So Expedia has put up one of the biggest parking complexes ever constructed in Seattle for its new headquarters. But it’s being appropriately sheepish about it.
“If we have empty parking spots because our employees are choosing other ways to get to work, we’ll be very pleased,” a company spokesman told The Seattle Times.
C’mon. We all know that’s not what’s going to happen.
This two-step between quietly nodding to our car-focused reality while espousing the greenest dreams perfectly captures what passes for transportation planning in the Emerald City.
We wish you wouldn’t drive, the government announces. But we know you’re gonna, the private market whispers in echo.
In fact the market is so certain you’ll drive that it’s building more space for your cars at this new high-tech campus than will fit in the garage at the Mariners’ stadium.
The airport-style parking complex at Expedia’s waterfront Interbay headquarters, clocking in at 2,300 stalls, is twice as big as what is touted as the largest garage in downtown Seattle — the six-story-deep, 1,200-spot garage beneath Pacific Place.
Even the Mariners garage at 48,000-seat T-Mobile Park has just 2,000 spots (though there is other parking nearby that the baseball team says sums to 5,000).
I don’t blame Expedia for this abomination, as what choice do they really have? The transit through the Amazon Jungle and out to Interbay, while improved a bit from a few years ago, still is terrible for a big growing city. Light rail isn’t slated to run out that way for 16 more years, by which time we’ll all be orbiting in self-piloting smart drones anyway.
What’s vexing is the doublespeak — and the lack of planning for what’s actually happening on the ground. I wrote about this a few years back with respect to South Lake Union. Despite billing itself as catering to a “car-free sustainable lifestyle,” developers were at the same time digging cavernous below-ground parking garages for nearly 12,000 cars. That’s six Mariners’ stadium garages.
“Why are we building so much parking in a neighborhood that’s supposed to be the model for weaning the city off the car?” I wrote in 2015. “More pressing: How are all those cars going to get to and from all those parking spaces?”
At the time I asked then-chief of the Seattle Department of Transportation, Scott Kubly, what he thought of this disconnect. He said the private market was making a mistake — that the parking wasn’t needed and would go underutilized.
“We have conversations all the time with developers where we urge them not to build so much parking,” Kubly said. “They’re of the opinion that that’s what they need to do to lease the space up.”
“I think we have reached saturation point with the traffic we have right now in South Lake Union,” he added.
Guess who turned out to be right?
According to the city’s latest census of off-street parking, the garages in the Amazon Jungle turned out to be the most used in the city. You can see evidence of this around the neighborhood, with signs that read “Sorry, lot full” and “Monthly parking only — No general parking at this time.”
Meantime the traffic on both Mercer and Denny, which cut through Amazonia on their way out to Expedia’s new campus, is soaring. For example when Kubly said it was saturated, in 2015, Mercer, at Aurora, carried 28,000 cars on an average weekday. Now it somehow carries 38,000 — 36 percent more.
The worst is yet to come, as the largest of the planned garages haven’t even opened yet. There’s one coming soon at the corner of Fairview and Denny with 1,400 spots, and one planned for the block next door with 1,010. Apple’s new offices, announced Monday, are advertised as home to “Seattle’s largest bike lounge,” with racks for 340 bikes. That’s cool but left unmentioned is what will be more popular — the underground garage with 700 spaces.
My view is that Seattle desperately needs more mass transit faster, to give better alternatives to all this driving. I’m a longtime fan of forcing this change sooner by turning some car lanes over to true mass transit, such as buses or light rail (not piddly stuff like the streetcar).
But absent that, we need to get real. All these mega-garages don’t lie. Sheepish wishes aside, green-talking Seattle is still a car town at heart.