In 2023, Link Light Rail’s Red Line will travel from Lynnwood to either Highline College or Federal Way Transit Center, depending on funding. Lots of digital ink has been spilled about things like long endpoint travel times, armchair quarterbacking the time savings that might be achieved from buses leaving the tunnel, with no real clarity on the answers. In addition, we usually look at Link in fragments, with the nomenclature of “Central Link”, “U-Link”, “North Link”, “the Spine” etc far more common than the Red Line and the Blue Line. But no one in Portland still refers to the Blue Line as “Eastside MAX” and “Westside MAX”, and come 2023, the wonkier segment names will give way to simple color.
So I thought I’d take a look at the nascent Red Line in its entirety. Where will it take you? In how long? If you were to rent or buy a home to maximize the value of Link’s frequency and reliability to your life – if in Jarrett Walker’s phrase, you wanted to be on the way – where should you live? Where is Link’s ‘center of gravity’, the place along the line where the most places are accessible most quickly?
I asked Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray for travel times between all stations for the full ST2 buildout, and I’ve reproduced those with modification below (also adding Star Lake (STL) and Federal Way (FDW)). I then split the travel times into 5 tiers to show where you can travel from any given station in 0-15 minutes (green), 15-30 minutes (yellow), 30-45 minutes (red), 45-60 (purple), and 60-75 minutes (gray). While the first chart is most useful for seeing the relationship between individual stations, the second chart below presents the same data in a way that is most useful for relating an individual station to the Red Line as a whole.
Abbreviations in the chart are Lynnwood (LNW), Mountlake Terrace (MLT), Northgate (NGT), Roosevelt (RSV), UDistrict (UD), Capitol Hill (CPH), Westlake (WSL), University Street (USS), Pioneer Square (PSQ), International District (IDS), Stadium (STA), Sodo (SOD), Beacon Hill (BHS), Mount Baker (MBS), Columbia City (CCS), Othello (OTH), Rainier Beach (RBS), Tukwila International Boulevard (TUK), SeaTac Airport (SEA), Angle Lake (AGL, Highline College (HGL), Star Lake (STL), and Federal Way (FDW).
Observations below the jump.
1. A rail-only tunnel saves 5 minutes per run. UW to Westlake travel times improve from 8 to 6 minutes, and Westlake-SeaTac times improve from 37 minutes to 34. A trip from UW to SeaTac in 2016 will take 45 minutes, while in 2023 those same 45 minutes would get you from UW to just short of Highline.
2. If you care most about having lots of fast trips to the most places, unsurprisingly you should live Downtown. University Street, Pioneer Square, and International District Station (IDS) have 13 stations within a 15-minute ride. A Pioneer Square resident could travel anywhere from Roosevelt to Columbia City in 15 minutes.
3. If the outer stations are valuable to you and you value accessing the entirety of the line with the least travel time, you should (somewhat surprisingly) live in Southeast Seattle. The 6 stations from IDS to Columbia City are the only segment of the entire line where you could travel to either end in less than 45 minutes.
4. If you want or need to live in the suburbs but want easier access to the central city, Snohomish County is a better bet, with far more urban stations within 30 minutes compared to South King County. 26 minutes gets a Lynnwood resident to Westlake, a 17 minute improvement on today’s peak-of-peak Route 511 despite stopping 8 times on the way. By contrast, those same 26 minutes get a Federal Way rider only to Rainier Beach.
What do you see? What patterns are interesting to you?
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. In Part 2, we’ll take a similar look at the Blue Line (Lynnwood-Overlake). In Part 3, we’ll compare Red Line and Blue Line travel times to their bus alternatives for all station pairs.
[Eds, The original version of this story transposed the Red and Blue Lines, this has been corrected in the text. We regret the error.]