Beacon Hill Station
Beacon Hill Station

It still hasn’t sunk in yet. Seattle finally has mass transit.

Just like the streetcars of a generation ago this system will forever shape Seattle’s urban form. It will connect the region like it has never been before. Unlike the streetcars of the past I feel confident in saying that this system will never get ripped out.  Just like the New York subway or the London Underground, LINK will over the next few decades become an inseparable element of the city.

Lets not fool ourselves, there is lots of work to be done. University LINK is just getting underway and ST2 will be built out over the next 15 years. Development near stations has yet to occur, leaving the station areas feeling desolate and empty. It will be interesting to watch the neighborhood plan updates. In many ways while yesterday was the end to what so many people have been working towards for longer than I have been alive, it is the beginning of so much more.

I know that all of us at STB learned a lot yesterday. Hands down Beacon Hill was our favorite station. The artwork at the station was great and the station entrance was pleasant and pedestrian scaled. I love the seating and bamboo. Actually, the artwork all along the line was amazing. The only other system that I know with comparable public artwork is Stockholm’s Tunnelbana. The artwork transform the stations from a simply utilitarian places that you pass through, to a place that constantly surprises. This really shows why 1% for art is important.

Art in Beacon Hill Tunnel
Art in Beacon Hill Tunnel

What a weekend. We won’t have anything like this for years to come.

62 Replies to “Opening Day Postmortem”

  1. Are those playing cards that obvious? I just saw a flicker of them.

    I just got back from another Link outing and feel a bit overwhelmed. There are so many little things to think about or comment on, many of which could be ripe for lengthy essays. For example, during one ride an adult female near me was staring at the routes above of the exits and asked “What’s Amtrak?”. On another ride I got to check out the hanging bike situation. There was a somewhat tall (but not supertall) bike being hung and the top of the handlebars extended past the midway (lengthway) point of the car. And I’m not even counting the mirror on the handlebar. It didn’t sway much, but it was inconvenient to try to get by.

    There seems to be lots and lots of people riding it today (and yesterday?) that perhaps have never been on the Metro bus. And there were frequent bus riders who had never previously been in the bus tunnel.

    I was hoping to spend today checking out the SSBMCORT stations, but time ran short and I only got to a few. Now I need to look at maps and see where exactly I was and what’s near those places, etc.

    1. Sometimes. I noticed that sometimes I could clearly see them and other times it they weren’t very wide.

      Great observations about riders this weekend. It was really interesting to overhear people’s conversations. Everything that I heard was positive and I too got the impression that many of the people riding don’t use transit on a regular basis.

      1. I have a feeling that to see the playing cards right, the train had to be going the right speed. Some trains were probably faster or slower than others through the tunnel.

        I imagine that the way they’re set up is several columns of LEDs spread out over a few feet for each card. If you go by quickly, the card would look squished.

      2. I think they’re each a single column of lights that change quickly, so as you go past them, you get to see their progression.

      3. I had a hard time seeing them unless I looked directly perpendicular to the train’s direction.

      4. I picked up on them from Oran’s video from thursday or friday. It was tough, though.

      5. The display is the same type that’s at the north end of the University Station Mezzanine. They’re meant to ‘paint’ a picture on your retina by virtue of that split-second after-image.

        I’ve always had a hard time seeing those pictures, because the trick is to NOT focus on any particular light bar, but to let your eyes scan back and forth, at the correct speed. Some people can see it real easy, and they’d really irritate me, because they’d be calling out “Oh, there’s a plane, there’s a car! There’s a …. whatever!”, and I still couldn’t pick it up.

        They have one display like that at the Pacific Science Center, but they assist you with viewing it by hanging a small mirror at a proper viewing point, and you can spin the mirror, which creates the same effect.

        Having the train move past the Beacon Hill displays makes it much easier to see the images.


      6. Actually, amazingly enough, I saw that exhibit at the science center for the first time ever yesterday. I was at the Bite with some friends and wanted to go see the butterflies, as the ones at the zoo aren’t open this summer.

  2. I rode both days, and the conversations were interesting to participate in and overhear. The overwhelming sentiment was that it’s about time, and I talked to several people who had moved to Seattle and found no rail, and had wondered what the deal was.

    The crowds on the trains – not necessarily at all of the stations – were certainly big enough for me. One wouldn’t want the impression that you’d have to wait in line to get on, and yes, people wondered out loud whether the lines would usually be this long.

    Some Link operators stop very smoothly, it seems, and others more abruptly. My college roommate never learned the trick to bring a car to a gentle stop, so it’s sort of like riding with him.

    On riding various trains, each time one entered/exited a tunnel or went onto an elevated section, people oohed, ahhed, clapped or cheered.

    Someone needs to figure out how to get the Rainier Rickshaw guys who shuttle people between Columbia City and its station onto ORCA. Seriously, though, I overheard the pedicab guy saying that this weekend was the test run, and I hope it works out for him.

    1. I’ve been wondering that myself. So, I looked at a number of Sound Transit documents, including the 2005 long-range plan. It’s “Link” throughout the ST website and in the literature I reviewed. I found one minor exception – Link is capitalized on the front of the safety brochure, but that’s just for graphic emphasis of the message. I believe Link is a proper noun and not an acronym, which could explain the U&lc (although there are the usual exceptions to every rule).

    2. The Sound Transit History and Chronology says that in August 1997

      “Sound Transit” chosen as popular name for RTA and its services
      The RTA Board adopts “Sound Transit” as the popular name for the RTA, and approves the names of “Link”
      for light rail services, “Sounder” for regional commuter rail service, and “Regional Express” for regional bus

      The board minutes from that era – it was still called the Regional Transit Authority at that point – would undoubtedly explain why Link was chosen. (I saw references in early documents to light rail “linking” Seattle to Tukwila, so that might have had something to do with it.)

  3. I am still a bit bent on the issue of why the BAR station never was built. From the Rainier station to the Tukwila/Intl. Blvd. station there is way too much distance and a station at BAR would do a lot to curb the complaints from local Duwamish Valley residents.

    Acting like nobody wants the station just because they never gave it a chance on the basis of Sounder integration failure is a cop-out. Besides, even if nobody is willing to admit it, I do know that if Boeing ran shuttles to and from the station it would be used heavily by Boeing employees.

    1. this missing station will be appreciated when the line goes to tacoma. when youre traveling that distance youll appreciate that stretch of “express” track.

      1. I don’t live in Tacoma, Federal Way or anywhere past Tukwila.

        “When you’re traveling that distance” doesn’t apply to many of the people that would use the line, chiefly among them those that would use LINK for commuting from many places near the Duwamish. Lest we forget that your comments about the line going to Tacoma forgets that Sounder trains go to Tacoma…

        Not trying to be an a$$, but your statement ignores my original concern, that a good 3-5 miles of ridership is essentially ignored in the line all the while having to deal with the noise of an elevated track. This is inexcusable IMHO and will cause a huge rift in public support for LINK in that area.

      2. Exactly. In the drive to create a regional system, LINK seems to be ignoring local access.

      3. The City of Tukwila wanted a train to the mall. When they realized it wasn’t going to happen that way, they got pissy about alignments and got stuck in against the neighborhood-serving alignments that could have run through their little city. There were 100s of good reasons to run up International Boulevard from Duwamish, but they didn’t seem to care. Instead, Link was forced to split the difference in existing Fed and State ROW up to 154th Street Station.

      4. Yeah, I saw a Link map from 2000 that showed Link going down International Boulevard instead of I-5 with a station at 144th St (the proposed Tukwila Village) and at S 154th St near the present station location. It’s even more direct than the I-5 route.

        It’s funny that on the city’s Tukwila Village page they claim that it’s within walking distance to the station. Sure it is a 12-minute walk to the station but they could’ve had a station right at their door steps. How dumb is that?

      5. The Port nixed the International Boulevard route – I’m not actually clear about why yet, but it’s on my list of things to investigate. I don’t think it was Tukwila’s fault.

      6. “this missing station will be appreciated when the line goes to tacoma. when youre traveling that distance youll appreciate that stretch of “express” track.”

        Personally, for that reason, i hope the Link doesn’t get extended to Tacoma. The best metro systems have differentiations between local and long distance carriers (think of the RER vs. Metro in Paris, the local AND express subways in NYC). We already have commuter rail to Tacoma. The money would be much better spent expanding the Tacoma Link within Tacoma, upgrading the Sounder tracks to improve the average speed, and improving transit connections to the current Sounder stations up and down the line.

        With all the stops, Link to Tacoma would take longer than Sounder does now.

      7. Wait a minute. How about commuters going from Federal Way to Tacoma, or Sea-Tac to Tacoma? We definitely want the line extended, we just want HSR to connect the major points. If you’re going from Everett to the Port of Tacoma, I want you to be able to take a bullet train between Everett and Tacoma, and then hop a stop on Link.

      8. My point was in response to the comment about the “express” portion, which would help out on the Seattle-to-Tacoma trip via Link. I’m not saying expanding light rail in a lot of ways is not a good idea. I’m just saying the goal of connecting Central Link with Tacoma Link isn’t necessarily the holy grail of public transit. I’d much rather that connection never happen and we have a pair of hubs in Seattle and Tacoma that are connected over the longer distances via commuter rail. Link is a metro, not a commuter rail.

    2. Like LINK, BAR is an acronym, in this case for Bar Access Route. I believe Sound Transit and Seattle Transportation provided this quite nicely with the sidewalk improvements along South Edmunds Street. If you’re too drunk to walk back along the BAR from Lottie’s Lounge, Columbia City Alehouse, etc. to the station, take the pedicab.

  4. Are the stairs at the Beacon Hill station publicly accessible or are they only there for emergencies? Did anyone here get to use them this weekend (either going up or down)?

    1. You actually want to climb 17 stories to get up and down? I think they’re only there in case of an emergency, because I didn’t see any doors specifically blocked off.

      1. Those Beacon Hill elevators may just be the smoothest I’ve ever been on. It felt like I only went up three floors! Surprised not to feel any g-force just ears popping.

      2. I noticed my ears popping on the way up and down, but it was definitely a nice ride.

      3. As someone who generally prefers stairs of escalators and elevators, yes, I’d like to use the Beacon Hill stairs at least once.

      4. The doors to the stairs at platform level say EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY – ALARM WILL SOUND. Underneath was a sign which read “Warning: no exit until street – 167 feet up!”

    2. The stairs in the Beacon Hill station are not public – they’re for emergency access only. The alarm goes off if you open the door into the stairwell.

  5. I enjoyed the ride. It was faster than I expected down MLK, and slower than I’d hoped through Tukwila. What would it take for it to be able to go 70 MPH on the straight stretch there next to 599/I5? Maybe it would only save 2 or 3 minutes, but psychologically it makes a difference whether you’re passing the cars or they’re passing you, as was the case. (I took the bus back and the relative speed between the bus and the cars seemed about the same.)

    I am now convinced that surface light rail would be an excellent and sufficient way to connect the further out neighborhoods (Ballard and West Seattle, e.g.) to the rest of the city. I’ve also ridden the streetcar and while it is fine for the short trips it serves I really don’t think it would be a particularly great way to get to Ballard. Not stopping in traffic or at traffic lights makes a huge difference.

      1. On our trip southbound, we were pacing or passing cars in I-5. Kind of fun!

        Our Tukwila parking experience was very positive. Overall ST did a great job. The trains ran well and it was a fun ride.

      2. Yeah, I saw somewhere that the train operator accidently got it to 63 mph at one point during the testing period. The operator said you can safely get it up to 57 mph on the straight tracks going between the curve in Tukiwila to SR 599 area.

      3. I can confirm that they were hitting 57 on the tracks just before slowing down to go up the hill to Tukwila.

        By the way, if you stand in the very end (either end) of each car, you can look through the door to the cab and the speed will be displayed digitally right in the middle of the dash. I assume you wouldn’t be able to see it very well in the front of the front car, but the rest of them are easily visible. You can also see out the windshield (though the other car is right in front of you).

      4. The operator on my train northbound had not pulled the shade, and the controls were clearly visible. We were going 56 mph. The speedometer goes to 65.

    1. (hit the submit button too fast)

      Though let’s see what things look like on a Friday afternoon when 99.9% of the time, the Sounder beats the 590 series (yeah, I-5 is that bad)

      1. Believe me, sometimes the 592 can take 2-2.5 hours to get to DuPont (it’s supposed to be 1 hour 15). Ask any Pierce operator about the “North Gate Detour” heading to DuPont

    2. I agree. The train felt like it really zipped smoothly down MLK, while further South it was a little jerky and not as fast as I expected. But then we were keeping up with most cars on the freeway, so perhaps it is a matter of perspective. Does higher at 55/mphs feel slower?

      1. It’s probably an issue with the track alignment that causes the trains to jerk (I feel it’s more like wobbly). I mean, if we can build high speed trains then surely we can improve the ride quality on that section.

    1. The Link operators? It’s just another station to them. I’ve heard that they “pull up to the 4 car mark” most of the time.

  6. I had a different reaction to the surface level rail–it was faster than I expected, but I still left feeling that it would have been better elevated.

    I think what’s going to happen is that development will infill around the surface line for 20 years or so, traffic will get really bad (especially the left turns), and then everybody will wish it had been built elevated.

    Maybe they’ll be able to shut down one track and sink columns there while they limp along on the other one for a year or so…

    1. Or they could tunnel underneath it and only interrupt the flow to connect the tracks.

    2. I think they’ll just grade separate some of the streets, close others, build pedestrian overpasses from building to building… it’ll be a while.

  7. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to ride this weekend, but I did see the crowds firsthand. I took advantage of the Sounder service to and from the Sounders match (something that I dearly hope becomes a regular thing), though. After the match, my friend and I descended down the south end of the stadium, and I caught a glimpse of Stadium station – wall-to-wall people clad in Sounders green. I couldn’t wait around too long, as we had to book it back to the Sounder platform for the return trip south, but I see a very bright future for Stadium station. (To that effect, I did some quick number crunching: 8 Seahawks games + 81 Mariners games + 14 Sounders games = 103 games minimum, excluding any other games at the stadiums.)

      1. I really hope we end up with street-level retail along Royal Brougham and 4th there. We’ll see, I can’t wait for the city to start filling in with all this new transportation capacity.

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