Seattle – A Look at the Northwest’s Largest Metropolis

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and both its skyline and amenities reflect that. The city is home to a thriving sports scene and the shopping is the best, especially if you are visiting from Vancouver. Locals are always warm and friendly and the city is perfect for a short or long-term visit and it’s also not so hard on the wallet. Downtown is very walkable and compared to most major American cities, Seattle is relatively safe for tourists. I try to visit Seattle at least once a year and in all the years that I have been doing so I have never grown tired of the city, there is always something new and exciting to see each and every visit.

View of Downtown Seattle Across from Century Link Field

View of Downtown Seattle Across from Century Link Field

Seattle is a city of grand buildings and it appears that city planners have put together a skyline which is the envy of places like Portland and Vancouver. From the 76 storey Columbia Center (Seattle’s tallest) to the ever iconic Space Needle, the city of Seattle is a place of landmarks where it is always easy to find your way by looking upward. Century Link Field (Seattle Seahawks Football) and Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners Baseball) are two newer additions that have turned a formerly industrial area south of downtown into a new sports mecca.

Century Link Field Seattle

Century Link Field Seattle

While Seattle has had a monorail system since the 1970’s, it has more recently added a light rail system to deal with growing traffic and congestion. The city appears to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts when it comes to transit as the Seattle Streetcar represents the third rail system for Seattle. While both the monorail and streetcar operate downtown, the Link Light Rail system delivers people between downtown and SeaTac Airport.

Riding Along the MonoRail - Downtown Seattle

Riding Along the MonoRail – Downtown Seattle

Main Square in Downtown Seattle

Main Square in Downtown Seattle

Pacific Northwest: Where Airport Rapid Transit is the rule, not the exception.

The new standard for world-class cities is for them to have efficient rapid transit to and from the airport. In North America especially, this has been so far difficult for most major cities to achieve. What were once top priority plans to expand rapid rail transit airports in cities across this continent, are now nothing more than long-term planning at best. What went wrong? Well a whole lot more than went right, from the financial collapse to cost overruns, bad planning and lack of funding. Let’s take a look at three cities in the Pacific North West where it has gone right instead.

Vancouver

The city built the $2 billion plus Canada Line to Vancouver International Airport to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics. At the time the rising cost of construction and ridership predictions which were considered way too generous caused a lot of backlash against this project. Usage has grown steadily from 83,000 in September 2009 to well over 110,000 in February 2011. The line carried a record of 228,190 people during the 2010 Olympics and is well on track to meet its 2021 ridership target of 142,000.

What went right here is that all levels of government came forward to recognize the true importance of connecting the Downtown Vancouver area with Canada’s second largest airport and Asian hub (YVR). People coming in and going out of the city now have a 25 minute ride into downtown that is reliable and efficient even in the worst rush-hour traffic. The rail line is even now sparking multitudes of pedestrian friendly and transit-orientated development along its route.

City Vancouver
Metro Population 2,659,623
Current Rapid Transit Network Skytrain – 3 lines, 47 stations, 69 km.
Daily Ridership 381,100
Airport Connection Since 2009
Future? 3 expansion lines by 2020

Expanded Skytrain Network 2020

 

Seattle

Years ago few would have predicted rapid transit in the Emerald city, let alone rapid transit connecting downtown and the airport. Expansions to Monorail and the building of light rail were shot down time and time again. Eventually cooler heads prevailed and today Seattle  is undergoing a light rail renaissance with 2 active lines and more than 5 other expansion projects in various stages of development. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the regions largest, serving over 30 million passengers each year. With the ongoing traffic jams along Highway 5 it only made sense to give people an alternative to driving.

Ridership of 25,000 in a metropolitan area of over 4 million may seem like small potatoes. When you consider that Seattle was late to the game in building rail rapid transit and has only had it operational for a handful of years, it’s a good deal of progress. While the city may have a long way to go to catch transit friendly Vancouver in ridership numbers, Portland on the other hand may be within striking distance if the building of light rail continues at such a rate.

City Seattle
Metro Population 3,439,809
Current Rapid Transit Network Link Light Rail – 2 lines, 18 stations, 17miles (28km)
Daily Ridership 24,700
Airport Connection Since 2009
Future? 3 expansion lines by 2023

 

Portland

Out of the 3 biggest Northwest cities, Portland was the first to establish a direct link between downtown and its own airport (PDX). Portland has a light rail system called MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) which is similar to Seattle’s yet much more extensive and established.

City Portland
Metro Population 2,238,895
Current Rapid Transit Network MAX Light Rail – 4 lines, 85 stations, 52miles (84km)
Daily Ridership 121,300
Airport Connection Since 2001
Future? 3 expansion lines by 2023