The full Seattle City Council has approved the streetcar expansion plan that the Transportation Committee passed last week. According to those viewing online, the council passed a resolution supporting the expansion plans 6-3 after a spirited debate about alignment and funding. (We don’t yet on information on how each council member voted.)

The plan instructs the city to move forward with plans for four additional streetcar lines on top of the South Lake Union Streetcar: a Central Line along 1st Ave, a First Hill Line connecting Capitol Hill to the ID, a Fremont/Ballard Line, and an extension of the SLU Streetcar to the University District.

You can read the full resolution text online. In the resolution, the council states its desire for a Downtown connection between the SLU and the First Hill lines. The council also makes clear that it would like to prioritize the development of the First Hill and Central lines — certainly because the First Hill line was funded by Sound Transit’s Prop. 1 which passed last month and the Central Line is a likely candidate for state funds when a Viaduct replacement is chosen. The resolution does not contain any funding and for that reason actual construction of and funding for a given project would require further council approval.

The SLU line took just under over four years to move from concept to reality.

37 Replies to “Seattle Streetcar Expansion Passes City Council”

  1. I’m getting more and more on board with the center-of-the-road/island platform idea. Walking down the street, I watched traffic interact and realized it’s highly doable, especially if platforms are far side of the street and the only access cars have to the lane is for turning purposes at certain points (remember that streetcar box idea?).

  2. Also, if we’re ripping up the street for a streetcar line, this gives a good opportunity to place a bike lane between the sidewalk and the streetcar, allowing for a much more comfortable bike ride. Probably not doable everywhere but Westlake and the Waterfront certainly and probably Eastlake too.

    Does anyone know if Federal Stimulus money is a possibility for this kind of stuff or does that have other requirements?

    1. Stimulus: not likely because the project isn’t yet ready for construction. Federal funding from the FTA could happen, especially if Obama’s FTA chooses to promote fixed-guideway transit.

      1. It’s definitely not likely, but it is possible for more simple lines because construction can proceed pretty quickly.

        Any streetcar that crosses the cut from Queen Anne to Fremont/Ballard or from Montlake/Eastlake to the U-D is out. As is the First Hill line is an unlikely candidate because it’s mostly funded, but engineering will be done in February.

      2. Why would lines that cross the cut be automatically out? all of our bascule bridges (drawbridges) originally had streetcars on them: Montlake, University, Fremont, Ballard. If you drive over any of them you can see the welded plates in the center lanes that cover up the hole left by the rail slot at the transitioon plates (though the grate decking has since been replaced). My point being that the bridges can handle the loads, and the design for laying rails across the bridges already exists, so I don’t see why this alone should be an impediment.

      3. Pete —

        I’m pretty sure the bridges can’t handle the load of a modern streetcar (which heavier on a per-axle basis than streetcars used to be), or at least that’s what the streetcar report said.

        I believe one of the newish streetcar systems (maybe Tampa?) runs some kind of recently-built streetcar stylized to look older. These are shorter and lighter than the streetcars we’re looking at, so in theory we could use something like that and not need to re-build the bridges. Personally, I think smaller streetcars would be a poor investment for Seattle — they won’t hold as many people and so would likely hit crush loads at peak times — but it is a possibility.

  3. as a former Torontonian, i’m pretty used to the center-island-platform. it works well, even if crossing the road to get to the island could sometimes be a little annoying.

    as a newly minted Eastlaker, i’m very excited that they’re looking to put a number of stops in my neighbourhood. So often while waiting for a bus, express bus upon express bus will woosh by, and i was worried that the streetcar would be treated like a university express bus, with minimal local stops.

    so i’m very happy to see some density in the proposed stops in this area.

    i was hoping for a stop on either Galer OR Blaine, so to see stops on both pleases me very much.

      1. That’s not a very Seattle welcome!

        I’ll say welcome to the neighborhood or neighbourhood as they say in England as well as Canada!

        You’ll have a great view of the Space Needle firework display at New Year – assuming we still have the money to burn at this point:)


      2. that’s a joke, i hope.

        surely i can be forgiven a “u” that i’ve been writing for decades now.

        anyway, thanks Tim.

  4. Ok, here’s my plan: Tear up the street, put the streetcar on a center alignment, add the bike lane, but also take the opportunity to time the lights so a) the streetcar rarely has to stop and b) time is designated for pedestrians to “walk all ways” from every corner to the streetcar stop right before it arrives.

  5. On my way home from a temp job, I deliberately got off the 70 to ride the 98(the official route number for the South Lake Union Streetcar), and expected an empty streetcar. There were 12 other people waiting at the Northern Terminus of the line, and was Standing Room Only by the time it got downtown. I would love to see the 98 get to the University. It also needs to get to King Street Station, and ridership might really go up. King Street Station is a good intermodal terminal, and it will be missing a streetcar for awhile unless the 99(Waterfront) is restored, or the 98 is extended.

    1. Counted 2 full streetcars inbound and 2 half-full streetcars outbound as I was taking panos this evening. Promising.

      1. Based on my experience taking the SLUT over the summer, it’s always that full in the evening (about 4-6 PM) on weekdays. It will only become more full as the buildings under construction open up around there.

  6. I just find it odd that some of the opponents of streetcar and Light Rail Expansion always cite the existing lines as trains to nowhere, and use that as a reason against expanding it to somewhere.

    Anyway, ridership does get better after awhile. I saw a few 49s today that were empty, but during rush hour, SRO.

  7. I just have a hard time calling it the acronym for the South Lake Union Trolley, especially since at least in Seattle, it should have always been called a streetcar to avoid being confused with the Trolleybuses, which I have overheard drivers call on their radio, trolleys.

    Last week on Dave Ross, Licata said he feared that if the Central Line was built, it would be the demise of the 1 and 2 bus lines. If the Counterbalance restoration was part of it, I do not see the 1-seat ride going away. The 1, serving Kinnear would still be there, and maybe make the back-wire permanent to handle the 2 route. If the Counterbalance were restored, what might stop them from at a future date, extending the Central Line to cover all of the 13 route as well?

    1. I think a Counterbalance line could also be a big tourist attraction if done right. Does anyone know if the current streetcars can be modified to use the counterbalance, or would the city have to buy new ones?

      1. As a Mechanical Engineer I can tell you they definitely could. Any counterbalance system we build would be custom, and therefore our choice of the trains we build the system for is our choice. The cars would likely need some modification – this could be as simple as an eye welded to the frame for a hook to fit in, or as complex (though really still simple) as an electromagnet mounted on the base and tied into the car’s electric system.

  8. The City of Seattle would need to purchase new vehicles in order for it to work or reroute the streetcar a different route.

    I was talking with one of the operators yesterday and also stated the busiest times for the Streetcar is 6am to 8am and 4pm to 6pm. A developer that rides the Streetcar to his said he would support and help fund an extension of the SLU line to the University of Washington but only if it would eliminate the Route 70, which I would agree on.

    The biggest flaw with this entire project really is duplication of service. If it was done right and it all CONNECTED to each other that would be the biggest selling point; Connectivity is crucial in making this project a success.

    As I have said many, many times – it is cheaper and faster to go 4th and 5th Avenue to the International District. Gradient is not an issue except for the counterbalance.

    The Central Line should run from the Key Arena to Jackson and Jackson to 31st. The First/Capital Hill route would branch off that route at 12th to Broadway.

    This would allow the International District to be a vast intermodal hub.

    Just came in on Amtrak? Great!

    Need to get to the Airport? Head over to the International District Station and take Link to Sea-Tac Airport.

    Need to get up to Capital Hill? Hop on the Capital Hill Streetcar at 5th and Jackson

    Want to experience the new Seattle Waterfront? Take the famous George Benson Waterfront Streetcar at 5th and Jackson.

    Want to go to South Lake Union and Eastlake? Hop on the South Lake Union Streetcar at 4th and Jackson.

    Want to go to the Seattle Center? Hop on the Central Streetcar on 5th and Jackson.

    Need to get to Fremont or Ballard? Hop on the Ballard Streetcar at 4th and Jackson.

    As much as I do hate to say this – extend the monorail to the Pike Place Market.

    Need a maintenance facility with expandability? Look no further than South Downtown Seattle! There is plenty of land available for a central maintenance facility with the South Lake Union line being used as light maintenance.

    We need to take centralized instead of “let’s put a line here and a line there… Councilwoman Clark said it right that we simply can not have 3 separate lines with 3 maintenance facilities. It is a waste of taxpayer money.

    The City of Seattle has a very unique opportunity to take hold of something that would truly connect the city, bring in a huge amount of redevelopment and places notice to other cities that we can change our outlook.

    Yes, Trolley buses are fine and dandy, I have no problem with them, but you only have room for so many before issues arise, like the Route 7 and it’s bunching issue.

    It was mentioned by the council on a Rainier Avenue Streetcar – That would be great – if Rainier was widened and was put in the center lanes to ensure they ran consistently on-time and on track, no pun intended.

    I love buses more than anyone on this blog but I also have the ability to see when capacity has been met. The Route 7 could easily be replaced by high capacity Streetcars, re-spark development and change in a community that needs it most.

    We can give equal choice to all or areas that need it most. The north end is well connected, the South end, not so much. Being equal and fair, yet balanced and responsible is what needs to come next from the Council and they have a lot of very, very difficult decisions ahead of them. The Viaduct, the SR-520 Bridge, the replacement of the South Park Bridge, and now the Seattle Streetcar Network.

    They have a lot of very difficult decisions to make before the end of the year. Would it all happen? Who knows, but the fact they were in all agreement on one thing or another is that it would help the City of Seattle in redevelopment in a time that it is needed and making the city more connected. It isn’t so much about getting people out of their cars, but giving them the option to leave that car behind them and take transit since it is cheap and available to them. We can’t force people to take transit when it isn’t available to them.

    1. I agree with you on the Rainier streetcar, but the Central Line should still go on 1st. 4th & 5th are much cheaper and faster because they’re a few blocks away from where all the tourist attractions are and where everything’s happening. Maybe in the future (perhaps for a Rainier line) they could put them on 4th & 5th, but they should build them on 1st and 3rd first.

  9. Hey, yeah, all of the above. Plus, INTEGRATE the 1st Ave Streetcar into the southern viaduct re-build so maybe, just maybe, West Seattle could have a piece of SOME SORT of rapid-transit system.

    1. If we aren’t building this with dedicated right of way, it is a waste of money. For all the talk of “bold leadership” on this issue coming from the council, they’d better actually do it right and get the streetcars out of the flow (gridlock) of traffic.

      1. What’s your idea in terms of bold leadership in getting businesses and residents to approve the removal of multiple lanes through the entire length of the alignment?

        First you get the streetcar running, and when you prove it isn’t going to destroy businesses, THEN you take the lane to a BAT setup and THEN you make it entirely dedicated.

        You have to remember that the politics involved is staggering, especially since it runs through residential highrises, each person with a say on taxation. Do you think Mark Baerwaldt would vote yes if we said “we’re taking 3 lanes for this thing”?

      2. Yeah, I’d second this — dedicated lanes are a much easier sell when there are known to be trains running every couple of minutes.

        That said, it’s better if the route can be chosen in such a way that it can later be made exclusive in sections — that is, making the track exclusive shouldn’t block turn lanes, etc.

  10. The only one I am aware of that was even remotely dedicated would be the Rainier one if that ever was to happen.

    If the new trail didn’t open SSN could have used the old ROW for a streetcar and freight service from Interbay to South Lake Union warehouses.

    I need to dig for the old study… I’ll dig for that after lunch.

  11. I have always wondered if it were possible to modify the W-class streetcars/trams that used to run on the Waterfront for operation without their high platforms. Would a wheelchair lift have to be installed(supposedly to put them aboard the PCCs for Route 15, SEPTA in Philadelphia they used lifts taken off of decommissioned buses)? Steps need to be installed? I was wondering how they are operated in the other cities in the U.S. that have W-class cars running, mainly Memphis and San Francisco. I found this photo of one in Memphis.

    It has to be done somehow if the variety of streetcars running in Memphis can be used interchangebly on the 3 lines that make up the Main Street Trolley. Especially to service stops like these.

    1. In San Francisco, the stops are kinda weird. A lot of them are just yellow lines on the ground next to the tracks, and are quite a bit lower than the bottom step on the streetcar. Only certain stops on the MUNI can accommodate wheelchairs; I’m not sure if that would be legal in Seattle.

  12. Might give the City Attorney some work looking into it. That could be one of the biggest stumbling blocks operating the W-class cars on other routes would be the ADA Compliance. Whether the trolley poles will be compatible is no problem, I have seen the 70 cross the streetcar wire, and in Melbourne, the W-class trams still in service , have mostly had the trolleypoles replaced with pantographs, except on one route.

  13. EvergreenRailfan, you read my mind! We can resurrect the Melbourne streetcars with necessary modifications, and can be inducted into the fleet for the Metro Employees Historic Vehicles Association (MEHVA, for use on public excursions five times a year. I had already sent an e-mail to MEHVA, but still no reply.

    1. Thanks for the link. Looking at their site it looks like they already own a vintage Seattle streetcar. It’s a Birney Safety Car purchased from the American Car Company in 1919 for the Seattle Municipal Street Railway.

      1. Yes, I saw that. Maybe the Birney car could also get a run for its money with the necessary mods as well. But MEHVA has been inducting new additions to their historical fleet as they are retired. Only three years ago did they add an original Dual-Powered Breda tunnel bus (with its diesel engine intact, unlike the 59 that were stripped of their engines and coverted to pure trolley buses) and a MAN “Americana.” So it may work.

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