Last night at Sound Transit’s public meeting about their proposed parking garage at Northgate, it looks like more than 92% of the people who showed up (that’s the percentage that won’t use cars to get to the station in 2030, on stickers many attendees wore) had a pretty clear message – they don’t want Sound Transit to build a parking garage at Northgate. Instead, they want to allow Northgate the opportunity to become, as Craig Benjamin says toward the end of the KIRO clip, a “walkable, bikeable, transit-rich community.”
This is a pretty interesting situation. This site isn’t in the middle of an existing residential community, it’s next to a freeway in what’s basically still a sea of parking: the people at this meeting aren’t exactly NIMBYs. In fact, some of the attendees seem more like YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard), with a few saying they want to see high density development around this station!
Sound Transit made a misstep here – while engagement on the North Link station design has been ongoing for many years, even before Seattle Transit Blog existed, the inclusion of a permanent garage in that discussion is very new. A parking garage was included here as part of SDOT’s 1998 Transportation Strategic Plan, but that plan assumed that Northgate would be the northern terminus of Link. A lot has changed in 14 years – with RapidRide helping serve people farther to the west of Northgate, and with Link continuing north, there are a lot more options now than it appeared 14 years ago. Moving forward on a structure without seriously reconsidering it and engaging the public is a blunder for the agency, especially when there’s been a growing community effort to improve Northgate.
This is in itself something that I don’t think has come up yet. There’s a distinction between urban villages, of which Seattle has over 20, and an urban center – a place that’s expected to grow to be a major population center, not just a neighborhood. The city’s core of Downtown, Uptown, SLU and Capitol Hill is one of these. The U-district is as well. And Northgate is the third – the only one that isn’t already a dense, vibrant part of the urban core. It’s going to grow, and just as Northgate was the first mall in the country, it’s going to be the first to change, as a 21st century model for making car-oriented inner suburbs better for human beings.
There is a lot of money at stake here. A garage would likely be closer to $25 million than $40 million, but these are not small amounts, and this money is limited. State Representative Gerry Pollet came to the meeting and pointed out that many of the people parking at the station come from just on the west side of the freeway. A pedestrian bridge would reduce the number of people who need to drive around. Today, they don’t have an alternative. If we don’t give them free parking, they’ll consider one.
I’m not surprised at this reaction from the community, but I’m surprised at its strength. A lot of the people there last night have been involved in guiding Northgate for many years, and it’s been a shock to them that Sound Transit had gone so far in their work without involving the community. I didn’t, personally, realize opposition would be so strong – but now that Sound Transit has righted their approach and seen the reaction, I now believe they should go back to the drawing board and spend the time – even if it causes a delay – to find a better solution.