Link opening: a recap (or, Bus Chick rides the train)

I haven’t been posting moment-to-moment updates on the light rail opening–in part because STB has you more than covered in this area, and in part because my life has (yet again) been getting in the way of my blog. (More on that in a future post.) If I’m honest, I’ll also admit to some residual negative emotions related to the way the line was implemented in the Rainier Valley, which, though they have not prevented me from vocally advocating for light rail in Seattle–and for this particular line–have tempered my giddiness somewhat. I digress.

So far, I’ve ridden Link twice: once, on a Friday afternoon preview ride* from Westlake Station all the way to the end of the line in Tukwila, and once (actually, more than once) up and down the in-city part of the route on opening day. Folks, I was excited to ride the train–so excited that I sat through an hour and a half of self-congratulatory speeches just so I could participate in the preview ride Friday–but I could not possibly have anticipated how amazing it would feel to actually ride it. It was so ridiculously cool to zoom through my beloved city on a train (a train!) and imagine what it will be like when future lines are built. My daughter, who, at 20 months, has already decided that Seattle is not a train town (Bus Chick: “We’re going to ride the train today.” Chicklet: “In Vancouver!”), will have to be disabused of that notion.

The preview ride was nice. I was able to experience the line from beginning to end: the tunnels, the views, and all of the stations. (Pictures to come later this evening.) Riding on Saturday will go down as one of the highlights of my life. Zipping from one station to another–stopping to get a bite or play at a park or cool off at a library–without ever once checking a schedule was absolutely liberating. If it hadn’t been for Chicklet, Nerd and I would have ridden all day.

The trains were cool (which reminds me: it’s about time to chat about buses and AC), comfortable (even standing is better on Link), and clean (which doesn’t mean much when a system is brand, spanking new, but still). A very nice voice** and LCD sign kept me apprised of where I was, so I could concentrate on managing Chicklet, calming down Bus Nerd (as you can imagine, he gets a bit excited about trains), and keeping my eyes peeled for an open seat.

Now that I’m finished gushing (see? my giddiness hasn’t been tempered that much), I’ll move on to the stuff that’s less than ideal:

• I’ve heard all the reasons why the section that runs through the Rainier Valley is surface, and I still don’t like it. Four lanes of traffic plus a train makes MLK way too wide, and crossing that street is nothing short of an ordeal. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it across before the light changes. If not, you’ll be stuck waiting again (sans barrier), right next to the tracks. If the goal of all the street improvements that accompanied the track was to make Rainier Valley’s neighborhoods walkable, it hasn’t been achieved.
• The Columbia City stop is a really long walk from the main business district.
• There is no stop at Southcenter.*** This would make the line about a bazillion times more useful, for folks who need to get to jobs and for car-free types like me who need to get to a mall from time to time. I don’t know the details, but my understanding is that this was blocked by the City of Tukwila. I cannot imagine why.
• I’m still not sure about how the payment stuff works. I get that I can use an Orca e-purse or pass. What I don’t understand is how much I’ll pay if I transfer from Metro to Link or vice versa.

Final verdict: Except for the occasional airport run or sporting event, I won’t be using light rail much. It doesn’t come to my neighborhood, and when I go to Columbia City or Rainier Beach, it’s a lot easier for me to catch the 48 right in front of my house than it is for me to go downtown and get on a train. This is unfortunate, since my little two-day taste has me dreaming of daily rides.

What’s more important than my direct benefit, though, is Link’s long-term impact on our region, which I truly believe will be phenomenal. I am so grateful that we’re finally on our way.

***

*The preview ride was for VIPs. I was included as a member of the press. (Thankfully, ST defines the term quite loosely.)
**I was a little jarred, though, when I heard the exit instructions. The voice says, “Exit to my left/right.” Is the idea for us to believe that the train is talking to us?
***Yes, I am aware that this issue (and the one about surface rail in the Valley) has been covered ad nauseam, but hey. The way I see it, there’s a reason for this.

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