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Average Rider


Light rail comes to Seattle next Saturday. We’ve been watching the line get built for years now. It’s hard to miss on trips to the airport, between the elevated tracks and the rise of the giant station. (And for those who live or work along its right of way, its presence has been especially noticeable.) It will run from downtown to just north of the airport, and in half a year it will reach the airport.

Given the locations of our house, work, downtown, and shopping, we are not likely to be frequent users of the line. Construction recently started on the next phase, which will run from downtown to the university, with the expectation, once more funding is secured, that it will continue on northwards from the university to the Northgate area, the densest part of north Seattle. This will make the line more convenient to us, but who knows where we’ll be living by then. We’re talking many years down the road. Or down the rail.

Anyway, however often we are destined to use the line, I plan to be on it on Saturday. I can’t wait. And I’ve been a close reader of the articles the Seattle Times has been carrying on it in the buildup to opening day. Each station has had its own feature article. Today there’s an overview of the line, along with a discussion of the public art at the stations, an interactive map, and a graphic showing the light-rail train.

Which brings me to the point of this post. In the graphic on the train, the accompanying text tells us, “To the average Seattle transit rider, a standard 190-foot, two-car Link train will look huge — about three times as long as an articulated bus.” I’ve long tired of lazy or inaccurate uses of the word ‘average’. For instance, whenever there’s a ballot measure to approve some new property tax, we learn that the average homeowner will pay an additional $200/year, or whatever.

I would prefer that we speak about taxes on a house with the average assessed value, if we are to use such formulations, rather than the tax for an average homeowner, whatever that is. But this seemed to take the lazy use (I might call it the wrong use, but I don’t want to be so judgmental) of ‘average’ to a new level. The train will look huge to the average Seattle transit rider. What could this possibly mean? I’m above average in height and well above average in weight. Will it look less huge to me? Is that what they’re getting at? Or has the average Seattle transit rider not gotten around much, so the rider doesn’t know that there are vehicles larger than buses. Like, um, trains. Commuter trains, like the ones I grew up riding in New York. Or Amtrak trains, like the ones that pull out of Seattle daily. Or, my gosh, freight trains. They’re galactic.

Am I missing something?

Categories: Language, Math, Transportation
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