Welcome back, Tacoma Link.
Complaints based on the racist connotations of a Sound Transit light-rail line’s new name has led the agency to temporarily revert to the system’s previous designations.
Trouble began for the regional transportation agency in September shortly after it dropped “Tacoma Link” and “Seattle Link” and started referring to the two lines by color designations. Tacoma’s was renamed the Orange Line and Seattle’s was called the Red Line.
Transportation advocacy groups didn’t have a problem with Tacoma’s Orange Line. It was the Red Line they took issue with.
The name was reminiscent of redlining, they said.
Redlining was a practice used by mortgage lenders to mark where people of color lived in the 1950s. Maps showed banks and real estate agents where blacks, immigrants and other people they deemed undesirable lived. Their neighborhoods, and even individual families, were marked by red lines on the maps.
The racist process excluded nonwhites from the housing market and denied them the financial security that homeownership provides.
“Which is not a connection we want to have,” Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said Tuesday.
Now, Patrick said, Sound Transit’s “Red Line” name is gone for good and the Orange Line name has been temporarily mothballed.
“In the Seattle area, we’ll just call the system Link, and in Tacoma we’ll call it Tacoma Link,” Patrick said.
Color names might be dropped altogether although Patrick said he didn’t necessarily expect that to happen. Tacoma Link, which is currently being expanded into the Stadium District and the Hilltop, might be called the Orange Line again.
Along with colors, other U.S. transportation agencies use numbers, destinations or letters to denote different lines.
The root of the red-line controversy started for Sound Transit in 2012. That’s when the agency chose colors to define its growing network. At the time, the agency didn’t publicly test drive the Red Line name, Patrick said.
It wasn’t until September when Sound Transit started using the names in news releases, announcements and on maps that critics took notice. It’s preparing for the addition of a new line to Bellevue in 2023. That route was going to be called the Blue Line.
Sound Transit wasn’t breaking new ground in choosing color designations or having a red line. Nearly all U.S. multiple-line rail systems have a red line, Patrick said. But only about half call them “Red Line.” Washington D.C.’s Metro has a Red Line. The New York subway has three red lines but refers to them by numbers.
Sound Transit said it will begin removing the Red Line name from its websites, maps and signage.
Although redlining ended as an official practice, it continued behind closed doors in the form of discrimination.
Redlining occurred in Seattle and Tacoma. Former Tacoma mayor Harold Moss and his then-wife, Bil Moss, were victims.
Lingering resentment over the practice and the term resurfaced in Tacoma in 2017 when a local environmental group, RedLine Tacoma, was criticized for its refusal to change its name. The group relented after community pressure was applied. Members now call themselves Redefine Tacoma.
The change back to Tacoma and Seattle Link might not mean much for passengers. They are the agency’s only two light-rail lines, and they do not intersect.
The agency will propose a new name for the Red Line in 2020. Until then, the two lines will wear Tacoma Link and (Seattle) Link name tags.
“It’s not likely to cause any confusion in Tacoma,” Patrick said. “In fact, it might decrease it.”