Public opinion poll finds strong support for light rail in the Rainier Valley

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A public opinion poll of more than 500 residents in Seattle's Rainier Valley has found very strong support not only for the concept of light rail transit, but for the development of light rail in the Rainier Valley. The strongest support in both cases was found among residents most familiar with the concept of light rail and living within four blocks of Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. between S. McClellan and S. Henderson - the proposed route for light rail recommended by the Sound Transit staff. 

The poll was conducted by telephone by Hebert Research Inc. between Dec. 16 and 19, 1998. Participants were selected at random, but special care was taken to ensure that the sample properly represented the diversity of the communities within the sample area, including having 11 percent of the interviews conducted with non-English speaking people through professional translators. Results were tabulated for both the overall survey area and for those surveyed who live within four blocks of the proposed light rail route along Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The poll found that only 53 percent of respondents said they were "very" or "somewhat" familiar with Sound Transit, and 56 percent indicated they had heard about the project within their community. 

Among the responses from those familiar with the Sound Transit light rail project: 

S.E. Seattle MLK "corridor"
Support the general concept of light rail transit: 
Strongly support
55.6% 60.0%
Somewhat support:
34.0% 31.5%
Support light rail development in Rainier Valley: 
Strongly support: 
51.2% 56.9%
Somewhat support:
36.5% 32.9%
Impact on residents' ability to get places more quickly, or to get to new places:
Large impact:
52.1% 55.2%
Moderate impact:
37.7% 36.9%

When asked how the quality of life in their neighborhood could be improved, "transit/transportation improvements" was the third most-frequent response behind "less crime" and "improved law enforcement." The reason most often given for supporting the light rail project was "to relieve traffic," (16.5% of respondents) and "we need it" (8.0%). However 9.8 percent of respondents commented that they didn't know enough about the project. 

"We have a responsibility to gauge the opinions and attitudes of all of the residents in the community, not just those who are actively engaged," according to Paul Bay, Sound Transit Director of Link light rail. "The results of this poll will help the Sound Transit Board obtain that perspective, and they've also told us we need to do more to make the residents of the valley aware and informed about what we're trying to accomplish."

The poll surveyed 505 Rainier Valley residents, half of which live within four blocks of the proposed Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. light rail route and the other half living elsewhere in the Rainier Valley. Respondents had an average age of 44, and more than 60 percent own their homes. The ethnic mix of those surveyed included 28 percent Black/African-American, 30 percent Asian and nearly 35 percent White/Caucasian. Eleven percent of the interviews were conducted with non-English speaking residents through translators in languages including Vietnamese, Chinese/Cantonese, Laotian, Tigrinyan and Spanish. 

The Sound Transit Board is scheduled to choose a preferred route alternative for its Central Link light rail line at its Feb. 25 meeting. A final environmental impact statement will then be prepared analyzing in detail the preferred route and alternatives. Sound Transit will also be inaugurating service in September on the first eight of 17 new Regional Express bus routes, and will begin Sounder commuter rail service using existing tracks between Tacoma and Seattle by the end of this year.


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Sound Transit plans, builds and operates regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.