The opening of Sound Transit’s initial line of Light Rail in 2009 brought plenty of excitement to the transit nerds amongst us, but it also had a large asterisk attached to the service. While travelling from Sea-Tac airport and downtown Seattle was an important milestone in our region’s history, travel north of that area was still largely via unreliable transit lines. The value of Link was proven throughout the initial line with larger than predicted ridership levels, but trains were limited in size: only two trains could be coupled together and sent through the tunnel.
With the impending opening of the expansion to Capitol Hill and the southeast corner of the UW campus, the full power of Link and a unified transit system can be seen. While most of the attention seems to revolve around Capitol Hill, which may be selection bias on my part since I live a few blocks away from the new station, the real and most impactful consequence of these new stations is the current terminus of the line, which is one stop north of the Hill.
University of Washington, my beloved alma mater, is finally reachable quickly and reliability from all of Central and South Seattle: offering a wide array of students a much better experience getting to campus than via multiple bus transfers or driving. With the First Hill Street car and Link, upper campus is much more easily reachable by students living throughout much of Seattle south of campus. No longer will living in the U-District be a virtual necessity for students who want a reliable way to get to campus.
In addition to the student body impacts, UW Medical center, a regional research hospital, will be much more reachable to a large segment of the population. Husky Stadium will be able to facilitate traffic more effectively for home football games, graduation, and all other events held nearby.
Still, we’re again craving more. Connections North of the UW Stadium station are substandard at best. The beginning of the next decade will bring us many more stations along the central spine of the city, and over Lake Washington to the East. Light Rail can turn our city of neighborhoods into a cohesive municipality in ways we can only dream of.