Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 17, 2009

LIVE from Link: Let the celebration begin!

Light rail opening weekend is finally here.

In less than twenty four hours, the wraps will be taken off Central Link, the Puget Sound region's first modern light rail system, at long last giving us what we have badly needed for so long: the beginning of a rail backbone.

So many people have been invited to today's special preview ride (the very last preview ride of them all!) that Sound Transit expects to pack full three cars full of dignitaries: elected officials, business representatives, labor leaders, policymakers, transit activists, and members of the press.

Dignitaries gathering at Westlake Center
Many of the dignitaries on today's train ride hail from the statehouse. Senators, representatives, and staff for the governor's office are all on board, riding Link light rail for the very first time. Among those here are Fred Jarrett and Ross Hunter, both candidates for county executive who have served in the Legislature, Cindy Zehnder, chief of staff for Governor Chris Gregoire, State Senator Ed Murray, and Representatives Marcie Maxwell, Tina Orwall, and Scott White.

Before we descended to the platform to board the train, we were treated to a series of speeches from the elected officials who led the way to get Central Link built, chiefly Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Senator Patty Murray.

"You helped make this happen," Nickels told the assembled crowd. He specifically thanked Jim Ellis and Aubrey Davis for their vision, essential to the success of Link light rail. He then honored the memory of former legislator Ruth Fisher, the sponsor of the legislation that created Sound Transit.

Senator Patty Murray also spoke, referencing again and again the early obstacles that Sound Transit had to overcome. She expressed appreciation for the more than four thousand people who took the project from blueprints to reality.

Here's an excerpt from her remarks:
We wanted an environmentally-friendly transportation system to reduce congestion, increase commuter options, and lay the foundation for economic growth.

But, while our vision was clear, the path forward often wasn’t. As a member of the Senate committee that oversees federal transportation funding, I secured 3 million dollars so Sound Transit could do the early planning to apply for the federal commitment they needed long-term.

But Sound Transit stumbled. They were over budget and deadline and lacking oversight. That hurt us in D.C. And I knew if we didn’t get a $500 million agreement signed by the end of the Clinton Administration, we never would.

So, the night before President Bush was sworn into office Norm and I sent our staff to camp out in Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater’s office until he signed on the dotted line. At 8:30 PM – 16 hours before Inauguration - he did.

But the job was just beginning. I went into tough mom mode. I demanded Sound Transit get its house in order.

I put them in time out: No funding until they got it together. I worked with Joni and others to make sure we could answer the tough questions. Sound Transit stepped up and convinced Congress and the Administration not to give up on them. We refused to let our economic growth be held captive by those early problems or political gridlock.
The speechifying went on for more than forty minutes, as Murray and Nickels were followed by more than half a dozen speakers from around the region.

The speechifying also caused a big part of Westlake Station to be closed off, inconveniencing hundreds - perhaps thousands - of riders who could not figure out why some of the stairways, escalators, and entrances were roped off and guarded by police. We also blocked the platform at Westlake on one side for several minutes, waiting for the buses to clear out and head south.

But we did all finally manage to make it onto the train.

And then - behold, the audio cues! They're finally working now, an awesome flourish to a magnificent train system. The cues announce, in loud, friendly tones, what the next station is and which direction the platform is (Doors to my right, for example). It's a warm, friendly female voice. Sounds a lot better than my GPS system.

We have just come out of the Downtown Transit Tunnel and are heading through SoDo (South Downtown) to the Beacon Hill Tunnels.

I will update this post with more info as the ride progresses.

Mount Rainier looms over Southcenter
MORE: Also working are the LED screens. They no longer say Sound Transit, but instead report what the next station is, as well as the terminus of the line. The LED screens and audio cues help make Link much, much easier to ride for travelers and people new to Seattle than buses.

The air conditioning appears to be on full blast, which is good because it's a very warm day and there are quite a few of us packed inside each of the three cars that are coupled together in this train. We're not at crush load, though, which is good, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to take pictures or shoot video.

HEADING NORTH: We stopped for a five minute or so intermission at Tukwila International Boulevard Station. Most of us who were on the first car going south walked around to be on the first car going north as well.

REMEMBERING: Getting this system built took a big, big effort. As we cruised north through the Rainier Valley and SoDo, I talked with Mayor Greg Nickels and Joni Earl about many of the hurdles Sound Transit had to clear to get Central Link built. We also talked about the future - getting Link extended north, south, and east. Eventually, Sound Transit may color code the lines, as is done in other cities, to help people find their way about the region.

WHAT ABOUT WI-FI? One of the great things about these rides is that you can get fast answers to questions. I asked Mayor Nickels if the trains have wi-fi capability; he didn't know, so he asked Joni Earl. Joni didn't know, but she whipped out her BlackBerry and sent a message asking about it. Turns out the trains are not currently wired for wi-fi, but they apparently could be, and possibly may be in the future. Something to ask the Sound Transit Board to look into the months ahead.

People detrain at International District Station
WE'RE BACK: Just got off at International District/Chinatown Station. I'll upload a few pictures later tonight - hopefully I got some shots that aren't identical to what we've published in the past. I'll check in later!


Blogger Phoenix Light Rail Network said...

If you going to ride the train, there is a new website that identifies over 275 locations near the new Seattle stations. Called, it maps businesses, parks, churches and libraries (to name a few).

Enjoy your "New Ride" Seattle!

July 17, 2009 6:43 PM  

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