Commentary: A different kind of hybrid to ease traffic mess

A mix of park-and-ride and retail space could ease parking and allow more carpool and transit use.

By Scott O. Kuznicki and Mark Harmsworth

For The Herald

Our region’s transportation system is collapsing under ever-increasing demand.

Substantive improvements to the backbone of our transportation system — the freeway system — are left to languish despite the ongoing overwhelming regional preference for the private automobile in commuting. Sound Transit, the agency in control of the majority of our region’s transportation spending, incurs cost overruns on key projects while buses and parking facilities throughout the region are at capacity.

It’s clear there must be a path forward for reasonable public-private partnerships that can ease access to transit, improving ridership and give drivers real alternatives in a world where key transportation needs are likely to be unmet for decades to come. One of these innovative opportunities is the possibility of a public-private partnership for park-and-ride expansion with an eye toward the future of mobility.

The south Everett park-and-ride is at capacity. Commuters forming effective carpools to meet their specific needs compete with transit users for space at park-and-ride lots all over the region, including in south Everett. This location offers ample land, easy freeway access, and proximity to Snohomish County population centers, the ideal place for a new kind of park-and-ride which we call the full-service Mobility Marketplace.

This new concept involves low-cost land leases to public-private partnerships, transferring the risk and up-front cost from taxpayers to private-sector businesses while providing immediate benefits in terms of expanded parking capacity and retail that commuters will find convenient.

At south Everett, where ample land exists, we envision two brand-new four-story parking garages, providing parking for six times more cars than park there today. The ground floors of each garage would feature fully-sheltered bus bays, brightly-lit common areas, parking for users with special mobility needs, and retail serving commuters, including coffee shops, sandwich shops, convenience marts, and even a hair salon or barbershop.

Other concession opportunities include vehicle repair, postal services and a pharmacy. The second and third floors would serve parking needs for commuters whether they choose to use transit or meet at this convenient location to form carpools to reach areas that transit cannot effectively serve. This includes tradespersons who cannot use transit because of their need to carry specialized tools, equipment and supplies. Every parking space would be equipped with the conduit and hardware necessary to support installation of electric vehicle chargers, the key to a zero-point-source emissions future.

The top deck of the Mobility Marketplace garages will feature awnings equipped with solar panels, providing all of the daytime energy needs for electric vehicle charging and the facility’s operations and covered parking even on the top level. As our mobility needs change and on-call electric autonomous shuttles begin to provide last-mile connections to the Mobility Marketplace, this top deck can be repurposed to provide additional solar panels, energy storage systems and even rooftop gardens managed by local service organizations that can sell the fruits of their labor at evening farmer’s markets to thousands of commuters.

State-of-the-art stormwater recovery, ecological filtering of pollutants and ample foliage on greenwalls and along driveways will ensure a space that is self-conditioning and self-cleaning. Every square inch of the parking structures can easily become something new.

These Mobility Marketplaces can be a new connection point for shared-car, shared-ride and shared-vehicle services that can offer options for bus-only commuters who need to make a quick trip to nearby businesses or appointments in the middle of the day or during their commutes.

The Mobility Marketplace itself will be self-sustaining: Every dollar invested to construct and operate the facility can be recovered through long-term leases that are paid by the tenants who provide services to the people who use the facility, the ideal concentrated and captive market. This is a market-based approach that seeks to make transit more attractive rather than making cars less useful.

This is what it will take to transform mobility in our region. Instead of heavy-handed policies that deny real options to the majority of commuters, ever-increasing taxes that excessively burden the most vulnerable, and senseless land grabs for low-productivity transit projects, we can enjoy self-sustaining places where access to transit, services and clean energy all combine to create a new kind of experience that other progressive regions have provided for decades.

It’s time to leverage the private sector and create a win-win for everyone.

Scott O. Kuznicki is a transportation engineer. State Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, represents the 44th Legislative District.

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