All forms of transportation can be characterized in two dimensions. The first, accessibility is a measure how easily it is to join and leave that particular facility. The second dimension is speed of travel on that facility. These two dimensions are inversely related. As accessibility increases speed decreases and vice versa. Streets are a perfect everyday examples. Local streets are slow but offer very high accessibility, while freeways have very low accessibility but very high speed.
So how accessible is LINK for pedestrians compared to other mass transit systems in the Northwest? Well, not very, especially compared to Portland. Station spacing is an important measure of how dense of a network a transit system has. The ideal station spacing for pedestrian access and continuous linear TOD is roughly two times what an average pedestrian would walk, so roughly ~.5 mile to ~1 mile. Now look again. Magically MAX and Skytrain fall into that range. Both the Expo and Millenium lines hover perfectly in the range, while MAX jumps around a bit more because of variation in land use patterns and geography. So, coincidence or planning?
So what happened to LINK, why is it so off the mark? Well for starters we have weird geography which has forced our growth pattern into a long and narrow shape. This necessitates a long central line of ~55 miles, Everett to Tacoma. This length forces planners to reduce accessibility to increase speed to a competitive level. In comparison the 2nd longest line is MAX’s Blue line at 33 miles. Another double whammy is money. Sound Transit is a three county regional transit provider who’s mission is to build a regional transit system. Subarea equity has forced Sound Transit to build out rather than fill in Seattle proper with highly accessible mass transit. Yet another reason is that we are late to the game. MAX and Skytrain were built to influence growth patters. They were design to maximize accessibility, area coverage, and TOD opportunities. Now LINK is trying to follow growth not shape it.
So before I close I do want to point out one jem in the ruff, East LINK. After removing the distance inured by Lake Washington, East LINK looks like it will be the poster child of the entire system when it comes to walkable, TOD communities. It is hovering just above the walkable range, and because of the S shape of the probable alignment these distances are actually much shorter. In addition to that the City of Bellevue has made Seattle’s zoning department look childish in its attempt to up-zone station areas.
Below the fold is another graph showing how LINK, Skytrain and MAX stacks up against mass transit systems around the world.