Earlier this month the Kent Reporter had a story about disagreements between the Kent City Council and Sound Transit on restroom facilities at its two Kent stations (Kent/Des Moines and Star Lake/272nd). For the more dramatic account, see KOMO. Back when Kent was adopting its (impressive) rezone for the Kent “Midway” area in advance of light rail, the city also adopted dozens of requirements for Link stations within its jurisdiction, on everything from restrooms to parking requirements to the volume of trees planted. The relevant section on restrooms comes from Kent City Code 15.15.120:E, “Site Furnishings for High Capacity Transit Stations”:
E. Restroom facilities. HCT stations associated with a park and ride lot, as described in RCW 47.12.270, as amended, and HCT stations with parking facilities, shall include public restrooms with sanitary sewer connections, as well as hot and cold running water.
Against this requirement, Sound Transit has a general preference against siting restroom facilities at Link stations, citing both regional and national precedent, and the difficulty of maintaining them in a functional and sanitary state. Everett Station has had endless difficulty with sanitation and public health hazards associated with contaminated needles. Spokesperson Kimberly Reason:
What we’ve found is that restroom facilities attract illicit and unsafe activities anything from drugs to other things so that is a big issue. Our number one priority is safety for all of our passengers and riders.”
In terms of precedent, the City of Seattle has not asked for restrooms at any of its 12 Link stations, and none of the pre-existing Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel have them. The only two Link stations with restrooms currently are Tukwila Int’l Blvd and SeaTac/Airport Station, and both of these are only available by requesting a token from security staff. Even so, Sound Transit told STB that there have been numerous security and/or sanitation issues with these facilities, despite the limited access.
To add another wrinkle, last week on Facebook, County Executive and Sound Transit Boardmember Dow Constantine spoke in support of restroom facilities, while also hinting at a 3rd way:
I’m very interested in figuring out how to have restrooms at as many stations as possible. It seems to me that, in addition to the standard public model, we should explore public/private options wherein a vendor (like an espresso place), adjacent developer, etc, provide and maintain facilities for the traveling public as part of their overall deal.
Indeed, elsewhere in Kent’s city code, parking structures at high capacity transit stations come with an intensive retail requirement, making Dow’s preferred public/private solution much more tenable:
15.15.440 Ground floor uses in parking structures. A. Each parking structure shall be designed so that a minimum of fifty (50) percent of the length of the exterior ground floor facade with existing or projected adjacent foot traffic, excluding vehicle entrances and exits, includes ground floor area either built out as, or convertible to, retail/commercial or service uses.
Despite some of the reporting, none of this yet rises to the level of ‘controversy’. The environmental work for the project is wrapping up, and RFPs will soon go out for design-build contracts that will begin advancing the design. Sound Transit staff said that these issues will be repeatedly discussed as the stations work through the middle steps of the design process, from 30%-90% design. This should happen over the next year or two, with construction likely to begin in or around 2019 for a 2024 opening.
But the general policy question remains: should there be restroom facilities at Link stations or not? Absent the constantly staffed restrooms in European train stations (and with 25-50 cents being a common fee for use), the sanitation and staffing issues are real, and these restrooms usually end up being a terrible experience for users. But on the other hand, there is no more basic need, and adding a retail purchase requirement to access facilities is unjust. It will be interesting to see how the cities and agencies square that circle for the next couple dozen stations to come online.