Photo by DWHonan

Over the last couple of weeks, the Puyallup City Council has been in talks with Sound Transit over potential access improvements to Puyallup Station.  Like many of its South Line counterparts, the station is heavily auto-oriented despite being situated in a fairly quaint and walkable downtown. As a result, growth in Sounder ridership has greatly increased the pressure on nearby commuter lots, all of which are already at-capacity on the weekdays.

At the same time, the November failure of Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 and the recent curtailing of local transit service have continued to dwindle multimodal access options.  Many commuters are now relying on the Red Lot, a secondary lot on the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which is served by PT Sounder feeder routes 400 and 495.

Last year, Sound Transit commissioned a Sounder Stations Access Study, exploring various access improvements to both North Line and South Line stations.  The findings recommended a variety of potential improvement projects for Puyallup Station, including:

  • Various pedestrian and bicycle facility improvements
  • A station pedestrian bridge over the tracks
  • Parking garage options, ranging from 255 to 490 stalls

Although many commuters would probably be tempted by the prospect of a fancy new garage, a few Puyallup officials are predictably citing traffic concerns as reason for opposing any major expansion in station parking.  Structured parking would also be the costliest option on the table– back-of-the-napkin estimates put a garage well into the $10 to $15 million range.  Such high costs could easily become a sticking point in discussions between Puyallup and Sound Transit.

The access study also presented a few ridership models, which could help determine the necessity of parking expansion.  The models project varying levels of growth in ridership for Puyallup Station, largely depending on the modeling assumptions used:

  • 2030 ST Access Tool, using PSRC future land use projections: total ridership of 1,260 (park-and-ride: 580; walk: 390)
  • ST 2030 Fare Model, TOD-based station type assuming a build-out of current zoned capacity of 18 dwelling units/acre (du/ac): total ridership of 2,000 (park-and-ride: 670; walk: 780)
  • ST 2030 Fare Model “Suburban-village” station type assuming an increase in station parking: total ridership of 2,000 (park-and-ride: 1,075; walk: 400)

What’s interesting about the latter two options is that while overall ridership would be the same between both, the TOD-based model projects a significant increase in access from pedestrians despite assuming only a measly build-out of 18 du/ac allowed under current zoning.  For comparison, The Station at Othello Park next has a net density of 175 du/ac– a good indication that any upzoning in Puyallup to comparable TOD levels could generate a significant increase in Sounder riders.

Like many communities before it, however, Puyallup is already experiencing anti-density rhetoric.  While I don’t exactly see a regional growth center in Puyallup’s future, loosening zoning restrictions could be the first step to deal with exploding Sounder ridership, although doing so could unleash the same backlash we’ve seen in every other city that has been tempted to fiddle with the land use code.

Nonetheless, I am skeptical of some assertions by Puyallup deputy mayor Knutsen that “mixed-use buildings and urban living” are somehow in conflict with “tradition,” whatever that is.  Although much of Puyallup does resemble postwar rural-suburban sprawl, its downtown core is fairly walkable and micro-urban, which is far more compatible with mixed-use density than structured parking could ever be.

52 Replies to “Puyallup Mulling Sounder Station Improvements”

  1. “mixed-use buildings and urban living” are somehow in conflict with “tradition”

    So I guess this photograph from the City of Puyallup’s own web site, purporting to be taken there in 1890, is a fake then?

    1. Exactly. Puyallup’s tradition is a streetcar suburb, with residents walking distance from the station.

      1. This is exactly my preferred model of development, rather than the centralized unicore of one giant city full of 200 sq ft apodment blocks. We could string development like this all the way to Eugene, OR.

        A nod to the 19th days of interconnected small towns with significant local jobs and agriculture..Agraria.

      2. Interesting..the top speed of the new MPXpresses that Sounder has on order is 108 mph!

        Even a boost in average speed to 80 mph would cover the entire southern route in less than an hour!

        Oh, and what’s with all the delays coming into Seattle on the late afternoon reverse commute? Seems like it parks there trying to get to King..we’re paying good money for that track!

      3. Bailoman, do you not understand David B’s photograph? Do you not understand the row houses in New York where you grew up? Do you not understand the 1920s architecture that remains in Pioneer Square and Pike Place and Summit Avenue and University Way? Those are streetcar suburbs (except downtown of course, which was a downtown). Units were small, close together, close to the sidewalk, and 2-6 stories. They were larger than apodments, smaller than skyscrapers, and denser than quarter-acre detached estates. You could walk from one to another, or to the store or school or post office, without walking a mile or through a huge parking lot. Some people call this medium density, others call it lowrise density, but whatever you call it, it’s the lower of two density levels that work. There’s a higher-level density that works too, but you’re not interested in that so we don’t need to discuss it. The evil higher-level density can stay in Seattle and Bellevue and maybe Kent Station, but it doesn’t need to invade East Hill.

        Streetcar suburbs means densifying East Hill like (Fremont, Ballard, Greenwood, Columbia City, Capitol Hill — take your choice), and creating a string of these towns all connected by frequent transit. It does not mean building more towns like East Hill is now, or undensifying East Hill to make it more single-family.

        There’s room for both a large rectangle of several such neighborhoods (as in Chicago’s North Side — the closest thing in Seattle is Center City), and several individual towns with some space between them. So people can live in a large rectangle or a small island-town as they wish. But in both cases the neighborhoods need to be “compact”; i.e., walkable and at least medium density. That’s what’s missing in modern suburban developments, and why they’re called sprawl.

      4. Imagine what it would be like to walk one or two blocks off the main route of a “street car suburb”. It quickly gives way to ever larger in town SFHs and then farms.

        The horror story of density that you and the others wish to inflict upon us is unnatural.

      5. The “ever-larger” SFHs were small-lot like Wallingford and still within a mile of the station. People who lived in isolated houses were either farmers who worked at home and grew at least part of their own food, or the 1% in their mansions. That’s not the situation now. Now the majority of suburbanites live in isolated houses or isolated subdivisions, where their work and daily necessities are not within walking distance and the density is too low for frequent buses.

        It’s not difficult to reconcile a streetcar suburb layout with modern ways of life. Scandinavia is doing it.

  2. “Tradition” in Puyallup, at least as far as transportation goes, means “autos”, or at least “auto-centric”. It’s a failed paradigm, but one they seem devoted to – and all the more so given the prominence of the auto dealerships in that town.

    That said, I’m guessing that “ST 2030 Fare Model, TOD-based station type” actually would be the best for Puyallup based on increased tax revenue from the DT Urban core. Parking lots just don’t generate a lot of economic activity, and they don’t do much for property values either.

    If I was ST I’d just move forward with the Sounder capacity improvements, do as much as possible to advance TOD, and leave any additional parking issues to the city to deal with — that is what city government is for, and they can always solve the problem by just letting people park on the street and in front yards.

    1. Leaving parking issues to the city is what Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system does in at least some suburbs. There are major advantages to this model. In the town I grew up in:

      – Parking doesn’t monopolize space near the platforms; actual businesses are there on a normal street grid and parking is scattered within a few blocks of the platforms.
      – Commuter parking issues, which can get politically contentious, become issues in city politics, not meaningless complaints to appointed transit system officials. Elected city officials have to agree on and implement workable solutions instead of scoring political points with incoherent criticism of the transit system.

      1. Has Metra built any new stations, or are all the stations inherited from the WWII era? In Sounder’s case all the stations are new, or at least new to commuter rail. As the cities look at it, if you build a large facility (a Walmart or a mall or a stadium or a commuter rail station), it’s your responsibility to build sufficient parking for it. The city itself has the parking burden when it builds a school or city hall. So this is all about money — the cities naturally want ST to pay for the parking garage, and that the ST1/2 taxes naturally included parking with the stations. Perhaps the only thing ST can do is to pay for the first N spaces — with a $1 or $2 or whatever parking fee — and if the city wants more spaces or free parking it can do something about that.

      2. Metra has built new stations. Elburn and La Fox are pretty new, and have more parking nearby than anything else… but they were built in the middle of cornfields, not in the middle of towns. Sounder is being built into the middle of existing towns of more significance than Elburn and La Fox.

      3. There are many old station locations on Metra which were rebuilt as palatial station palaces by the local municipalities.

        Metra policy is basically, we’ll put up a shack, if you want something more you pay for it yourself. Unfortunately the City of Chicago and Metra don’t seem to cooperate — some weird idea that Metra is “suburban rail” — so the stations within Chicago frequently aren’t fixed by anyone.

    2. If there is such a demand for parking it could also signal a failure of adequate local transit to get people to the station. Simply imposing draconian fines or penalties for people who are already making a best effort to use transit seems authoritarian.

      1. There’s a difference between a fee (such as a charge for paid parking) and a “fine” or “penalty” (such as a parking ticket). A fee is something you pay to support an accepted use of a resource; a fine or penalty is a punitive payment you make because you’ve used a resource in a way that isn’t accepted.

        This is why I’d be interested in getting ST out of the parking business and leaving cities to come up with parking solutions that meet their own needs. No suburban Chicago park-and-rider would call city garage fees “draconian fines or penalties” or “authoritarian” because they’re set by political processes they have a voice in. For train and bus facilities ST should focus on efficient movements of transit vehicles and good pedestrian access to platforms.

      2. There comes an issue of where do you draw the line on who is responsible for whos ridership? Should Pierce Transit be responsible for Sounder Ridership, when they are struggling to keep a minimal amount of service on the street? Should the City of Puyallup be responsible for Sound Transit’s ridership, when the city has little say in how much parking capacity is built by Sound Transit, and to a lesser extend of where? Should Sound Transit be responsible for their riders by providing appropriate parking capacity, on or off site, and shuttle/feeder service for their riders? I think you’ll find the answer is with all 3. Sound Transit should indeed be responsible for meeting the needs and demands of their ridership, especially given the poor financial situation that Pierce Transit is in now. PT should be focusing on keeping as much base service on the street as possible right now, and Sound Transit should be providing the services needed to their riders. And Finally the improvements at the Red Lot P&R is an innovative partnership that ST should look at implementing elsewhere with shopping centers and other entities who have large parking lots that go mostly unused during the day. (And of course ST providing the connecting service).

      3. There is no reason the city shouldn’t’ be responsible.

        They are the ones reaping the rewards for having someone else (ST) provide the service, all they need to do is step up to the plate and decide how they locally want to accommodate the effects of that service.

      4. “If there is such a demand for parking it could also signal a failure of adequate local transit to get people to the station.”

        It could. It depends on where they’re coming from — a few places or many? And what density they live in — large enough to support a bus route? I’m certain that PT hasn’t exhausted the potential of feeder routes in Puyallup’s neighborhoods. Partly because PT can’t even afford to run full basic service, and partly because Americans can’t even imagine having the level of service that would exhaust feeders’ ridership potential. I’m also certain that many of the people are coming from isolated McMansions — too undense for feeders to serve. They are directly the problem: they’re living in a place too isolated for feeders.

      5. MrZ: “Ridership” implies a numeric quota; the agency must fill its quota. But what we need to look at is trip demand, and how well the transit addresses it and is an alternative to driving. It’s really the city’s responsibility to ensure the city functions well. At the same time, the transit agency is the transit expert. Perhaps the right attitude is cities that make sensible Transit Master Plans and implement them in partnership with the transit agency. The wrong attitude is what Tacoma allegedly did, “We don’t have a transit plan, that’s PT’s and ST’s responsibility.” Because transit is an essential part of a well-functioning city, along with walking, bicycling, and driving. The city is in the best position to articulate where its transit needs are: who wants to go where, and what the demand for transit in each place is. If the city doesn’t know that, or if it’s not acknowledging unmet transit demand, that’s a city problem.

        (There’s also the factor of how much the landscape forces people to make unnecessary trips, or unnecessarily long trips. Some trips are because things that should be within walking distance aren’t. Some 40-mile trips to Seattle are because comparable jobs and environments don’t exist in Pierce County or south King County when the should, in the centers of Puyallup and Tacoma and Auburn where they’d be easy to get to on transit.)

      6. When push came to shove in Bonney Lake, ST stepped up and assumed responsibility for the Sounder feeder when that city was deannexed from the Pierce Transit district.

      7. “Some 40-mile trips to Seattle are because comparable jobs and environments don’t exist in Pierce County or south King County when the should, in the centers of Puyallup and Tacoma and Auburn where they’d be easy to get to on transit.”

        How ironic because the 40 mile trip to Seattle is actually closer to Puyallup, in travel time, than many other destinations. I don’t think it’s even possible to get from Puyallup to Tacoma anymore, except when Sounder is running, without taking an enormous detour all the way to Federal Way.

      8. A couple of years ago, Pierce Transit restored Route 400, which is a direct trip from Downtown Tacoma to the Puyallup Sounder Station and the South Hill Mall TC. Unfortunately, midday service is going to be reduced to 90-minute headways once PT’s final round of cuts occurs in September.

      9. And I don’t think the 400 runs at all on weekends. Then, it’s either:
        – spend 2 hours on a long detour to Federal Way
        – call a cab
        – jump off a moving Amtrak train

    3. Puyallup residents have the front yard parking down already — they’ll charge you $20 to park on their lawn during fair season.

  3. Having grown up in Puyallup, I can agree that Puyallup has a “fairly quaint and walkable downtown”, but nobody actually lives there.

    Where I grew up would be what I considered back then “close to downtown”: an easy drive, a quick bike ride or a pleasant walk (1.5 miles, and I did the Sounder walk to my parents house many times during college).

    You can push TOD and mixed use housing into the downtown core, but it will be considered nothing more than novelty. Puyallup is set in its ways and you’d be hard pressed to change it. We’re better of giving them their parking garage and focusing out time and energy expanding transit and density to the places that want and need it the most.

    1. Na, keep pushing them. But if they don’t want to do the smart thing, then let them pay for their own garage.

      There are other funding priorities in the South King Subarea, and I am sure that money could be spent very wisely somewhere else in South King. LR to Fed Way anyhow? It wouldn’t be enough, but it would sure help….

      1. Good luck with that. It’ll be hard to convince a city, in the sub-area equity, with a pretty lackluster station that they can’t have a parking garage, while Tacoma, Kent, Auburn and soon to be Tukwilla, all have nice stations with gigantic parking garages. And outside of Kent, how many of those other stations have TOD next to them?

        I’m not saying they’re right, I think the Puyallup Station is the perfect location for TOD and density, and right in the heart of a downtown. I’m saying, since it’s an uphill battle, with the potential of a lawsuit, give them the minimum they they need to keep happy and paying into Sound Transit and focus our time and energy elsewhere.

      2. So spend it on Tacoma Link then.

        And, since the cost of Tacoma Link is less than for Central Link style LR, diverting the parking garage funding to Tacoma Link would actually go further.

        And I suspect Tacoma would really appreciate it.

      3. Sound Transit has recently changed its mind on TOD. It used to stay out of the issue, to avoid getting sucked into pro- vs anti- debates and being villified. So it deferred to the cities to either build or not build TOD — and the cities didn’t. Now ST has taken the position that TOD is an essential part of a successful transit network environment, and thus it has a responsibility to advocate for TOD.

      4. I am not sure why Sound Transit ended up with responsibility for parking garage construction. It is quite common in other “commuter rail” systems for that to be a city responsibility, with the exception of extreme outlying park-and-rides (where the local municipality, often a rural area, doesn’t care because none of the people going to the station are from there).

    2. My experience with Kent is this..the Old Town is really more a form of open air mall. When people want to “do something” they drive, bike or transit there. I find nothing wrong with that…what all these discussions leave out is that for many socializing is not sitting at a cafe Kindling an eBook, but interacting with friends and family within homes, schools and businesses.

    3. I agree with this statement, having grown up in Puyallup and continuing to live there within walking distance of the station. Puyallup’s Downtown has made great strides from being an 98% antique district to having more entertainment and dining, however the streets still get rolled up after dark in the city (except when the fair is running).

      1. I recently went one Friday night to check out the new brewery downtown and I was surprised how much the nightlife has changed, now that there are bars you can hang out in without worrying about getting shot (remember Two J’s and the Irish Eyes?), it was pretty bustling and a good compliment to the day crowd.

        But in the end, everyone drives, as there are no transit options, biking is deadly at night and there’s very little housing within quick walking distance.

      2. Dukes, Mama Sortini’s, Ram and Cal’s at Kent Station all have a midnight bar scene which is very lively and there is zero local bus service then. At best people will use taxis.

        Today I took a bike ride on the Interurban Trail and finished with a very late lunch (my reward for working the last 3 weekends straight!). I sat ouside in the warmth and enjoyed a Naked Pizza near the fountain. Even they are open to 10/11 during the week.

        However, the last time I was in Seattle I noticed a whole lot of places rolling up the awnings at 6 and 7pm!!

  4. The idea that a Sounder Station is something that is currently going catalyze TOD is absurd. It is a uni-directional commuter service (except for two trips…?). I haven’t seen the budget figures to turn the station area into pedestiran-oriented development (what TOD actually is supposed to be) so I’m not saying that it can’t change by 2030, but the idea that it would suddenly be anything other than auto-centric commuter rail station just because ST has a study of TOD seems unlikely. Then again, 17 years is a long time.

    1. IMO TOD only works when you have service with an all day-evening span, and on a regular frequent headway. Right now we only have one route like that in Puyallup, the 578. Especially after September there wont be much local service to speak of in the city.

      1. Does anybody actually ride the 578 all the way from Puyallup? To date, I have ridden it exactly once, and there were a grand total of 4 people on bus. And this was not the middle of the night either – it was around noon on a weekday.

    2. These stations are in city centers. They’re the right place to build up pedestrian districts around them — which were historically there. The stations created the cities, and the cities grew up around them. Obviously unidirectional peak-commute trips can’t meet people’s total transit needs or “make” TOD successful, but they’re one step in that direction.

  5. When I visit family in Puyallup, I’m struck by how flat the town is and how awesome of a biking town it *could* be, given just a little political will. It seems like a perfect place to setup a network of neighborhood greenways that connect to the station and other destinations downtown. It’s cheap and may not even piss people off since it doubles as traffic calming for side streets, something even many NIMBYs can support – Just don’t mention the biking aspect as the primary issue. Sigh…

    1. I’ve wanted so bad to bike to Puyallup (from North Seattle) to visit family. You can get to Pacific almost solely on trails (except for a small/large disconnect between the Elliot Bay Trail and the Green River Trail). Once in Pacific, you are stuck with dangerous two lane, high speed roads…and that’s just to get TO Puyallup. Once you’re in Puyallup, you pretty much ride the sidewalks on main roads if you value your life. When you get into the nicer, gridded streets, there’s plenty of opportunities for residential streets, but still not that great.

    2. Puyallup is also only a mile away from the foothills trail to Orting and South Prairie. Unfortunately, that mile is not particularly bike friendly.

  6. Now would be a good time to bring up another point about the Puyallup Transit scene that needs some attention. Given PT’s current funding problems, and given the fact that ST and/or the City want TOD around Puyallup Station, would it not be a good point to explore closing the South Hill Mall Transit Center, and moving its connections down to Puyallup Station or at the very least South Hill P&R? Granted there would be a cost in service hours for the #410, however these could come from closing the facility and saving on the maintenance costs when the property is disposed of. There would need to be an extension of the #410 to Puyallup Station, but i’m sure that could be made up for by not having to maintain the facility. Not having to loop the 402 though would save another ten or fifteen minutes each trip which could than be re-used elsewhere as well.

    1. Any comments from locals?

      One of the problems with the Pierce Transit cuts is that they decided to go with salami-slicing, maintaining lots of routes with reduced span of service and reduced frequency. This is the death spiral. I haven’t seen a serious alternative proposed.

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