Both Crosscut’s Skip Berger and HA’s Carl Ballard took advantage of light rail to explore South Seattle. Both got off at Othello Station, both walked around the surprisingly active and distinctive neighborhood (surprising, at least, to outsiders), and both stopped for a bite to eat at one of the many Asian restaurants that dot the area.
And both came away with the same impression of how light rail will open up the once hidden neighborhoods along its path to the rest of the city. First Carl:
The point of this (admittedly overindulgent) post is that light rail opens up a piece of the city for those of us without roots there and who make most of our trips without a car. Sure, this is something I could do yesterday if I’d wanted to. But it’s much easier to just get on a train than it is to figure out the bus schedule or to find parking if I’d wanted to drive. And I know exactly how to get home: hop on one of the trains that come every few minutes.
And then Skip:
For Seattleites who rarely get down to this part of the Rainier Valley, I predict Othello become a destination, even a place for a quick lunch for downtown workers who need a break. You can get there, have lunch, and be back downtown in less than an hour. I got off here and popped into the Huong Viet Cafe and bought a delicious pork sandwich. If I worked downtown, I might do that regularly.
[…] That’s one of the intriguing social prospects of the light rail line: it makes visible parts of the city that are often ignored. The trek down MLK, passing the new housing development, the old junkyards, the heavy machinery, the chain-link fence neighborhoods with “beware of the dog” signs and cars parked in the yard, the immigrant enclaves, the strange ethnic churches, the decaying strip malls — it helps put a big chunk of Seattle onto the visible map, at the very least for the tens of thousands of folks who will be taking light rail to the airport and might never otherwise see this part of the city.
As for me, I had the opposite experience, embarking from Othello Station, and suddenly finding myself in the middle of a bustling downtown Seattle street scene…a trip I am likely to take more often, now freed from the irritation and inconvenience of traffic (by car or by bus) and the hassle and/or expense of downtown parking. And at either end of the line, local merchants will benefit from the traffic of folks like Skip, Carl and me.
I was tempted to describe our explorations as intra-city tourism, but in fact, it is much more than that. Tourism implies a visit from outside, whereas light rail will ultimately serve to tie our city (and our region) closer together in a way that freeways and buses never have. Light rail, through its speed, comfort, reliability and permanence contracts the landscape, changing the dimension by which we experience distance from space to time, much in the same way as a high-rise elevator: nobody thinks of the fifth and fifty-fifth floors as being separated by fifty flights of stairs, and nobody plans their travel within the building accordingly. Likewise, when downtown Seattle, or any other stop along the way is always, say, 20 minutes away—not sometimes less, sometimes much, much more, depending on traffic—the boundaries between our neighborhoods will begin to blur, not in distinctiveness, but in distance.
The debate over light rail has largely focused on whether or not it is an efficient means of moving commuters, and no doubt commuters will always comprise the bulk of its ridership, but its impact on our region will be much greater that which could be achieved simply by giving commuters a better bus. Because it changes the way we view our region and use our various neighborhoods, light rail will make Greater Seattle both larger and smaller at the same time, an apparent paradox future generations will come to take for granted.