#AllTheStops Visiting every stop on SoundTransit Link Light rail

"Why???"

This was the universal question I received when I told someone I'd be spending my Thursday with Scott Berkun riding SoundTransit Link light rail to visit every one of the 16 stops.

You can thank the Seattle Times for this. They ran a special feature on December 12, 2016 highlighting all the neighbourhoods served by Link, including text and photography from my friend Lindsey Wasson. I posted the article to Facebook, commenting:

This guide tempts me. Train down to Angle Lake to do some plane spotting, stop in Columbia City for lunch or something, maybe a bag of Dick's on Capitol Hill for a snack.

Scott foolishly replied:

I'm game. You take photos and I write shit.

Thus a trip was born. The rules were simple: we had to get off at every station. No staying on the train, even at stations that at first glance seemed like a wasted stop (I'm looking at you, Stadium). No hopping off the train then hopping back on the same train. We'd have, depending on time of day, a minimum of six or ten minutes to explore each neighbourhood.

The SoundTransit Link light rail system.

We started at the University of Washington Station at 10am. It took us six hours to make it to the end at Angle Lake. The trip was a fascinating look at neighbourhoods I've never visited before, and a chance to experience the good (and sometimes the frustrating) about Seattle's light rail system.

University of Washington

Getting to UW station was an interesting start to the day. I don't live anywhere near it so I had to drive and park somewhere. There's no park and ride near UW, and the local parking garages explicitly say don't park there for transit purposes. I wound up parking on the Evergreen Point lid and then hopping the first random King County Metro bus across the lake. Bonus: I didn't have to pay a toll. Downside: the bus stopped at the Montlake freeway station which meant a walk over to the UW station.

Starting my light rail journey... with a bus across the world's longest floating bridge.

UW station is, well, UW station. It serves the University of Washington. It's by Husky Stadium, Hec Ed, and the hospital. It's a trek to University Village or The Ave. The view from Red Square down to the lake is lovely, but I forgot to go take a photo of it. I also forgot to take a photo of the cool blue artwork above the escalators. Instead, I got these awesome images.

Left: Permeable concrete leads the way to University of Washington Station. Right: An estimated arrival time sign shows the scheduled 10 minute headways for the line, rather than real-time information. UW is one of only two stations in the system with schedule signage.

Capitol Hill

I expected this would be a quick stop. I've been here several times, kinda know the area, and just wanted a photo of Dick's Drive-In. Get off, grab the photo, get back on, and continue to other stops. But Scott was hungry and he wanted a slice from his favourite pizza place. So we started walking. The pizza place was closed. We wound up at Eltana for some delicious Montreal-style wood-fired bagles. Salt bagel with lox and cream cheese? Yum yum yum.

Scenes from around Capitol Hill.

The Capitol Hill station is the other station in the Link system with "estimated" arrival time signs. Unfortunately they just show the scheduled arrival times, and when we were there even got that wrong.

Link runs every 10 minutes during off-peak, so our actual waiting time was only 9 minutes.

Our quick stop wound up being more like a half-hour stop. It was at this point that I suspected my estimate of two hours to complete the entire trip was woefully low.

Westlake

The first Link station in the downtown core, and the first station in the transit tunnel, Westlake Station is strange. It's massive, clean, and completely bland. There are no shops underground, so you're left with emptiness.

Left: The mezzanine level of Westlake Station. So empty. Right: A Light rail customer rides an escalator to street level.

Above ground Westlake is bustling with activity, especially at this time of year. The giant Christmas tree is up, Macy's star is lit, and Westlake Park has a pop-up market and carousel. There were tons of people finishing up their Christmas shopping and an overall lively vibe.

Kids ride the carousel in Westlake Park.

University Street

Yes, Link has both University of Washington Station and University Street Station. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, it will get more confusing: when the Link extension to Northgate opens we get U District Station too.

University Street provides access to the heart of downtown Seattle, including Benaroya Hall and numerous office towers. The most interesting thing I saw here was an empty edibles bag in the station stairwell.

Do you get the munchies after eating pot munchies?

Pioneer Square

I used to work in Smith Tower in Pioneer Square and have fond memories of taking ST Express route 522 to work every day. I always felt like I was going somewhere for work, since I wound up among the office towers with business-types everywhere.

Unfortunately Pioneer Square Station is the easy place to see the homelessness problem in Seattle. The downtown emergency service center and King County courthouse are right there. This stretch of 3rd Ave doesn't have any business that face the street, and there's a giant hole in the ground just up the hill. It all adds up to a particularly unwelcoming stop.

Left: A person rests in a bus shelter next to the King County courthouse. Center: Stairs lead up to the Seattle city hall. Right: A mural adorns the wall screening a hole that's been in Seattle since 2005.

To be fair, if you walk into Pioneer Square proper there are some nice places to visit (I highly recommend an 8"-chicken-cheese-provolone-wit from Tat's). This wasn't one of top stops on the trip though.

International District/Chinatown

While the best dim sum in Seattle is found in Richmond, BC, the International District/Chinatown Station provides access to many other delicious eating options. It's also the stop that, for the longest time, I thought provided access to Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field. Silly me.

Alas we planned on having lunch later in Columbia City so this was just a quick stop for a photo above ground.

Gateway to the International District.

Stadium

This is the station we were dreading. There's nothing here but Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field, and homeless encampments. While we did get off the train, we never bothered to leave the platform. I took two dumb photos, then we waited for the next train.

Safeco Field, as seen from Stadium Station.
CenturyLink Field, as seen from Stadium Station.

While waiting we were approached by a young gentleman who smelled like, well, pot. Lots of pot. We had a lovely conversation. He asked what my composition was for the stadium shots, how many photos I had (taken? ever?), and then enthusiastically recommended the Starbucks made out of shipping crates near SODO Station for its architectural interest (it's in Tukwila, not SODO).

SODO

The last stop before we hit a string of stations I was totally unfamiliar with, SODO is another location where we didn't really leave the platform area. It smelled great though: there's a Franz Bakery nearby and the whole neighbourhood smelled like freshly-baked bread.

Of interest north of the station are a number of beautiful murals painted on the backs of the light industrial buildings. Unfortunately there's no access from the station itself, and the adjacent road is signed no bikes or pedestrians allowed. You catch a fleeting view as you roll by on the train.

Left: A badger (?) in a party hat (?) menaces a young lady for no apparent reason. Right: A Model EB derail prevents trains from continuing north on an abandoned rail line. Not pictured: The smell of freshly-baked bread.

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill Station is awesome. It was by far my favourite stop on the whole trip, mostly because it was completely unexpected. I've never been to the neighbourhood, and the only thing I knew about the stop was how deep it is: there are no escalators to access the platform, just four high-speed elevators.

Unlike the other places we stopped the station was peaceful. We were the only people on the platform and the dark blue tunnel walls were nice and calm. Oh, and the art. The art! The installations at the platform level by Dan Corson, Portals and Space Forms, were crazy cool.

Glass forms suspended from the ceiling above the platform resemble microscopic creatures floating under a microscope

Above ground was equally cool. The neighbourhood clearly takes advantage of light rail, with 112 low-income housing units directly across the street and a public library nearby. There are lovely views of the water and many nicely kept older homes.

Scenes from around Beacon Hill Station.

Mount Baker

By the time we got to Mount Baker we'd been riding Link for almost three hours. I'm not going to lie: I had to pee.

I've driven past the station several times in a car on my way to Seward Park and knew there was a Starbucks across the street that would offer both a warm beverage and a restroom. But we made a discovery: adjacent to the station is the lovely independent Compadre Coffee shop. We took the opportunity for a quick break, and it was well worth it. The coffee was delicious!

Left: Espresso and coffee at Compadre Coffee. Right: Life lessons.

Back at the station we were greeted by rainbows dancing across the top of the escalator to the platform. Alas it took me too much phone fumbling to get video recorded before the sun slipped behind a cloud and the rainbows disappeared.

Rainbows play across the escalator at the Mount Baker Station platform.

Columbia City

The station we were waiting for. The one with lunch. Lots and lots of options for lunch. Just from the platform it doesn't seem like there's much here other than residential, but looks are deceiving. A short walk east and you wind up in the historic district of Columbia City with a heavy dose of restaurants featuring cuisines ranging from African to Hawaiian. We settled on La Teranga based on reviews (including one from my friend George Perantatos) and the fact that neither I nor Scott had ever eaten Senegalese food before.

Left: Thiebou djeun, fish cooked in tomato stew. Right: Lamb dibi, grilled lamb with onions and bell peppers.

While the lady who made our food was lovely, we just weren't huge fans of the food. We had the "national dish" fish, which surprised us by being cold, and a lamb dish that was ok. The sides were good though, I liked the couscous with raisins. Unfortunately we left wishing we'd eaten at the International District/Chinatown or (as we learned later) Othello stations instead.

Left: Quality Meats sells Turducken! John Madden would approve. Right: A sign at a playground lays out the ground rules.

Othello

O! Othello! We were warned in advance by @SoundTransit to be on the lookout for Easter eggs on the platform. Alas we never found them (they are apparently on either end of the Northbound platform), and this was another stop where we basically just walked one block in between trains.

The area directly around the stop is a mix of two-level strip malls, under construction apartments, newer completed apartments with street-level retail, and older retail buildings. The neighbourhood definitely felt like it was transforming due to the influence of Link, and that influence even shows on the neighbourhood's website.

Left: A strip mall filled with cars, obviously built pre-Link arrival. Middle: This store does everything! Right: O! Hello Othello in an abandoned lot.

We later learned that Othello is the place for food. Sigh. We'll have to come back.

Rainier Beach

All I knew about the Rainier Beach neighbourhood before getting off at this stop was that Rainier Beach High School was nearby. From the platform it really doesn't give off good vibes. There's a little grocery store across the street and some scrubby lots. We walked 0.4 miles east to the first big intersection, past a couple of schools, and found a dollar store, a Payless Shoes, a drugstore, and a strip mall. If we'd been willing to walk further and had more time, Kubota Garden is a mile away up a steep hill.

Scenes from Rainier Beach.

Rainier Beach didn't feel like it had embraced Link like Beacon Hill or Othello. There was no multi-use development near the station, no new apartments going in (low-income or otherwise), and no real sign of community at the station.

The highlight of the stop for me was this generic building with a generic company name across the street from the station. Turns out H. E. Goldberg & Co. is "the leading resource for furskins for sewing, leathers and sewing craft." They've been in business for 104 years! (website last updated January 1, 2016)

H. E. Goldberg & Co, "the leading resource for furskins for sewing, leathers and sewing craft."

Tukwila International Blvd

I've driven past this station more times than I can possibly count. You see it from SR-518 as you head to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It's always been an odd station to me: it's not the airport stop, it's not particularly close to the rental car facility, and yet there's a big park and ride lot next to it.

The ride from Rainier Beach Station to Tukwila International Blvd Station is great. You soar over I-5 and several low-industrial neighbourhoods. The elevated view is fascinating as you zoom above all sorts of random small businesses you've never heard of.

Interstate 5, as seen looking north from Link as it travels between Rainier Beach and Tukwila International Blvd.

At this point in the trip I had to pee again and was grateful Link was running on peak schedule with six-minute headways so we could head to the airport (I didn't know at the time that the Tukwila station is one of two in the Link system with restrooms). The difference between six minutes and 10 minutes as a rider is huge. At six minutes the trains almost feel like they are always pulling into the station. At 10 minutes you feel like you're always waiting, especially when you just miss a train.

SeaTac/Airport

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is a familiar place. The station that serves the airport is on the other side of the parking garage, and it can be a chilly walk at times, but hey, it's train service to the airport. Can't complain too much!

I haven't mentioned it yet, but our entire southbound trek on Link was on trains filled with people and suitcases going to the airport. Link is a great option for getting to the airport: it costs $3.25 or less and only takes 45 minutes from UW (assuming you aren't crazy like us and getting off at every stop). What a deal!

A payphone booth on the arrivals level of SeaTach Airport still serving its core function: phone calls.

Aside from the bathroom break, my favourite part of this stop was noticing how the lights play off the escalator between the arrivals and departures level. I rode the escalator twice just to get a little video of it!

Angle Lake

OMG LAST STOP! After nearly six hours of travel we arrived at SoundTransit's newest station, Angle Lake. No matter how many times I say or read the station name I still think it is "Angel Lake". Argh.

I'd heard that Angle Lake had a big park and ride that was good for plane spotting but I had no idea it was so big and so blue. Unfortunately the blue walls cut down on views to the airport runways, but with a longer lens it might be possible to get some decent takeoff and landing photos.

Left: Angle Lake's 1120 parking space. Right: SeaTac Airport runways.

A Note About Art

When SoundTransit builds things they set aside a portion of the construction budget for public art installations. It's an amazing program that's visible throughout the entire Link system: every station has multiple art installations.

There's so much art at Link stations that had I written about it at every stop this trip summary would be vastly longer than it already is. Instead, here's a quick look at some of what you can find.

Left: Jet Kiss by Mike Ross at Capitol Hill Station. Center: Sky Within by Sheila Klein at Mount Baker Station. Right A Relic in the Garden by Gale McCall at Columbia City Station.
Left: Soundings by Clark Wiegman at Tukwila International Blvd Station. Center: Flying Sails by Werner Klotz at SeaTac/Airport Station. Right: Cloud by Laura Haddad at Angle Lake Station.

The Flying Sails piece confused me since the city names on each sail seemed so random. Why was Thunder Bay on there? Turns out each city is on the same latitude or longitude as Seattle.

If you are a fan of public art I highly recommend doing an art tour of the Link stations. There's so much to see!

Heading Home

Six hours after starting, Scott and I found a comfy spot on a northbound train from Angle Lake and settled in for the 30 minute trip to Westlake Center. While the adventure was exhausting I loved it. Light rail is a fantastic way to head north/south through Seattle. SoundTransit keeps the trains and stations super clean and the schedule is reliable. Scott and I both remarked several times about how riding Link made us feel like we were visiting a grown up city. The trains and stations are super clean and the schedule is reliable.

With the passage of ST3 we can't wait to repeat this adventure to Ballard, West Seattle, Redmond, and Everett!

P. S. Don't hang by the door!
Created By
Neil Enns
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