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November 15, 2007  |  MS-Parking  |  8728 hit(s)

Microsoft is a very progressive company in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is in commuting. The company encourages carpooling (oops, "ride sharing") in various ways, some of those in conjunction with Metro, our local bus authority. Microsoft runs a fleet of shuttle buses so that people can get around the sprawling campus without having to drive. It subsidizes multi-zone bus passes at 100% so that employees can use local mass transit, an option I take full advantage of. And recently it's begun a private commuter bus service for selected areas around Seattle.

Nonetheless, an ongoing (in fact, worsening) problem is parking. Every building at Microsoft has an associated parking garage, and those garages are filled every day either near to or over capacity, depending on which particular area of campus you're on. In certain clusters of buildings, the company has implemented "valet parking," as it's called -- you leave your car, and a gang of parking attendants shifts cars around in the garage in a vehicular game of musical chairs. What with Microsoft being a tech company and all, when you emerge from the building and want your car, you can punch a specified number into your cell phone and they'll have the car waiting. (Is the theory.)

I don't know the specifics of zoning for parking in Redmond and Bellevue, the two cities that the main campus straddles, and it's unclear to me whether Microsoft attempts to overbuild parking capacity (perhaps to the legal limit) as it throws up yet another building. Clearly, however, the company's growth rate is resulting in an overwhelming demand for parking as thousands of new employees join the small city's worth that's already occupying the deceptively (and decreasingly) pastoral Champs de Microsoft.[1]

I was thinking about this (again) because we've been alerted by Security that there has been a rash of car break-ins in some of the garages, including the one for my building. This underscored a couple of curious things about the parking situation at Microsoft.

First, to park in one of the garages, you have to have a parking pass hanging from your mirror, which (it is alleged) is checked by Security on an ongoing basis.[2] However, anyone can just drive (or walk) into a garage. The garages are open, and the first security challenge is only when you get to the elevators. This has always struck me as being a bit light on security. In contrast there is, for example, Boeing. In parts of Renton, it seems that practically every direction you turn you run into a little guardhouse that blocks your access to another Boeing facility.[3] They don't mess around, those Boeing folks.

It also underscores that however progressive Microsoft is about commuting (and to be clear, I am double thumbs up on their efforts), ultimately Microsoft subscribes to the suburban notion that you should be able to simply drive right up to your destination. Free parking, like free sodas (and, apparently, towels in the locker rooms) is a sacred cow of campus culture, and the idea that Microsoft might either charge for parking, or provide highly limited parking for any of its facilities, would bring howls of protest from employees. I know plenty of people who work downtown, say, who would never dream of having employer-provided parking. Obviously, a high-density area like downtown is a somewhat different matter than the car-focused cities of Bel-Red. But if Microsoft charged a nominal fee for parking that was, dunno, equivalent to the price of a two-zone bus pass, I wonder how many more people would at least consider using the latter.

[1] Pardon my French.

[2] These change color every quarter. They also serve as a kind of mini-flag that identifies Microsoft employees in the wild as you see the parking passes hanging in cars around town, including often the jerk who's tailgating you. :-)

[3] In recent years, Boeing has been selling off portions of its Renton holdings to developers. And thank god, because now finally we have our very own Lowe's, Target, and PetSmart. Which are -- I kid you not -- like, 3 miles from the otherwise nearest Lowe's, Target, and PetSmart.

Rich Wilson   15 Nov 07 - 1:28 PM

Unfortunately, I think it would take more than the cost of a bus pass to get people to try something else. I say this as one who has been car free most of my life.

I know it's wet up there, but what's the bike parking like? I work at UCSB where several parking structures have just gone up or are in the works, and yet I can't ride my bike to a meeting on other side of campus because there will be no available bike parking. If I lock it to tree, it's likely to get impounded. My car bound co-workers have problem finding car parking however. Go figure.

mike   15 Nov 07 - 8:31 PM

In my building, people park their bikes either the stairwells, which is not formal parking, but for the few bikes there are, it works. Lots of people also just put their bikes in their offices. The goal at work, currently untenable due to too many folks, is one person per office, so this is for the most part practical.

But it is wet, holy cow, at least right now, and that discourages all but the most dedicated bicyclers.