Streetfilms: Seattle’s Link Light Rail — The Start of Something Big

Right now, Seattle is making as serious a commitment to transit as any city in the nation. Recently, Streetfilms got to take a tour of the newest addition to the city’s network —
the 13-station Link Light Rail, which opened in
mid-2009.

The route is beautiful, swift, and has great multi-modal connections. Service is frequent, with headways as short as 7 minutes during rush
hour, and never longer than 15 minutes. And like many of the newest American light rail systems,
the stations feature copious art.

Seattle has a lot of car commuters, but in a sign that many are looking for more efficient and environmentally friendly ways
of getting to work, the new light rail line will be followed by several more additions to the city’s transit network. As Seattle’s Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl told us:

[Voters] in November 2008, by 57 percent — which was a thrill in a recession economy — voted to expand our light rail system, and our commuter rail system, and our buses… to add another 36 miles of light rail in the region. And to add 65 percent more capacity to our commuter rail system.

We’d like to thank everyone who talked to us for this shoot, especially Bruce Gray from Sound Transit, and Andrew Schmid for arranging it all. And of course a big shout out to the intrepid scribes over at Seattle Transit Blog, who cover the local transportation scene with zeal and gusto.

  • Looks really good and glad to hear it’s finally running–effed up traffic was my biggest complaint when I lived in Seattle in the late 90s.
    But I’m curious: has the light rail alleviated traffic??

  • I was able to try out the Link Light Rail when I visited Seattle a couple weeks ago. It was very nice, clean (of course, it’s brand new), and easy to use. It took about thirty-five minutes to go from Seatac airport to downtown (University Street.) Without congestion you could probably drive that distance in fifteen-twenty minutes, so it wasn’t incredibly speedy, but the fact is up there that traffic is often so bad that that stretch can take an hour by car. I was glad to see quite a bit of newly constructed high density housing right along the light rail line. Unfortunately all that’s finished so far is this one stretch of line that doesn’t serve all that much of the Seattle area, mostly because folks there voted down funding for light rail nearly continuously over the past three decades. Still, this is a good start.

  • Anders

    “As short as 7 minutes during rush hour” is exciting? American standards sure are low…

  • I lived in Seattle from 1994-2000, and back then traffic was almost as bad as LA traffic. There are a lot of poorly designed freeway interchanges, and the geography of the city itself doesn’t lend itself to getting around very easily. So it’s awesome to see this really happen – they needed it!

    I’m glad to see they finally got something going, but it was not easy. Seattle citizens voted down transit many many times, and for many politicians, simply opposing anything on rails was a winning platform. In 1995 when the original Sound Transit plan was put on the ballot (which was a much bigger system) it was voted down by small minded thinking and jingoistic rhetoric from so-called “leaders.” People later got so fed up with traffic they actually voted for the oddly conceived Monorail system, not really caring one way or another what it was, just that they were tired of idling in traffic and riding on terrible roads.

    The one tiny gripe I always had with any transit proposal in Seattle is that they always leave out West Seattle and that whole area. It would benefit a lot from some sort of rail transit into downtown that would get people down there faster than the current bus lines, but West Seattle (like the westside of SF) tends to get neglected by City Hall.

  • MG

    Seattle’s frustrating because it’s a city that is absolutely built for transit use but lacks any kind of adequate system. I’m glad to see that things are finally starting to change, but I wish they would plan light rail to Queen Anne, Fremont, and Ballard.

  • @greg isn’t West Seattle getting Link service as part of the Sound Transit 2 plan?

  • Clarence

    @Anders. 7 minutes is really not that bad at all. Esp. for a new system.

    For example, the last three trains I caught in NYC on our almighty revered subway each took about 10 minutes for a train to come.

    Besides, if you watched all the way thru, eventually the system will go to every three minutes in the rush when they add the new stations coming on line soon.

  • Anders

    Clarence, I saw the whole video. 3 minutes sounds good. I’m just noting that 7 minutes isn’t that short of a wait in a major metropolitan area. Our standards in the US are too modest (by the way, New York’s transit system is not exactly a model these days). We need to aim higher.

  • If I never had to wait more than 7 minutes on the Muni underground, I’d be delirious.

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