Light Rail Revelations

Light rail has been an option for seven years, but now it's a choice.

By Josh Feit March 28, 2016

I get how north-of-the-Montlake cut this is going to sound (even though technically, I live south of the cut.) But ever since light rail opened near my home in Capitol Hill 10 days ago, light rail is now on my radar in a way it wasn't before. That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but here are two anecdotes that demonstrate the significance of just adding a few new stations; and I believe this is an example of the network effect, where one new station improves the usefulness of every station, racking up compounding benefits as you expand.

Anecdote One:

Last Thursday, I was  running late to cover the big deal Sound Transit board meeting at King Street Station in the International District. I've been late like this before, and usually I jump on my bike (Seattle Met's offices are at Westlake) or I jog(ish) over, knowing I'll be late, but also knowing, thankfully, there's a public comment period and typically some formal business before they get to the newsworthy stuff. I usually straggle in about 20 minutes late.

But wait. Like I said, I work at Westlake, and it had never occurred to me to walk a block to the Westlake light rail stop and zip over to the International District stop—which lets out at King Street Station. It never occurred to me because light rail just wasn't a regular enough part of my life. I'd take it to the airport and occasionally to visit friends in Mount Baker or Columbia City. But those were random times and simply not regular enough trips to make a real impression. In fact, I was planning on hoofing it up 4th to the Sound Transit board meeting when I passed by the light rail entrance. Light bulb! I took the train. I was there in a few minutes. 

Anecdote Two:

Seattle Met had its ten year anniversary party on Saturday night. It was held in a Delta Airlines jet plane hangar in SeaTac. I guess light rail was an obvious choice to get to SeaTac, but given that my SeaTac runs had usually been about a stressful trip to catch a flight, and not about a Saturday night out for fun, the light rail option wasn't at the front of my mind. As the party approached, and I was plotting which coworker I could bum a ride from, another light rail light bulb went off. I grabbed a magazine, walked over to the Capitol Hill station and was at the party an hour later.

For those who've been commuting by light rail every day for the past seven years since light rail first opened from SeaTac to Westlake, this light rail revelation on my part is probably a little grating. But I think this is instructive as we move forward with expansion of just how quickly and seamlessly light rail will change people's habits. It's like when you learn a new word, you suddenly see it pop up everywhere. 

It's still easier for me to take the bus or bike to work than it is to jump on light rail in the morning, but when I don't feel like biking, my new routine is this: I walk to the bus stop, and as I approach, I check my transit app to see if the bus is only a few minutes out. If it is, I stop and wait. If not, I walk the extra 15 minutes to the light rail and zip right into Westlake. That's what happened on Thursday morning.

 And that's why it occurred to me to take light rail to the International District on Thursday afternoon. 

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