Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seattle Light Rail Connects to SeaTac Airport...and a Hike

It's the apex of holiday time and again we're confronted with planes, trains and automobiles...and light rail.  Here in Seattle, the final stop on the Link Light Rail system opened on Saturday, finally connecting the 15.7 miles between downtown and SeaTac airport. Almost.

Catching your plane via light rail isn't so simple. Somehow you've got to get to the train, and not by driving, as none of the stations have parking lots.  Once on Link, you won't find luggage racks.  And finally, after you reach the spanking-new SeaTac station, you debark onto a platform 60 feet in the air.

From there, you've got to schlep your luggage outdoors, unprotected from cold and wind, down a level, across a bridge, and the length of the enormous parking structure (which holds 13,000 cars, ostensibly the largest garage in the world), finally crossing over to the terminal--where you start the indoors hike to your airline.  (Rental of a luggage cart is $4.)

As the Seattle Times suggests, "With its open-air walkways, chill breezes, highway and tarmac vistas, visible pipes ans jet fumes, the station seems to celebrate the maelstrom that is modern air travel." The article continues, "People-movers were not built, because those would cost millions, nor do the Port and Sound Transit keep electric carts, rental wheelchairs or pedicabs at the station."

Well, what do you expect for $2.3 billion?  And that was for the first 14 miles of track that opened in July.  Latest reports show that November ridership slipped to its lowest level.

This is of interest as my family prepares for travel to Hawaii (oh, yes!) where my husband will continue working and the rest of us plan to soak up a few of those 80-degree rays.  We're not checking luggage, given that the first piece costs $15 each way, and we've got heavy "personal items" and must tote our Northwest coats.

 Is the light rail an attractive means to reach the airport? Well, let's see: It takes longer for us to drive to the nearest station than it would to get to the airport and be dropped off right in front of our airline.  The cost of gas is no more for all of us to ride in one car than the multiple fares on Light Rail would be. And with a car drop-off, there's no grappling with bags down stairs and during a lenghty (and time-consuming) outdoor walk.

Funny, I've asked several groups if anyone's tried the Link light rail, and not a single person has.  Why not? Because we value our time, our convenience and our money.  Greg Nickels, outgoing mayor who proudly cut the ribbon at the SeaTac station opening Saturday, is hoping that people will forego all of the above, in sync with a liberal philosophy that views cars as evil and independence as selfish.

Taxpayers who wouldn't ride light rail are forced to pay for it.  Even the liberals who support mass transit in principle won't sacrifice time and effort to take Light Rail to the airport when cars are so much easier and faster.  Our left-leaning government thinks it knows best how we should travel, but no one's willing to give up personal freedom and comfort.  I'll be eager to see if Mayor Nickels or any other politican toasting the new station Saturday ever rides light rail again.


  1. Waaaa. I have to walk? Oh, no! Why would anyone want to do that?

    Light rail is about more than airport trips. But, as the one person you now know who has taken light rail to the airport, I will say that it works beautifully.

    And, just for the record, it's Mayor Nickels (not Nichols). If you're going to complain about something that doesn't impact you personally -- since you can still take your precious car wherever you want to take it -- at least learn how to spell the names of the politicians you want to criticize. Please.


    "I have to walk to the terminal!"

    What do you expect? The Port to bring out their little flatbed vehicles and drive you right up to your gate? This is why Americans are so damn fat. You've obviously never been to other airports where the walk is much longer. Grow up. It takes the same to walk from the station to the terminal as it does to walk one length of a concourse.

    And don't bullshit about taxpayers. I'm as conservative as they get and I support mass transit because highways are far more subsidized than public transportation. You know what's driving is? Government subidized intervention. Listen to the late Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation. He was one of the few conservatives that had a brain about transit.

  3. You don't want to pay for light rail? How about a deal- I pay for light rail and you pay for 520, the AWV deep bore tunnel, the cross-base highway, the Columbia River Crossing, and 5 widenings of 405

  4. Thanks, Light Rail Lover, for the spelling correction (I hit publish and had to run--I've fixed it). First off, not everyone CAN walk. And you're right that light rail is more than airport trips...but I have a problem with its underlying philosophy that minimizes independence.
    Sherwin, you're right that highways are already way subsidized; that's one of the proper roles of government. But since they already ARE, and people already live in suburbs (ie not close to rail stations) and already have bus service, why spend so much MORE for service that already exists? We could add hundreds more bus routes for the cost of this fixed system, and at least they would be flexible and could change according to demand and need. Electric cars, hybrids or eventually fission-run busses would be more responsive to public need and BILLIONS much cheaper. But the time, cost and convenience for most people who can get a ride to the airport trump taking light rail.
    Kurisu--your plan would be fine, if we all weren't already paying for ALL of it. You like taxes? Good; more are coming.

  5. You're absolutely right, Diane, but I still see it as something way plainer than taking away our independence. There are already plenty of buses that connect to Sea-Tac Airport. Buses that I barely ever see crowded. (I take the bus myself every single day.) Buses that go to stops that do have places to park. Buses that travel through suburban neighborhoods all over the greater Seattle area.

    I'm also tired of seeing all these new ways of getting into Seattle and it never helping our city's traffic situation. One study even says that we have the worst congestion in the country this year (http://seattle.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2009/11/30/daily14.html). Commuters have King County Metro, Sound Transit, the Sounder train, ferries, Link Light Rail, and RapidRide coming this next year. How about we build a PRT system just so we can say that we have the whole package? It's embarrassing how we have all these options and it still takes me an hour and a half on average to get to work.

    Now, I do think traffic will possibly improve once light rail expands east to Redmond and north to Lynnwood. The bridges are always terrible during rush hour, and the same goes for I-5 north of Seattle. But how much money will we have spent by then? Well, if 15.7 miles cost us under $2.3 billion, then you can only estimate how much the rest is going to cost. We're looking at a complete system that's going to cost us billions for at least another two decades in taxpayer money.

    I'm not saying that public transportation is bad, there's just too much of it and it's not helping. As you mentioned, people like being able to drive their cars, ride their motorcycles, ride their bikes, etc. Why not focus the money on what we already have in place? Adding more options is just going to cost us more money, which in the long run will cost us our time and convenience.

  6. I think your comments about our light rail system were "right on", Diane. Sorry about the slang, Babe, but I am from the 60's and sometimes it just slip... slids out.

    Have a brilliant Hawaiian vacation.

  7. let me know what you think of the beer I left in the small beer fridge on the lanai saturday evening. (sorry to be off-topic)

  8. nice post. thanks.

  9. I think most people would do the same when they are headed with the situation.

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