By Stephen Fesler
At 4:51am Saturday morning, the Northgate Link extension officially opened to the public. Many riders were in attendance for the occasion rising to cheers, whistles, and claps as the 1 Line welcomed them aboard and visited its three new stations. Families, neighbors, and transit enthusiasts filled platforms, but the train cars generally had seating freely available, so it wasn’t packed by any means, not that you’d expect that Covid or not for such an early opening.
Sound Transit pulled out all the stops with the first trains being the newfangled Siemens S700 (Series 2) light rail vehicles. The first trip from Northgate went off without any hint of problem, though it operated at lower speeds as is common for first trips. Later trains ran faster between stations closer to the tight schedule Sound Transit has adopted, which promises 13-minute trips from Northgate to Westlake.
As part of a first ride tour, we documented the many features of the stations, including platforms, corridors, art, wayfinding and signage, bus facilities, and bike facilities. One thing that did come as a surprise is broken escalators; several are closed at Roosevelt and U District — at least three broken escalators by our count — which will no doubt be a disappointment to riders who had expected better of Sound Transit.
On Friday night, our reporters were also present for the ribbon cutting and preview event, which offered a chance to get an early ride on the extension and explore stations. Sound Transit brought the big guns with a laser show, marching band, and even Sound Transit’s mascot Zap Gridlock. Ahead for the early ride, agency and local officials mingled and spoke on the hard work in getting the light rail extension done, the benefits of light rail expansion, and how it will become an important asset to communities. Sound Transit’s long-time and former Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl was also able to make it to the ribbon cutting and hopes to make many future trips.
Of course, Sound Transit isn’t done yet. There’s more ahead with extensions like: East Link in 2023 and Federal Way, Lynnwood, and Downtown Redmond Link in 2024. Sound Transit will also open the Tacoma Hilltop T Line streetcar extension in 2022, NE 130th Street infill station in 2025, Stride S1 and S2 Lines in 2026, and the Stride S3 Line in 2027. Further transit expansions then come in the 2030s and 2040s like light rail to Ballard, West Seattle, and Tacoma.
As for opening day events, Sound Transit had a “museum-like” experience at stations with vendors, booths, and welcome ambassadors. In the U District, there was a street festival that runs from 10:00am to 8:00pm where visitors can freely walk streets, listen to live music, and enjoy food and drink. Roosevelt featured a similar experience with live music, dancing, food trucks, and more from 10:00am to 4:00pm. At 9:30am, the John Lewis Memorial Bridge had an opening ceremony, heralding in the new pedestrian and bike connection over I-5.
To recap, our coverage on all things Northgate Link, here’s a list:
- Our full rider’s guide about Northgate Link;
- Our detailed list of opening day events;
- Information on service changes that are now in effect, including the Northgate Link bus restructures;
- Our rider’s guides for things to do in Northgate, Roosevelt, and U District;
- Development updates for Northgate, Roosevelt, and U District (plus earlier Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 roundups);
- Photo tour previews of Northgate and U District stations; and
- King County Metro’s new spider maps.
Again, it’s worth emphasizing that with the Northgate Link Extension opening, major bus restructures have gone into effect on Saturday as well. This affects a long list of King County Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit routes. Many routes in North Seattle and North King County have been adjusted in terms of service levels and their alignments, which are generally meant to improve bus-to-rail connections. In some cases, routes have been eliminated and new ones created. Sound Transit and Community Transit are also trying to facilitate bus-to-rail connections. Route 522, for instance, now terminates at Roosevelt and Routes 542 and 556 now terminate at U District. Community Transit and Sound Transit are also running the 800 series and Routes 511, 512, and 513 only as far south as Northgate.
So when you’re ready to ride, get out there and try out the new light rail extension and visit the neighborhoods served by the new stations.
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