Commuters take their first spin through Capitol Hill Station

IMG_4946Amarinthia Torres was watching a stopwatch on her phone while she waited to board a train at Capitol Hill Station Monday morning. 35 minutes door-to-door was the time to beat to get to her office at a Columbia City nonprofit. That’s how long her typical commute takes by riding the 9 bus from her Capitol Hill apartment.

Even if the light rail took a little longer with added walking times, Torres said she expected riding the new U-Link Light Rail line would replace her usual commute. “I’m hoping it will be less stressful,” she said.

Many riders at Capitol Hill Station had similar thoughts Monday morning during U-Link’s first weekday morning commute. Capitol Hill Station opened Saturday with a slice of a giant pair of scissors and a few booms of confetti. While Sound Transit’s new 3.1-mile U-Link extension from downtown to UW via Broadway will expand tourism and nightlife opportunities, the train’s success will ultimately depend on appealing to daily commuters.

U-Link’s first Monday morning appeared to go off without a hitch as riders tried out new morning routines in hopes of shaving some time and hassle off their commutes. Some riders were confused to see out-of-service trains come through the station as the peak schedule wound down around 8:30 AM. Those trains will resume running at 3:00 PM for the afternoon peak. The real-time arrival signs remained accurate for tracking the next rideable train.

The promise of reliable service, faster commutes, and less sardine can-like conditions compared to buses were among the most common reasons riders gave on their choice to take the train on Monday. Like Torres, several riders arriving and departing at Capitol Hill were timing the commute against the 9, which offers Capitol Hill connections to Mt. Baker, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach along Rainier Ave.

Avoiding the Montlake Bridge traffic choke point was Julieta Gruszko’s reason for trying out the U-Link tunnel. The physics graduate student at the University of Washington lives in Madison Valley and said a recent 1.5 hour commute along a traffic jammed 23rd Ave made U-Link’s opening especially sweet.

“We were joking that they were doing that on purpose to get people excited for light rail,” she said.

Others, like Dan Norman, were taking the train out of pure curiosity. His commute from Capitol Hill to his Pioneer Square office usually takes a zippy 12 minutes by bike. Norman said he would continue to bike and would only use light rail on especially rainy mornings. He dismissed the First Hill Streetcar as a commuting option after a recent 45-minute ride.

Connecting light rail and streetcar trips did make sense for some riders. After dropping his son off at preschool in Columbia City, Mark Jordan hopped on a Link train to the Capitol Hill Station and planned to take the streetcar to his office at Seattle University. Jordan, a biology professor, usually takes the 9, which he said would probably remain faster but that he was happy to have the light rail option on heavy traffic days. “I’ll use this as a back-up,” he said.

Not everyone was heading to work Monday morning. Caitlin Dundon was using light rail to get to a doctors appointment on First Hill. Her journey started at her home in north Seattle where she took a D RapidRide bus to downtown, caught the light rail to Capitol Hill, and planned to finish her trip on the First Hill Streetcar.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “I can’t wait until it gets up to Roosevelt.”

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

15 thoughts on “Commuters take their first spin through Capitol Hill Station

  1. I live on Capitol Hill and work in the U District, but work is on Roosevelt near the bridge and is thus a mile from the station — not especially convenient (nor is most of the U District beyond the university campus, honestly). BUT, I still took Light Rail this morning and will likely to continue to. Even with walking the mile from the University of Washington station, my commute was the exact same amount of time I used to take when getting on the bus after walking the near-mile down to Convention Place. As people are quoted as saying in this post, the difference is reliability — and, I actually didn’t consider until reading this post, stress. If I made it downtown to catch an express bus at 7:06 it tended to be fine, but any bus *after* that was always packed and I had to stand. No such problems on Light Rail.

  2. I took light rail from Cap Hill to an appointment downtown this morning and it was a breeze. Not sure about those arrival time signs, the train arrived about 4 minutes late. Still better to wait inside than out in the drizzle at 12th and John. I assumed Sound Transit would be running 3-car trains now that the new stations are open, so I was a bit surprised to see that they were only 2-car trains. It was pretty crowded but not sardine-tight. Definitely easier to stand on a roomy and smooth riding light rail car than the bump and grind of the 43.

    • Yeah arrival signs were off for me too. Not sure if exception or norm. It counted down from 4 minutes to 1, then it reset to 6 minutes, then at 2 minutes the train showed. Are these signs aspirational or accurate?

      I think it should be able to accurately predict the time from UW station to Capitol Hill as not sharing with buses. But not sure it could predict Northbound arrival.

  3. I’m obsessed. I live about four walking minutes from the Capitol Hill station and work about fifteen walking minutes from the UW station. Getting so close to work in 3.5 minutes feels like a dream. I used it yesterday and today and I am actually looking forward to going to work tomorrow just to use it again. Sorry 43. It’s not me, it’s you.

  4. I have never seen so many people excited to go to work on a Monday morning! It was awesome! I have been looking forward to this for so long and it was nice to “enjoy” my commute to work. I now have a 4 min walk to the station and a one minute walk to work from the Pioneer Square station, that is what dreams are made of! Now we just need to get those damn busses out of the tunnel.

    • I don’t think buses are slated to start to come out of the tunnel system for 3 to 5 years. No firm timetable or commitments from Sound Transit or Metro on their buses. Obviously tricky to figure out how to get them all on surface streets with closing more lanes to cars would seem the solution, at least during certain hours like 3rd.

    • No problem, remove the bike lanes downtown and make them bus lanes. Problem solved, and moves more people now too – benefits far more people than the bike lanes ever did or will.

  5. Waited 16 minutes at Westlake only for a packed light rail to show up. Ended up waking back up the hill (~25 min walk). A bit frustrating.

  6. Around noon, I asked the ST personnel what was up with the real time arrival signs. They said the computer seemed confused and that ST is working on it. Real time arrival should be based on something similar to GPS connected to the train. When I first say 20 minutes before the next train, I thought there must be a problem on the tracks. They assured me that the train would arrive soon.

  7. Took the train from Pioneer station to Cap Hill. Flawless.

    However, Seattle peeps need to learn the rules of the escalator. If it’s narrow, walk down the escalator. If there is enough room, move to the right so others can walk past you on your left. A lot of “backup” on the escalators in both stations yesterday.

  8. I am about 2 blocks from the Capitol Hill Station and so far only been using Light Rail to come back from Downtown. I really like my bus in the morning being really empty and not having to use the bus at night.

    I’m really looking forward to the U District station to open, since that will be a real gamer changer for my travel around Seattle.

    • Agreed! I’m excited enough about the Cap Hill and Husky Stadium stations, but I’m going to be over the moon about the next set of station openings with the Northgate expansion in 2021 and East Link in 2023. If my car lasts that long, I may just never need to replace it!