Light rail

The new light rail station at the University of Washington opened March 19, 2016, allowing for fast transportation to Capital Hill, downtown, and all the way to Seatac.

A small crowd gathered outside the UW Tower on a breezy September afternoon as representatives from the U District Mobility Council passed out pamphlets detailing the day’s agenda. Cory Crocker, the president of U-District Advocates, spoke eagerly to the crowd detailing how the new station was going to change the U-District as we know it, and titters of excitement went through the crowd. Everyone get excited for the new station. In 2021. 

The new station is part of the Sound Transit 2 proposal that passed back in 2008. Construction for the Brooklyn stop began in the fall of 2012 and is estimated to be completed in 2021. The new U-District station is part of the Northgate Link Extension, which will connect the Northgate, Roosevelt, and U-District neighborhoods to downtown, and will cost approximately $1.9 billion. Another massive transit bill, Sound Transit 3, was also passed last year, and will add 37 stations, 62 miles of track, and cost $54 billion. 

The tour was hosted by the U District Mobility Group, which includes representatives from the community, U District Advocates, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, the University of Washington, and U District Partnership

The goal of the station area is to create a holistic, multi-modal mobility plan for the U-District that provides safe, comfortable access for everyone, prioritizes walking, biking, and transit, ensures bus routes have reliable access and transfers, accommodates people of all abilities, and maintains car access where needed. Crocker told the crowd that while Sound Transit is coordinating the construction and design of the station, there is so much to consider outside of the physical station itself. 

The tour started outside the UW Tower and slowly moved around the U-District to points that the council wanted to highlight and that exemplified potential problems with the Link coming to the area. Although most people just think of the U-District as an area primarily populated by students, it is the second largest business district in Seattle and a major transportation hub. Everyone living in the surrounding area will be impacted by the arrival of the new station. 

One thing highlighted by all speakers on the tour was the need to act now rather than later. While the light rail won’t be completed until 2021, changes such as altering bus routes or diverting traffic outside of the U-District would require action now in order to be implemented in time. Addressing these barriers early will help optimize station use. 

Other future stations and two open stations are also working on access plans, especially after some complaints following the opening of the UW Station down by Husky Stadium. 

The Seattle City Council also expects a mobility plan from the Seattle Department of Transportation by 2018. 

In addition to the massive changes that the light rail is expected to bring to the U-District, the council also passed legislation that rezoned the area, reclassifying it as an urban area, which raised the maximum building height from 65 feet to 320 feet. Several new high-rise developments are expected to be submitted for permitting by the end of the year. The UW is also expecting growth under its Campus Master Plan which will add approximately 6 million square feet over the next ten years. 

Each stop on the mobility tour highlighted a different challenge that the light rail will bring to the U-District. The intersection of 45th and Brooklyn, for example, is one of the most dangerous intersections for cyclists and pedestrians. According to the Seattle Times, the two most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in North Seattle are within a quarter mile of the new station. Second to downtown, the U-District has the most pedestrian accidents in the city. 

Moving toward the Ave, speakers encouraged attendees to consider how buses will be affected by the new station. Should they continue going down Brooklyn and carrying people to and from the new station, or should they be diverted to 43rd Street or 15th Ave?

43rd Street will also become more important than ever before, as it will be the main pathway for commuters moving from the light rail through the U-District onto the UW campus. The Ave is also already the business center of the U-District, with a large volume of pedestrians frequenting the street every day as well as people commuting in and out of the neighborhood. 

At the end of the tour, it was again emphasized that it is important to consider not only the construction of the light rail, but also how it will affect cars, buses, pedestrians, and businesses over the next few years. The station is projected to bring in 24,000 commuters daily into an area of Seattle that is about to go through an upzone and that already houses a massive university and thousands of students. 

“We’re not just planning for the next five years, we’re planning for the next 100 years,” Crocker said. 

Reach News Editor Molly Quinton at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @molly_quinton

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