Riding the new ULink extension of Sound Transit’s Central Link Light Rail, I went from petting Minerva the cat in Capitol Hill to standing in the UW’s Red Square in 31 minutes. As many others have already stated, this is a transformative stage in our region’s transit network, so I won’t get into too much about how great this besides what I’ve already stated. But I do have some notes!
Based on the the riders observed mid-afternoon today, there were many users who seemed to be riding Link for the first time ever. ULink extension may bring in more riders, especially weekend riders, to all stops along the line by opening up new transit possibilities. Part of this may be that the destination of Central Link prior to Capitol Hill/University of Washington was Downtown. As one teenager said to their parent on the train, “I don’t think there’s anything interesting about downtown,” and they aren’t wrong.
A few minutes later another teenager said that they wanted to stand on the train for a “true experience.” These are kids who haven’t been on a train like this in the region before, and they’re excited for the future of transit.
Operationally, Sound Transit has some issues to iron out passenger behaviour while riding transit. The long escalators in the new stations had no signage requesting passengers stand on the right and allow people to walk on the left: and thus it seemed everyone decided to stand two-abreast and allow no room for customers to rush towards departing trains.
Additionally, there was an instance at the University of Washington station where the up/down escalator pairs didn’t match the direction of travel on the second level, which required passengers both entering and exiting the station to try and criss cross merge with each other in order to get to their continuing escalator. It’s a fairly minor thing, but doesn’t seem to lend much confidence in Sound Transit’s ability to handle the traffic of large crowds.
The new Rainier Vista at UW is finally relevant again a hundred years after it was originally created. The layout has large inviting twin pathways that connect the station, UW Medicine, and Upper Campus. It’s a big plus to get people up above the streets and away from the dangerous and confusing street-level crosswalks.
The stations feel new and clean, which is, of course, expected at this point. In fact, they’re almost too clean when compared to the well-travelled subterranean rail systems of the world. I feel like we’ll truly be a city once the tracks become coated with dark muck and filth-covered rats scurry through the station with slices of pizza.
Finally, the architectural style between the new stations and those already existing downtown can’t be more striking. The shared platform layout of Capitol Hill and University of Washington open up into inviting passageways bringing passengers through to the deep tunnels these stations contain. The passenger flow is straightforward and uncomplicated. Contrasted to the large, confusing layout of stations such as Westlake, it’s clear that the hindsight of two decades has allowed us to finally settle on an station architectural style that puts passenger flow and function above pure form.