Forget about all the carbon footprint-reducing, Earth-hugging aspects of the new Link light rail from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac International Airport. They are secondary to what's cool about Rain City's new train, as I learned on Dec. 23 and 29, headed to and from a Christmas in Arizona: No more $50 cab rides, no more dodgy late-night Metro route 194 trips with the lights dimmed inside the bus, no more begging friends for a ride in the middle of their workday.Link is $2.50 from Westlake Center to the glass wall of a station at the east end of the airport. The ride is relatively quick — 35 minutes, give or take — and glides you right along Martin Luther King, Jr. Way South through a Seattle many Seattleites, especially the enviro-worshipping crowd, rarely see. That is the Southend, with all of its cheek-by-jowl homes, African restaurants, modest mosques, steel supply outlets and auto wrecking yards. Sure, you know intellectually that'ês all there, a Seattle both old-school and new, but it'ês hard to glimpse while car-bound and watching traffic in front of you on MLK. Link slams all of that down-at-the-heels social reality right in your face. For $2.50, it'ês a bargain and a reminder that light rail has yet to revitalize the Southend.
Speaking of social reality, I encountered one sight while returning from Sea-Tac on Dec. 29 that was humbling and priceless at once. Link crosses I-5 just south of South Boeing Access Road. That afternoon, as the train made its way north to the Rainier Beach station, you could see dozens of police and firefighters, lights flashing atop their vehicles, standing on the north side of the Access Road'ês overpass and waiting to offer a final salute as the body of Pierce County Sheriff'ês Deputy Kent Mundell was driven from Seattle to a funeral home in Lakewood. The Stars and Stripes hung from an arch created by two Seattle Fire Department hook-and-ladder trucks. The flag waved in the cold breeze.
Something tells me that Sound Transit'ês route planners could have never forecast that kind of image.