The Voice for Industry
|July 23, 2009|
Someone at Sound Transit calculated that the new Link Light Rail station at Lander Street in SODO needed 24 lockable bicycle storage units along with two bicycle hitching posts with slots for 32 more.
But, at the end of the morning rush hour Wednesday, every one of these 56 bicycle storage slots stood empty. For that matter, the station was nearly empty, too.
Every few minutes a new Link Light Rail train rolled in or out, but most of them picked up or let out just two or three passengers. It wasn't unusual to see a single passenger get on or off. Sometimes, there were no passengers at all.
The lack of traffic helped quell one fear. Some in SODO, including us, were worried that the advent of light rail service would bring an influx of "park and hide" customers who would gobble up free street parking spots then hop on the bus for the ride to jobs downtown, avoiding the high costs of downtown parking.
Not to worry – at least not yet. On Wednesday, it was possible to find plenty of curb side parking, including a space a half block from the station.
It's still possible the park and hiders will emerge as more people become aware that the SODO station is open, or as downtown parking rates continue to rise. It's not unusual, the experts say, for transit services to start out slowly and build over time.
Then again, the 56 empty bicycle spaces and the eerie emptiness of the station also pose the possibility that we're not witnessing the birth pains of a new public transit facility, but another instance of the public sector's failure to figure out how, or if, SODO fits their usual ways of thinking about things.
Call it the SODO Shuffle.
It's a dubious idea from the get go to build a light rail station in an area where no one lives. Rail service may thrive in densely populated communities where people can walk to and from train stations, but no one lives in SODO.
True, there are many SODO area employees who might use Link Light Rail. But local bus connections for the station are poor and the vast majority of SODO work sites are too far removed from the station for employees to walk back and forth.
Shuttle buses might increase the local value of the station, but public agencies show no interest in providing a public shuttle and there are plenty of barriers to establishing a private one.
People might ride bikes as one means to cover the distances between the station and most SODO work sites. But that brings us to the 56 empty bicycle storage slots and the fact that SODO sidewalk, road and traffic conditions are far from ideal for encouraging bike ridership.
None of this is meant to suggest the advent of Link Light Rail is a bad thing for the region. The trains rolling through SODO appeared to be fairly full of passengers and the station near the ball parks will no doubt prove valuable during ball games and other special events.
But, local benefits are difficult to divine.
As the trains roll through every three minutes or so, they block traffic, adding to the east-west barriers already caused by Sounder trains and the heavy rail lines. The Link Light Rail trains roll in every three minutes or so, and halt east-west traffic on Lander Street for 40 seconds to two minutes at a time, depending on the number of trains passing through.
Sometimes during our visit on Wednesday, the closures had little impact, stopping just a few vehicles. Other times, the back ups were significant and a few dozen vehicles were stopped. It appeared to depend on how the trained closures matched up with the timing of the traffic lights on Sixth and Fourth Avenues.
It was once a top government priority to build a major overpass at Lander Street, a project that would have precluded the conflicts between Link Light Rail and vehicular road traffic.
But, the Lander Street project was put on indefinite hold a couple of years ago because city officials opted to spend the funds on other projects in other parts of town.
But, the light rail station and the 56 bicycle storage slots came to SODO anyway, whether they were wanted or needed or not, and at least as of Wednesday, they were neither.
Time may prove us wrong, and the SODO station at Lander may wind up someday being a wonderful community resource. But from the evidence available Wednesday morning, it looked like the same old SODO Shuffle.
Prepare for road closures & reroutes this weekend
This upcoming weekend brings more Seafair celebrations to Seattle. Starting Friday, July 24th at 10pm certain downtown Seattle streets will be closed to parking in preparation for the Seafair Torchlight Run and the Alaska Airlines Torchlight Parade. Both events will be making their way through downtown on Saturday evening.
For a map of street closures and event routes click here.
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