— Dustin Akers (@DustinAkers) December 31, 2019
2020 is already better than 2019. There are stairs to the platform in Capitol Hill Station. But like most things in these challenging times, you also need to get ready for a 10-week start to the New Year with Seattle’s light rail system slightly hobbled as it is prepared for big expansion ahead.
First, the good news. After months of waiting and a fair amount of systems and infrastructure updates to make it safe, Sound Transit announced the opening of the new stair access at Capitol Hill Station this week. Last March, CHS reported on the plan to repurpose emergency stairs to add an option for reaching the platform beyond the frequently busted escalators and elevator access.
When it opened in March of 2016, Capitol Hill Station debuted with only emergency stairs connecting to its arrival and departure platform. It was designed to be accessed by escalator or elevator with the emergency staircase. The work to fix that oversight came after decisions made last fall by Sound Transit in the wake of repeated access failures on Broadway and at UW Station. Sound Transit did not adopt the “Mitch Hedberg principle” — An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs — but, instead, decided take on the expense of building entirely new staircases at UW by 2022. At Capitol Hill Station, we get a quicker, cheaper fix.
Now, the more challenging news. 2020 is starting with a planned 10-week period of major disruptions to the city’s light rail system that will begin with a weekend of shuttle buses traveling to and from Capitol Hill:
The construction project, known as Connect 2020, gets underway the first weekend of the New Year with a full closure of light rail through Downtown Seattle. From Saturday, Jan. 4 through Sunday, Jan. 5, shuttle buses between Capitol Hill and SODO will make stops at the closed stations.
The project’s next phase will mean light rail in Seattle will basically operate as two separate train systems, both terminating at Pioneer Square Station.
Beginning Jan. 6 through March 13, passengers traveling through downtown will need to make a center platform transfer at Pioneer Square. For safety, bikes will not be allowed at the Pioneer Square station. Passengers with bikes must exit at University Street or International District/Chinatown.
Here’s how Sound Transit explains the plan for “single-tracking” —
Southbound trains originating at Husky Stadium will travel to Pioneer Square and then reverse direction to head back north on the same track. Similarly, northbound trains originating at Angle Lake will travel to Pioneer Square and then reverse direction to head back south on the same track. Riders continuing northward or southward through Pioneer Square Station will need to change to a waiting train on the opposite track, crossing a temporary center platform that Sound Transit will construct this year.
During the construction period trains on both segments will operate at a frequency of 12 minutes in each direction and will be timed to meet at Pioneer Square, Sound Transit says. Trains currently run every 4 to 6 minutes during peak service times.
In the single-tracking period, there will also be three weekends — one in early January, one in February and a third in March — when the International District Station will need to fully close. During these closures, light rail will operate between Angle Lake and Stadium stations and between Westlake and the University of Washington stations. Sound Transit says it will operate buses on surface streets between the SODO and Westlake light rail stations in place of light rail service.
Bike riders will be especially challenged during the period. No bikes will be allowed on light rail through the downtown stops so riders will be required to exit at the ID and University Street stops. There is some good news for bicyclists, however. Seattle Bike Blog reports Sound Transit is adding new on-demand bike lockers at UW, SODO and Rainier Beach Stations.
Smaller closures took place in late 2019 to prepare for the work though Sound Transit was able to cancel the last planned weekend of disruptions when work finished ahead of schedule.
Sound Transit says it will also have “ambassadors” available throughout the 10-week construction period “to answer your questions or provide assistance.”
The construction projects and closures are part of work required as light rail expansion to the Eastside nears. The new line will branch off at International District/Chinatown Station and run to the Eastside via Judkins Park Station. The Connect 2020 work is dedicated to connecting East Link to the city’s existing underground transit tunnel running from downtown to Pioneer Square.
Judkins Park Station is slated to open three years from now along with the rest of the 10-stop, voter initiative-funded East Link light rail line that will dramatically expand Sound Transit rail service in the region. The Central District station, tucked into I-90 between Rainier Ave and 23rd Ave, will be the first stop on the line that will connect Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle across the I-90 bridge in 2023.
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