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Start a love train, love train

July 20, 2009
The GTS at the Tukwila Link light rail station

The GTS at the cathedral-like Tukwila Link light rail station (Orin O'Neill photos)

Everyone on radio seems to find it necessary to play a few seconds’ worth of the O’Jays’ 1971 hit Love Train when talking about the just-opened Link light rail line. How original.

On Saturday and Sunday, everybody got to ride free. Today was the day you started paying. I figured it would be less crowded.

Since there’s an actual park-and-ride lot at that end of the line, I rode the GTS to Tukwila. It would seem reasonable to ride or drive to the Tukwila P&R and take Link into downtown Seattle. Maybe not from West Seattle, but from Tukwila or Burien, certainly.

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of motorcycle/scooter parking. Transportation dogma states that, in spite of taking up one-tenth the area of an average passenger car, scooters and motorcycles are single-occupancy vehicles, evil devices that do not reduce congestion. *Sigh!*

Not wanting to take up a whole parking space, I find a notch in the curb along the edge of the lot that would seem not to be adversely affected by the presence of 12 square feet of scooter, and park.

The terminal building is huge. And the platform is way, way up there. It’s not hard to imagine archaeologists a thousand years from now thinking the place was some kind of cathedral (and in a way it is, when you consider how some people around here think of public transportation as some kind of religion). You take a couple of really long escalators, then one more short one to the train. In between, there are ticket machines. Two of them.

Ticket lines were long

Luckily, I have an Orca card, so I didn’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket. I just tapped the card on the yellow reader, which said I paid $1.75. Okay, but a ride to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle is supposed to cost $2.50, right?

Oh, well. There’s a train stopped at the platform, but no one can get on because the operator has gone missing.

He is soon found, and we’re off. You get a nice view of SR 518 as you head north.

SR 518 is down there, somewhere

People are commenting about the stuffiness of the train, and the warmth. I thought these things were air-conditioned, someone says. The windows don’t open.

What’s worse are the continuous vertical and side-to-side jolts as the train runs north next to I-5. This is most definitely not the smooth ride being touted in the ads; in some cases, it’s worse than some of the buses I ride occasionally. I’m getting queasy as the train approaches the MLK station.

The ride north on MLK is not much better. This would seem to indicate significant misalignment of the rails, which in this day of laser sighting is an odd problem to be having.

In fact, the smoothest sections are the tunnel under Beacon Hill and the former bus tunnel under downtown Seattle.

Everybody off at Westlake, I decide to have lunch. I’m glad to see Tiger Pizza, which is in the basement, is still around. I used to have lunch there when I worked in the Westlake Center office building. And I rode the Monorail to work, because at the time I lived near Seattle Center, and the Monorail fare was the same as bus fare. But the trip took two minutes instead of half an hour, and I didn’t have to sit next to people who didn’t bathe regularly.

Time for the return trip. This time my Orca card is charged $2.50. This happens a lot. If I were designing something like this, you’d tap your card getting on, and getting off; the card reader would determine where and how far you went using the vehicle’s GPS, and charge accordingly. But nobody talked to me when they were designing this thing. Oh, well.

The ride southbound seems a bit smoother. The development that everyone’s so hot for has been happening for a while. The Othello stop is a particularly good example.

Othello Station

Back when the street was called Empire Way, there was a slot car track at the intersection with Othello. The building housing it is long gone. So’s everything else.

This time the A/C was working, and the train seemed to be going faster. Except for three guys having a wonkish-sounding conversation who got off at Beacon Hill, everyone who got on at Westlake stayed on until Tukwila. It was entertainment, a way to kill an hour or two.

But I’ve ridden public transportation in cities all over the world, and in spite of the gushings of our remaining daily newspaper, Link is not at all remarkable, except for where it doesn’t go.

I had to meet someone at Southcenter Mall earlier. That would be a logical place for Link to go, since lots of people who live south of downtown Seattle go there to shop. But it doesn’t, and won’t, at least not in our lifetime. Yes, it’s going to the airport by the end of the year, but there are all kinds of ways to get to the airport.

The Times article notes ridership was light, but it’ll take time for people to figure out whether the route works for them. One of the TV newscasts interviewed a guy who bought a house on the line, specifically to be able to go downtown and to the airport. This is the sort of thing the light rail enthusiasts are hoping will happen in droves.

But transportation is supposed to be about moving people from one place to another, not about getting rid of all the awful poor people in a certain neighborhood, which is really what Link seems to be about. Cookie-cutter condos “from the low 500s” are not what used to be found in an area traditionally populated by new immigrants, and the regressive half-cent sales tax that’s paying for this thing hits the poor much harder than the so-called progressives who expend much venom toward those who disagree with the idea that everyone should give up personal mobility.

Awestruck Link passenger

Someone who moved here from Boston once told me the way to live there is to find employment and a place to live on the Red Line. One day, that might turn out to be true in Seattle. But until that happens, I’ll hang on to my scooter. Favicon

  1. rockergirl permalink
    July 20, 2009 9:19 pm

    I believe you are supposed to swipe your ORCA card when you get on and when you get off so it can determine – from the ORCA website:

    “On a Train
    Tap your card on the platform card reader as your board, and again as you exit. If your card is loaded with an E-purse, the cost of the trip will be deducted from the transportation value in your E-purse. The amount deducted when you board will be the fare from the point you boarded to the end of the train line. When you exit the train and tap on the platform reader, the difference in fare for the ride you completed will be restored to your card. If you have a regional pass or agency pass valid for the full fare on the train service you are riding, the reader will recognize your pass as fare payment. Your ORCA card may be inspected on board the train.”

  2. July 21, 2009 9:00 am

    rockergirl, you are correct. However, the information you cite is buried a few layers below the surface on the Orca card Web site, and there were no signs or other admonishments for Orca card holders to tap their cards on the way out on the trains or at the stations. Most people will assume the Orca card works the same way on Link as it does on the bus, i.e., tap it on the reader one time. Although I’ve found since I got my Orca card that I’m the only one on the bus who has one.

    But for me it’s academic. Link doesn’t run anywhere near my home, and if I need to go anywhere on the line, I can take my scooter. Which is much cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, anyway…

  3. July 22, 2009 6:50 am

    It is going to be a long slow journey to the other side of the cheap petroleum world we grew up in. Experiment and fail, experiment and succeed is how the change will be wrought. Public transportation is just one petri dish, hydrogen, algae, sugar beets and lithium are a few of the others. I am going to guess that most of your neighbors would rather ride a bus or a train than a Vespa…For us happy few, two wheels may be the answer for a long time to come.

  4. Orin permalink*
    July 22, 2009 12:31 pm

    If you’d like to read more, click here. Seattle Transit Blog’s post has a bunch of links (no pun intended ;)) to other stories…

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