Sound Transit will ditch the name “Red Line” for its sole light-rail corridor because citizens said it evokes redlining, the historical practice of denying home loans and ownership to nonwhite families in sections of Seattle and other cities.
A different name will be chosen by March, said CEO Peter Rogoff, during a transit-board committee meeting Thursday.
“We will apply an equity lens that is responsive to our service delivery area, and capitalizes on the opportunity to create a welcoming and inclusive transit system for everybody,” he said.
The politically connected Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) and the social equity group Puget Sound Sage were among the groups that asked for a different name.
Alex Hudson, TCC’s executive director, said she heard frustration from community members in the majority-minority Rainier Valley who today struggle against gentrification. She praised the big transit agency for listening.
“We wouldn’t call it the Jim Crow line, and redlining was decades of racist policies on the same level,” Hudson said. Redlining methods in Seattle included restrictive covenants and restrictions on home loans in parts of Alki, Ballard, Wedgwood, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill and other neighborhoods.
The decision distinguishes Seattle from cities whose transit maps include a Red Line.
“What should we rename the Boston, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, L.A., Portland, Salt Lake, Dallas, Houston, and Minneapolis Red Lines?” tweeted Yonah Freemark, editor of The Transport Politic newsletter.
Locally, people snarked it should be the “Red Tape” line to reflect Seattle bureaucracy. Other people mentioned Seattle has “real problems” to solve, such as a possible loss of car-tax revenue from Initiative 976, or racial disparities in fare enforcement.
On the other hand, MARTA in Atlanta changed Yellow Line to Gold Line in 2010, for a route serving an Asian American neighborhood.
Sound Transit’s own history includes defending a federal civil-rights complaint that the agency discriminated by engineering Rainier Valley tracks at surface level while promising tunnels through whiter, wealthier north Seattle. Land takings and construction squeezed the valley’s small businesses.
In rider alerts and planning maps, transit staff have promoted the Red Line name since September, for the 19-mile corridor from University of Washington Station to Angle Lake, which serves about 80,000 daily riders.
“Nobody in the general public thinks about it as a Red Line now,” said Hudson “so now is the time to be accountable to the communities that Sound Transit serves.”
Colors aren’t needed until 2023, when the second line, to be called the Blue Line, opens from International District/Chinatown Station to the Eastside, reaching Bellevue and Overlake. At that point, two lines will overlap from International District/Chinatown Station to Northgate Station.
“Just lighten things up a bit and go with Salmon,” a Seattle transit rider suggested.
The agency has named its downtown Tacoma streetcar the Orange Line.
Sound Transit’s service maps have shown the existing line in red for years. In-train maps showing a longer Red Line were recently printed for the agency’s new railcars, that depict three more stations in the 2021 Northgate extension.
Spokesman Geoff Patrick said customer alerts will immediately return to saying “Link light rail” rather than “Red Line.” In the run-up to Northgate service in 2021, when station maps regionwide must change to show three more stations, the agency will convert to new colors or names, he said.
So there will be some dollar cost to change names, but less than if the issue arose in 2023.