Editorial: Light rail, the wave of the future, but with a few bumps along the way?

Photo by George Liu/NWAW

Photo by George Liu/NWAW

The 13.9-mile Central Link light rail that runs from Westlake Station to Tukwila International Boulevard Station opened for service last week on July 18, giving out free rides during its inauguration. Sound Transit is planning an extension of the service all the way to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which will open in December. Though it doesn’t have many riders yet, Sound Transit anticipates 21,000 daily riders by the end of this year.

The light rail will be significant to the Asian American community. During its inaugural run, there were many Asian Americans on board. We see it enhancing business in the International District. Last weekend, people visited Uwajimaya because of its proximity to the light rail station in the ID. There were many people who have not visited the ID before, and they took the opportunity to explore after they got off the rail.

One person was overheard saying, “Uwajimaya has added apartments.” This struck us because Uwajimaya added apartments to its grocery story about 10 years ago. It has evidently been a while since some people have been in the ID.

The light rail is making it easier to visit these places. It is good because it will elevate the district’s status as an attraction, a must-see part of the city. We think the light rail is a long-awaited (and much needed) alternative to hours in traffic, not to mention it’s also more environmentally friendly than driving cars everywhere. Seattle has been behind in comparison to other large cities in terms of public transportation. Though it took a while to come to fruition, we are glad that to finally see some changes.

It was great that Sound Transit employees came out to volunteer to make sure everything was smooth. The rides were organized and we hope it is a sign of things to come.

We do have a few observations. Our rail is not as beautiful as many of the ones in Asian cities. You might ask, “Who cares about how pretty it is if it works well?” Well, there was not very much information on the train, inside or outside. Perhaps this will come later?

Arrival times of light rails aren’t yet posted at the stations. Instead, some Sound Transit employees did not know about arrival times. Real time updates would be nice in the future. There is also a for us concern in regards to safety. Despite signs that tell riders to stay off the tracks, some might still disregard the danger because it is easy to walk cross to the opposite tracks.

It’s very nice that the ID was included as a stop. The location is convenient, close to Pioneer Square and SoDo. But in other places, it’s quite a walk to get to a light rail station, such as Beacon Hill.

With the stop on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Rainier Avenue, it’s a lengthy walk to get to the hub of the area. This is a concern of many community organizations that serve Asians, especially since many of these organizations’ clients are elderly and may not be able to take advantage of the light rail because of the distance.

These are things that the city needs to think about for the future. ♦

2 Responses to “Editorial: Light rail, the wave of the future, but with a few bumps along the way?”

  1. Jason says:

    A few comments. There obviously hasn’t been a lot of research done by the author of this article. Many of the “problems” that the author stated are not actually problems, but the beginning of a new direction in development.

    The article says: “We do have a few observations. Our rail is not as beautiful as many of the ones in Asian cities. You might ask, “Who cares about how pretty it is if it works well?” Well, there was not very much information on the train, inside or outside. Perhaps this will come later?”

    This isn’t exactly a valid argument, because first of all, our light rail trains are, in fact, Asian. They were built by Kinki Sharyo-Mitsui, where KinkiSharyo is a Japanese company that also builds the Series 700 Shinkansen in Japan. In terms of aesthetics for stations (which is subjective), I’ll say that the Sea-Tac Airport, Tukwila, Mt. Baker, and Beacon Hill stations look much better than most stations in Taiwan or Japan. I know that because first, I was born in Taiwan and I grew up there. Second, I’ve been to Japan six times.

    Most stations in Asia do not contain artwork unless they are built for special tourist events (such as stations in Taiwan’s Kaoshiung subway system, which have extensive artwork due to its hosting of the World Games), whereas here, it is required that 1% of the money is spent on artwork. With a multi-billion dollar system (depending on different estimates), that leaves hundreds of millions of dollars left for artwork.

    Regarding the information on and off the trains, what more information do you need than which stop you are on and which doors will be opening? The electronic display boards already give all the information a train rider needs (the next stop, and on which side the doors will be opening). Now, the boards even inform you of any delays up ahead. Yes, the Japanese Yamanote line is much more advanced, but their system is much more extensive, costs many times more, and has a ridership a few hundred times higher than ours. As much as I’d like to have a system similar to Yamanote, we don’t have the ridership nor the tax authority to build such a system. Japan Rail is privately owned while Sound Transit is government-owned. A fairer comparison for ST Link Light Rail would be Taipei’s subway system, which is among the best in the world. In that case, our light rail system ties Taipei’s subway system in the amount of information given onboard the trains.

    The article says: “Arrival times of light rails aren’t yet posted at the stations. Instead, some Sound Transit employees did not know about arrival times. Real time updates would be nice in the future.”

    Sound Transit announced weeks ago (and reiterated many times recently) that the arrival times would be installed in two months.

    The article says: “There is also for us a concern in regards to safety. Despite signs that tell riders to stay off the tracks, some might still disregard the danger because it is easy to walk cross to the opposite tracks.”

    That isn’t a safety issue. It’s an educational issue. It’s clearly marked that crossing the tracks is illegal. There are also security guards patrolling the tracks. However, the flat tracks in the Downtown Transit Tunnel is there so buses can get around each other. If it was blocked off down the middle of the tracks then that might add to congestion in the tunnels since buses will have to wait for other buses in front of them.

    The article says: “But in other places, it’s quite a walk to get to a light rail station, such as Beacon Hill.”

    Running light rail through any part of that area will have the same effect, because those areas are sprawled. It doesn’t matter where the tracks are, but chances are there isn’t really a central location to build the tracks. The goal is to promote TOD (Transit Oriented Development), and the expectation is that in a few years, medium to high-density developments will begin to appear around the rail lines. That’s why the rail runs through that area. Do some research on Othello station and its TOD plans for the next few years.

    The article says: “With the stop on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Rainier Avenue, it’s a lengthy walk to get to the hub of the area. This is a concern of many community organizations that serve Asians, especially since many of these organizations’ clients are elderly and may not be able to take advantage of the light rail because of the distance.”

    This isn’t an issue on Sound Transit’s part. This is an issue of low-density development and sprawl, in which we have relied too heavily on our cars to get around. Light rail is supposed to help alleviate these issues by promoting Transit Oriented Development, which will increase the availability of commercial/residential developments around rail stations to decrease walking distance.

    I’d like to say that I do not work for Sound Transit or the state in any way, and I am just a high school student. But I am very alarmed at the lack of research that the author has done in the writing of this article. Perhaps there should be more understanding on this subject prior to such a response on a professionally published newspaper.

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