Parking Madness Elite Eight: Washington vs. Federal Way

The parking crater pretenders are gone and the competition is heating up as we enter the second round of Streetsblog’s fourth annual Parking Madness tournament. Eight echoing voids remain in the running for the Golden Crater.

Today’s match features two very intense but very different parking disasters. Let’s dig in.

Federal Way

This is Federal Way, Washington, a city of about 90,000 residents between Seattle and Tacoma.

Our anonymous nominator helpfully outlined surface parking lots in orange. The red outline marks the site of a planned light rail station, while the yellow line highlights the tallest structure in the area, which is — you guessed it — a five-story parking garage.

Unless this crater starts filling out with something besides parking, bringing light rail to Federal Way won’t do much to reduce car trips or improve walkability. That would be a colossal waste.

Washington, D.C.


Between the halls of Congress and Union Station lie these parking lots, submitted by Dan Malouff of Beyond DC.

There are four surface parking lots plus two blocks of streets that have been converted to parking-only zones — land worth about $230 million, according to former Streetsblog writer Payton Chung. This waste of space in central DC is beyond the reach of city government to influence, Malouff notes, since it’s all federally owned. The U.S. Capitol complex, ladies and gentlemen!

A national shame, but is it Final Four material?

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Federal Way (56%, 157 Votes)
  • Washington, D.C. (44%, 124 Votes)

Total Voters: 281


14 thoughts on Parking Madness Elite Eight: Washington vs. Federal Way

  1. There is zero reason to have any parking lot in this area of DC. Walkable, Plenty of transit, cheap cabs, and even 30 years ago when I lived in the area very bikeable.

    Land should be used for mixed use housing plus shops with zero on site parking

  2. DC’s crater is so symbolic of bad governance across America. The free market desperately wants to replace these parking lots with offices, housing, and shops, as it is surrounded by Metro stations, Amtrak, commuter rail, intercity bus, streetcar, as well as some of the best biking options in the country. Real estate in DC is really expensive, however, Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) keeps it as surface parking lots, and there is very little to suggest any change in the future.

  3. Federal Way is definitely God-awful, but it seems like it’s an area that was developed around an Interstate off-ramp, so of course it’s going to be a car-oriented place. What makes Washington more egregious, and the reason I voted for it, is that it’s right in front of a huge intercity/regional railroad / metro transit hub. This should be one of the most built-up, transit-oriented parts of the whole city! Yet it’s parking lots???

  4. It’s not really fair to criticize the Federal Way parking garage, since the site already serves as a major transit center (with tons of peak service to Downtown Seattle), hence why it was built in the first place.

    Still a waste of money, though. P&Rs will eventually have to die off.

  5. The single most important building in the United States, the seat of power and the heart of our democracy, is surrounded by a sea of parking lots. If that’s not incredibly symbolic and horrendous, i don’t know what is.

  6. I have to go with DC. Paving over former parkland next to a major league train station is just so wrong. Most of that Seattle suburb is just the usual surface parking around the mall and big box center, and if the light rail is now coming it will probably infill over time. Tough to judge them for not being urban when their urban future has not yet arrived.

    Here is a historic aerial showing what that DC image used to look like:

  7. And the development around there shows it. It’s really dead around there and I’d be shocked if the sea of parking lots isn’t a stone around the neighborhood’s neck in this regard. Even if they tried to put in more stuff there, it’d just be horrendous to walk around.

  8. I have to give my vote to Federal Way. The imagery in DC is unfortunate, but is ultimately fixable with little additional public investment. The infrastructure here already permits density, walkability, and efficient transit. Federal Way, however, will require massive public investment to correct, even AFTER the investment in light-rail, which given the context is indeed is a colossal waste. Federal Way deserves the shame because it is an enormous misallocation of public money to subsidize bad development that will require more public money to correct.

  9. Why would Federal Way require public investment? As has happened countless times in other cities and suburbs, the arrival of rapid transit at a greenfield site will cause the market to value those parking lots higher and before you know it they will be filled in with condos and mixed-use centers.

    A suburban shopping mall and big box plaza is not a parking crater, it’s just a suburban shopping mall and big box plaza. I thought the point of this “competition” was to highlight parking madness, not parking normalcy. DC should have won in a heartbeat.

  10. It IS a parking crater. Every single thing about the development in Federal Way encourages the use of automobiles for transportation at the expense of all other options, and the outcome is acres-upon-acres of productive land being wasted on a daily basis. The area is already served by rapid transit (that’s what the red box is in the map), but the surrounding land use is so over saturated with parking that it discourages its use. So area planners argued successfully that the express bus service isn’t good enough, that they need to spend more public money to try and bribe more people out of their cars. That government at all levels encouraged this kind of development through subsidies that incentivize driving and is now trying to undo the damage by throwing more money at the wrong problem, that city planners considered this kind of development as “prosperity” and mandate it in local building & zoning codes, and that everyday people now look at this mess and say “this isn’t bad, it’s normal” is proof that there is madness at work here.

  11. Federal Way has a bus transit center currently, not rail. That doesn’t count as rapid transit. Your point was that public investment will be needed after light rail arrives; I say that’s not true, the arrival of rail will encourage private redevelopment.

    I’m no fan of suburban planning circa 1950-2000, but if Federal Way wins this thing you might as well award the parking madness title to every suburban shopping mall and power center in North America.

  12. Politicians fetishize rail when the same level of service can be achieved with busses at a fraction of the cost. Instead of addressing the real problem, which is the physical built environment, planners hope shinny new toys will lure more ridership. Land use policy isn’t sexy; light rail is, but it’s the land use that is the problem, not the busses.

    For transit to be useful (I.e. to be used) and effective at reducing auto dependence, it needs to be in proximity to people and where they want to go. Not only that, but both the stations and the destinations need to be accessible by means other than a private car, and these trips must be safe and generally enjoyable. This usually means denser, walkable environments with low speed limits. The infrastructure around the transit center and surrounding developments is designed for cars exclusively. It will take public investment to improve the safety and characteristics of the streets around it so people actually want to walk them. In order to provide the necessary density to make transit work you will also need to introduce more roads and therefore more intersections. And all these changes will be challenged in the courts and will require extensive administrative and legal costs. Are private developers, much like the suburbs of the past, going to build and maintain these new roads into the future? Are they going to pay for the litigation and the city’s cost to do now what it should have been doing for decades? No, they won’t. The city will have to do it all, and municipalities can barely balance their budgets as they are. Having a +1000 space parking garage as part of your transit project also does NOTHING to encourage denser development and walkability, and the light rail project is planning to add even more parking to the crater. The light rail might look good, but it’s not a cure-all, only a placebo, and it won’t solve the underlying structural problems.

    Federal way deserves the shame because it is textbook on how not to develop a community and how not to design and sell transit to the public. And you’re right, we SHOULD apply this label nationwide, since this same pattern has blighted landscapes and wasted public investment all across this country and will require still trillions more to correct.

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