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CTC featured in Crosscut Article: As the light rail expands, so do housing options for UW students

April 21, 2022

Full Article: As the light rail expands, so do housing options for UW students

The completion of the light rail’s Northgate Link extension in 2021 added three new stations to North Seattle, including the U District station, just two blocks from the northern end of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. 

With unlimited light rail and bus rides provided to UW students through the school’s mandatory U-PASS, living farther from campus became more accessible as the school returned to largely in-person classes for the spring quarter.

Provided, that is, they have access to a light rail station...

Ean Barnawell, a junior, regularly commutes to campus by bus from a park and ride near his apartment in the Factoria area of Bellevue. Barnawell’s trip requires just one bus, but it still takes over an hour to get to campus — and the ride isn’t exactly comfortable. 

“You can’t do any laptop work on the bus because it’s cramped,” he said. “I’m like 6-foot-2 and 220 [lbs]. I barely fit on those seats as it is, and it’s sitting on hard plastic. It's like sitting on a kindergarten chair.”

Relief for bus commuters like Barnawell is on the way. 

The East Link extension project is under construction, with plans to open 10 light rail stations in 2023, branching from Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, through Mercer Island and Bellevue, and into Redmond. 

The light rail ride from Mercer Island to the UW is projected to take 20 minutes, a commute that typically takes an estimated 10 to 15 minutes by car, traffic and bridges permitting, and 35 to 40 minutes by public transit. The quickest route requires a transfer to the light rail at the International District/Chinatown station.

Barnawell is looking forward to the Eastside stations’ opening, but living near Factoria, he would still need to make the initial commute to reach the Mercer Island or Bellevue stations. 

When commuting to campus, Barnawell makes use of the UW Commuter & Transfer Commons, a space in the Husky Union Building intended for students who have long-distance commutes to relax, study and store their belongings between classes.

The continued light rail expansion would be really helpful to student commuters, as some using the commuter commons travel from as far north as Everett or as far south as Des Moines, where they live with their families, said Angelica Lucero, a student assistant at the center.

“I know some people who simply can't afford to live in the area and have to commute from Tacoma — it's already so expensive having to pay for gas and parking. You could avoid a lot of traffic jams as well, so that's a plus,” Lucero wrote in an email.

A Sound Transit spokesperson said that although the agency did work with UW officials while planning the U District and University of Washington light rail stations. When planning for future station locations, the representative said Sound Transit does gather feedback from community stakeholder groups.