6 ways to make Capitol Hill Station even better

Capitol Hill Station has served thousands and thousands of riders extremely well — but Monday night’s pepper spray closure and disruption of service at the peak of the evening commute was an example that there are still some improvements the station and the Sound Transit light rail system can make to be even better.

While we wait for Thursday’s release of the “final” plan for the proposed ST3 next phase of expansion and read about some of the big solutions the plan could bring to the region, here are some of the smaller issues we’ve heard about around Capitol Hill Station.

  • (Image: @mmitgang via Twitter)

    (Image: @mmitgang via Twitter)

    Platform communications: Somebody discharged pepper spray inside the station Monday and the result was a minor form of chaos. The station was cleared of people so the spray could be dissipated and trains were routed to skip Broadway and head straight to UW or downtown. But riders inside the station report that audio messages about the situation were not informative and hard to hear. The emergency announcement was also reportedly only broadcast in English and riders said there were nothing that would have helped inform passengers who were deaf or hard of hearing about what was happening.

    The investigation into how the pepper spray was released has closed and appears to have been related to a dispute between a woman and a man inside the station. Surveillance video showed an incident in the south stairwell near Cal Anderson that apparently included a cloud of pepper spray. Sound Transit is also aware of the communication issues and a spokesperson said they are talking about how to improve:
    As for the customer communications, we could have done a better job – especially with announcements on the platforms. Our folks tell me that PA announcements were made, but they could have been better. This isn’t a regular occurrence (thank goodness), so the focus at the time was on the operations side and venting the station. We’ve been debriefing about it and looking at where the communications needs improvement.

  • The arrival screen bug: Weeks of an intermittent bug that causes incorrect train arrival times to display has made the information screens that are available on the platform mostly untrusted by regular riders. A Sound Transit spokesperson told CHS a fix was in the works but that bug continued to appear.
  • Garbage: Emptying garbage cans is a drag. And they’re a security risk. Capitol Hill Station is nearly trash receptacle free. We’ve seen plenty of riders make bad decisions on what to do with their garbage.
  • Seats: We’re assuming Sound Transit’s designers were focused on keeping you moving and not presenting a lot of options for people to hang out to enjoy the tunnel wind-blown A/C. Still, more places to sit or at least lean on the platform would probably have been welcomed.
  • Space on the trains: Riders now have a 1 in 3 chance of three-car train. Stretch out.
  • Security: The Transit Security folks can be a little overbearing. And occasionally, they have stepped over the line. This incident frequent CHS contributor Alex Garland captured on video didn’t sit well with Sound Transit:Here’s what a Sound Transit official told us about the incident — and your photo rights inside the station:
    I’ve talked to our security folks and they point out that while this officer could have done a better job explaining the general rules around photography at stations – they are trained to have friendly conversations with people shooting lots of pictures to emphasize the need to stay away from the platform edge, not block general traffic through the station and that anyone wanting to shoot for commercial purposes needs to get prior approval. They shouldn’t be intervening with anyone shooting for their personal use but they may remind folks about how to stay safe. Anyone can shoot anything that’s in a public area as long as you’re not impeding customer movements or using the photos for commercial purposes.

There are a few nits — some more nitty than others. Let us know about your ideas for making the station better in comments.

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

24 thoughts on “6 ways to make Capitol Hill Station even better

  1. I noticed the lack of seating, but figured it was probably on purpose to keep the homeless from shacking up there – so that I am completely okay with. I’m also okay with the security presence as well.

    • Not everyone has the ability or willingness to stand for long periods, especially waiting for trains that run only ever 10 minutes (or more with delays). Seniors, kids, people with bulky items, etc. It would behoove Sound Transit to think a little more broadly about its customer base and provide one or two more benches (and trash cans!!) at the center of the platform.

    • @abledanger

      if people are clearly loitering then security needs to ask them to move on.

      and what does a potential homeless loitering issue have to do with not putting out a garbage can? you thinking oscar the grouch is gonna move in?

    • Trash cans are a place to hide bombs. They’re becoming absent on the streets and in mass transit stations in many cities.

      Its a new fact of life that we’re having to deal with and need to plan accordingly.

    • Responding to your comment:

      “Those benches and trash cans wouldn’t be terribly useful when occupied by homeless :-P”

      They would be useful to the people occupying them. And having people throw trash in a trash can is useful to everyone, regardless of whether or not the person doing the throwing has a home. C’mon, people without homes are still people and their needs should matter, too.

  2. I was on one of the trains that bypassed Capitol Hill station on Monday, and the on-board announcement by the driver was barely audible (as are most of the drivers’ announcements – don’t they have a volume control?).

  3. Doesn’t the whole station feel terribly sterile and mechanical? The look seems more intended for the comfort of machines than people. The two heralded art installations are overwhelmed by vast expanses of nightmarish gray and beige.

    I suggest ordering a whole lot of fabric tapestries from a hippie catalog and hanging them all around. Also choose some modest areas for a new paint job, and let a 2nd grade classroom pick out new colors. The result would be a much more pleasant place to catch a train.

    • I totally agree about the barrenness of the station. There is nothing appealing to me about it and the ac makes it very cold

    • Seconded, thirded, etc. I feel like I’m in the very cold womb of a large robot when I’m there. Or descending into a mechanical pit of boredom and drudgery.

  4. All way pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Broadway/John. Stop all vehicle traffic for a cycle so that pedestrians have the option to cross the intersection diagonally, improving connections to the bus stops located at Rite Aid, American Apparel, and Jai Thai.

  5. While they’re making messaging improvements, they might also:

    1. “Doors on the right” and not “Door on my right”. Do the train’s have gender? I think not.

    2. Why is it “entering” a station rather than “arriving”? This one is less important.

    • “Doors to my right” drives me nuts lol. I dont know which way that lady is facing. “Doors open on right” makes sense and would imply “right based on direction of travel”.

    • the ‘doors to my right’ is supposed to be a message from the “driver”; the driver being at the front train in the direction it’s travelling. so, when you hear that message, face in the direction the train is travelling and the doors to exit will be, to your right. similarly if the message is ‘doors to my left’, they’ll be on your left.

    • The person making the announcement “is” the train. The side announced is based on the direction the train is traveling.

  6. They need more/bigger signs identifying which elevator leads to Denny and which goes to John. They’re impossible to see from the middle of the platform.

  7. The announcements are indeed often hard to understand. But at least they have lowered the volume at the Capitol Hill station from deafening and hard to understand to reasonable and hard to understand. I think the system needs an arrow added in the UW station to the screens above the platform to indicate which of the two parked trains is next to leave. Apparently no one thought of that. As to the lack of trash bins on the platforms or in the stations I wonder if it is tied to security as England and France had terror groups placing devices in trash cans at stations to blow things up in the past. The seating on the platform seems fine to me. You don’t want people living in these stations.

  8. “6 ways to make Capitol Hill Station even better”

    Way 7. Don’t use pepper spray in the enclosed space with heavy machinery that can squish people that are blinded.