(((Browngoetz))) (Twitter)

SeaTac Airport was busy Saturday with protest of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel rights by country of origin. Early in the day dignitaries – including Governor Inslee, Mayor Murray, County Executive Constantine, Rep. Jayapal, and Rep. DelBene – held a joint press conference at SeaTac condemning the orders. As part of a wave of airport protest Saturday night, protesters began gathering at SeaTac in the early evening hours, with over 1,000 protesters inside the terminal at its peak. The protest was peaceful and uneventful until the early morning hours, when there were a few dozen arrests and Port police began using pepper spray.

Around 6:30pm, Link light rail operators were asked by the Port of Seattle Police Department to suspend service to SeaTac/Airport Station. Operators complied, and protesters and passengers were forced off at Tukwila Int’l Blvd station and forced either to catch crush loaded A-Line buses or walk the 1.5 miles to the terminal. The station is on Port property, and Port Police asked for the closure in order to buy time to get backup police to the airport, The Stranger reports.  Within minutes, Sound Transit began taking a beating on Twitter, as by all appearances it had been they who ordered the closure.

But Sound Transit executives later indicated they were surprised by the closure, as it had already been implemented by lower-level staff. Once CEO Rogoff was made aware of the closure, he immediately worked to get service restored, and trains resumed service to SeaTac shortly after 7:00. Dow published a series of tweets thanking CEO Rogoff for restoring service, while also saying that Metro (who operates Link) and Sound Transit would meet beginning Monday to establish closure procedures that ensure that such an action won’t be taken again without being elevated to senior staff.

So while the closure was unfortunate and obstructed the rights of legal public demonstration, I think it’s appropriate to react gracefully in light of the multi-agency response. Saturday was a rightfully tense day at a multi-jurisdictional facility (CBP, FAA, DHS, Port, ST, KCM) concerning tragic matters of life, death, family, and national identity.  The Port was supportive of the protest cause, and earlier in the day had released a statement condemning the executive orders. Port Commissioner Gregoire also repeatedly voiced support.

In light of the closure, riders deserve an answer to the question, “Who can order closures, and when?” But for its part Saturday, Sound Transit had successfully elevated the issue to the Executive level, taken reparative action, and issued a public statement, within 30 minutes. All things considered, that’s pretty damn good. It’s good to know that our agencies support the rights of protest, and understand the value of transit as a public utility that makes it possible.

44 Replies to “What Happened at SeaTac Saturday Night?”

  1. Unacceptable. Not on the part of ST, Metro, Constantine, or Rogoff, but on the part of Port of Seattle Police. I am pretty sure that the Port Commissioners would have denied the request to halt transit service in and out of the airport.

    1. What’s also unacceptable is that they didn’t close the airport roadways to private vehicles, taxis and Ubers. Just light rail. Completely unacceptable to single out transit riders this way.

    2. What’s not acceptable is the blatant disregard for people rights or humanity in the moment. Demonstrate the right way. Damage to people and property isn’t right. Only destructive and takes away from the true intent of the movement.

      Little girl Sawant needs to take her hate elsewhere. Her motives, and manner to achieve them are just as disruptive and non productive.

      How do you get to solutions when you are arresting idiots and cleaning up after them?

      Seems like a good message is being ruined by idiots who can’t work or speak productively. Don’t waste your time on this.

      Do something that actually matters.

      1. So…exercising first-amendment rights is now a “disregard for people rights” [sic]?

        Also, and I’m not sure why you brought it up, but I’m pretty sure CM Sawant doesn’t have a daughter.

      2. “Demonstrate the right way. Damage to people and property isn’t right.”

        They We did. It was a sit-in. No damage to people or property, as far as I am aware. The arrests that did happen were solely because one last pocket refused to disperse about three hours after the rest of them had.

        You’re free to disagree with the protest, but unless you have evidence to the contrary, don’t misconstrue the facts.

  2. I agree with this in general, I’m sure policies that were in place didn’t anticipate a protest or exercising of First Amendment rights, but rather a public safety issue. I think it’s clear from the response that new measures will insure it doesn’t happen again.

    My question is with the Port though. Did they restrict vehicular traffic or pedestrian access at any time, and if not, why did they consider the light rail access a public safety threat?

    1. I had the same question. It seems to me that if you have an emergency situation — such as a shooter — that calls for a shutdown, and they should shutdown everything. Cars, buses, trains — no one gets in. But shutting off just the train stop would only make sense if that particular area (right by the stop) was where there was something terrible happening. It doesn’t really make sense to close off the train, but then force everyone to get on a bus that will take them to the same area, let alone allow thousands of cars to arrive.

    2. The public safety risk was that the airport police might have a protest larger than they could manage before additional police could get there. The protesters were generally arriving by rail, so it wouldn’t have made sense to delay other access.

      The response looks unduly risk-averse, recognizing the protest had been peaceful up to that time. The efforts to block passenger access came later in the evening and involved far fewer people.

      1. I was on the first light rail train that was blocked from stopping at Seatac, right around 6:30pm. A large group of us walked to the airport from Tukwila International Blvd Station, and when we got there everyone was still gathered for a rally in the arrivals area. You’re right that at that point the protest was purely symbolic and didn’t pose a risk to normal airport operations.

        We began sitting in other areas of the airport around 8pm, and were blocking passenger access by 8:30. This was also peaceful and nonviolent, though it was civil disobedience. I was there until 11:45 and didn’t see anyone arrested, but we did have some passengers get violent trying to push through our line and get to the security checkpoint. Police remained behind the protest line in the checkpoint area the whole time, and didn’t try to remove us with force.

    3. Has there even been a protest at Sea-Tac before? I’ve never heard of one.It could be that this was an unprecendented situation so there were no plans for it.

      1. There must have been union/wage protests, surely, but the union manages those carefully. An unplanned, mostly spontaneous, gathering raises different issues.

      2. On a side note – it’s rather nice to protest indoors in January. It was warm and dry in the airport and there were plenty of bathrooms. There’s also convenient transit access, apart from the stoppage of course.

      3. When I first heard there was a protest at Sea-Tac I thought, “Why would they want to protest there? Nobody will notice them in such an out-of-the-way spot.”

    4. That’s an excellent point! Link is adjacent to 99/International Blvd/Pac Highway. It’s on the far side of the parking garage and nowhere near where the protesters were gathered. From a public safety standpoint, it would make sure to close both the internal roads and the parking garage entries first — before shutting down Link.

      I would also note that shutting down Link but not RapidRide A shows how illogical this closure was. I suspect it was some police or security official who was panicking and who has come control issues — and who also harbors some deep seeded resentment about allowing high-speed, high-capacity direct rail transit access from parts of the region that have “those kinds of people” living near other stations.

      I think that the only time that the Link station should be closed is if there is a police action adjacent to the station itself, or the general airport security is so jeopardized that not only are the internal roads and garage to be closed, but 99 itself also is to be closed.

    5. My glib response to that, having been picked up in an SOV at the airport at heavy traffic times on my last few visits, would be that car traffic is self-limiting thanks to congestion on the airport approaches.

  3. Police have extremely wide latitude to make “safety” judgments. Those are prone to crossing into overreaction, as seems to be the case here. Only in case of an actual riot (which this was plainly not) should we have precedent for shutting down light rail, and only then in the scope of a curfew.

    During one of the earlier marches (back in November) I was trying to leave downtown around 5:30pm. At the entrance to Westlake Station by McDonald’s ~12 police were standing in front. I asked if the station was open and got a rather curt “yes” response (it sounded like he really wanted to say no, but knew he couldn’t). Of course, it doesn’t look very open when the entrance is blocked by police.

    1. I see the FOIA was filed by Kevin Wallace, and is limited to emails. Given that other forms of communication would have likely been used to get faster results, I doubt this will find much beyond after-the-fact banter.

      1. One should ask for any recorded information as well, as lines into the communications center(s) should be recorded and this was probably done on a verbal basis.

    1. That allegation is a tweet from January 20 (inauguration day), not Sunday. This may have had something to do with the event at UW hosted by Milo Yiannopoulos that night and the ensuing protest.

  4. I’m assuming the airport Link station itself was open, just with no stopping trains? E.g., if you took the A-line, you could get off at 176th and walk into the airport through the station mezzanine?

    Also, the 574 and 560 routes (which stop at the 176th street stop with the A-line, then loop around to a bus stop at the pickup /drop-off area of the airport, which is even closer than the Link station to the airport) was not affected?

    Seems like a very ineffective way to stop people from getting into the airport.

    1. Eh, I can see why the Port police decided to leave everything else open when they closed the Link station. Most of the protesters were probably coming from Seattle, so they were probably using Link.

    2. Yes, you could take the A line or walk down to the overpass and into the Seatac Link station, and that’s what the first full three-car train of protestors mostly did. The station at Seatac itself was open and didn’t seem to have extra security, at least by the time we got there.

    3. You’d have to go up the stairway since the elevator to the street has been broken for weeks.

    4. Can you even access the airport on foot? Seems to me when the station is closed so is the foot access to Pacific Highway and the A line from the airport and vice versa.

      1. Yes, there’s a sidewalk along the south side of the airport drive; it meets Pacific Highway (er, International Blvd) across from the Radisson.

  5. Great credit to the crowd-members themselves, demonstrators or traveling public. Most of them either sympathetic or at least not openly hostile to the demonstration. Considering the blindingly dangerous unprofessionalism of the no-fly order, sympathy including many TSA officers themselves. The Port Authority as well.

    But for transit, the affair was a very cheap lesson, 26 years ovedue. Since DSTT opening, my worst fear has always been our own wretched emergency communications and response. Time and again in major service interruptions, nobody in a uniform having any idea what’s going on. In stations laid out so that many people have difficulty finding their way in or out on a light day.

    To fit those stations, and their access, under Downtown Seattle, we had to considerably complicate our entrances and exits. By the tape measure, I think we stayed within spec. But I also think that, exactly as with DSTT vehicle operations, we never added the equipment, personnel, and training the design requires. There is no way we can “signage” our way to safety now.

    I don’t think we Americans are prone to stampede. At Boston Marathon, people ran toward the bomb victims to help them. World Trade Center, we can’t know how many literally committed suicide trying to successfully save others, as did a large percentage of the New York Fire Department. We generally react with effective cooperation, without orders. But just by their numbers, strangers under stressed conditions in compressed space can turn deadly very fast.

    First passenger trains northbound out of Westlake and Southbound from UW were the first mass transit Seattle, and its passengers, have ever seen in this region. The same as with anything else, almost thirty years’ operations has made the DSTT our grandfathers’ tunnel. The rest of the world’s transit systems prove daily the old geezers generally did good work. Meaning also that we’ve got thirty years’ less excuse for negligent homicide.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Probably it’s necessary to know about the communications between DHS and the Port to know the whole story. DHS was a total mess that day and local management may have been inclined to over-react on the side of security. I am extremely impressed that Rogoff got the service running so quickly given the lack of protocols. And Constantine is right, that this will probably happen again and all the stakeholders need to know what to do – in particular, if DHS tries to order a closure, make sure Metro, ST, and the Port are all on the same page as to the actual threat on the ground (if any) and the legal basis for refusing a DHS request.

  7. And for clarity, my remarks include our entire transit system, and every agency connected with it. Death is no respecter of agency boundaries. Or subareas. He really kind of likes them. Incidentally: where is that reader-board? Wish answer was “Everywhere.”


  8. I think of this confusing and inappropriate incident as symptomatic of the inevitable coming change in roles for ST: ST as operator rather than as builder.

    First with the current escalator debacle and now this, it’s clear that the agency is currently better at building a railroad than at running a railroad. In fairness, building is much more exciting than making sure that everything is operating and in good working order throughout every day. The talent of managing a multi-billion dollar construction program is very different than the talent of operating a system and reacting to crises on a daily basis, for example.

    To make matters more diffused, ST contracts out its train operators. It currently is a “pass through” operator.

    I think that now with ST3 behind us, a fundamental organizational assessment is badly needed for our region. The ways in which we plan, program, fund, design, build, operate trains, operate buses and operate stations all need a major refresh now that we will have this growing, major trip-carrier (ST Link) in our midst.

    There isn’t a specific structure that I would suggest. Broad leadership and management discussions with input from many would clarify how best to move forward. Still, I think we as a region need to lay this out more deliberately than we have been.

    1. Most pertinent post of the year, Richard. Definitely fits all the facts as I see them. Completely explains the weird distractions we’ve been seeing ever since the inauguration. For starters. Now day to day, and soon hourly.

      I’ve been putting forth a lot of effort toward figuring out what to do about it. So as not to get too far Off Topic, I think it’s time to start watching for sudden personnel changes in transit politics, and management.

      I also think STB editorial board needs to get us whatever information they can about other likely events in our transit system. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure we’re looking at “protest fatigue” as maneuvers to size up opposition.

      And also start planning to resist a coup. Based on condition and performance of the party not in office, the one thing I don’t think the enemy expects out of us.

      Mark Dublin

    2. I would caution against such a line of thinking. Certainly, if you think it may be correct, persue it — you may be right.

      But appearent conspiracies may be coincidental. Often times things that appear to have an intelligent design behind them don’t. Take, for example, life: is there some conspirator behind our existance? I have no idea. But I do know that most things that seem extraordinary or conspiratorial at first (from my own subjective experience) have a random or coincidental explanation.

      1. Thankfully I think people are more inclined to resist a coup than they were during the coup in 2000.

  9. I was on Capitol Hill on the 21st during the protests then, and tried to take Link home, but the station was closed by police. It seems this station closure has generated a lot more media response.

    1. I’m curious what others think, but I think there is a difference between closing a station to prevent people from going individually to a protest and closing a station so that a big protest underway doesn’t enter a station.

  10. Just reading a couple of the comments here, it genuinely puzzles me why some talk proud of blocking passengers from catching their flights. No respect for their fellow neighbor. Regardless of what decisions are being made by the President, don’t take it out on your neighbor. Absolute shame and sad days ahead if it continues.

    1. Well, the theory is to spread a little bit of the pain of the persecuted minority. It’s fairly evident that a fair part of the population only cares about disrupted transportation when it affects privileged people.

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