Don’t hate the station, hate the game

Beacon Hill Station. Photo by Wendi.
Erica C. Barnett calls Beacon Hill’s gain the rest of Southeast Seattle’s loss in a Publicola article titled “South End Screwup”:

Today’s loser: Residents of Southeast Seattle who might, had Sound Transit not decided to build an expensive (and over-budget) station through Beacon Hill, have had two more light-rail stations in their part of the city.

Barnett’s analysis appears to be in error, however. She claims that:

…The distance between stations on the south end of the line is much longer than in the central, north, and (planned) east portions of the line: Nearly two-and-a-half miles from station to station, compared to just over 1.5 miles for the north section and just over a mile for the central portion.

However, the 2009 Seattle Transit Blog article in which she has found this statistic is not referring to Southeast Seattle when it describes “South Link.” The existing light rail line, from Westlake south to Sea-Tac, is known as “Central Link,” and is listed on the STB article with an average station distance of about 1.2 miles. “South Link,” on the other hand, is used in the STB post to refer to the extension of the line from Sea-Tac to Tacoma (or Redondo/Star Lake — it’s unclear which version of the proposed line is being referred to here). The distance between the Rainier Valley stations actually averages (very roughly) 1.25 miles.

Also mentioned in the Publicola article is a statistic from the February 2010 Metro/Sound Transit rider survey (also discussed on Seattle Transit Blog), showing low ridership numbers at Beacon Hill station, with only two percent of riders boarding at Beacon Hill. To put the number in context, this total was just above SODO and Stadium stations (one percent or fewer), and just below Mount Baker, Othello, and Columbia City (each of which accounted for three percent of daily boardings). SeaTac/Airport (30%) and Westlake (23%), unsurprisingly, accounted for the highest number of boardings.

More recent numbers released by Sound Transit last month (February – June station activity based on actual boarding data instead of survey responses as was the February survey) found here and here show Beacon Hill Station with more boardings than Columbia City, Othello, Rainier Beach, SODO and Stadium, and more deboardings than all of the above plus Mount Baker, and only a few short of Pioneer Square.

16 thoughts on “Don’t hate the station, hate the game”

  1. Great piece, Wendi. Am planning to publish an excerpt and link at the RVP and am hoping for permission to use your awesome photo as well. Thanks for your consideration! amber

  2. Erica is not always the best when it comes to sourcing, and she is known to be something of an oddball when it comes to transit issues. (Long time slog readers will remember her objection to metro buses picking up disabled passengers during rush hour.) She’s probably just mad that there’s not a station right by her house.

  3. I agree that there should be at least one more stop on the south end, but what is missing from the argument is the fact that the tunnel concept came first, then the station. The tunnel was planned as an access route to get to the McClellan Station through Beacon Hill from SODO, with nothing more than mechanical equipment located at the top of Beacon Hill. The difference is that instead of an access port and vents, we have a full station that gets pretty darn good ridership. Our station surely cost more than one of the stations at grade in the Rainier Valley, but if Erica is including the cost of drilling the tunnel under Beacon Hill in her cost redistribution analysis, she needs to redo her calculations.

    That said, at the time there were many Beacon Hillers who were proponents of bypassing Beacon Hill completely and saving the tunneling dollars and the headaches of construction we experienced (, but that would have dropped the Lander station and added the complication of an at-grade route through Dearborn. I’m pretty sure that route option was dropped very early on in the process.

    Also, if Erica wants to go back in time, she needs to recall the pursuits of the Save our Valley folks pushing Sound Transit to place the train in a cut and cover tunnel through the entire Rainier Valley route. The surface train was supposed to kill a bunch of kids, cause constant traffic problems, and generally degrade the quality of life in the Valley. I would bet that the activists at the time would have traded one of the stations for having the train run below grade through the Valley, although I’m not sure one station would have covered the cost.

  4. I think it would be more attractive to investors in TOD’s if the Link Light Rail was really Rapid Transit some times it seems no better then a bus. It seems like it takes forever to get into, out of, and through the downtown transit tunnel. Also when I have taken it to and from the airport it stopped at all the traffic lights. Shouldn’t the light rail stop moving only at the stations? This is very nerve racking when you are trying to get somewhere on time. It also seems to stop alot of time at the maintenance base for driver changes and the drivers take thier sweet time chatting about the weather and what they are doing later before they get the train moving agian. They should coordinate driver changes at the end of the runs. I don’t think ST driver deserver their own station.

  5. Nice piece Wendi! That’s a huge error on Erica’s part. It’s interesting that the ridership is higher here than other stations– but i wonder how much of that is “cannibalized” from bus riders, since the 36 is one the most heavily used bus lines.
    I was one of those Save Our Valley supporters. Unfortunately, the surface line has already killed at least two people, and injured some others. We can expect that to continue, as they actually predicted, at a rate of about one death a year. I love mass transit, i love the fact that light rail serves my neighborhood, but overall i’d have to say i’m not really that impressed with the technology. Extremely expensive, completely inflexible, no faster than an express bus. If you live at Graham and MLK it’s dangerous to cross the street, but you’re a mile from any station. And it’s hard to imagine offsetting the carbon and other pollution from millions of yards of concrete and years and years of construction. Maybe in fifty, or seventy-five (as i read in one estimate) years. And I doubt there will be a Westside line in my lifetime, in spite of McGinn’s pie-in-the-sky proposal.

  6. Hi Robert,

    Has the surface line actually “killed at least two people”? I am only aware of one, and that was a suicide and it was not in Rainier Valley, it was in Sodo. I just did a Google search and only found the one fatality, the suicide from July 2009. There have been a few accidents in Rainier Valley, but fewer than they expected, and I think they have not resulted in fatalities. However, I could have missed something, but if so, Google’s not turning it up.

    Please post info on the other deaths in Rainier Valley if you have it. Thanks.

  7. The surface line did not “kill” anyone. In the handful of incidents, the signals did not malfunction, the operators did not act maliciously, and the trains themselves did not depart from their tracks in search of prey.

    Pedestrians can be distracted and make grave errors, drivers can break the law and end up wrecking their cars and delaying innocent commuters, but the surface line is not to blame for human carelessness or inattentiveness.

    The crocodile tears about cement and greenhouse gasses is laughable: It assumes that MLK would never have been repaved, and that I-5 and I-90 are just figments of our imagination.

    As it turns out that our valley was saved – or at least markedly improved. And that has very little to do with SOV and a lot to do with Link.

  8. I can’t find any examples of accidents involving the surface line, fatal or otherwise, that weren’t caused by someone who doesn’t work for Sound Transit breaking the law. At a certain point we need to expect people to accept responsibility for their actions. Do something stupid around a train, a car, or a bicycle at top speed, and you might die. These hazards have replaced the lions, tigers, and bears that our ancestors had to watch out for, but the same principles apply.

  9. “Your Neighbor”, whoever that is, has a good point on the language being used by Robert H. Saying “the line has killed people” is certainly an inflammatory choice of words.

    As far as I know, the only fatality is someone who intentionally jumped in front of the train, and, sadly, that could have happened with a tunnel or an elevated line too.

  10. Wendi,

    One of the tunnel workers was killed in a construction accident in 2007, although not at the surface.
    I believe I’ve seen a plaque on the station level.

    That doesn’t excuse the inflammatory comments from Robert.

    I’ve yet to hear anyone saying “The Aurora bridge has killed another person today,” when someone chooses to jump.

    However, I do think LINK will hit a pedestrian in SODO sooner or later. The train I was on yesterday evening did a panic stop as what appeared to be one of the methadone clinic patients strolled across at Holgate.

  11. Construction worker or suicide deaths are not what Save our Valley members and other light rail opponents were referring to when Sound Transit was being accused of premeditated murder for putting the train at grade. The reality is that Rainier Valley residents are actually smart enough to avoid getting run over by the train and after over a year of operation, nobody has been killed along the MLK route. There have been a few car/train colisions that appeared to be clearly the fault of the car drivers, but that probably is far outnumbered by car/car colisions over the same area.

    Regarding “cannibalized” bus riders; I used to ride the 36 every day and I’d bet that the folks who live near the northernmost stops on Beacon Hill who would frequently get to watch completely full buses pass them by are perfectly ok with light rail canibalizing some of us former 36 riders.

    This discussion has made me go back and dig up some very old emails from the slumberland list. Interesting discussions back then, with some accurate and not so accurate predictions.

Comments are closed.