Seattle Times Editorial – Sound Transit 3: Cars are still a reality in a mass-transit future

Source: Seattle Times article in full can be read here.

Whatever Sound Transit ends up building, it must include parking.

The Seattle Times

A MAJOR voter decision is looming — besides choosing the next president.

In the coming months, the Puget Sound region will consider whether to make a breathtaking investment in Sound Transit’s rail and bus system, potentially spending up to $48 billion over the next 25 years.

The agency expects to present its Sound Transit 3 plan Thursday and gather public input in April.

At this point, one principle is clear: Whatever is built must include parking.

This seems obvious to most people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties who will be asked to pay for a laundry list of transit projects with sales, property taxes and car-tab fees.

Yet parking remains a friction point, with some Seattle-based environmentalists lobbying the agency to minimize or eliminate parking facilities from its planned stations.

The need for parking is crystal clear, especially to commuters vying for the 14,000 spaces now provided at regional park-and-rides. Most spots are full by 8 a.m. Parking scarcity is one of the top complaints received by Peter Rogoff, Sound Transit’s chief executive.

This shows demand is growing for alternatives to commuting on the region’s clogged and unpredictable roadways.

It also demonstrates that commuting remains multimodal, even as mass-transit increases. People use a mix of vehicles and their routines vary depending on personal circumstances and the options at hand.

Sound Transit must avoid the ideological planning that has skewed policy decisions in Seattle.

Pragmatism is especially important at Sound Transit, which will continue to provide a variety of options to the diverse area it serves. For many residents, cars are the only reasonable option to access transit.

Even in dense, urban areas, Sound Transit should plan for continued use of the automobile despite the anti-car zealotry in vogue at Seattle City Hall. At a minimum, transit stations need places for cars to drop off passengers.

Transit-oriented development efforts that cluster growth near stations should also serve surrounding areas by including commuter parking and drop-off locations.

Someday, all people might have enough transit options that none of them will need to drive. At that point, space used for parking can be repurposed. That’s far easier and cheaper than adding parking later, if it’s needed after all.

Yes, cars contribute to climate change. But cutting transit parking won’t help. As the park-and-ride situation shows, people who need cars and can’t park near transit will just drive all the way to work.

Besides, car emissions will be drastically reduced and perhaps eliminated — through efficiency improvements and the spread of electric cars — by the time Sound Transit finishes its projects. People will still use cars decades from now, so why not accommodate that reality?

Rogoff, a former federal transit chief hired in November, is refreshingly practical. Risking scorn of Seattle-area transportation officials, Rogoff admits he has actually commuted by car on days when his children had soccer games.

Sound Transit is starting to experiment with ways to better manage parking, such as using ORCA transit cards to verify spots are used by commuters.

Agency staff also made an excellent suggestion to the board recently: Build parking facilities in advance, rather than wait for rail stations farther along the schedule, so bus riders can begin using them. It’s cheaper to build before prices increase further, Rogoff said, and more parking capacity increases ridership and improves commuters’ experiences.

The coming discussion of Puget Sound’s transit and traffic options would be more productive if officials continue offering such realistic and economical options.