Amarinthia 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.”