The Seattle Streetcar – the hidden stepchild very few know about. It hides in South Lake Union, known commonly and jokingly as the S.L.U.T by some. The question many wonder – How do we make the Streetcar more viable and popular among the residents of Seattle. There are a lot of ideas, many which the City of Seattle has already taken a firm stand on. Everyone has their opinion on where they would love the route to go and I agree with all of them, however there is an important segment that would benefit greatly – Serving the Central Business Core of Downtown Seattle.

While I understand that the City of Seattle would like the SLU Streetcar to continue down First Avenue, this is a route that should be avoided. It would make the connection to the 1st Avenue Streetcar but that is where it ends. There hasn’t been a lot of forethought by the City of Seattle in this regards of making the connections much more seamless than painful and cumbersome.

These are my ideas for the Seattle Streetcar network;

Downtown Core routing;

This route will be an extension of the SLU route by continuing Southbound on Westlake in the Right-hand lane. The stop for the Southbound will be at 5th and Pine, next to the Seattle Monorail Station. The route will continue South with stops at University Street, Marion Street, James Street, and Jackson Street. The route will then turn Right onto Airport Way and Right again onto 4th Avenue South. The route will return North on 4th Avenue with stops at Weller Street (Sounder Connection), Main Street, James Street, Marion Street, Seneca Street, and Pine Street. The route will turn Right onto Olive Way followed by the shallow Left to reconnect to the SLU line.

This routing would bring in the best possible ridership, it would capture passengers from Sounder or Amtrak, provide connections and easy walk to Qwest or Safeco Field. It would provide a transfer to the Waterfront Streetcar (Ahem), First Hill Streetcar, and a short walk to the First Avenue Streetcar. The cost would be about the same as the initial segment – The reason for this being the additional 4-5 streetcars needed to cover the gap of the route. This routing could increase ridership upwards of 4,000-6,500 a day at 12 minute intervals.

Jackson Street Streetcar;

The routing for this Streetcar is perfect for the most part but I would make some changes in the International District. The line should continue West to Occidental Avenue where it would turn left. The line would continue down Occidental until 1st Avenue then turn Right on First Avenue back to Jackson Street for it’s continuing run. This will allow the new development at Qwest Field to populate more and serve the stadiums, King Street Station, and the future condos and apartments going in soon. I would also propose the Streetcar going as far as 31st Ave/Frink Park. This would serve some of the Leschi/Mt. Baker residences. This routing would provide at least 2 school connections (Leschi and Washington Middle School) – Ultimately, this should go all the way out to the High School and eliminate the KC Metro # 14 and those buses redirected to the 1, 2, 3, 4.

That is all that I have on this subject for now…What are your thoughts on this? Would most of this be prohibitive enough that the city should ignore it? How would you feel about a line going through Downtown?

43 Replies to “Making the Seattle Streetcar more attractive”

  1. Do you think you could draw this out on a map and post it? It would be easier to follow and critique with a visual. Thanks for starting this topic though. This really is worth getting right.

      1. Why not connect it with the Aurora Rapid Ride at the very least, if not Link at NE 145th?

        What about heading over to the interurban right of way and going to Lynnwood?

      2. Also (sorry to make so many seperate comments) I’m not sure the extra routing for the Jackson line would make sense for the expense, especially if you do the 4th/5th line. Frink Park is pretty low density and probably wouldn’t justify streetcar. The extra routing around the stadiums seems uneccesary considering how well that area is already served by transit. The new stuff around Qwest is literally already a block away from the Jackson line.

  2. The Downtown routing is a tough one.

    First Avenue is where all the action is, but one concern I have is there is too much action. All those pedestrians and cars and buses will surely decrease the effectiveness of a 1st Ave streetcar. 2nd and 3rd avenues aren’t much better, assuming two light rail tunnels traveling under both streets, so that would seem redundant. 4th and 5th would probably be the best choice, it’s kind of far from the “central” core or strip of downtown activity, but streetcars do generate increased development wherever they’re found.

    Also, is a Ballard streetcar line really necessary? I would imagine Ballard would be served by a light rail line considering its growing population and denser core, which would overwhelm a teeny little streetcar.

    1. 1st is probably the best choice. You’d take other steps to reduce car traffic at the same time. 1st is where the pedestrian life is. It’d be no less effective than the Portland Streetcar, and people love that.

      Ballard probably won’t get light rail next time around. It’s far, far too expensive for the North King subarea to pay for both Ballard and West Seattle. It might even be pushing it to do West Seattle and downtown, but between West Seattle and Ballard, West Seattle’s likely the more cost effective per passenger. In the same timeframe, you’ll see a Fremont routed streetcar to Ballard.

      In the future, you’ll see the light rail go up to Ballard as well, but it’d take an Interbay route.

  3. One of the benefits of this route is that it runs on 5th. There is no bus service east of 4th downtown, so all of the tall buildings near the freeway – full of potential transit users – generally have to walk down to 3rd to catch anything useful (although 4th has a ride home if they live on the east side).

    Of course I may be biased, since I just had to walk down to the bus tunnel to get to the Seattle Municipal Tower from One Union (even though I walk from 6th to 3rd, wait for a bus, then from 3rd back up to 4th it’s still much faster than walking).

    On the other hand I think 1st could be made over beautifully with heavy streetcar and bus use if we removed the cars.

    1. I have my fingers crossed (and will get involved to help) that you’ll see at least many fewer cars on 1st. You don’t have to get rid of them – just cut 1st in half with a couple of forced turns somewhere, close a cross-street access or three, and you’ll see the current pedestrian life there boom.

  4. How about just increasing the frequency of the existing service? I lived in temp housing in SLU for a month this summer and eventually gave up on trying to use the SLUT because between Mercer and Westlake Center, it is almost always faster to walk than to wait for for the Slow Lake Union Trolley.

    Seriously. I’m a big transit rider. I ride every day now (from Bellevue). I rode transit for two years in Pittsburgh, and rode campus buses and bicycled for years in Austin for years before that. But the SLUT doesn’t come often enough to be able to just walk to a stop and wait for a trolley to come by.

    When Amazon opens their SLU offices in a couple of years, they’ll have to triple or quadruple SLUT frequency or it will be overwhelmed. (Either that or change the bus routes to better serve SLU.

  5. First ave is a good place for the downtown route. I actually think there could be LESS traffic there once a highly accessable surface boulevard or couplet is built when the AWV comes down.

    I really miss the Zoo route. What a great way to spread the tourist love up north! It creates a casual connection to some real green-space jewels (greenlake/zoo/woodland park) for lower Fremont and downtown. Also, I think an extension even further north to Greenwood would transform that neighborhood into the awesome urban center we all know it can be.

  6. I’m not really sure if routing the SLUT Downtown is the best use of our limited transit dollars. Downtown routing is too commuter-centric, and I don’t think that SLU-Downtown service is in very high demand. SLU still needs time to grow, and I think we should focus on the areas that we’re already seeing great demand in.

    I think routing the SLUT up to UW is a bad decision too, because development along Eastlake isn’t dense and is limited by I-5. U-Link will effectively link UW and SLU, even if it takes a transfer.

    I don’t think we’re going to have money for a new streetcar within the next few years, but once we do I think that the Central Line/First Ave streetcar needs to be the priority.

    1. Eastlake isn’t dense? Really? It has by far already exceeded its growth projections for the next 10 or 15 years and if you have been along there recently, there is neverending development going on there. A University extension of the streetcar would be to allow people along Eastlake and in South Lake Union to get to the University District or downtown. With UW opening offices in South Lake Union, it is becoming very important to provide that link. Also, I think commuter-centric is generally a good thing. The great majority of trips are taken by commuters, and even at non-commuting times, downtown is bustling.

      1. Eastlake is dense, but not Belltown dense — I’m mostly making the point that the Central Line need be the priority, but also there are communities like Ballard and Fremont that don’t have the transit options that Eastlake does. I think development along 1st Ave or even along the Fremont/Ballard route would be better for the city.

      2. AJ, I’m not sure if you’re responding to me — but Eastlake routing would border I-5 which limits development a bit.

      3. Also remember that Lake Union is a couple blocks to the west, and the entire Eastlake neighborhood is on a fairly steep hill. Plus Eastlake already has bus service every 10-15 minutes between 5 AM and 1:30 AM on weekdays, so there isn’t really any need for more capacity right now.

      4. I think a UW extension would replace the bus service on Eastlake, probably running at about the same frequency as the existing bus or maybe slightly more frequently (every 10-12 minutes).

        This would decrease the operating cost along the line (i.e. the extended streetcar alone would be cheaper to operate than the existing streetcar and the 70) and increase the capacity (because the streetcar can carry a lot more people than a non-articulated trolleybus). I don’t think it could pay for itself in operating cost reduction in less than 50-60 years, but still, anything that both lowers costs and increases capacity is good.

        That said, it would remove bus service for people along Fairview (the 70 runs up Fairview rather than Westlake/Terry through SLU) and along the upper Ave (the 70 goes all the way to 52nd, and during the school year, it gets packed with students from 52nd to Campus Parkway).

        But the biggest issue with the UW extension is probably Chris Leman, an Eastlake neighborhood activist who is adamantly opposed to the UW extension, primarily on the grounds that it would take away parking from Eastlake merchants. I’m not saying he’s in the right, just that he’s persistent and irritating to his opponents, and I think the city council doesn’t want to cross him on this.

    2. I disagree, I think the UW route is a good idea. Eastlake is getting very dense and could become moreso if it had a high capacity streetcar line. Also, the area around Campus Parkway and Brooklyn is going to get VERY dense as the UW puts up all it’s new dorms in that area. I see people living in that area riding the streetcar to the light rail stop on 45th and the Safeway on 50th and possibly deciding to just take it downtown rather than making the trek up to 45th.

      Not to mention the demand for SLU-UW which is probably the most significant source of ridership. It’s already large enough that the UW had to create a shuttle specifically for that purpose.

      1. Well, I think all the proposed streetcar additions would serve neighborhoods that are dense and would benefit — no question. But I think every streetcar addition has to be done with Link in mind. 1st Ave/Ballard lines extend the reach of Link into many dense and vibrant neighborhoods.

        Perhaps the UW streetcar should happen, but I believe it should be lower on the list than the 1st Ave or the Ballard line. 45th/50th will be getting a Link stop after all.

      2. The SLU shuttle mainly exists to serve the hospital, which isn’t close to any buses to downtown or the proposed streetcar line. It is very close to the Husky Stadium Link station though, so once that’s up and running it might be faster to take Link to Westlake Station then the SLUT to SLU than to take a shuttle/streetcar down Eastlake.

  7. I echo the frequency comment. It is sitll too infrequent at this point to be anything but frustrating. In addition, the lights need to be timed to match the streetcar in order to make it feel any faster than walking.

    As of now, its just a novelty. To illustrate, I am working downtown right now, and am meeting my father on his boat in South Lake union right after work. How I am getting there? Walking – as the streetcar is too slow.

    1. I actually rode my bike next to the thing recently – I don’t think you can walk at the same rate it travels from end to end. Unless you arrive at the moment the one before leaves (maybe), you’re better off waiting. If we add another vehicle, I think you’d see that perception decrease.

      We probably do need to work on the timings – but you’d be affecting the timings on several arterials to do so, I’m not sure it would be feasible.

      1. I didn’t say that you could walk as fast as the streetcar. Travel time = transit time + wait time. It’s the wait time that kills you.

        Several times I had the experience where I could walk all the way from Westlake Hub to Mercer before a car caught up with me. I was living in SLU and commuting to Union Station. Didn’t take long to realize that there was no point trying to ride the Streetcar.

  8. actually … the SLUT will not go to first avenue. It will continue to terminate where it currently does if they build the 1st ave line.

    The tracks that would connect the 1st ave line to the South Lake Union line are only non-revenue tracks … built in order to connect the systems together for shared mx bases and equipment transfers.

  9. the best imperfect solution for the 1st ave line would be as follows:

    on 1st ave N & Republican … the old QFC should be bought and turned into a car barn/yard capable of handling the Inekon Pento trams (5-unit version sof the SLUT)

    then the road around the carbarn (Republican) by the Northwest Rooms could become a mini-transit center where the Rt. 30 bus could terminate along with the Rt. 8 and the Elliot Ave/Ballard BRT routes as well as the night owl Rt. 1 service.

    the 1, 2, 13, 15, and 18 could continue to stop where they do now across from the post office.

    Instead of turning on Queen Anne Avenue North, the Southbound routes could also keep going up Mercer to this location before turning onto Queen Anne Ave N. resuming their existing routes.

    The Streetcar could also follow this path to first ave where the line would then run down the current Southbound lanes … effectively making First Ave Northbound only (2nd ave already is one-way southbound.)

    this way, the traffic is more balanced … and busses and streetcars could use it as a busway along with Northbound traffic.

    One could even make a tourist line (using the former Waterfront Streetcars) that would loop back north through the market (you’d have to end vehicular traffic in Pike Place Market (which would be a good thing)) and then it could head north on Western stopping at the Sculpture Park before turning onto Denny and then heading back south on 1st ave.

    Making a large carbarn at the Seattle Center would also allow for residential/retail at that location … maybe a store for swag and metro passes … and could easily link up with the SLU lines via tracks in Mercer street or such.

    regardless … if they build the 1st ave line … they really really need to get the 5-unit Pento trams instead of or in addition to the 3-unit Trios.

  10. I think most of the problems Brian is trying to solve will solve themselves. Not enough frequency? Wait until they finish SLU – increased demand will make a great case for more streetcars. No reason to ride the line? Wait until they finish SLU – there will be plenty to draw people from downtown to SLU and vice versa.

    I think it’s done well considering the unfinished state of the neighborhood.

    1. Yeah, Rollin Street and Enso will by themselves do a lot. When MOHAI moves and phase 2 of the park are done, you’ll see more. There are a couple more buildings under construction as well…

  11. One thing on the web and the radio, I keep hearing stories of it running empty, but it depends on how one determines empty. If it is by it being packed to the gills standing room only, then they are right. If it is at least every seat full, then they are wrong. I was on a particular run of the 98 today, and every seat in the high-floor part that I was sitting in seemed full. There were a few left in the other hi-spot, but not too many people in the low-floor section decided to go up and take them. I would like a 3rd Ave routing myself, but that is impossible. Too many buses on it as it is, and LINK is running in that corridor(or will be next year).

    1. During the morning/afternoon commutes it’s often standing room only. There are a lot of people who get on/off at the Group Health stations.

  12. The 4th Ave/5th Ave is, IMHO, politically risky. Those are the main auto thoroughfares through the city during rush hour. To keep the SLUT from getting caught up in traffic making right turns, it would need to run in the right-center lane. Then, platforms would have to be in the far right lane and 4th and 5th Aves go from effectively 4 lanes to three.

    I agree that they’re the best options for a through-city trolley, however, I think it is more important to get the trolley to first serve additional neighborhoods. That way, when it comes time to take away two car lanes, more folks will directly benefit.

  13. On the topic of street cars, am I the only one who is wondering about whether there might be a less expensive alternative to the First Hill street car?

    What if the money reserved for that were to be used to enhance trolley service on the 10, 11 and 49? In addition, some kind of signal priority can be given the buses using the trolley overhead. Then the 49 could be routed via Broadway, Boren, 12th Ave, and Jackson St to the International District. With Link serving Capitol Hill, is the 49 in its current configuration really needed? I believe not, especially if the 10 and 11 are enhanced to run every 8 to 10 minutes a piece.

    Likewise, the 8 and 43 should be routed together via Denny to Lower Queen Anne with a possible extension of one of these routes to West Magnolia, replacing coverage by the current 24 (or the how many times must I go up and down Magnolia before leaving the neighborhood route). This would also give Magnolia residents a direct connection to Mercer/Queen Anne area in addition of providing an opportunity for the Ballard Rapid Ride to provide faster service between downtown and Ballard.

    Sorry for the meandering post.

  14. I ride the bus, take the streetcar sometimes, but ride my bike most of the time because my bike is faster than both bus and streetcar. If the streetcar is routed down 1st, then you must make it safe for bicyclists. 2nd Ave is not a good alternative due to a myriad of saftely gaffes the city has called “bike facilities.” I use 1st Ave instead. I’d love to see the streetcar on 1st if it used an inside lane so bikes could safely use the street (think Portland, OR). Ban buses from 1st. Ban street parking on 1st. The streetcar could easily travel down 1st, past the stadiums; yes they have bus service now, but have you been caught on one during game traffic? Dedicated track lanes.

    BTW: I’ve taken the street car lately and it’s been very busy mornings and evenings, with tourists, students and office workers, construction workers, etc.

  15. I really like the spirit of your idea, but I would ask for something more intensive in the Regrade. There is so much density (and planned density) there, and yet is a difficult to get around with any speed at all. I remember one mid-Friday afternoon when it took me 30 minutes to drive from the Sculpture Park area to I-5.

    How about either a circular, or maybe:

    instead of one green line, you could have the “lite green” that runs along 1st and alongside the boulevard up to Ballard/Crown Hill, and a “dark green” line that runs up 5th to Seattle Center, and on to Queen Anne, before it joins the lite green line?

    Just brainstorming….

  16. BB,
    your orignial post would correct one of the flaws of the SLU line: its failure to penetrate downtown Seattle; but I doubt Nickels would devote lane space to the streetcar on those arterials.

    Note that the East Madison Street and Queen Anne counter balance alignments are too steep for streetcars without the assistance provided them in the first half of the 20th Century.

    Please note that ST routes 510, 511, and 545 run southbound on 5th Avenue. Also, in the a.m. peak period, routes 513, 250, 252, 257, 260, 261, 265, 266, 268, and 311 run southbound on 5th Avenue.

    An early issue: finding new service subsidy for improved frequency and new lines. Also, how about placing streetcars on corridors that have diesel bus routes rather than already clean quiet electric trolleybuses. Even the Central Line on 1st Avenue is largely redundant to existing trolleybus overhead.

      1. Keo: They are quite a bit steeper. Try riding a bike up each of them (well, maybe not Madison — it’s pretty busy). You’ll see that Fremont is a long but fairly easy bike ride, while Queen Anne is absolutely too steep to ride in anything but the lowest gear of most bikes.

        eddiew: The streetcar report ( largely predicts operating cost decreases for new lines which replace bus lines. They may be optimistic on ad revenue, IMHO, but still, I expect it’ll be a wash. The big funding issue is for capital costs.

    1. I’m still a fan of rebuilding the counterbalance. It wouldn’t be that expensive or difficult, would be the final leg to tap into a large pool of dense housing, would keep our history alive, and would be a great tourist draw (and this is the same route that would go past Pike’s Market).

      I think the issue of replacing diesel buses with streetcars is that electric bus trolleys were put in at the high capacity routes. Hence you’d end up with low ridership.

  17. Actually, the trolley bus routes were mostly “heritage” choices and places where the steep hills made the electric buses cheaper or more capable than diesels.

    That was 40 years ago, at that time most neighborhoods were depressed and even devastated in some cases by the building of the freeway.

    Since then, the areas served by trolley buses rebounded faster and higher than neighborhoods served by diesels, generally. Maybe due to more view property on taller steeper hills.

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