By Joe Veyera
Let the revelry begin.
Almost 20 years after voters in Western Washington approved a nearly $4 billion light rail package, Seattleites will be able to move between Capitol Hill and the University District with greater ease and without the threat of traffic beginning this weekend.
And no matter the weather, a bevy of events are planned for Saturday to celebrate the opening of the 3.15-mile University Link light rail line.
Unsurprisingly, those taking part in the festivities, which start at 9 a.m., with rides beginning at 10 a.m., are asked to use transit to get to and from the stations.
The new First Hill Streetcar line connects the Capitol Hill Station with the International District and Pioneer Square, while King County Metro has several bus routes that serve both stations. There will also be a special shuttle between Northgate Transit Center and UW Station running every 15 minutes between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Uber is also getting in on the action, offering direct uberHop trips from Greenlake, Wallingford and University Village to UW station throughout the weekend.
Ample bike parking will also be available at both sites.
“So come out and see these new stations and explore the area around these stops,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine during a media preview trip between UW and Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Prior to the roughly 4-minute trip, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff talked about turning over documentation to the state’s safety office to signal U Link is ready to ride and passing ownership to transit operations a few weeks ago.
“It’s going to be one that the people waited for for a very, very long time,” Rogoff said of Saturday’s U Link start.
While the ride will be quick — just four minutes between Capitol Hill and either the UW or Downtown Seattle — the wait likely won’t be. Eager light rail riders are asked to pack their patience — and a comfortable pair of shoes — for what are expected to be long lines. Trains depart from each station every 10 minutes.
Before and after those rides, people can take part in the launch day “tailgate party” at UW Station, and the arts and culture street fair on Capitol Hill.
Along with self-guided tours at both ends of the line, a pop-up farmers market, community booths, live music and a game zone are among the offerings around the Capitol Hill Station, along with food trucks from Athenos, Jemil’s Big Easy and Street Donuts.
Of course, Sound Transit also cautions there will be surprises in store throughout the day.
Riders will also have the chance to take home a memento to commemorate the years of construction in Capitol Hill.
With the last of the business mitigation funds set aside by Sound Transit for impacted businesses along Broadway, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is hosting the “Red Wall promotion.” On Saturday, the first 400 people who spend $5 or more at any Broadway area business can bring their receipt to the chamber booth and receive a small magnetic piece of the Red Wall embossed with a star.
Those keepsakes were crafted by students from Seattle Central College’s Wood Technology Center.
“The Red Wall became iconic,” said Sierra Hansen, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber. “It became a source of public art.”
Hansen also encourages folks to get there early, as she expects the keepsakes to be distributed relatively quickly.
The chamber’s booth will also be handing out maps of Broadway and the surrounding commercial areas, as a guide for people to eat, drink and shop in the neighborhood.
Ultimately, Hansen said, it’s thrilling to see a line decades in the making finally come on line, and that the new method of transportation will allow plenty of people that haven’t visited in recent years to rediscover the neighborhood.
“Over the coming months and years,” she said, “I think we’re going to see a lot of new visitors to the area.”
For more information on the weekend’s festivities and to get a free ticket to ride on launch day, go to www.ulink2016.org.