Light rail

Stuck at the Light

Sound Transit’s long-awaited Rainier Line debuts July 18—but it’s already causing excruciating crosstown delays.

By Eric Scigliano July 5, 2009

July 18 is the big day for Sound Transit, when its Link light rail starts running from downtown to Tukwila (and, a few months later, Sea-Tac). But it seems the regional transit agency and city transportation department, which operates the stoplights, still have some timing issues to work out. I got a taste Friday at 8:44pm when, driving east on Graham Street, I reached MLK Way. The light had already turned, and I waited while north and southbound and left-turning cars passed. Then came a familiar clang, and a Sound Transit train passed on a northbound test run, overriding the lights. But it didn’t override the signal timer; by the time the train passed, my turn had passed too; we eastbounders had to wait again while the other directions went again. Then clang-clang and a southbound train passed, preempting the lights again. Waiting cars were now stacked up for blocks on Graham Street, at least to Aki Kurose School, idling and smoking.

After another cycle, and more than five minutes after I arrived, the light turned green and the cars backed up at Graham got to cross. Perhaps by the 18th Sound Transit and the City’s Transportation Department will learn to talk to each other electronically—to freeze the signal cycles while trains pass, rather than freezing motorists trying to cross MLK. Otherwise they’ll cause extra air pollution and fuel waste and risk ticking off as many motorists as the passengers they serve.

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