Sound Transit’s Service Line colors

Get ready to hear more colors attached to the word Link more regularly. Sound Transit is expanding use of color designations for Link light rail lines beginning in this month’s service change. As seen in its September 2019 schedule book and system map, Central Link (UW-Angle Lake) becomes the Red Line, East Link becomes the Blue Line, and Tacoma Link becomes the Orange Line.

ST has been gradually rolling out the color names in its ST2/ST3 project communications since their introduction in 2015. Up to now, the public did not know which color Tacoma Link would receive, if at all, given its differences to Central Link. However, ST left a hint in its September 2016 system map by changing Tacoma Link’s line color from purple to orange at the same time Central Link got its current shade of red. The Orange Line moniker appeared publicly as early as this past July. Eagle-eyed reader Al S. noticed the change in ST’s System Expansion Communications style guide and Tacoma Link expansion project materials.

What colors can we look forward to in ST3? Green and purple have been designated as line colors in ST’s style guide. Based on current project maps and service plan, we can infer that the Ballard Link extension is the Green Line and South Kirkland-Issaquah Link is the Purple Line. Stride, ST’s BRT brand, is represented by gold. How each Stride line will be identified has not yet been revealed.

Sound Transit’s Link light rail won’t be the only system in the region to use line colors. Community Transit’s Swift BRT already has its own rainbow of colors in use and in the works. In a statement previously made to STB, the two agencies “felt that the two modes were distinct enough to not be easily confused.” How passengers will react to that remains to be seen.

75 Replies to “Link is Getting Colorful”

  1. I noticed an e-mail from ST yesterday saying they expect to share the results of which alignments they want to send forward (ST3) for EIS in mid-September, with maybe a vote to do so in October.

    1. As long as you have an ORCA card it really doesn’t matter, but I understand what you are getting at. It’s for clarity.

    2. Stride and Swift can maybe be merged but RapidRide is a different level of service, and calling it the same is as misleading as saying the Green Line and the Orange line are identical light rail. This gets into the Local/Limited/Express trichotomy I mentioned below.

      * Local is the slow service that stops within walking distance of everywhere in the corridor, with stops every 0.25-0.5 mile. Example: RapidRide.

      * Limited is the intermediate service that stops only at neighborhood centers and transfer points, with stops every 0.5-2 mile. Example: Swift, Stride, Link, 512, 522, 550, 9X, 15X, former 7X.

      * Express is the fast point-to-point service, with nonstop segments longer than 2 miles. Examples: 510, 545, 574, 218.

      If you don’t distinguish them in the branding then people have to look for additional information on which level of service it is and whether it will serve their medium/minor stop, or they’ll misinterpret it and get on an unsuitable route.

  2. I am (selfishly, as a Rainier Valley resident) dismayed at the plans for the Green Line. RV riders will lose one-seat access to Stadium, Pioneer Square, University Street, and Capitol Hill Stations, and points beyond, and will instead head toward Ballard instead of the norther destinations of UW, Northgate, and Lynnwood. While I’m pleased pleased with and excited for expansion of the system overall, I’m unclear why the Green Line gets shorted this way instead of Red or Blue. Anyone know why that decision was made? It’s a bit of a downgrade in service for RV/south end residents, particularly if the new ID station is on 4th or deep with difficult connections/transfers, or if the future Westlake transfers are difficult/inefficient.

    1. It has to do with needing the shortest operating segment for each line while also needing extra service on the core demand between Lynnwood and Chinatown. Running a 60-mile line from Everett to Tacoma was never really feasible in operating terms. Given the length from Tacoma, the shortest northern terminus is Ballard, and given the length from Everett, the shortest terminus is West Seattle. The only line beginning at an intermediate point, the Blue Line at Mariner, can use the eastern terminus at downtown Redmond. That makes the system much easier to operate, keeps overall frequency and span higher for everyone, and is more efficient from a labor/shift/bathroom break perspective.

      My hope is that ST can build (or at least not preclude) special track work that will allow the Red Line to access the new tunnel (for a future West Seattle-Ballard line), as the new tunnel will be somewhat wasted by only running one 6-minute line. But you can’t really have the Rainier Valley line serve both tunnels, as you’d need to run each line at 12 minute headways, at which point it’s more efficient to have the current plan and transfer at Westlake or IDS. I’m a little worried about the ID transfer given all the controversy about that station design, but AFAIK Westlake should be solid, either below or just east of the current station, with all access to both lines underground.

    2. At the same time, living near the future UDistrict Station , I and the other ~150,000 people expected to use Red & Blue Lines lose one-seat access to Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, and SeaTac Airport. On the flip side, Green Line riders have one-seat access to Downtown, SLU, Seattle Center, and Ballard in a brand new train-only tunnel. Also had access to Link starting in 2009, not mid-2020’s. While there are always trade offs, it’s not too bad of a deal.

    3. I’ve often pointed out that there are two solutions to this challenge that ST doesn’t include:

      1. Design SODO for cross-platform transfers between lines.

      2. Run only the Blue Line to Everett, and mix/match the Red-Green north-south lines going through SODO to create four lines rather than just two. That way, a rider would have a choice to take the next train and maybe transfer, or wait for a direct train.

      Not only would these changes help greatly, but the track configurations to do either one could easily be critical in a service disruption.

      I pleased with ST at both input meetings and in writing to enable these. I got nowhere. ST doesn’t appear poised to register logical citizen ideas. It will take an agressive board member or reputable interest group or stakeholder group to force the issue.

      I keep at it — but if you have the vision to see the basic transfer challenge and how to address — and have any clout with ST, please take up this issue! Hundreds of thousands of daily riders will forever be grateful!

    4. The line split would be fine if ID station had a real transfer story for red-blue, red-green, and blue-green.
      None of the scenarios are covered.

      1. An underground passage between the old ID station, new ID station, and King Street Station would be amazing. At the very least, the stations should be designed to accommodate this passageway in the future. Of course that requires forward thinking beyond ST’s capabilities.

      2. They can’t build under Union-4th Viaduct-King stations, too soft of soil. I’ve been pushing for a mezzanine under Jackson. We should know their plans by next month, I hope.

      3. I think the easiest and cheapest way to get this walkway built is to build a slightly elevated street “hump” in a new Fourth Avenue viaduct where the current pedestrian signal is, and make that signalized pedestrian crossing an under-crossing. Still, that doesn’t remedy the awful transfer proposals between a Link lines at this station.

    5. Yep, it’s messed up. Of the two lines heading north from downtown Seattle, the one going to the UW will have a lot more riders. Of the two lines heading south, the one going through Rainier Valley will have a lot more riders. So not only does it mean that some riders (e. g. those that got used to their one seat ride from Beacon Hill to the UW) be out of luck, but the majority of riders will have to transfer.

      As mentioned, this is because the transit experts politicians who know nothing about mass transit thought it would be nifty to run a subway from Tacoma to Everett.

      The good news is that this is a subway system, so frequency will always be great. Except when, say, an agency spent too much money on low performing, long distance service, then it won’t. Oh well, at least Sound Transit has an outstanding reputation for building excellent transfer stations. Oh wait, it is the opposite.

      1. “Of the two lines heading north from downtown Seattle, the one going to the UW will have a lot more riders. Of the two lines heading south, the one going through Rainier Valley will have a lot more riders. So not only does it mean that some riders (e. g. those that got used to their one seat ride from Beacon Hill to the UW) be out of luck, but the majority of riders will have to transfer.”

        It doesn’t follow that because the largest northern line is UW and the largest southern line is Rainier/SeaTac, the most riders are going from one to the other. More riders will go from the UW segment to Bellevue and Redmond because they’re larger cities and job centers and don’t have the “unsafe” reputation. ST’s plan correctly connects north to east. That means the spine has to be split to avoid a Everett-Tacoma situation.

      2. I didn’t write about the eastern portion — only the parts that go north and south. It is largely irrelevant. The only reason that the line has to be paired the way it will be is because ST decided to go from Everett all the way to Tacoma. If the train went from Federal Way to Lynnwood, then the other train could go from West Seattle to Ballard.

        But since you brought up the East Side, I have to say that I think you are wrong. There will be plenty of riders taking the train from the UW and the East Side, but there won’t be that many that take it between the two areas. That is because taking the bus from the UW to Bellevue or Redmond will be faster. Meanwhile, both the southern section (to the airport) and the eastern section are limited to 6 minute headways. It makes sense to pair those, which is what we will do for a few years (and have three minute headways on the core of our system). Pairing Ballard with the south end means that Ballard will be limited to six minute headways. If it was paired with West Seattle, it could run every three minutes, and it wouldn’t cost much (since West Seattle is fairly short). Doing so would be handy for bus evenings when there is a basketball or hockey game, and lots of people (including those from the UW and places north) are trying to get to Lower Queen Anne (or just home).

      3. “There will be plenty of riders taking the train from the UW and the East Side, but there won’t be that many that take it between the two areas. That is because taking the bus from the UW to Bellevue or Redmond will be faster.”

        Link will run every 10 minutes. I can’t believe the buses will be that frequent off-peak. People would rather wait 5 minutes for a train than 10 or possibly 15 or 25 minutes for a bus even if the bus’s travel time is 5-10 minutes shorter.

      4. Redmond-UW trip pairs might be faster on the bus as it’s a straight shot on 520, but most other North Link-East Link trip pairs will be much faster on Link. A route like the 271 will serve a small fraction of north Seattle to Bellevue trips – for most people transferring at U District or Roosevelt will be the best option.

      5. A bus might be logical from UW Station to some points on the East Side, but I would expect Link to carry the majority of the riders for these trips. I expect U-District to carry at least half of the UW students (a trip direct on Link) and East Link will also directly serve more areas including some very large parking garages. Finally, Link travel times should be more reliable travel times so students that plan will almost assuredly get to class on time.

      6. “I didn’t write about the eastern portion — only the parts that go north and south. It is largely irrelevant.”

        It is when you say a large number of people will transfer. The number is relatively small compared to the other trips. The south line will overlap with the other lines to Westlake, so nobody will have to transfer for that. And at least some south enders will prefer SLU over Capitol Hill.

  3. Take a close look at the shades of these colors. The shades that ST is choosing are remarkably close to each other. The orange and STRide gold are only distinguishable if they are next to each other. ST Express, Sounder and Blue Line almost match. That’s the colors in the guide; in practice, sunlight will fade colors over time and the tints will change unevenly.

    At least that’s what I see. The thing is each person interprets color differently.

    On top of that, non-English readers will have more confusion in explaining directions.

    It’s a huge reason LA Metro has recently chosen to add numbers to colors on their map. The focus group work that went into the decision was multi-cultural and open-minded. I share this link to explain their excellent process (as opposed to the absence of process by ST):

    1. Keeping to the theme of ST ignoring citizen ideas, a friend submitted a well thought out proposal for a unified line naming plan modeled after the German style back when they were taking comments on that.

      Seems like the Board (of either agency) more or less rubber stamps staff recommendations so by the time anything makes it to the Board it is too late.

      1. It’s particularly sad how local transit agencies treat their citizen advisory groups. They hold only infrequent meetings where they receive limited opportunities for meaningful feedback. Rather than see these as ready-made focus groups, agencies tend to treat them passive-aggressively as annoyances.

      2. I would prefer a “German” naming system — letter for any mode (except local buses) followed by a number. All operators could use it — and even ferry routes could be branded as transit!

        Oh well — without a really pushy advocate, it all seems hopeless.

      3. That’s not even German, it’s common in cities all over the world. It’d be great if all our transit had letters like (L)ink, (S)treetcar, (F)erry, (T)rain, (B)rt

        L1 – Ballard/Tacoma
        L2 – West Seattle/Everett
        S1 – SLU/Downtown
        S2 – Pioneer Square/Capitol Hill
        F1 – West Seattle/Downtown
        T1 – Lakewood/Seattle
        T2 – Everett/Seattle
        B1 – Lynnwood/Burien
        B2 – Aurora/Shoreline

        etc, etc… All the different agencies and services need to unite under a common, easy to understand scheme of lines and colors.

      4. I like it Barman!

        I would add “X” for ST Express (replacing the initial “5”), “R” for RapidRide, “A” for Amtrak and letters for Swift (“W” or “C”) and Pierce BRT (“P”), and the entire region becomes logical and consistent.

        Because Metro uses “X” inconsistently and only fun r a few routes, I would get rid of the remaining Metro “X” designations that exist.

      5. I like it, Barman. That makes a lot of sense.

        @Al — I really have no problem with ST using the 500s. I also think there is value in having a “5X” and a 5. The problem is that Metro has kept the “X” when it is the only option (e. g. the “26X” should just be called the “26”).

        The “B” is for all the “BRT” lines, which would mean Swift, RapidRide and Stride. The Agencies would coordinate, to avoid collisions. You also want to avoid having the same number as regular buses (you don’t want a “B5” and a “5” bus). Both could be pretty easy to accomplish as long as they start at 600. They could also group by hundreds. So RapidRide would be “B600” to “B699”. Swift would be “B700” to “B799” and Stride would be “B800” to “B899”. Folks would probably just drop the “B” half the time, just like they drop the “line” from the “E line”. But on maps as well as the buses themselves, it would be very clear.

        I will say, though, that to me, branding for the “BRT” lines is silly. If they insisted on off board payment (i. e. didn’t take cash at any of the bus stops) or had fare gates, I could see it. But to me, RapidRide, Metro, Swift, Community Transit, ST Express and Stride are all just buses.

      6. This would require the politicians recognizing that T-Link is a streetcar, which might be too big of a lift.

      7. This is stupid. We shouldn’t have a 26X if there is no 26. If the only reason for adding an X is “because it skips some of the stops that it drives by” then the 150 should be an X too as it skips dozens of them as it travels along I-5.

      8. In generic transit terminology, an “express route” is one that goes several miles without stopping, like Routes 101 or 150. A route that merely skips stops like Route 9X should instead be a “Limited” or “ L” service.

    2. They’ll have to consult with Portland on any changes. They’ve been paying these consultants top dollar on the color schematics. Maybe if Portland goes to a new code schema Seattle will follow. :)

  4. “Get ready to hear more colors …” I rarely hear about the first couple of colors. Now I’m not going to hear about even more colors?

  5. I saved the image here and looked at it in grayscale. Red and Blue colors match! No one better print maps in gray.

      1. They’ll also have text identifying them as R, B, G, O, and P on the circles. Peter Rogoff tweeted a map showing that the other day after Lynnwood groundbreaking. That photo also shows that Stride stuff is still to be determined in terms of how they differentiate the Woodinville/Bothell-Shoreline, Lynnwood-Bellevue, and Bellevue-Burien lines. But it also maybe means BRT will be gold or yellow?

      2. If they are going to have a letter, why isn’t that in the Style Guide?

        DC Metro uses two letters to keep confusion from lettered bus routes to a minimum — like RD or BL.

        This is not a new issue. A graphics case study canvassing would illustrate the problem and how other places dealt with it.

        The real tragedy is how our region had such a great three-digit system 15 years ago — and recent independent decisions are now mudding it up!

      3. Al S, The style guide is for project communications, not general wayfinding. ST no longer publishes its signage and mapping standards online after it went through a major update.

        I worked on a report for Phoenix Valley Metro and we ended up recommending letters as primary identification for their expanding light rail network. I think you will enjoy it.

        Arthur Denny, BRT is indeed a gold color as stated in the style guide. That’s an interesting map in the tweet… The line bullets are similar to what I did for a Link map that accompanied a Ballard Spur post.

      4. The style guide being referenced is for System Expansion communication materials. It is similar to but distinct from the standards for operations, web, signage, etc. Each line will have both letter and color from Northgate opening onward.

      5. “They’ll also have text identifying them as R, B, G, O, and P on the circles.”

        Noooo!!! Red R, Blue B, Green G is a bad idea. It’s innocuous on that map tweet because the termini circles are unobtrusive and most people won’t notice them much, but it’s another thing on the sign outside a station. If we have signs like “Westlake Station (R) (B)”. they’ll look like letter names, not the initial of the color. And the RapidRide C/D/E station is just around the corner. And Bellevue will have (B) and RapidRide B at the same station. (“Which one is the B Line?”) Color abbreviations need at least two letters. “GR” looks like “GReen”, while “(G)” looks like “Line G”, and eventually people will start calling the lines by those letters. (And start wondering, “Where are lines A and C?”)

      6. Meanwhile, RapidRide uses one letter in a circle too!

        As you say, Bellevue will have a B in a blue ball and a B in a red ball…
        And RapidRide G will be in a red ball while the Link G line will be in a green ball at the Madison station…

        And the Lynnwood Station will have a Swift Blue Line and a Link Line B in blue…

        And will the O be called a zero in Tacoma? Hey there’s Route zero!

        It would help if ST would use diamonds or squares rather than circles, like the Rogoff tweet has. The various lines in NYC uses those. Putting a single letter in a colored ball is exactly what Metro RapidRide uses already.

        We’re all seemingly hard on ST here — but we care. We say these things because we want the most intuitive system possible.

      7. LA was clever in using circles for rail lines and squares for BRT lines. We should totally copy that. The destination signs on RapidRide buses already have letters in boxes.

      8. Thanks for the Phoenix transit report! I’m glad for the residents of other metro areas that their operators are wise enough to research the topic carefully — and not just throw out a style guide that meets their own limited whims.

  6. Put a boat on blue and name it Boaty McBoatface.
    Put a goat on green and name it Goaty McGoatface
    Put a rat on red and name it Ratty McRatface
    Put an otter on orange and name it Otty McOttface
    Put a pig on purple and name it Piggy McPigface.

    Maybe we all go back to kindergarten to learn our colors and numbers and letters. And do a refresher on third grade reading.

    I don’t even know. We’re arguing over how to brand these things. People will figure it out. The other day, we were debating the merits of University Street.

    I wonder how much money is spent on naming, and branding, and marketing, that would be better spent laying track and buying equipment.

    1. Actually, adding an animal or plant icon would be more informative than just using colors.


      1. San Diego does that.

        Green Line 🌴
        Blue Line 🌊
        Orange Line ☀️

        The state law that requires ST to use pictograms does not appear to apply to operating lines, only stations and points of interest.

    2. The amount usually spent on communication and marketing is orders of magnitude less than construction but is just as important. LA Metro figured this out over a decade ago and helped it win broad public support for more funding. The car companies figured this out decades ago.

      We should have a system that is easy to understand. If people have a hard time figuring it out or are not aware of it, then we are losing potential users.

  7. We name streets after important people, why can’t we name light rail lines after important locals? Trump’s grandfather, Frederick, lived in Seattle in the 1890’s. He owned a business on 2nd & S. Washington called The Dairy Restaurant. Why not the F. Trump Line?

  8. So the Swift Orange line running as a BRT through Lynnwood won’t get confused with a gold-colored STRide running as a BRT through Lynnwood, right?

    1. If people aren’t already confusing the identical-looking local buses that only differ by the route number and destination on their rollsigns, why would this be an issue? Just how low is your estimation of transit rider sentience?

      1. If you can tell “201 SMOKEY POINT” and “113 MUKILTEO” apart on a rollsign you’ll be able to tell “SWIFT ORANGE LINE” apart from whatever the STRide buses are going to say.

      2. With that logic, why even have route numbers for any transit line?

        Numbers or letters are basic to transit almost anywhere in the world with multiple lines.

      3. The problem is on maps more than anything. You want to use the correct color for Stride, presumably because the bus will be that color. Meanwhile, the Swift bus moniker includes the color (so it makes sense to use it on a map). There are ways around the problem (like using different line widths or patterns) but it is unfortunate that CT is using different colors for several of their buses (as opposed to one color for all of Swift, and bus numbers for the buses).

      4. At specific locations the issue is the similarity between nearby routes. Most people travel only within one county or between Snohomish-King or Pierce-King, so they’ll encounter only a subset of agencies/modes. We should look for the locations with the most troublesome overlaps, because the agencies probably haven’t thought that far.

        For instance, it took me to realize there were two 130th stations because I look at one in a North Seattle context and the other in a Bellevue context. But the three University stations are in the same context. Especially for me because I’ve lived most of my life around the U-District, Capitol Hill, and downtown. And many visitors go between the U-District, downtown, and the airport. But they don’t go between Lake City-Bitter Lake and Bel-Red much. If they travel that far they’re usually going to a larger node like Lynnwood or a stadium, and they won’t pay attention to the other 130th.-

      5. It’s a good point about the 130tj St Station, Mike!

        There are several nearby place names that would be great for that station name — Haller Lake (although we may have too many “lake” station names), Northacres, Pinehurst, Thornton Creek.

        I would expect a naming discussion to be initiated soon. However, ST seems to be getting more and more removed from public input with each year under Rogoff — so I wouldn’t be surprised if ST just picks a name. Given the University Street situation now, it seems likely.

  9. Confusion isn’t likely to occur on the vehicles themselves. The bigger problem is making the maps. I think it is interesting that Oran published this piece. I also think that Oran will have no problem with color conflicts. I notice that his current map of bus service in Seattle (which is outstanding, by the way) has red for both RapidRide and Link. But they are different shades, and more importantly, have a different design. RapidRide has little dots on it, with squares for each stop. Link has stripes, with circles for stops. The streetcar is also striped, with tiny circles for stops. Stripes make sense, as it resembles a rail. Metro uses red for RapidRide and blue for Link. They also use stripes for rail. The problem is, while the RapidRide lines are solid, they aren’t if a regular bus overlaps coverage. For example, the E from downtown to the north end of the Aurora Bridge looks like a stripe. That is because it is sharing the space with the 5 (and other buses). North of there it is solid. If the train was also red, then it would be confusing. As ST adds a bunch of colors for their Link lines, it will be interesting to see what color Metro uses for there RapidRide lines and/or if they change the design.

    1. I have covered this topic in the past and am involved in mapping so you bet I have thoughts on this development.

      I probably will change how Link is depicted on my map when the 2nd line opens. The bus maps of cities like DC, NYC and SF show rail lines in a neutral color (like black) and moves the line designations to the station labels. Having multiple colored lines in parallel can get visually distracting and takes up a lot of space. It was enough of a challenge to represent joint ops in the DSTT.

    1. It is all arbitrary, like bus numbers (or letters). Or for that matter, addresses. At first you look it up, but after a while, you just remember.

    2. Pierce Countyans have only two colors to remember: Blue and Orange. They’ll quickly learn that Blue is the useful line that goes somewhere and has crowded trains. Orange is just a pretentious streetcar that doesn’t go very far and few people ride so you can ignore its existence.

      1. Ehhhh, I’ve used the streetcar and it’s fairly useful Downtown in connecting most of the major transportation modes (commerce st. transit mall, Tacoma Dome Station) along with education and job centers (UW, Convention Center, Banking Towers, etc). Although I do think it’ll be in a better position once the extension is completed on Hilltop. Where it’ll easily connect the two largest hospital complexes in Pierce (Tacoma General/Mary Bridge and St. Joseph) along with the largest school in the Tacoma school district (Stadium) and Hilltop District, which has been going through a renaissance in recent years.

    3. I mean Red. Or green? Argh, ST got the intuitive colors reversed. Seattle (Rainier) should be blue because it’s the most liberal. The Eastside should be red because it’s more conservative and wealthier.

      1. Let’s not start assigning meaning to colors. You don’t want to repeat the MARTA Yellow Line controversy or the LA Metro Expo Line (they couldn’t agree on a color name and ended up going to letters). Or maybe please do so ST rethinks its strategy.

  10. the two agencies “felt that the two modes were distinct enough to not be easily confused.”

    The mode of travel is an implementation detail. It is unimportant compared to whether or not the line serves a rider’s destination. “Does the red line stop at Colman Dock? Where do I catch the red line?”

  11. Seconding comments above about colorblindness and legibility – The oft-proposed L-naming scheme would be better in many ways: It clarifies the modality (the B line could easily be Rapid Ride B), matches common international conventions for out-of-town visitors (many places use L1/L2 like designations for their lines), and allows for more expansion – if color names are the basis for route names, expansion becomes tricky (was it the Blue line or the Black line? Was it Green or Gray?). With L + number, you can scale pretty easily (and give similarly tinted lines easily distinguishable numbers (green 4 versus red 2).

    Colors + Line designations (e.g. Blue L1, Red L2) are a cleaner way forward, and allow users to remember either the color they need, or the line number.

  12. A better blue will help those who are color blind to read the map. The other color have enough “Hue” differentiation but the blue and purple are too close. Due to your color palette, I suggest leave the purple alone and changing the blue to be darker/deeper than the rest of the palette. Otherwise, good job. (Note: I am 95% colorblind by Army standards and my grandson is around 65%) We know that there are 10s of 1,000s more out there (plus visitors) who it would benefit as well.

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