I signed the recent letter to Sound Transit, letting them know that they were steaming ahead with the analysis of options for Northgate without sufficient public review. Many of these options seem to be in conflict with the neighborhood and Seattle’s goals to create a walkable, livable city, especially around Link, where it’s easily possible to walk, bike, and ride transit to all your needs. They agreed that there hasn’t been enough public involvement, and scheduled a public meeting to get feedback (information below). It’s very likely that a parking garage will happen here, but we can and should improve it.

In the long term, we need to solve this approach – parking garages in the city are almost never a great use of space, or of our public dollars – especially not incredibly limited transit dollars that can otherwise be used to expand service faster. Private developers build more than enough parking, and the market should be allowed to solve parking issues in places where we have great transit.

But for the moment, it may be that the best choice available to us is indeed to turn 7 acres of parking into a 1 acre garage – but only with strong public review, and only in concert with many other improvements that ensure Northgate has the ability to become a walkable neighborhood later. These are some of those improvements – things we need to ensure happen to make sure that the garage doesn’t just make the area even more car-only than it already is:

  • First, we should price this parking. Make it, perhaps, the same cost as a trip on Link, and take ORCA so users can simply transfer. That way, people going to the mall use mall parking, and people riding transit don’t pay any more than they already do.
  • We should also split up the giant Metro parcel. Allowing the 6 acres to be developed as a single project will create another behemoth like Thornton Place, which brings no one to the sidewalks around it and has largely created merely another car destination. Smaller parcels would allow for a mixture of architecture and uses, and for smaller, more innovative developers to have a chance to bid on the sites.
  • We should be sure that Metro and Sound Transit vacate the Simon and Thornton Place parking garages currently shared for park and ride facilities. Because the station area will have no minimum parking requirements, new development will have an opportunity to share parking with these existing structures so they don’t have to build their own. This will help encourage more pedestrian-oriented development on both the current park and ride site, while offering the flexibility to financiers to show that there are parking options through contract if necessary. This is one of the best opportunities to see human-oriented development in Seattle outside of our usual walkable neighborhoods.
  • Finally, we should commit funds to a pedestrian overpass to get North Seattle Community College into walking distance, allowing them to grow without having to build new parking – and in concert with that, we should build sidewalks and make space for bike lanes around the station. We have to commit to all modes, as the vast majority of Northgate Station’s users aren’t going to be driving there.

It’s not that bad of an idea to combine a lot of surface parking into a garage – until we have really serious mass transit, we’re not going to see fewer people drive to Northgate Station, we’re just going to see most of the new users come on buses, bicycles and their feet. But we must ensure that we set up the area to be developed for humans in the coming years – not as it has been so far, for cars.

The best way to ensure these things right now is to follow through on the public meeting the neighborhood has asked for – make these demands there! Since the aforementioned letter was sent, Sound Transit has scheduled a meeting on June 4th, at 6pm, at Olympic View Elementary, a few blocks south of the mall. Check out Sound Transit’s ideas, and if you agree with me, say “hey, we want some of these things in writing before we accept another parking garage in our neighborhood.” With your help, we can make Seattle better!

41 Replies to “Making a Northgate Parking Garage Palatable”

  1. Thanks Ben – your second paragraph says it all.
    Desire for parking and “need” for parking are very different, and the former should never be catered to w/ transit funds. Never.

  2. This garage will be in Northgate, but Sound Transit is a regional transit agency. The local community should play only a small part in ST’s decision. ST must look at the big picture, and not let be swayed by the locals or activists with an agenda.

    1. Indeed – a regional transit agency, not a regional parking agency. They shouldn’t be swayed by local demands for long-term parking structures. :)

    2. Sam, Ben and I agree on something; maybe the world is going to end on 12-21-2012 := Council member Bagshaw advocates:

      require [emphasis mine] well designed park and ride structures at or near the light rail stations so people who live in outlying neighborhoods will choose to take light rail downtown instead of drive all the way?

      But why should “we” unite to tax ourselves to provide this expensive benefit that encourages people to move into development that can never be adequately served by transit. It’s a taxpayer bailout for those that can afford to drive but want to dodge the cost of parking; to the point that “hide and ride” is self justified.

      Why not a free bike share program or free transfers to the Seattle Monorail. Both would be cheaper than building structured parking and giving it away for free. Not to mention the commuter trips serving these privileged few who drive and ride are among the most expensive to operate!

      1. Bernie, let me answer that with a question. If you could snap your fingers and make all the Park & Ride lots in King County disappear, what percentage of the tens of thousands of drivers who used to park there would drive all the way into work? You’re thinking over 90% of them, aren’t you? So am I. Is that really preferable in your mind to the compromise of getting people to take public transit at least half the way?

        There are just so many great benefits to getting those cars off the roads, even if it’s just for a little bit, that it far outweighs any downside to a parking garage.

        Your kind of uncompromising, black and white idealism and passion is great in a college classroom. Right now, though, all that matters is getting the cars off the road. It doesn’t matter how, just that it happens. One day, yes, we may achieve your utopia where nobody owns a car and everyone lives in TOD, etc., but until that day comes, we have to make compromises.

      2. 90% of them [would drive]. Is that really preferable in your mind to the compromise of getting people to take public transit at least half the way?

        The “snap your fingers” ignores the fact that building P&R and continuing down this rat hole is the problem. It’s not ” getting those cars off the roads” but putting more and more cars on new roads because they can have the benefits without paying for parking. I’m not uncompromising. I have no problem with parking at Link stations. I just believe it should be market rate parking; not taken from transit funding.

        I have no ideal of utopia being no cars on the road. I certainly hope to be able to drive my ’65 Mustang for as long as I live. But I don’t think it’s a viable commute option to DT Seattle any more.

      3. Out-of-context, incomplete quoting isn’t very fair.

        Agreed. I didn’t quote the entire post because most wasn’t relative. I thought about taking earlier parts and connecting with … but I thought that would be more misleading. I don’t believe anything is taken out of context. Please elaborate about what you think represents a mischaracterization. To be fair I should have linked back to the original post. Of course it assumes that the name isn’t falsified. But STB has done a stellar job of allowing free speech while deleting impersonation.

      4. “If you could snap your fingers and make all the Park & Ride lots in King County disappear, what percentage of the tens of thousands of drivers who used to park there would drive all the way into work?”

        In the short term, most probably would. But, in the long term, many people that have long-distance bus commutes today would decide to move closer in, thereby making their drive all the way to work about the same as their drive today to the park and ride.

        All in all, a 3 mile drive directly to work seems better for the environment and taxpayer’s budgets than a 3 mile drive to a giant park-and-ride garage, followed by a 20+ mile bus ride to work.

      5. “in the long term, many people that have long-distance bus commutes today would decide to move closer in…. All in all, a 3 mile drive directly to work seems better for the environment and taxpayer’s budgets than a 3 mile drive to a giant park-and-ride garage, followed by a 20+ mile bus ride to work.”

        What about the people who would be heavily screwed if the P&R disappears and they can’t afford to move closer in, can’t find a job closer to home, or are taking care of elderly relatives? This “eliminate P&Rs and commuter trains and that’ll convince everybody to live closer in” doesn’t work that cleanly in the real world; it leaves people falling through the cracks.

      6. Yes, lots of people do fall through the cracks. And to solve that problem, you get into our discussions about zoning, density, land use, nimbyism, and all that other stuff that limits the amount of affordable housing in the city.

      7. So let’s fix those things first and then close the P&Rs rather than the other way around.

      8. The first, and perhaps only thing that needs to be fixed is the pricing structure. Start charging for parking. Start cheap, like they do with the tolls, and ramp up over a number of years until the assets (parking stalls) start to bring a positive ROI. Same thing with long distance commuter buses and trains. Want to keep North Sounder; fine but the subsidy per boarding, capital and O&M, can’t be higher than ST Express buses.

      9. Guys,

        It’s only 900 stalls. That’s a bit more than two crush-loaded four car-trains. There are going to be fifteen trains per hour when the system is running full-tilt (every four minutes, right?), so if the parking garage uses half its capacity in the 6 to 7 hour and half in the 7 to 8 hour, one train per hour out of fifteen will come from it.

        If those 900 cars all drove it wouldn’t tie I-5 in knots, but if all the people on all the trains rode buses instead it would cost Metro and ST an arm and a leg. Sooooo, the bias should be in favor of the walkers/bikers/transfer riders accessing important stations. If a garage can be created that is both reasonably economical to construct AND doesn’t destroy easy access for those priority modes, build it. If not, well then, shed a tear for the folks who “have” to drive.

  3. I really like the idea of paid parking that can then be “transferred” to the price of your Link ride. I wonder how difficult/expensive this would be to implement. I think this strategy would work at many of the area’s P&Rs that are in or near urban centers.

    1. Simple, just hook an ORCA reader to a parking gate controller and program it to load a transfer on to your card. I could probably build a prototype in my garage over the weekend. :-)

    2. I think this is a really great idea, as well. Ensures that parking is being used for transit, and if not, at least revenue is flowing into the system. Tap as you leave could also be implemented to ensure that people aren’t using the system for long term (>~12 hours) parking for the airport. Parked cars that exceed some threshold could automatically be reported to contracted towing company to save the need for a monitoring attendant.

      Do the rules of ORCA allow the E-purse to be used for payment of transit parking?

    3. @Pete – I don’t like this idea. It’s essentially the same as a free parking garage for transit riders, just like all the other suburban parking lots, with the “price” simply serving as an enforcement mechanism to deter people from using the transit lot as mall parking.

      Free “transfers” on parking and free transfers on connecting buses are not the same thing. With parking, there are a finite amount of spaces and each car parked in the lot means one less space available for someone else, and building more capacity is extremely expensive.

      Operating buses is expensive too, but the difference is that if you want the bus to be a viable alternative for accessing the station for anyone, you have to have minimum standard of frequency, span, and directness of bus routes. And the scattered nature of people’s homes means that once you run enough buses to meet such standards, you automatically have lots of excess capacity, and even if the bus is “free” with the purchase of the train ticket, you still won’t create crush loads where riders are getting passed up.

      So, once you’ve accepted that bus service to the station has to have a reasonable standard of quality, the marginal cost of taking one more person on a bus you’re running anyway is near enough to zero so that a free transfer makes sense. Whereas the construction cost of garage parking is expensive enough to make the marginal cost of accommodating one more person high enough for a free transfer to not make sense.

  4. Don’t oversell the pedestrian bridge. It’s a boon to college riders, for sure, but anyone else has a 1/2 mile walk from the street, across the campus, its parking lot, and the freeway. It’s about double the length of the walkway between Airport station and the ticket counters.

    The bridge is worth it for the college access, but the station’s walkshed west of the freeway will still basically be nil.

    1. The bridge may not do much for current residents of Licton Springs, but it would allow for TOD north of NSCC, and even on all the land area afflicted with surface parking lots. Don’t you think NSCC would love to sell off some of that land expanse to private developers if it pencils out as a profit?

      It’s also orders of magnitude cheaper than lidding I-5.

      1. As the Bellevue station moves closer to I-405, don’t we have nearly an identical argument to remove the hospital station and replace it with walkways, TOD, etc.
        Conversely, if we follow the ‘station on either side of the freeway’ model, Link would stop at Northgate, make a hard left turn into another station on the west side of I-5.
        Or we could just follow the Central Link model, and not have any stations for miles apart (Henderson to Tukwila).

      2. “it would allow for TOD north of NSCC”

        It would allow people to get to the existing businesses north of NSCC. I used to work in one of the office buildings around 10700.

      3. People could, theoretically, walk from the station to the businesses north of NSCC. But they’ll still be walking over a quarter mile just to get to the sidewalk of Meridian Ave, a half mile to the sidewalk of College Way. I doubt that will grab any new riders, just shift people who currently use the bus connections.

      4. I used to live in one of the apartments just north of NSCC. My commute to work often began with a 10 minute job to Northgate transit center, where I’d catch the #41, 242, or 555 bus. I had experimented with both driving to the transit center and taking a connecting bus which stopped right outside my apartment. In the end, I concluded that when parking and wait time was taken into account, jogging was the fastest and most reliable option available.

        Still, though, I would have been very greatful had we had that bridge. While the timed saved would only have been a couple of minutes each way, the run would have been much more pleasant and less stressful if the dangerous intersections around Northgate Way and I-5 could have been bypassed.

      5. Think bikes, not just walking. The 5-minute walkshed is significantly larger with the bridge – but the 10/15-minute bikeshed is *really* larger. And as asdf says it avoids all the myriad unpleasantries/unsafe situations at Northgate Way and I-5.

    2. I disagree with the premise that the bridge won’t do much for the current residents of Licton Springs.

      Let’s suppose you live next to Licton Springs park and want to get to Northgate Station to ride the train downtown (https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Densmore+Ave+N&daddr=Unknown+road&hl=en&sll=47.700722,-122.329438&sspn=0.014051,0.033023&geocode=FSrT1wIdn0a1-A%3BFVzi1wIdgG21-A&t=h&mra=me&mrsp=1,0&sz=16&z=16). Let’s look at the available travel options without the bridge:

      1) Drive. Google Maps estimates a 4 minute drive time, but parking also takes time, probably a good 10 minutes to drive up and down the parking garage looking for space, then walking from the parking space to the bus stop. Total time: about 15 minutes.

      2) Bus. Scheduled at about 8 minutes, but in practice, wait time would make it more like 15. About equivalent to driving.

      3) Walk/bike. About 1 mile, 20 minutes to walk, 7 minutes to bike.

      With the bridge, the walk/bike distance would be cut to about 1/2 mile, reducing the trip to a 10 minute walk or a 3 minute bike ride. Much better than the current system.

      1. 2) Bus. Scheduled at about 8 minutes, but in practice, wait time would make it more like 15. About equivalent to driving.

        On that 8 minute trip plan, it’s 4 minutes walking 1/4 mile to the existing stop in front of NSCC (where a veritable convoy of buses pass through on their way to NGTC), and then 4 more minutes to ride the 3 stops to the transit center.

        With the bridge, the walk distance is at a minimum tripled from that 4 minute, 2 block walk. That stretches the walk out to around 15 minutes total. At best, it is a wash vs. the current bus transfer. Neither the current bus transfer or the long overpass seem like a very attractive option.

  5. Maybe you should come at this issue from the other side.

    For example, clearly you think that people should be riding buses to LINK.

    So, can you prove that there is adequate and accessible bus service for the region that would want to park there?

    (Brings up the other question…who would park there? People coming down from Everett who would want zero cost parking and quick ride in. Or neighborhood residents.)

    1. For people who live nearby, I think the primary access mode for reaching the station should be walking and biking, not busing. Besides being cheaper and more sustainable than buses, it also solves the problem of long waits and limited schedules.

      Buses should still be an option, of course, as bikes do break down, bad weather hits unexpectedly, and some people have physical conditions that do not permit them to ride a bike, but for short trips under 2 miles, most people do not require motorized transport.

      1. For myself, ok…but I think you’re being unrealistic.

        Many of the people who use transit have mobility problems, yet need to get to jobs, or social services or aid centers.

        Secondly, what about the person who wants to drive to Northgate because going downtown is only the first part of their transit journey. Suppose they want to do family food shopping on their way home…or visit Northgate mall?

        Or, as I ask, what if they are coming in from the North and want to break off their commute before driving into downtown. So, this becomes a sort of Park n’ Ride lot essentially. Isn’t that winning half the battle if you can get them to do the last miles in transit?

      2. “Many of the people who use transit have mobility problems, yet need to get to jobs, or social services or aid centers.”

        Yes, bikes are not for everyone and I’m suggesting we get rid of buses all together. While Copenhagen has a wonderful biking network, they still have bus service too, and we should too. However, while some people do have mobility problems, the large majority of the population should easily be able to ride a bike 1-2 miles in the morning and afternoon, provided we can build the facilities to convince them it’s safe and they’re not going to get run over.

        “Secondly, what about the person who wants to drive to Northgate because going downtown is only the first part of their transit journey.”

        What does that have to do with whether or not with how well a bike works to get to the transit center?

        “Suppose they want to do family food shopping on their way home…or visit Northgate mall?”

        Most shopping can be done by bike too, provided you bring the right equipment. For really large loads, yes, driving does become the answer. And there will always be some parking at Northgate to accomodate such people. As long as parking has a reasonable price (~$3-5), people who live half a mile away and could easily walk or bike will walk or bike, while people who have a real need for a car on the way home will have a space available. This is much cheaper than trying to satisfy the parking need for those that really need it by simply building as big a garage as you possibly can.

        “Or, as I ask, what if they are coming in from the North and want to break off their commute before driving into downtown. So, this becomes a sort of Park n’ Ride lot essentially. Isn’t that winning half the battle if you can get them to do the last miles in transit?”

        In the short term, maybe. Long-term, when Link extends past Northgate, people from further north will board the train earlier, for example, Mountlake Terrace, where there’s lots of parking. And even in the short term, there’s still the 510/511 buses.

      3. ‘The large majority of the population should easily be able to ride a bike 1-2 miles in the morning and afternoon, provided we can build the facilities to convince them it’s safe and they’re not going to get run over.’

        Really? Do you ever think of anything else except bikes? I love biking, but, I think you are WAY off base here. Try looking at things from the other side.

    2. I find it hard to believe many people would drive from Everett to Northgate to take Link. That’s a 15 mile drive, and bus 510 is right there in Everett. You’re passing the Lynnwood transit center and city, and the mediocre Mountlake Terrace TC. That’s a completely different situation from Covington, where there’s no transit center between it and Kent Station, and the only transit is an hourly local bus (nothing like the 510).

  6. Whenever the parking garage comes up I just roll my eyes. The garage has been slated as part of the transportation development plan since at least 1999. The purpose is to gain some space to build housing and possible commercial. It most definately not a one trick pony, its about TOD. It is wasteful to have tons of surface parking in TOD areas. Not a good use of valuable space at all.

    1. Yes, parking garages are indeed an absolutely critical component of TOD.

      You heard it here first, folks.

    2. Hi Sue!

      There are several reasons the Transportation Strategic Plan that included this garage isn’t really relevant today.

      First, it assumed that Northgate was to be the northernmost terminus of Link. Now we’re building stations farther north, and because many of the Northgate parkers are coming from areas better served by the next station (and even past it), demand is reduced.

      Second, I believe it had no concept of RapidRide. Once you’re a few blocks west of I-5, we’ll have service that’s faster than driving to Northgate station and transferring – even to Link. That also reduces demand.

      Third, our mode share has already been changing, because in 1999, fuel was, what, $1.80 a gallon? Now it’s $4.25, and by the time North Link opens, you can bet it’ll be over $6. We’re seeing more and more people bike, walk, and take local buses to stations, and that will only continue to increase.

      Why not just reduce the surface space and let the market handle the parking demand? Why should we spend new transit money to continue to subsidize only a small portion of the new station’s users, when it can go so much farther in expanding service?

      1. The thing is, if you don’t have a bus stop that’s reasonably close to your home, or if you need to do other trips that require cargo space after work, a bus to Northgate is not an answer.

        Also, many people psychologically feel safer on a train than a bus, so enticing them with free parking to pay to take transit seems like a good trade off.

      2. John, no one is trading in absolutes here. The things you’re bringing up are still there, but there are fewer of them! This is a discussion of share – less parking is okay because of all these factors I’ve mentioned.

  7. I personally think park and rides make sense for the short term in certain areas. I will let other people argue whether the short term benefit outweighs the long term (it looks like that argument has already occurred above). More than anything, though, I think the benefits in this area of a park and ride are oversold, while the benefits of a bridge are undersold. Here is why:

    1) Northgate is a nasty area to drive. It is often congested and the lights are terrible.
    2) Access from the east is not convenient. Northgate Way is pretty much the only way to get there from the east. Traveling along Northgate Way and then trying to get to the transit station is (you guessed it) often congested and the lights are terrible.
    3) Coming from the west, things are a bit better, but then you get pinched by the freeway itself. Basically, for a park and ride oriented station, the location is bad. A much better alternative would be something like 145th, which is an arterial from 3rd NW to Lake City Way.
    4) Northgate is not a terminus. There will be stations to the north and south. Specifically, the next station to the north will be on a major through street (125th/130th) where there will be frequent bus service. Users outside a very small window will simply go north or south to get the train.

    Let me give you an example. I live in Pinehurst. There are a few apartment buildings, but by and large, the neighborhood if full of houses on big lots. You would assume that a park and ride makes a lot of sense for the area. I’m sure there are folks who drive in the morning and then take a bus. Many of those folks, though, don’t drive to Northgate. They drive over to 15th NE or Lake City Way. When the train stations are built and the buses are re-routed, it will make even less sense to go to Northgate from Pinehurst. For much of the people in my neighborhood, it makes sense to walk (or drive) a few blocks north to 125th, take the new 41 (or whatever it is called) and get on the train. The new 41 will run every 5 minutes from Lake City to the new station at 125th. The only people I see taking advantage of the Northgate Park and Ride are the folks in Victory Heights (Maple Leaf residents will just travel south to the Roosevelt station).

    On the other hand, here are a few benefits of the bridge:

    1) There are plenty of big buildings and apartment buildings on either side of the freeway. This means that there are plenty of people who might want to walk from one side to the other to go to work. A lot of those buildings are medical buildings; you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that there will be lots more in the near future.
    2) Just as the train stations will free up the 41 (allowing it to run every five minutes) a bridge will alleviate the need for frequent service from NSCC to Northgate.
    3) From a biking perspective, a bridge in the area would be great. Hard core bikers won’t care, but slower bikers will definitely appreciate the bridge. Slower bikers hate busy streets (where you might get killed) or big hills. To get across I-5, those are the alternatives (Northgate Way or 92nd). A bridge at that location links up fairly large plateaus using side streets, which would make it popular for people in a lot of different areas.
    4) Of course, the people who are most likely to enjoy a new bike bridge are the people who live close to the freeway. This area has way more people in it, and will continue to have way more people in it than Pinehurst or Victory Heights. Those folks might want to take advantage of a park and ride, but that is unlikely. In other words, if you live five blocks from the station, why drive to it? With a bridge, though, if you live in Thornton Place, and go to school at NSCC, then you could easily walk or ride your bike to work.

    1. At the recent Northgate walking tour, the guide mentioned that those “suburban” office buildings southeast of the TC are fingered for redevelopment, along with the Northgate Station complex where Silver Platters is. I don’t think there are any specific plans yet but the area might be significantly more walkable in 10 or 20 years.

  8. I’m sorry, but I think all of your comments are shortsighted and narrow-minded, and I think that the planning staff at both SDOT and Sound Transit seem to have received their educations from an unnamed nearby school. The Seattle area transportation leaders perpetually make the same transportation planning mistakes. While Northgate’s ability to facilitate the movement of vehicular traffic is currently, and in the future will even more be, less than stellar, recent Metro Transit budget cuts aren’t brought up. How can you promote and expect people to ride buses to a transit center, if the County is cutting transit funding, transit routes, and transit route frequency? This is the mistake that I’m referring to: the expectation that Link users will come to Northgate’s station via buses, even if the buses aren’t adequately funded. Well, if buses are cut. You are relying on only a few bikes and peds. That leaves only cars, folks. The P&R will bring in the ridership…which will show the success of Link.

    I also understand that Northgate’s status as a terminus station will be short-lived as the Link will ultimately extend to Lynnwood. Of course, when funding is secured. *snicker* Look at the Federal Way fiasco….and how that is panning out.

    All of you seem interested in making this area have “walkable,” “bike-able” and “sustainable” neighborhoods…and want to pay an arm and a leg for these light rail trains at the expense of everyone in Pierce, King and Snohomish Counties (RTID). I’m sorry, but I can’t support this ideology of yours. It screams social engineering. That’s not the job of transportation planners. The job of transportation planners is to forecast growth, evaluate future transportation needs and evaluate transportation impacts. Additionally, they also determine what can be done to mitigate increased demand through various modes (peds, transit, vehicles) yet facilitate the mobility of goods and the traveling public. Light rail doesn’t haul goods found normally in 53′ tailors, so roads need to be funded and maintained.

    People want money spent roadway and highway capacity. Even with gas at $4.40/gallon, the freeways are still jammed with cars. What does that tell you? Sustainability is a relative term. What is sustainable to me and others living just outside of Seattle, isn’t sustainable to you.

    I’ll do my best to be at the meeting and look forward to the debate.

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