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We recently reported on Sound Transit’s planning effort to build a new park-and-ride for Mercer Island Station. At the time, Sound Transit reached to out local residents at the Mercer Island Community Center. But within weeks, residents of the area spoke out in opposition of the plan, citing the value of community park space that the parking structure would take over. The irony of this situation is that the anti-park-and-ride movement has lead to a pro-urban outcome, which prevents public space–badly needed in urban areas–from turning into a parking lot.

Sound Transit is now in the process of looking for other parcels to locate a park-and-ride in and around Mercer Island Station. But such a solution is not optimal for high-capacity, frequent transit service. Instead, Mercer Island should first start using its already-present feeder bus service.

The current Metro Route 204 only runs once-hourly. But it only do so because of poor ridership, largely due to the park-and-ride suppressing linked trips. The future light rail station presents a unique situation to change this and boost ridership on the route. A large swath of island residents live within walking distance of a bus stop. If they took transit to the station instead of driving, this would both free up parking spaces and justify added bus service. Naturally, added bus service also benefits people who may not have access to a car, like youth or the disabled, as opposed to a park-and-ride, which only serves car owners. In other words, it’s an equity builder for all.

Another option that has been proposed several times is to make the current park-and-ride a pay-for-use parking lot, except for Mercer Island residents. This would likely leave many more spaces open for Mercer Islanders by driving away Eastsiders to other, free park-and-ride facilities. Of course, such an alternative is incredibly exclusive and inequitable for a transportation system that is supposed to treat all fairly.

Sound Transit has plenty of options available so as to make Mercer Island Station more accessible to a wider number of people. The agency should explore these instead of simply building additional parking or treating other riders unfairly.

17 COMMENTS

    • Is that the goal? Is Mercer Island special in comparison to every other park and ride in the system which is designed for whomever drives their car to it? Does any other park-and-ride take measures to dissuade “outsiders” from using the infrastructure, and if not, why is Mercer Island special?

      • I think the goal should be to use the park and ride as little as possible. The goal should be to minimize automobile use. A toll would do that, but charging everyone (including Mercer Island residents) to use the parking lot would achieve the same thing.

      • Mercer Island isn’t unusual in *wanting* its P&R capacity to serve local residents. You’ll see the same complaints at every southline Sounder station, for example. What’s different is that they have such a limited supply of potential locations convenient to I-90 that they can effectively prevent construction of additional P&R capacity.

        Other cities have tried other approaches. For example, in downtown Auburn, where the parking garage for the Sounder station is seriously inadequate, the city established resident/business parking that’s expressly not for commuters, trying to prioritize parking for people who actually live, work, or shop *in* the city rather than those simply making a mode change in a commute *through* the city.

        • Outside of the US west coast, where we do everything backwards, suburban cities often own and operate the P&R garages in their downtowns instead of transit agencies. Details of their local operation are thus in the hands of local politicians, which makes sense, because it’s fundamentally a city issue: it’s about land use and public space design in the most public part of the city, it’s about managing traffic on city streets, and it’s about weighing the needs of residents commuting to other cities against the needs of businesses and other residents doing stuff right there.

          This is stuff that ought to be sorted out in the political sphere of a city. When politicians set a platform on these issues and run on it, the ones that are elected have a mandate and power to do something, instead of an incentive to rail against the big bad outsiders in the regional agency for political points.

          Maybe cities are more likely to institute paid permit parking in downtown lots, as opposed to agencies, which seem to be tied to misguided ideas of regional policy/design uniformity even among properties that are very different. Cities are probably more likely to consider designs that put more “city” and less parking directly next to the station (though maybe less so when the station is on top of a freeway). But even if cities sometimes make questionable decisions, I think that’s the right venue for these sorts of decisions to be made. And someone questioning the previous decision, and proposing something different, can always make change a campaign plank, something a transit agency can’t do so easily.

      • I think Joshua makes a good point. There are really two things going on here. First, there isn’t that much room for new park and rides. This is because the city and the state did a great job in adding or preserving parkland next to the freeway. This is unusual area. Most areas close to the freeway are ugly. But in the case, it is quite the opposite. I can see why the folks there want to preserve that and I support their efforts.

        As he said, the other concern is quite common. Personally, I think worries about folks coming in from other parts of the city to the park and ride are greatly exaggerated. Why would they? If I’m driving east along I-90, I’m probably in stop and go traffic, so I’ll just exit at Bellevue Way, and go to South Bellevue. Likewise if I’m going northbound on 405 (e. g. coming from Coal Creek). I just don’t see that many people from the mainland being interested in using a Mercer Island park and ride. It is South Bellevue that will be crowded, not Mercer Island.

        Over time, though, I think more and more people will use the local park and ride. If I’m in Newcastle, I think it makes a lot more sense to use a local park and ride, then take a bus to South Bellevue, instead of driving there. It will cost less, be less stressful, and if the bus comes often enough, be a lot faster.

        • If you think that Mercer Island getting the most beautiful, nicely designed section of I-90, and having the most objection to outsiders using publicly funded infrastructure in their community are BOTH coincidences, then I think you’re just ignoring the hard truth.
          Mercer Island is not special because it’s an island or geographically constrained, etc. Mercer Island is special because of the average per capita income of its residents is high. Been true for decades.

          • I don’t anyone thought they were coincidences. I don’t think anyone really wonders why Mercer Island has their own special ramps (which are normally reserved for HOV) or why their parks are so nice. But I don’t really care, nor do I think it matters, unless they start fighting a bus depot. If Mercer Island wants to shrink their park and ride area, I’m all in favor.

  1. I agree completely with all of your points. There was a group opposed to the park and ride that is also opposed to the expanded bus station. Those are two different things, with two very different outcomes as far as transit is concerned. Once you go down the park and ride route, you are basically admitting that your transit system is not very good (and will never be very good).

    • Yes, that’s exactly my point. There’s much to be tried before going down to building a new Park and Ride, and MI has tried none. 🙁 I also was a bit confused by the neighboors opposing the bus station, since the buses will essentially stay on the overpass and not venture into Mercer Island and that having more buses will reduce the number of people driving to the station. But they’ve stated that they’ll oppose anything being proposed, so it’s not like we should take them seriously either.

    • Good! I’d rather have the walkable part of Mercer have retail, residential and office uses that bring people in rather than parking which only brings cars in. Apparently they’re even looking at bike share, since they attended a meeting with the cities of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond last week about ways bike share would and would not work.

  2. This article presupposes that most of the P&R usage on the Island is from Islanders. Is that actually true?

    • I have no idea, but once Link gets to South Bellevue Park and Ride (which it will the second it gets to Mercer Island) I think it will be. I don’t see why anyone from off of the island would drive to the island park and ride. It might make sense now (there may be buses that serve Mercer Island but not South Bellevue) but not once East Link is complete.

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