Seattle DCI has posted an update to the traffic study for the apartment project proposed for 417 NE 73rd St. One of the reasons for the update according to HEATH & ASSOCIATES, the engineering firm that did the study, is they had mistakenly sent a draft rather than the final version to Seattle DCI in February.
That doesn’t surprise us. We wrote about a plethora of problems in 417’s traffic report in March. The revised report has many of the same issues and has added some new ones. We’ll get to that below.
It’s not clear what prompted the do-over, which is dated March 28, 2016, just four days after we posted our review. John Shaw, a senior Seattle DCI transportation planner responsible for approving traffic studies for projects undergoing review, presumably didn’t catch the errors since a correction notice was never posted by DCI requesting additional information.
That also doesn’t surprise us.
Here is a brief recap of 417. The project is a 6-story, 45-unit apartment complex with parking for 13 subcompact cars that is being proposed to replace the 19-stall parking lot behind The Great Hall currently used by patrons of Rosita’s Mexican Grill. Its impact on parking will be two-fold: (1) parking spillover from building tenants; and (2) Rosita’s patrons who will now have to park on the street.
In November 2015, HEATH’s initial traffic study for the project was posted on the Seattle DCI website. For the parking analysis, which we discussed here, DCI had asked the firm to provide estimates for the project’s peak parking demand and parking spillover. Instead of providing those numbers, however, HEATH discussed possible strategies for reducing the number of residents with vehicles, including using the application process and adding a passenger load/unload zone at the building entrance for taxis and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.
Apparently Seattle DCI wasn’t satisfied with that response. In January 2016, they issued a correction notice, again asking for a parking demand estimate, together with, this time, a parking utilization study and cumulative parking analysis.1
In February 2016, HEATH responded, providing the expanded parking analysis as well as an answer to the parking demand request. We provided a detailed review of issues associated with HEATH’s utilization and cumulative studies here. For the parking demand request, the firm expanded on its original response, but this time arguing that it would be impossible to provide an estimate without first identifying so-called Transportation Demand Strategies:
Parking demand for the proposed development is predicated on the Transportation Demand Strategies that were previously mentioned, such as loading/unloading zone for taxi services and other ride shares, transit pass subsidies, Zipcar subsidies, etc. Give the unique situation, there is no accurate way of quantifying an estimated parking demand until such Transportation Demand Strategies are set and in place.
In other words, it didn’t look like the community would be seeing parking data for 417 NE 73rd St anytime soon—if ever—and since Seattle DCI never issued a correction notice related to HEATH’s February report, it didn’t appear that they were much interested in pursuing the issue.
And that brings us to the latest version of the traffic study for 417. Here are some of the highlights:
The Draft Parking Utilization Study Sent To Seattle DCI By Mistake Had Errors. So Does the Update.
HEATH’s update to their parking utilization analysis for 417 added data for thousands of feet of surveyed parked cars that was missing in the original report. Otherwise, the updated report has the same issues as the original, including incorrect street measurements and missing fire hydrants and driveways that result in inflated on-street legal parking capacity.
For example, on the south side of NE 73rd St between 5th Ave NE and Woodlawn Ave NE, HEATH claims that on-street legal parking capacity is 23 when in fact it’s 20. This is a significant error for just a single side of a block, and to put it in perspective, using the correct legal parking capacity of 20 the parking utilization of this street side increases from an already high 102% to a whopping 118%.
That’s a lot of illegal parking.
By overstating on-street legal parking capacity, HEATH understated parking scarcity and the impact of parking spillover from new development including 417. The firm also ignored the impact of the loss of Rosita’s parking lot—as many as 19 cars during peak hours—in their utilization analysis and reduced parking spillover from 417 to nearly zero using challengeable methods (see next section).
The errors we found in the parts of HEATH’s parking utilization analysis we reviewed should raise questions about their entire report. Thus far, however, Seattle DCI has not identified a single error in this work, despite being the party responsible for reviewing it.
417 NE 73rd St Will Have Vehicle Ownership Rates Similar to Student Micro-Studios Near UW
What a difference six weeks make. Apparently there was a way where HEATH could estimate parking demand without first having to identify Transportation Demand Strategies. In fact, in the latest version of 417’s traffic report, the discussion of TDS has been entirely dropped. Instead, we’re now informed:
Given the nature and style of the incoming project, there is no standardized methodologies in quantifying this type of project’s parking demand. However, in a parking study conducted in April of 2014, by William Popp Associates titled, “1731 NW 57th St Small Efficiency Apartments” a sample set of five small apartment congregates were surveyed to capture an estimated parking demand based on number of units.
There are numerous projects across the city including Crosby Greenlake at 414 NE Ravenna Blvd and several projects in Roosevelt similar to 417 that would beg to differ about the use of those standardized methodologies. However, those tools produce considerably larger parking demand estimates—and so parking spillover numbers—than the estimate HEATH arrived at using Popp’s survey results.
The King County Right Size Parking Calculator, for example, provides an estimate for vehicle ownership of .76 vehicles/unit. That’s more than twice the .35 vehicles/unit arrived at using Popp’s survey data and would dump 21 cars on the street compared to just one or two using Popp’s data.
That’s 21 cars in addition to as many as 19 more resulting from the loss of Rosita’s parking lot—enough cars to fill both sides of NE 73rd St and then some.
So, there’s no doubt Popp’s apartment data will significantly reduce parking demand estimates compared to other approaches. However, HEATH provided no evidence whatsoever regarding why the vehicle ownership rates for 417 should be similar to those of the apartments Popp surveyed. The firm simply states it as fact:
All locations were in the Seattle city limits and are of similar nature to the proposed 417 73rd Apartments project.
That prompted us to take a closer look at the apartments. Here’s what we discovered.
Popp conducted his survey in the early 2000s, and not as part of the parking analysis done for 1731 NW 57th St. In other words, the data is old, and we have no idea how relevant it is nearly 15 years later. HEATH didn’t share this information in its report
All the surveyed apartments are just blocks from the University of Washington, and so many if not most of their residents are very likely low-income students who don’t own cars. Popp assumed the residents of 1731 would also generally be low income and carless, which is why he estimated vehicle ownership rates for 1731 using the apartment survey data
Popp’s parking analysis for 1731 also included much larger car ownership estimates using the “standardized methodologies” HEATH eschewed, including the King County Right Size Parking Calculator. HEATH also didn’t provide this information
One of the apartments surveyed by Popp is Husky Court Student Studios. These micro-studios are small compared to the units at 417—many are only 200 square feet—and are half the cost. But, they’re for students, after all.
Just a block north of the UW campus, Husky Court sits in census tract 43.02. 71.1% of the population 18 years or older in 43.02 is a college student according to 2014 US Census American Community Survey data. Not surprisingly, this population also has lower income levels, and the mean household income is only $26,535 a year. Also not surprising: this mostly student population owns far fewer cars than the general population. According to the census data, only 45% of the rental housing units in tract 43.02 have cars.
Contrast this to census tract 36 where 417 resides. Just 13.6 percent of the population 18 years and older in 36 is a college student according to the ACS data. No doubt, this helps explain why this group has much higher household income and car ownership rates for renters than Husky Court’s neighborhood, $89,302 and 77%, respectively.
Students at Husky Court own fewer cars because they can’t afford or don’t need them. The residents at 417 will be an entirely different demographic. If HEATH wants to claim that car ownership rates of these two very different groups are similar, they will have to have to provide the evidence.
And Seattle DCI, who is supposed to review these studies, needs to ask for it.
419 NE 71st St Will Also Have Vehicle Ownership Rates Similar to Student Micro-Studios Near UW
We wrote here how the first cumulative parking analysis done by HEATH ignored parking spillover from Green Lake Mixed Use, a 130-unit project under construction at 419 NE 71st St. Perhaps the firm read our report, because, in the latest version of their traffic study, they included it. In a subsequent story, we identified errors in the parking study done for 419 and criticized its assumption that 419 residents would have 20% fewer cars because of their proximity to the Roosevelt light rail station. That station will not only not be completed until 2021, but neither the firm that did the study, TENW, nor Seattle DCI—which approved TENW’s work—responded to requests for documentation that would substantiate the claim.
The firm cited TENW’s claim that 419 would have no parking spillover, but still decided to conduct a separate analysis.
You guessed it. They took the same approach they had for 417 and used Popp’s apartment survey data, achieving results that were much better than even TENW’s with their light rail assumption:
All units range from micro-studio to 1 bedroom units, so a reasonable parking demand of 0.35 vehicles per unit is used for estimation. (130 units x 0.35 vehicles) = 46 vehicles.
And, of course, with a further 20% reduction for proximity to light rail—again, Seattle DCI approved this tactic—that number becomes just 37. For a complex with 130 residential units and 106 parking stalls.
In comparison, our analysis, adopting TENW’s method but corrected for the errors mentioned above and without the light rail assumption, showed that 419 will create substantial parking spillover, with peak residential parking demand that could easily exceed 100 vehicles beginning in the early evening hours.
Perhaps Seattle DCI will be able to explain the discrepancy. Again, they should start by asking for the evidence that supports HEATH’s claim that the car ownership rates of people who can afford 419’s big, expensive apartments will be similar to those of low-income students living in micro-studios at Husky Court.
1 Parking utilization studies are intended to measure the amount of legal on-street parking capacity that is being used within a specified area when parking demand is greatest. A cumulative parking analysis estimates the parking demand of nearby projects that are either undergoing review or under construction in order to assess the potential combined impact on future street parking availability.