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Originally published Monday, July 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Large

A lot is riding on this track

It's like a present waiting to be opened. There's anticipation because it might be the thing you hoped it would be, and because it is new...

Seattle Times staff columnist

It's like a present waiting to be opened.

There's anticipation because it might be the thing you hoped it would be, and because it is new and shiny. But there is also the possibility of disappointment.

Saturday, the wrap comes off Sound Transit's light-rail line between downtown Seattle and Tukwila, and we'll begin to see what kind of ($2.3 billion) gift we've given ourselves.

There is a lot riding on the 14 miles of track. Will it help the environment by tempting people out of their cars and making mass transit more appealing and efficient? Will it spur development along its route?

Will it do me any good?

I live in Rainier Valley, more than a mile southeast of the Mount Baker station and nearly that far northeast of the Columbia City station, so they are equally convenient, or inconvenient.

When the line existed only on paper, I figured I'd most likely drive to the Mount Baker station because it's in the middle of stuff, Franklin High School, businesses and big parking lots.

QFC and a Rite-Aid share a lot at South McClellan Street and Rainier Avenue South, but it gets pretty full with shoppers already.

There isn't dedicated parking for the stations because the city doesn't want to bring more cars into the corridor.

When would I use the train? Maybe to go downtown. I work downtown but I generally need my car, so there probably wouldn't be many days when the train would be an option.

My wife and I might want to go downtown to see a movie or have dinner. We might want to shop downtown, but if we bought more than a backpack could hold we'd want to drive.

Of course one of the potential appeals for areas along the line outside downtown is that trains would bring more business out to the frontier.

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There's a thriving business district in Columbia City, several good restaurants, a cinema. And there are fixtures like Bob's Meats and other small businesses.

But the Columbia City station is not actually in Columbia City. That's a little awkward. It's about six blocks to the west on MLK because there was no room for it on Rainier, where the business district lies.

Last Thursday, I walked from Columbia City to the stop named for it, just to see whether that might be an impediment to taking the train. Someone in one of our stories said it would only take about six minutes either way and that was about right, even for someone strolling along taking notes.

Bus routes are being changed to encourage rail ridership. I could take the number 39 to the Columbia City Station when it starts running more frequently.

Mostly what I'm hoping for is a convenient and cheap way to get to the airport and back and maybe occasionally to downtown.

That doesn't add up to many trips, but the trains may be a boon for kids, people who don't drive, avid bikers, and people who live closer to the lines.

My hope is that it will be much more useful for me than I can imagine right now. That would be a nice present.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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