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Seattle's New Light Rail Strands Nightlife Businesses

March 22, 2016 • 5 mins read

Ahmad El-Najjar

Policy and Communications

On March 20, two new stations, Capitol Hill and University District, were added to ULink, Sound Transit’s light rail system connecting Seattle’s downtown with SeaTac airport. Celebrations were held in both new stations. The Capitol Hill events were organized by Townsquared’s partners at the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. To commemorate the occasion, the Chamber’s Executive Director, Sierra Hansen, organized an historic give-away to the Broadway corridor customers. Those who spent $5 or more received a token they could redeem for a piece of the Red Wall, which had hosted local art outside the Capitol Hill Station’s construction area. Unfortunately, the light rail operating hours don’t run late enough to serve the staff or patrons of local nightlife businesses, and there’s a Sound Transit petition now circulating to change that.

Although Seattle’s small business owners waited a long time for these new stations, they’re not all as excited as they were hoping to be. Capitol Hill’s purveyors of nightlife, their employees, and the many residents that patronize the Hill’s cafes, restaurants, venues, and bars are disappointed with the hours of operation for these new stationsCurrently, ULink’s first weekday pickup southbound from Capitol Hill is 4:51 AM and the last ride out is at 12:38 AM. For riders heading northbound, first pickup is at 5:03 AM and the last train is 12:46 AM; weekend schedules are similar.

This means that the staff and customers of the many Capitol Hill nightlife businesses that close at 2 AM must either leave before closing, drive, or find alternative transportation. Since crime has become a major issue on the Hill, this also puts the safety of these Seattleites at risk. Shortly after the stations opened, Capitol Hill resident Matthew Powell created a MoveOn petition to Sound Transit, the board of which is responsible for setting ULink’s service and operating terms:

Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail has recently expanded to include service to Capitol Hill and UW. While this is an excellent addition, the last service both to and from these areas is before 1AM. Most bars close at 2AM, leaving riders to take a taxi or rideshare back, so instead some people choose to drive – and then drive home drunk. Expanding service until 2:30AM on Fridays/Saturdays and 1:30AM on other days would not only help decrease drunk driving, but likely be cost effective given the high demand of Seattle’s excellent bars which are now served by the new stations. This petition is to request that the Sound Transit Board of Directors expand operating hours for the good of public safety and service to our community.

Townsquared Seattle member Skip Tognetti, owner of Letterpress Distilling, shared the Sound Transit petition with Seattle’s local business community. In his post, Tognetti said, “This is important. We now have the ability to easily and inexpensively move people from the U District down through downtown and south. Let’s use that ability to help people get home safely by increasing the options they have to transport themselves by modes other than driving their cars after a night out.”

As of publication, more than 2,600 concerned business owners and residents had already signed. Organizers of the Sound Transit petition are hoping for 20,000 signatures by the time the petition is submitted to Sound Transit’s Board of Directors. Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray told the Capitol Hill Times that “right now our focus is on getting the line up and running smooth[ly]. We’ll assess down the road.” Seattle local businesses can stay up-to-date and discuss the issues by joining the #AskSeattle feed on Townsquared and sign the petition.

image courtesy of Eric Fredericks


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