Monday, March 26, 2018

Seattle’s light rail sheds light on what to expect in Surrey and Langley

With phase two funding approved in principle for the Mayors’ Council’s Ten-Year Transportation Vision, light rail will now be a reality in the South of Fraser. This funding will allow light rail to be built and operated along King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue. It will get pre-construction work completed for the Fraser Highway line, ensuring that construction can start the instant that the third and final phase of funding is approved for the Ten-Year Transportation Vision.

King County is served by Link Light Rail which opened in the summer of 2009. Some sections of their light rail network run in a tunnel, some sections run at-grade, and some sections run above-grade like SkyTrain.

My friend Paul Hillsdon and I decided to head to Seattle over the weekend to check out Rainier Valley. This part of King County is served by Link Light Rail where the stations and track are at-grade. This section is similar to what is being planned for South of Fraser light rail.

One of the first things that Paul and I noticed was that the trains don’t stop at intersections. All the traffic signals were set to prioritize light rail. The following clip shows light rail going through a signalized intersection. Link Light Rail runs in its own dedicated right-of-way which is how light rail will operate in the South of Fraser. While some cars passed the train in this clip, they had to queue at subsequent traffic signals.

Paul and I stopped at the Othello Light Rail Station where redevelopment has occurred around the station. We when into Cafe Red where we had a good chat with its barista who was very knowledge about light rail in Rainier Valley. I asked him if trains ever had to wait at traffic lights. He told me that this was a rarity. He stated that cross-street traffic and left-turning traffic gets delayed to prioritize light rail vehicles going through intersections. One of the balancing acts will be to ensure that light rail is prioritized while also ensuring that cross-street traffic gets some love too.

New development around Othello Station. Select image to enlarge.

The following pictures show Rainier Beach Station. This station is the best example of what light rail stations will look like in the South of Fraser.

Rainier Beach Link Light Rail Station: Platform and ticket-vending machines. Select image to enalrge.

Rainier Beach Link Light Rail Station. Select image to enlarge.

Pedestrian access to Rainier Beach Link Light Rail Station. Select image to enlarge.

Travelling along Martin Luther King Jr Way on light rail shows how light rail can function efficiently at-grade. I know that many South of Fraser folks are concerned about light rail getting jammed up with regular traffic. In Seattle, they have figured out how to prioritize at-grade light rail to ensure smooth sailing for its riders.

3 comments:

Frank Bucholtz said...

I am very familiar with the Link system in Seattle and have ridden on it many times. The biggest difference in the at-grade portion is that MLK Jr. Way has considerably less vehicle traffic (and surrounding population) than is the case with all the roads in Surrey and Langley where LRT will go. If you get a chance, see if you are able to get recent traffic volumes on that road and the same figures for King George, 104 Avenue and Fraser Hioghway. I suspect there will be some very dramatic differences.

Daryl said...

I too explored Link and MLK when I was in Seattle in December and made a couple of notable observations. One of the things that interested me the most is that , regional buses have not been completely reorganized around the LRT service. I noticed this the next day when I consulted Google Maps for a trip to Southcentre Mall in Tukwila, and was directed to take KCM's #150 bus from the transit tunnel. The continued existence of this frequent KCM-operated bus route puzzled me, because it heads in essentially the same direction as the Sound Transit-operated LRT system and services a corridor in Tukwila that should easily connect to an LRT station. At first glance it would seem that KCM had missed an opportunity for bus-LRT integration, but as it turns out, the 150 not only retains the one-seat ride to downtown but seems to offer better scheduled travel times using I-5's HOV lanes and the SODO busway - even during rush hour.

Gets me quite curious what attitudes locals have had over the decision to pursue street-running construction on MLK. One thing I'm sure about is it hasn't really stuck - seemingly all future extensions of Link system will be fully grade-separated, largely on elevated viaducts like SkyTrain, and with practically no street-running construction. One of the major transit advocacy groups in Seattle (Seattle Subway) even seems to want the MLK segment replaced with an express line following the I-5 corridor, at least according to their map.

Anonymous said...

There is no equivalent intersection to King George/104th and its crazy configuration in the Seattle system. This will have to be fixed or Surrey's LRT will seriously underperform.