Let’s Not Play Political Retribution With ST3 Park And Rides

Angle Lake includes a large park and ride modestly hiding behind a fancy blue screen. (Stephen Fesler)

Looking at the precinct level results for ST3, as many transit advocates have, you might agree with Publicola‘s Josh Feit who argued that Sound Transit should not build the park-and-rides promised to suburbs that failed to earn a majority vote in favor of the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure. Feit made his argument on December 28th but, full disclosure, at the time I was sipping tropical drinks on the beach in the Bahamas. While we appreciate Feit’s dedication to uncovering the fishy calculations behind the ST3 park-and-rides and he is correct park and rides weren’t enough to win a majority in some suburbs, we disagree with the idea we should now use them as a political cudgel.

We can test the parking=votes assumption now. Of the eight major park and ride projects at future suburban city light rail stations, only three of the suburban cities that are getting some of those parking stalls—Redmond, Issaquah, and Tacoma (not really a suburb)—voted yes on ST3.

Every other suburban city that’s getting new parking—Kirkland, Everett, Kent, Federal Way, and South Federal Way—voted no. That’s nearly 4,000 new parking stalls for about $216 million landing in the no column versus about 2,000 new parking spots for about $120 million landing in the yes column. Put another way the suburban parking vote broke nearly 60 percent no.  (The other new parking stalls in ST3 aren’t at light rail stations.)

What can ST3—which acknowledged in internal emails that they had no scientific basis for their parking assumptions—do about that now? I’d recommend saving $216 million and start right sizing your mission by eliminating that parking.

Sound Transit 3 passed with 54 percent of the vote. Generally speaking, denser areas voted “yes” and sprawl-y areas voted “no.” (Oran Viriyincy)

Now, there are good reasons to scale back the park-and-rides–such as rededicating funds to better local feeder transit service and even expanding light rail further–but political retribution isn’t one of them. I’m also not convinced at least 50% of the vote is the logical litmus test for the park-and-rides’ political success. What would we expect the suburban vote totals to be without the park-and-rides? Are we saying they made no difference? We don’t have the data to answer that, but since the suburban leaders asked for them time and again it seems doubtful that they had no impact.

If the park-and-rides that failed to deliver a majority in many suburbs and nonetheless ended up swinging a significant margin of votes to the “yes” column, then they still may have been instrumental in passing ST3. The ST3 ballot measure earned 54% of the vote, which is a healthy victory but still a little too close to the 50% mark for comfort. The talented cartographer Oran Viriyincy created a map (below) for Seattle Transit Blog that shows the difference in totals between ST2 and ST3 which may help illuminate precincts in which ST3 projects, and perhaps park-and-rides, helped garner support beyond baseline support for regional transit. Even then, it’s tough to draw sweeping conclusions.

But suffice it to say it’s a little petty to look at vote totals after the fact and strip projects from areas that voted “no” and keep the park and rides where the city voted “yes.” We should build the park-and-rides we promised in the ballot measure. On the other hand, it would be wise to better analyze parking demand and station access alternatives to determine if some of the ramps are too big. If they are, let’s downsize them. We should also look at ways to allow future transit-oriented development to be incorporated into them or even design them for future conversion.

Oran Viriyincy was nice enough to create this excellent visualization of the swing in approval percentage between ST2 and ST3. (Oran Viriyincy)

Anyway, congratulations to Feit on his new gig as speechwriter for Mayor Ed Murray. We’ll miss his daily news updates at Publicola, and we applaud him for shining a light on the issue of park-and-rides throughout the process.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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Andrew Sapuntzakis

They shouldn’t be political cudgels, but if money gets tight (expected federal contributions don’t materialize), I would expect P&Rs to be the 1st items to be de-scoped or re-designated. Ideally as some kind of transit-oriented development, but any long-term leasing to private developers seems viable.


Firmly agree – using infrastructure spending as a political tool is not simply petty, it’s dangerous. And nevermind the fact that P&Rs might boost support in an area while still not meeting the arbitrary 50% threshold.

But circling back to the political aspect of P&Rs to gain votes – for transit advocates out there, Sound Transit needs a broad base of support for its projects and services to be successful. It’s not like “we won” and can therefore ignore transit-haters for the next 20 years while we merrily built light rail. Just as P&Rs are an important part of the transit accessibility toolkit in suburban areas where (frequent) bus service simply doesn’t pencil out, P&Rs are an important part of the political toolkit to ensure people see value in ST.

People love rail to the airport not because they use it frequently, but because they can imagine themselves using it occasionally. Many, many people in the region will never use transit because of where they live or work, or because of the demands of their jobs (such as a plumber or delivery man), but they can imagine using a P&R to go to a game or show, meet a friend for drinks in the city, go downtown for a quick meeting, etc. Even if they don’t use the system, they can see its usefulness at a personal level, and that is important.