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Paying the parkers


At some point, I’ll inevitably put up a long, boring, anguished, conflicted post about the draft proposal for Sound Transit III, an expansion of mass transit in the Puget Sound that will go before voters this fall. I’m reluctant to do so now, because I’m careening wildly between “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and “this is horseshit for the following 17 reasons” and while I’ll probably eventually land close to the former, I’m not there yet.

In the meantime, the estimable Zach Shaner has a good write-up on the provision of parking in the package. Many of the details will be of little interest to those outside the region, but here’s the nut:

The Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan includes a lot of parking. Just how much? The agency plans to build 9,700 new stalls (8,300 net) in 16 new parking garages and two new surface lots. The total cost is $661m in 2014 dollars, or a staggering $80,000 per space. Taken in aggregate, each commuter using these new stalls could park every day for 50 years, and Sound Transit would pay them $4.38 for the privilege (and that’s on top of the capital costs of their bus or train ride, of course). If 2041 ridership attains its expected 500,000 per day and each of those 8,300 new stalls were filled daily, that’s just 1.6% of the system’s users.

I’ve written against Park and Rides here before, and I think Shaner and I are on the same page more or less. He sums up the case against them:

Parking adjacent to transit directly reduces all other means of access, reduces affordable housing potential, necessitates hostile adjacent land uses, increases transit operating costs, reinforces residential auto dependency, and (when unpriced) represents an exorbitant subsidy that the relatively wealthy enjoy at the expense of others’ access.

To that I would add that it induces greater rates of megacommuting, so the image of the P&R serving the local community; those who live outside the walkshed but near (say, 1-4 miles) from the station, thus reducing aggregate miles driven and total emissions, appears to be wrong.

Shaner offers two plausible rebuttals to the case against them (a third, that they might be needed to attract enough voters to pass the package, is presumably assumed.)

First, a social justice argument in light of the suburbanization of poverty. This is clear enough, and given that the housing shortage and attendant lack of affordable housing in the city is likely to get worse rather than better, can’t be ignored. I’d rather take that money and channel it into building more affordable housing in transit rich areas of the city, but that’s perfect/enemy/good thinking. Depending on the specific locations, this will have to enter my calculus and temper the vehemence of my anti-park and ride views. The other rebuttal is interesting, although I’m not initially persuaded:

The second argument stipulates that as a transitional land use easily torn down later, Park & Rides facilitate lifestyle change while car-dependent locales await the retrofits necessary to make them succeed without cars. Whether you think that’s true largely depends on your time horizon, and on the relative value you place on access for a few today versus access for far more people later.

It depends not just on time horizons, I’d contend, but also on how much you fear the awesome power of status-quo bias in land use policy; namely, the users of the parking managing to stave off land use changes long after it was even arguably a sensible land use choice. Retaining strict single family zoning rules in areas within a few miles of downtown Seattle is, from an environmental, planning, or affordable housing perspective, demonstrably insane and grossly inefficient, yet it stubbornly persists. Does anyone envision those massive Eastside BART parking lots being turned into affordable housing anytime soon? Can anyone seriously make the case the need for affordable housing isn’t more urgent than the need for subsidized parking in the Bay area? Perhaps I’m overly pessimistic; the movement to reduce or remove parking minimums in cities has been more successful than I would have imagined possible a decade ago. But I’m still skeptical.

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