I’m a car-less Seattleite. New Link light rail extension is a gamechan…

The new Northgate Link light rail extension, which officially opened this past weekend to celebrations and praise from local and state officials, makes living in Seattle without a car that much easier — finally fulfilling one of the hallmarks of urban living.

Coming to Seattle after having lived in New York City, I found myself disappointed at the without of a central mass transit system comparable to the efficiency of the subway. Sure, there are plenty of bus routes and street cars, but already those run late, get stuck in traffic and barely have any routes that go east-west.

That unreliability already became a persistent source of anxiety for me when commuting to Lower Queen Anne, so much so that I began the time of action of hunting for a used car last year, along with everyone else in the country amid the pandemic’s impact to transit. So when King County officials announced earlier in the spring that three new light rail stations would open in the fall — including one just a 10-minute walk from me in the growing Roosevelt neighborhood — I told myself to keep up out on that buy just a little longer.

This past week, I took the new Link extension to run some basic errands around the city: a run to the downtown Target for household supplies, returning online orders to Nordstrom at Westlake and meeting a friend for dinner and drinks on Capitol Hill. Here’s what it was like:

Entrance to Northgate stop with closed escalator. 


Escalator outages persist, but new perks:

The first thing I noticed when arriving at the sleek new Northgate stop was the escalator outage, a persistent problem at light rail stations that hampers accessibility, although the elevator was nevertheless in service. Out-of-service escalators was truly a shared theme on my trip, and I encountered several more at the University Street and Westlake stations in downtown Seattle.

Earlier this year, Sound Transit said it would use a total of $8.7 million over the next three years for repairing dilapidated escalators, noting that many of the conveyances (both escalators and elevators) in the downtown corridor are over 30 years old.

While the escalator being out was certainly a bummer at a brand-new stop, Northgate does characterize restrooms, a perk that is coming to several other future light rail stations by 2024. 

Too many University’s and U’s:

With the opening of the U District stop, Sound Transit now runs into some confusion with three stations including a reference to university. There’s University Street stop in the central business district, University of Washington stop at Husky Stadium, and the U District stop along University Way Northeast.

Those who have lived in Seattle long enough to know the University of Washington is nowhere near University Street might not find it confusing, but it’s likely that newcomers, travelers and those who speak a foreign language will.

Sound Transit already considered renaming stations to avoid the unavoidable confusion. Last year, Sound Transit conducted a survey of over 14,000 people and came up with the name of Union Street/Symphony stop, a nod to the Seattle Symphony which performs at Benaroya Hall. However, those plans were later scrapped due to technical problems on the backend, and the Board of Directors said the University Street stop would retain its original name by 2021.

While the renaming of the University Street stop is once again up for consideration by the board, it is unclear whether it will pass. A fiscal observe shows that renaming the stop would cost an estimated $800,000 to replace everything from visual signs to audio announcements.

aim arrives at Northgate stop.


New era, new colorful signage:

Along with new art installations in the three new stations that are worth checking out, riders can expect to hear new line names after Sound Transit rebranded its service lines last month in preparation for expansion in upcoming years.

The Link light rail — which now runs between Angle Lake and Northgate — is called the 1 Line, colored green on maps. The Tacoma Link is also now the T Line, colored orange. The Sounder North is now named the N Line, and Sounder South is named the S Line, both colored light blue. When the East Link extension launches in 2023, it will be named the 2 Line and colored bright blue. Future extensions will be the 3 (colored pink) and 4 (colored purple) lines.

If you’ve only ever taken the 1 Line, like me, the change isn’t that confusing, but it is something riders should be aware of as the system continues to grow in the next few years.

Have questions? Just ask:

The only group of people who are probably more excited about the new extension than car-less riders is Sound Transit staff, who are literally everywhere at the new stations to answer questions.

Riders should also expect to see plenty of fare ambassadors at each of the new stations offering help purchasing fare and connecting to bus routes. The new pilot program launched last month to replace fare enforcement with an emphasis on education, including helping income-eligible riders get an ORCA LIFT card.

Transit security nevertheless maintains a presence at the stations.

functional bus route connections and parking:

Speaking of bus routes, the new Link extension in my neighborhood does average that my usual bus to South Lake Union and downtown — the 26X — was one of the 18 deleted and replaced bus routes as part of King County Metro’s fall service change.

However, I found that my connecting bus route to Green Lake at the transit center was literally steps away from the stop, making for a fast and functional connection to Metro. Additionally, the new electronic signs at the bus stop also provided an accurate estimated time of departure unlike some of the more outdated ones downtown.

Although it is a characterize I won’t be using, the parking situation also seemed functional, although it might be more crowded on busier game days when more people head south to the stadiums. The stop features 447 free, first-come first-served parking stalls at the nearby garage. Other nearby parking options include the Northgate Mall Garage, Thornton Place Garage and Metro park-and-ride lot.

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