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.