Next chapters in the Great Transit Debate


David Brewster brings us this article on the future of Seattle‘s Link light rail.  It cites a recent story from the Seattle Times complaining about the lack of parking at Link stations with the exception of Tukwila.  He says that, because planners wanted to make a livable, walkable community, they can expect fewer commuters on Link.  There is a possibility that commuters would park on the street of communities by train stations, and to prevent this many communities have set up parking pass systems.  “Areas around stations will be upzoned, driving up property taxes and increasing traffic. Feeder buses will flock to once sleepy commercial districts. Small shops will be driven out,” he says.

First of all, light rail isn’t built for commuters.  That’s what commuter rail is for.  Light rail should stop every half mile to mile, and should be surrounded by dense, mixed-use development, not parking lots.  Parking lots are fine for commuter rail, which stops every 2 miles or more, goes considerably faster, and is often grade separated, whereas light rail often isn’t.  Light rail is made for locals who may be traveling across town for work or entertainment, who may want to live car-lite or car-less.  So to say that commuters won’t ride it is missing the point.

As far as commuters parking on local streets, I don’t really see that as a big problem.  Most communities have adequate (if not excessive) off-street parking requirements, so locals should be able to park off-street okay.  On-street parking encourages people to walk past local stores where they may make purchases on their way home.  It also slows down traffic and buffers pedestrians from the road, making walking safer.  And if you’re worried about an inordinate influx of cars, you can always encourage fewer cars and get a significant revenue stream at the same time by making it pay parking.  So I don’t see the worry about on-street parking, as well as the permit programs (which are a big controversy in Provo right now).

Yes, areas will be “upzoned.”  They should be, to make the area around the stop more vibrant.  And yes, under a traditional system, this would drive up property taxes, but not under more reasonable tax systems such as Pittsburgh’s, which taxes based on the value of the land as opposed to the value of the building.  And as I’ve often quoted from John Norquist, there’s good and bad traffic, so to say that traffic would increase isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Feeder buses should center on rail stops so that the rail is available to more people.  And who wants “sleepy commercial districts”?  Sleepy commercial districts are failing commercial districts.  More traffic means more people passing and stopping in shops, which means higher sales.  Local businesses will thrive, not be driven out.

I’ve commented a lot on Seattle’s transit system, which I have never seen, so I will leave that as a caveat, that everything I’m saying is theoretical and I may be off-base with some of my claims.  But based on my experiences in Salt Lake with TRAX and on everything I’ve ever read about transit, I think that Mr. Brewster may be out of line with some of his comments.

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