Hey that grand opening of the new Sound Transit stations sure was fun! When can we do it again?
Over the next three years, Sound Transit plans to open 25 new stations, gradually expanding train travel from Seattle out into the hinterlands of Tacoma, West Seattle, and a place called “Kirk-land.” As the thousands of riders this weekend proved, we love a good train launch — and you’ll have an opportunity to enjoy another very soon.
Exact dates haven’t been locked in yet, but Tacoma will get to experience a Sound Transit expansion around May of 2022, with their downtown line zooming past a stadium, multiple medical centers, and a lovely park. That grand opening will be tricky for Seattle residents to attend, since our light rail doesn’t connect to Tacoma (yet; that’s slated for sometime around 2032).
But! You can start making plans now to celebrate the opening of the East Link Extension, which will soon link Seattle with the east side. I hope you like parking lots.
If you thought the Northgate extension unlocked a whole bunch of destinations, just wait until the East Lake Extension (to be called “Line 2” when it opens) makes its bow. Trains will cruise along the I-90 bridge over to Mercer Island, then continue on east to Bellevue and Redmond — about 14 miles in total, with ten new stations. Ten!
So what can you look forward to when they open? Well, start with the Judkins Park station right here in Seattle, which is in the vicinity of multiple lovely green spaces: There’s a bike trail, skate park, children’s play area, sports fields, and have you been to any of those nearby Indian restaurants? Fantastic. Beware of Rainier Ave, though — it just got a redesign that reduces some of the hazards, but it’s still way too car-choked to be pleasant (it’s insane that there are no safe bike routes there).
Further east, there’s the Mercer Island station, which is in the vicinity of MULTIPLE candy stores, a perfect treat to enjoy once you’re done eating the rich. There are also some very nice views across the lake, bookstores, and some beaches that are just crying out to be made gay.
From there, it’s on to South Bellevue, located right next to Mercer Slough Nature Park. I fucking love a slough, and the Mercer Slough is one of my top five regional sloughs. (Seriously, it’s beautiful, a two-minute walk and you’ll feel like you’re in a national park hours away from civilization.)
The next stop will bring you to a more developed area, if that word can be used to describe anything in Bellevue at this point. For now, the area around the future East Main station is a suburban disaster: giant intersections, wide lanes, low-density strip malls, parking lots upon parking lots. If your favorite thing about Los Angeles is Glendale, you’ll be right at home. On one hand, it’s close to some hotels that host conventions, but you’ll have to brave treacherous intersections and long hikes through parking lots to get to them. Like most of Bellevue, the whole area needs to be demolished and rebuilt with high-rises and car-free streets. Until that happens, skip this stop.
Bellevue describes the stop to the north as “downtown,” which … sure, why not. You’ve got some big buildings, a city hall, a Marriott. It’s as downtown as anything you’d find in Walla Walla or Spokane. To be fair, Bellevue does have some legitimately nice attractions like multiple art museums and a botanical garden and some additional convention spaces. It is also the site of a Container Store. Truly, a jewel in the PNW’s crown.
Next stop: Wilburton, which is mostly a medical center. But there’s a pondside dining area, with a crab restaurant and a sushi place. (Let us assume the food is not dredged out of the pond.) As with much of Bellevue, the area is mostly parking lots, so if you’re not taking the train to the medical center to have your tonsils out, you will probably only want to disembark if your idea of a good time is standing around looking at other people’s cars.
The same can be said of the next few stations: Spring District's main highlight is that it’s near a milk bottling factory, and Bel-Red is adjacent to a collision center. Overlake station is next to a McDonald’s, but that’s not the only highlight: Sound Transit will construct a bridge over the freeway, which will connect to a nearby suburb and some pretty parks. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, you can wander through some neighborhoods to find Viewpoint Park, which has some quite pleasant walking trails.
Your tour through the little village of Bellevue’s new train stations will conclude at the “Redmond Technology Station,” which sure is a funny way of spelling “Microsoft.” Disembark here to take a tour of a live-sized Excel spreadsheet. Lol just kidding, there’s not much to see aside from office buildings and another pedestrian bridge over a freeway.
But the real delight of taking this trip, once it opens, isn’t so much about the destination. It doesn’t strictly matter that Bellevue and Redmond are voids — what, were you going to Northgate for the arts and culture? The true joy is in finally getting to ride that long-promised train way out into the hinterlands, expanding your range, roaming way out further than you ever thought possible. And then, on the way back, stopping off on Mercer Island for some fudge.