Sound Transit Link Light Rail train

Sound Transit Link Light Rail train

As I noted in an earlier post, the Sound Transit Board held a retreat in April, primarily to discuss parking policies and valuing transit oriented development (TOD).  My goal was to change Sound Transit’s perspective on these issues, and to get the Board to agree to revise long-standing policies that encouraged Sound Transit (ST) to focus on providing parking at stations and discouraged significant investment in TOD.

The Board did agree to develop new policy approaches, and ST staff have now prepared summaries of the Board’s direction.  The next step is to take these summaries and prepare resolutions that will formally create new policies.  Here are the key points that will guide those resolutions:

Transit Oriented Development

  • The ST Board wants a new, consolidated TOD policy, strategies, and work plan.
  • A key outcome is encouraging and supporting land use change and/or other desirable economic development, such as improving quality of life, allowing achievement of comprehensive and regional plans, and maximizing transit ridership and its related benefits.
  • The high-capacity transit system should remain the focus of ST’s resources.
  • ST should develop a specific process for assessing and implementing TOD opportunities and other transit-supportive land use changes during project development.
  • The ST Board should be involved very early in project planning, and it should remain involved to guide implementation during all phases of planning and project delivery.
  • ST should financially evaluate TOD policies and investments, assigning an appropriate value to their potential to contribute to ridership.

This change in policy will take some time to implement, but it will make a significant difference in the way in which ST develops stations, treats property it has acquired, and collaborates with local governments to integrate land use and development issues with transit development.


  • ST needs to initiate actions to address immediate parking issues while reviewing and updating policy as appropriate to support long range parking management strategy.
  • ST should be responsive to local land use and travel patterns and integrate access strategies that include parking, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit feeder service.
  • Existing parking should be managed to optimize use by and availability to transit users before capacity is expanded.
  • Management and expansion of transit parking are regional, multi-agency issues and need to be addressed through an integrated, coordinated, regional effort.

Like the TOD discussion, the parking discussion has long-range implications, but it also has very immediate applications.  ST will immediately begin looking at issues around pricing parking, managing existing facilities to maximize their use by transit riders and HOV, and initiating a regional discussion about inter-agency coordination.

In the longer run, changing from an emphasis on parking at station areas to multi-modal (bike/ped/bus) station access will hopefully lead to a more well-honed set of decisions on how to decide on whether and how much parking to develop at each station.  This will immediately inform decisions about the strategy for managing transit access at Northgate, which the Board will be working on over the next few weeks.  As the decision options become clearer at Northgate, I will be emphasizing the opportunity that this discussion has opened up for a policy around parking and access that integrates into the long-range vision for the Northgate Urban Center.


RSS feed for comments on this post |

Comment from Tom Heller
Time May 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Ten years ago in a letter dated June 27 2002, I posed the following question to the Seattle city council. I don’t recall receiving much of any response. (I’m so glad to learn there’s been so much progress in the interim.) [/sarcasm]

A point I was mulling back then was whether Northgate’s rail station should be located closer to Northgate Way rather than ‘stuck down in a corner’ of Northgate.

Sound Transit, in its “Transit Ridership Forecasting Technical Report” (October 1999) projects 10,600 daily light rail boardings at the planned rail station at Northgate in the forecast year 2010, a couple years following the inauguration of light rail service. This is TRIPLE the number of daily bus transit boardings that presently occur in ‘greater Northgate’. The 10,600 daily boardings forecast for the Northgate station is more than half the projected daily boardings (18,000) for the Westlake Mall tunnel station in the year 2010 and eighty percent of the 13,000 daily boarding projected for the University Street station in the tunnel.

What will a tripling of transit activity at Northgate mean to the local street network, the number of buses using Fifth Avenue to carry riders to the new light rail station, and the level of congestion at the (few) key intersections that currently must handle all the traffic that will result? Will the number of daily bus runs along Fifth Avenue triple from the current 700 to 2,100? Will the present 1,400 or so park-and-ride stalls have to triple to 4,200 or so? What will expanded park-and-ride capacity mean to the street congestion already present at Northgate? What will be the impact on what the community so fervently desires — a friendlier pedestrian environment in and around a revitalized Northgate urban center?