By MIKE ORR
Upper Queen Anne has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to substantially increase transit speeds, but it will have to push hard if it wants to make the opportunity a reality. One of the alternatives Sound Transit is considering for Ballard-Downtown light rail has a tunnel under the middle of Queen Anne Hill with a station near Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street. If this option, or some variation of it, is selected, it would result in a 7-10 minute travel time from Queen Anne to either downtown or Ballard. That’s at least twice as fast as the current downtown buses, and would enable a direct connection from Queen Anne Hill to Ballard.
Queen Anne was where my love for urban neighborhoods began, as a junior high kid in 1980. I had grown up in Bellevue in the land of hourly buses, the nearest supermarket a mile away, and nothing but houses and a few apartments in between. One day I encountered a friend whose family had moved away to Seattle. I followed him on Bus 2 to its terminus, and found another world. I was floored by the half-hourly buses, whisper-quiet trolleybuses reminiscent of streetcars, his apartment next to the bus stop, a grocery store a few blocks away, the ability to walk to his friends’ houses all over the hill, Seattle Center just fifteen minutes away (where the kids went on Friday and Saturday evenings), and the shops and restaurants of Queen Anne Avenue just six blocks away. I had never heard of “urbanism” or “walkability” or “transit-oriented development,” but I saw the concepts in action, and decided this was the kind of environmentI wanted to live in.
I never did live on Queen Anne, but in later years at various times I worked there, ate at the restaurants, shopped at the tea shop, visited a church, volunteered at the food bank, and attended house-based bible studies there — all on the bus. Nowadays I, and many other transit riders, tend to avoid living or shopping in upper Queen Anne due to the inconvenient transit options. Instead, we’ll choose to shop in Fremont or Northgate. That’s money we’re not spending in Queen Anne businesses, and cultural contacts that aren’t happening. A Queen Anne subway station that made it quick and easy to get to the top of the hill would change this situation dramatically.
Of course, a station on Queen Anne Hill would be one of most expensive stations on the Link network, requiring a tunnel even deeper than Beacon Hill’s. That’s where the voices of Queen Anne residents and stakeholders are critical. Do you want this station? How much do you want it? Do you want it enough to rally around it and tell Sound Transit and city officials that it’s important, and to tell them repeatedly until they listen? Because upper Queen Anne, unlike Ballard and Seattle Center, is not a must-have station.
If Sound Transit doesn’t hear loudly that a Queen Anne Hill station has widespread public support, it would be easy for the agency to save millions of dollars by simply omitting it and routing the line around the side of the hill. Not many stations present such a stark choice between cost and benefit. It would be very easy for the anti-growth voices to crowd out those who might favor a station but don’t speak up.
Queen Anne is a former streetcar suburb, with a walkable center and a lot of potential as an urban village. A rapid transit station would complete the picture by providing fast, frequent all-day access. This decision will affect not only the current generation, but future generations who will live, work and shop on Queen Anne. Future generations may wish we had built the station so that they could use it, much the same way many now wish we had built the 1972 subway. Will Queen Anne rally around the opportunity, or let it pass by?