DC situation.

      3. The Husky Stadium Station will presumably also be used to facilitate transfers between Eastside to UW bus routes for those riders wishing to go downtown, Capitol Hill etc, which could potentially significantly improve service between the eastside and both downtown and the U-district.

      4. For anyone willing in Northeast Seattle willing to bike down the Burke-Gilman trail to access Link, the Husky Stadium station will result in a HUGE improvement in travel time to downtown over any existing bus service today. For airport trips that involve carrying a lot of luggage, a large percentage of the north Seattle population will be within a $10-15 taxi ride of this station. A short taxi ride (even both ways) followed by Link to the airport is far cheaper than driving to the airport and parking.

        Furthermore, the Husky Stadium station will be extremely useful for people traveling to Husky football games.

      5. Alex: Presumably it would. However, if you read the WSDOT documents, it’s clear that they aren’t even interested in preserving good connections for routes that *terminate* at UW, let alone for through-routes.

        In any East Coast city, we would be building UW as a multimodal facility with a turnaround loop and layover point for buses. All the 520 buses (except during peak) would originate and terminate at that stop. There would be a direct connection (no intersections) from 520 to that stop, much like there is from 90 to the bus tunnel. Anyone who asked for a 1-seat ride would be laughed at.

        Instead, the “official” plan is that, off-peak, buses will surface at the Montlake lid, stop, cross Montlake Blvd traffic, and continue to downtown. The end result is a slower ride from Montlake to downtown than the direct-connection scenario, and a terrible transfer to Link for anyone heading anywhere else.

        I would be actively fighting to change this, if I thought there was a chance in hell I could make a difference…

      6. For a lot of students, faculty, and staff UW station is no further from their classes or offices than the Montlake parking lot or the lot/garage they would be assigned to if they paid for permit parking.

        I doubt the UW will encourage use of their parking for LINK commuters, but they do have day-use pay parking in the Triangle Garage, the Montlake lots (E1), and the lots around Husky Stadium, Hec Ed, and the IMA. Perhaps some NE Seattle commuters will find paying for parking at the UW and riding LINK beats driving all the way downtown and paying for parking there.

    2. Parking garage and park-n-ride LRT stations are much like bus transit centers. Both dedicate land to motor vehicles which counter-intuitively limit transit oriented development.

      To remedy the conundrum, many transit centers could and should be downsized to single short line circulator bus routes that frequently (every 2 to 5 minutes) serve the nearest existing and developable districts. Peripheral bus lines may then be streamlined to cross the circulator and affect convenient transfers. This design concept reduces or eliminates circuitous, duplicitous routing of buses to transit centers; makes long-distance bus trips quicker; allows parking the double-duty to serve transit patrons and commercial district needs; allows a variety and smaller scale of parking; and increases developable land area all along the circulator; etc.

      For these sort of suggestions I am labelled a transit traitor by smart ass Seattlers, some of whom have diplomas to prove to themselves and their pot head cohorts that their ideas are better and other ideas should be ignored. The entire Metro/ST transit system is so poorly designed and overbuilt, I long ago concluded it operates too many buses and not enough at the same time; another conundrum of waste that Seattle idiots can’t understand.

      1. By adding additional waiting/transfer time to a large percentage of riders who will ultimately transfer to the main bus routes anyways. It seems to me it is more efficient to route the bus lines to the station and make transferring less of a penalty.

  4. $50 million worth of parking garages would go a lot further to increase ridership than the same amount into TOD, but the follow-up questions seemed designed to elicit a different answer.

    1. That’s absurd. That $50 million is a revolving amount. Initial amount to start TOD. Sell it at market rate, increase the pot of money, reinvest. It’s like magic. That builds demand over the long-haul. Not 12-hour, ~5-day a week P&R. (And this is coming from a P&R user–though not for long.)

  5. In keeping with the questions being asked:
    1. It’s a loaded question: TOD anywhere along the line or parking on the extremity of the line does not account for geography which any Realtor will tell you are the three most important reasons (location, location, …). A $50 mil apartment complex, built on the public dime at Beacon Hill will likely attract mostly car free rail riders making multiple trips per day. OTOH, a free space in SeaTac nets you about 1,500 more daily riders, once a day, assuming the spaces all fill up. TOD wins in that stacked up case.
    2. Public policy is not served by ST going into the real estate business. It’s not part of their charter, was never presented to the public in that manner and should be left to the free enterprise system. I will say they should make their properties available for TOD so the market can work. Then, nobody has to fork over another $50 million for anything if it makes economic sense. ST cannot be in the business of buying riders to fill the trains. It should happen as a result of good planning and execution. It’s not happening with the initial segment.
    3. TOD is probably more sustainable than continuing to have housing in the suburbs and jobs in the city, with a flood of cars making the trip daily. That said, there are a lot more dynamics at work here that support that system that can and do fill whole books. I’ll stop there.

    1. ST cannot be in the business of buying riders to fill the trains. It should happen as a result of good planning and execution. It’s not happening with the initial segment.

      That’s it in a nutshell. Unfortunately ST is in the business of buying ridership. Massive transit should be built where masses of people want to go; like the airport, downtown, UW, and Northgate. Link’s design is to plunk down stations and then expect to reshape development. By the time that happens we’ll have already doubled the cost of the system in operational subsides. And free parking is an operational subside; a big one!

      1. TOD, when left to market forces seems to happen in spurts, not as some logical conclusion to a land use or station action. It seems that speculation on property around stations occurs well before completion, then that land is sold/or not to the next wave of developers who plop down MF units. Lot’s of that seems to occur without a light rail line.
        MLK is an interesting situation. How many new units have been added within 1/2 mile of each of the stations, now that it’s been running for several years? How many riders per day would that be? (rough numbers OK). How much of that would occur even without LRT? Ballard is a good example of growth and there are no stations anywhere to be found.
        Any Seattle land use planners want to take a shot at this one?

      2. Othello’s vacant parcels would have condos today if it weren’t for the mortage meltdown. Mt Baker would have taken longer because the lots have functioning businesses on them; the “urban village” there is just starting to take root.

        Ballard anticipated the Monorail, and it anticipates light rail someday even if it hasn’t been committed to yet. All of Ballard’s growth is occurring around 15th & Market and 15th & Leary, which can be absorbed into a future rapid transit line. The part of 15th between Leary and Market is full of underused lots which I believe will be the next wave of development. RapidRide D is a kind of stopgap, and with additional investment (greater frequency and speed) it could become more of a TOD anchor.

      3. All of Ballard’s growth is occurring around 15th & Market and 15th & Leary, which can be absorbed into a future rapid transit line.

        Did you perhaps mean 24th and Market instead of 15th and Leary? 15th and Leary has a hulk of a vacant commercial building and the northwest corner of the soulless Ballard Blocks. Meanwhile, there’s a mega block of apartments slated for 24th and Market, a 6-story building one block north (where the bicycle shop is), and another 6-story building a block north of that (where the old public library is).

      4. But we must also recognize that large numbers of people are going many other places than just destinations in Seattle. There are tens of thousands of people that commute to Renton, Kent, Auburn and Everett most often by SOV. Our transit system seems solely oriented to get people into Seattle and not to other major employment centers. Those jobs are never coming into Seattle.

      5. But we must also recognize that large numbers of people are going many other places than just destinations in Seattle. There are tens of thousands of people that commute to Renton, Kent, Auburn and Everett most often by SOV. Our transit system seems solely oriented to get people into Seattle and not to other major employment centers. Those jobs are never coming into Seattle.

        I know I’m repeating myself, but…

        The problem with cities and mobility is space. If you dedicate less than a certain amount of space to cars, then you have gridlock; if you dedicate more than a certain amount of space, then you have a boring suburb. And sadly, the middle ground is the worst of both worlds — a place where there’s too much car space for a vibrant urban environment, but not enough for easy mobility.

        Unless I’m missing something, Renton simply doesn’t have the space constraints that downtown Seattle does. And if it does, they’re only during a few hours each weekday.

        In contrast, transit infrastructure gets used 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. The closest we’ve come to building anything peak-only are the express lanes, and I think we can all agree that transit would flow much better on I-5 if there were all-day HOV lanes instead of the reversible express lanes.

        In a very real sense, the amount of money we have to spend on transit infrastructure is scarce. Let’s not waste it on infrastructure that will only see active use for less than 20 hours a week.

      6. Kyle S: Ballard is difficult because it’s arranged in a triangle (15th, Leary, Market). A straight bus route can serve only two of those corners. Fortunately 24th is within a 10-minute walk of 15th.

        Aleks: not sure what you mean. So people in the suburbs should just drive, and we shouldn’t give them all-day transit? Peak-only service can partly address the congestion problem: those who find transit running during both directions of their trip can use it. But it does little to promote general transit use or reduce car dependency, because you still have to take a car if you’re going somewhere after work or you have to leave in the midday.

      7. Mike: I’m not saying that suburbs shouldn’t have transit. What I’m saying is that, given limited resources, building infrastructure to get people from one suburban P&R to another is a very poor use of those resources. If you’re going to drive to the P&R, you might as well just drive the whole way; we have the road capacity to spare.

        This is in stark contrast with commuter service to urban villages — for which we don’t have the road capacity to spare. And it’s also in stark contrast with suburban transit centers designed as transfer points rather than P&Rs, which are useful to people who don’t have a car.

      8. I always thought P&Rs should be located right at the edge of where traffic gets unpleasant. Not further out, not closer in….

    2. Public policy is not served by ST going into the real estate business. It’s not part of their charter, was never presented to the public in that manner and should be left to the free enterprise system. I will say they should make their properties available for TOD so the market can work. Then, nobody has to fork over another $50 million for anything if it makes economic sense. ST cannot be in the business of buying riders to fill the trains. It should happen as a result of good planning and execution. It’s not happening with the initial segment.

      Interestingly enough the fact that the transit companies are also in the real estate development business is why so many Asian systems are able to operate at a net profit to capital and operating costs.

      We used to do this in the US as well when developers built streetcar lines to their new developments. This is what gave so many cities “streetcar suburbs”. Often these are still some of the most desirable neighborhoods in their respective Metro areas.

  6. For ridership, assuming no matching funds in either scenario,the answer is simple, parking wins hands down. Assuming about $50,000 per stall (a high estimate, but produces a nice round number) and assuming you would fill those spaces (highly likely) you would get a boost of 1,000 riders per day, for 2,000 round trips for your $50,000,000 investment.

    Lets assume you can build a TOD complex with approximately 333 units for $50 million (about $150k each) and houses 3 people per unit for a total of 1,000 residents. And assuming a 40% of the residents use transit for at least one round trip per day (a high estimate), would result in 800 round trips per day.

    You’ve discovered that building parking for a transit rider is cheaper than building an apartment for a transit rider. Not a huge epiphany here – parking is cheaper.

    However, in the second case, you’ve provided housing, and theoretically services if the development is mixed use, that is much more accesible to transit and is more walkable – and the $50 mil is much more likely to garner partnership investment for TOD.

    1. The hole in your analysis is that the apartments will generate some income, either rent or sales. How much depends on the agency’s willingness to ignore affordability imperatives.

      1. Yes. We can assume people will buy most all of those units at around our cost. We then have that same $50M to build another 800 riders. Etc. Good luck doing that with free or cheap parking.

        Not that it’s necessarily ST’s job to build housing. But it’s certainly a better deal than building parking.

      2. The other hole is that commuter only travel once per day. Dwellers make many trips per day (5-7??), so are likely to use transit at least twice or more often as a park and rider. And yes, the apt generates rent, the P&R doesn’t.

      3. A P&R should be generating rent. Building something and giving it away is a policy decision. How much of the construction cost and maintenance cost has been recouped at Overlake Village? Even with multiple trips, and 7 sounds absurdly high, it’s more than offset by the fact the majority of the apartment dwellers will use cars as their primary trip generator. Unless you want to overwhelm on street parking you have to build parking stalls and apartments. The idea floated with South Kirkland is that the parking will do double duty. That is the residents will park there in the evening and the stalls will be available for P&R use during the day. That tells you something about the expected transit bump from this transit oriented development. Basicly doubles the car traffic and is a wash for transit use. Epic fail because the people planning it are spending other peoples money.

      4. I agree Bernie, but that seems to never actually happen. In any case you’re far more likely to recoup constructions costs with a building than a lot.

      5. Chaz I don’t think you understand how a TOD fund would work. Money in the fund is used to finance projects (just like a loan), with the projects then pay the fund back over their lifetime. This creates a cycle in which the profits of development are then funneled back into more development, which makes more money. It creates a virtuous cycle.

    2. A giant parking lot almost certainly has a negative multiplier effect on transit riders, while a TOD complex has a positive multiplier—as suggested by your last comment. In particular, I much more likely to take a trip to visit a restaurant at the TOD complex than I am to take a trip to go visit a giant parking lot. That’s probably a HUGE effect actually.

      It’s also true I am much more likely to walk down a block past a row of store fronts to a transit station than navigate past (or though!) a giant parking lot to catch a ride. It’s substantially more pleasant.

    3. Actually, the fatal flaw in your analysis is completely ignoring the network effect. You computed only the number of outgoing riders at the station, but completely forgot the incoming riders from the 17 other stations. If you build a parking garage then your calculation is probably pretty close to the truth–nobody from the other 17 stations will want to come visit. But, if you build TOD (i.e, things to do), then suddenly you generate new riders from the other 17 stations.

      Actually, this is also the mistake that John Niles makes on his website. He has a graph showing the trend line of the ridership on Central Link projected out to 2020. But, even the addition of just two more station could more than double the ridership based on exactly this effect. Capitol Hill and UW happen to be two places with lots of “things to do”, exactly what feeds the network effect.

      1. Important point.

        I’d say a rule of thumb should be that at least *one side* of every station should be non-parking development including commercial, so as to make it possible for the area to be a destination as well as a source.

    4. Chaz,
      You leverage your public funds with private capital from developers at 4-1. Then the $50m is only 20% of the total TOD investment ($250m). Now run the #’s again.

  7. Unlike a lot of people who comment on this blog, I can see the value of Park and Rides. However, the value begins to diminish as the transit system and the neighborhoods progress. Northgate is a great example. I had an argument with a guy on publicola about the Northgate park and ride. He made some good points, but said that a Northgate Park and Ride made sense in part because it was a terminus.

    Here is the thing, it will only be a terminus for a couple years. It is quite reasonable to suggest that lots of people would reduce their driving if they had a fast and easy way to get downtown. For lots of people who live within a couple miles of Northgate, a park and ride would do it. However, it will never be great. There are just too many lights and too much traffic to quickly get to that park and ride. Besides, where are these people coming from? If they live south of Northgate, it makes sense to just go to the Roosevelt station. What about the folks who live to the north? Two years after the Northgate station is built, it will be easier to get to 130th. After that, it will always be easier to get to 130th, whether by bus or by car.

    This leaves a smaller and smaller set of neighborhoods who could really benefit from the park and ride. If you live within about five blocks, you might as well walk. If you live in a dense area (like Lake City) then you will likely be served well by buses (like the 41). As I’ve said before, I could easily see the 41 becoming as frequent, but more reliable than the 44.

    This means that the people who could really benefit from a park and ride are those that are too far from 125th or Lake City (where the 41 runs) and too far from the station itself. Pretty soon, those people will make up a very small minority of the folks that live in that end of town. Does it make sense to spend a bunch of money serving those people, or does it make sense to spend money on other projects? My vote would be for other projects.

    Speaking of which, to quote myself “If you live within about five blocks, you might as well walk.”. That is a key concept. Lots of people want to see tall buildings built so that people can live close to the station. Makes sense to me. One great way that we can get lots of people to live close to the Northgate station is to build a bridge. Once you build the bridge, the folks on the other side would be close to the station. That would be my suggestion for spending the money. Of course, as has been pointed out, Sound Transit’s hands are tied with regards to much of this.

    1. I’m with you on park and rides being a legitimate part of the system. I don’t really object to them in principle, just their placement.

      I think they belong out on the fringes of the system, where local service doesn’t exist and/or is impractical to implement. Northgate was once one of those places, but isn’t anymore. Mountlake Terrace is the new Northgate.

      I’m undecided on if TIB station needs more parking, or if it’s too close in. On the one hand, there’s good N/S service to that station from RRA, but on the other hand all the e/w connections suck. Building more parking there seems like consigning ourselves to the reality that, long-term, we’re never going to fix east/west connectivity, even though it is totally fixable.

      Build a ton of spaces further south, somewhere between Federal Way and Tukwila, where E/W connectivity is much less fixable, and where I-5 commuters from the south can get off BEFORE the 405 interchange.

      1. That’s what some people here don’t seem to understand about P&Rs. You need them because bus service is atrocious in south King County, and on the Eastside south of I-90, and in the gap between Kirkland and Redmond, and around Juanita, etc. We can either build P&Rs or we can add more bus routes and frequency. The Powers That Be have decided that additional bus routes are way too expensive to afford (and would be underused in low-density areas), so we get P&Rs instead. That makes it possible to use transit in cases that would otherwise take an absurd hour or two each direction (including walking a mile to a bus stop and waiting half an hour for a transfer, and taking a taxi on the return trip because the bus has stopped running).

      2. The problem with park and rides (generally) is that they favor short term ridership over long term ridership, which goes against the purpose of making such a heavy investment in grade separated (mostly) rail. With two exceptions addressed below, developing a dense urban neighborhood around the station is the only way to justify building the station. With the Tukwila station in mind, having a large parking surrounding the station causes two problems for creating TOD. The first is that it takes away the most prime real estate for changing the character of the neighborhood to a non auto oriented one (i.e. for TOD). And the second is that it makes the station far less pleasant to be around and walk to and from. These two factors make it far more difficult for a transit oriented neighborhood to develop around the station.

        The only time it makes sense to build a park and ride is if a station is a terminal station, which would both maximize it’s auto shed (as RossB alluded to) and minimize the destructive effect of having a light rail station that is not a destination with shops, jobs, housing and activities.

        The problem with Link is that its being designed as a hub and spoke system with the end of the spokes moving farther and farther south/north. Thus, because there is no long term terminus in mind it becomes difficult to justify placing a P&R at both any current station, as well as any planned stations.

        The other time TOD is not required to justify the rail investment is in the case of airports, which can drive sufficient demand while being largely prohibitive to TOD due to their size.

      3. Not just because of their size, also because most types of development really dislike being next to an airport. Tall development is prohibited, people don’t like residential development anywhere near a flightpath, retail’s almost as discouraged, etc.

    2. Hooray, another ‘Vision Line’ supporter for crossing I-405. They’re coming out of the woodwork now that B7 is dead. Hooda figured?

  8. I don’t ride the Link simply becuase it’s a 40 minute bus ride to the nearest link station and I have to pass most of my destinations to get to the Link station. If you want to increase link ridership, have Link run where people need to go.

    Personally, I love to take the train. A short headway means little wasted waiting time, the ride is comfortable, and the length of time is reasonable. The problem becomes the “last mile” to use the telecommunications term. If I don’t want to visit something that is at the station, I have to decipher the bus schedule, change my schedule to catch the bus, and not take anything large or heavy. So far to many times, I take my car.

    1. That’s the issue for people living in Renton or Kent: it takes so long to ride a bus to Link that the benefit is lost. That just means a single north-south line can’t serve everywhere; you’d need multiple lines or crosstown lines (e.g., Burien-Renton). Link is being built in the maximum-ridership corridors: Pacific Highway, Seattle-Bellevue, etc. (Some think the North Corridor would be better on Aurora, but even on I-5 it captures some of the travel demand.) You can argue that Renton and Kent and wherever you live need a line now, but we can only afford to build so many lines at a time. In some sense, those cities without Link will have to think about how they can contribute to getting Link extended to them, if they want it to happen in the next twenty years.

      1. The irony and tragedy of Seattle mass transit is that I live in Seattle between the Ballard Bridge and the locks, but it takes 30 to 40 minutes after I board my first bus to commute the 4 miles to my workplace. If I drive, it is 10 minutes. Riding my bicycle I can often beat the time from entering the first bus to leaving the last bus, to say nothing of the walking time . Not taking the bus means I don’t have to wait half an hour or more for the bus to arrive at my stop.

        For non-work commute trips, transit is even worse. I want to carry items with me, or go to locations that are not served well by transit. I want transit to work, but my desire for leisure activities creates a requirement for occasional car usage.

  9. Why is 15-minute headway feeder service not an option, if we’re just dreaming? Or are we only considering projects that are a 1-shot expense.

    1. As a follow up, why should TOD cost the agency anything? They could theoretically just sell the development off after it’s built, and recoup some or all of their development costs.

    2. Shorter headway on feeder services are what we need. Why worry about one-seat rides if transfers don’t take 30+ minutes?

      1. If the #347 were 10 or 15 minutes instead of 30 minutes apart, it would make my trip to Northgate much nicer, especially when LINK gets built up to Northgate. Knowing that a bus is going to be there within a few minutes after I get to the stop makes me more willing to take a bus…

    3. Yes, I’m sure Metro would be thrilled to provide 10- or 15-minute feeders to Link stations. The issue is limited money. The folks on the 27 argued that eliminating off-peak service was too much of a sacrifice to increase frequency on Jackson, because they would have to walk up steep hills to get to it. This is just one example of the tradeoffs that occur when your only choice is to redistribute bus hours rather than add more hours.

      1. Isn’t Link going to save Metro hundreds of thousands of service hours they can redeploy elsewhere? Instead, we have Metro failing to adequately serve stations now and being silly in insisting on one seat rides competing with Link.

        As for the 27, dealing with Seattle’s topography is a very legitimate use of transit. People are simply not going to navigate steep terrain to get to/from a bus stop.

      2. Link will save thousands of hours in ten years when North Link and the North Corridor open. Not much until then.

        There are tradeoffs with all those one-seat rides. It’s not Metro being “silly”, it’s weighing the pros and cons of each route. Some like the 27 have elevation issues. Some like the West Seattle routes or the 101 or 150 have travel-time issues. Metro is constrained by what the Council will approve, the Council listens to individuals who prefer the status quo, and voters install Councilmembers who do that. So reorganizing the transit network is inevitably going to take a long time and proceed in pieces. At least it’s two steps forward, one step back, rather than one step forward, two steps back.

  10. Providing parking could serve more individual people, especially if they carpooled but they would be commuters who make one trip to downtown in the AM and one trip out in the PM. That creates a peaking problem for Link with crush loads at commute times and empty trains otherwise. This is why parking is good for commuter rail that operates peak oriented service. But, the parking capacity is absorbed quickly and demands for more resume as soon as someone has to circle for a space.
    Providing TOD may serve less individual people, but it would allow them to make more trips by transit, possibly adopting a car-free or car-light lifestyle that is overall more efficient. TOD would spread demand throughout the day better and would create destinations at outlying stations to generate reverse peak trips, thereby making better use of the substantial investment in LRT.

    1. The answer is what the city and county are doing. Seattle said no new P&Rs or expansions in the city. The burbs are getting P&Rs because there’s no reasonable bus service for many of them to take. In time more density will be built along suburban corridors, which will lead to more bus service, which will lessen the need for those P&Rs, and then they can be redeveloped into TOD.

    2. “crush loads at commute times and empty trains otherwise”

      Crush loads at peak times are unavoidable unless people’s work shifts get more spread out. Trains are not “empty” off-peak: they’re delivering people to evening activities and errands, and a few people work in the evening. ST tried to switch to 1-car trains on weekends but found it couldn’t due to ballgames and such. Or rather, it can run 1-car trains sometimes but it has to be careful about what events are scheduled that day. When ST2 Link is built, it’ll need 2-car trains on the north side at all times, and probably on the south side as well (because more people will take Link to the south side when North Link and East Link open).

      1. I didn’t literally mean “empty.” Bad word choice.

        I do think that, when more frequent service is available, people who can will alter their schedule and spread out demand. At lower frequency less choice, longer trips and greater transfer vulnerability lead people to very particular trips without much room to alter schedule. Those same people are likely to use a different mode when their routine has to change and doesn’t fit that particular trip. I use my car 1 day per week to get done errands that would be ridiculous to cover on transit at low frequency. With more frequent service throughout the day, transit will catch some of those trips rather than seeing them shift to bike, taxi or car. So, I think we agree…&
        Link paying attention to events and tailoring capacity to the need is a demonstration of efficient operations that makes me smile. :)

      2. It’s just that some people do think the trains are empty. There’s Norman, and also my “Save Our Valley” friend who swears he sees trains pass in the evening with nobody aboard. Of course, that just means they’re not visible to him standing on the street or in his car, not that they aren’t there.

    3. I would like to see a system that matches riders and drivers coming in on the same train. This way, people who took an hourly bus to the park-and-ride to meet a train can ride back home with someone who drove and is headed to the same area, rather than being stuck at the station for 59 minutes, waiting for a bus to show up.

    4. Link has good headways, especially given the current line: most hours of operation it’s 7.5 – 10 minutes.

  11. Creating park-and-ride spaces is not a bad thing. Light rail is expensive to both build and operate. The managers of the service have a fiscal obligation to make the rail as productive as possible, and if that productivity includes park-and-ride then it should be supported. While there are other factors, the lack of park-and-ride is mostly why Link has 27K daily riders while St. Louis and Salt Lake City have over 50K. If we want light rail to be a success, we have to look at it more as an expensive operation and not merely some capital facility. I would also note that park-and-ride lots can also be a great way for operators to amass a large land area near a station as a single owner — setting up much better redevelopment opportunities in 20 years. Clearly, even opponents here recognize that TOD is difficult to implement in a piece-meal fashion; TOD becomes overburdened with neighborhood opposition and expensive acquisition of small parcels. It will be much easier to convert a park-and-ride lot to TOD in 20 years than it will be to create a TOD in a neighborhood with small parcels.

    1. I think the “replace a lot in 20 years” argument is a resonable one, but there are some really big problems with it:
      1. The argument only works for flat lots. When you talk about parking structures, we’re sinking money into a long-term investment.
      2. Nothing builds TOD like TOD. Nobody’s going to want to walk through a parking lot to get to a destination. Every year you leave that parking lot there instead of something lively, you lose the opportunity to encourage development nearby.
      3. Good luck finding the political will to take away a large group of people’s parking spaces that have been there for 20 years. You’d be building up your own opposition.
      4. Is anyone going to be around to pick up the project in 20 years? Unless they keep building, ST may be like Metro is now – all operations, no new projects, stuck in the red thanks to rising costs and no political excitement to fight the anti-tax groups. Ok, this will probably take longer than 20 years, but it may happen some day.

      1. It has to be looked at on a subarea basis. South is already derailed with on going O&M and debt. East will be there too under the current plan with rail to Microsoft but no money to get to Redmond. The killer for East Link is that 20 years after it opens ST will be trying to figure out how to finace a replacement for it’s sinking bridge. But we’ll have a legacy multi story parking garage in the swamp :=

      2. In a larger sense, there needs to be different, multiple functions at each rail station. If every rail station was only high-rise apartment buildings it wouldn’t be very functional, or if every station only had high-rise offices or high-rise retail. Each station needs to have a mix of certain functions. Park-and-ride should be looked at as one of those mix components; it can be a building block to increase activity in our wonderful urban locations already on the line — in Downtown Seattle and soon to be in Capitol Hill. I also would think that the Capitol Hill station will be popular most hours of the day, and not just peak hour.

      3. To tack on to what Matt the Engineer said, I think Al S’s argument fails for all those reasons, but also inherently. If an agency can use eminent domain to build a parking lot that facilitates the effective use of the rail station, why can’t (or don’t) they use eminent domain to build TOD the facilitates (much better then the P&R) the effective use of the rail station. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think it points to the really problem with how light rail is being implemented, in that sound transit seems to make little effort to ensure that rail stations maximize their value by maximizing the density and mix of uses (and there more the land value) around the stations.

        Also using the comparison of different uses (residential, jobs, shops etc.) being important to suggest that building parking is sometimes good is a misnomer. All those uses are destinations or ends in and of themselves, whereas parking is only a means to end. Since dense urban areas drive more ridership (and better balanced ridership) than P&Rs, it makes little sense to include P&Rs, particularly when they preclude (as they inevitably do) TOD.

    2. (1) St. Louis Metrolink has been open longer. A lot longer.
      (2) Salt Lake City has built a hell of a lot more light rail than Seattle.

      Apples to oranges in both cases.

  12. Last week, I took LINK into Seattle to attend a concert a Benaroya Hall.

    I could have gone and parked at Kent Station, taken the 4/5 pm Sounder in, but then would have to have taken the 150 milk run back. LINK runs frequently all night.

    Late in the afternoon, I found what was the near to last open space, and that happened to be because someone just left. If I had not found a space, I was fully prepared to just drive into the city and pay $10 for parking at the Hall instead of the $5 round trip for LINK.

      1. Specifically, if they charged, say, $2 a day, it would still have been cheaper than driving into town.

    1. No, I am already paying for transit, so the parking should be free to encourage me to use it.

      This is the Disney Model that I commented on yesterday.

      Ample free and unfettered parking, that exists at external nodes of a dense cluster which can be more vehicle free and walkable.

      Ultimately downtown should be carfree — with little hydrogen powered taxis to ferry people around.

      1. You’re already paying for transit, not parking. The reason you can’t find a spot is because it’s free. Want to build massive parking lots big enough for every car in the city? Fine. But don’t steal money from the transit system to do it.

      2. Metro has a daily ridership of 400,000. Cut that in half assuming most are round tripers and you get 200,000 people . There are less than 25,000 parking spaces. Why should drivers, 12% of the total users be getting this extra incentive for free? In the case of structured parking the parking subsidy is larger than the subside provided to operate the bus.

      3. DC metro does it right — $4.25 daily to park or $65/month; some stations also have metered parking at $1.00/hour. You pay with your smart card (at least for the daily rates). The rates here don’t have to be the same, but charging something for the space would help a little. The stations with parking are typically out towards the ends of the lines, like here.

        Were I to need a P&R at a suburban station, I would gladly pay something if it a) meant I would likely find a spot, and hence could plan the trip knowing that, and b) the rate + transit fare were better than parking downtown…not too difficult to achieve that.

      4. Actually John it would make far more sense for your transit to be free and for parking to cost money. This is because the cost of serving additional transit riders is essentially 0 (until the system is at capacity, which it is far from being) so societal efficiency increases as ridership increases, regardless of whether fares are or are not being paid. However, because parking space is limited, maximum societal efficiency is not achieved if a free parking lot is full, thus it makes sense to charge enough for parking such that only the users who value it most will use the service, but not so much that the lot is used inefficiently (half full etc.).

        This is especially true when considering the externalities of driving verses walking to a station and having parking verses TOD around a station. Driving produces a variety of negative externalities, such as air pollution, oil extraction, and congestion that reduce societal efficiency. In addition, a parking lot reduces the pedestrian friendliness of the station as well as its ability to develop strong long term ridership that only comes from density. In contrast pedestrians present no negative externalities. Thus, if parking is to be provided it should be provided at cost, while transit should be provided for free or for only a nominal fare.

      5. Similar to BART:

        Monthly Reserved Permit Parking is available at most BART stations. Permits are station-specific and cost between $30 and $115.50 per month (subject to change).

        Free parking is like having a free beer and wine coach. In order to qualify to ride in it you have to show title to a luxury sedan or SUV worth a minimum of $30,000.

      6. I know that others have accused you of living in Disneyland, but you don’t have to take it so literally. ;)

        The goal is not to bribe people to use transit. The goal is to enhance mobility in dense urban spaces, which can only be achieved by shrinking the amount of space needed per person per trip.

        In the city, space is a scarce resource. If we price it appropriately, then the right number of people will use transit.

        In particular, there is absolutely no reason we should be subsidizing trips on transit from one P&R to another. In today’s world, transit is a scarce resource too. If there are a limited number of parking spots — and many P&Rs are at 100% capacity — I want to save those spots for people going to urban centers. There’s absolutely no reason we should be subsidizing parking for someone traveling from suburban Auburn to suburban Kirkland, not least because anyone going to the P&R clearly already has a car (thus negating the social-service advantages of transit entirely).

        Let’s say you charge $2 to park at a P&R for the day. That’s still a fantastic deal compared to parking downtown. But it’s a bad deal compared to parking at a free spot in a strip mall. So the suburb-to-suburb travelers will drive, and more spots are freed up for people going downtown. Which brings us closer to your hydrogen-pedicab utopia. Problem? :)

      7. @Alex: If transit were free, it would be over capacity. At least in the city. (For suburban non-commuter routes, it probably could and should be free, and paid for out of the social-service budget rather than the transportation budget.)

        Aside from matching common sense, this is proved in earnest every New Year’s, when most transit agencies across the country make everything free for the evening. They can run twice as much service as normal, and still, every car is packed like a sardine tin.

        Not to mention, many Seattle bus routes (especially the trolleys and tunnel routes) are already effectively running at max capacity. So if you increased the quantity demanded (by reducing price), you simply wouldn’t be able to increase supply by enough to keep up.

        The exception, of course, is Link. Which makes it even more ridiculous that Link often costs more than buses for the same trip. If Link were free in the tunnel, it would make things better in every way: reducing load on the buses, and increasing ridership on the one service that really does have capacity to spare.

      8. Link did cost more than buses but not right now. Link Westlake – Rainier Beach: $2.25. Metro off-peak: $2.25; peak $2.50. Link Westlake-SeaTac: $2.75. Metro Westlake-Southcenter: $2.25 off-peak; $3.00 peak. So Metro is less only for a two-zone off-peak trip. Going a shorter distance, say Beacon Hill – Westlake or Beacon Hill – Columbia City, Link is always cheaper at $2.00.

      9. @Aleks:

        That’s exactly the point. The advantage of rail is that it carry far more people at the same operating cost as buses. But I’d also argue that even for buses free transit could still make a lot of sense. This is because if the route reaches capacity due to the lowered price service frequency can simply be increased, which would have positive benefits to all users and in turn generate more ridership until some well used more efficient point was reached.

        And the idea that buses would be filled with excess riders seems somewhat like a misnomer as buses in the ride free area have some free riders, who are riding a walkable distance because its free but not so many to overwhelm the system. I’m not saying this would be politically viable, but I think it’s a better way to provide mobility in a city then the current system of heavy, but not complete government subsidy for service.

      10. @Alex:

        You can increase frequency sometimes, but not always. Downtown already has too many buses. If you made everything free, and the accompany demand meant that every bus route through downtown had to be improved to 10 minute frequency, the number of buses would simply overwhelm the downtown street grid.

        As far as the RFA goes, you pointed out the flaws in your own argument. :) The RFA captures a small portion of potential riders; many are eliminated because the area is too small. In contrast, the number of users who would choose to take motorized transportation for longer distances is much greater. Therefore, the increased demand on account of the RFA is a *lower* bound the increased demand if the whole system were free, not an upper bound.

        Anyway, in many ways, I agree with you. Just like 520 is toll-free at times of the absolute lowest demand, buses should be fare-free when there’s excess capacity. But that’s a solution that’s mostly applicable for low-demand times (like late nights and Sundays) and low-demand corridors (like local routes in the suburbs), not for the major arterial services that represent most of Metro’s costs and revenue.

  13. Two things come to mind with this discussion.

    First, a park and ride has on-going maintenance and security costs – which will come out of limited operating dollars. The O&M costs can be as high as $1,000/stall/year – it’s not insignificant.

    The other factor in this discussion is when ridership occurs. Ridership from a park and ride is strongly peak oriented. An apartment generates rides throughout the day. Again, it’s not an apples to apples comparison, as both have value.

    1. Wouldn’t an apartment have a similar passenger generation pattern as a park and ride stall? If you leave your apartment to go to work at 8am and return at 5pm, thats it. Sure there are some folks who leave to do errands, come back, more errands, rinse and repeat, but there are likely folks at park and rides doing the same…

      1. I think the assumption is that if you live close to a station, and the system is really good, then you use the system for everything. Many of those people may not have a car. On the other hand, someone drives to the park and ride may only use it for commuting. On weekends, when the traffic is light, they just drive to where they want to go.

        Like you, I’m not so sure about that assumption. Park and ride lots get a lot of use on the weekends. They are especially popular for ball games. They are also used quite a bit for outdoor activities. For example, if three people are carpooling to the mountains, they often meet at a park and ride.

      2. Work trips are around 20 percent of all trips (this varies based on location).

        An apartment will “generate” more trips than an park-and-ride stall (see the trip gen manual if you don’t believe me). Some, not all, of those extra trips are likely to be on transit.

        As for park-and-ride spaces turning over and generating multiple trips throughout the day – that’s a questionable assumption in the Seattle metro area.

        Using park-and-rides to juice peak directional ridership is an option. It’s a horribly costly option given both the actual expense of constructing parking, the O&M, and the lost opportunity cost of that piece of land ever generating any tax revenue.

  14. I think the biggest thing they can do to increase ridership is to add jersey barriers and gates along MLK. This would allow the Link to go 55mph instead of 35mph on that segment. This would make the overall trip shorter by a few minutes, making Link more competitive with other modes of transit to points south.

    1. I think I heard the major reason for Link not being allowed to go above the speed limit along MLK is that it could encourage cars to speed as well, and adding more barriers wouldn’t change that.

      1. Interesting. If true (any source? doesn’t sound right to me), I wonder if we could fix this by reversing the direction of trains to put some space between trains and same-direction traffic.

        Or just spend the money to grade separate, like we should have done in the first place.

      2. If I recall, alex, that was one of two reasons. The other was a push from the police and fire departments to keep MLK barrier-free from curb-to-curb for emergency vehicles.

        Don’t think I buy either reason, but I believe that was ST’s rationale.

  15. Every time I’m on LINK to or from the Airport, I meet airline passengers who tell me they wished somebody had told them about LINK before they blew forty dollars on a cab.

    Next time you’re in the Sea-Tac main terminal, look at the block-long bank of enormous, lighted signs over staffed booths offering rental cars. Transit’s presence? A couple of racks of schedules by a police booth.

    With the communications and contacts available to a regional transit agency, before leaving home, every passenger arriving in Seattle should have LINK come up onscreen with first “Sea-Tac Airport” click. With links to every piece of transit in the region.

    Every Seattle ticket packet should include an ORCA card loaded with a region-wide all-service day-pass and a transit map.

    And quit talking about taking buses out of the Tunnel, and start taking advantage of a system designed to put both modes at convenience of passengers. “Doesn’t work and can’t work” are different than “can’t get it together to make it work as designed.”

    Mark Dublin

    1. Making Link more accessible at the airport would be a good place to spend some of that money. An enclosed moving sidewalk would make the trek somewhat less onerous. And perhaps a redesigned car with an “Airport friendly” decal to indicate that there is actually some place to store baggage for the trip would make sense.
      Skip the parking lots. The point of urban transit is not to drive – period. Let suburban/rural commuters learn to get to other ways and keep their cars out of the city.

      1. Even some large “TRAINS TO SEATTLE –>” signs would probably have huge effects. In Philadelphia Airport, there are monitors next to nearly all the plane departure/arrival monitors saying “Frequent trains to Center City every 15 minutes” or something like that.

        Is there such a thing in Seatac Airport? If not, why not? Someone should bug the Port about that.

      2. There are signs saying “Link light rail” which seem to be well-placed. It’s just that people don’t know what “Link light rail” means. The signs in Chicago say something like “train to city”.

    2. Unfortunately, the ride to the airport is just too slow. I’ve considered it, but realized it was faster to take a shuttle (even though the shuttle takes several passengers along the way, has less flexibility, etc.). In general, I would say that is why light rail hasn’t been more popular (although it is doing fine).

      On the other hand, I expect the UW to Seattle trip to be extremely popular. If you were to design a system without politics in mind, this would be the first thing you would build. The fact that it will be fast will also guarantee its popularity. Metro will be able to change many of the routes that go there and turn them into feeder routes which run more often, increasing ridership even more.

      1. I wonder if Airport travel time is less of a deterrent than the chance you’ll miss a departing flight, especially an international one, due to a collision on MLK?

        I always thought it would have been worth it to build Central LINK with absolutely no grade crossings- either elevated all the way or with traffic overpassed or underpassed at major grade-crossings.

        When one of the airlines was threatening to relocate to King County Airport a few years back, I thought it would be a good excuse to build express track straight south from Lander, rejoining the main line at Boeing Access, with one station at county airport.

        Anybody else think it’ll be a good future idea to add that segment? Might be good for future LINK past Southcenter down the Kent Valley, with major transfer point and big Transit-Oriented place at Boeing Access.

        Mark Dublin

      2. I wonder if Airport travel time is less of a deterrent than the chance you’ll miss a departing flight, especially an international one, due to a collision on MLK?

        Much more likely to miss your flight because of an accident on I-5 or I-405. Like we saw last week when a tanker truck overturn on I-5 southbound in Seattle resulting in gridlock throughout the entire metro area.

      3. “Unfortunately, the ride to the airport is just too slow.”

        Too slow for what? Where are you starting from, and how long should it take? Many UW students travel from the airport to their dorm/frat a few times a year. Currently it takes over an hour (37 min Link + 5 min transfer + 20 min on 71/72/73X + 10 min traffic congestion = 72 minutes). With ST2 Link it will take 45 minutes (37 + 8). For those who say Link is slower than the 194, that’s for the single trip pair downtown-SeaTac. Most people riding the 194 did not live downtown: they transferred downtown. They’re more likely to live closer to other Link stations, and that’s where Link has a travel-time advantage to the airport.

        In any case, if Link turns out to be too slow compared to a previous bus (which I interpret as 10 minutes slower), then keep the bus peak hours when time is money, and eliminate it off-peak where the increased frequency makes up for the longer travel time.

      4. Link-Airport time is just fine. The shuttle express picks you up way too early because of their other stops and like a cab costs $40-55 depending on where you are starting. Driving and leaving your car for X times $14 per day adds up to. As a senior my costs are .75 to the tunnel and .75 to the airport. I’ve got time to wait/sit for the cost of fine dining.

      5. @Glenn, if you’re using an ORCA card with senior permit, your entire trip should only be $0.75.

      6. While I am hungry for U-Link to open, it would work best with the bus routes if Brooklyn Station were ready to open simultaneously. Having to go through route restructures around UW Station, and then for the same routes around Brooklyn Station, will be rather destabilizing to the bus grid.

        I presume UW Station can’t be completed until the TBMs from Brooklyn Station are done. If they start at UW Station, the spoils have to be removed via UW Station. If they start at Brooklyn Station, the TBMs have to be lifted out of UW Station. If just one is used, starting at Brooklyn Station, then the spoils on the return bore still have to be carted out via UW Station. In any case, UW Station has a while to wait before the station can be completed.

        If Brooklyn Station is almost done when UW Station is complete, I’d be happy to wait a few more months.

      7. Brent,
        U-LINK (and UW Station) will be complete in 2016
        North LINK (and Brooklyn) will be complete in 2021

        As part of U-LINK ST is building a TBM retrieval pit North of UW Station and the crossover. Like the current construction of U-LINK doesn’t disrupt the operations of Central LINK, construction of North LINK shouldn’t disrupt U-LINK operations.

        I expect the NE Seattle Metro and ST route re-structures will be minimal as both agencies will have to go through the same exercise again in 5 years. Most of what we see is likely to be spill-over from the Capitol Hill, First Hill, and CD restructures that will most likely happen with the opening of U-LINK (and the FHSC).

      8. Brent … I think the North Link TBMs are going to both head south … the spoils of mining will be removed near Northgate

      9. According to this presentation, there will be two North Link tunnelling contracts, one from the portal to Roosevelt and one from Roosevelt to UW Station. According to the schedule given there, the latter will be done around the end of 2016.

    3. That’s a great observation. Marketing does seem somewhat lacking. Is it a budget issue? Is that part of what’s been cut due to the recession? I wish they would connect with potential passengers in more innovative ways.

      I’d like to see direct marketing by mail too. How many mailers does ST send out about planning meetings? and how many have they sent to describe the services available to residents and business patrons around the existing Link stations? I love the idea to include a day pass to let them try it out.

  16. I am mystified why we’re all so impatient about LINK shaping development patterns. The freeways in our region were built 40 years ago and just like LINK, the development patterns that followed didn’t happen overnight.

    Development patterns take years to adjust, and a couple of generations of development that relies on freeways as the primary means of travel will take time (say a generation or so?) to change.

    My argument would be to take the length of LINK as planned, shorten each leg and increase their number, further concentrating mobility to the center of our region.

    1. Well, for instance, I have an hour-long commute that would take half the time if ST2 Link were finished. Every time I go to Northgate or Bellevue or Lynnwood, it takes two or three times as long because Link isn’t finished. The relatively small number of housing choices within walking distance of Link stations means I have less choice where to live (if I want to live near excellent transit) and the price is higher than it would otherwise be. People with less money than myself can’t afford to live within walking distance of a Link station even though they want to. If I go to Northgate, there are so many businesses within walking distance. When the urban village reaches its maximum size, there’ll be many more choices within walking distance, and maybe less need to go go the burbs for some things. The Lynnwood and Mt Baker urban villages will also increase the number of things within walking distance of Link, and likewise for Roosevelt and Beacon Hill if they build to their maximum zoning and then some. That’s why people are impatient for Link and development to be finished. We’ve been to Chicago and seen how well it works with 3-10 story buildings along many streets, 24 hour trains, and buses every 10 minutes.

      1. The two reasons I suspect people are impatient are:

        First, every day link runs with minimal density around its stations is money down the drain. The sooner that TOD takes place around stations the better. Moreover, look how fast South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, Northgate, and Ballard among other neighborhoods have built up without any good assurance that high speed transit was coming any time soon (i.e. the next 10 years). In contrast properties surrounding Link have had a good 8-10 years to be developed, and while development has occurred it has been limited. Change can’t happen in a day, but, given that 8-10 year time frame, it definitely could be much further along then it is now.

        Second, it appears there is no concerted or coherent policy by Sound Transit to make sure these development patterns happen quickly. Without a concerted effort by public agencies development will be greatly slowed because of NIMBY opposition to zoning changes and because most of the land value changes can only occur if current property owners sell their homes, with refusal to sell lowering the value of the land around the stations and therefore negating the value of the station.

        Yes, change can and will (presumably) occur over time, but each year it takes imposes a variety of costs on taxpayers and society.

      2. Mike,

        Here, here!! I want North Link to be completed faster! I’m 43 years old, living in Shoreline and work near Seattle Center. By the time LINK has reached Northgate, I’ll be around 52 years old and maybe not want to take public transit as often as I do now. Oh, how I wish this had all begun 10 or even 20 years earlier! To be able to take LINK from a few blocks from my home to Northgate, downtown, airport, or even Alderwood Mall and Bellevue Square–that would’ve made my 15-year-old self really happy…

      3. I want the Sound Transit board to reconsider its I-5 alignment decision because it offers ZERO TOD potential. The Aurora alignment offers the potential of significant development along miles of track-way.

        And again, the reasons that I’ve heard mentioned for not doing it boiled down to petty turf wars from Shoreline (we just built these beautiful planters and overpasses) and big box stores (you’ll cut into our precious parking).

      4. We need to move forward, and not waste time relitigating things or risking a breakdown of consensus. The only reason Link is being built is a concurrence of agreement between Seattle, the county governments, the other cities, ST’s board members, and the voters who approved ST1 and ST2. Shoreline has a large say in how Link goes through its city: the other stakeholders will probably defer to Shoreline’s preferences. That partly reflects how Shoreline sees itself, which is unfortunately rather auto-oriented. (But not as auto-oriented as Bonney Lake which refuses to pay for buses.) Shoreline’s vision for Aurora’s transit-oriented redevelopment is about the best you’ll find anywhere in the region: it puts Seattle’s Aurora plans to shame. I wish it were better but, um, you have to go with the governments and public you have rather than the ones you wish you had.

    1. It’s probably not worth the effort, but basically it boils down to not going for more than 0.5% in 1996 and not focusing on Northgate to Sodo first.

  17. They options are not equal. The question is – in those place where development is economically viable from the private sector perspective – whether ST wants to spend $50 million on a park and ride vs. sell the land for a TOD site and reap a sales proceeds. The opportunity costs, if any, being the delta between the ridership generated from the park&ride less revenue from the TOD site and on sites catalyzed by that investment.

  18. expand the system and you’ll get more ridership. 90% of the metro area can’t use it cuz the lines don’t reach the suburbs. Build rail lines to Monroe, Marysville,Covington, Tacoma, Renton, Redmond and Issaquah. With those lines 100% of the metro area has access to that rail network, even if it’s a short drive in the suburbs. All those neighborhoods will have people needing to reach the airport and the Central Line with be so pack with people you’ll be finding ways to ease the mad rush at rush hour. But the line doesn’t go anywhere yet, so the ridership is down. Expand the system!

    1. I think for the most far-flung places like Monroe and Marysville, we HAVE to up the speed to be competitive with driving.

      1. yeah, they have that in other cities. In London, the tube reaches as far as Chesham, and often the tube trains convert to surface rail for Stevenage, Chelmsford etc. But in the tube, the trains pick up speed as they get further away from the city. I know some urban planners are gonna hate building rail all the way out to Monroe and Marysville because it promotes srawl, but people will move out there inevitably, at least that can concentration on the urban cores where there are rural/suburban train stations.

      2. Because it’s privately owned, near capacity and BNSF makes money moving goods not people. Of course the other reason is pathetic ridership. Most people commuting from Monroe are trying to get to the eastside not Everett or Seattle. It would take hours with a bus transfer or two assuming a bus route even comes close to where they work. And really there’s darn few people to begin with. Monroe is only 17,000. Not that many Marysvillites travel into downtown. It’s a community of welders, riveters and mechanics not bankers, lawyers and tech geeks. People seem happy with their outer ring exerbs though. Both cities grew by more the 25% after accounting for annexation. Marysville is now the size of Lakewood at 60,000. Another case of the city moving to the people.

      3. If Link makes it to Everett, the existing express buses can be adjusted to meet it. None of the governments or agencies have contemplated extending Link beyond Everett that I’m aware of. It may be possible to truncate the 422 (Stanwood-Seattle) then. When CT proposed doing it in this last reorg, people complained that the buses were so unreliable around Lynnwood that you could end up there after the last Stanwood bus had already left. With Link that won’t be an issue because the trains don’t have to contend with traffic and run every ten minutes.

  19. IMO, there’s no reason for Beacon Hill not to be an urban center. The Link station to PacMed should be high-rises. Think of the views!

    1. Yes. Beacon Hill probably should have been an urban center even without Link. It’s practically walkable from downtown. It just feels far away because I-5 and I-90 are in the way.

      1. What would be the best way to get transit there now? Can the 12th ave bridge support a streetcar? Can it be replaced? The needs to be an arterial from PacMed south to the VA building.

      2. Maybe some sort of light rail tunnel right under the hill, complete with a deep station and an elevator? Or a 10-minute frequency electric trolley running through two light rail stations and connecting downtown?

        Although a streetcar would be fun and would easily connect to the First Hill streetcar, I think Beacon Hill’s nicely covered for now when it comes to transit.

      3. It’s not even close to “walkable from downtown”. The reason the Columbia Tower and Smith Tower are having such a hard time is because they are outside of the DT core and even farther from the “happenin’ place” SLU. The PacMed building is out in the sticks with no chance of intense development around it. That’s why Amazon bailed and Wright Runstad got left high and dry. Who’s going to be silly enough to build more vacant space next door?

      4. What exactly are you talking about [Bernie]? Here are the urban centers, in yellow. Think Uptown or the U District. Yes, the Commercial Core is yellow too, but we clearly weren’t talking about another Columbia Tower.

        Oh, and I blame bad land use codes and I-5 for the Columbia Tower not being a lively place to be. Are they really having trouble filling it?

      5. Seattle’s office towers filling up, brokers report

        Empty space also is more difficult to find in downtown’s northern reaches. The total vacancy rate in South Lake Union and the Denny Regrade is under 10 percent, according to Broderick, compared with 15 percent in the central business district and 23 percent in Pioneer Square.

        The very northern tip of the Beacon Hill urban village is a mile as the crow flies just to get to Pioneer Sqaure. More large office buildings on Beacon Hill would be an adventure in bankrupcy. The real quesiton is what the heck to do with the PacMed building.

      6. I’m not suggesting office towers. Residential! Apartments and condos! If it were just a few minutes to First Hill, and 15 or less to SLU, people would live on Beacon.

      7. Residential! Apartments and condos!

        Lions and tigers and bears! Oh My := What strikes me most about the data for Urban Centers is the number of people that walk to work (as much 25-35% mode share). That only works if you have a mix of office and residential. As soon as walk is taken out of the equation you quickly revert to 50-70% drive alone and ~20% transit.

        One of the ideas floated for PacMed was condo conversions. I think it was deemed to expensive but new owners with a much lower debt burdon might see things differently. One problem with condos is that this property is unique in that the “buyer” actually only has a 99 year lease. The building and land is publicly owned. And there is a clause that assures a fixed payment to the medical center. A home owners association would have to incur that liability. Beacon Hill is, well, a hill. The steep terrain makes it a bit of a island even if it weren’t for the two freeways. Which of course are there and not going away any time soon.

      8. ‘The reason the Columbia Tower and Smith Tower are having such a hard time is because they are outside of the DT core and even farther from the “happenin’ place” SLU.’

        And why isn’t lower downtown happenin’? It’s because it’s a single-purpose office zone, with nothing to do evenings and weekends, so it’s a mini ghost town after 6pm. Even the restaurants close at 6pm. The area needs some more mixed uses somehow in order to bring people into the area.

      9. The Smith Tower casts a shadow on Pioneer Square and the ID, neither of which are a ghost town at night. It’s issue is the basic layout of the building isn’t suited to the office needs of modern business. It was slated to be condos but that market is a bust right now. The class A office space in the Columbia Tower is also dated. Firms cite lack of enough space on a single floor and the curved walls while visually attractive a not very efficient. I don’t know that nightlife is really a factor for the banker/lawyer type firms that would rent there. I think it’s more just being isolated from the other nine to fivers for meetings and three martini lunches. It’s just going to be the last building to fill up and first to empty with every economic cycle unless a very large anchor tennent, like a regional bank is found.

    2. The reason is La Raza would have been squeezed out if it was an urban center and Estelle Ortega wouldn’t be able to develop her personal properties in the area.

  20. “A cheaper option is to truncate buses at Rainier Beach, which would simultaneously boost Link ridership, reduce ridership on those routes, and free up resources for new service.”

    How would truncating buses at Henderson Station reduce ridership on those routes? If they become more frequent using some of the saved hours, I would expect ridership to go up. Having routes that suffer a forced transfer in Renton become through-routed to Henderson Station should also increase bus ridership.

    Transfer centers are best when placed as close as possible to train stations.

  21. For $50 million, I think we could buy out Kemper Freeman Jr’s right to ever oppose Link again. He’s a businessman. He has his price.

    1. Anyone who opposes light rail going to his own shopping mall obviously doesn’t have a price – his anti-rail principles trump his business principles.

      1. Indeed. Total unreasoning lunacy. In olden days, businessmen paid to make sure rail lines went TO their shopping centers.

  22. Since Metro’s role was mentioned in vain, I wanted to take the opportunity to point out the forward steps Metro is making with the fall service change:

    The extended 156 will give Des Moines and Normandy Park riders a 1-seat ride to Airport Station, with no annoying forced transfer at Burien TC. The final version, which has it running down 188th, gives it a much-improved worksite walkshed, and a larger residential walkshed. Metro got this one right!

    Rerouting the 50 to serve the West Seattle Junction and Delridge was genius! It gives the densest corridors in West Seattle the quickest possible connection to Link. Keeping the VA knot in the 50 also encourages 50 riders to transfer to Link at the earliest opportunity. ;)


    If Metro and ST really want to encourage riders who have the option between Link and a bus to use Link, they should look at the fare structure, and make trips serving similar destination pairs cost less on Link than on a bus. In practice, that would mean reducing Link fares to a flat $2.00. There might be some revenue loss, but ridership might go up to make up the difference. The end result would mean Metro could save service hours on routes where ridership to downtown has dropped. I suspect there will be a permanent bump in Link ridership on September 29, when Link transitions from being the only fare-charging transit route within downtown to being the cheapest transit option within downtown.

  23. First off, Sound Transit should charge a modest fee for users of its P&R facilities, especally those connected to rail. Secondly, in suburban and rural areas P&R’s are the only ways to go. We should still offer a limited basic service along the main road(s) in the area, but if we can offer better service from a centralized P&R or two that would serve both those depenant on transit and choice riders of the route is configured right i think is a win-win situation. As for P&Rs and Light Rail, i think it would be better served with neighborhood feeder buses and pay/private parking intergrated with TOD around the light rail station.

    1. Fine. But put the bus stop serving the P&R on the street, not at the far back end of the lot. Why should people catching the bus further up the line have to suffer through silly, unnecessary loop-de-loop stops in the middle of a route, especially when there is nobody geting on or off in the middle of the day?

  24. I know I’m late to the party but….

    *I’d advertise to tourists & business travelers a lot more – heck, why pay for a $30-50 cab or limo when a light rail & quick walk will get you from the airport to downtown to your meeting and/or hotel for as much as – if not less than – a coffee?

    Furthermore, I’ve paid many times $15 for a cab from Rainier Beach to the Museum of Flight because the light rail feels more safer & faster than a metro bus. Plus cheaper than a cab from downtown Seattle to the Museum of Flight…

    *I’d advertise to the young how dang good looking and fast those light rails trains are!

    *I’d advertise Central Link as a modern engineering wonder. Seriously because the taxpayers sure paid for a lot.

    Heck, next overnight in Seattle I must get pictures of the light rail rockin’ at night! Got enough day pictures…

    1. Speaking of cabs, virtually everyone in southeast Seattle can ride a cab to the nearest Link station, then ride Link to the airport – a very fast ride starting right at your front door, but for a fraction of what parking at the airport or taking a cab all the way to the airport would cost.

      However, as most people who habitually drive everywhere don’t think about taxi/train combo opportunities, I suspect this travel option goes way underused.

      1. If there were cab waiting zones next to stations, perhaps the idea would catch on. If New Yorkers resort to lots of cab rides from train stations, I think it is okay for northwesterners to do the same.

        The same goes for downtown. If there were standardized areas for catching a cab, more people looking for one would find them.

  25. If I had $50 million dollars I could spend on behalf of Sound Transit, I would focus on infrastructure improvements that make the whole bus system run more efficiently. Here are my priorities:

    1) Pedestrian bridge over I-5 connecting Northgate TC to NSCC. If at all possible, build it now, rather than wait 10 years for NorthLink, as this bridge would be highly useful even without NorthLink.

    2) Build a freeway station at I-5 and Olive Way just before the northbound on-ramp. This would be served by routes 255 and 545 all day and would replace the 545’s capitol hill diversion on weekday mornings.

    3) Put the 554 in the tunnel to provide a consistent path through downtown with the 550. Kick the 255 upstairs to make room and to provide a consistent path downtown with the 545.

    4) Build a pedestrian bridge over 520 just south of NE 40th. St. connecting the main transit center to the westbound freeway station with just a minute or two of walking, bypassing all the stoplights. Add more bus shelters at the westbound freeway station and get rid of the fence that forces people coming from south on the 520 trail to head north, then turn around back south to access the bus stop. All this would replace the 545’s OTC diversion on weekday afternoons.

    1. I would selfishly love the #4 bridge, but the fact is, you could get rid of that deviation today, and it would save tons of money and probably not turn away very many riders.

      Any bridge there would only really be useful during the afternoon commute. If we have that kind of money, let’s spend it on something that will be useful 24/7.

Comments are closed.