The introduction of bike-share, car-share and ride-share systems has made urban transportation increasingly multi-modal enabling users to complete different parts of their journey with the mode that best suits the circumstances. If they start their trip with a personal vehicle, however, they usually do not think of it as multi-modal as there is a high perceived cost of switching modes. There must be a high benefit of leaving the vehicle somewhere for switching to a different mode to become worthwhile.

The infrastructure that provides exactly this benefit is the system of park-and-rides connected to express transit routes on dedicated right-of-way (reliable HOV/T lanes or rail). Parking and transferring to a bus might take 5-10 minutes, but often save up to 30 minutes of total travel time especially when considering parking at the destination.

Let’s consider an example: Kirkland to Benaroya Hall (Downtown Seattle)

Imagine traveling southbound on 108th Ave NE near NE 39th St, en-route to SR-520, in typical evening rush hour. The driving time is 16 minutes without traffic, but in rush hour congestion a reasonable expectation is around 36 minutes. Event parking may be tight and may require checking one or two garages taking very optimistically an additional 10 minutes. So availability at the destination would be 46 minutes later.

As an alternative, one could park at South Kirkland Park and Ride and transfer to King County Metro Transit Route 255 from there. This route uses the HOV 3+ lanes on SR-520 to bypass the usually very heavy stop-and-go traffic before the bridge and then the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) to bypass city congestion. Travel time is 25 minutes and it would take 7 minutes to make the transfer (2 minutes to park, 5 minutes on average to get on a bus – buses depart every 10 minutes). So at 32 minutes past the decision one arrives just below Benaroya Hall. That’s 30% faster–a subtraction of 14 minutes of travel time, but also no stress around navigating congestion or downtown parking.

Moreover, one has the freedom to leave any time they want, without worrying about heavy traffic right after the event. This is a typical case in which when accessing an area of high density, transit provides greater freedom than a personal automobile due to its inherent high capacity.

So how can more people benefit from the investments the region has made into high-reliability, high-capacity transit?

Advertise it

Most people driving by South Kirkland Park and Ride are not directly aware of the benefit a simple right turn can deliver unless they are everyday commute users of the facility. One approach that has been applied in other states is to use digital information signs to provide real time information of the benefit.

Roadside travel time sign with real-time transit information. Streetscape image courtesy of Google Maps.

A sign advertising transit should provide all the specific information needed to make a decision: the complete time for each travel option and the way to switch modes. Average parking time should accounted for in the driving time (Waze collects such data) and average transfer time should be accounted for in the transit time (can include real-time wait until the next bus).

Prototyping it

Note the use of temporary movable roadside signs. This enables the Washington State Department of Transportation, King County Metro Transit, and Sound Transit to test this on a temporary basis and measure the park-and-ride utilization before and after sign placement. Only if utilization goes up would further capital expenditures be approved.

Where can this be done?

Providing such signage makes sense where significant time savings can be gained from transit. This requires the availability of two things: reliable HOV lanes and plentiful parking at a park-and-ride facility.

So here are the reliable HOV lanes, with access to park-and-rides noted in bold:

  • I-5 Express Lanes (Greenlake, Northgate, and North Seattle)
  • SR-520 (Evergreen Point, South Kirkland, and Overlake)
  • I-90 mid-2017 (Mercer Island, South Bellevue, Eastgate, Issaquah TC, and Issaquah Highlands)


While demand for transit has been steadily increasing in the Puget Sound for many years, the congestion around events accessible by reliable transit demonstrates that there is still significant untapped ridership potential. While “build it and they will come” works to a certain extent for transit, effective location-based advertising is an avenue worth exploring. If successful, the benefits would include reduced congestion and higher return on existing investment, paving the way for more.

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  1. One problem could be too much information distracts the driver.
    In the UK a few digital motorway boards are being used to tell drivers distance and time to travel. For example it will say “Dartford 9 miles 12 minutes” or something like that.

  2. I think one of the big problems in the area is the lack of good taxi or car rental service at park and rides. Let me give you an example: I have a friend who works downtown. He takes a bus to work every day. But on Fridays, he visits his dad who lives in a remote part of Spanaway (a few miles from Tacoma). Taking a bus from downtown Seattle to Tacoma is very easy (and much faster than driving) but then he has to get to Spanaway. He might be able to take a bus, but the bus is a commuter bus, so he would have trouble getting back in the evening. He would like to rent a car, but there are no rental cars (hourly or otherwise) available at the park and ride. Catching a taxi (whether an old fashioned one of a so called “ride share” version) is very difficult as well. So he drives to work on Friday, parks downtown and contributes to the horrible traffic both direction.

    I believe this sort of thing is repeated over and over throughout the city. I’ve always wondered why people drive and park downtown, but every instance I’ve ever encountered has been like this. People want to go somewhere else after working downtown, and thus use their car. Having some other means to provide the “last mile” service would do wonders for increasing transit use and decreasing congestion.

    Until then, Metro can do a much better job of providing a strong bus network, so that the vast majority of users don’t have this problem. Without the extra car services at park and rides, the current system has obvious limitations. Not only for the situation I described, but for folks whose other event is in the city, but not downtown. If the event is in Fremont or Roosevelt or even Capitol Hill, a lot of people will give up and drive. If you live in Roosevelt but want to go to Fremont, a lot of people will simply drive. This is crazy, in a city like this. More than anything, I think this contributes the most to congestion. In other words, while I think there are plenty of people who drive downtown, a much bigger number drive close to downtown, and do so in large part because taking the bus takes so long. The obvious answer is to move towards a grid system ( so that these sorts of trips are no big deal.

    I know these two suggestions are a bit off topic, but I think it is important to understand why it is people often drive. A lot of the time, it isn’t ignorance, it is simply convenience. That being said, I really like your suggestion. I think it would increase transit usage, and if nothing else, it is nice to remind people that riding the bus is faster (assuming, of course, it goes where you want to go).

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