I've never lived in a city with anything but buses before. Eugene (Ore.), New Haven (Conn.), Camden (Maine): all small to medium-sized towns. Seattle's a big city, but it pretends not to be. Light rail and streetcars might help it grow up.
I rode the Link Light Rail system today for the first time; it opened just one week ago. This is the long-awaited light rail system that Seattle has been avoiding building for decades, with the population and politicians deluding themselves into thinking both that sprawl wasn't happening and that we were still a small town. Fortunately, opposition was overcome, including budget changes that led to the initial system being far smaller than originally intended. Nonetheless, it's great. The station and system is quite well designed. On the north end, it ties in with the bus tunnel, a tube that runs from the southwest end of downtown to the northeast, allowing express travel through. The tunnel was originally designed to allow later light-rail upgrades, but the project had a flaw (in the interests of expense) that required expense rework when the time came. Again, nonetheless, it's great. The light-rail starts at Westlake Center on the north end, which is the heart of the retail district. The South Lake Union Train (SLUT), otherwise known as the Seattle Streetcar, terminates a half block from Westlake Center. The boys and I drove to the north end of the streetcar line, which seems nondescript today, having just the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and related treatment centers and biotech firms, but is slated to become Amazon's home starting next year. Thousands of additional workers will be along the north end of the line. One of my great desires is that people like the streetcar enough that a budget's proposed to extend it north to the University of Washington. That plus light rail would make UW a far less car-heavy place and reduce the cost of attending for those who live south.
We found cheap multi-hour parking in a lot, took the streetcar to Westlake, went down to the train, and took light rail to Beacon Hill, a few stops past downtown, to visit a library we hadn't seen yet. The whole experience was glorious, like living in a different, better city, in which--golly!--a car wasn't even desirable. On the way south, I chatted with a molecular biologist who lived in Mount Baker (one stop south of Beacon Hill) and worked at the Hutch. He had the perfect commute now, living 1/2 mile from the Mount Baker station. At the Beacon Hill library, a heavily mobility impaired gent in a wheelchair heard Ben saying we had just gotten off the light rail, and he waxed enthusiastic about the system, saying he'd never come to this library before. I realized that despite all Metro buses having handicapped accessibility, it's a hassle. You have to wait at a stop, typically in the hot outdoors, for an undetermined period of time (for late buses). The driver has to lower the bus (kneeling buses) or extend the ramp. Then you have to strapped or wheel in. Then the driver has to strap you into the seat area. With light rail, it's self-serve. Elevators are everywhere and fast. The Beacon Hill station is 165 feet (14 stories) below street level, but there were several elevators, and it took maybe 15 seconds from top to bottom. The trains are designed with minimal gaps so a wheelchair can safely roll on or off. Nifty. Someone smart would start building accessible housing (maybe with subsidies) near new and planned lightrail stations for just this reason. Or maybe it's already happened. On the way back, the trains were full but not packed with Sounders fans. The Mariners had a game scheduled for 1.15 pm; the Sounders for noon; there's a 6.30 pm road run (6,000 people) and then a 7.30 pm torchlight parade. Craziness! Parking downtown is always expensive, and driving through downtown is tedious with a light every block, buses everywhere, tourists crossing en masse. This suddenly makes downtown exceptionally appealing. The next extension of light rail will come to our neighborhood, but not until 2016 (assuming it's on schedule, which is possible). The extension that voters approved goes from downtown to UW, and might pass nearly under our house. Not hoping for that (unless I could put a chute to hop on a train in the basement), but it will likely be deep enough that we won't feel anything. We're finally developing a world-class city here.