Letter to the editor: Addressing parking problems that new light rail station will create



MLTNews.com recently reported that Sound Transit and Metro will be hosting meetings to address the demand for scarce commuter parking at their various park and ride facilities. The focus will be on charging single-occupancy vehicles parking fees to utilize transit facilities so that parking is available for commuters after the early morning hours. It is unclear from the article if the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center Parking is included in these deliberations. If this plan is adopted for the other facilities, that policy will most likely be implemented for the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, which is often filled to capacity by early morning during the week. If charged a parking fee, be assured that an increased number of commuters will opt to park on the streets of Mountlake Terrace regardless of Transit Center parking availability.

Currently, traffic volumes and on-street parking in residential areas adjacent to the Mountlake Terrace Town Center have both experienced exponential increases as more and more commuters avail themselves of the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. This trend will only be exacerbated when the light rail project to Lynnwood is completed, and the Mountlake Terrace Light Rail station opens.

Sound Transit’s logistical plans will severely exacerbate both traffic and residential street parking in Mountlake Terrace. Once light rail service is instituted to Lynnwood, bus service from points north to south of the Lynnwood Transit Center will be eliminated.

Those bus commuters commuting from the north of Lynnwood to Seattle will be required to transfer from bus to light rail when arriving at the Lynnwood Transit Center. Many commuters from the north will avoid the cumbersome process of driving from their residents to park near a bus stop north of Lynnwood, then commuting by bus to Lynnwood, only to transfer to light rail in Lynnwood to continue their journey south, and repeat the process in the opposite direction at the end of the day. Many commuters will opt to drive to Mountlake Terrace, park their vehicles in residential neighborhoods, and continue their journey to or from the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. Lynnwood does not provide a residential parking option as there is minimal on-street parking adjacent to that facility, and their transit center is already filled to capacity in the early morning.

In addition, many commuters residing south of Mountlake Terrace that currently commute by Metro buses will also travel north and park in the residential neighborhoods of Mountlake Terrace to avail themselves of the future light rail station in Mountlake Terrace.

All of this, coupled with aggressive intensive development, will create increased amounts of traffic volumes and on-street parking for Town Center residential neighborhoods within the next five to 10 years. All that increased activity will have a negative impact on the quiet suburban quality of life that residents had relied on when relocating to Mountlake Terrace. Requiring commuters to pay for parking at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center will only exacerbate a growing problem for residents in the area.

Sound Transit has implemented a deliberate strategy to limit parking facilities near their light rail stations in order to encourage commuters to journey to various Sound Transit light rail stations by public transportation. The mitigating factor preventing those journeys is the infrequent service of local buses that depart from the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center to South Snohomish County neighborhoods. A Sound Transit commuter who completes his or her commute by bus and has missed his or her connection will have to wait up to an hour for their next bus in an unpleasant Transit Center environment that does not even provide bathrooms for its customers, let alone any other comforts such as an inside waiting room. As many Community Transit buses that service residential areas in South Snohomish County journey with little or no passengers with their current infrequent schedules, even an increase in ridership will not justify increasing the frequency of bus operations, especially in the evenings when most of the buses currently ply their routes with few or no passengers.

Most commuters will simply not avail themselves of the decidedly inadequate service by commuting to the transit center by bus. They will continue to arrive and depart by automobile, and park their vehicles in what is currently accommodating Town Center  residential neighborhoods if parking at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center is not available. This pattern will increase dramatically both when the Lynnwood Light Rail Link is operational, and when commuters are charged a fee to park in the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center garage.

At this time there appears to be little future relief planned  for those residential areas adjacent to the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. Those  residents will experience significant increased traffic, noise, congestion and on-street parking from increased out of town traffic over the next number of years. This matter has been brought to the attention of the Mountlake Terrace City Council in the past by various concerned residents, without any comprehensive action or resolution. It is only going to get much worse over the next number of years, during the construction of the light rail station when significant facility parking is eliminated, as well as when the light rail system becomes operational, with its dramatic increase in both service and capacity.

This issue can be readily resolved by the City of Mountlake Terrace if the city wishes to act in a proactive way to protect the quality of life for Mountlake Terrace residents in Town Center residential neighborhoods. If the city council does not act in some capacity to address this issue, the residents of Town Center will continue to be increasingly and unfairly singularly burdened by the impacts of inadequate planning and implementation of regional transportation policies and facilities. This will be readily apparent when the Lynnwood Light Rail Link is completed, with its corresponding dramatic increase in commuter traffic throughout Town Center.

The City of Mountlake Terrace can institute two or three hour parking limits through its street parking regulations in Town Center residential areas that will be negatively impacted by Sound Transit commuters in the near future. Those residents requiring on street parking would be able to obtain residential parking permits for themselves and their guests. The issue that has plagued communities overrun by traffic as a result of these types of facilities can be resolved before the problem increases even more.

The policy of limiting on street parking to commuters but allowing residents normal parking access has been implement with great success in other jurisdictions facing similar issues.  Seattle has instituted such a program that is called the Restricted Parking Zones In Seattle

In its informational website, the city of Seattle states that:

“Restricted Parking Zones (RPZs) are residential areas around commuter traffic generators — like hospitals or light rail stations — where on-street parking is restricted for those except residents and short-term visitors.”

One such area where this program has been successfully instituted is the extremely congested University District. By limiting the number of allowable hours of parking for both  University of Washington students and employee commuters, the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Washington have not been overrun with long term vehicle parking by those who then travel to the university. As a result, there was a reduction both in traffic, noise and congestion in those residential areas after restrictive parking policies were implemented. That parking policy has proven to be successful in restoring a pleasant, calming atmosphere in what was once a very congested neighborhood.

It is truly unfair to destroy the quiet suburban lifestyle of only those residing in the Mountlake Terrace Town Center. They alone will be directly impacted by a public transportation system that is unable or unwilling to adequately fund both transportation infrastructure such as adequate on site parking for its commuters, as well as provide adequate public transportation to and from the proposed light rail transit centers . By implementing a Parking Restricted Zone policy in Mountlake Terrace such as has been successfully implemented in various Seattle neighborhoods, parking and the resulting noise and congestion will be reduced or prevented entirely as longer term daily commuters will no longer be able to park in those areas. Commuters can utilize the local bus service to travel to the Mountlake Transit Center as initially proposed by Sound Transit. If that is inconvenient for commuters, let the commuters approach Sound and Community Transit, for resolution of those issues. But the Town Center residential  neighborhoods should not be a singular sacrificial victim for a system that is unable or unwilling to adequately transport its ridership to the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center.

The Mountlake Terrace Transit Center located in the geographic center of the city is a fait accomplit. The resultant increased traffic through residential  areas of Mountlake Terrace by out of town commuters heading to the Transit Center garage is an unpleasant fact of life that cannot be eliminated.  However, the Mountlake Terrace City Council can easily resolve the issue of extensive future commuter residential parking, with its corresponding increases in traffic and noise in Town Center neighborhoods. Those communities adjacent to and surrounding the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center do not have to have their once quiet and tranquil suburban neighborhoods transformed into busy, noisy commuter parking lots for the benefit of future Sound Transit commuters who would never permit that type of parking situation in their own surrounding wealthier residential communities.

There is a window of opportunity both before the heightened development of the Town Center area, as well as the introduction of the light rail system, for the city council to provide present and future relief to its Town Center residents. All can readily observe that the implementation and introduction of new governmental policy regulations is an exceedingly slow process. The time is now for the Mountlake Terrace city council to act on this matter, rather than delaying the matter as more and more complaints about these concerns are voiced by a growing frustrated community that witnesses its quality of life disappear.

Is there the political will on the part of the Mountlake Terrace City Council to represent and protect these quality of life issues for their constituents in the present and in the future? Will the council initiate the process to allow Restricted Parking Zones so that Town Center residential neighborhoods are not transformed into one giant parking lot for the benefit of Sound Transit  over the next decade? Or will the city council allow the peace and tranquility of these neighborhoods to be sacrificed for the benefit of poor planning and implementation by transportation agencies masquerading as some sort of “greater good” for the regional community? Who knows? A resolution of this problem clearly is within reach of the  Mountlake Terrace City Council before it escalates further if they so desire to represent the actual interests of their constituents rather than further flung interests.

Eric Soll


  1. The park and rides never should have been free to start with. That’s a glaring waste of limited transit dollars.

    “Sound Transit has implemented a deliberate strategy to limit parking facilities near their light rail stations”

    Record scratch….sound transit is spending upwards of $70,000 a space building eyesore traffic generating parking garages in this region.

    • You are correct in the fact that parking is very expensive. The range of costs for parking per vehicle is determined by the type of facility that is constructed for the commuter. One assumes that construction and ongoing maintenance of protected parking such as is currently available in Mountlake Terrace is more expensive than an outside parking lot.

      This of course is part of a greater issue of fare box recovery in general. Most transit systems expenses, including Sound Transit, are not covered by the commuters that use them. There have been various figures asserted on this issue, but I believe the fare box recovery for Sound Transit is in the one third range.

      To charge a commuter close to costs of both parking and commuting via Sound Transit would have a negative effect on ridership. There is still the overall reliance on private vehicles by most of the commuting public, To dramatically increase the cost of commuting would be a tremendous deterrent to many current commuters, especially if that cost equaled or was close to the amount it cost to commute and park one’s vehicle at their end destination.

  2. The only issue you leave out is the very important fact that the increased volume of commuters to the MLT Transit station will not be matched by an increased volume of dedicated spaces in the transit center itself for parking. What you have suggested in your essay to the editor is well thought, but only deals with what to do with the inevitable volume of new street parkers. It is only inevitable because neither ST nor our City Council care. One doesn’t care as a matter of policy; the other should care but doesn’t.

    • I only left out the issue of increased facility parking because I don’t believe that Sound Transit will provide any additional parking at its facility in Mountlake Terrace.

  3. But, that is the issue. Crafting a theoretical solution to a derivative problem without even mentioning the original sin only vindicates ST’s willingness to throw every community in it’s route structure – other than Seattle – under the bus – pun intended.

  4. Here’s a great article concerning free parking at high-demand transit centers and supply and demand. https://humantransit.org/2014/10/basics-the-math-of-park-and-ride.html

    Here’s an excerpt:
    Free parking at a high-utility rapid transit station is a price subsidy, exactly the way the Soviet Union’s caps on retail prices were. It has the same effect, which is to cause problems of supply: Empty shelves in Soviet grocery stores, Park-and-Rides that fill up at 7 AM. If a commodity is priced too low in a condition of high demand, its supply will be exhausted, making it unavailable.

    A Park-and-Ride that fills up at 7 AM is effectively one that doesn’t exist over much of the time period when it’s supposedly needed. This loss of utility for people who travel later is a direct consequence of the price subsidy, as the artificially low price prevents the transit agency and its customers from reaching a market equilibrium where supply and demand of parking are in balance. (This equilibrium, of course, would be optimal for both ridership and revenue. Parking that fills up too soon drives away riders as effectively as no parking would.)

    The claim that Park-and-Ride is needed to attract riders is true only in the earliest phases of development, or on transit services with limited utility like peak-only express service. Once land value rises in response to transit access, the highest source of ridership is also the economically highest use of the land: dense, transit-oriented development around the station combined with good provision for the space-efficient forms of access (i.e. everything but Park-and-Ride). This is why Park-and-Ride is often a logical interim use of land, but not one that you should plan on having forever. Once a city has grown in around a transit system, there may be little Park-and-Ride left at rail stations, and only massive, distorting subsidies will make it free.

    Preventing high-value dense development on naturally expensive station-area land forces that development to locate away from the rapid transit system instead, creating a less sustainable urban structure in which more people and businesses lack excellent transit options.

    People who take buses or bikes or their feet or Kiss-and-Ride to a rail station are being mathematically correct (and fiscally conservative) when they object to free Park-and-Ride at high-demand stations, especially if the agency is not offering a corresponding subsidy to their own preferred modes of access, which all use scarce space more efficiently.

    All of these problems around Park-and-Ride can be resolved only by charging a fair market price for the rental of expensive, publicly owned real estate. Once parking is priced that way, it can remain the best use of valuable land. As always, the problem is not parking, per se. The problem is the market distortion arising from the subsidy.

    • Dustin, what do you think of the equity argument? That pricing transportation resources (HOT lanes aka Lexus Lanes and park and ride lots) creates social inequity by rationing those resources to the wealthy?

      • Very valid point and import consideration. I’ve been doing some reading trying to better understand the issue. What has stood out to me is a couple of things. 1) Compared to the general working public, transit users tend to have lower income levels. 2) Of people who take transit, those who have an extra car to leave parked at a park-and-ride all day long tend to have higher incomes than those who use some combination of transit, walking, and biking. Owning a car in the first place is extremely expensive. You’ll find many estimates to be about $10,000 a year. The most income-strapped of us won’t even own a car in the first place. What this tells me that #1 priority should be reliable, frequent transit. But we obviously have an issue where housing near reliable, frequent transit tends to be more expensive and providing reliable, frequent transit to areas further out and lower density is expensive for the public. There are lots of factors that go into housing costs but lack of supply is near the top. Allowing more housing to be built near reliable, frequent transit will better balance supply and demand and should help to stabilize housing costs. This, in turn, allows people on lower incomes to better be able to afford to live near reliable, frequent transit.

        Urban transportation is largely a geometry problem. Land is extremely valuable in urban areas and we don’t have space to just build more parking or more lanes, especially if choosing to drive and park alone is perceived as being free. Using policy to encourage more efficient travel modes, for example, carpooling and transit, using price controls to throttle demand and prioritize more efficient modes, and allowing more intense development near high capacity transit nodes seems to be a step in the right direction. It’s certainly not perfect and there are still social equity concerns but that’s kind of what’s been going through my head on the issue. Would love to hear from others.

        • A good and thoughtful answer. We do ask a lot of our limited light rail stations, to balance multiple and sometimes contradictory values. Encourage light rail ridership, minimize transportation costs and times, minimize SOV use, minimize off-site impacts, minimize housing costs, minimize public investment, encourage economic equity, and that’s just off the top of my head. The answers are different in each situation – compare Roosevelt, which will have thousands of housing units within 1/4 mile plus thousands more within a 10 minute bus ride, to Mtlk Terrace, with perhaps less than a hundred housing units within a quarter mile. But I would generally say that expensive car storage is a bad use of both city streets and Sound Transit dollars.

  5. I am someone who commutes to work in downtown Seattle and rides the bus. When I lived in Lynnwood, I parked at the Park & Ride there. Now that I am back in Mountlake Terrace, I drive to the Park & Ride here.

    The issue is not that I want to drive to the bus station. I’m also not concerned with the cost of riding the local buses, because I usually buy a month bus pass, which covers both the local and commuter buses. No, the issue is, as Eric pointed out, the buses that go to and from the P&R are so infrequent that they are not a viable solution. The local buses in both Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace run every 20-30 minutes, which is very inconvenient.

    If Sound Transit wants less people to park at the P&R, they need to increase the frequency of the local buses, not start charging for parking. Charging for parking may deter a few, but it is more likely that commuters will just find street parking. And making the street parking around the P&R 2-3 hour parking will only push those commuters to parking outside that zone.

    IMO, Sound Transit (and Community Transit) should increase local buses to and from the P&R to every 5-10 minutes during peak travel times and 10-15 minutes on off-hours. Then, they should charge for parking to help cover the cost of operating. But, they should not punish commuters for not having viable options.

    • They have stated that light rail will replace the buses that run between Lynnwood and Seattle with those resources re-assigned to better serving the local routes feeding the P&Rs but they don’t go any further than that with details. Understandably, it is perhaps too far in the future for them to work on the details and present them to the public. Also understandably, it doesn’t provide a lot of confidence to the public.

      I find that local buses work adequately for where I live in the mornings but do not in the evenings. The route I need quickly tapers off to 30 minutes and then quickly to 60 minutes after 5pm. This makes for a miserable missed connection or a work schedule that is far earlier than I’m willing to do.

      I’ve seen a woman who missed my bus break out into an absolute raging rant when the reader board showed over a 50 minute wait. She didn’t appear to work a job that could pay for rent and a car. Every few months I send a suggestion to their web site to bump the frequency up until 7pm but nothing seems to change. It just isn’t a popular route.

      Fortunately, my wife currently works at home and is amicable to dropping me off and picking me up at the transit centers. Otherwise I too would be driving alone or paying for a ride sharing service a few times a week to get home.


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