photo by Stephen De Vight

It’s been widely covered by local transit-related blogs over the past week that last Saturday, Hollow Earth Radio and Sound Transit hosted a series of micro-concerts on board select Link* trains. I was actually quite surprised that they really didn’t take this as an opportunity to dive into the impact of events such as this one though. Well, since no one else did, I will give it a go.

Events like Hollow Earth Radio’s Light Rail/Dark Rail just are not common. They are attention-getters and they make for any interesting story, if not a fun experience. These sort of events make taking public transport an experience, especially to those who think “dirty” or “scary” or “not worth it” when it comes to transit. Things like this create buzz, and that might just push someone over the edge to check out the system. “Hell, if the transit agency is doing this sort of thing, it can’t be all bad.”

This is not to say that this very type of event (concerts on trains) should happen often. I think it would be great as an annual thing, which this year it was, as part of Hollow Earth’s Magma Festival. So, what else is there to do to? I’ve been mulling around the question for a bit and have come up with really only two ideas. One, make stations points of commerce, and two, integrate stations into the neighborhood fabric.

Since I have already talked about adding commerce to stations, I would like to focus my attention on bringing the neighborhood to station level. In this case there are events that take place in certain locations that can integrate stations. I’m talking about events such as Farmers” Markets and Art Walks.

Pioneer Square’s First Thursday Art Walk is a monthly exhibition of Art that takes place from noon to 8pm in the City’s oldest and most historically pedestrian focused neighborhood (It existed before cars). It’s the largest in the city, and includes many venues across the neighborhood. Naturally, Pioneer Square Station comes to mind as the primary transit hub in the neighborhood. It serves Link and tunnel buses and is located directly below the Third Avenue transit mall. Integration of this station could bring a great number of potential riders from Seattle and it’s surrounding metropolitan area.

When I talk of integration I am really thinking one two different levels. One, present the station as a gateway to the neighborhood Walk via advertising at the station and on board Link, as well as possible advertisement at other high ridership stations. Two, use the mezzanines as venue space. Allow artists that would otherwise be unable to get their work into some of the more exclusive Pioneer Square galleries to showcase their works in the station during the walk and encourage a lively atmosphere by allowing musicians to play in the spaces as well.

The question would be whether or not to charge the artists and musicians to use the space. I say no, but Metro/Sound Transit might say otherwise. The reason I’d suggest a “no” is pretty simple. Artists don’t have a ton of money. Besides, both parties would be doing each other a big favor. The artists are given a venue and If these artists, musicians, and the neighborhood could bring in ridership by promoting the use of the station, then in my opinion that should be enough. Advertising on the other hand? The organizers of the Walk probably couldn’t get around paying for that, but it might be worth the fee to them as well with the possible increase patronage.

As far as Farmers’ Markets go, I can only think of one station that is remotely close to one, and that is Columbia City Station. Columbia City’s Farmers’ Market has garnered national attention and definitely serves as a means of activating the neighborhood. Station integration could be trickier with Columbia City, as it is a center-road station. I believe the big win for this neighborhood could be advertisement and possibly setting up vendors closer to the station. In any case, it could provide incentive for someone to explore a part of the city that they’ve never explored (I love you Bike Works).

If Pioneer Square and Columbia City were to become a success, then this could lead Capitol Hill’s Art Walk to an obvious means of promotion and/or expansion in 2016. It could also serve as a great station proximity incentive model for the Broadway Farmers’ Market.

* A word to Sound Transit, please drop the Light Rail portion of the name. We get it. For example, Muni is just called “Muni” even though it technically is light rail.
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