The opening of the new stations in North Seattle finally made a large part of Seattle a big city. The majority of this metropolis is, of course, still composed of towns, burbs, and mid-sized cities. We can blame this lack of unity on, of course, the dominance of a form of transportation that's specific to the spatial configuration that describes the suburb. The automobile is always about distance, and the big city can only be about density. The new stations made the big city in Seattle a reality by creating compactness that results from the collapse of space by time. Suddenly, the Ave is more connected to, and therefore a part of, Chinatown than it is to the commercial district of Ballard.
This understanding that Seattle has (rather than is) a big city explains the local, national, and even international recognition of the significance of the new stations.
Strangely enough, the station that contributed the most to the emergence of Seattle's big city in the recent round of expansion is, architecturally, the least interesting one, the Roosevelt Station.
We can attribute the commanding size of this station's contribution not just to how its neighborhood "embraced rapid growth... [and] absorbed 1,626 new housing units since early 2016, a 95% increase," to use the words of Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times' transportation reporter. Nor to its concentration of bars, cafes, and restaurants—the life of an urban experience, as Josh Feit explains with convincing force in his essay of the area that surrounds the popular Capitol Hill Station, "Sorry Gen Xers, Capitol Hill is Cooler Than It Used To Be. And Less White." But it is instead a metric that's underappreciated by many in the pro-transit community, which is access to three defining or high use-value grocery products: milk, eggs, and bread.
As much as I love LMN's University of Washington Station, and its connections to several bus routes, the Burke-Gilman Trail, and healthcare facilities, it is, however, nowhere near any of these grocery basics, let alone cafes, bars, clubs, and the like. And although its positive impact on car-less culture is certainly larger than the Tukwila International Boulevard Station, an island in a massive parking lot, it will certainly be much less than the Northgate Station, a multi-modal island that connects deep North Seattle for the first time to a part of the city that has become big.
In terms of design, Roosevelt Station is unquestionably an inferior work, but its location makes it one of the most practical, and therefore functional, stations on the 1 Line (as it's now called). For one, it's right across the street from a supermarket, a drug store, and a household goods store. This makes it easy to pick something basic on the way home or to the train or to a connecting bus.
There are three stations on the line with a similar concentration of sites that supply goods with high use-values. Each is culturally distinct, and each has its own story to tell. Along with the Roosevelt Station, there's the International District/Chinatown Station (Uwajimaya), and the Othello Station (Safeway); and two stations that are not as concentrated but are close to the basics: the Beacon Hill Station (Red Apple), and the U District Station (H Mart). The Capitol Hill Station will join this group when an H Mart opens right next to it in the near future. The spaces between these points on the line have been collapsed by train-contracted time into the first big city in Washington State.
I have to make one more transit-related point in this post. The fine folks at Subway Seattle are pushing ever so hard to accelerate ST3, which, according to present plans, would open West Seattle stations in the distant year of 2030, and Ballard/Lower Queen Anne stations in the even more distant year of 2035.
We must work to accelerate ST3 and lay the ground groundwork for ST4. These openings are certainly fun, but they also greatly improve our region’s quality of life and environment. https://t.co/UmMeEsw0sF
— The Urbanist (@UrbanistOrg) October 6, 2021
But, at this point, it's far more realistic and efficient to connect West Seattle and Ballard to the completed and soon-to-be-completed Link lines by a rapid bus system that operates much like the TransMilenio in Bogotá. This can actually be done in a much shorter period of time. No amount of ST3 acceleration could compete with the construction of a real (meaning, streets entirely dedicated to bus traffic) rapid Metro transit system. For example, even if the proposed station between Columbia City and Othello Station, on MLK and South Graham Street, were placed on the fast track, its completion would still be eons away (2031). Maybe it's time for "Joe Metro".