Photo by papahazama

With U-Link coming online by the end of 2016, rail will serve some of our densest neighborhoods as well as one of the largest employment centers in the region.  To date, however, most of our attention has been absorbed by development opportunities and disputes further up around other North Link stations.  While the UW Station area is a less than ideal candidate for a dense interconnected grid of mixed-use development, it does provide a unique opportunity to reviving what has been a traditionally an auto-dominant area.

Because the station will be located just to the south of Husky Stadium and Montlake Triangle, a significant TOD barrier rests in the fact that the area’s immediate vicinity is all University-owned land, comprised of medical, athletic, and recreational facilities.  These are, by no means, small buildings, and the local geography and street network alone create irregularities in subdivision potential.  There are also major institutional hurdles to jump when even considering breaking up large tracts of University land for private development.

More below the jump.

The only opportunity we can really extract from UW Station lies just a little beyond a half-mile to the north– the Montlake E-1 parking lot– the largest surface parking lot in the city by any margin.   At least for the southern half of the lot, a half-mile to a mile walking distance to the station isn’t unreasonable, given the ability of students to hoof it for miles across campus each day.  The biggest restrictions to development, however, are site geography, lack of a real street grid, and real concerns over the potential impacts to proximate wetlands to the east.

Lots of unused pavement

It’s expected that any development proposal of this magnitude would naturally draw the ire of the University, which seems strongly married with the belief in retaining every space in E-1 for car use alone.  But consider this: the average weekday utilization in E-1 is significantly less than half the lot’s capacity.  In fact, complete lot counts done across October of last year reveal that the average weekday utilization rate was 26.7%— a whopping 2264 spaces left unused*.  Depending on how calculations are carried out, that amounts to around ten acres of land (including vehicle circulation), by my estimate.

By comparison, a typical block downtown is about 2 acres, which means that the amount of unused land in the E-1 lot can fit as many as five downtown Seattle blocks.  The low utilization rate shouldn’t come as a big surprise, given the relative proximity to campus as well as UW’s aggressive commute-trip reduction and transportation demand management programs.  Major events, of course, are an exception– football games and events like graduation do fill up the lot, largely because weekend transit options serving Montlake are shoddy at best.

After U-Link is completed, a significant amount of capacity will be added and demand absorbed by transit, subsequently lessening the demand for parking, especially on event days.  For a sizable area of the E-1 lot, you can probably think of higher and better uses than car storage, starting with the lot’s subdivision, a pedestrian grid, and better connections over Montlake to the UW campus.  Selling off subdivision tracts to private developers, however, would admittedly be a monstrous challenge over the University building the housing itself.

Nonetheless, with rapid transit on the horizon and acres of land sitting unused, an opportunity like this is worth at least feasibility study.  For the University not to take advantage of one of this region’s biggest investments would be a big shame.

*Data from UW Commuter Services.

62 Replies to “UW Station, An Opportunity”

  1. A Link station with a parking garage … and one that can charge market parking rates without being lampooned in the pages of the national-car-care-advocating Seattle Times.

    I bet they will fill up once UW Station opens. Charge what the market will bear and use the profit to help pay for the U-Pass.

    There are those who will pay good money to store their cars on campus and ride the train downtown.

    1. The E-1 lot has daily parking rates and anyone can park there. There may be some commuter use of the lot once U-Link opens.

      1. The daily parking rate at the UW is $15. Parking in the E-1 lot and riding Link (an additional $2.50) actually costs more than some garages charge to park downtown.

      2. The land north of the IMA may present development challenges due to sanitary landfill and poor bearing soil conditions. Check out 1999 report on the Montlake Landfill. None of this precludes development, but it does add expense.

        There will probably be some commuter use of the UW lots whether or not anyone endorses the practice. UW parking is not cheap and the price could rise more, but parking downtown near the Link stations is limited and very expensive, and it’ll be a 6 minute ride from UW station to Westlake. Given congestion on I-5, it could be faster to use the Park and Ride; if driving, one has to park either way. The UW lots could be useful for Northeast Seattle residents or SR 520 commuters. The E1 lot is not that close to UW station (from 0.4 to 0.75 miles); However E8, E9, E10, E12, E15 and the Triangle Parking Garage offer very convenient access to UW station, and it would be hard to prohibit park and ride use as visitor parking needs to exist for the Medical Center and other University Functions. One could envision a validation system, but that presents a hassle for the “legitimate” users, and the University.

        UW is probably looking forward to the revenue that accrues from this. And given their financial situation, I wouldn’t blame them if that were the case.

  2. If the lot is to be successful as a P&R, its main audience is points northeast of campus as most others would feel like they were backtracking (SR-520 market) or passing up other good options (Northgate, rt. 41). And then there’s the walk… I don’t think P&R concept would be that successful. On the other hand, I can’t see UW ever letting go of this property. Far more likely they take your idea and develop their own expansion plans that make use of the station’s proximity.

    1. Until Roosevelt station opens, the Roosevelt neighborhood’s access to downtown today is downright awful – outside of peak-period-peak-direction trips, you’ve got a half-hourly not-super-fast-or-reliable 66, and that’s all. And, if some Metro planners have their way, even the 66 will go away, forcing you to endure the 20+ minute slog down the Ave from one end of the U-district to the other.

      On the other hand, Roosevelt High School to the UW station is only a 15 minute bike ride (20 minutes going back because you have to climb the hill), so biking to the station will become a much better option than anything that exists today. And unlike taking a connecting bus, a bike is nearly 100% reliable, and never gets delayed from wheelchair uses, change fumblers, or traffic jams.

      1. Roosevelt (and the entire 66 corridor North of the Ship Canal) has 15 minute service if you count the 67 with a transfer to the 71/72/73/74. Of course this is only fast while the express lanes are open Southbound. Even when they make no stops between Campus Parkway and Convention Place the 70 series is slow when on Eastlake routing.

        I live near 80th and Roosevelt and I can beat a 66 to my office in Pioneer Square on my bike.

      2. “20+ minute slog down the Ave from one end of the U-district to the other”

        It’s not a 20+ minute slog on the Ave. It was before the bus bulbs were installed in the early 2000s, when it took twice as long.

      3. A friend and I once outran the 72 on our bikes from Eastlake/University Bridge all the way to Lake City Way and 125th St. The 70 series provides great local service between various North Seattle Neighborhoods and the U District, but it’ll be great when we finally have the subway for travel downtown.

      4. Yeah, the 66 is terrible, unless you’re going all the way downtown, or up to Northgate from University or southwards. Most of the time it’s a “well, let’s see, 20 to 25 plus minutes to the next bus, but I can walk halfway to where I’m going by the time the next bus catches up we me, and by that point I’ll probably just walk the remainder.”

        There seem to be a lot of P&R buses, though. I wonder where they all go?

      5. I did an experiment today and got off a 71X bus coming out of downtown immediately after the bus exited the express lanes, then walked to University Way and 43rd. St. According to Google Maps, the walking distance is about 1/2 mile and should take about 11 minutes. Right as I crossed University Way, there was the same bus I just gotten off half a mile earlier, waiting for the red light as I crossed in front of it. During the experiment, I walked at a moderate to brisk pace (~3.5 mph), but did not run except for one brief stretch of about 10 feet to make it through a yellow light.

        In other words, the bus traversed a full half-mile in what was essentially a walking pace. And traffic around the U-district didn’t look worse and it would on any other Saturday afternoon, as far as I could see, so 10+ minutes to traverse a half mile is just what people are supposed to expect everyday. And 43rd and University Way isn’t the end of the U-district either – there’s still the lights and bus stops at 45th, 47th, and 50th. ahead.

        Unless you’re planning on taking a coffee stop in the U-district on the way downtown, I don’t think it is at all reasonable to consider the 67->71/72/73 and 66 as having combined 15 minute headways. By the time you wait for the 71/72/73 (easily a good 5-10 minutes when you take bunching into account) and detour to the Ave and its bus stops every hundred feet, you’re no better off then waiting an additional 15 minutes at Roosevelt to catch the next 66.

        The only all-day transit option I see in the foreseeable future to get from Roosevelt to downtown faster than biking all the way is biking to the UW station and hopping on Link.

      6. While we are on the subject of the 66, the 15 min. headways one would think were there almost never happen. They are not scheduled on a 15 min spread as they should be…this is a planning snafu, I think, and I wish it would be resolved.

      7. The real question is, why do the 71/72/73/74 travel via the Ave, which is just about the *worst* possible street of all the options?

        Bruce suggested a long time ago, and I’ve finally come around to the idea, that the 70-series buses should travel directly via Roosevelt/11th, skipping the Campus Parkway detour entirely. To be precise, the 66 would become the main corridor between the U-District and downtown, receiving articulated buses with sub 10-minute tunnel service to downtown. The 73 would get replaced with an all-day, local-service 373; the 72 would get replaced with an all-day, local-service 372; and the 71 would be merged with the 26.

        Now, you have an all-day “super-express” route that shadows North Link, and all you really lose is that UW students have to walk an extra 3 blocks to their destination.

        (I think it would also be worthwhile to relocate the trolley wire from Campus Parkway to Roosevelt/11th, so the 49 and 70 can be rerouted as well.)

      8. I’m all for your idea of making buses going through the U-district stay on Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the business on the Ave probably aren’t, as the detour down campus parkway and the Ave gives them customers they wouldn’t otherwise get.

        Given the way Metro works, if they were to seriously propose your suggestions, all the people north of the U-district who would get faster rides downtown would stay home. While business owners on the Ave would flood the meetings, complaining that the change would take all their customers away. And, inevitably, there will be a few physically challenged people who work at the UW who will also complain at the meetings at being forced to transfer to the 44 to ride the three blocks for what would normally be just a 3-5 minute walk for everyone else.

        Given Metro’s history at restructuring opportunities in the past, the result is that nothing will change and buses will stay on the Ave. forever. Maybe, they will at least truncate the 71/72/73 express when Brooklyn station opens in 2020, but I’m skeptical that Metro will pull any significant restructuring through before then.

      9. In the mornings at least I find taking the 67 to Campus Parkway and transferring to the 71/72/73/74 is faster door to door than taking the 66. However I generally do this in the window between the last 77 and when the express lanes close. Its probably a wash once the 71/72/73/74 start running in Eastlake express mode. Evenings and Saturdays taking the 66 or walking over to the 72/73 stop is better than transferring at Campus Parkway due to low headways on the 71/72/73 and because they’re providing local service on Eastlake at those times.

      10. asdf,
        Do remember that the 71/72/73/74 has to loop down to Campus Parkway when they are using the express lanes. You were able to take a direct route from their first stop which is much shorter distance wise. Also the buses are “pay as you leave” during those times which tends to make unloading at Campus Parkway and 41st rather slow, especially if the bus is crowded.

        I;ll agree the 71/72/73/74 are much faster on the Ave with the bus bulbs and stop consolidation (they used to stop at every single cross street) than they were before.

        Speaking of stop consolidation the 66/67 could really use some between Northgate and 80th and between 65th and 50th. Stoping at every single cross street is very painful and slow on what is otherwise a reasonably fast (for Metro) route.

      11. Aleks,
        I know Metro proposed a Downtown/U-District/Roosevelt/Northgate “super-express” as part of the service restructuring they would have to do if the CRC hadn’t passed. I think this same idea may have been in the first round of proposed North Seattle restructuring for Rapid Ride.

        I don’t remember the exact routing proposed, It might have been on University Way and Campus Parkway between Ravenna and the University Bridge and it might have stayed on Roosevelt/11th in that segment.

        Part of the proposal was to increase service and add stops to the 372 and 373 to replace the tails of the 72 and 73 (along with the 25th Ave portion of the 68).

        A problem with routing the Downtown/U-District portion of any combined Downtown/U-District/Roosevelt/Northgate express service down Roosevelt/11th/12th are a convenient transfer to other local service that terminates in the U-District needs to be provided.

        Another problem is for a majority of riders traveling between the U-District and Downtown the Ave or the Campus is their origin or destination, or the Ave is much closer to their origin/destination than Roosevelt would be. For someone who lives on 19th walking to/from the Ave isn’t really that far, but Roosevelt is far enough to make driving much more attractive. Similarly moving service to Roosevelt would be a big burden to the large number of limited mobility and disabled riders in the U-District.

        Then you have the Ave merchants who would throw a fit if Metro service was removed from University Way. The idea of consolidating service to 15th NE has come up a few times in the past and every time the merchants have convinced Metro to keep service on University Way.

        Do remember the U-District has relatively high residential, employment, retail, and educational density compared to most of Seattle and is the biggest transit origin/destination point outside of downtown. Consolidating some of Metro’s highest ridership routes to Roosevelt from University Way and 15th NE would make about as much sense as moving the 9, 49, and 60 from Broadway to 15th with no streetcar to replace them.

      12. asdf,
        As tepid as most of Metro’s restructuring has been I really can’t see them keeping the current service patterns once North link opens. The 41, 71, 72, 73, 74, etc. simply represent too much of an opportunity to recover service hours to ignore. I suspect at the very least we’ll see the 41 truncated at Northgate; the 71, 72, and 73 truncated at Brooklyn; the 74 eliminated; and possibly the tails of the 71, 72, and 73 combined with other routes.

      13. I can’t imagine there won’t be some big changes to the 41 and 70-series when North Link opens. The comparison should be to the Rainier Valley, not the more recent 2/3/4 mess. Even if they keep the 70-series as is, it’ll be as an incredibly useless hourly route :)

      14. “The real question is, why do the 71/72/73/74 travel via the Ave, which is just about the *worst* possible street of all the options?”

        I think it’s the best actually, compared to 15th or 11th/Roosevelt. The bus bulbs on the Ave allow the bus to move like a train, making the cars wait behind it rather than it waiting for an opening in traffic. 15th got some bulbs and stop consolidations last year but I wouldn’t say it’s up to the bus speed of the Ave.

        Roosevelt/11th looks like it would be the fastest because of the one-way streets, but all my experiences on the 66 or in a car have been the opposite. Inevitably you have to stop at a lot of lights, and grandmas in front of you drive slow. It takes a long time to get from 65th to the University Bridge. And they’ve added even more lights on Roosevelt like the newish one at 42nd, so you can barely go two blocks between lights.

        But there’s another issue, aesthetics/ambience. University Way is almost ideal from an urbanist perspective. A wide variety of storefronts coming right up to the sidewalk. Lots of residents without cars. It’s the kind of place that should have buses. People see the frequent buses and don’t feel they’re missing anything by not driving. Bus riders see shops that they might visit today or someday. Everybody sees each other walking on the Ave and on the buses. In contrast, 15th and 11th/Roosevelt have more of an automobile feel. You’re there because you have to be there, not because you want to be. That could change if those streets had more storefronts, but that’s unlikely.

        The issue is not that the 71/72/73 should be on 15th, but that the 70/43/49 should be on the Ave, and they probably would be there if the trolley wire hadn’t been put on 15th instead.

  3. How about a mid-rise bldg on the south end of the parking lot, with a pedestrian bridge from the upper floors, crossing over Montlake Blvd, Burke-Gilman, and landing on Mason Rd (two- 100′ spans). It would replace the current ped O-xing.
    Mixed use of the structure for classes, and maybe some dorms on the upper floors with to kill for views of Lake Washington.

    1. Yup, a pre-EPA landfill, closed in 1964. Everything and anything was dumped there. Disturbing the site would be extremely dangerous – a little bit of topsoil is all that’s containing 40 years worth of unregulated household and industrial waste. Any kind of excavation, like digging for a building foundation, would elevate the land from a class 4 Superfund site to a class 1.

      It’s completely undevelopable.

  4. I disagree that the arrival of ULink will necessarily lessen the demand for parking on event weekends. Link does nothing to address the getting to the Link station on the other end. A significant number of people attending games/events will be inclined to drive because they are not within reasonable walking distance to a station. Driving to access Link means parking within a station’s walkshed. But those options are purposefully limited. Some people may park in south King County where some parking is being planned. And of course, there is parking downtown.

    1. Parking at the E-1 lot for major events is actually quite expensive – I think it’s somewhere in the range of $15 per car. And the time cost of sitting in traffic to get to the lot is considerable too. Taking transit to the game is far cheaper, especially considering that many markets not served by the train are served by buses, for example SR-520.

      And if buses aren’t a good option for where you live, you can always strap bikes to the back of the car, park in some residential neighborhood 2-3 miles away (past the parking restrictions), and pedal the rest of the way to the game.

    2. Metro used to offer special service to Husky Football games, but the FTA killed that a few years ago along with all of the other Metro special event service.

      1. Why would the Federal Transit Admin (which is what I assumed you meant by FTA) care about special service to a local event?

      2. Because President Bush signed a Republican-crafted law specifically prohibiting local government-owned transit agencies from competing with private bus companies. Patty Murray managed to sneak in a specific exemption for Metro, but the US District Court ruled it unconstitutional.

        A perfect example of the Republican War on Cities.

      3. I’ve seen Metro’s special event shuttles, with my own eyes, taking people to and from Husky games as recently as last year.

      4. Sounder is allowed because there is no competing private “rail” service. Sounds like a loop hole but that’s the way it works.

      5. According to this ruling, the Murray provision was upheld in the DC Appeals court.

        According the referencing article, KCM resumed special bus services to Mariners games. The exemption was conditioned on a technicality of continuing appropriations resolutions.

        It appears though that King County is currently operating some special event services as outlined at http://metro.kingcounty.gov/up/spclevent.html . It appears no special runs are currently offered for Mariner’s games which is ironic because that was the trigger for the Murray Provision.

      6. So metro is offering special event service for Seahawks and Husky games. Still it doesn’t seem they run as much special event service as they used to. Also it would appear Metro has discontinued special event service for Mariners and Souders games.

        I suspect forcing Metro to discontinue special event service greatly reduced the demand when they were allowed to bring it back as the fans found other ways to get to the games.

        One major annoyance for evening games to me is being forced to either ride a crowded bus home from work or having to wait forever for the next bus because the one I’m trying to catch is full of Mariners or Souders fans. Metro claims they put extra trips on for games but I have yet to see it.

      7. What? Metro’s deal with the UW was never ended. It was part of the mitigation required when the north side upper deck (the only part of the old stadium that will remain) was completed in 1987. UW athletic department pays Metro for the service; somewhere on the order of 20,000 fans use the service, which (IIRC) serves 8 park-and-rides throughout the county. If you’ve ever been in the area on a game day, you’ve seen the buses lined up during the game, ready to take people back following. A few special runs on the 65 and 75 (and probably other routes) are also waiting post-game. This service has continued every season for the past 25 years, and the buses are jammed. When we don’t tailgate, it’s the only way to go. I don’t know if there was something in the mitigation requirement that served as a loophole when the FDA thing was going on, but I can assure you that the Husky shuttle service has always run since 1987.

        Link will definitely take some of those passengers, but as most people drive to the park-and-rides to catch the bus, it may pick up less of the demand than one would think (at least until it gets to Northgate).

        (as Lack Thereof stated, E1 lot is completely undevelopable due to the landfill issues. UW would have long since done so if that weren’t the case. Overlay the current buildings and stadium over an old map (pre-landfill) and you’ll see they are all built on what were peninsulas in the wetland areas.)

  5. Unless we do a major restructuring of our bus network, which might have to get redone in a few years anyway when Brooklyn/Roosevelt/Northgate stations open, the key to people in north Seattle getting to the station is going to be bikes.

    The station location is right across the street from the Burke-Gilman trail, which means even those who don’t like riding on the road with cars can still get to the station. Plus, it’s flat! And, for those coming from the Lauralhurst area, there’s a shortcut available in the form of dirt paths east of the stadium and the parking lots.

    The Montlake freeway station has already shown that a station that relies on bicycles as it’s primary access mode can work, if done properly. The key is to have safe, well-signed bike routes to the station (which we basically already have), along with lots of bike parking at the station. Lockers would be nice too, especially lockers that could be rented by the day and don’t require putting yourself on a 5-year wait list.

  6. Interesting idea. A few points:
    1. The UW is never going to sell this land. At most they will give someone a long-term lease. Remember they still own the several acres downtown their first campus used to sit on.
    2. The wetlands and landfill are a major issue that would drive up the costs of any building. In fact it might not be possible to get any sort of major development through the environmental review process.
    3. The UW is more likely to convert parts of E-1 to sports fields or restore some of the wetlands than open the land for private development or even use it for campus expansion.
    4. Any major development of the land would result in significant opposition from Laurelhurst, Wedgewood, and the Ravenna-Bryant neighborhoods.

  7. I remember hearing that E1 has major soil/environmental issues that essentially makes it impossible to develop. I’m not sure the is true but that is what I have in my head.

    1. Well, they did build and expand the IMA but the clean up costs related to the landfill for that project neared half a million dollars.

      UW Daily story on the landfill and its issues. There’s naturally occurring and garbage generated methane gas under there. There are also suspicions that highly toxic PCBs were dumped in the landfill which would up the Superfund rating to near Gas Works Park levels.

    2. Ya. It is an old landfill. There used to be open flames in that lot in the 70’s due to discarded figs lighting off escaping methane gas.

  8. the parking lot between the Cut and the stadium is on solid ground and not atop land fill. the U could put grad student and UWMC staff housing atop a garage. the UW and Childrens are developing housing in the U District.

    the Metro operated event service is legal again, thanks to Patty Murray.

  9. 1) Absolute agreement with your editorial.

    2) The UofW desperately needs its own light rail station since so many students these days cannot afford a car and tuition and living expenses.

    3) Since Rob McKenna – one of the greatest UofW grads of our time, right up there w/ Jenni Hogan and Brock Huard – helped save light rail (please see http://publicola.com/2009/07/20/thank-you-rob-mckenna/ and the comments as well), hell name the station after our next Governor. If he doesn’t like the idea, we’ll see his true colours.

  10. These are, by no means, small buildings, and the local geography and street network alone create irregularities in subdivision potential.

    Uh, at least according to wikipedia, the Warren G. Magnus Health Sciences building is “world’s largest single university building with a total floor area of 533,000 square metres (5,740,000 sq ft)” and the second largest office building in the us, after the pentagon.

    So, no, those are not small buildings…

    1. When I say “by no means” that means I am trying to say they are not small buildings.

  11. The University has long shown football is one one of its major functions. As fundraising becomes more important thanks to our awful governor, having a tailgating facility may be the best economic outcome for the university, as odd as that sounds.

    Not that I want that, but that may be the reality.

  12. It would have made so much sense to put the University Link station on Brooklyn or University Avenue.

    1. There are a lot of solid network-design reasons why a 49-shadow Link route would have made more sense than the 43-shadow route that we have, not least because all of the 43-shadow routing’s potential strengths have been completely ignored or bypassed (such as by making UW Station the main 520 transfer point, or by having stops for 15th Ave and 23rd/Madison Valley). With a 49 routing, we could have had a North Capitol Hill stop as well, which would have provided a huge connectivity boost for the region.

      However, the 43 routing is what we’ve got, and the stops you’re talking about cannot and will not ever happen. So it’s a much better use of our time to focus on improving what we’ve got.

      1. There is something to be said for learning from our mistakes. Seattle has a solid history of transportation (and public works) boondoggles. Maybe we should think a little before we get excited about the next few billion dollars we want to spend.

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