“Diamond parking” by smohundro

Sound Transit 3 is likely to spend nontrivial amounts of money on parking. The argument against agency-built parking is that it is among the least cost-efficient ways to spend money getting people to a station or bus stop. Furthermore, the land used for parking would best be used for dense development, which is revenue-positive. It creates ways for riders to live, work, and play within walking distance. Walking scales very well.

The soft version of this argument is that any agency-provided parking should charge a fee. This defrays some of the operating costs, discourages drivers that have other good options to free up room for those with none, and also encourages carpooling. With a properly set price, a pay lot should support more ridership than a free one.

The extremist pro-parking position, predictably held by the Seattle Times editorial board ($), is innumerate and silly.* But there are practical reasons to build parking. Many voters may see the train as useful only if they can visualize getting to it, even if they couldn’t all use the finite number of spaces every day. Not every station area is ready for a burst of new development: parts of the Rainier Valley, in year 8 of light rail, are still waiting for it. So why not provide parking in the meantime?

Perhaps development is the highest and best use of station area land. Perhaps parking is. In either case, both sides should have confidence in their position, and let the free market decide. Build neither TOD nor structured parking; sell the land to private entities. This is the system Seattle stumbled into in the Rainier Valley, and parking is in a nice equilibrium as development climbs from zero.

If “no one” wants to live in an outer station near the freeway, then by all means store cars there for a few bucks. If patterns change in the coming decades, it will be much easier to convert that land to housing, offices, and/or retail if the existing parking is in private hands. Meanwhile, if people are vying to live in transformed neighborhoods, by no means should we prevent that with a parking structure. I trust the price signal much more than ST Board horse-trading to get the balance right.

* The Times’s entire argument is that some people won’t use transit if ST doesn’t build them a space. But of course, if parking construction money leads to less rail, or fewer bus, bike, and pedestrian improvements, that will cause many more people to lose their access, including many with cars, as free parking at attractive locations is inevitably finite. As usual, people attached to their cars are “us,” and people using other modes are the “other.”

85 Replies to “Answer the Parking Question by Selling the Land”

  1. Sounds like a really good solution. As long as the area around the station is zoned for higher development, it will eventually happen (one would hope). Otherwise, it really wasn’t a very good place for a station (or light rail line).

    1. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. In denser areas of Seattle, where we’re talking about Link, etc… there is a valid point for no parking. Land value is super high and no amount of parking will help fill trains.

      But suburban express bus stops are a completely different animal. There you do need parking because a lot of people don’t have access to frequent, local buses to take them to the express routes. And making people pay $10 to park all day plus pay the fare to get on the bus will only result in them driving to work (where oftentimes parking is free). A nominal fee ($1 or $2) might be fine, but anything more than that and you will create more problems than you solve. Encouraging TOD is a great idea, but it needs to provide space for parking as well.

      Many people do want to live in higher density developments, but many do not. And public transit’s mandate is to serve everyone, not just those in high density developments.

      Lastly, before anyone says “Bikes are the answer if you’re not in walking distance”, they’re not the complete answer, and too many people biking will create their own problems. Bike storage, whether on buses or at stations, is not enough to handle a large number of people biking. I had to wait 20 minutes (5 or so buses passed by that had full racks) this morning at one of the 520 bus stops for a bus that had room for a bike. If you encourage people to bike, you’re going to need to provide a lot more space for bikes.

      1. RossB isn’t saying that suburbs where express buses come from don’t need parking. They do because unfortunately the station locations aren’t always walkable. He’s just agreeing with the Martin on this post that it’s a waste of our tax payer dollars to be worried about subsidizing it. People will pay $10 a day to a private garage or lot if it means not spending 2 hours in their car. Why take tax money that could be better spent doing other improvements, including more actual transit, when the needs of these people can be meant without it?

      2. You know in Vancouver, they have transit ridership that Seattle would only dream about, and they’ve only got a handful of park-and-rides out in the suburbs. Instead, they encourage people to ride the bus or live in TOD

        Be more like Vancouver, and less like BART

      3. Yeah, what BDawe said.

        I may not have been clear. If there is a midpoint station that can’t possibly get decent ridership without a park and ride, then I question whether it makes sense to add it. But typically, adding those types of stations are cheap.

        But that isn’t true for a line. If there are miles of rail that will be added and is completely — or even largely — dependent on park and ride customers, then don’t add the light rail. The operational and capital expense of rail won’t be worth it.

        Put park and rides by the bus routes. Whether the buses feed the trains, serve local areas, or operate in an express manner, that makes a lot more sense. The park and rides tend to be smaller, which means they are more convenient for the riders. The system as a whole is a lot more cost effective — more frequent, faster end to end service for more people.

      4. Vancouver also has very little free parking. Even Stanley Park and other public parks are paid parking, as well as the downtown area of many suburb cities such as White Rock.

        The suburban shopping malls seem to be the only places that do free parking.

      5. I completely agree that particularly light rail stations should not be dependent on parking (and shouldn’t have it anyway) to get any riders. Light rail should only be used for high density areas. My concern is more for the suburban bus routes and areas, where I think P&R’s are often needed to provide transit service. Take a look, for example, around Shoreline, Bothell, and Woodinville. Unless you live in downtown, you have no transit access. If you don’t provide local bus service, you need to provide P&R lots.

      6. “If there are miles of rail that will be added and is completely — or even largely — dependent on park and ride customers”

        The larger question is, why is there an area that goes out for miles and is largely dependent on park n ride customers? If the majority of the population and voters are in such areas, then we have to serve them somehow. The larger issue is, why do such areas exist, how did they get the majority of political power, and what can we do to fix them long-term. Whether we put express buses or light rail there is secondary. If the region hadn’t sprawled then there would be no demand for light rail there in the first place, and if they didn’t have the political upper hand then they wouldn’t get it even if they wanted it.

      7. “The larger question is, why is there an area that goes out for miles and is largely dependent on park n ride customers?”

        Because not everyone (and in fact a good number of people) wants to live in apartments or townhouses. So your options are either let them clog up all the roads, or provide good public transit. That being said, I think higher density development should be encouraged, but no matter how much of it you build, you’ll still have people in suburbs (including me). And you do need to provide transit service to them.

      8. As long as we’re willing to paint some bright red bus lanes on one lane of each road that has bus service, I’m happy to let suburban folks clog up the rest of the lanes as much as they like.

      9. @ David My concern is more for the suburban bus routes and areas, where I think P&R’s are often needed to provide transit service.

        Absolutely. Without a doubt park and ride lots make sense for suburban bus routes. The lack of a grid road pattern (i. e. cul-de-sac land) as well as the lack of density make it difficult if not impossible to serve an area like that well without it. An area like that shown in the second set of pictures on this article make this point very clear: https://www.theurbanist.org/2016/03/22/in-defense-of-the-suburban-park-and-ride/. Not only does a series of park and ride lots make sense there, but they are often very cheap to build. Rather than buy and develop very prime real estate (right next to a multi-billion dollar light rail line) you are talking about small parking lots next to an average street. Sometimes these require no land use change at all (like a church parking lot). These tend to be small, attracting people from nearby neighborhoods, which is ideal from both a land use as well as rider perspective (who wants to drive a long ways to a crowded parking lot when you can just drive a few blocks).

      10. The larger question is, why is there an area that goes out for miles and is largely dependent on park n ride customers?

        Because an agency was created to deal with cross jurisdictional transit needs and became fixated on the misguided notion that a major investment in light rail is the answer to all transit problems.

        Sprawl happens. Or at least, it happened. The golden age of sprawl is ending, as demand for urban housing now exceeds that of the white suburban paradise of yesteryear. Of course there will be folks that want to live out there, just as there will be folks who want to live in a yurt on the mountains, or listen to Tiny Tim records. But they are out numbered. Those that want more land will live in the suburbs, but those that are willing to live close together will do so in the city. For that reason, mass transit — which works best in high density areas close to other high density areas — doesn’t make sense in suburban areas like that. You may want to live in a nice house in Cheshunt, England (14 miles outside of London) but you really shouldn’t expect the Underground (or Overground) to serve you. For everyone in that boat, bus service is better. Cheaper, more frequent bus service that will get you to the city, where a big underground transit network exists for you to use.

      11. Because not everyone (and in fact a good number of people) wants to live in apartments or townhouses. So your options are either let them clog up all the roads, or provide good public transit.

        Shoreline has a high percentage of single family homes, and there are areas of it that are decently well served by transit. I think Mukilteo has maybe a single condo structure in its downtown area, yet if you are headed for downtown Seattle you have an express bus.

        For those that live outside the boundaries of the transit district, if they drive into downtown Seattle there are dozens of parking lots they pass on their way to downtown Seattle. Maybe the thing to do would be to make more efficient use of those lots? For example, in some cities movie theatre and church parking lots have also been used as park and ride lots. I’ve seen a few retail stores allow park and ride in their lots as their primary business occurs on the weekends or evenings.

      12. “too many people biking will create their own problems. Bike storage, whether on buses or at stations, is not enough to handle a large number of people biking.”

        It sounds like you’re saying we need more car parking because bike parking takes up too much space. There are valid reasons to say bikes are not the answer (such as local roads that are dangerous to ride on owned by cities unwilling to make them safer), but parking space at stations is not one of them. A single car-sized parking space can easily house several bikes.

      13. @Glenn: As I mentioned, take a look at Woodinville, Bothell, Shoreline, and the northern parts of Kirkland. Many areas have no local transit service (e.g., practically all of Finn Hill in Kirkland). Your only option for transit if you live there is Kingsgate P&R.

        @asdf2: What I’m actually saying is that if bikes are really to be encouraged, this needs to be thought through. Suppose I live 2 miles away from the station/P&R and work one mile away from the nearest bus stop. In the past, I drove to the P&R and then walked to work after taking the bus. Now I bike – it would save me 10 minutes if I took my bike with me and kept it at work rather than leaving it at the P&R. So why wouldn’t I do that? Problem is that with only three bike spots per bus, this will quickly overwhelm the system.

      14. Your comment above made it sound as if the only options near bus routes are multi-floor apartment buildings. Sometimes, if you plan to use transit, you have to also plan on finding a place to live near transit. Parts of Shoreline and North Seattle and southern Snohomish County are OK. Most of Gig Harbor isn’t even safe to walk in due to heavy traffic and no pedestrian amenities (not even a gravel shoulder or something).

        Woodinville is served by an express bus. ST522.

        So, if you were to put a park and ride lot there, how many spaces should it have? The city population is 11,300 and you want to be able to serve everyone. Typical commuter driving is 1.2 occupants per vehicle. So, you need 9,400 parking spaces in Woodinville. Standard parking space size is about 9 feet wide and 18 feet long. You probably need at least that same space in empty access pavement to get into those parking spaces, so figure 3 million square feet of parking required in downtown Woodinville. So, figure something about a quarter mile wide and half a mile long.

        Build that and an awful lot of downtown Woodinville goes away, and there is now much less reason to operate transit to the location in the first place since places where people are trying to go in Woodinville aren’t there.

        In the meantime, someone from Woodinville could just as easily drive to Shoreline, parallel park on one of the quiet residential streets, and take express route 355 instead. Maybe on the way home they grab some takeout at one of the restaurants in Shoreline too, so maybe some Shoreline businesses benefit from this “hide and ride” traffic.

        On their way to Shoreline they pass a dozen or so church parking lots that are used one day a week, and that day isn’t a weekday. Some places would work aggressively to use those as park and ride lots, since they are already there and mostly not used during the weekday.

        In one model you remove an awful lot of land from useful transit ridership and convert it to no tax revenue or really much of anything interesting. In the other model you have added no additional parking spaces to the landscape but accommodated park and ride anyway.

        There’s no real ideal answer, but there are ways of meeting the needs of those that have to drive for part of their trip without creating yet more vast vacant paved lots that aren’t actually productive in and of themselves.

        For what it is worth, I live in an area 7 minutes walk from a MAX station that is mostly single family homes. We get “hide and ride” users here, but there are still many empty spaces on the street. As long as they don’t go blasting through the neighborhood as if it were a freeway I don’t mind that much. The local street grid could probably absorb 300 more cars without anyone really noticing.

        If parking gets to be a huge issue as it is in Ballard, then chances are the local area needs better transit anyway.

  2. If you sell the land, how do you ensure the private sector builds parking?

    Why not lease the land in a public/private partnership? Retain long term control of the land while a private company bears the risk and reaps the reward from providing parking.

    1. You don’t ensure the private sector builds parking. You let them build parking, and you let them build other stuff. Up to them. If parking is unprofitable on a piece of land even when a government agency spends billions of dollars to put a light rail line right next to it, perhaps parking wasn’t such an important piece of the puzzle after all!

      1. The politcical need is to increase parking near stations in the short term. The idea here is to figure out a way to get the private sector to do it so we avoid spending limited public funds that could better used for more transit infrastructure and service.

        If the government stops giving people free parking, maybe the private sector will see an opportunity?

      2. The politcical need is to increase parking near stations in the short term.

        I question that. With few exceptions, systems that are dependent on park and rides for their ridership (or political support) are horribly inefficient. They cost a huge amount for the number of riders as well as time saved. From a political standpoint, they are a much tougher sell for that reason. The only way to overcome this it to depend on voting ignorance, or greatly exaggerate ridership numbers (or both).

        It makes a lot more sense to build a system that doesn’t depend on park and ride users. For example, if you look at the ST3 projects on a cost per rider standpoint (as well as a cost per time saved standpoint) the best projects are those that have little to no park and ride lots.

      3. Another problem with reliance on parking is that you lose nearly all of your reverse-direction ridership. With frequent feeder buses, taking the train and transferring may still be faster and/or less stressful than driving, if the train/bus is reliable enough and traffic on the freeway is bad enough. Considering that I-5 southbound is routinely backed up solid from Northgate to downtown on weekday afternoons, someone choosing to ride the train in the reverse direction is not a crazy idea, even if parking at the destination is free.

        But that assumes that the feeder buses exist and run frequently enough that the wait time for them does not become a dealbreaker. Build a really big parking garage next to the station, and the money to fund the feeder bus has now been spent, and even if it hadn’t, it won’t have the ridership to justify decent frequency if everybody living around the route is driving to the station instead. Furthermore, when the roads all get clogged up with people driving to the station, the reliability of the feeder bus suffers.

    2. If you merely lease the land, what incentive does the lessee have to build a permanent structure on it? That just bends the incentive back to having a surface parking lot, and does not even maximize parking.

      1. A surface lot is a much better use than a parking structure. Its the better stand in when a building doesn’t make sense yet because its really easy to tear up and start building.

        This is pretty much the default land use near popular train stations in other parts of the world when the land is privately held.

        Why build an expensive parking structure if you plan to tear it down in less than 10 years?

      2. It is not unusual for people build structures on leased land. If a developer can get their money back and thinks they can earn an adequate return over the term of the lease, it could happen.

        ST can figure out if it is likely to pencil out. If it does, they can develop a RFP or something similar for a parking structure instead of a surface lot.

    3. “If you sell the land, how do you ensure the private sector builds parking?”

      That’s just the point. No private developer would build a garage at Seattle Link stations because they can get more money per cost building housing to the zoning limit. And all that housing is within walking distance of the station. So the only way to get private parking is as part of a large project that needs a garage anyway such as a mall. You aren’t going to put a mall in Rainier Valley or Roosevelt. So therefore, the only way to get parking garages at inner Link stations is to subsidize them, the way we subsidize buses and trains and affordable housing. Is that a good subsidy? Is it fair to the person who can’t fit in the lot to subsidize the person whose car is filling it?

      For outer stations, parking is part of the suburban way of life, those areas are dependent on it and can’t function without it. Ideally we’d reevaluate this whole way of life and provide more walkable villages out there, enough of them that the price premium evaporates. But that’s a longer term issue. So they need parking. But should Sound Transit fund it? Or should the cities that allow this car-dependent sprawl fund it?

      “If “no one” wants to live in an outer station near the freeway, then by all means store cars there for a few bucks. If patterns change in the coming decades, it will be much easier to convert that land to housing, offices, and/or retail if the existing parking is in private hands. Meanwhile, if people are vying to live in transformed neighborhoods, by no means should we prevent that with a parking structure.”

      What is Ash Way then? It apparently needs a place to store cars, but a lot of apartments and close-together houses have been built around it and people are filling them. So is it something in between?

      I was a bit soft on the cities saying they “allow” sprawl. Actually they “require” it with their parking minimums. They’ve graduated from cul-de-sacs to breadboxes and big boxes like on the Bothell-Everett Highway, so it’s denser but unwalkable. One wonders what would happen if the cities simply eliminated parking minimums. It’s not like there are any side streets out there where people could park in front of somebody else’s house. So developers would either have to build parking anyway (at great expense and little return), or build a walkable TOD-like neighborhood and clamor for frequent transit. Probably some would do one and some would do the other. But right now they don’t have that option with the car-centric building codes and zoning.

  3. I like it.

    Should help mollify many ST3 opponents as the anti-transit car crowd overlaps significantly with the small government / worship the free market crowd.

    1. If you want to buy off the worship-feudalism crowd, just make sure the original landowner who got the land condemned gets first right to get it back. Giving it back to anyone who had it wrongly taken away by the Japanese internment act or an abrogated treaty might have a much lesser effect, but could get the votes of other voting blocs.

      1. Anything run by a government or non-profit agency is always exempt from the ire of the statist crowd.

    2. As policy, it’s a great idea. But it won’t work as nicely on the politics as you assume. The public demand for parking is effectively a demand for subsidized. Drivers have been trained to treat parking as something that should be free or heavily subsidized, so being told they can try to outbid other uses and will just pay whatever that costs won’t necessarily solve the political problem easily.

  4. Parking? Apartments? At this point almost any use would be better than the chained off lots sitting idle in RV and on Beacon Hill.

    ST should do something with these lots asap.

      1. The Beacon Hill lots are privately owned, and the family owning them has apparently not been interested in either selling or building anything there.

        ST does not have the power to do anything.

      2. ST may not, but the City could — and definitely should — start taxing that land as if it has a maximum height building already on it.

      3. @Anandakos — Changing the property tax laws so that you taxed more on the value of the land itself (not the land and structure) would do a lot towards increasing development in a lot of areas. The trick is to do it in such a way as to not be a burden on someone who lives in a small house on a big lot (for equity reasons).

  5. Letting the free market decide has been how most developments around rail stations in Japan took place. It makes the most sense.

  6. Or just don’t buy extra land to begin with. Just enough for the station construction and no more.

    I don’t want ST to become a de facto land developer. Buying or eminent-domain-ing land from private owners and then flipping it to developers after ST builds a station might be profitable, but it sets a poor example for government IMO.

    1. But Alex, the alternative can be what we see at BH Station. Sound Transit bought only the minimal amount of land they “needed”. The rest of the site was leased for construction staging and then returned to the family owners. This was not a good business decision for taxpayers — ST paid more in lease payments than they would’ve paid to buy the land outright. That land sits idle to this day; the family already got their money for it from ST, so they feel no incentive to develop.

      Imagine what could’ve happened at Capitol Hill had this BH scenario played out there. Fortunately for all concerned, ST learned its lessons at BH and bought as much land as they could at Capitol Hill — and the result is a multiple development projects soon to surround the new station.

      1. I agree that ST should buy land when that is the cheaper alternative.

        I think the family still has a strong incentive (buckets of $$$$) to develop the Beacon Hill land. They just aren’t responding to that incentive for whatever reason.

        With CHS ST basically bought out the station box and surroundings. It didn’t buy up blocks and blocks of land around the station, though, much of which remains low-ish rise and only moderately dense.

      2. They’d “respond” if the City started taxing that property at the true market value, which is a high-quality building built to the maximum height allowed by the parcel’s zoning. That should be their tax rate next year.

      3. Tax limitation does not apply to individual parcels in Washington; it’s not like California. What’s limited is the total property tax burden a municipality or county can levy. It can only increase by 1% plus the percentage that the population of the polity rises. The allocation among the various parcels within the polity varies according to the most recent assessed valuations.

        During the early 2000’s, for instance, the taxes on our house in Hazel Dell remained almost completely constant even though the assessed value rose rather nicely, because there were many parcels in the county which relatively speaking gained more value.

        However, in the last three years our taxes have gone up about 15% because Hazel Dell has been “discovered”. Our values have leapt up while East Van has been more subdued.

        I expect that the only reason that Seattle has not already massively raised taxes on the parcel is that there is no reasonable “comp” to back the assessment. There are very few flat, accessible empty lots on North Beacon Hill, and those that exist are probably being held by speculators waiting for a better price. And there are certainly no flat, accessible empty lots directly adjacent to a light rail station. So the property doesn’t get re-assessed because technically speaking it really can’t be “assessed”.

        The Supreme Court ruled about a decade ago that a municipality could take the property of existing residents and sell it to developers who agree to replace the existing use with a “higher and better economic purpose”. It raised a fire-storm of controversy.

        The City Council probably doesn’t want that buzz saw, but I expect that they could buy the property as a condemnation and then sell it on to some developer who wants to build something that the City would deem desirable on the parcel.

        Better and fairer, though, would be to raise taxes to the actual value of the property so that the owners get high behind and sell to someone who wants to make better use of the property. Of course, the owners may just be right wing jerks who hate the train line and it may not work even then. But at least they’d then have to pay for harming other peoples’ ability to live adjacent to a light rail station in a quiet neighborhood (there are few of those with stations).

      4. That’s good. I was thinking it was set up like Oregon’s measure 47, which forces increases in value to be 3% per year or less.

    2. Underground stations have a large footprint. Especially when you launch a tunnel boring machine or extract it you need a multi-block area. Rogoff talked about ST’s changing station area policy at the TCC forum. In ST1&2 it focused on the smallest number of property acquisitions, so it used the smallest construction envelope possible. Now it’s taking a more relaxed view of station-area parcels and not trying to squeeze tightly, so it will have more parcels available for TOD or affordable housing (its two station-area goals now).

  7. The free market isn’t the only thing making this determination, of course. Of the proposed park-and-rides in ST3, how many of them are in spots where high density TOD would be permitted by the local zoning authority? Harkening back to previous decisions (pre-ST3), I can’t imagine Bellevue would have, for example, allowed apartments to be built on the South Bellevue park-and-ride lot surrounded by the Mercer Slough, but they probably would have at Eastgate’s lot amongst all the office buildings. Are the proposed lots for ST3 more like the latter or former or are they a mix?

    1. I don’t think Bellevue would have prohibited apartments at South Bellevue. There are lots of apartment buildings along Bellevue Way, several built in the last twenty years. The problem at South Bellevue is more the lot: it’s small and awkwardly-shaped and in the middle of nowhere, and it juts into an environmentally-protected wetland. ST probably could build a few, not very good, apartments like South Kirkland, but it didn’t try very hard.

  8. First time off the escalator at Capitol Hill Station- also first visit to Broadway in five years- showed me worst kind of blight.

    Too much of Seattle is already franchised. Which itself creates an atmosphere better left in malls where none of the acres they occupy has any room for transit. But do have plenty of room for parking. So we can learn from our evil brother.

    1. Let Sound Transit keep the land it owns. At least finally someone who deserves it can benefit from present warp-speed acceleration of property value.

    2. And then encourage locals to form member-owned cooperatives. PCC in Columbia City good high end. And lease the land at as low a price as possible to either the co-ops and also individuals for things passengers need. Including parking.

    However may bad bank-imitating habits they’ve fallen into over the years, credit unions are still cooperatives. Meaning that if motivated people join, and start going to membership meetings, which hardly any members ever do, we’d have banks we can stand to deal with.

    Really would like to see public agencies, which we the people own, start taking some initiative toward creating the kind of region I want to ride transit to visit, work, and live in. And the poor girl in the “Shades of Grey” series deserves a nicer boyfriend.

    Mark Dublin

  9. I think what Martin is proposing is that Sound Transit builds the parking and then sells the land to private owners. In some cases, the private owners might build something else immediately – in others, they’d operate paid parking.

    1. No, he’s NOT proposing “building parking”. He’s saying that selling the land to private owners will probably mean it is surface parking for a few years to a decade and then some sort of development will occur on it. The stupid thing is to “build parking” which implies a parking structure.

    2. Nope, I think he’s proposing ST just sell the land, and if people can make money on it as a parking lot, let ’em do that, and if they can make more building housing or offices or commercial space, let ’em do that.

      1. EHS,

        Sure, that is literally what he is saying. All I said is that the practicalities are that surface parking is a good way to pay the taxes — or at least some of them — while waiting for an opportunity to ripen. What you don’t want is some POS single story building built.

      2. Yep, I agree – we typed our replies at the same time, so I was trying to answer Donde’s apparently unanswered question rather than respond you your assessment. I agree about building parking structures – perhaps there are some places where it would work out to be profitable, but odds are, now the land values are too low in the suburban station areas to make multistory parking economical, and in the future, the values will be too high, and you could get more money building structures for people.

        Which is exactly why suburban voters want ST to build parking structures; they aren’t economical to build, and so won’t exist otherwise. Which is sort of fair – the whole parking/TOD debate happens precisely because very few people live in walking distance from a proposed station, and land use isn’t supportive of good feeder bus service. Most voters in Lynnwood aren’t going to use it unless they use a park and ride. The people who would live in TOD don’t get to vote because they don’t exist yet, at least not as Lynnwood residents.

        In other words, representative democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

      3. >> Most voters in Lynnwood aren’t going to use it.

        There, fixed it for you.

        Actually, Lynnwood, or Lynnwood TC, is fine, and will get a fair number of riders who never park in the lot. If you look at the existing Community Transit Map (http://www.commtrans.org/BusService/Documents/SystemMapMarch2016.pdf) you can see plenty of buses that go there, or close to there. Both 196th and 200th to the west have apartments (I used to live in one). To the east there is 204th. Every commuter bus from the north can channel their service right there, and it should have decent ridership.

        It is the stations to the north that are ridiculous. There simply isn’t enough feeder bus service, and certainly isn’t enough walk up traffic to justify light rail. We may have gone to far when we decided to go to Lynnwood, but we certainly will go too far if we go to Everett. The service will be spread too thin. Rather than a bunch of buses from all over serving Lynnwood, they will serve closer stations. Those stations will have much lower ridership (as will Lynnwood). The result will be like similar systems all over the U. S.: 15-20 minute frequency at most. It seems weird to think that service for most people will be worse than if they didn’t expand, but history (and logic) suggest as much.

  10. My worthless opinion:

    Before ST or anyone is allowed to waste space on parking, the first question to ask is, is the transit timetabling and routes in that area optimized ? Take a look around any of the Sounder stations and the answer to that question is often NO. The biggest grumble I hear from other riders is the local bus timetabling and routes around Sounder stations and the trains schedule simply doesn’t work for a lot of people. So they have to drive somewhere and park.

    Every time I have contact Pierce Transit about their abysmal bus schedules around Sounder stations their answer is always one of these two excuses:

    1) It’s too hard to change the time table or have buses wait a few minutes for the train (including if the train is 5 – 10 mins late, but its ok for our buses to be 10 or 15 minutes late). A common sight is watching that bus you’d like to catch crossing over the tracks behind the train just as you’re getting off. Now wait 30 mins to an hour for the next bus, or take a longer less direct route on a different one if its available.

    2) Its a local bus route and we’re not changing to suit any of the hundreds of Sounder riders that stream off the trains predictably every 20 minutes 18 times a day.

    1. Not a worthless opinion at all. To add to the horribleness of it all, there are literally zero bus routes running from the Sounder station at Tacoma Dome to Tacoma Community College, one of the Tacoma’s major bus stations. Zero.

  11. That fact that this even needs to be said is really a bad sign about how out of touch the politicians in the suburbs are. They are insistent on more parking paid for out of taxes when that definitely didn’t work for the bay area.

    In fact, as others have pointed out, around the world they allow the private industry to fill that void and things work better. So why is this even a debate? So many people on this blog have experience with transit systems and are for the most part, smart people, see how wasteful the current plan is.

    So based on that, I’m going to say that it’s sad to see dumb ideas winning because politicians don’t have the guts to stand up for what’s proven to work best. Although some would say that’s pretty much the entire ST3 setup in a nutshell.

    1. It’s actually not out of touch. There is a rather large base of voters who want parking, who complain about lots being full constantly, and might not vote for it or use it without parking. Basing a plan on what voters tell them is not called being “out-of-touch” in politics. Ignoring them because you know of a case study that you think proves them wrong is what out-of-touch means.

      1. It is out of touch with the realities of transit systems, not ignorant voters. Sure, someone, somewhere, will buy the myth of trains every 3 minutes from Everett to Seattle, just as plenty of people bought the idea of light rail to SeaTac and think it makes sense. I might use that — they think. Maybe a Mariners game, or just to go shopping. But the sad result will be 20 minute headways at best, with mostly empty trains like every other city that built anything similar. Meanwhile, decent transit — the type people need to get to their job, their friends, their family — will be wanting (as will money for health and human services, cops, day care, education or an equitable tax system to pay for any of that).

    2. If voters on the Eastside want to waste our money on park-and-rides while voters in Seattle want to waste their money running light rail to West Seattle, what’s the issue? Each has its purpose – to win votes.

      1. So that’s the goal — win votes? I thought it was to create a functional, cost effective transit system. Oh well, as long as get the votes, it doesn’t matter. I look forward to skating at Ice Town — sounds like a blast (as long as we get the votes).

  12. Dense development isn’t always revenue positive. I bet any Diamond parking lot pays more in taxes than the Frye apts.

    Sam, parking lot expert

  13. Park-and-ride has to be seen as one of many modes of access or ‘last mile’ solutions. As such, the question should be how to incorporate modes of access and provide an alternative if a mode isn’t available.

    If a station does not have parking, high frequency bus routes can provide replacement access. If high frequency bus routes cannot pencil out, patk-and-ride may be needed. Perhaps we should subsidize an über system to provide the access. Certainly we should optimize pedestrian access and pay attention to not only distance but also the vertical issues at stations with escalators as well as safe pedestrian paths. Technology is going to give us driverless vehicles soon and drop-off/pick-up is more popular with the advent of phone messaging.

    So I suggest that we need to quit deciding what modes of access aren’t suitable and instead promote the modes that are. It’s different for every station. It’s lazy thinking to just say ‘no’. Every station needs a proactive access plan – and all the station info (signage, nearby curb space, bus connections) needs to be presented in a way that a user can figure it out.

    Something as simple as pedestrian signs directing people to and from stations, clearly marked drop-off and pick-up areas and escalators are a good place to start. The coming driverless technology will also affect access and we should anticipate this.

    Quit just saying ‘no’!

    Finally, we need to proactively be shaming all participants for some of the terrible station access at the ST2 stations coming in line. ST appears to think that the edge of their property is all they should be designing! There is a wider area near the actual stations that need a joint access plan – and ST, Metro and each city must jointly evolve and maintain that plan! It’s too important to have a piecemeal plan implemented by each agency that is more focused on their internal politics than it is the public users of the transportation system.

    1. If a station does not have parking, high frequency bus routes can provide replacement access. If high frequency bus routes cannot pencil out,

      then you shouldn’t spend billions on a light rail to that location. Sorry to interrupt, but really. As I said above, if a station is largely (or entirely) dependent on park and ride users for ridership, then it probably isn’t worth the money. There are exceptions, of course. A cheap station or a cheap line (e. g. commuter rail) might be just fine. But billions for a light rail line and you expect almost all of your riders to drive to the station? That is ridiculous. That simply doesn’t scale. No one, anywhere, has built a system like that without wondering later why the hell they spent that much money on it.

      1. But that’s what ST3 is – a plan to use light rail as a commuter line to serve the 70% of voters who don’t live anywhere near Ballard. Your argument isn’t with the parking, it is with the entire ST3 plan. If for a moment you accept that ST3 goes forward as in the draft, I believe some parking makes sense. You’re right, that probably means ST3 really doesn’t make much sense, but that’s a different argument, isn’t it?

        BTW – all for your plan of UW-Ballard, WSTT, etc. You’d have my vote for the ST czar.

  14. Up until now, everyone seems to be saying the choice for a private developer is between parking and housing, which are both (arguably) Link-friendly uses. What if the land is used instead for something like a gas station or a used car lot — uses that actively inhibit the Link station?

    1. Don’t both of those uses have to have special zoning? I doubt the City would grant such an exception right by a Link station.

      1. I’m not sure — that’s why I’m asking. ;)

        With the exception of Northgate and (maybe?) 145th, all the parking that ST is planning to build is outside Seattle. Every city has their own zoning codes, and I don’t know how the restrictions around proposed Link sites change as the train crosses city limits.

        The Tukwila International Boulevard Station, while having ample parking and a bus terminal, is across the street from an Arco. If we’re going to be stuck with building Link along a freeway corridor, there’s going to be an economic push for freeway-offramp-style businesses. I want to make sure that Link is protected from that.

      2. The gas station predates the station by decades, but what there hasn’t been is any redesign of the area around that station to react to the transit. There are some fast food and other businesses within walking distance, but the street crossings are decidedly unfriendly. Parking there is really popular, but I think mostly for people using the airport since it’s cheaper than parking in the airport’s own lots.

    2. Neither seem likely next to a station (as new development). A restaurant, on the other hand, could certainly happen. But Martin’s point is that if demand really increases — if these suburban areas that want park and ride lots now grow to be more urban — then the restaurant will be torn down quicker than the Denny’s* at 15th and Market. But build a state sponsored parking lot, and it is really hard to get ride of it. For exhibit A, I give you Northgate TC. The community wanted to get rid of the parking, there was the potential to make a bunch of money for taxpayers (maybe even build the bridge with it), yet (for legal reasons) it was kept.

      * It was originally a Manning’s, but Denny’s took it over before it was sold to a developer.

      1. That makes sense, and if it’s that difficult for ST to divest itself of parking lots, I agree that they shouldn’t be building any themselves. I’m just trying to get a gage on which interim uses are permitted/plausible — since, after all, it could be decades before Lynnwood starts getting mixed-use apartment blocks.

  15. I think parking can be useful as a means of reducing the number of cars entering the downtown core. It provides a way for people who live beyond the last mile of transit to access the transit system. One way to think about it is that you are shifting parking from the downtown core out to a ring that is served by transit. Then you can do higher density development of the core without having to provide parking because most of your customers are coming in through transit. This could have a knock-on effect since the reduction of automobile traffic might allow more pedestrian and bicycle oriented redesign of the core.

    I felt that parking was used this way in Boston. Parking was difficult and very expensive in the downtown of both Boston and Cambridge. There was a strong incentive for suburban commuters to park at the ends of the various subway lines and take transit in to their work locations. Parking was not necessarily free at the outer terminals, but was significantly cheaper than parking at the other end. Of course, I lived there during the big dig so that may have been part of it as well.

    1. This is exactly how Quincy Adams and Alewife stations work, at opposite ends of the Red Line. Massive parking garages, drawing in large numbers of people from the highways, including most of the people I grew up with. These people would never ever have taken the bus into the city, or the bus to the subway. Ever. Whether or not this is the model we ought to re-create I don’t know. But I know it’s not accurate to say that nobody has ever built a successful system that includes some expensive stations that everyone drives to.

    2. Except, that when you do the path, parking just doesn’t scale. Build a 1,000-stall garage at a station, and the total number of daily riders you can get from it is limited to just 1,000. (Maybe 2,200 daily boardings if you average 1.1 people per car and each person makes a round trip). String five of these stations together for a Lynnwood->Everett extension and you have served 5,500 daily riders for a couple billion dollars.

      RossB is right – if the line is going to get enough riders to justify a 3-billion-dollar investment, it’s going to have to get lots of riders from something other than on-site parking at the stations – enough that whatever ridership does come from on-site parking at the stations will be relatively insignificant. And, if that’s not practical, then the rail line probably should not be built in the first place.

  16. I figured it out.

    The suburbs want parking garages but they don’t belong right next to the station where TOD belongs. So we build the parking but a little bit further away then we build a tiny version of light rail to get from the parking garage to the station. (Like this: http://soulofamerica.com/soagalleries/dural/famattr/Ral-Pullen_Park_train.jpg ) If the parking garage gets full we’ll build another parking garage a block away and use a park-n-ride to get the drivers to the first parking garage where they can hop on the mini light rail train for a short ride to the full-size light rail train. Let Freedom Ring!

  17. I’m reluctant to support selling off land adjacent to major infrastructure that may need to expand in the future — how much less would we be spending on infrastructure if cities around the region hadn’t sold off undeveloped or underused road rights-of-way decades ago?

    But there’s another alternative, public/private partnerships for mixed-use developments around the stations. For one hypothetical example, in exchange for building 2 or 3 levels of parking, a developer is allowed to add 2 or 3 stories of other uses — ground floor retail below parking, for example, or apartments over parking, where residents would have an elevated view and walking access to transit. Or even a level of reserved, paid, monthly parking for commuters who value their time and want a guaranteed spot and are willing to pay more for that guarantee.

    The land remains in public ownership, but with a very long-term lease so that the developer is willing to make a substantial investment.

    If, 50 years from now, transit needs to expand its station, the lease can be adjusted at renewal, rather than having to buy back land that has become much more valuable after 50 years of fixed-route transit investment.

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