Capitol Hill Link light rail station

Transit Transforms Communities

Blogger: Hannah Lake, Transit Planner | Seattle, Washington, USA
June 30, 2016

Transit transforms communities. New transit options help us make more sustainable choices as we move through our daily lives. These options also reduce the demand on our cities’ infrastructure, and can improve our local air quality.  Changing the way we commute to work can make a considerable difference on our environmental impact.

In Seattle, I live in a reality where the good, the bad, and the ugly of transit leaves me either feeling like I am the wizard who unlocked the secret of commuting, or staring longingly out the window of a bus stuck in traffic as I try to distract myself from the continued congestion ahead. But it could be worse. I never have to drive to work—or hardly drive at all. I can hop on and off a train and connecting buses to get everywhere I need to go.

My access to public transit was even better three years ago when I was living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle. Everything I needed was nearby. I could quickly hop on a bus to go downtown, and I could walk to work. Restaurants, a grocery store, my dentist, and most of my friends were all close by.

Best of all, my apartment was located just one block away from the Capitol Hill Link light rail station shown above. As a resident and a transit planner, I was ecstatic. It was a chance to live, work, and play in a place connected by so many modes of transit.

But I was quickly priced out of my apartment. Sadly, the single parents, the elderly, and the immigrant families—those who would have benefitted the most from all-day, reliable transit in the neighborhood—had to move away. Many were forced to move to areas that have poor or limited public transit options—where sometimes the only choice is to commute by personal vehicle.

With this kind of shift, a neighborhood’s culture, identity, and diversity are lost due to gentrification. Sustainable choices for people who may not otherwise prioritize sustainability in their lives are taken away.

I dream of smartly designed, well-integrated multimodal transit systems that give people the opportunity to connect from point A to point B with minimal hassle and improved reliability, while also bringing more sustainable choices into their lives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had options like this? Shouldn’t we all have options like this?

As planners, engineers, architects, and developers, we need to rethink transit as a social justice issue. We need to innovate ways to plan, design, and build transit stations without automatic gentrification. We need to make transit work for more people, especially those who need it most. And we needed to start yesterday.

As a transit planner for HDR, I am part of a team that works hard to provide good transit access and support station area development to help neighborhoods rather than disrupt them. Our robust outreach process gives community members a voice as we think about development early in the planning and design process.

That is why I became a transit planner in the first place: I want to help give others the same public transit options that I have had.

Photo caption: The Capitol Hill Link light rail station is part of Sound Transit’s University Link project extending Central Link with 3.15 miles of twin-bore tunnels from downtown Seattle north to the University of Washington. University Link serves downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, and the University District, and it opened for service this year. Photo taken by HDR employee Mike Bjork, March 2016.


Reader Comments (4)

Well said Hannah. I have never lived in an area with even "good" transit but have traveled to many places that offer it and have fought for years to try and change the situation where I live. Unfortunately most folks here view transit as a social service and/or use the gentrification argument against providing better options instead of looking at ways to address it. 

Very well Said !!! we all dream about the same things. thank you for writing about that


Great post Hannah! I lived in Seattle, after college, and loved taking the bus from our house in Green Lake to downtown. I am excited to try the light rail when I take my family there this summer. The gentrification issue is a huge one; glad you raise it. Keep working on those smart transit solutions.

Transit is the reason my husband and I moved to Seattle. Both for my career and for our daily transportation. It has been so refreshing to live in a city whose residents value transit and demand more, better, and faster transit service. We have enjoyed bringing our new baby boy to the openings of some major transit projects  this year (including First Hill Streetcar and U Link!), and we look forward to all the new transit service in store for Seattle in the coming years. It can't arrive fast enough!

However, Seattle also has a HUGE affordable housing issue, which is what ultimately moved us out of downtown and into West Seattle (we still take the bus to/from work in our downtown offices, but the long commute means less time with our son each day). And I know many others have it far worse than us.  I'm so glad you raised the issue of gentrification and of transit access as a social justice issue.  Thank you for challenging us to do better in our communities.

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