Share this article! I celebrated Father’s Day last weekend by hopping aboard Seattle’s new light rail extension connecting downtown to the University of Washington. Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, opened two new “Link” stations in March. One of them, a gleaming glass edifice, is located two blocks from my parents’ house next to the UW’s … Read more
I celebrated Father’s Day last weekend by hopping aboard Seattle’s new light rail extension connecting downtown to the University of Washington. Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, opened two new “Link” stations in March. One of them, a gleaming glass edifice, is located two blocks from my parents’ house next to the UW’s Husky Stadium.
The second is located in the city’s bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Calling the project a light rail line is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a subway system featuring a 3-mile $1.8 billion tunnel (it came in under budget) with cars that whisk commuters, students, shoppers and more to their destinations in an astonishing eight minutes.
The extension also connects to the existing 16 miles of (above ground) Link track stretching south to SeaTac airport.
Link trains run every six minutes during peak hours, every 10 minutes during midday and every 15 minutes after 10 p.m.
The new line is easily the first transit project in the Pacific Northwest to approximate the speed and efficiency of the world-class subway systems Americans expect to ride when visiting Europe or Asia.
Naturally, there was much handwringing about the cost. But now that they see how fast and fabulous a subway system can be, cities around the Seattle metro area are clamoring for their very own Links.
When Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said Link would trigger a “small revolution,” he was not exaggerating.
If other cities want their own subways, they will have to pay up. As the Seattle Times reports, Sound Transit 3, expected to be on the ballot this fall, is a $20 billion plan that could create lines to Everett, Redmond, Kirkland, Eastgate, Federal Way, Tacoma, Ballard and West Seattle. The measure would cost households, on average, nearly $400 in annual property, car tab and sales-tax increases.
The project yields household savings as well. According to the American Public Transportation Association, a Seattle-area household that exchanges a newer-year car for a transit pass may save up to $10,930 a year, compared to solo driving into downtown.
There are lessons here for Portland. Planners and policy makers are studying expansion of the regional transit system, to include new MAX and street car lines. This next generation of projects should focus on speed, which has never been a strong suit of Portland’s otherwise pioneering transit networks.
Sleek, clean and speedy, the UW Link line is an example of public transit at its best: a project that moves thousands of people in a congested urban environment quickly and efficiently — more quickly and efficiently than any other mode of transportation.
If you build it, they will come.