By Scott Hamilton
As Sammamish drivers try to cope with congestion in the city, increasing transit service is often suggested as one solution.
Proponents of the developer STCA plans for the Town Center have, in part, pointed to the possibility of including a park and ride (PNR) in the plans as a reason to lift the building moratorium and let STCA file its applications for development.
Without getting into the pros and cons of the overall STCA plan for the Town Center, inclusion of the PNR at this point is more symbolic than substance. Here’s why.
Poor site choices
A park and ride in the Town Center has poor site choices.
It belongs on 228th Ave., but this is unlikely now. Putting it on top of SE 4th, in the core of the Town Center, is a poor choice.
During the lengthy planning process for the Town Center, which involved several city council-appointed ad hoc committees, the Planning Commission and several city councils, the groups were repeatedly told that Sound Transit and Metro King County Transit didn’t want to deviate from 228th with their bus service down the spine of the city.
Leaving 228th, even for a few blocks west up the hill of SE 4th to the proposed core of the Town Center, involves too much time. The expense of going a few blocks up the hill, in fuel, wear and tear, adds up over (pick a period) years of service.
Unfortunately, the time to properly locate the PNR on 228th became a missed opportunity.
The best location was the corner of SE 4th and 228th, which at the time was vacant and mostly flat land.
I was on the Planning Commission and proposed this site, envisioning it as part of a parking garage underneath commercial development. As the concept for the Town Center was evolving, and with the joint opposition we were told by Sound Transit and Metro Transit to anything off 228th, this location and its proximity to the Town Center core seemed an obvious choice.
But the idea fell flat, not only with the Planning Commission but also the City Council.
Opposition on the Commission was led by the then-chairperson, who was fundamentally opposed to the Town Center anyway because of her residential proximity to the center.
She objected to the traffic that would be attracted to the center of the city. This ignored that fact that traffic at the city’s choke points could be reduced with a central PNR. It also ignored the fact that a central PNR, serving the prospective 2,000+ homes there, might be an attractive amenity for these residents.
She also said a PNR was needed at the north end of the city.
There is no disputing this last point, but there was then and it is true today that there is no available land within city limits north of NE 8th/Inglewood Hill Road for a PNR. The only available land is outside the city limits, near the Gray Barn.
Her opposition carried the day.
There was still the chance the city council would accept the idea because after all, it had the final say.
But unexpected opposition came from Council Member Don Gerend, who otherwise was a strong advocate for transit. He, along with Council Member Kathy Huckabay, worked for years with Metro and Sound Transit to bring bus service to Sammamish.
Gerend opposed the idea, claiming erroneously that this represented a proposal for Transit Oriented Development, which carries a specific meaning in transit-speak. This means a major bus connecting center.
This isn’t what was proposed at all. Dedicating parking spaces in a parking garage supporting a commercial development is what was proposed.
But no amount of explanation could get through to Gerend. His opposition carried the day.
Now, Metropolitan Market is on the site and there is no chance to put a PNR there.
The current effort to establish a PNR in the Town Center is, in theory, a good idea.
But as noted, one on the top of the SE 4th St. hill is unlikely to get support of Sound Transit and Metro in light of their long opposition to leaving 228th Ave.
Council Member Ramiro Valderrama touted a “draft” Memorandum of Understanding that includes a park and ride (among a lot of other things) as a reason to lift the building moratorium.
But a “draft” anything isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, and, to be frank, neither is an MOU. Only a firm, binding-contract in the form of a Developer’s Agreement carries any weight.
The lack of a signed Developer’s Agreement doesn’t solve the location problem, however.
The land north of the Sammamish Children’s School (north of the Met Market) might be a viable location. But in the Town Center plan, this is a residential area.
PNR isn’t truly the solution
But even if the PNR were located on this property, it’s not truly the solution.
The solution is more bus service.
And, thanks to the agency’s Sound Transit 3 plan, Sammamish is due for less but service, not more.
ST3 also included the “maybe” of a PNR by the Gray Barn at SR202, but no commitment. Even this vague “maybe” was included only at the behest of Gerend, Huckabay and Council Member Tom Odell. (All three retired at the end of 2017.)
With Sammamish residents facing paying an estimated $550m in new taxes over 25 years to get less bus service and a vague “maybe” for a PNR, it’s no wonder that the 2017 city council voted to oppose the some $27bn in new regional taxes for the $54bn ST3.
Sammamish Comment opposed it for the same reason. Residents voted 51%-49% to reject the tax plan. The 64% affirmative vote in Seattle carried ST3 across the three counties to a 54% victory.
The current effort to get the Sammamish the STCA PNR, even location aside, is misdirected.
The concept is for a 200-space parking lot for $20m.
First, $10,000 per space seems woefully under-priced. Second, a $20m PNR for a $550m tax payment is a lousy ROI. Third, any PNR (if approved) will be at least five years away.
More bus service needed
What is needed is for the city and the proponents of this symbolic PNR to advocate for more bus service, from both Sound Transit and Metro Transit.
For Sound Transit, $20m seems like a drop in the bucket. This is less than 1% of the $27bn in new regional taxes (It is going to spend this amount to replace escalators that weren’t up to the task at the University of Washington and other key locations.)
Rerouting buses can come more quickly than a PNR in a dubious location.
Those pursuing this PNR should instead be pursuing more bus service. This would be a tangible win, not a symbolic one.