Parking Policy Pickle

[ Editor's note: HAC is pleased to publish the following post by Sara Nikolic, Co-Director at Futurewise ]

The City’s no park-and-ride policy around light rail stations has long been contentious, and this past week the controversy  heated  up when several SE Seattle businesses were ordered to stop selling spots to commuters in their underutilized surface lots near the stations.  Yesterday, Mayor McGinn responded by imposing a 30-day moratorium on enforcement of the policy.

On the surface, the policy strikes many people as silly—or worse, counter to the goal of encouraging more people to take transit. After all, the dense and pedestrian-friendly transit-oriented communities that many expected to sprout up in advance of light rail have yet to materialize, and alternative modes of station access are underfunded, insufficient, and in some cases, unsafe.

And it’s true that if the goal is to maximize ridership in the short term, then the City should encourage parking at every station.  The park-and-riders would come, and the trains would be fuller.  

But unfortunately, pursuing that myopic goal would torpedo the long-term, transformative potential of the light rail investment.  The vision for these station areas—as articulated in the 2001 station area plans, and on track to be upheld in the neighborhood plan updates currently underway in three light rail station area neighborhoods—is the conversion of an auto-dominated area of the city into pedestrian friendly, mixed-use neighborhood centers where people can easily access light rail by foot, bike or bus. Allowing park and ride facilities is not only a flagrant disregard for that vision, but would also make it more difficult to achieve for two key reasons:

  1. In many cases, these surface lots are the very properties that the city hopes will redevelop to help create more dense and pedestrian-friendly transit-oriented communities. Allowing income generation from retaining the surface lots will delay the necessary tipping point at which it becomes profitable to redevelop the properties.
  2. Surface lots are hostile to pedestrians. They are unpleasant to walk along, and in poor lighting or with heavy traffic, can also be unsafe. Encouraging more cars to enter and leave these lots during peak commuting times, when people may be accessing the station by foot or bicycle, will only exacerbate safety issues.

But wouldn’t it be okay if the policy change is only temporary, as McGinn proposed?  Maybe.  But the difficulty of taking away something after it has been granted cannot be underestimated.  For instance, how would it be decided when was the optimum time for the parking ban to be reinstated? 

What’s needed here is patience. We will likely have to wait for the next development cycle before much building happens in the SE Seattle station areas, and they will remain less than ideal in the near term.  Because while the City had the vision in advance of light rail to implement policies that discourage auto-oriented uses, it unfortunately didn’t commit to the kind of meaningful public investment that would have catalyzed the creation of real transit-oriented communities.

The current economic slowdown presents a great opportunity for the City to make those investments out ahead of the next wave of development.  And that would entail addressing the very concerns that SE Seattle residents have raised for years: improvements to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, economic development, crime and safety, school funding.

But now is not the time to backpedal on policy and accept band-aid fixes that will ultimately hold back progress towards establishing the walkable, mixed-use communities that make so much sense for high-capacity transit station areas.

The consequences of banning park and ride lots in station areas are not unintended.  The policy resulted from a thorough planning process, and its goal is long-term progress. Nothing has changed between 2001 and now that justifies abandoning that important long-term vision.

76 Responses to “Parking Policy Pickle”

  1. Disgruntled

    Yeah, I’m sorry, but that was a stupid, pointless and politically counter-productive move, right out of the gate.

    Stupid, because it sabotages progress towards making light rail station areas work.

    Pointless because it won’t actually make all that much of a difference to local communities’ economies: not like parking lots are job engines.

    Counter-productive because it sends the message that people griping about parking are right, and that cars are essential to our economy and transportation planning. Try reversing that rule next year, and see what a shitstorm blows up.

    Like I’m hearing a lot of others say, I’m getting worried… if this is the sustainability leadership we voted for, we’re fucked.

  2. Frank

    Thanks for this post, Sara.

    I totally understand the desire not to have free, city-owned parking lots around the light rail stations.

    But why the ban on private lots? There are plenty of parking lots and parking garages around the downtown light rail stations, and that hasn’t stopped downtown from becoming walkable and pedestrian oriented.

    As downtown developed over the last few years, many private surface parking lots were developed into apartments and condos, as the land became more valuable. Why wouldn’t the same thing happen in SE Seattle over the next few years?

    Can you help me understand the difference?

  3. Michael

    Good points, I largely agree but…

    If the issue is that parking creates unpleasantness for pedestrians. Banning principle-use-parking (such as paid parking for park and ride) doesn’t really help in the short term. The Safeway lot at Othello (and many others) can still be used as accessory parking for nearby businesses…not any safer or pleasant for pedestrians.

    When the issue is income generation…I’m more in agreement but it seems that this could actually be useful for the city’s goals and for the property owners. Why not let the lots be used for paid parking while the city taxes it heavily? People who live nearby by will only be willing to pay so much to park 20 min. from their jobs. Sure some will, but the city makes money to apply to TOD related goals and the property owner (perhaps a developer) makes enough money on the vacant land to fend off foreclosure in order to hold it until brighter times allow for the type of redevelopment a good walkable TOD requires. If the taxes are set properly, they prevent the lots from being the kind of cash cow that would tempt a land owner to hold the property as parking, while also keeping the rates high enough to make people think about walking instead.

    Hopefully this is the Mayor’s goal to appease all parties involved, and if so maybe it’s not so bad.

  4. Bill LaBorde

    This is the only piece I’ve read about this issue that captures the nuances and true consequences of this issue. I agree, it seems harmless and maybe even a good idea to allow existing parking lots near SE Seattle stations to serve light rail commuters during our current economic doldrums. But, how do you avoid providing an incentive for developers to bank land or create a false expectancy that there will always be cheap parking near the stations? The best answer would have been for the city to have quietly avoided enforcing the parking ban for a year or so until the pace of development quickens again. But, it’s too late for that.

    As someone who lives near a light rail station, I can’t emphasize enough what a blight surface or structured parking would be on our neighborhood. Already, the not so dense development patterns make a 1/2 mile walk through the neighborhood feel much longer than the same distance walk through a neighborhood like Capitol Hill or the Roosevelt District. Parking lots provide a visual blight on the landscape compared to just about any kind of housing or commercial use, even more so compared to the kind of 4-6-story mixed use envisioned for the area. Parking lots are also crime magnets. Oh, and they’re toxic too: http://invw.org/2010/01/toxic-parking-lots-shed-dust-that-boosts-kids-cancer-risk-investigatewest-says-in-first-major-story/

    At the very least, the city should issue only temporary permits (1-year?) to parking lot owners in these areas and charge a very high price for renewal of those permits to discourage long-term use. Any temporary provisions should include a sunset when we go back the current policy (2013 when the 1st Hill Streetcar opens? Or, 2016 when U-Link opens?) And, of course this policy would apply only to existing parking lots. Nor should any new development be allowed to provide excess parking for transit commuters.

  5. Michael

    @4 Bill…I like the temporary permit idea. That might better allow the city to adjust rates based on proximity to stations.

    @2 Frank..Yeah downtowm is better able to handle the large structured parking, but the density downtown is far greater than the South end stations, so there are extremely different economics at work. Plus parking is detrimental to the pedestrian environment downtown too. Take a walk down 1st Ave between Columbia and Cherry…Not a great experience. This is why Street level parking is no longer permitted downtown (older versions are grandfathered in).

  6. JoshMahar

    Thanks Sara! I’ve been trying to articulate a similar view but you do it so much more eloquently.

    I also wanted to add a little food for thought:

    It seems that one of the biggest challenges near the Light rail has been attracting market rate development to complement the low income and subsidized units. This is understandable since the unfortunate truth is that the wealth separation in the Valley area is one of the most blatant in the city. But easy access to high speed transit is incredibly attractive to all income levels, so if the city focuses on enhancing other infrastructure in the station areas, market rate housing is sure to follow.

    But by allowing Park-and-rides near the station we completely undermine part of the desirability of this area and the challenge of attracting market rate housing becomes that much more difficult. It essentially gives the historically wealthier areas the same transit access as the lower valley, maintaining the status quo. It also means that any housing that does go up near the station, could be adjacent to a park and ride for a very long time which, as you point out, are walkability killers.

    In our effort to meet our ridership estimates we are narrowly focusing on how to get people on to rail now. But as has been pointed out many, many times, our rail was built as a long term asset, thus we need to be planning for long term success.

  7. Ross

    Is the area by this station exempt from the usual zoning rules regarding parking and new development? In other words, if an owner in the area builds an apartment building, does he have to provide parking for the residents. If so, then having the city require parking on new development, but preventing parking lots is rather hypocritical (if not ridiculous). Imagine the owner who has an empty lot. If she builds an apartment building, she has to add parking. This might add to the cost and make it very ugly. If she wants to turn it into a parking lot, though, she can’t. This is insane.

    McGinn’s policy is sensible. He has much bigger fish to fry. I agree with the earlier post, it makes sense to tax parking lots at a slighter higher rate. Property owners are taxed on the value of the property and the value of the development (AKA dwelling). This provides a disincentive for development and could be remedied (a bit) by assessing a tax on parking lots. As a previous author mentioned, eventually this area will fill in with development, regardless of the rules. I think allowing apartments (and shops) without requiring parking will do a lot more towards that goal than simply banning standalone parking lots.

  8. Chris

    I disagree with both points enumerated in Ms. Nicokolic’s post. The second I disagree with because I think a full parking lot is better than an empty parking lot for pedestrians IMO. The first I disagree with based upon what I believe to be incorrect economic logic:

    1) “Allowing income generation from retaining the surface lots will delay the necessary tipping point at which it becomes profitable to redevelop the properties”

    Surface parking lots at the rates that can be charged presently have a negligible affect on redevelopment of these properties. An efficiently programmed surface lot getting $5 a day per stall may be worth about $50 per square foot. At $10 per stall per day (think about how hard it would be to get $10 per stall per day every day given the cost and time to use link versus the relative cost of downtown lots), the lot might be worth about $100 psf.

    Any reasonable vertical mixed-use project of any real density will be able to pay $100 psf for land, and not sales of NC-type land in Seattle go for $200+ psf. Structured parking only makes sense in areas where the cost of land is higher than the cost to “create new land” via a garage. Most underground garages run 30k+ per stall, so that’s about $85 psf at 350 sf per stall.

    Someone made the argument to me that the interim income might prolong the period until development, regardless of how little the income was. While that might make sense at face value, that rationale flies in he face of how rationale economic decisions are made, which is base in large part on the concept of the time value of money – $1 today is better than a $1 tomorrow. So if I’m a landowner looking to maximize value, and I can either receive payment from a developer today, or wait a year for the payment while I collect parking revenues, I’d be far better taking the money now.

    Finally, one could argue that the interim long-term parking income might DISCOURAGE low value longer-term uses that might otherwise are in station areas! Lets assume that a strip retailer can pay $75 psf for land, which is more than the value as parking, but the owner wants to retain the interim parking in the hopes of higher values in the next cycle or after future rezoning that might arise out of the station area planning. In this case, the interim parking helps local landowners in the near term while preserving prime infill lots for higher-value development in the long term.

  9. Matt the Engineer

    I think McGinn’s approach is reasonable response to criticism. I like the high tax or permit idea combined with a time-based sunset clause, since what we really need is incentive to develop. Empty lots will dampen this incentive, as will parking lots. But parking lots with a known end date and a schedule of increasing fees? This will allow the parking lot owner a bit of time to find a development plan and find a market, and will give developers the assurance their potential new building won’t be surrounded by empty lots.

  10. Frank

    @5 Michael, you write, ” the density downtown is far greater than the South end stations, so there are extremely different economics at work.” Doesn’t that basically concede my point, which is that economics will dictate how intensively the land is used? As the south end develops, the incentive will be to develop the land more intensely and surface parking lots will give way to denser development, much as they have in Belltown, Downtown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, etc., etc.

    Also remember this is lifting a ban on existing lots — no one’s said anything about allowing more parking lots. In other words, it’s just like downtown: older lots are grandfathered.

  11. Chuck Wolfe

    Very thoughtful job, Sara. We addressed this issue in the context of place-node tension in the Barriers Report at pp. 16-17, and did not really propose an answer other than note that other jurisdictions nationally are certainly consistent with your point of view. One thing I would suggest to Mayor McGinn in development of the new policy is to take heed that one size does not necessarily fit all and that some stations may be more suitable for continued longer term parking and some not…we imply that as well in our discussion. See http://www.qualitygrowthalliance.org

  12. nador

    In looking at the Mt. Baker pay lot, it has 73 stalls. If all stalls were to lease out to commuters that grosses a whopping $2190 monthly.

    On property assessed at $1.45 million, I’m not sure how that income stream is incentive for the owner to keep it as parking vs. developing when the time is more right. Maybe Chris @6 can explain that for me – I must be missing something.

    I believe I read that near the Henderson station a church was leasing out spaces. That church is going to have a parking lot whether anyone likes it or not and it’s going to be empty Mon-Sat during the days most likely. What’s the harm?

    I would think the local businesses would LOVE to have more people visiting their neighborhood who otherwise would not.

    What is the radius of the no-parking zone? 1/2-mile? 2-miles?

  13. nador

    oops. Sorry, Chris @8 is what I meant. You have a lot of fiscal information and seem to be in the know.

  14. Frank

    @12 it’s a quarter mile, I believe.

  15. Chris

    Nador @13, you are correct, the income stream is fairly minimal relative to underlying values. Using assessed values may not be a very accurate measure, however, but it is one data that can be used as a proxy for market value. Two years ago, assessed values seemed to be trailing market values by 20% (ie. the rate of appreciation was outpacing the rate of re-assessment; theoretically and legally they should be assessed at market value), but now seeing values, especially land values, beneath assessed values is not uncommon.

    Using your example, the net income to the owner is likely much lower (usually diamond et al take 40-50%), plus the owner bears property taxes. At the assessed value you cite thats about $1100 per month. The net from parking fees ends up being very small, but probably very useful to the owner in paying taxes and other carrying costs. But its not going to undermine long-term redevelopment. Market conditions are much, much more likely to be responsible for delaying redevelopment than the existence of this pay lot.

    I should add that, to support long-term redevelopment to transit-supportive mixed use development, which 99% of us favor, we need to have the new regs allowing surface lots very narrowly focused – solely on existing lots (no tear downs), with no single-use parking uses allowed in the future. Limitation of parking ratios via parking maximums for future uses should also be encouraged.

  16. nador

    thanks Chris for the explanation. Your last paragraph sums up what I think the majority of folks would support. (The minority would be the Sara’s of the world where there is apparently no acceptable car commute or pay parking near transit.)

    @Frank, yes, thank you, I just found the 1/4-mile info on the city website in a pdf. (thanks Google!)

    This makes it interesting, since 1/4-mile is nothing. One has to do that at the airport now from the station to the terminal! I can think of several potential locations for parking lots that are just over the requisite 1/4-mile. Also, once TOD goes in, what is to stop condo owners from renting/subletting their parking stalls. This happens all over downtown and CapHill now.

  17. Sparkles

    Can the Mayor suspend enforcement of existing rules? Or does it require Council action? SEPA?

  18. Alex Steffen

    “I should add that, to support long-term redevelopment to transit-supportive mixed use development, which 99% of us favor, we need to have the new regs allowing surface lots very narrowly focused – solely on existing lots (no tear downs), with no single-use parking uses allowed in the future. Limitation of parking ratios via parking maximums for future uses should also be encouraged.”

    Makes sense. There may be a practical short-term compromise that segues into a strong, pedestrian/density-focused ToD policy over the next couple years.

    That said, I think it’s always worth asking whether or not any given move promotes or discourages people living w/o cars in station areas and surrounding neighborhoods. Having a dense, pedestrian-oriented core around stations is a big win on multiple levels, and much, much more important that facilitating the drive-to-rail commuters.

    The worst signal of all to send would be that people who drive to take the train matter more than the vitality of the station areas and the safety of pedestrian commuters. If this policy signals that, then it’s a big mistake.

    Interested to see what we hear in 30 days.

  19. nador

    @Alex #18;

    So let’s just suppose a few things. There are 400 people who are willing to drive their car to a park-n-ride lot and board Link to their jobs downtown or perhaps to transfer to a bus in the tunnel that goes elsewhere, like the U-District or Northgate. These people will do this because they live miles from a Link station so walking is not feasible or they are not physically fit to do so (or have the time!). To take a bus to their destination would take 2, 3 or 4x as long as driving. Taking a bus to the nearest Link station still involves a 20-30 minute walk/bus link to the Link station and then there is the rest of the transit based commute.. (I have a friend who is in this situation, he could drive it in 25 minutes easily in heavy traffic)

    Are those people to be shunned from riding Link? You seem to suggest that they should just drive. That you don’t want them riding Link, getting used to the ease of use and consistent on-time schedule. Then, when they are looking at buying a new house/condo they may think of a TOD over suburbia. Isn’t the investment of PRIVATE money worth the tradeoff? Isn’t the goal to reduce commuter trips, get cars off the roads, reduce carbon, blah blah blah? This is what providing parking for 400 people who otherwise would be on I-5 does.

    And why on earth was the Tukwila FREE park-n-ride allowed to be built. That property could easily house several hundred apartments/condos. Let’s shut it down and see how much ridership you get heading north in the morning. That lot is packed full every morning. Just like the Sounder trains’ lots are packed and overflowing.

    People will ride Link if you let them.

  20. eddiew

    a key distinction is private v. public: the city has correctly opposed free public transit parking in the city; they should have opposed the county’s 2002 expansion at Northgate. but privately provided parking for a fee seems fine. as McGinn pointed out, we have a recession and the surface parking will not soon be converted to a dense walkable development. as the recession ends and the demand for the parcels increases, it will make less economic sense to use it for commuter parking. all of Seattle south of North 85th Street was developed around streetcar lines and is walkable.

  21. Japhet

    The City is correct to not spend public money building park and ride lots near the station areas, but it is counterproductive to spend public money enforcing a ban on parking lots. Right now, the suburban nature of Seattle’s neighborhoods requires that businesses have plenty of parking or they will fail. Until station areas have a big enough community to support station area businesses and amenities, parking is a necessary use. Private, paid surface lots are an ideal transition policy because they have very low sunk cost and so are easily converted to more desirable uses when land values rise again. And while we wait for the land values to increase, the parking lots help do that by enabling businesses to survive in the station areas.

  22. Matt the Engineer

    @19 nador:
    The problem is that you’re looking at how to make driving in easier. The easier and faster you can drive into a city, the more sprawl you create since you can now live further away (with more land, for cheaper). For more on why sprawl is such a bad idea, look around on the blog you’re visiting.

    “And why on earth was the Tukwila FREE park-n-ride allowed to be built. That property could easily house several hundred apartments/condos.”

    Exactly. This was prime TOD space. SeaTac realizes that, and is building TOD just outside it. How strange it will be to have to walk out of the Link station and through a vast parking lot to get to walkable shops. I believe ST screwed up when it added this park-and-ride, and wonder about the politics behind this decision.

  23. morgan

    I fully agree w/ Japhet’s macro perspective on the transition between the current state and desired state. It seems overly wishful to expect the southern corridor to quickly transition from single digit density to 50 or even 100 u/acre under prevailing investment conditions of the few several years.

    I’ve very curious if anyone is buying land in the corridor or if prices are just not low enough to justify paying a few years of taxes on it while not generating much income. I know I wouldn’t sell easily.

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  25. josh

    Building new parking lots certainly makes the environment worse. But that’s not the choice the city is facing right now.

    These parking lots already exist.

    Is it better for the community that they be empty parking lots, or full?

    Is it better for the community’s long-term development that commuters continue to drive right past the area, or park in the neighborhood and walk to the train every day?

    Which option encourages more pedestrian-oriented retail in the near term?

    Which exposes more people to the idea of living within walking distance of the train?

    Which creates more awareness of the many under-utilized parcels available near the stations?

    Which boosts the ridership numbers for Link, and public support for expanding light rail?

    Which gets more people to use transit for at least part of their commute?

    Which feels more dangerous and blighted to a passing pedestrian: empty, weedy, litter-strewn parking lots, or parking lots that are actually used?

    The revenue from parking is so miniscule, it’s attractive compared to a fenced, empty lot, but not compared to any reasonable retail, office, or residential development allowed by the area’s zoning.

  26. Ezra

    Cheap all day parking anywhere encourages driving for commuting purposes and contributes in a significant way to congestion. If we are to truly build a quality mass transit system in our region it starts with making hard, but important choices in our neighborhoods. These choices must include regulating parking and encouraging development around our light rail stations.

    I hope the Mayor and City Council make the right choice and reinstate the ban on all day surface parking lots around light rail stations. In fact I’d like to see a ban on all day parking on surface parking lots exist throughout the city. Additionally, the city should tax all day parking at a much higher rate in parking garages and use that revenue to improve transit and create better transportation choices for commuters. Until we get serious about limiting the availability and increasing the cost of parking we’ll continue to have a dysfunctional transportation system.

    The city has created residential parking zones (RPZ) around the light rail stations. I’d like to see an inventory of available spaces in these zones during the workday. I’d suggest permission for Rainier Valley residents outside the RPZ zones to park on a space available basis in the RPZ zones. Using this available street parking could offer interim parking until our connecting bus service is improved to offer frequent service to connect neighborhood residents to the frequent light rail service that we now enjoy.

  27. nador

    @Ezra. Ban all long term parking city wide? Really? That would be a quick way to destroy business and grind government to a halt. Unless your idea of long-term parking is 8-hours or more or something.

    What other US cities prohibit long-term parking as you suggest?

    People drive into the city to shop, work and play. My parents are regular visitors to Seattle from Puyallup. They drive in typically mid-week (to avoid crowds), they have lunch in the Market and go shopping and visit friends. Then off to dinner and a play/performance and then head home. They easily spend more than 8 hours in the city and they do this a couple times per month. As do a lot of people. Taking away long term parking downtown means people have to move their car or at least return to their car and pay for more time. How is that beneficial? Taking the bus from Puyallup could be done, nothing like 2 hours on the bus each way – especially on the return trip with a few bags of purchased goods. But hey, they ain’t driving right?

  28. Mike

    What’s wrong with a fixed, non-renewable license of say five years? That would tell the owners and the community that they can have their parking now but there are other plans after that.

  29. Mark

    A light rail hors d’œuvre, I think. A taste of transit for those who are on the fence between carland and the world of rails. Maybe that scrumptious little nibble of transit that our car driving brothers and sisters get from this little window of opportunity will turn them into hungry, raving fans of trains…

  30. Alex Steffen

    @19 “Are those people to be shunned from riding Link?”

    So any deprioritization of drivers is “shunning” them? Please…

  31. nador

    @30 Alex …Please, yes.

    You tell us that walking to the train is “much, much more important that facilitating the drive-to-rail commuters.” Sounds like shunning to me.

    Why have ANY type of park-n-ride anywhere, ever? Be it for bus, train, or plane – they all encourage people to drive to them. Tear down the parking garages at SeaTac. Remove the garages at all the “transit stations” like in Kent, Lynnwood, Everett and everywhere else. Build TOD where those parking lots used to be, it’ll be utopia. If you must go somewhere, then hoof it to the nearest bus stop or ride your bike.

    It’s a fantastic vision to have no matter how impossible or improbable it is to achieve.

    In my view of the world, it is much better to have someone drive 3 miles and ride a train or bus, whereas your comment shows that you prefer to have them drive 30 miles. Utopia would be for everyone to live/work/play within walking distance of their bedroom. On that we can agree.

  32. Matt the Engineer

    @31 Actually, your this utopia you speak of sounds pretty nice. But you’re still missing the point about why we don’t want much parking by light rail stations.

    See my comment above about why making car commuting easier isn’t a good goal to have.

  33. Nador

    Sorry Matt, but you and others are making the assumption that those that are currently out of range of Link service will sell their homes and move closer to the stations and into TOD. That is not reality. People have purchased homes and don’t plan on moving. Why not shut down the park-n-rides? The are goventment owned and could easily be shuttered. Why not push for that? TOD is fine and something I sought when bying my home. But I still commute by car because of where I was able to get work. My brother used to drive 30 miles on his commute but now only drives about 4 or 5 to the train station and the rest is via transit. Is that bad? I suspect you would suggest he move closer to work – but he is a hired gun and changes companies every 8-15 months. He sought housing that was in the middle of his service area to limit commutes. What should he do? I think providing FREE parking like the transit organizations do, does far more to harm your agenda of zero car commutes than if the charged a significant fee for parking. To eliminate auto commutes there must be incentive, fiscal AND time, for people to embrace transit. Current this is not the case. Why not tear down those garages? No one has even proposed that? Alex, Matt, Sara? Why not?

  34. Chad N

    How does the City distinguish between commuter parking and other paid parking? When the Capitol Hill or 45th/Brooklyn Link stations open, will all long-term parking facilities within a quarter-mile have to close up?

    These lots have been noticable only because up until now no one has paid to park in the Rainier Valley. But in a true walkable TOD neighborhood, an urban destination, paid all-day parking will usually exist.

    I suport the enforcement moratorium, and propose the following policy changes when it expires:
    - Continue the City’s ban on publically owned P&R facilities.
    - Allow private paid parking in station areas.
    - Disallow ANY new surface parking lots from being built in station areas (whether for commuters or local businesses).
    - Require ANY proposed structured parking to meet design guidelines that minimize their visual and pedestrian impact.

    With these standards we can develop balanced and attractive urban neighborhoods in the station areas.

  35. spencer

    Anyone read the actual ordinance to understand what McGinn’s moratorium means and how it will work? Dan, I assume you did, but it would be great if you provided a link to it in your article since it is an important part to setting up your argument.

    By the way, I did try to navigate seattle.gov to find it and I could not.

  36. Matt the Engineer

    Nador, I definitely agree with your point:
    “I think providing FREE parking like the transit organizations do, does far more to harm your agenda of zero car commutes than if the charged a significant fee for parking.”

    My hope is that they plan to convert free park-and-ride into TOD after ridership has increased, though feel they’ll have a hard time getting that done politically. A reasonable compromise is to charge a high price for parking. The only problem left is that this parking will be competing with space for TOD, but even that can be mitigated with underground parking. This applies to private lots as well – we just have to find the right encouragement.

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  38. nador

    @36 Matt & @34 Chad – right on!

    Ideal: zero commuter parking -everyone walks, skates, bikes, crawls, trains to work/live/play.

    Acceptable: some paid commuter parking no free parking over a couple hours. This allows those patronizing business in the area of transit stations to conduct business. Long-term parking heavily taxed and regulated.

    Unacceptable: kiss-n-ride. By not providing any parking whatsoever for commuters, they may then kiss-n-ride which doubles their emissions. One trip home-transit-home in the morning and another trip home-transit-home in the evening. I would rather provide some parking….

  39. morgan

    Most of the disagreement in this thread seems the result of missing distinction between trips to stations that 1) were done by bus 2) are just beyond walking distance 3) that were previously car trips to end destinations. The city’s policy response aught to reflect the context on the ground and not what we think is happening or our favorite punching bag.

    Regarding the ‘last mile’ trip, the Sierra Club is introducing HB2588 that allows for the use of electric carts – essentially a mobility option to replace very short yet very high polluting trips. A pilot project is underway in Orting. Tacoma, Spokane, DuPont and a few others are in consideration/development.

    While it can be hard to remove parking, I don’t find this a strong enough argument against a transitionary policy, neither is certainty about when to do so. Even still, the Nickel’s administration got me used to seeing parking changes all over the city. Besides, policy is always fraught with uncertainties, best guesses and hopes.

  40. Sara Nikolic

    Thanks to everyone for the lively and thoughtful discussion. Futurewise’s perspective may seem extreme, but we are dedicated to the long-term social and environmental sustainability of the region, and that makes it difficult for us to jump on short-term fixes that could jeopardize those long-term goals.
    Thanks especially to Chris @8 for dispelling my concern about the tipping-point for redevelopment on these properties. However, I still feel strongly that it sends the wrong policy signal to allow income generation from such an undesired use, when we should be creating and providing incentives for redevelopment.
    I think the question moving forward is: How do we allow limited parking without creating permanent expectations? Placing a sunset date on the policy can help. However a five or ten year policy could mean that a different administration and council will review the policy when it expires — and as this example illustrates, a new administration can very easily reverse policy that a previous administration (in this case Schell, working with a Steinbrueck-led council) spent years of thought and courage to put in place.
    All said, I do remain hopeful that Mayor McGinn can craft a transitional policy that minimizes impact on the long-term vision for the station areas.

  41. Mark S Johnson

    Good article and good discussion. I think I end up on the Mayor’s side on this one (although I don’t know how legal this move was).

    It must be acknowledged that parking lots make enough money that even highrise zoning like that allowed downtown is not enough to pursuade conservative owners from taking the risk of selling or developing. Think of the surface lots on Western, and 1st and 2nd Avenues.

    However, I have become more of a free market person when it comes to parking. I think we have made the right move by removing parking requirements for development within station areas. (I also think we should eliminate parking dimension requirements when th parking is not required- right now an owner that wanted to create some “smart car” parking spaces that could be half the size of a compact spaces would not be allowed to do so.)

    I would suggest that we think about another question in the context of station area planning: How fair is it to limit this type of private park and ride lot in SE Seattle when there are public park and rides at Roosevelt and Northgate that hold hundreds of cars? Do people in the north end deserve a place to park more than folks in the south end?

    Safeway is really trying to make use of spaces during times that they are not otherwise needed for their store- a relatively more efficient use of space. There is also some psychological value in a fuller parking lot that probably helps their business. In the long run, they may not feel they can afford to lease out spaces as the density grows, but Safeway is not likely to redevelop their parking lot anytime soon. If you think that they should close their doors and let something else be developed there, try asking neighbors to that store how they feel about losing a grocery store- and how far they’ll have to drive to get to one.

    Diamond probably has several has lots in SE that are also underutilized, but you can be sure that they will change their pricing when and if there is more money to be made on short term (which is always at higher rates than monthly). They don’t have a monopoly on the developable land,

    To me, the one criteria I would keep in the Code is that the parking has to be in existence now. Let’s not tear down buildings to build parking.

    I do think tax assessors may undervalue parking but I don’t see how a special property tax would be workable. I belive there is already a local tax on parking, although maybe it could be raised. be careful with that, as it drives up the cost of parking all over town, and some business districts are strucggling for lack of low cost or free parking.

  42. Drew

    I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that there would be a ban on parking places near rail stations in order to “encourage people to walk or ride bicycles”. I’m not sure what planet those supporting the ban are living on.

    I work in an office tower downtown with about a thousand other people. On estimate, I would say very few of those live in Seattle(can’t afford it), so they commute to work from various points north and south.

    Knowing these fine people as I do, I cannot imagine them walking or biking anywhere(most of them would not walk from their desk to the printer if they could help it) let alone when it’s dark and/or raining…which in Seattle is a lot of the time.

    Like it or not, this is a reality. The Seattle area sprawls as it does because it was built around the notion of the automobile. Weaning people away from their cars is going to take some time. Let’s face it: a lot of time. It’s a laudable goal but a long-term one. Having parking near stations will encourage more people to give transit a try…and (when they see how nice it is) over time, to build up a habit.

    It’s understandable that no one wants to live in a parking lot jungle, but to expect commuters accustomed to driving everywhere to instantly turn into walkers and bike riders is magical thinking. It would be funny if it weren’t so delusional. It’s wonderful to have public transit. I’m for it. But I can guarantee you that if people have to walk to it, they won’t use it. We’re not going to turn into Stockholm overnight.

  43. Alex Steffen

    I think an essential mistake here is the idea that light rail’s main purpose is to serve commuters, especially commuters who live far enough from the station to have to drive to it to use it.

    It’s not. The main utility of fixed transit is to encourage land use changes that greatly increase the number of people who don’t own cars at all, or own them and drive rarely. That development, in turn, facilitates more modest (yet still important) changes in the surrounding communities.

    The positive spill-over effects from transit-oriented development are huge; the benefits of driving to light rail and taking light rail downtown are minimal (especially when we’re talking emissions).

    Land use change is the name of the game. If that’s not going to happen, we’re screwed no matter how we get to work.

  44. morgan

    Sara’s point about another argument under a future administration is important to me, because it suggests that the change that matters is not so much in this policy but in the minds of the public – our basic beliefs, values and normative behavior. What allows our policy to stick and to work is when more people believe it’s the right thing to do.

  45. nador

    @43 Alex, your defined purpose of light rail is contrary to what Sound Transit says:

    # Light rail helps the environment. Light rail makes it easier for people to leave their cars at home, helping keep air and water clean while addressing climate change.

    # Light rail works well as the core of a transit system. Stations serve as hubs, providing seamless connections for riders who walk, drive or take the local bus. Light rail also frees buses so they can better serve local routes.

    # Light rail is a sound investment because it will significantly expand the capacity of the I-5 and I-90 corridors for both transit passengers and general purpose vehicles.

  46. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Seattle needs a pragmatic but integrated policy on commuting and parking. People live all sorts of places and have various needs, so I do think there should be a lot of options of various cost. If you look at the UW U-Pass reports you see that it’s funded via both pass sales (59%) and parking revenue (32%) and a little under 10% by other UW money. But what that doesn’t show is that the SOV or carpool parking permit is the U-PASS. In other words, even if you plan to drive and park, your permit to do so includes a “complimentary” transit pass. The City of Seattle could work with Diamond and ImPark and others to implement this model. I also don’t think it would hurt to publicize the out-of-pocket costs of driving like Google Transit does (“A daily commute from Auburn costs about $30/day, or $5 on transit”).

  47. Alex Steffen

    Hey, look, I can cut-n-paste, too!

    http://www.soundtransit.org/Working-With-Us/Real-Estate/Transit-Oriented-Dev.xml

    What is Transit Oriented Development (TOD)?

    Sound Transit Board Motion 45 defines TOD as public and private development supporting transit use by emphasizing pedestrian and transit access, clustering development, and mixing land uses and activities.
    Why is TOD a Part of Sound Transit?

    * 1996 – Adoption of Sound Move Appendix D – policy committments to link land use and transportation as part of FTA New Starts Guidelines
    * 1997 – Motion 36, TOD Task Force Created
    * 1997 – Motion 45 adopted principles, mission and work program of the TOD Task Force
    * 1998 – Motion 98-25 adopted TOD policies
    * 1999 – Resolution99-35 Real Property Disposition Policy, Procedures and Guidelines for the disposition of surplus real property
    * 1999 – Motion 99-60 creation of TOD Criteria
    * 2000 – Motion 2000-90 creation of the TOD program budget and work plan

    Overview

    The Sound Transit Board established the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Program in 1997. Its mission is to create transit supportive development and communities at Sound Transit facilities, stations, and station areas by working with local jurisdictions, property owners and developers.

  48. dan bertolet

    Chris @8 and @15, excellent comments, as usual (Chris thinks about this financial stuff for a living). No one can disagree that the land value derived from a surface parking use is less than the land value derived from a mid-rise building. But I think there is more at a play here, and I’d like to better understand the role of “land banking.” The income stream from parking makes land banking a more viable option for land owners and therefore increases speculation, which is exactly what we don’t want in the station areas. This is a common concern, for example here: http://www.phoenix.gov/urbanformproject/wp07.pdf

    “Not permitting future surface parking lots would also reduce the visual impact of such uses as well as discourage land banking. While empty parcels are no less beneficial to the urban streetscape than a parking lot, the lack of income would provide additional development incentive to the property owner.”

    So the question is, how much impact does allowing parking have on speculation and land values, and in turn, does this have the potential to impede development, and/or lead to less affordable development when it happens?

    Taking the example of the new mixed-use building at Broadway and Pine, it’s a 14.4 million project on 1/3 acre. At $200/sf, as Chris @8 suggests developers typically pay, that’s about 20 percent of the total project cost. Maybe that’s feasible on Capitol Hill, but in lower rent areas it seems like a reduction in that land cost could make a big difference to feasibility, in particular for affordable housing, where developers typically struggle to scrape together funds from every possible source to make a project pencil.

    I’d also add that unfortunately people aren’t always purely rational about their economic decisions. I strongly suspect that there are many cases where land owners decide not to sell to a developer for all sorts of reasons, even if the purely economic equation says they should. Parking is an almost totally risk free revenue stream. It’s safe and easy, and that is likely to reinforce the tendency not to sell, even if that tendency is not totally rational from an economic perspective.

    Regarding Chris @8’s thought that a parking use could preclude low-value development — first, I should point out that you are actually validating that parking can, in fact, have an influence on delaying development. But in any case, the NC zoning that covers most of key parcels in the station areas wouldn’t allow a typical strip mall with parking in front. And maybe a few single story commercial developments fronting the street in place of parking lots wouldn’t be such a bad thing to get in the station areas in the near term. They could act as catalysts. Development that is incremental in value is the normal progression, and some diversity would be a good thing. Not every parcel in the station area has to be a Seattle bread loaf.

    The root problem in all of this is that the light rail alone hasn’t added enough value to the SE station areas to spur development. Even upzoning isn’t going to solve the problem necessarily, if the market isn’t there. And upzoning can also have the unintended consequence of leading to speculation and delays in development. Either the City gets more proactive about incentivizing and investing in these areas, or we’re going to have a long wait. And removing the parking ban, though it may seem like a relatively small issue, is the opposite of being proactive.

    One last thing: Roger Valdez brought up the concept of “land value taxation” over here:
    http://daily.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2010/01/15/park-and-slide

    See also here:
    http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/rosenthal-eric_land-value-taxation-and-phila.html
    http://www.urbantools.org/

    Of course, most people will groan and say that will never happen in Seattle, bla bla bla. But this is the just the kind of creative approach we need to be seriously considering if we hope to make real progress.

  49. dan bertolet

    It seems to me that some folks could stand to think a little more deeply about the role of groups like Futurewise in these debates. A common sentiment seems to be that activists like Sara Nikolic are self-righteous, out-of-touch idealists, or worse, perhaps members of some crazed eco-religious cult that’s conspiring to take cars away from hard-working decent Americans (e.g. see some of the comments here: http://publicola.net/?p=22549 ).

    But the fact is, if we hope to change, we desperately need people who are willing to stick their necks out and support progressive positions that might seem extreme to the general populace. Because the cult that is truly threatening our long-term well-being is the cult of the car. The cult of the car is thoroughly embedded in every aspect of our society, and it still holds all the real power, even in a city like Seattle.

    Groups like Futurewise understand the immense effort it takes to make even the smallest dent in the mountain of policy that has been designed and implemented over decades to support a society based on cars. And this is why they might tend to be defensive about threats to role back policy that took years of hard work to put in place.

    And groups like Futurewise are driven by the long-term perspective, which is also a contribution our short-sighted society desperately needs. Futurewise doesn’t have to worry about getting re-elected or meeting stockholders’ annual expectations.

    Folks also might want to consider that groups like Futurewise–and even, dare I say, blogs–can play a constructive role in providing political cover for politicians who want to implement progressive policy that is controversial. By arguing for the most “radical” solutions, activists stretch the spectrum of the debate, which can then make a progressive politician’s not-quite-so-radical agenda seem more reasonable in comparison.

  50. James

    So just adjust zoning to prevent roll-out-the-concrete lots. Allow/require parking to be a part of new TOD. That allows people to drive-in and either take the train or enjoy the new walkable areas, offers the building owners another source of revenue (if it’s a paid lot) and it guarantees it will be a draw for people not just stepping off a train (or already living there) but also people driving in.

    Eventually, the people driving in realize that if they lived there, they wouldn’t need a car anymore and would sell it and move to the TOD spurring demand. And then the parking can be replaced with ZipCar storage.

  51. Alex Steffen

    “That allows people to drive-in and either take the train or enjoy the new walkable areas”

    Most truly walkable places are truly walkable in part precisely because there are many fewer cars moving through them than the average low-density American development (or even medium-low density Seattle neighborhood). If you want to make the station areas walkable, you want to reduce the flow of car traffic through them, and slow down the cars on the roads.

  52. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    @51, the most walkable Seattle urban centers, such as Capitol Hill or the U-District, have a huge number of cars, but they move at relatively safe, low speeds.

    I still don’t buy the Rainer Valley pay-lot ban. It’s already very cheap to park downtown; even if your employer doesn’t provide free parking, there are pay lots everywhere, not to mention street parking if you can get it. The land bankers have other income (such as Clise/Westin), and it takes a very desperate organization like the Seattle Times to consider selling off employee parking lots.

    The posts about it here and elsewhere have done a great job cataloging the potential downsides, but what about the upsides to getting people on transit?
    Why ban pay lots in the Rainer Valley but not all urban centers, where all the arguments apply equally? I completely support a ban on free public park-and-rides, though. I actually thought that was the ban until this blew up.

  53. nador

    @47 Alex, glad to see you learned to cut-n-paste. Unfortunately, you are missing the point of what I posted with regards to your original comment. You said: “The main utility of fixed transit is to encourage land use changes…”

    Yet I remembered during the light rail votes, the argument was all about traffic congestion relief. A quick look on the ST website brought me to the information that I copy-n-pasted. Those were some of the key arguments for light rail in response to the question: “What are the advantages of light rail as a transit mode?”

    My point is, ST obviously does not consider TOD as it’s main purpose. If they did it would be listed. Nice that they support the idea of TOD and created a committee as your post from 1997 points out, but you are not acknowledging the fact that ST does embrace people driving to link stations to commute.

    Get ST to strip from their site any support of commuters driving to stations (Sounder/Link/Bus) and then you can state that it is all about TOD.

    You have a dog in the fight, it’s how you make your living. I don’t, but it is of interest to me as it should be to everyone – it is our world after all. (hopefully you don’t have real dogs either since they are worse than 2 suv’s?!?!)

  54. dan bertolet

    Note to everyone: the “dogs worse than SUVs” myth has been debunked:
    http://daily.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2009/12/24/dogs-vs-suvs-the-myth-that-wont-die

  55. dan bertolet

    Chuck Wolfe’s take on it:
    http://blog.seattlepi.com/chuckwolfe/archives/191439.asp

  56. Bill B

    @Sara- “…is the conversion of an auto-dominated area of the city into pedestrian friendly, mixed-use neighborhood”

    @51 “Most truly walkable places are truly walkable in part precisely because there are many fewer cars moving through them…you want to reduce the flow of car traffic through them, and slow down the cars on the roads.”

    Sadly the Mt Baker station has Rainier Ave running right past it. I recall there is something like 35,000 auto trips per day running past there.

    And unless all the thousands of NEW units of housing that will be built there have NO PARKING spaces, you’ll be most likely be adding thousands of more trips per day there as well.

    Its as if we are creating a small city with a freeway already bisecting it – its a bad place to create a quiet pedestrian oriented community.

  57. Bill B

    @49 “Groups like Futurewise understand the immense effort it takes to make even the smallest dent in the mountain of policy that has been designed and implemented over decades to support a society based on cars.”

    Our region’s economy is based on air travel, high technology and the military. The carbon footprint and environmental impacts of these sectors is vast, growing and externalized.

    Seattle’s city budget won’t balance now because we have stopped growing – i.e. we are not economically sustainable without development fees.

    Seems to me Futurewise is missing where the change really needs to be.

    Short of that they are really only spurring on development and growth. Something that their partners in the Quality Growth Alliance need.

    That is to say, what we are really talking about is the sustainability of the development (and transit building) industry.

  58. Sara Nikolic

    Bill B @ 57

    Futurewise’s involvement in Quality Growth Alliance has raised a lot of eyebrows, and understandably so – it’s definitely a group of odd bedfellows, and there are a lot of areas of disagreement among us. But we all agree (although from different perspectives and for different reasons, perhaps) that promoting infill development in mixed-use centers and transit hubs is a good thing, and Futurewise is happy to have the opportunity to work along side those varied groups to that end.

    However, Bill, if you are going to bring up our partnerships, I want to make sure you don’t leave out some of our other ones.

    We have a strong partnership with the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance, and worked side by side with them last year on HB 1490, which would have allowed inclusionary zoning to ensure that new station area development included housing for low and moderate income individuals and families. A few of our QGA partners strongly opposed the affordability provisions in the legislation, but we felt (and still do) that they are vital protections for neighborhoods throughout the region that may experience a good deal of (re)development in the coming decades.

    We also are members of the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition, made up of two dozen statewide environmental and conservation organizations. We are working with that partnership in Olympia this year to protect core state environmental funding, including clean drinking water and toxic clean-up programs.

    We are partnering with Smart Growth America, Transportation Choices Coalition, Washington PIRG, Sierra Club, Cascade Bicycle Club, and others, on a multi-year campaign to increase funding for local transit agencies.

    We are working with a group of citizens, and local and state organizations in Kittitas County to prevent the de-designation of tens of thousands of acres of forest and resource lands in the Upper Teaneway. And we have field staff working on similar efforts in Snohomish, Spokane and Whatcom counties.

    We are partnering with state agencies and local planning departments on the first-ever updates to Shoreline Master Plans. We have a full-time shoreline planner that provides technical assistance to local jurisdictions as they begin their multi-year updates.

    And we are the lead organization working in Olympia every year to stave off roll-backs to the environmental protections and the citizen appeal process of the Growth Management Act.

    On the surface Futurewise might seem like a tough organization to figure out – we collaborate with a wide array of organizations and interests, and we work on a range of land use issues from the local to federal level. But ultimately, our goal is to ensure that growth happens in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable, protecting our natural resources and building healthy communities for future generations. And sometimes that means we are fighting development, while other times we are promoting it. It is not always popular work, but it is critically important – and I am honored to have the opportunity to work here.

  59. Sara Nikolic

    Bill B @ 57

    And one more quick thing. Yes, there are other big fish to fry on carbon emissions. There are also a host of other issues that impact growth and environmental protection, such as birth rates, public health, crime and public safety, school funding, to name a few. These are all important issues, in a world full of important causes to take up. But as an organization, Futurewise has 20 years experience advocating for responsible land use and transportation policy. That is our field of expertise. It’s a piece of the broader puzzle, but it is a pretty important one – so that is where we focus.

  60. Chuck Wolfe

    Bill, I would add that the Quality Growth Alliance is a fairly even mix of “development”, “conservation”, “environmental”, “academic” and “governmental” members. Frankly, I think over-labeling in this way does the prospect of of advancing common interests a disservice…this stuff is often mired in shades of gray…

    And many thanks to Dan for the link @55.

  61. Bill B

    @ Sara and Chuck –
    my point was that Seattle and the region at large are inherently wired to be unsustainable: our City government is wired for growth; our regional industries markedly add to the global carbon footprint.

    Changing land use policies around station areas may make a dent in a portion of our population’s carbon emissions, but arguably that is a population we are planning to ADD to the region, and not solving the problem of people here today (hence what many feel is the pragmatism of park and ride at undeveloped lots).

    Without radical shifts in what we do and how we do it, we will not achieve what hopefully we all believe needs to be done.

    So my statements still stand – what you are advocating for is upzoning land to add people (to justify the expense of our light rail) with the larger beneficiary being the development and real estate industries (and the light rail industry as well).

    And until there is advocacy for things like capping the number of cars in the city, changing building codes to require things like gray water systems or LEED, moving away from single use zone restrictions, or requiring impact fees for infrastructure improvements (like sewer treatment and transit), [ETC!], its really just business as usual for those industries – and more net unsustainable growth for the City and the region.

    And sadly, Futurewise is just part of that machine, good intentions and ‘balanced’ partnerships not withstanding.

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