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How much parking does the Capitol Hill light rail station need?

Gay To Park, originally uploaded by Random Factor.

Parking. Tuesday night’s discussion topic for the third in a series of Sound Transit-led forums on ‘transit oriented development’ of the land surrounding the future Capitol Hill light rail station isn’t exactly sexy. In fact, Sound Transit seems to be hoping to sex the night up by also including a discussion about the Nagle Place, um, extension. Super sexy.

But don’t let that fool you. The Nagle Place discussion will be a happy thing, to be sure — as we reported, Sound Transit is working on an agreement that will turn the extended street into a home for the weekend farmers market once the station is complete in 2016. That’s hot. But the real conversation needs to be about a key element in determining the transportation future of the development that eventually graces the real estate around the station.

Here is our coverage of the first two TOD sessions:

The forum format thus far has been Sound Transit and assembled experts providing information followed by Sound Transit officials taking questions from the audience — though, to their credit, ST mixed it up in the Housing and retail session by facilitating smaller group break-out discussions. All of this ostensibly goes toward Sound Transit gathering community feedback to inform their future decisions, etc.

But the real workstream we need to pay attention to is ST’s RFQ/RFP process. The requirements and the framework surrounding the agency’s ‘request for proposals’ on the development work can — and need to be — shaped. It’s a community/political process. These forums are part of the community/politics. Stakeholders are listening. We’ll need people and organizations with political clout to champion our ‘community’ requirements (BTW, “Why haven’t you attended a Capitol Hill TOD forum?” might be a good question to ask your favorite city councilmember or candidate). The RFQ/RFP process won’t get hot and heavy until around 2011, reportedly, so we’re slowly building toward the process.

Tonight we’ll discuss parking. In a document presented to the stakeholder group working with Sound Transit to shape the community (political?) process around TOD, Sound Transit officials outlined the following focus areas for the discussion about parking-related planning for the possible retail, housing and community development around the Hill’s light rail station. From the ST document (attached to this post):

•    Incorporate parking for the business district in redevelopment plan

−    Access from Broadway should not be permitted

−    Provide permanent, predictable, affordable parking supply for customers (not commuters)

−    Use the less desirable areas of the site (especially below grade) for parking

•    Consider creative ways to construct parking as part of site development

−    Sound Transit could concurrently build the station and underground parking, saving significant construction costs for an incoming developer

−    Sound Transit could also construct and lease back the garage

More notes from the ST outline of parking issues and opportunities in the light rail TOD:

  • Business district lacks parking:

    According to the Capitol Hill Chamber, the business district lacks sufficient business and retail parking.  In addition, Sound Transit has removed several public pay parking lots (approximately 113 stalls) to construct the Capitol Hill station.  The Capitol Hill Chamber has expressed concerns that light rail riders may utilize remaining public parking for commuter parking; thereby further decreasing retail parking supply.

  • City code restraints:
  • Code and policy requirements and constraints are a consideration to including business district parking at the TOD sites.  The City’s code eliminated minimum parking requirements for development within the Station Area Overlay (SAO).  Due to the area pedestrian designation and SAO, access to parking would not be allowed from Broadway.


    The SAO prohibits single-purpose parking structures however it would allow community-serving short-term parking.  There are no parking maximums in the code.

    Sound Transit policy is to not provide new commuter parking at Link stations in urban areas.  The Station Area Plans specifically proposed actions that created station areas predicated on transit oriented development and urban design that was supportive of non-auto access to Link.  Although short-term parking could be operated so that it is not used by commuters, attracting large numbers of cars to garages at station entries would compromise the desired pedestrian orientation of the sites and station areas. 

  • Sound Transit’s mission

    Sound Transit has maintained its position that as a regional transit agency, increasing community parking supply is inconsistent with its mission of providing transit service. Construction of a light rail station in this area will in fact mitigate loss of parking. Sound Transit will also not provide commuter parking at the Capitol Hill station.

    Sound Transit’s business and policy positions to date have been:
    • TOD site developers will likely provide some level of parking for tenants and retail customers (short-term) of TOD businesses.
    • Developers will not provide commuter parking or additional parking to serve business district (contrary to mission and not financially feasible).
    • ST will not build parking concurrent with station construction, construct parking and lease back garage, or subsidize parking for developers.

  • Market forces

    To be competitive in the market each of these elements will need to be supported by some amount of parking. The number of parking spaces needed to compete with other space in the market in 2015 is unknown at this time; however, today the ratios in the table below provide some indication of market demand.
    Residential = .75 to 1.0 spaces per unit
    Office = 1 to 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet
    Retail = None necessary – more is better

The document also has a list of alternatives to parking that the station development requirements could be shaped to include:

Reducing total parking provided to meet minimum development needs:  In the station area overlay zone, there is no minimum requirement for parking.  However, developers generally need to provide some parking for tenant use which is often a requirement for construction loans.  Sound Transit will encourage the developer to keep parking at a minimum amount that makes sense for the development.  As fewer parking spaces are provided for personal car parking, users will look to other access options.  

Shared parking: Depending on the uses in the developments, parking can be shared between uses at different times of the day.  For example, a parking space could be utilized by an office employee during the daytime and a restaurant or other customer in the evening.

Commuter Financial Incentives:  Residential parking spaces could be offered to tenants only at an extra fee, and not bundled in overall rent costs.  Residents could be provided an opportunity to forgo a parking space for transit pass discounts and lower rental rates.  This would encourage use of transit, while lessening the need for parking within the development and/or in the neighboring community.  

Encourage retail use of transit:  Future retailers could promote use of transit instead of driving cars by offering small discounts to shoppers using transit when shopping.  Developing such incentives would be at the discretion of retailers to determine, but in a situation where limited parking is available directly at the site, more shoppers could be encouraged to use transit to get there.

Provide transit information: Property managers could provide up to date transit information, ride-sharing opportunities, bicycle services and facilities and other non-car information.

Reserved parking spaces for one or more car- sharing vehicles (Zip Car):  Developers could incorporate parking spaces for a flex car that can be utilized by the tenants of the developments.  This arrangement would offer use of cars for specific occasions but would not require the consistent need for parking for individual car ownership.  Tenants would have the option of a car when they need it, but would rely on transit, biking or walking at other times.

Electric Car Charging Stations:  Providing facilities and parking for electric car charging stations provides an alternative to typical car parking, while also working to achieve sustainability goals.  

Bicycle Parking:  The Capitol Hill Station west entrance plaza will provide bike racks for light rail patron bike parking.  In addition to this bike parking space, there will likely be a need for additional bike parking for transit users as well as tenants of the TOD sites.  Bike parking facilities will continue to be a need in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, so Sound Transit may pursue some additional bike parking arrangement with the TOD developers.  This could entail below grade bike parking for tenants (customers) of the TOD sites, and/or could also consist of some street level or below grade public (customer) bike parking.  Sound Transit may encourage or require the developers of one or more of the TOD sites to consider creating more bike space as a public amenity.

Sound Transit or the developer may also seek grant opportunities or partnerships to explore how bike parking can be further incorporated at the TOD sites.

There you go. A crash course in TOD parking concerns, issues and opportunities. Like we said, not sexy.

Capitol Hill Station: Transit Oriented Development Community Forum, Tuesday, Oct. 27

Ever wonder what it might look like around the Capitol Hill Link light rail station once construction is completed?

Join us for a discussion about transit oriented development issues at the station. This is the third in a series of quarterly community forums exploring future transit oriented development concepts at the station site.

This forum will focus on the Nagle Place extension and parking associated with the development sites.  Sound Transit will also present some promising news about plans involving the Broadway Sunday Farmers Market.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 
6– 8 p.m. (presentation begins at 6:15 p.m.) 
Century Ballroom 
915 E. Pine St. 
Seattle, WA 98122

For more information: 
Contact Michelle Ginder at 206-398-5328 or [email protected]. You can also visit

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13 years ago

Electric car parking is still parking…

Isn’t it odd that the list of alternatives does not discuss non-Link transit (e.g. an attractive and functional Metro bus stop, or the streetcar transfer)?

13 years ago

Not that I’ve scrubbed through document presented to stakeholders (I couldn’t find it–am I missing the link somewhere?), but in my own anecdotal experience with market forces, parking demand for residential units on the hill is not 0.75-1.0. I’ve been told by several developers that it’s 0.6, no more. That means the document presented to stakeholders is adding 15-40 parking spaces per 100-units beyond the level that developers have been pushing. And at $35K-$40K per stall that’s adding another $535K-$1.6MM in construction costs per 100 units. That’s a lot of added parking capacity for a market that likely isn’t there.

I’d also like to know how the study accounted for the effects of light rail and the streetcar, as well as increasing densities and a more walkable environment. I really don’t think we should be dropping more money into a costly auto-oriented infrastructure based on a set of assumptions that may not be in line with the current demands of the neighborhood, much less future demands.

13 years ago

As far as ratios, I’m curious: 1) who crafted the fudged-up document/table, then? 2) if a majority of developers agree with that anecdotal 0.6 ratio, I’m much more curious what BANKS think the “right” ratio is, when they run their approval formulas?

Average parking stalls (300 sq foot) cost an average of $23,000 per according to studies I’ve read linked from CHS, not 40K. Granted, if the developers try and fit parking around the station structure, costs would increase (but there’s plenty of acreage on that block to create a parking garage away from the station though). Much of it could be almost surface level too: my dream-compromise would be some nagle-level open air/unsecure parking that could readily transform into farmer’s market real estate.

As far as ‘a market that isn’t there’, the article states that the Capitol Hill Chamber presents themselves as having a specific need. Personally, I prefer having a vital and thriving business district in my urban village: so I’ll take their request seriously. I also agree with the Chamber that we’d be fools to think there won’t be SOME rail-riding people parking at the station: especially considering the MILES between this station and the next station (north).

We can work to reduce the residential parking need for new residents while continuing to support local business staying competitive, city-wide.

13 years ago

I agree that the streetcar should be involved in the discussion -especially since that’s another ST project.

(car) parking spots may readily be converted to bicycle parking in the future. Or, more creatively perhaps, market rate storage for residents and neighbors (certainly more attractive than the alternative, like the towering eyesore at 12th and madison).
I’d also love to see much of this parking converted in years to come to scooter as well as bike parking: electric scooters are finally cresting the technology hurdle and able to keep up speed/power-wise with some of their gas-burning brethren.

Also on the possible alternatives brainstorm list – free citywide or transit-system-wide bicycles. ROI ratios where this has been employed: Great in green city terms. Copenhagen’s ByCyklen is probably the best example. Another is this: and this:

Vehicle parking for the majority, perhaps 50-75%, is a rational expectation in our city riht now.