On Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 125 students, faculty, and staff at Highline College rallied for a Link station on the west side of SR 99, directly adjacent to campus. Speakers claimed that the likeliest option – a station in the vicinity of 30th Ave S – would endanger student safety and worsen campus access by requiring a crossing of the 6-lane arterial to reach campus. During the 30-minute rally, roughly a dozen speakers were frequently interrupted by energetic chants of “Which side? West Side!” and “West is best!”.
Back in July, when the Sound Transit Board chose I-5 as its primary pathway for Link’s southward march from Angle Lake to Federal Way, the Board deferred to the unified voice of city governments over the similarly unified voice of stakeholder groups such as Transportation Choices Coalition and Highline College. While there are benefits to the I-5 alignment, namely a lower likelihood of lawsuits, lower capital costs etc, we still lamented the decision as a fundamentally suboptimal transit outcome for South King County riders given the objectively poor rider experience and reduced TOD potential of freeway-running light rail, especially at Star Lake.
But during the amendment process prior to that vote, Boardmember Upthegrove responded to community concerns by introducing an amendment to study options for siting the Highline College station as close to the campus as possible, including a station on the west side of SR 99, hence Tuesday’s rally. Given the location of Angle Lake west of SR 99 and the planned I-5 alignment south of Highline, siting a Highline station on the west side of SR 99 would require Link to cross SR 99 three times in just two miles.
Sound Transit’s outreach maps during the selection process did them no favors, with the deviations appearing far larger than they actually were. The distance between I-5 and SR 99 at Highline is approximately 1/4 mile, and the difference between a west side SR 99 station and the likely 30th Ave S site is far less, roughly 500 feet. A 30th Avenue S station would be the same distance from Highline as UW Medical Center is from UW Station.
The campus is absolutely right to want direct access, and a direct SR 99 alignment would have elegantly provided it. But though it was heartening to see such a clamoring for good transit by rally participants, the time for this type of organizing was prior to the Board vote. Given the Board’s selection of I-5, Des Moines’ vehement opposition to SR 99 “impacts”, and Boardmember Von Reichbauer’s priority for reducing commercial displacement above all else, political resources would likely be better spent making the 30th Ave site work as well as possible for Highline. This means supporting Kent in developing significant TOD at the site, as well as fighting for a safe, well-lit pedestrian bridge over the highway.