Trains Are Magic

Even though my only credential is that I created a blog with the word “ass” in the title, yesterday I was allowed on the Link Light Rail VIP preview ride.  It’s a strange and beautiful world.

What is it about trains?  Everybody loves them.  And yes, of course, the Link Light Rail trains are sweet; the stations are sweet.  The populace will love it.  The allure of the train will draw more people to transit, and the permanence of the stations will catalyze rational and compact development patterns.  Urbanist wonk heaven.

But don’t think for a minute that I don’t have something curmudgeonly to add.  Because as has been noted ad nauseum on this blog—here, here, here, and here—the stations in the southeast Seattle portion of the line completely lack the kind of compact, walkable urban form that is appropriate for high capacity transit station areas.  And now that the trains are running, it’s only that much more embarrassing.  The light rail line itself is a huge achievement, but now the equally challenging task at hand is to transform the built environment around the stations.

The photos below give some flavor of the sad situation on the ground in the southeast Seattle and Tukwila stations:

[ Looking east from the Mt. Baker station platform, with Franklin High School in the background. ]

[  Looking west from the Columbia City station. ]

[ The Park & Ride at the Tukwila station.  Note the wall preventing easy access to the station from the housing. ]

[ The Tukwila station itself is a nice piece of work. ]

Bonus celebrity shots:

[ Seattle City Council candidate Mike O’Brien brought his bike along for the ride; King County Executive candidate Larry Phillips and corporate journalist Josh Feit feeling the light rail love. ]

[ Good timing for Mayor Greg Nickels, who happens to be up for reelection. ]

12 Responses to “Trains Are Magic”

  1. Ellery

    Yes, magic.

  2. Alex

    Hear, hear! I am totally in love with light rail itself — I rode it today and have nothing but wonderful things to say about the trains and stations themselves — but the areas around the stations are kind of depressingly abandoned. Tukwila and Rainier Beach especially feel like you get dropped off in the back parking lots of strip malls. Rainier Beach looks a bit desperate and dangerous even, and that’s with the sheen still on it.

    Is there a light rail user community/ rider’s union/ advocacy group?

  3. Jack May

    Only the bottom 16 percent of society like living in the past and glorifying trains.

    The others that are the top 84 percent of society prefer living in the present and looking forward to a better society in the future.

    The top 86 percent have a lot better jobs, make more money and are happier than the lossers that want to live in the past.

    If you love trains you probably have a rail fetish which is often considered to be a mental problem.

  4. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Now Jack, I know it’s frustrating that we’re using yesterday’s technology while they’re living in the future in with maglev in Shanghai and TGV in France, but you should at least be polite to us poor backward Americans. I think the US is only about 5% of the world’s population, though, not 16 percent. You should check your facts.

    Franklin High School looked amazing today.

  5. Ellery

    Agreed, Franklin High School does look amazing from Link. What a wonderful building and treasure for the city.

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  8. dang

    Tsk, tsk… Jack your mind’s narrower than streetcar tracks. Not sure where you are pulling your numbers, much less on who’s behalf you are speaking. I sought out a couple of articles for you, just to warn you of how widespread mental problems have become. A year old perhaps, but this speaks to the reality of oil dependence. And a couple of new takes on “old” technology here and here. You’ve been warned–we’re everywhere.

  9. grouchycyclist

    Many who road yesterday from the Westlake end to Tukwila could not help but exclaim when we got off in Tukwila, “Where the heck are we?”

    Remind me again the purpose of the Tukwila station other than as a park and ride? It doesn’t appear to be within walking distance of anything useful.

    The train is awesome, about 30 years late, but awesome none-the-less. Now we just need to get the rest of the populace ‘on-board’ with the whole idea that city is really a city, not a large burg (See Danny Westneat this morning).

  10. Ellery

    @7, At present, the Tukwila station serves no other purpose than park and ride. However, the City of Seatac (includes everything on the other side of International Blvd, so half the station area) has done station area planning for their half, and envisions more mixed-use multi-family development, with ped access to the station. The City of Tukwila, on the other hand, hasnt done much on their side. And siting the station at the intersection of two highways isn’t going to lend itself to vibrant TOD. There is a long history there, and it’s not where the station should have been…but it’s what we’ve got. Hopefully long term there can be some rethinking of the uses, but it’s hard to imagine much change in the foreseeable future. And hopefully we can avoid similarly unfortunate station sitings with ST 2.

  11. Brian

    I see the lack of dense development around the stations much more as an opportunity than as a problem. Some day the economy will turn around, and when it does, that land will be (in the words of a former Illinois governor) “F***ing GOLDEN!”

    Shouldn’t we be more concerned about suburban sprawl and the loss of farmland and forestland? The areas around these stations are perfect examples of how there is plenty of room for the Seattle metro area to grow, even without expanding its footprint.

  12. Joe G

    I agree with Brian, there is huge opportunity for growth all around the light rail stations and I would argue that it starts with the ID station and goes all the way to Tukwila.

    Did any one else notice the most amazing P-Patch in the city. Living in Seattle for two and a half years, downtown, and carless i was doing a bit of sight seeing on link this weekend. Seeing that swatch of farm land brought a little proud tear to my eye.

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