Amazon to Buy 4th Streetcar, Fund 10-Minute Headways

[Update 1:20] Aaron Pickus from the mayors office sent some additional details. “A few folks in the comments thread are asking about the cycletrack. I thought you may also be interested to know that the mayor’s proposed budget will include funding to create a Center City Mobility Plan. The Center City Mobility Plan will review how all modes of transportation interconnect downtown. As part of this work, we will begin planning a downtown bicycle network, using best practices, to build on the Denny Triangle cycle track. This study will help lead us to a safer and easier biking experience for residents and visitors alike in Downtown and beyond.”

Today the Mayor’s office sent out a press release with exciting information related to Amazon’s expansions plans with relation to public compensation for an alley vacation necessary for the development to occur. From the press release.

The overall proposal includes $5.5 million of support for the Seattle Streetcar. This funding will allow the City to purchase an additional streetcar vehicle and increase operational support for 10 years as a part of the Planned Community Development benefit package.  In total, these benefits will increase street car service to every ten minutes during the workday.  Alley vacation public benefits proposed by Amazon include:

  • Supporting a higher level of service for the Seattle Streetcar, including the purchase of a fourth vehicle;
  • Designing a new cycle track on 7th Avenue;
  • Enhancing pedestrian crossings at 8th and Lenora and 7th and Virginia intersections, consistent with the Westlake Avenue Concept Design;
  • Creating a shared use street along Lenora to enhance the pedestrian experience and calm traffic;
  • Providing green street enhancements, wider-than-required building setbacks, and enhanced landscaping and sidewalk improvements around all properties;
  • Providing additional overhead canopy between buildings;
  • Integrating art throughout the development;
  • Contributing to the future park at 8th Avenue, Westlake and Lenora. The Department of Parks and Recreation recently purchased property at this location.

Comments

      • striatic says

        decreases density and moves streetfront businesses away from foot-traffic, like behind landscaping and corner plazas. arguably decreases the level of activity on the street.

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        I think you guys are making an issue out of nothing. See page 13. Most of the voluntary setbacks are on the corner of buildings, which helps to smooth out the corners. When talking about a skyscraper on a current parking lot saying this negatively impacts density is a pretty mute point.

      • Alex Francis Burchard says

        As someone who lives in an area where the sidewalks are just not wide enough for the traffic this center-city handles, I like Wide Sidewalks.

      • Charles says

        Chicago’s Michigan Avenue has really wide sidewalks and after experiencing pedestrian gridlock, I don’t knock wider sidewalks. They work and are needed.

      • Alex Francis Burchard says

        Charles, Michigan Avenue’s sidewalks are very wide, but not wide enough!! Especially when there’s a block with construction (Always…) haha.

      • Chris Stefan says

        There are certainly areas of town where the sidewalks are too narrow. The Ave for one. From an urban design standpoint wide sidewalks aren’t necessarily bad as long as they aren’t so wide as to become empty plazas. Certainly enough space to allow outdoor seating for cafes/bars/restaurants, for street furniture, and for pedestrian circulation is a good thing.

    • BA says

      Because thinner towers let in more light and maximize views. You only need buildings fronting up to the sidewalk down at the sidewalk.

    • Mike Orr says

      A wide setback for one building may be OK in its particular circumstance. It’s when setbacks are required that problems occur: namely a bunch of unused dead space that makes the area feel lonely. Of course, some setbacks here and there for gardens are worthwhile, and the dead space could be an inviting plaza if it’s built right.

  1. Matt the Engineer says

    At 10 minute headways, the streetcar will start becoming really useful. There’s plenty of disagreement here about 15 minutes being frequent enough to not run with schedules, and it always seems like it’s 15 minutes away when I want to ride. That’s a long time to sit and wait for such a short run.

    • Andrew Smith says

      I agree with you. 15 minutes is close to the amount of time it takes to walk to the mid-point of the line the southern end.

  2. Z says

    Now if money can be found to extend the line all the way to the U District and have it end at Brooklyn Station (along with extending the capitol hill line to the same destination)

    • Transit Guy says

      I’d like to see a true and valid comparison between such a U District streetcar line and a beefed up Rt. 70 trolleybus line, each of which serves exactly the same corridor.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      My personal opinion is that the UW extension is the lowest priority project. With U-Link transit ridership on Eastlake will drop due to elimination of the 7X routes and because of Eastlake’s narrow sliver between the water than I-5 and zoning I don’t see significant redevelopment occurring. With limited funds to expand the streetcar, projects that catalyze new development or are necessarily for capacity reasons are where our money should be going.

      • Kyle S. says

        because of Eastlake’s narrow sliver between the water than I-5 and zoning

        Replace “Eastlake” with “Westlake” and “I-5″ with “Queen Anne Hill” and you have the exact reason why the Fremont streetcar should travel via Dexter instead of Westlake.

        The entire east side of Westlake Ave is zoned for commercial (C1 and C2). The west side alternates between LR and commercial. Meanwhile, Dexter is LR3 and SM-65 (Seattle Mixed).

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        @Kyle S.

        I think the issue is you don’t build a streetcar along Westlake just for Westlake, you build it to get to Fremont. For Eastlake you have U-Link, which means you’re building two rail systems between the same destinations, rather than building a two unique rail connections.

      • Kyle S. says

        It’s just stupid to build a surface-level transit system along Westlake to get to Ballard via Fremont.

        If instead you consider Fremont the end of the line, then it makes sense to pick up the ridership in between, and reserve actual high-speed transit (aka grade-separated light rail) for Ballard.

      • zefwagner says

        I’m actually leaning toward Dexter as well, because it may be easier to build a new, higher bridge over to Fremont as an offshoot of Dexter than climbing up and back down from Westlake. Westlake would be nice because it has more right-of-way, but it doesn’t offer too much benefit given the lack of congestion on that stretch, and the ridership at those stops would be pretty bad.

      • Gordon Werner says

        Kyle … sad thing is a streetcar used to run down Dexter to Fremont back in the day … furthermore a line down Dexter could easily connect to the SLUT

      • Kyle S. says

        Gordon: I’m not so sure it would be an easy connection with the mess that is Mercer/Broad right now. Nor do I think would it necessarily be the best idea to extend the SLUT—though the increased frequency on the Mercer-to-McGraw Square segment would be very tempting. I think we should consider extending the 4th/5th connector instead.

      • Carl says

        Streetcars don’t just serve endpoints. Extending SLUT to the U-District creates a quality connection between the U-District and SLU. And creating a branch off SLUT that goes up Dexter to Fremont and then Ballard also creates connections between Fremont and Ballard, and between both to SLU. Link isn’t going to serve SLU.

      • d.p. says

        Creates a quality connection…

        No, it doesn’t. It creates a lousy, slow, less frequent, caught-in-mixed-traffic one.

        U-District to SLU would remain much faster to subway+backtrack.

      • d.p. says

        Also, at least a couple of creative STB thinkers came up with a surprisingly workable Ballard subway route that took advantage of the existing Convention Place junction to route the line under SLU between 9th and Seattle Center. The resulting line would do more to connect budding SLU to the rest of the city and region than a thousand adjunct streetcars ever could.

      • William says

        Also, at least a couple of creative STB thinkers came up with a surprisingly workable Ballard subway route that took advantage of the existing Convention Place junction to route the line under SLU between 9th and Seattle Center.
        Link? I’m extremely interested! I could envision a few problems with the at-grade junction in the tunnel (not to mention its maybe being at-capacity after buildout to Microsoft and Lynnwood), but I’d definitely like to see it.

      • d.p. says

        It was pretty informal, William, but if I remember correctly it argued for Terry north and perhaps John west, as these are the streets where any mid-construction surface impacts would be least intrusive. (Bored tunnel, but largely following the grid to the Seattle Center for expediency’s sake.)

        I could envision a few problems with the at-grade junction in the tunnel (not to mention its maybe being at-capacity after buildout to Microsoft and Lynnwood)

        You’ll hear both of these fears a lot on this blog. You might even hear them from politicians-masquerading-as-planners at Sound Transit. The entire rest of the world says that all of the above are full of it.

      • William says

        Does anyone know how deep the U-Link tunnel to Capitol Hill is when it crosses Terry Street? If this new tunnel wouldn’t disturb it, it sounds like an interesting idea.

        My favorite plan for a Seattle Center Link, though, involves rebuilding the Seattle Center Monorail elevated route through Belltown to accommodate light rail. It’s a lot cheaper than boring a tunnel, the street already has the “disruption” of the monorail, and people can already take an elevator straight up from Westlake Tunnel Station to the monorail. With the money saved over a tunnel, we could either extend it up Dexter to Fremont or (my preferred solution) tunnel under Queen Anne.

        Still, I guess the entire lack of a track connection to the existing O&M is a strike against my plan… unless it’s continued all the way out from Fremont to Northgate or UW!

      • mic says

        I’ll have more on the CPS-Ballard line in a few days, so watch for the justification in the next open thread, maybe tomorrow.

      • Zed says

        “I could envision a few problems with the at-grade junction in the tunnel”

        There’s plenty of space in the Pine Street tunnel to at least grade-separate the junction of the northbound Ballard line from the southbound North Link line. That would eliminate most of the conflicts.

      • Chris Stefan says

        The HCT studies showed BRT in the Downtown/SLU/U-District and Downtown/SLU/Fremont/Ballard corridors would exceed capacity much of the day. Even with streetcars the U-District line would be full during peaks and the Fremont/Ballard line would have demand exceeding capacity.

        I don’t know if those studies factored in U-Link and North Link, but it would seem foolish not to.

        One of the clear advantages any form of rail has over buses is greater capacity at lower cost.

        While streetcars seem to potentially have an economic development angle and an ability to activate street life we should be very careful about proposing lines purely for this reason. (the waterfront with heritage cars is one of the few places in town I believe it applies)

  3. Andrew Smith says

    They are doing this because of the alley vacations? Seems like a pretty good deal for the city, since alleys between parking lots aren’t really all that awesome to begin with.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        It’s great. The SLU streetcar has been mostly paid for by private corporations for their own benefit, and for ours. Over a century ago developers were building much longer streetcar lines to promote their housing developments. It’s almost like Vulcan and Amazon have brought a piece of this idea back.

  4. Norman says

    “•Creating a shared use street along Lenora to enhance the pedestrian experience and calm traffic;”

    In other words, traffic jams on Lenora (calm traffic). Sort of like the “traffic calming” on Mercer St. Slow traffic down and create long backups.

  5. Norman says

    How much is the property that Amazon will be getting from the city — three blocks of alleys — actually worth on the free market? Is the city getting fair value for that land, or is this another giveaway to the rich corporations?

    • Matt the Engineer says

      They have $10M listed as “alley vacation fee”, which I assume is the price they’re paying. That sounds reasonable for that amount of land, maybe even a bit high.

      • Norman says

        It is a total of 3 alleys dividing three different blocks, which is land that is critical to Amazon to build the buildings they want on those blocks. In other words, the City of Seattle has all the leverage here for negotiating a price for those alleys. The alleys are the last piece of property Amazon needs, so Amazon should be paying a premium for those alleys, as owning the alleys greatly increase the value of the other property which Amazon is buying on those blocks.

        Still, $10 million is a lot better than the $5.5 million mentions in the Times article.

        But what an utter waste of millions of city dollars to buy another streetcar for the SLUT route. Those streetcars are mostly emtpy most of the day, and they want to add another one? Why? So they can operate emptier streetcars more often? LOL Perfect illustration of the waste and stupidity of the “transit” projects in our area.

        So, is the money to operate that extra streetcar for 10 years coming out of the money the city is receiving for those alleys, so it will be the city paying for the operation of that extra streetcar? Or is Amazon paying for the operation of that streetcar with additional money not included in the $10 million they are supposedly paying for the three alleys?

    • Kyle S. says

      Any discussion of the “fair market value” of that land has to take into account that it’s owned by the city and platted for alley access. You can’t just take the square footage and say “how much would you pay for this?”

    • BA says

      Often ROW was originally owned by the flanking property owners – so vacating an alley or street and paying for it is often discounted, recognizing that it was originally sold, or given, at a below market price.

  6. Norman says

    I read that each of the three towers will have 1,000 underground parkihg spots. So, apparetnly, Amazon does not expect the bulk of its employees to use the SLUT to get to and from work in those buildings.

    How is the extra 3,000 vehicles per day going to and from those parking garages going to impact traffic throughout the area? Is there a study on that? Or is one addtional streetcar and a 2-block-long cycle track suppposed to take care of any traffic problems caused by those additional 3,000 vehicles each morning and each afternoon?

    How many people are expected to work in those three buidilngs each day?

  7. eddiew says

    Martin and Transit guy: the Route 70 overhead is pretty recent; it was built in the late 90s. Metro has not used it intensively yet. Between 1940 and 1963, ETB routes 7 and 8 served Eastlake and provided 2.5 minute peak headway service. Part of the explanation for the rapid streetcar attracting more ridership than the ETB option in the TMP work was that either the ETB headway was capped at five minutes or the ridership constrained by limited capacity. the estimates were for 2030. the two most promising streetcar lines in the TMP were Ballard-Fremont and Eastlake-U District. Note that they both have topographical issues preventing their extension to Northgate. In Ballard, there is a steep hill on 24th Avenue NW north of NW 67th Street; in the first third of the 20th Century, the Loyal streetcar line turned on NW 67th Street and went north on 28th Avenue NW. The Eastlake line was modeled only to the Roosevelt Station; it would be better to extend it to NTC over Mapleleaf. the ETB mode may better for both corridors. if Seattle can provide priority for streetcars, they could provide the same priority for ETB. Seattle will be fiscally and right of way consrained. Suppose streetcar capital is $40m per mile and ETB capital is $3 per mile. the $37 million difference could buy service frequency or capital improvements for other corridors, improving the overall transit network more.

    • Chris Stefan says

      The biggest challenge on taking an Eastlake line all the way to Northgate would be the relatively steep hill South of the NTC. Also the ridership between Roosevelt and Northgate likely isn’t enough to justify the capital cost (the land use is mostly SF and likely to stay that way).

  8. Doug Bostrom says

    Nice for Amazon to have enough money to mutate and exploit public policy so as to avoid being part of democracy, simply pass directly to buying specific “public policy” fitting Amazon’s needs or wishes.

    Is bespoke policy “public?” Is Amazon exhibiting good faith on the American way? I think not.

    Reminds me of tax-dodger Microsoft and their “we opt out of society” private fleet of silly little vans. Make the entire road system into a gated community, so to speak.

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