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Originally published | Page modified July 11, 2009 at 1:01 AM

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Will Sodo Station be a magnet for riders?

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people work in the flatlands just south of downtown Seattle. So a new light-rail station in Sodo would seem like a trip magnet. Maybe. Maybe not.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

About SoDo

PLATFORM
Surface station off South Lander Street — just below the red "SODO" sign that's visible from Beacon Hill and Interstate 5.

CONNECTIONS
Sodo busway. Sodo Station will have the largest bike facility on the route, with 64 covered bicycle parking spaces and 24 bike lockers, and a bike trail to Stadium Station

NEIGHBORHOOD ATTRACTIONS
Big employers: Seattle Public Schools headquarters (John Stanford Center), Rabanco recycling complex, Starbucks Center.

DID YOU KNOW?
South winds carry the scent of freshly baked bread to Sodo Station from the Franz bakery, especially at night.

Video | Light-rail ride along

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An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people work in the flatlands just south of downtown Seattle.

So a new light-rail station in Sodo would seem like a trip magnet.

Maybe. Maybe not.

The train stop has the advantage of serving a strong employment center. On the other hand, it's a chaotic place to walk, and only a fraction of those Sodo workers live near the other light-rail stations.

Sound Transit predicts Sodo Station — which opens July 18 along the route through downtown, Rainier Valley and Tukwila — could attract 1,700 daily boardings within a decade. Add three suburban lines in the early 2020s, and the Sodo ridership would grow to 4,000.

But Starbucks, which has its headquarters five blocks away, doesn't expect the first line to ease Sodo traffic.

"It's just not expansive enough. It's not going to enough places where people live," said transportation supervisor Brent Stavig. Starbucks provides shuttle vans, discounted transit passes and rideshare subsidies for a third of its 3,300 employees in Sodo, while others drive or are dropped off. About 80 Starbucks workers arrive next to Sodo Station on buses now, near South Lander Street and Fourth Avenue South, said Stavig.

Next to the station, five of the 13 employees at Great Sun restaurant-supply store will ride the train. Instead of driving, assistant manager Joe Tan said he'll ride a bike to a Rainier Valley station, then bring it on the train to Sodo. Very few customers would come by train, because they need trucks or vans to carry away supplies.

The industrial district is evolving to add home-improvement stores, eateries and even nightclubs. More retail shops will join the Esquin wine shop near the station, putting more feet (and would-be rail patrons) on the street. Mike Peringer, president of the Sodo Business Association, foresees biotech and warehousing akin to South Lake Union, attracting more commuters.

The stop will immediately help low-wage workers commute directly from South Seattle, through the Beacon Hill Tunnel into Sodo, instead of taking a bus to downtown then transferring southbound, he said.

"Sound Transit's a good thing," Peringer said.

But business leaders worry other Sodo employees will be crowded out by "hide-and-ride" train users — drivers who park on the street and ride into downtown for $1.75, instead of paying the high prices at downtown parking garages.

Today, the City Council is expected to vote on whether to authorize a restricted parking zone, so Sodo employees would buy a $45, two-year permit for the right to park daytime on certain streets.

To ease the feared parking crunch, business officials are lobbying Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, and the city, to acquire a vacant Postal Service parking garage next to the station, for paid park-and-ride or worker use. City Councilmember Jan Drago, chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, is interested, an aide said — if the private sector funds and operates the project. The nonprofit firm Transia, which formerly managed parking there, wants to lease the garage as a 600-space park-and-ride hub, while offering shuttle vans to job sites.

Sodo is a place where occasional users — sports fans, shoppers, business clients — will be looking for transit routes, and find rail simpler to use than a bus.

After a visit to school-district headquarters last week, Sarah Borgida shook her smart phone while crossing noisy Fourth Avenue South, trying to catch a bus update on Wi-Fi. She found a bus shelter, and wondered what might take her downtown.

"I'm a slow learner," she joked. Next time she visits Sodo, she would walk to the train stop, where the tracks are a permanent landmark. "I know exactly where I'm going," she said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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