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The future is now–and it smells like plywood, sawdust, and ozone? Perhaps not: the University Link project doesn’t open until early 2016. Regardless, Sound Transit offered members of the press (and one lucky Seattle Subway volunteer) the opportunity to tour the new University of Washington station as construction wraps up, and to hear about plans for how King County Metro and Sound Transit plan to work together to better serve the region when it does.

At the press conference, King County Executive Dow Constantine along with several area mayors and city councilors released a new Transit Integration Report, covering ways Sound Transit and King County Metro can coordinate service to save money while better serving riders. Our friends at Seattle Transit Blog have the wonky details (which you should absolutely read), but I will note that every great rail system in the world has a great bus system that feeds it, and that bus system inevitably blows the rail system out of the water when it comes to ridership and coverage. A great rail system depends on and deserves a great bus system, and it’s exciting to see real work happening to make that a reality in Seattle.

The press conference and station tour started where many potential riders will start their journey: on the skybridge crossing Montlake Boulevard. Once open, pedestrians and bicyclists will have easy access between the station itself, Husky Stadium, the University of Washington, and Burke-Gilman trail without having to cross Montlake itself. On the University side of the bridge, a long promenade will provide incredible views of Mount Rainier to the South, and east access to Red Square and the U-District beyond.

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After donning hardhats and safety vests, and being given the standard construction site safety talk, we descended nine stories from the skybridge level to the platform itself via one of the station’s two elevators, making the trip in about 15 seconds. The platform itself is a simple affair–Sound Transit spent the majority of its art budget on the mezzanine level–but it does offer some important improvements over earlier Link stations. Being so close to the University, issues such as noise and vibration are a major concern. While the biggest worries lie with the Northgate Link Extension (which will travel under the main UW campus), Sound Transit has still taken steps to mitigate any potential issues, including laying the tracks on special rubber pads, and constructing an experimental “floating slab” just south of the station to evaluate other ways of reducing vibration and limiting electromagnetic noise.

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Passengers are more likely to notice other improvements. University of Washington station uses a center platform, befitting its status as a terminus and major destination, which will allow for better passenger circulation and more waiting room. Two sets of escalators will move passengers from the mezzanine level, a massive improvement from DSTT and some Link stations whose escalators only move in one direction.

Operationally, the station will work similar to SeaTac/Airport Station, with trains taking advantage of a crossover south of the platform that allows them to use either platform at the end of their journey. The north end of the platform features two separate rollup doors separating the operating University Link segment from the under-construction Northgate Link Extension. Unlike the DSTT’s Pine Street Stub Tunnel, where University Link construction limits train consists to two cars, University of Washington station will allow for full length, four car consists.

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While we got an elevator ride to the platform, we had to use the stairs to ascend to what is arguably the most impressive part of the station. Sound Transit allocates 1% of project budgets to art, and at UW station it was all spent on the mezzanine. It shows: the drab grey paneling on the platform radically contrasts with the glossy and matte finish black tiles lining the walls, with nearly-florescent yellow tiles accenting throughout. At either end of the floor, that same yellow is used in the entire wall, making the six ticket and ORCA vending machines (three on each end) visually pop into existence.

Like on the platform, two sets of escalators and stairs lead to the surface while elevators have their own lobby in the middle–and while the walls certainly grab your attention at first, the real centerpiece is the installation by local artist Leo Saul Berk. Constructed as a catacomb of sorts around the escalators and elevators leading to the platform, Berk’s piece evokes images of the various soil and rock layers passengers descend through during their 90-foot journey to the platform. The black panels are backlit, with the lines and images glowing blue to provide much of the light in the chamber as passengers travel to and from the platform. The photos don’t do it justice: the installation is incredibly sticking and just plain cool. You’ll love it.

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After winding through several non-passenger areas of the station meant for ventilation and other mechanical needs, we found ourselves on the south end of the station construction site, outside a small “head house” separate from the main station itself. Once construction is complete, the plaza around the station will feature a variety of landscaping and passenger amenities, including seating, bike parking, and hopefully a coffee cart or two. For now, it’s just a sea of construction equipment.

University Link will be open in the first quarter of 2016, six to nine months ahead of schedule and over $100 million under budget. It’s expected to add at least 71,000 riders to the system per month by 2030, with only two stations and 3 miles of track added to the existing line. You can view all the photos I took of the tour below or on imgur.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Great report on an awesome, under-budget and ahead-of-schedule major project by Sound Transit!

    That said, I’m really surprised by this line: “and that bus system inevitably blows the rail system out of the water when it comes to ridership and coverage.” In a robust system , the rail system does a majority of the heavy lifting and has the transit ridership to prove it. A robust system is what we intend to build; Sound Transit’s Link will be half the mileage of DC Metro’s 2013 mileage in 2023–and it took 40 years for DC to get to that mileage. Buses do, however, extend COVERAGE AREA so nearly everyone can benefit from the system, which is also extraordinarily important. I’m not sure “inevitably” is the right word here with respect to ridership, and I don’t think we should be pushing for a rail system where such is “inevitably” the case. We should be relying on our rail system to do what rail does best: move gobs and gobs of people very quickly around a compact, terrain- and water-constrained yet beautiful city so they can enjoy it and work in it, instead of being frustrated by it.

    Mature systems:
    2013 NYC MTA Bus average weekday ridership: 2,166,376
    2013 NYC MTA Subway average weekday ridership: 5,465,034

    2014 DC Metrobus average weekday ridership (May ’14): 459,234
    2014 DC Metrorail average weekday ridership (yearlong): 721,804

      • The primary concept of a bus and rail system is allowing commuters to bus to the train, train to downtown, and then bus to work. You don’t want to have to build parking for the rail stations. This means 1-2 bus rides per train rider, and that excludes those who continue to commute solely by bus.

        • Yeah, no. If I had to take two buses and a metro to get to work then I’m either driving, moving, or changing jobs. Especially if we’re talking about Seattle’s super slow LINK. You need parking at metro stations to accommodate people that value their time.

      • Which was precisely what I was thinking of. Likewise, the Chicago Transit Authority’s busses carried about 300 Million trips in 2013, while the El carried 229 Million. Toss in PACE bus, and that disparity is far higher.

        Ultimately, though, my point still stands – especially while Link is just one line snaking through Seattle to the ‘burbs, with a lack of dense urban stop spacing to go with that suburban orientation. Link might get you to the neighborhood (or at least the right side of the ship canal), but for now the last mile for many, many trips will invariably be by bus or bike. Having a strong bus system, then, is critical to ridership.

        • Interestingly, while we lack the density of New York, we have more in common with it and DC’s disposition than we do Chicago (and we aren’t far behind DC Metro’s population). Our most dense parts are partitioned from the rest by water (and hills). This creates the perfect rail travel scenario when compared to flat, undivided Chicago (sure, they have a Lake to their East, but no one lives on it or commutes across it). Their buses can go faster in a grid, rapid transit network sort of fashion. Gridding ours is difficult, and they get canalized on limited gridlocked bridges.

          This is all why proper rail investments will far outpace bus service in the end, just as it does onto Manhattan and into DC. THAT SAID, a very solid bus system is CRITICAL to the success of our transportation network just like rail. Since a train can carry the same as nearly 15 buses, that’s a lot of bus hours that can be reapplied to different corridors unserved by trains, and thereby maintaining stronger coverage area than we currently have now.

          While this is perhaps an ultra-minor difference of opinion, we are all agreed on central tenets here: we need a strong bus system and strong rail system to move our region in a manner that is fast, efficient, clean and desirable on which to ride.

          • One last piece: it seems that our system will/could actually resemble DC’s more than anyone else’s. Sure, there are BART-like long tails into the suburbs, but we ultimately should expect a more dense urban system of interconnected lines as well. Not BART. Not MTA NYC Subway. But slight elements of both…more like DC.

          • London’s bus ridership is high for SOME of the same reasons that LA’s will probably be high. Despite an extraordinary rail system, London is a vast, vast flat metropolis beyond the core served by the Tube. It’s characteristics scale appropriately for bus service to immense swaths of suburban, highly residential areas.

  2. See that spot where the orange vest guy is standing in the 4th photo? That’s where the slide should go. It’s not too late to build one before they open.

    (edit) Wait – that’s just the mezzanine. Start it all the way at the top to save more stair time.

    • You think that would be cool because you have great memories of grade school and Chuck E Cheese or whatever but you know that somebody would spill their coffee on that thing pretty much every day or it would get wet from the rain and then all that coffee/dirt/water/etc would end up all over everybody’s clothes.

      • This is not new. Having the slide be straight allows you to visually inspect the slide before sliding. This wouldn’t just be fun, it would save a large amount of time.

        • Its not new but it is very rare. And its rare for a reason. Also, unless you put numerous landings in place it would be difficult to inspect the slide. Many metro stations are several stories underground. At best you might be able to check the first 15 or 20 feet. It would save time though, I’ll give you that.

  3. Great piece Will, thanks for sharing all the pictures! One little nitpick: the street/neighborhood is Montlake, not Mountlake.

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