Just Think How University Link Light Rail Will Link Things

UW Station (Image: Sound Transit)

Back in mid-February, I had the chance to pedal the refurbished northern section of the Burke-Gilman Trail, which had its official reopening on March 13. It was my first ride that far north on the trail–Whoa! We’re in Kenmore?–and when I later learned you could ride the trail to the door, more or less, of the Woodinville Redhook Brewery, I was anxious to get back in the saddle.

We rode the 20-plus miles in about two hours, at a reasonably leisurely pace, judging from the Doppler-shifted “On your lefts” we kept hearing. That, we assured ourselves, was all right. They weren’t taking in the view the way we were: The Cascades were shimmering, Lake Washington was dotted with stand-up paddlers, and from somewhere came the smell of freshly mown grass.

When you first see the brewery, on the opposite bank of the Sammamish River, you wonder if you might need to swim it, or if some enterprising rafter is willing to ferry you across, but if you keep pedaling, around the bend is a bridge. You just take a right and, passing the Herbfarm and Barking Frog, come to Redhook’s Forecasters Pub, which had some 50 bikes out front on Sunday around noon. (It does get very busy; they accept reservations at (425) 483-3232 ext. 1275, but you can also wait in the bar or on the patio.)

But it was on the ride back that we really had an epiphany as to how things would change when University Link light rail goes into operation, fall-ish of 2016. Capitol Hill cyclists, in particular, understand what Portland cyclist Elly Blue was referring to when she wanted to know how Seattle bikers dealt with our “monstrous inclines.” No matter where you go, off the Hill, it’s waiting for you on your way back. At the end of 40 miles, it can be a little disheartening.

As it happens, though, if you’re headed up Interlaken (which, still steep, is at least scenic and less car-frequented), you pop off the Burke-Gilman right by the future University Link light rail station. Once that opens, poof, no hill. It’s almost Buddhist. On Sunday, we waited for the 43 bus, and its front-end bike rack, but the drawback to that made itself clear when the bus hove into view, and we could see a bike already on the rack. Luckily, it was a 3-bike rack, so we still fit. But light rail will have the capacity to shuttle many more cyclists around than buses ever will.

That’s why last week’s hole-though of a boring machine from Montlake to Capitol Hill was so exciting. Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray tells us that at this point the tunneling work from the UW to Capitol Hill is actually about three months ahead of schedule, and the overall project is 50 percent complete. All tunneling should be finished by early 2013, at which point, it’s all about finishing up station construction and, finally, testing the system for the fall 2016 opening.

In this post, I looked to the north from Capitol Hill, but it’s also true that light rail can magic-carpet you past some troublesome hills to the south, as well. After a cold, more-rainy-than-expected ride down to the Kubota Garden recently, we biked over to the light rail and hitched a ride back to the top of Beacon Hill, for lunch at Travelers Thali House, before coasting off the north flank and back up Capitol Hill.

Already, you can get an intimation of how light rail can remap a cyclist’s idea of “accessible” Seattle; that “Link” appellation turns out to be functionally true. As each new section is added, anyone with a bike can make use of the transit backbone to move easily through Seattle from north to south, often from light rail to trail and back. You won’t need to have thighs of iron to conquer hills, or be kitted out in full bad-weather gear “in case” a squall blows in. All you’ll need is flat-tire fixin’s and an ORCA card.