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This is how crazy-making Seattle traffic has become

Park and rides like this one at Mountlake and I-5 are filling too early
Flickr photo/SounderBruce (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Park and rides like this one at Mountlake and I-5 are filling too early.

6:30 a.m. 

That's how early you better show up to a park and ride lot to land a spot these days. 

As traffic worsens in King and Snohomish counties, drivers are avoiding the gridlocked highways by driving to a free park and ride lot where they pick up the bus or train. As such, those park and rides are filling up at increasingly early hours.

Transit agencies are now putting their foot down and introducing parking permits. 

The problem is that too many commuters need the parking – more than any lot could reasonably hold. People get up early to land a spot, only to see they should have gotten up earlier. When people fail to get a spot, they often drive to work.

“We recommend you go there at 6:30 a.m.,” said Chris O’Clair, manager of strategy at King County Metro. “That is when we are seeing a lot of the fill of our system. We see a lot of our facilities filling up before 7, 7:30 in the morning.”

Same goes for park and rides in Snohomish County.

“If you get there after 7 o’clock and you’re looking for a spot, you’re going to be circulating for a while,” said Roland Behee, strategic planning manager at Community Transit. 

It’s a terrible twist for transit agencies, which built free parking lots years ago to lure commuters out of their cars. Now commuters are looking for an escape from monstrous highway delays. 

Transit agencies say the answer isn't more park and rides. According to Behee, surface lot costs between $20,000 and $30,000 per parking space and upward of $80,000 per space to build structured parking. Agencies would rather spend that money on buses to move more commuters from their neighborhoods without stepping into a car.

Agencies know roughly how many commuters drive to transit — Sound Transit estimates the number to be about a third; in Snohomish County, Community Transit estimates about 25 percent; King County Metro says it’s about 10 percent.

Parking permit programs roll out in 2017. Sound Transit has hired Republic Parking Northwest to run a paid parking permit program in several lots. Sound Transit is starting with carpools but expects to add a single-driver permit soon after.

King County Metro says it will try a parking permit program in 2017. It says it is starting with no fee.

Transit agencies across the region have other strategies, too. They’re tightening up parking spaces inside the original lots to shoehorn more cars in. King County Metro is working out arrangements with owners of multi-unit buildings near transit stations to free up parking spots when residents are at work.