Parking fills up early at stations like Puyallup, but at what price tag should we add more garages? (image: Sound Transit)

Several future parking expansions for Sounder South stations are projected to come in far above earlier cost estimates. On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board is expected to approve a 675 stall garage at Auburn Station that will cost $120 million, 54% more than the previously approved financial plan.

At Sumner Station, Sound Transit intends to spend $81 million for a 623 stall garage, 41% above the earlier estimate. Sound Transit is selecting a project to be built at Kent Station, where the cost of a 534 stall garage has grown to $117 million, already 29% above the previous estimate.

The price tag per stall is extreme. Each of these planned structures are on sites with existing surface parking. At Sumner, the cost is $160,000 for each of the 505 net new stalls. In Auburn, the 555 net new stalls will cost $216,000 each. Even these dizzy numbers pale in comparison to Kent station where Sound Transit plans to spend $278,000 for each of the 420 net new stalls.

Cost estimates for Sounder South parking expansion (slide: Sound Transit)

A fourth project at Puyallup station that begins construction this year is a comparative bargain promising 665 spaces for a project budget of $79 million. At $119,000 per stall, it is the only project of the four with an approved baseline budget.

The construction market was, at least until a few weeks ago, running rather hot in the Puget Sound region. But these costs are far out of line with private sector development. Construction costs can’t explain the price tag for new parking in North Sammamish. A simple surface lot with 200 spaces on a green field site has a $23 million project budget. That’s $115,000 per stall. Two of the three sites on the shortlist would need structured parking, necessitating third party funding to hit even that budget.

Most transit parking outlays are buried within larger project plans, and the cost of the parking alone is often obscure. The SR 522 BRT project, for instance, includes a commitment for several parking structures for 300 cars each. In Kenmore, Sound Transit is funding a 2 level garage with 187 stalls on each floor. Because it replaces an existing surface lot, and because the site is being optimized for future transit-oriented development, the net addition of parking is only 115 stalls unless third party funding is found to add more parking levels. The cost per added stall is likely to be extreme.

Design concept for BRT parking garage in Kenmore (slide: Sound Transit)

Many readers of this blog will be skeptical of parking expansions, preferring housing or other uses for scarce land near transit stations. But one doesn’t need to rehearse those arguments to acknowledge these projects are extraordinarily costly. How much is too much for a parking stall?

Sound Transit is facing newly constrained finances as the economy slows. The search is on for ways to manage lower revenues with the minimum of delays to major project delivery. Unless parking costs can be brought in line with private sector norms, these garages should be deferred or cancelled.

80 Replies to “How much is too much for a transit parking garage?”

  1. a 675 stall garage at Auburn Station that will cost $120 million

    That’s $178,000 per parking spot. A 30 year mortgage would be payments of $850/mo. If they can’t sell parking for that much (more really since you have maintenance costs) then we’ve answered the initial question, it’s too much.

    1. If we take $850 per month per space, that’s $42.50/weekday (assuming 20 weekdays per month). Assuming one person per car, a shuttle bus alternative would need to achieve a cost of $21.25 or less per boarding in order to be more efficient than this. With even coverage bus routes typically topping out around $10-$15 per boarding, this seems pretty easy to do.

      If people are too spread out to make running a bus directly to people’s homes feasible, there is a middle ground. ST could lease parking in scattered lots a few miles from the various Sounder stations and run shuttle bus to those lots, with schedules timed to match each Sounder train. ST 596 to Bonney Lake proves that, if done right, people will actually ride the shuttle buses. And there should be plenty of churches around, willing to lease their parking lots for far less than $850/mo.

      Another perspective: A quick survey shows the going rate for monthly reserved parking in a downtown Seattle parking garage at around $300/mo. So, Sound Transit is literally proposing to spend more than double on parking at the stations than what parking costs in the downtown where the train in going to. This is nuts.

      1. “that’s $42.50/weekday”

        By a strange coincidence, that’s the same cost as an Access ride. A bus ride meanwhile costs around $10.

      2. If people are too spread out to make running a bus directly to people’s homes feasible, there is a middle ground. ST could lease parking in scattered lots a few miles from the various Sounder stations and run shuttle bus to those lots, with schedules timed to match each Sounder train.

        Or run to the church parking lots. There are plenty of churches in the area, and while a handful have things going on during the week, most don’t. The cost of shuttle service and an agreement with the local church is minimal compared to building these parking lots. You also end up with a better system — people drive a shorter distance to their lot. The shuttle bus also serves other areas (at a minimum, those who live close to the church).

        It is obvious by these costs that parking lots don’t scale. It would be one thing if the really big lots were actually cheap per parking space. That clearly isn’t the case. They are much better off working with churches and providing shuttle service.

        It is worth noting how small these lots actually are compared to even a very poorly performing bus. The 204 runs on Mercer Island, and runs every hour. It is one of the worst buses in our system. It is in the bottom quartile of the suburban routes in every category (and suburban routes perform worse than urban ones). Yet the 204, as weak as it is, carries 200 riders. That is about half as many spots as Kent is adding (for $117 million). The 187 runs every hour, and carries 500 riders, as much as any of these lots. It really doesn’t take much for a bus to carry a lot of people, while apparently it costs a bundle just to provide a few parking spaces.

        That is ridiculous. Beef up the routes. Work with the churches to add parking, and also recognize that people will create their own de-facto park and ride lots, as they have for as long as I remember (at least 50 years).

      3. “… the 204, as weak as it is, carries 200 riders. That is about half as many spots as Kent is adding (for $117 million). “

        It’s a great point!

        Still, one space = at least two daily one-way Sounder boardings (probably 2.1 or 2.2). That assumes full utilization and only Sounder riders using the space. There will also be some carpoolers, which is why 2.1 or 2.2 is probably a better assumption.

      4. “If people are too spread out to make running a bus directly to people’s homes feasible, there is a middle ground.”

        The entire American transit/political leadership AND most transit activists AND myself have overestimated how much density is required for an efficient bus route. Most areas are not like Cougar Mountain or the outskirts of Snohomish (town) or Buckley. They’re denser than quarter-acre lots and go on for a mile or more without a gap to a shopping area or denser neighborhood. The only thing missing is good bus service that they could take. They won’t fill buses like on Aurora or Greenwood but they will reach the 10 riders/hour average daily threshold for an efficient bus. Or they’ll almost reach it and would likely grow. The Southcenter-Fairwood van is already at or near this level, as is the Snoqualmie Valley Shuttle.

        Other countries like Canada and Europe have transit to similar places, and they do reasonably well and provide a non-car alternative, a goal of their governments both for citizens’ mobility and their climate goals. Even the most mediocre coverage routes can get 10 riders/hour — which turns out to be 5-10 times what demand-response transit (Uber/taxi cars) can achieve. And if they get any more than that they’ll use less energy than the cars do.

      5. The entire American transit/political leadership AND most transit activists AND myself have overestimated how much density is required for an efficient bus route.

        I agree, especially a rush hour shuttle, which is the only thing the parking lot provides. Rush hour shuttles work quite well in the suburbs, because they are both short and fairly full. It is midday service where the suburbs struggle.

        Even then, for the amount of money we are talking about, you could provide that, and still do just fine. If this was a Metro bus route, it would be killed. If this was an ST bus route, it would be killed. The most expensive bus route in Sound Transit’s system (and likely the most expensive in the region) is the 592. It runs from DuPont to Seattle. It has all the hallmarks of an extremely poorly performing route. It runs a very long distance, taking somewhere between 80 minutes and two hours (!). Boardings are very low — around 30 per bus. Yet despite all that — despite being probably the worst bus in our entire system, the subsidy per rider is less than $15, or more than $5 less than the subsidy per parking space.

        Of course a bunch of shuttles could do better. They don’t have to pick up that many riders, simply because they won’t run that long. The shuttles would likely take well less than half that long, meaning the buses would only need to max at 15 riders — the capacity of a van! There may be riders who live a long ways away, but they can fight for the remaining parking spaces, or park next to a bus stop. I see no reason why we should subsidize parking for those who live well outside the ST district.

      6. Pierce Transit also has a bus route taking sounder commuters from Auburn Station to the Lakeland Hills neighborhood #497

    2. What’s insane here is that when you look at the total costs of the suburban, drive your car to an expensive public parking garage and take the train to work model, it’s even worse. All of these cars in the park and ride are costing their owners thousands per year in depreciation, maintenance, gas, etc.

      I’m starting to wonder if park and rides make sense at all. It just seems insanely expensive, and any roadway capacity you free up will just be filled with induced demand.

      Secure bike parking? Sure. Car parking? I don’t think so.

      1. It’s a distortion of the American mind set. The Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair, sponsored by General Motors, was a utopia vision of fast motorways and car-oriented residential developments and shopping centers. One thing that wasn’t realized was stacked levels for cars, pedestrians, freight, and trains so they wouldn’t interfere with each other. This dovetailed with Le Corubusier’s vision of the Radient City, towers in the park linked by highways with no mundane streets or sidewalks.

        Construction halted between 1925 and 1945 due to the Depression and WWII, and when it revived the government overwhelmingly adopted a Futurama-like model, and subsidized greenfield house construction along that model. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre city of farm stands at highway exits contributed to it. (Note the resemblance of mini marts and power centers at freeway exits, drawing away from traditional town centers.)

        Several generations of Americans lived under that vision and propaganda and still believe it. They move to suburban areas because they prefer it or they can’t afford anything denser. Since they live in a car-dependent environment with single-use zoning and density caps and excessive setbacks and parking lots, they think they need large P&Rs, both for themselves and because they assume everybody is like them. They’re the majority in the suburbs, and the suburbs are the majority in the region. (Seattle’s population is 1/3 of King County’s or 1/5 of the tri-county region.)

        We could build a robust transit network and plenty of TOD like other countries are doing, but they won’t allow it.

      2. “Since they live in a car-dependent environment with single-use zoning…”

        There are many of us suburbanites who live in car-dependent environments even in MF- zoned areas. Respectfully, based on your comments, at times it seems like you have a somewhat outdated perspective on current suburban conditions. Come visit SW SnoCo sometime and take a look at the MF infill that is happening in my neck of the woods. Even among the SF zones, the new construction involves much smaller lots and higher resulting density than in previous decades. My own parcel has been upzoned twice in the 16+ years I’ve owned it, from R-7600 (SF) to its current zoning and usage as MR* (HDR).

        *Snohomish County nomenclature

      3. Since they live in a car-dependent environment with single-use zoning and density caps and excessive setbacks and parking lots, they think they need large P&Rs, both for themselves and because they assume everybody is like them.

        But that is mainly because it is the only thing that is offered to them.

        I’m sure there are a lot of suburban riders that would love to walk a few blocks, and then take the bus. Keep in mind, suburbia is far more working class, and first generation than it was fifty years ago. Lots of people in the suburbs don’t know how to drive, or have trouble paying for the maintenance of a car.

        Many more would be fine with a short drive, followed by a two seat ride to downtown. I’ve mentioned it several times, but my guess is there are more people parking in unofficial, de facto park and ride lots than there are in ones sanctioned by the various agencies. This is one I encountered as a youth, back in the day: While going to school (on a Metro bus) I noticed lots of people getting on and off the bus there. I couldn’t figure it out until one day, when I noticed everyone was getting into their car. In retrospect, it made sense. Drive there, and you can catch any of the buses (19, 24 or 33). Look around and it isn’t hard to imagine all sorts of similar places.

        The point is, we should not be spending a huge amount of money on park and ride lots. They are a terrible value. It is much better to run decent transit, and people will figure out how to use it. They will bike, walk or drive to a bus stop. There is no reason to encourage the worst possible choice, especially if it involves driving through traffic to get there. That only gives people the idea that it is the only choice.

      4. “Respectfully, based on your comments, at times it seems like you have a somewhat outdated perspective on current suburban conditions.”

        I sometimes say “single-family” when I mean “residential-only”. That’s my fault and I should be clearer. I’m thinking of the vast areas I grew up in which are still single-family outside the arterials: east of Crossroads, Phantom Lake, Somerset, south Kirkland. I know there are a lot of apartments around Ash Way P&R, 200th St SW, and the towers-in-the-park on the Bothell-Everett Highway. 99 in Lynnwood has urban villages zoned at the Swift stations, although I have yet to see them built. My main complaint is that you can’t walk to anything, and being in an apartment doesn’t make it better. It’s a better use of space but not more liveable.

        What are your neighbors saying? Do they like CT’s long-term local network? Do they see themselves using it? Are they using it now?

        “I’m sure there are a lot of suburban riders that would love to walk a few blocks, and then take the bus.”

        Before Link’s initial segment opened, many people were against it, especially in Rainier Valley. But after it had been running for a year or two, many of those gradually warmed up to it, and use it occasionally or even regularly, and are more favorable to other ST and Metro projects than they were. But they don’t change their mind until after it opens near them and they can see it on the ground and know people who use it. Snohomish is in that pre-stage where it’s harder to get acceptance. And even if there’s more widespread support for a transit-oriented network, it’s often drowned out by loud activists. They have outsized influence, especially when they appear to be “people like us”.

  2. Yeah, those prices are outrageous. If you can’t build the lots cheaply, don’t bother. The money is better spent on shuttle bus service.

  3. The bids were created in a construction market that was white-hot and projected to get hotter. ST would be suckers to sign onto those bids now. The global marketplace for construction materials and labor has drastically turned and ST should slow down and wait.

    How much bus service could be provided for the cost of construction? I’m sure the productivity numbers of the commuter shuttle routes would be low; but compared to the cost of building the parking garages, low performing commuter shuttles might be a better investment.

    1. How much bus service could be provided for the cost of construction?

      Good question. I’m sure the question is somewhat rhetorical, but my guess is you could pay for a lot of very good service. Furthermore, it could connect to a lot of potential park and ride lots. The 180 runs right by the Holy Family Catholic Church, which has about 200 parking spaces ( Just north of there is a Presbyterian Church, which has about 150 spaces. There is a third church, not too far away, that has an even bigger lot — over 250 spaces (

      Now imagine you add another bus to the area, and beef up the service. Also assume you run the 497 all day and maybe more frequently during rush hour). The two buses that would replace the southern section of the 180 would be something like this: and this: That means you have covered the most densely populated parts of Auburn, and connected riders to park and ride lots that handle somewhere around 600 parking spots. That is more new spots than the $120 million dollar lot will provide! You could probably provide all that — and a lot more — for 30 years for that kind of money.

      1. +10 Exactly. A long time ago in a post you commented on, you brought up the idea of leasing parking spaces at satellite locations such as church parking lots as a viable alternative to building new parking facilities. I’ve always been a fan of that kind of thinking.

        Perhaps this “newfound” sticker shock will cause some on ST’s board to want the agency to revisit such alternatives. (I’m using the term revisit rather liberally here.)

  4. Dan, and the rest of Seattle Transit Blog, you deserve some ongoing thanks for giving us information like this. Reading it helps us meet our responsibility as citizens, to file it mentally and keep movin’ on.

    Same too for the public officials who’ve been releasing it to us. In spite of the fact that at 8:40AM Tuesday, April 21 2020, not one figure or decimal point means anything besides that somebody is releasing, somebody reporting, and the rest of us reading it.

    Thinking about yesterday’s demonstration here in Olympia- whoever-all’s responsible, at six last night the Capitol Grounds were spotless and 100% trash-free- I do think the media and officialdom need to be aware of one thing for their own good.

    It’s aggravating to live under a barrage of contradictory scoldings- no store I’ve asked has GOT a mask, and they’re ticked at me for asking-amid a blizzard of figures whose accuracy in one second will be as likely as answer to the question “What are odds we’ll be alive in an hour?”

    Of course we want to know these cost figures. And consider withheld information possible evidence of failure-concealment. Maybe the answer is a permanent disclaimer statement at the bottom of our screens reminding us that all the figures above it are not only subject but certain to change.

    BTW, I go on Capitol grounds at my doctor’s orders to exercise, with express permission of every State Patrol officer who comes within sixty feet of me. Major part of the purpose of the grounds is to relieve the whole rest of the State from having to put up with both me and all possible demonstrators in in their neighborhood. Have met one or two of my opponents’ leaders, and am glad to pay the taxes to keep them the end of my driveway.

    At the level of conscientious ordinary people, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Thanks for this posting and for just being here.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Here’s some actual cost information for STB readers, from last year – the firm who produced it is a well-known player in the parking structure world. Note that Seattle’s average per-stall figure comes out at a bit over $22,000 exclusive of soft costs, which typically add about 20-25% here but can occasionally be more. I’ve actually seen a figure of $40,000/stall used as a back-of-envelope number when in very preliminary designs on private facilities, which can also include below-grade parking as you would see in a high-rise. (Caveat – this isn’t my area of expertise at all, just numbers I’ve seen on various projects I’m familiar with – just providing some background.)

    One suburban project under design I’m quite aware of has over 1,200 parking stalls (retail + residential). I guarantee you this project wouldn’t have even been considered at $100,000/stall ($120 million just for parking!!) let alone the insane numbers that are shown for the projects above. There is something highly unusual going on here, and these projects should never see the light of day at those costs. Some explanation is definitely necessary from ST here.

    If these things need to be built at all, ST should grant the rights to build and operate to the cities involved and pay them a sum at an average of what area costs actually are for such a facility. If it costs more that that, the city can pay the difference. If the city wants to charge for using it or grant preferred parking for their residents, go for it. Let them explain to their taxpayers why storing their auto costs so much. At least with a residential/retail development the stalls are mostly in use – at a transit facility they’re used no more than 12 or so hours a day, and the vast majority not at all on weekends.

    1. Adding a note that the “average” parking facility used for pricing is what you might picture when thinking of a transit station parking facility – pretty basic. There are a lot of bells and whistles that can add to that cost, from poor soils conditions to larger stalls, energy-efficient lighting/pay collection, storm water detention (usually mandatory even with a surface lot), adding retail spaces, art/higher grade finish materials, and the like. That said, the point still remains that adding these items should not increase the costs to the per-stall figure we’re seeing above (or even close). Nobody would build them if they did, if for no other reason than that purchase or leasing costs for the parking’s associated uses (residential, retail) would go so high as to not pencil out.

    2. Isn’t federal funding contingent on preserving existing parking? Since the station is likely to occupy some of the existing P&R spots, the garage becomes a requirement, and the contractors know that.

  6. $120m is about 800,000 Metro service hours. Over 30 years, that comes out to about 2,800 service hours. Sounder runs about 7 hours per weekday, or about 1,750 hours. In other words, we could have a bus and a half running continuously during the Sounder service window for 30 years for these costs. That would be way better for some Sounder riders and way harder for others.

    If you believe autonomous cars are going to be a thing in the suburbs, then 30 years may be too long of a time horizon for this anyway.

    1. Did you have an order-of-magnitude error there, or did I misunderstand what you’re saying? It’s ~27,000 hours / year.

      1. Yeah 800,000 divided by 30 is more like 27,000 hours per year. That’s 15 buses, not 1.5.

        One question: does a “service hour” include the capital cost of the bus, divided by its expected lifespan, or is it just operating and maintenance costs? If the latter you’ll probably need to allocate a few million to purchase the vehicles. Still, running 14 local shuttle buses to the Sounder station for the price of a parking garage at the station seems like a trade very much worth considering.

        Plus with the land they’re not using for a parking garage, they could either build a cheap surface lot to capture the riders who can’t use the shuttle buses for whatever reason, or sell it off to build housing.

      2. Yeah, I concur — we are talking somewhere around 15 buses around each station, running when the train does. That is a crazy amount of service — way more than the parking lots could provide. Keep in mind, if we did nothing there would still be parking lots — each one with over 100 spots. If we added decent service for the surrounding areas you would just as many riders, at a fraction of the cost.

    2. This is a great comparison. Let’s walk through the problem trying to be solved: get 675 people to Sounder station that are outside of the station walkshed and cannot be easily service with existing bus service.

      So if you have two buses running to intercept Sounder at 20 minute headways during peak, you have a feeder route that can only venture 20 minutes away from the station. ST3 Sounder service should get to 15 minutes headways, which means your break-even bus route gets shorter as it needs to turn around quicker to meet for frequent trains. ST 596 – a basic but solid feeder route – takes <15 minutes to get from the P&R to Sumner station. So 15 minute feeder is very doable.

      But then where are 675 parking spaces to be leased within a 20 minute bus route of the station? Presumably most of the easy options – like the Red Lot in Puyallup – are already in use. So you also need to pay for the net new leased parking, which reduces your break-even bus hours somewhat, but that's perhaps comparable to the cost of operating a garage, so we'll call it a wash.

      Finally, there are currently 9 Sounder trips each peak, so to move 675 people (zero carpools) that's 75 people a trip. Since we can only afford 1 bus per train connection, that's a rather full bus.

      So unless you think that a parking garage will be completely useless* in 30 years, I think this break-even analysis shows just that: building a structured 675 parking garage vs. a surface lot + 2 feeder bus is break even at the rough cost estimates above.

      So that gets back to the purpose of P&Rs. It is a way to provide last mile service to riders that are difficult to reach otherwise. Covering the catchment area of a large garage with just 2 buses is impossible without building the same parking slightly further away. As we just showed, financially it is roughly break-even.

      Should we ALSO have robust feeder service and ALSO have great bike/ped connections and ALSO have TOD. Yes, of course! But to solve the specific problem at had – get 675 people to Sounder station that are outside of the station walkshed and cannot be easily service with existing bus service – seems like we are still addressing a hard-to-serve population at a cost comparable to the alternative service option.

      *Even if these South Sounder cities grow into vibrant multi-modal nodes, having a garage that serves, say, 20% of riders in 2040 vs 80% of riders in 2020, is still a useful piece of infrastructure. At worse, the garage is re-purposed away from commuters.

      Additionally, I think the impact of autonomous cars is also a wash. Sure, driverless shuttles will make feeder bus service much, much cheaper, but a large garage can also much as a massive kiss&ride – think of the TNC zones at SeaTac airport garage. But demand for Sounder is very one-way. So imagine a parking garage full of small shuttles where the entire garage turns over 3x every commute window, rather than just once. Much more productive.

      1. There’s another factor at play here. When you build more parking, not everybody that parks there is even a new rider who lives in a hard to reach place. You will also get people parking there who live along an existing bus route who decide that with extra parking, they don’t need to bother waiting for the bus anymore.

        So, 675 new parking spaces produces maybe 400 new riders, not even 675. Meanwhile, the existing feeder buses carry fewer riders, but don’t get any cheaper to run, so their cost per rider goes up.

      2. . It is a way to provide last mile service to riders that are difficult to reach otherwise.

        Maybe, but that’s not who it serves. The park and ride competes with bus service. There are people who would otherwise take the bus, but prefer the convenience of driving to the train station instead.

        Consider Mercer Island, for example. It is an odd suburb, in that there is only one bus that directly connects it to downtown Seattle — the 630. It runs five times a day, and carries about 100 riders a day. The bulk of service on Mercer Island is with buses that travel along I-90, and make one stop on the island, very close to the park and ride lot. In that sense, the buses are very similar to a Sounder train. A handful of people can walk to the stop, but most can’t.

        Connecting riders to that crucial stop is provided by a community shuttle (the 630, which runs five times a day) and the 204 (which runs about every half hour to hour, with no nighttime service and minimal service on the weekend). The two routes combined carry about 400 riders.

        The main park and ride in Mercer Island holds 450 cars (or more than those buses combined). Now imagine what would happen if they closed the park and ride lot, permanently. People would immediately switch to the two other buses. Many would walk to a bus stop, but complain about how poor the frequency is. Ridership would improve, and Metro would likely improve service as well as coverage. Some would park in the neighborhood, and use a spot on the street as a de facto park and ride. There wouldn’t be one giant lot, but rather, a few hundred cars, spread out over miles. Those that use the existing bus would see a big improvement, while those that are used to driving might spend a little more time on the bus.

        Overall, there would be *more* transit riders, since service within the island would be much better.

        Covering the catchment area of a large garage with just 2 buses is impossible without building the same parking slightly further away.

        Wrong. I just explained why it is wrong. How can I put this … You don’t need to build any parking! We aren’t talking about a giant amount of parking. The combination of parking on the street, parking in existing church parking lots, and riders walking to a bus stop is more than enough to cover what are, fundamentally, fairly small lots.

        Consider Auburn, which has the highest net increase in spaces, at 555. Now consider parking estimates for some of the churches in the area: — 200 — 150 — 250 — 200 — 100 — 200

        There are numerous other, smaller churches spread out everywhere in Auburn. Of course you wouldn’t strike a deal with every one, but if parking is your goal, then there is way more in the churches, than with this piddly (but extremely expensive) parking lot. Again, this doesn’t count parking on the street, which would happen organically if they ran the buses more often.

        The goal is not to build parking, it is get people on the train. Building these park and ride lots is a very poor way to do that.

      3. If the capital cost really is comparable to 10 feeder buses for each Sounder run for 30 years, and you can lease >600 net new parking spaces in the area, then I will retract my argument.

  7. It still amazes me how much ST is willing to pay to add parking garages for a line that costs money to run on privately-owned tracks without frequent all-day service — while building a light rail line with thousands of spaces just a few miles away.

    I understand why it’s popular and needing expansion. I’m just noting that sometimes it’s good to step back and ask “Is this still the most responsible way for taxpayers to provide this?”

    1. Link and Sounder serve complete different corridors. The D and E lines are much closer than Sounder and Link stations.

      1. RapidRide D and E lines don’t have giant, expensive parking garages that serve people who drive there from several miles away.

      2. Not necessarily. Balancing overcrowding and service delivery is important.

        I see the basic problem is that we pre-define the size of each garage project. We don’t say that South King can have a lump sum from ST3 to add spaces anywhere In the subarea, and have a process to allocate those to Link or Sounder or STExpress or STRide.

        The best thing could theoretically be to move one of these garages to Link and leave the other two alone (and supplement instead with a new all-day frequent STRide service — say between KDM and Downtown Kent), for example. That would let Downtown Kent be a better TOD rather than a parking garage hub.

        At the very least, a comprehensive parking garage allocation demand study (easily less than $2 million and likely less than $2 million) should have been funded and conducted first before spending hundreds of millions “just cause”.

      3. Is that much different than pre-defining the Link alignment and station location? It’s not like we give a subarea and budget and say, “if you only get 3 stations instead of 4 stations, tough cookies”

        The South Sounder capacity improvement project is closer to your desires – a lump sum of money to be spend on a longer trains and additional trips, with the specifics to be sorted out later. But generally voters want a more specific commitment. There was much work done to scope out the ST3 projects prior to the vote. I don’t see how going to the residents of SE King in 2020 and saying “never mind, some experts said SW King is a better spot for parking so you aren’t going to get this garage any more” is good politics or good policy. If the goal is to spend the best $/rider, most of ST3 wouldn’t be built, so that’s not a useful metric to judge an individual project.

        I do wish ST has defined the Sounder station areas similar to the Link station areas, differentiating between urban and suburban stations, where urban stations minimized parking for station access. Tukwilla and Tacoma are auto oriented, but Kent, Auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup would have all be better served to demphasize parking. Nonetheless, that is not what their communities wanted.

        The cities can still say to Sound Transit, let’s use that land for TOD and build the garage a further away, but none of them are interested. I’d fully support deferring garage if we have a recession, but doing a study to support a different project after committing to the project in ST2 and ST3 strikes me as a bait and switch.

      4. “If the goal is to spend the best $/rider, most of ST3 wouldn’t be built, so that’s not a useful metric to judge an individual project.”

        Hmmm. Interesting take.

        I do agree with your bait and switch conclusion btw (*cough*…First Hill station…*cough*).

    2. There might not even be a business case for the extra garage space anymore. My feeling is that the upcoming recession is going to be deeper than 2008 and ridership on Sounder trains is going to be way below the projections envisione when these parking garages projects were put out to bid.

  8. STB has it. thank you. it is the opportunity cost. the land could be used for housing next to frequent transit. the capital cost could be converted to service hours and provide bus service timed with Sounder. the peak period traffic drawn by the garages slows local transit service, making it less attractive. a garage full of stored cars adds nothing to the urban life of the downtowns. so, it is a losing proposition on several margins. the higher cost just makes it worse. so, it becomes a educational opportunity for STB and a political challenge for the ST board.

    1. That’s been there at least 20 years. It was built in a different era, and, I’d venture, was a good investment.

      1. If you assume construction costs have increased 9% per year for those 16 years (which they haven’t…), the price per stall should have doubled twice (a.k.a., quadrupled). Even at that insane rate of inflation the stalls would be MASSIVELY cheaper than what ST is planning now.

        Something is very, very wrong here.

    2. In another 3 years, that $27 million parking garage is about to become a white elephant. Who is going to drive and park there to take a bus to Link when they can just drive a couple of miles directly to Link?

      At best, it will get some use in the late morning, weekdays, after the South Bellevue garage fills up. But, that will be about it.

      1. So you think Sound Transit has managed to build more parking that there is demand for?

        “some use in the late morning” – exactly; South Bellevue will fill up first. Perhaps there is no need to run the 212 at 6.30am because people can just drive to South Bellevue, but I’m comfortable predicting that by 8am, South Bellevue will be full and people will be parking at Eastgate.

        The P&Rs won’t be full immediately any more than the train will be full on opening day, but there is effectively unlimited demand for good P&R access. This isn’t much different than TIBS parking lot filling up before Angel Lake. Angel Lake garage took ~1 years to fill up.

        Also, S Bellevue will likely charge for parking, which should encourage some to continue to park elsewhere.

  9. I wonder how many riders taking parking spots at these station garages aren’t expected to live in the ST taxing district. Are we building parking for “freeloaders” (except for the fares that they pay, and the taxes that their employers pay indirectly through rent and other sources)?

    Is there a way to make non-District residents to pay more for the privilege of parking daily at these garages?

    1. I believe for the monthly passes, you need to be in the service area. For first come/first serve probably not.

      1. That’s great for starters! I’d just hope that the amount compensates for the many taxes that others in the district must pay.

  10. Ah, the 2010 capital program realignment hits again.

    I’ve lost track now. How many ST2 projects have now blown a hole through their cost estimates?

    This is only the beginning of the looming, and imho inevitable, cost estimation problems with elements of the ST3 program as well. This was going to happen even without the current public health and economic crises, but the resulting tax (and fare) revenue reductions will only serve to exacerbate the problem. It will probably provide political cover for the agency’s missteps as well (sadly).

    My takeaway from this piece: why am I not surprised? (RQ)

    I have to wonder if any of the current top management at ST as well as the current slate of board members have ever read that APTA best practices report from a few years ago (thus available before ST3 went to voters) called “Transit Parking 101”, or something like that. The report incorporated a couple of case studies from Seattle (IIRC). Unless parking garages are part of a larger development, the capital costs for their construction is never recovered. There are many other considerations of course, but it seems to me that ST has a history of using parking spaces as a means of selling its expansion proposals to voters, as well as justification for its ridership estimates, at the expense of studying other viable options.

    In a related story, the full ST board is slated to hear a report on its (very, very preliminary) capital program realignment at its meeting on Thursday, April 23rd.

    1. “it seems to me that ST has a history of using parking spaces as a means of selling its expansion proposals to voters”

      You can turn it around and say it’s voters getting ST to build what they believe gets the biggest benefit, what they most want to spend their tax dollars on. These garages wouldn’t exist if ciy/county politicians and citizen activists hadn’t pushed strongly for them.

      When Community Transit had to cut during the recession, it offered two scenarios: keep the peak expresses as is and slash the local network, or slash the peak expresses and make the local network more frequent and comprehensive. The overwhelming public response was to keep the peak expresses as is and slash the local network. Because many people see only the expresses as beneificial: they take the bus to Seattle or Bellevue and drive locally, or they imagine that’s what most of their neighbors would want. It’s more strongly so in Snohomish County than King County because there aren’t many high-paying jobs in Snohomish County. They latch onto Link because it promises both: a more reliable express to downtown, and the ability to truncate the express buses and strengthen the local network without losing their express commute.

      Pierce County and South King County are in a more difficult situation because much of them will only ever have Sounder, and they think they need the P&Rs to get to it. If you take away those P&Rs, that diminishes their ST3 benefit to almost nothing. especially in in Pierce, while they’re still paying the full taxes.

      From a mobility, economic, and environmental standpoint they’re wrong: it would be better to take the same amount of money used for parking garages and put it into more local feeders, station-area access, and intra-subarea routes (Swift, RapidRide, Pierce one-digit routes) — and also design Link better and cancel Sounder North. But they don’t believe it. So we get parking garages.

      1. Pierce County and South King County are in a more difficult situation because much of them will only ever have Sounder, and they think they need the P&Rs to get to it.

        So you don’t think anyone can explain to them how much better it is to have good shuttle service instead (along with smaller park and ride lots in their neighborhood)? That is awfully presumptuous, and represents a clear lack of leadership. Leadership does not involve getting people to do what is obvious, it is getting them to do something that is better. Explain to people the ridiculously high cost of park and ride lots. Explain that for the money, they can have lots of additional shuttle service. Mention that we will try and lease some parking lots from local churches, a classic win-win situation. Of course there will be people who whine, but there are bound to be people who whine about the cost of these parking lots, that’s for sure. This is one Seattle Times article away from being a major headache for ST leadership. At that point Sound Transit has to pick their poison, and I think abandoning the parking lots and running shuttle buses is a much better option.

      2. “Pierce County and South King County are in a more difficult situation because much of them will only ever have Sounder, and they think they need the P&Rs to get to it.”
        One of my very first STB pieces was a defense of South Sounder parking – essentially, that if ST is going to extend rail to places like Puyallup and Sumner, then have to build the parking that comes with local land use.
        The parking is very popular with commuters, and will be full to capacity however much we build.
        But that assumed a more reasonable cost. There’s some mix of parking vs shuttle bus costs where the parking is the cost-effective way to get people to transit. And there’s some other mix where one has to calculate the shuttle buses or Ross’s remote lots works better.
        At upwards of $200k per parking stall, we would appear to be in that latter world.

      3. Ross’ remote lots have worked in some areas for many, many years, often areas where there are no park-and-rides. I recall two church lots immediately off the top of my head in NE Seattle that have been used for decades – one just west of central Lake City on 125th, and the other a large gravel/grass lot in Wedgwood at NE 77th and 35th NE between the post office and Wedgwood Presbyterian Church (the church uses it on Sundays and may own it for all I know; Hunter’s Tree Stand has been a seasonal occupant of a portion of it for as long as I can recall, as has a fruit stand).

        Both of those lots have decent to very good bus service adjacent – okay, 35th didn’t really when I was younger, but it has certainly been beefed up now – and very little to no service in the single-family residential areas extending out in all directions from them. There are no park-and-ride facilities anywhere near Wedgwood or Lake City – Northgate is closest to LC but a serious pain in the arse to get to for much of the year, and you’d better get there pretty darn early if you want a spot.

        With a Link station at NE 130th and certainly even more bus service between Lake City and Bitter Lake, that Lake City lot will be in high demand and only 5 minutes by bus from the train (at a station that will have no parking).

        My guess is that there are many other locations like those where the cost to lease unused weekday parking would be a win-win.

      4. Metro used to have a list of all available church parking lot-supported park and ride options (there were many throughout the service network, at least in the North and East areas, which I am more directly familiar with). I cannot easily find that list anymore, but you can see a subset of the available ones related to East Link construction from this ST link. So I imagine such a thing could easily be expanded as suggested above by others.

    1. I am familiar with it, it’s a neat one (or certainly was back when it was new). I love the lights showing which stalls are open.

  11. Not only are ST taxpayers supposed to pay for new garages, we are also paying for longer platforms and longer trains to carry the additional riders coming from these new spaces. The cost per space doesn’t end at the driveway entrance to the garage.

  12. Of all the plain old-fashioned “chores” the foreseeable future is liable to hand us, this one could be the most straightforward.

    Flat-out full-bore State of Emergency delivered to us by whoever spec’ed out the West Seattle Bridge might well make both transit-oriented parking and reserved busways a matter of gravel, bulldozers, and demolitions explosives.

    When we’ve had to, we’ve all parked on worse. Force-seven quake like last one, in spades. True Value Hardware, not Kenny Rodgers’ “Gambler. ”

    For those of us who own cars, best present use of our money is to keep them in good condition, equally valuable whether events make us either sell or use them. Whole idea of a car has always been flexibility.

    And in the right hands, DSTT history proves that buses (mode-regardless) and streetcars and everything evolved from them will tolerate a lot more flex than they’re given credit for. “Light” rail means mandatory minimum degree of lane-reservation, not trainset weight.

    Also, not jingoism but legitimate national defense and common decency: if we can’t handle the work ourselves, which we certainly can, at least let’s wait to give the rail-building contract to China ’til they’re finally a modern democracy? Workers of that nationality did fine on at least one of our historic national railroads, though let’s not slight the Irish either.

    Mark Dublin which is not an Irish name. The one in Ireland was a Viking trading town straight north- south bearing to Reykjavik.

    1. The town was founded by Vikings but the name is Irish. “dubh-linn” is Irish for “black-pool” or “black-pond”. However, there are many names in English which have evolved to be spelled or pronounced identically to unrelated words or names. It’s much more apparent in the UK/Ireland than in the US, because many of the names are not common in the US. Your family’s name may have come from a different origin than the Irish town, but just happen to be spelled identically due to another Scandinavian word or to the extensive changes in English over the last millenium.

      1. Thanks more than you can know, Mike. Was just going by what my wife told me. Which saved my life more than once. Maybe saving today’s readers from true story about a Lithuanian Jew named Robert Briscoe who arrived in Dubh-Linn just in time to help found the Irish Republican Army.

        With IT down to Advance Reservation, come to think of it, time to check ST’s “Ride The Wave” for ICE bulletins about passengers with family ties to Terror getting near the Airport! Before next TRU session on Beacon Hill, or re-acquaintance ride to Ballard.

        On the grand scale, Nature’s long had this whole thing “covered” by seeing to it that when pushed, prompted or just feel like it, people can walk, ride, swim, float, and have babies across wide distances without breaking stride.

        But considering what-all my generation’s left this summer’s graduates with for a Graduation present, West Seattle Bridge and associated parking as Exhibit A, a lot more of my time’s going to have to be donated than billed.

        Mark Dublin

      2. When you say it’s “Irish” for black pool, do you mean it’s Gaelic?

    2. “dubh linn” was an existing body of water the area was known for. It’s not that different from Seattle. The town was founded by European Americans but the name is Duwamish after the existing settlements.

  13. So, why does it cost that much to build parking spaces? Even after reading this blog for a year or so, I’m still not clear on this.

    1. Someone needs to answer that question definitively. These stalls should cost $35k-60k each (maybe $75k since we are talking about government…), not $200k+.

  14. Food for thought: ST3 was based on a financial plan, yet these projects appear to have pre-defined numbers of spaces. Rather than build the agreed number of spaces, why aren’t we talking about reducing the number of spaces in each garage to roughly fit the budget allocated for it in the voter-approved measure?

    Like most businesses and people, ST could figure out what they can afford and provide what they can in that budget. If that means 30 percent fewer spaces, so be it. Instead, ST just overspends.

    1. I’ll take a small nibble on that food offer. Would you put your suggestion into the same category as “value engineering”, a la Lynnwood Link?

      1. Curiously, Lynnwood Link value engineering never considered reducing the size of any parking garage. I wish they did though; deferring spaces is better than losing escalators and stairs because the spaces can be more easily added later.

        In ST’s defense, it had already gotten through the FTA ‘s New Starts funding process so that may have been a factor. These Sounder projects don’t have that to worry about.

      2. Yes, I would call reducing the number of spaces as “value engineering”. So would buying more land further away to keep from building expensive garages. So may have designs that built above the streets rather than next to the streets.

        But the way that Seattle transit advocates and leaders think is that there is only one site or one alternative or one number of spaces — and if costs go up that the public just has to cough up the dough. Alternatives are often considered “evil”.

  15. Some great ideas regarding leased lots and shuttle service. The point that’s been missed on this thread is that the money spent on P&R lots isn’t to provide better transit but to buy votes. The suburbs by and large won’t vote for ST ballot measures unless they promise P&R lots. Of course most voters never plan to use said lots but it’s believed that’s what benefits the suburbs and if other people use them then congestion will be reduced. Totally wrong but it serves the purpose of buying votes.

    1. Maybe you missed it but this is what I stated in one of my comments up above:

      “There are many other considerations of course, but it seems to me that ST has a history of using parking spaces as a means of selling its expansion proposals to voters,…”

    2. And I said the voters are using ST to get P&Rs, as Sam is saying.

      It may be that the people pushing for P&Rs are a minority of subarea voters. But it looks like the majority, and they’re certainly the loudest movement, and their politicians are siding with it.

  16. peeps, the cost escalations are often related to other improvements that cities require for development – usually related to transit and non-motorized access. they could build bare bones parking garages for a lot less, but they’re upgrading streets and sidewalks, expanding bus layover capacity, adding hella bike parking… just keep in mind that these projects take on a life of their own and serve a lot of purposes. it ain’t all about cars – it’s about balance. welcome to the suburbs.

    1. Bike parking costs next to nothing, and adding bus layover capacity isn’t expensive either. ST shouldn’t be rebuilding streets wholesale with this money (I’m not saying they aren’t, just that they shouldn’t be).

      1. Why not? That’s how you get a complete street. Putting in new sidewalks and redesigning intersections to help bus/ped/bike movements is effectively a full street rebuild. Look at the cost for some of the bike lanes in Seattle.

  17. Yeah, the problem is that for each of the ST voting areas “something must be done.” In Kent, they are improving connections to the Sounder, which, given that Kent is massive sprawl, means parking. So you have to make parking, and it has to be big, and you have to add it in a .5 mile walkshed of the Sounder station which is in an already highly developed area which in this case means buying out a cold storage business.
    Kent just loves adding more and more developments out into its hinterlands, and beyond it’s Eastern borders every other town is even worse: Covington, Maple Valley, Fairwood; a lot of people out there want to live in new large houses on nice lots and maybe ride the Sounder. And politically, they will get behind anything that helps them out, and no one will tell them that they are crazy and this doesn’t work and congestion will never really get better.

    1. I’ll just note that Fairwood, Covington and Maple Valley are outside of the ST taxing district yet their residents are being helped by adding these parking garage spaces.

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