Wednesday morning, I got a preview of what Capitol Hill’s public transportation will be like in 2016. Except, in the future, I would be 400 feet underground and I wouldn’t be riding with a train full of journalists.
I took a trip down to Columbia City Station for a quick ride on the new Central Link light rail. In this media preview event, Mayor Nickels and Sound Transit board members Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine gave a quick run down of the “nuts and bolts” of the light rail, stressing the system’s safety, convenience, and affordability. Opening to the public in 10 days, the light rail will travel from Westlake to Tukwila International Blvd, with fares ranging from $1.75 to $2.50 depending on the distance.
Entering the train feels similar to entering any old Metro, but the car is much wider and roomier than a standard bus. There is no need for a lift, as the train is level with the loading dock allowing easy access for disabled persons, bicyclists, or luggage carrying passengers to enter the train. Tickets will be different as well, with a focus on the new ORCA pass and ridding of the old paper transfer tickets. Ticket inspectors will patrol the trains, checking tickets and handing out $125 dollar fines to unauthorized passengers.
The ride starts quick but is much smoother than a metro bus. Also, the light rail has priority at every intersection, eliminating the stop and go feeling common in most Metro lines. Once we passed the Rainier Beach station, many cars on I-5 stood still as the train reached its top speed of 55 mph. While a bit wobbly at times, it is easy to get lost in a book or conversation and forget that you are riding high above the all too common traffic mess on the highway.
The Capitol Hill station on the University Link extension of the light rail line is scheduled to go into service in 2016. For the latest on the project, see Light rail construction noise meeting: Big walls, new crosswalks, 24-hour work.
Lucas Anderson is the Neighborlogs.com Seattle Editor intern. Follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/lucasanderso