On Monday, from 6 PM to 8 PM at Olympic View Elementary School, Sound Transit is hosting an open house to discuss Northgate station construction plans, “including a potential shared use, replacement parking garage and an integrated station access plan”. Parking, specifically the possibility of constructing a 600-900 stall shared-use, shared-cost garage on the Northgate Mall property close to the station, has dominated coverage of North Link for the last few weeks, and I expect it to dominate Monday’s discussion.

The open house is a part of a welcome effort by Sound Transit to engage the community, present facts, and state its goals with respect to replacement parking at Northgate. On Friday, ST released a fact sheet and a press release which previews the arguments that will be made on Monday; the fact sheet in particular is required reading. From the presser:

Construction of the Northgate Station is expected to displace 428 park-and-ride stalls managed by King County Metro over a period of about seven years. In addition, station construction is also expected to displace 451 parking stalls at Northgate Mall for which Sound Transit must compensate the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group (SPG). In order to comply with federal ROD requirements for mitigating the lost park-and-ride capacity and to provide a way for SPG to replace its lost parking, a shared use parking garage is proposed with a total of 600 – 900 spaces split between transit riders and patrons of Northgate Mall. The preferred site for the proposed garage is on Northgate Mall property near the future station site. The garage would be built before station construction begins to minimize impacts to current transit users and Mall customers.

This engagement, unfortunately, comes a little late. The mythical “$40 million parking garage” (yesterday debunked again on Crosscut) has gone viral, with Cascade Bike Club and Feet First making it the centerpiece of efforts to rally opposition to parking structures at Northgate, illustrating the dangers of an information vacuum. I’m told these groups feel ST is stampeding towards building more parking, and want more consideration and study of alternate modes, with a possible bike-pedestrian bridge over I-5 the big prize, although I’m unclear how broadcasting such dubious information advances their cause.

39 Replies to “Northgate Open House on Monday”

  1. After a plethora of “bad” decisions in the transportation sector (Deep Bore Tunnel, waterfront plan, I-5 Link Alignment, etc.) that are seemingly the result of “back-room deals”, perhaps it is thought that preemptive alarm raises the stakes for these actors that the policy decisions they embark on should reflect the values the community cares about and less so, entrenched special interests.

      1. $30,000 x 900 = $27 million. Who’s paying for the other 450 stalls? SPG? How can Sound Transit claim to know the costs of the garage when their own fact sheet says they won’t know the final cost per stall until they are negotiated in the future?

      2. @Billy ST won’t know the exact cost of a garage but there are rough calculations you can do to come up with a cost range. 30K is around how much a structured garage built by an agency would be ~15K is how much it costs per stall if the stall is shared.

      3. The Burien park and ride lot cost $20.8 million and has 504 stalls. That’s over $41K per stall. At that cost per stall a 900-stall garage would cost around $37 million. These are real numbers from a real project, as opposed to imaginary numbers that ST admits aren’t final.

      4. Billy my point is that there is a difference between a normal P&R garage and a shared use garage. KC Metro paid something like 15,000 a stall for the current shared use garage just north of the transit center. That is a real a real number as well.

      5. When was it built and what would it be inflation-adjusted to today’s dollars?

      6. Adam, the Burien garage (built in 2011) cost $155/sq ft, almost 3 times the highest cost estimate for a union built 5 story parking garage on Reed Construction Data. So I would love to know what the difference between a normal P&R garage and a shared use garage is, beside one being built by ST and the other was not.

      7. @Phil I’m only talking about the costs a transit agency pays for the stall, not the total construction cost of that garage.

        When an agency builds the garage themselves they have to cover the full cost of the garage. In a shared use garage situation an agency splits the cost of construction with the other users of the facility, cutting the cost per stall to both. When I spoke to Ron Posthuma he said that KC Metro usually estimate that a garage will cost ~30,000 a stall but with the shared use garage at Northgate their portion of the cost only came out to ~15,000.

        As for the Burien P&R I don’t know what was included in the project costs so I can’t speak to that.

  2. The talk of “the 8%” of riders who will get to the station by car, and all the money that will be spent on making the station accessible to them, ignores a huge reality: Almost half the people going to the station will get there by train.

    We are the 49%! So there. (Cue Norman with the cost per rider.)

  3. As a matter of mode non-discrimination, I hope the charge to securely store a bicycle at the station is not greater than the cost to store an automobile there.

    Of course, the cars get preference for the HOV stalls, unless the bikes are two-seaters.

    1. interestingly enough that point came up at the open house last night. Apparently the ST board is “considering” charging for parking. In the interest of mode non-discrimination, tell me how it makes sense to charge for bike parking and not for cars?

  4. I’m sure no one intended to spread inaccurate information, but when Sound Transit fails to come forward with a plan until a month before the decision is to be made, its easy to see how groups could jump to worst-case scenarios as they try to assess what might happen. It turns out they were right about the number of stalls being considered–a point that you initially criticized as ill-informed (“I have no idea where ‘900 stalls’ came from”).

    In any event, I’m not yet convinced it won’t be more than $14 million, as suggested in the Cross-cut piece. For example, there has been talk of building the garage in such a way that an office tower could be built above it in the future. Would this increase the cost of the garage above the estimate Sound Transit generally uses? I was at the Sound Transit Board meeting on this last month and don’t recall anyone even asking how much the garage would cost. And it was the only option presented–no alternative sites for the garage, no alternative options to the garage (in terms of short term leasing for example), no cost/benefit analysis or comparison with other options. Just the veiled threat that if the Board didn’t agree to the plan next month, they would no longer be able to open the station in 2021. All-in-all, pretty disappointing.

    1. $14 million is for a 400 stall garage; $35,000 per stall which is about average. A 900 stall garage will be more like $30 million.

  5. I’ll wade in here a little bit and then get on with a weekend of running kids around…

    The cost for the proposed garage would be split with SPG. The final cost is unknown because that would be negotiated, should the Board choose to go ahead with this idea.

    ST is required to do something about the loss of parking during construction. The garage proposal meets those requirements, maintains good ridership during construction and provides an opportunity to turn a huge chunk of surface parking into TOD when we’re done. Paying for more bus service as mitigation during construction doesn’t get you the TOD.

    I’d encourage folks to read through the FAQ. Lots of staff will be on hand Monday night to answer questions and we still have a couple more Board meetings to talk about all of this and any changes that come about as part of this process.

    See you Monday. Have a great weekend.

    1. A parking garage built on SPG land for shoppers at the mall. Some stalls would be made available for transit users; presumable during the work day when mall traffic is low. Sounds like the sane thing to do is let SPG build their gargage on their land and negotiate a long term lease of say 20-30 years. ST is a transit agency, not a development slush fund.

      1. +1 for me, and +10 for my kids and grand kids that will have to pay for this in the long run. (yes, I have there proxy)

      2. ‘their’ not there. Let’s all chip in for a spell/grammer checker so I don’t look so stupid.

      3. Agree with Bernie. This what they did with the newer north garage at Northgate, Metro is leasing the 280 spaces (shoppers are allowed to use open spaces after 9am). Seeing how much the Burien palace cost, I don’t see how ST or Metro should ever be allowed to build a garage again.

      4. “ST is a transit agency, not a development slush fund.”

        Indeed. It’s not a parking garage agency, either. And if it were, it would be charging for parking.

        I have to say, something seems ill-thought-out about this stampede to use transit funds to pay for a free-parking garage for a mall.

    2. Please clarify just once more how a publicly funded garage that provides free parking for the next several decades would constitute transit oriented development.

  6. Bruce, I can’t believe you are so ignorant as to be unclear as to how this could advance Cascade and Feet First’s cause. In case you are I will explain it to you. There is a good chance that this strategy will get more of their supporters to show up at the meeting, which may lead to a better outcome as far as they are concerned. I don’t know whether it will be successful.

    On second thought if you are naive enough to be confident that this parking garage will not cost ST any more than $14 million then you might really be naive enough to not understand that hyperbole can be a very useful political tactic for rallying your base.

    1. I don’t think it’s a matter of intentional exaggeration. As Mr. Nourish notes, there are dangers in allowing an information vacuum to develop. In the face of uncertainly, people assume the worst. And in the absence of a detailed public plan, the only opportunity people have to influence the process is to act based these assumptions. Remember, it was only after there was an outcry did Sound Transit publicly reveal any details of the “preferred option.”

      Speaking personally, some of these details (the shared parking proposal, potential TOD, etc.) ease my concerns somewhat. But there are still many unanswered questions. What factors would influence whether the garage is 600 stalls on one end versus 900 on the other? What steps will be taken to ensure that all the car traffic generated by the garage (and concentrated in the peak hours) does not interfere with the speed and reliability of bus service to the station? Will the garage be able to accommodate 1st flour retail and/or office space above? What happens if there is no TOD deal for the Metro Park and Ride lots? Will commuter parking be part of TOD arrangements? If Sound Transit commits to spending money on parking above and beyond the minimum it legally must given the eminent domain and FTA considerations, how much will it commit to spend on bus/ped/bike access to the station? Hopefully, the meeting on Monday will provide more answers than the FAQ sheet.

      1. Good list of questions. Critically, the first question needs to be considered in any EIS:

        “What steps will be taken to ensure that all the car traffic generated by the garage (and concentrated in the peak hours) does not interfere with the speed and reliability of bus service to the station?”

  7. Seattle, ST, and Metro should all be trying to maximize transit ridership and improve mobility. Converting surface parking to housing is a type of TOD and results in more ridership. Between 2016 and 2021, the question is how to best mitigate the lost parking: garage, service hours, leased parking, a ped-bike bridge, or a combination. The cost-effectiveness of each could be estimated. The three governments do not have to do parking, service, or the bridge; they get to choose. They have limited funds and land. A garage is a permanent solution to a temporary issue. Each stall generates about two daily rides. Seattle policy is actually to discourage auto-access transit at Northgate. Service hours would probably attract more transit ridership. The current auto-access riders at Northgate are mostly going to downtown Seattle and First Hill, job markets with paid parking. Most (?) would still be transit riders without the parking stall.

    1. “Seattle policy is actually to discourage auto-access transit at Northgate.”

      Perhaps coming up with chapter-and-verse reference to the official adoption of this policy would be helpful?

  8. I’m a little confused by the last sentence of this post. How is it on a transit blog that a bridge expanding the walkshed of a rapid transit station over a freeway is ever “their” cause? How is that not our cause, too? And it seems “our” cause is a parking garage?

    I understand the point of the parking garage. But it’s utterly stupid that they aren’t even studying the bridge. It’s good that there’s pressure to build the bridge, because apparently without pressure it’s not happening.

    1. For a long time, a driving principle [no pun intended] of Northgate Station planning has been no net loss of current ridership. A key assumption has been that reducing parking would cause ridership to drop by the number of lost stalls. This logical leap was painfully on display at the recent ST Board meeting.

      Staff said that the bridge would cost on the order of $20 million, and that no governmental body was stepping forward to take ownership of the project. They were clearly very dismissive of the bridge idea.

      The unsaid agenda is that Snohomish County politicians want their constituents to be able to park at Northgate Station until Lynnwood Link opens, and other suburban politicians empathize with the desire to park and ride.

      There was no talk whatsoever about charging for the parking (which doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t part of the staff discussion) or how that might affect demand and shift some to taking the bus to the station.

      But they did say the intent is to have retail on the ground floor of the garage.

      Staff said that there had been a consensus around the principle of no net loss of ridership, but that that consensus was now in question, and that breaking that consensus could lead to conclusion of the project being pushed back beyond the target date of 2021. (The comment appeared to be a broadside at Mayor McGinn.) Council Member Conlin expressed wholehearted support for the garage. The mayor asked that staff look at the marginal cost per rider for the various accessibility infrastructure proposals (i.e. how many extra riders would the bridge draw vs. how many would the parking garage draw).

      At Conlin’s prodding, staff talked about how full Northgate’s parking was during Christmas shopping, including during the daytime.

      A key theme that was repeated over and over is that the parking garage makes it possible to eliminate lots of surface parking, and turn it into TOD, some of which will be ready when the station opens.

      They also described Northgate Station as the first of its kind — the first station where extensive discussion about all-modal access and TOD had been done in depth.

      1. Fine. Push the target back, if that’s what it takes to get an approximation to sane planning. It’s obvious from 20,000 feet (uh… literally, look at the aerial photos) that the pedestrian bridge is needed, and the dismissive attitude makes me think less of everyone with that attitude.

      2. Great. But how is a pedestrian bridge connecting the station to a college and adjacent neighborhood not OUR cause on a transit blog? The parking garage is what it is: the best way to provide the parking ST is contractually and legally required to provide. But the bridge? We should be standing up for that.

        The planners are dismissive of the bridge because it’s not part of their current plan, which they want to defend because they’ve worked hard on it. We aren’t ST, we’re a blog that advocates for good transit. The bridge should be our agenda.

        Really it should be SDOT that pays for it. Repairing destroyed pedestrian connections should be part of the cost of building freeways, everywhere and every time (if SDOT isn’t willing to pay it has no business building freeways). Since they probably won’t, and ST seems to be the agency that does capital projects, it falls to them. Agency politics is no excuse.

      3. You are making stuff up when you claim that Snohomish leaders want parking at Northgate. Almost nobody drives through traffic all the way to Northgate when there are large parking lots available at Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood now with fast bus service.

        In fact, over 75% of Northgate parkers are from the city of Seattle.

      4. Indeed (less than 3 miles is typical distance for folks driving to Northgate per Metro’s rider survey). There were several folks at the open house saying they drove because the infrastructure for biking and walking was not sufficient for them to feel safe otherwise. Yet instead of helping resolve those issues, we’re going to build an enormous parking structure. Understanding ST’s legal obligation (and desire to nail down the construction timeframe and move forward as quickly as possible), it’s really hard to explain this decision to the neighborhood.

      5. Last I checked, SDOT isn’t in the business of building freeways. That’s WSDOT’s purview. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been any mention of state/federal funding for the bridge over I-5.

    2. The vibe at last night’s open house was indeed openly dismissive of the bridge idea. At one point Ron Posthuma said something like “we don’t have the science to know how many people would use a bridge over the freeway”. They also continued to label the bridge as a pedestrian bridge, when the benefits to cyclists who live west of I-5 are probably even greater than they are for pedestrians.

      and yes, it’s pretty clear that without continued neighborhood and activist involvement ST will fall back on the “we’re just a transit agency” line.

Comments are closed.