Recently, there has been quite a lot of talk on transportation project budgets. From Sound Transit’s 4 billion dollar budget deficit, to Mayor McGinn pledging 13 million dollars (while cutting back in other areas) in alternative transportation improvements, to Metro’s 70 million dollar deficit. Needless to say, there has been a whole lot of talk about scale and scaling back, for that matter.

There is speculation that the cutbacks could include elimination or Link to Lynwood from Northgate and it already means stop consolidation, reduced frequency on some routes, elimination of planned transit projects, and experimentation with one car Link trains. Rather than join the never-ending argument over these changes, I would like to take this -the first of our off-hill posts- in another direction: How can Metro/Sound Transit generate some of revenue while having to renegotiate their position on our transportation future?

As a daily commuter I use both Metro and ST buses, along with my bicycle, to get to and from work. My main point of intersect? The Downtown Transit Tunnel. Every weekday morning I find myself congregating with my fellow commuters in the cavernous Westlake Station and while I am waiting, I wonder what the planners had in mind for this place.

If you are not familiar with Westlake Station, it is, well massive. Westlake is by far the largest of the four downtown stations and rightfully so. It has been envisioned as Seattle’s transport hub (pdf). The centrally located station runs underneath Pine Street from 3rd Avenue to 6th Avenue. It has 5 entrances and provides 5 different transit connection options. Link, the Monorail, and the South Lake Union Streetcar all terminate at the Westlake hub, albeit it in different areas. In addition, there is also constant through-traffic with surface buses and tunnel buses.

With all of these choices one would be lead to believe that Westlake probably is the pounding heart of our transport system and that it should more than likely be a vibrant station full of commuters. Unfortunately this is not so. I did say cavernous didn’t I? It’s barren and maybe it’s time to think of some ways to change that.

In Lille I was charmed not only by their many interesting métro stations (60 in all), but I was absolutely smitten with the amount of amenities that these stations provide. Stations like Gare Lille Flandres métro station  (think King Street Station with Link directly under it) and République – Beaux Arts (a much prettier iteration of University Street Station) have small corner stores, boulangeries, free email/internet kiosks and newspaper vendors on their mezzanine level. While I can only anecdotally say that this sort of activation seems to encourage ridership, I can definitely say that it presents a more friendly atmosphere and makes grabbing breakfast or something to read on the bus or train much easier.

In the case of Lille, Transpole owns these stations and vendors rent space from the agency. In the case of Seattle, vendors, operating out of kiosks most likely, could pay a rent to Metro (the owner of all tunnel stations) to use space in the DSTT. In a perfect world, we could hope that Metro and ST could split these profits and generate at least a small amount of extra revenue. In addition to vendors, stations in Lille had vending machines, which could also be another source of revenue in Seattle.

The case for this has actually been discussed in the other Washington for the past few years now. There have been talks about allowing anything from food vendors to retail and tourist kiosks. I would like to suggest taking a step further. As Seattle is progressively growing it’s network of bike infrastructure, more and more people will be wanting to ride bikes in the center city. There have been rumblings about King County experimenting with a pilot bike sharing project. It seems more than feasible to place a bike sharing station at Westlake, if not all stations. Maybe even a more attractive and lucrative approach could be to allow a small bike rental/repair outfit to run in some of that unused space and yet again, Metro could charge rent. In addition to newspaper stands, food vendors, and other ventures Metro/ST could stand to make a decent chunk of money, while providing a more pleasant experience for those of us utilizing their systems.

These are just some thoughts that have been buzzing around my brain during my morning commute. Implementation is of course never as easy as it sounds, but maybe it’s time that the space in these stations is utilized for something. If it’s any incentive, Washington DC’s metro agency is standing to make 1 million dollars in the next 8 years in DVD kiosks alone in just 13 stations, with just over $100,000 coming in the first year.