Morning Fizz

Sound Transit's Assumption About Suburban Parking Didn't Pan Out. Now They Should Save $200 Million.

Despite being lured by park and rides, suburban cities say no anyway.

By Josh Feit December 28, 2016

Remember how Sound Transit’s rationale for building so much parking—about 8,300 new stalls for about $500 million—was that the suburbs wanted parking. And if they didn’t get their parking, they wouldn’t vote for ST3?

Conversely, that meant if the suburbs got their parking they’d vote for it, right?

We can test the parking=votes assumption now. Of the eight major park and ride projects at future suburban city light rail stations, only three of the suburban cities that are getting some of those parking stalls—Redmond, Issaquah, and Tacoma (not really a suburb)—voted yes on ST3.

Every other suburban city that’s getting new parking—Kirkland, Everett, Kent, Federal Way, and South Federal Way—voted no. That’s nearly 4,000 new parking stalls for about $216 million landing in the no column versus about 2,000 new parking spots for about $120 million landing in the yes column. Put another way the suburban parking vote broke nearly 60 percent no.  (The other new parking stalls in ST3 aren’t at light rail stations.)

Screen shot 2016 12 28 at 8.50.49 am elybar

Of the five ST3 regions, the only one overall that voted yes on the $54 billion light rail project besides “North King” (i.e., Seattle) was Snohomish. But that came no thanks to Everett voters (who are getting 1,550 new parking stalls for $80 million); Everett voted 51 percent no on ST3. It was a couple of other suburban cities in Snohomish County that aren’t getting any new light rail parking—Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace (in particular at 57 percent yes) and Mukilteo—that carried ST3 in Snohomish putting it just over the top at 51 percent.

It always struck me as odd that a mass transit project with a long-term vision of transforming the region’s transportation system from one that’s dependent on cars to one that isn’t, placed so much emphasis on building new parking spots for cars. It seemed like a shortsighted assumption that was undermining its own mission. But the suburbs won’t buy in in the first place without the parking, ST3 reasoned.

We’ve now got the ultimate polling data on that assumption. And it turns out the big majority of suburban voters that were promised parking were not persuaded by it.

What can ST3—which acknowledged in internal emails that they had no scientific basis for their parking assumptions—do about that now? I’d recommend saving $216 million and start right sizing your mission by eliminating that parking.  

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