Monday, November 9, 2009

An Adventure on Seattle's New Light Rail

A gloomy Sunday in Seattle, perfect for a ride on our city's new Central Link light rail system, which opened to great fanfare on July 18 this year. After thirteen years of fits and starts and voters approving and then junking (three times) and then okaying and then resenting the $4.7 billion it took to open the 14-mile, 12-station train line, my husband and I wanted to experience it. 

The route goes from downtown Seattle to Tukwila, a town near SeaTac airport. A station close to the terminal is slated to open in December.  Projected daily ridership is 21,000 by the end of the year--the figures so far, though, show a slight decline from an August high of about 14,800. Given the extent of debt for its creation, Seattle might have dug itself into more than one kind of hole.

While it's a subway through downtown, Link rides above-ground through the lowest-income parts of town and industrial areas. Built with no parking whatsoever, riders are expected to walk, bicycle or bus to a station, with suitcases in tow, walk down three flights to tracks, and juggle luggage during the ride (cars have no racks).  At the last stop, airport-bound passengers must disembark, then find the bus that stops at the far end of the airport.

My husband and I boarded at the downtown terminus, Westlake, purchasing tickets ($5 per person) from a machine tucked at the top of a steep stairway.

We descended (there's no escalator down, only up) to find that buses and Link share the same two transit lanes. It wasn't clear where along the curb Link would stop, but after watching five busses pass, the sleek new trains noisily pulled up about 25 feet from where we stood.  We jumped on, settled into two seats in the nearly-vacant cars (which each hold 200), noticing an empty liquor bottle on the floor.  A young man at the end of our car proceeded to eat a sandwich, change his clothes and shoes, drink wine from a bottle, and then peruse his laptop computer before alighting.

At the first three stops, no one boarded, but at the next, a family entered, two parents and two little girls, one holding tightly to her mom's hand.  The elder girl, about 8, debated where to go, stepping out of the car--just as the doors closed.  The parents frantically pounded on the closed door as the train pulled away, their screaming daughter running alongside, falling behind as the car accelerated.

At the next station, just three minutes away, the family jumped off; the conductor announced that the parents of a girl left behind at the previous station should return, an easy task as the opposite-direction train would arrive just a few feet away.  Clearly, this little drama would end happily, and we could return our attention to the now-visible outdoor scenery.

As the train wobbled and bumped nauseatingly, a panorama of dilapidated homes, graffitti-splashed warehouses, cars on cinderblocks, cheek-and-jowel-stacked "affordable" condo construction, strip malls with signs in unknown Asian languages, treeless avenues, paved lots of service vehicles and semi-trailers defined the view.  This was a Seattle I hadn't considered, a broken-down town with none of the sophistication, energy and intellectual dynamism of, say, Ravenna, Magnolia, Fremont, Queen Anne, Greenlake, Capitol Hill--all  neighborhoods pulsing with character and style.  Central Link light rail takes passengers through the seamy, sometimes necessary but gritty fringes scrambling to maintain.  I thought about vacationers, flying to Seattle to see the sights, traveling from the airport balancing their rolly suitcases on their laps, forming their first, mistaken impressions of a city sad and decrepit.

Still, the ride was exhilarating.  I'm a closet anthropologist; seeing how others live, glimpsing their backyards; passing by loading docks, distribution centers, diners with uneven neon, storefront churches, all excite me.  I loved every moment.  It was at least 40 minutes since we left downtown, but it blinked by, and soon we arrived at Tukwila.  End of the line. I snapped a few photos as the 4 pm sun slanted beneath the gray blanket of clouds, suddenly brightening the miles-around view from the elevated station.  Trees were yellow with autumn, Cascade foothills outlined dark behind.  A handful of passengers boarded the two connected cars equipped to hold 400, and soon we were on the return ride, back past the graffitti, the sprawling assembly and dissemination plants, the urban ticky-tacky condos. So much to notice, largely bleak and unattractive but nonetheless compelling.

Just $5 for an afternoon's fascination.  But the junket convinced me that light rail is a complete waste of taxpayer money.  The smattering of customers, each of whom is subsidized about $130 per ride, could have taken a bus, probably much more conveniently.  No official checked to see if we'd actually purchased a ticket; I wondered, given their torn clothing and odors, whether two riders had actually paid.  Supposedly, stubs are randomly checked, but we never saw a conductor on any of the trains we rode or passed.


Everyone knows that light rail is a financial disaster. I can't find any instance where publicly funded rail lines have made a profit. Rather, they serve a political agenda--to eliminate private autos and ultimately, independent travel. It's part of a larger worldview that promotes leveling the field--eraticating differences between people based on wealth and achievement.  Often camouflaged as an effort to promote environmental causes, the crusade against cars and for mass transit really seeks to quash anything that differentiates and individualizes people and their choices.

I can understand that classic subways, like Manhattan's or Paris' are necessary--they serve cities built before cars, urban sprawl and suburbs.  But west-coast towns, like L.A., San Francisco and Seattle burgeoned because of the automobile; trying to reconfigure these cities to light rail is like trying to cram toothpaste back in the tube.

I certainly enjoyed my jaunt today on Seattle's downtown "tube." It was cheaper and lengthier than a ride at Disneyland.  Unfortuntately for taxpayers, like the attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Link light rail is also built on fantasy.  No one wants to give up his car to take four times longer and pay perhaps double or triple, with much greater inconvenience.  Even friends who, in principle, support light rail admit they don't use it.  Every time I drive by the Mount Baker Station on Rainier Avenue, which I do often, I search the station for activity. Usually there's no one, either walking near the station or on the trains. Once I saw an orange-vested maintenance man.

Seattle just elected Mike McGinn its new mayor, by a super-thin margin.  His primary promise is to expand light rail; he worked to block new suburban roads. He's a Sierra Club officer and rides his bike to work.  Though he'll rationalize Link's poor performance and lack of customers, sanity may still prevail.  Given the cost over-runs and delays inherent in building light rail (Central Link is the most expensive such project in the nation, ever), he'll long be out of office before the next segment can break ground.

6 comments:

  1. I take public transit to work (Chicago Metra+CTA), it's a heckuva (taxpayer-subsidized) deal. I ride my bike a lot. I hate to drive and I'm, uh, comfortable with public transportation. It works OK here in the Chicagoland area mostly, but the commuting lines are crammed to overflowing, and it doesn't really get that much traffic otherwise.

    Sounds like Seattle's light rail was designed by complete idiots.

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  2. Nick, As I said, some urban mass transit works, but when it's put in so much after the fact, when people are scattered and, with fewer and fewer wedded to rush hours and offices but still needing to be places on a tight schedule, folks won't give up the effeciency and flexibility of driving. Seattle's light rail was designed by succeeding waves of idiots--it's been 13 years, remember, and we've only got 14 ill-planned miles. At a cost of $100,000 per three feet, btw.

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  3. Very entertaining travelogue, D! Well done!

    The problem is HB 2815-2008 ensures that we will all be biking/walking/swimming to our nearest (20 mi?) Link station because we are all required to reduce our driving miles by 50% by 2050, regardless of which technologies might be available by then.

    Link designers are not the only idiots in WA!

    (WOW member)

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  4. You, my dear, are racist and classist. Keep in mind that spending your life looking for the negative in every experience is a WASTE. In most cases, you get out of something exactly what you put into it. Such a sad, bitter life. Good luck.

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  5. كشف تسربات المياه شركة المستقبل
    الأضرار الناجمة عن المياه يبدو مسألة تافهة في البداية ولكن ينبغي أن تؤخذ الاحتياطات الشديد إذا وجدت أي تسرب كبيرة أو العفن. هذه الأنواع من الأضرار شائعة في كل منزل، وأنها سهلة جدا لاستعادة في المراحل المبكرة. إذا تركت دون معالجة لفترة طويلة، هذه التسريبات صغيرة تؤدي إلى ضرر أكبر مثل سقف تسربت أو العفن الأرض.
    كشف تسربات المياه
    بمجرد أن يحدث هذا الضرر، فإن الخيار الوحيد المتبقي هو لاستئجار فقدان مقيم جيد وشركة ترميم وتنظيف المنزل افسدت. أعمال
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض الترميم ليس فقط يهدر لك المال بشق الانفس ولكن أيضا إلى إهدار وقتك الثمين الذي يضيع مرة واحدة لا يمكن استردادها. ولذلك فمن الأفضل دائما للحفاظ على منزلك آمنة ومأمونة من مثل هذه التسريبات واتخاذ إجراءات فورية عند أي تسرب في العثور عليها.
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه
    الخيار الأفضل لمنع منزلك من تسرب المياه الاكتشاف المبكر لمثل هذه القضايا. ويمكن القيام بذلك عن طريق استخدام نظام جيد الكشف عن تسرب المياه. ويمكن لهذه الأنظمة أن تكون مساعدة حقيقية بالنسبة لك إذا لم يكن لديك الوقت للمنزل أو كنت في جولة (بعيدا عن المنزل) في كثير من الأحيان. أساسا هناك نوعان من أنظمة الكشف عن التسرب، وأنظمة فعالة وأنظمة السلبي.
    افضل شركة كشف تسربات المياه
    1. أنظمة النشطة
    هذه الأنظمة تجعل ضجيج ينذر بالخطر عندما تحصل على اتصال من الماء. ناقوس الخطر ليس فقط ولكن لديهم وظائف من وقف تدفق المياه في حال تم الكشف عن التسريبات. هذا هو ميزة إضافية في حال كنت خارج المنزل. عادة مثل هذه الأجهزة تستخدم أجهزة استشعار الرطوبة التي يمكن الشعور كمية صغيرة جدا من الماء أيضا.
    كشف تسرب المياه الكترونيا
    2. نظم السلبي
    هذه الأنظمة فقط توليد نغمة مزعجة عندما كشف عن تسرب المياه. اعتمادا على نموذج بعض أجهزة الكشف عن تسرب سلبية جديدة أيضا وجود أضواء فلاش LED. خلافا للأنظمة النشطة، وهذه عادة ما تكون بطارية تعمل، فعالة من حيث التكلفة وحدات قائمة بذاتها وأنها لا تحتاج إلى أي أدوات خاصة لتركيب ويمكن تركيبها على أنها "تفعل ذلك بنفسك" من دون مساعدة من أي سباك أو الخبير الآخر.
    كشف تسربات المياه ببريدة
    كشف التسربات بالقصيم
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بعنيزة
    أنظمة الكشف عن تسرب المياه ليس فقط تخبرك عن تسريبات في المراحل السابقة، وأنها تساعد أيضا في توفير المياه. وبالنظر إلى الزيادة في عدد السكان بسرعة مخيفة، وتوفير المياه هو الحاجة من الزمن. هناك العديد من الأماكن التي يوجد فيها نقص في المياه والناس السفر الطويل للمياه. يمكن للكشف عن تسرب تكون مساعدة حقيقية في إعلام تسرب المياه في المراحل المبكرة ليس فقط توفير المياه الثمينة ولكن أيضا منع الفترة من الأضرار المياه.

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