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Good news for bikes, more trains during rush hour, connection to the Central District, and more: What’s next for Capitol Hill light rail riders

(Image: Sound Transit)

They grow up so fast, don’t they? This summer, Link Light Rail is celebrating its tenth birthday.

Back then, the Link covered 14 miles. The Capitol Hill and University of Washington stations opened three years ago, and ridership is now at 8,100 weekday boardings at the Capitol Hill Station. Sound Transit projects the number to rise to 18,000 daily weekday boardings at the station in 2026.

With the addition of more stations and lines, new trains and information system, a lot more is going to change. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for Capitol Hill Light Rail riders.

Where the Light Rail will take you: Pretty far. It won’t happen overnight, but the system will grow to 116 miles by 2041 with 48 more stations. In two years from now, Capitol Hill riders will be able to hop on a direct line to the new, underground U District and Roosevelt stations, and an elevated Northgate station.

By 2023, also on a direct line, Capitol Hill riders will be able to reach the new Judkins Park station smack-dab in the middle of I-90. From there, passengers will be able to take in views of Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier if you’re lucky by riding the train on the I-90 bridge (or more precise: the world’s first train tracks on a bridge that floats) to Mercer Island and South Bellevue. Lynnwood, Kent, Federal Way and downtown Redmond will be within light rail’s reach just a year later. 

Construction progress of Judkins Park Station May 30, 2019 (Image: Sound Transit)

Does that mean there will be two lines instead of one running from Capitol Hill? Yes. In 2023, there will be two Light Rail lines — one red, one blue — running below Broadway. Travelers will be able to go all the way up to Northgate (and in 2024, Lynnwood) on both lines, and East to Bellevue (and in 2024, downtown Redmond) on the Blue Line. The Red Line will extend south to Angle Lake and a year later, Federal Way.

The addition of another line doesn’t involve physical changes to the Capitol Hill station. Both routes will be operating along the same track; riders will choose the right line. Heading downtown from Capitol Hill? Take whatever train comes first. The trains split off in the International District/Chinatown station.

What else does it mean?: More trains during rush hour starting in 2023. Trains will come to the Capitol Hill station every four instead of six minutes during peak service.

How long will it take to go from Broadway to Judkins Park and other locations? 12 minutes. Downtown Bellevue and Redmond will be within 27 and 45 minutes’ reach from the Capitol Hill station. Judkins Park is now a 15 min ride away from UW, and 39 minutes (including transfer times) ride away from SeaTac airport. Workers from Microsoft’s Campus nearby the Redmond Tech Center will be able to make their way to Capitol Hill in a little over half an hour.

What you need to know about the Judkins Park stop: The Judkins Park station will not just be an easy way to get from Capitol Hill to the Central District and the Eastside and back. It will also connect an area historically divided by I-90. The station most likely will bring more change to the already-changing neighborhood(s): New buildings are popping up or planned, including a 700-home project (300 of them will be income-restricted affordable). 23rd Ave Corridor Improvements to improve safety and mobility for people who drive, walk, bike and take transit in the area are underway.

The station, 10-minute, a half-mile walk from 23rd and Jackson, is projected to see 1,770 people arrive and depart from the Judkins Park Station by 2030, according to Sound Transit estimates. 45% of them will be coming and going on foot or by bicycle, 42% by bus. A recent study suggests that even more bicyclist (some of whom will ride to the station via the nearby I-90 trail) may be likely.

It will also be the only Seattle station with direct access to a major park (sorry, Cal Anderson doesn’t count).

Riders will be able to walk or bike up to the station from either Rainier Avenue South or 23rd Avenue South. And thanks to New York Artist Hank Willis Thomas, those entrances will honor musician Jimi Hendrix in two large murals. Once on the platform, riders will be able to see more art: Longtime Seattle artist Barbara Earl Thomas’ transformed her cut-paper works to glass and metal for the station’s platform windscreens.

By 2020, train cars will look different too: Albeit not dramatically different. The second generation of trains, a fleet of 152 vehicles, will be the same length and count as many seats as the first, 74.

Still, riders will notice some differences. The center aisle will be wider and slightly thinner seats will give way for more legroom and luggage. Forward-facing seats near the bike hooks/luggage and wheelchair now face sideways, which also means more passengers will be able to look out through the wider windows.

Good news for bike riders: there are now twice as many bicycle hooks, four in total, and they will be staggered for different bike heights.

The trains also have new screens displaying the next three stations and rider alerts.

Another significant change: new LED light strips near the doors, as well as audio signals that signal whether the door about to close or open (red) or already closed or open (blue) to help with door blocking.

Will Capitol Hill riders notice this?: It depends on fate and where you go. But the chances are high for Capitol Hill riders: these cars will mostly ride the Blue and Red lines. The Blue Line will use 112 cars of the 152 ordered second-generation, the Red Line 40.

The cars’ arrival is staggered, however. Sound Transit expects to receive a handful of vehicles per month through 2024.

Getting around — or knowing when your train comes — should also get a little easier in 2023: Passenger information displays at the stations will get a make-over by 2023. The whole Passenger Information Management System (PIMS, for short) will get an upgrade to unify different digital systems into one single operating system. That means better arrival predictions and closer to real-time information.

The new system should be introduced by 2023 and, Sound Transit projects, cost $49.6M

Another change to help with some confusion: University Street, University of Washington, and University District: By 2021, there will be three stations with University in its name. Confused/vexed residents and out-of-town visitors rejoice: Sound Transit is considering a public outreach process for station name changes. “We will kicking off a process to review a possible name change in the next few months,” Sound Transit Public Information Officer John Gallagher said.

What will a ticket cost? That’s unclear. “We haven’t set fares for 2023 yet, but as with other parts of Link, the price will depend upon your planned trip,” Gallagher said.

Wait — there’s more: Voters approved extensions to the rail system in 2016, which means even more stops are to come. Expect stations reaching West Seattle’s Alaska Junction neighborhood (2030), Tacoma Dome (2030), Ballard (2035), Everett (2036), South Kirkland (2041) and Issaquah (2041).

The Red Line station serving Capitol Hill will extend to West Seattle directly. Capitol Hill riders will be able to transfer in Westlake station to reach Ballard.

Any hiccups to look out for? The East Link seems to be doing just fine and hitting major deadlines. There’s one major “but”: for ten weeks starting in January 2020, construction crews will close one Link track at a time in downtown Seattle during which trains will run at a reduced frequency of every 12 minutes (riders continuing through Downtown Seattle will need to switch trains at Pioneer Square Station.)

And all that construction above Capitol Hill Station? Housing and retail. Affordable housing, too, A new plaza and the AIDS Memorial Pathway. A daycare facility. Community space. And probably an H-Mart. The developments are slated to begin opening in spring of 2020.

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10 thoughts on “Good news for bikes, more trains during rush hour, connection to the Central District, and more: What’s next for Capitol Hill light rail riders

  1. Thanks for the story- the Grand Street Commons Project is welcome news. There’s an incredible amount of new housing and development along Rainier Ave and it’s great to see CHS covering the topic. I’m curious to hear about plans to make Rainier Ave more pedestrian and transit friendly (it still feels like a dangerous place for pedestrians).

    Who will ride the light rail from Capitol Hill to Judkins Station? I’m sure people will, but I’m having trouble imagining how they’ll be accessing the Central District? Catch the #48 to 23rd and Jackson? Judkins Station will be good for bikers, but are there plans to support Bike share riders? How about Lyft/Uber for that matter? Hope to hear more from CHS as the station progresses.

  2. Uh. Cal Anderson is about 12.5 acres, while Judkins Park is nearly exactly 13, so I’m not sure how Judkins Park is a major park but Cal Anderson is not.

    • While the Link Station is named “Judkins Park” for the neighborhood, I think it would be more accurate to say that the station is at the nexus of multiple adjoining parks including Judkins Park, Judkins Playfield, Jimi Hendrix Park, and Sam Smith Park which it total form a larger “uber park” system in the area.