Possibly for First Hill Streetcar.
Possible alignment for First Hill Streetcar.

We’re more than a little bit late on this, but the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog has great coverage of a recent city council meeting that covered moving the opening of the First Hill Streetcar up by up to four years earlier than the planned 2016 opening date. The city says it can build the line for cheaper than expected if built earlier, which may encourage the Sound Transit Board to approve funding. The First Hill Streetcar will be funded by Sound Transit, but constructed and operated by the Seattle Department of Transportation.

The First Hill Streetcar was approved by voted last November in the ST2 plan. Once built, it will connect Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the International District via Broadway and Jackson. It would terminate near the International District Link light rail station, extending the reach of Link into the jobs-heavy First Hill neighborhood and the dense Capitol Hill area.

In an interview with Seattle Transit Blog, the city said that even though ST isn’t planning to fund operating costs before 2016, efficiencies learned from operating the South Lake Union Streetcar could allow ST to pay for the operations earlier than budgeted.

And why do we want a streetcar linking Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the International District? Check out 10 Reasons to Love a Streetcar in the Austin Chronicle.

84 Replies to “First Hill/Broadway Streetcar by 2012? City Says Yes”

  1. I sure hope that alternate routes are considered. Boren is a bad choice — pedestrian unfriendly and heavy peak hour traffic, and on the far edge of the Yesler Terrace redevelopment project. And why Jackson and King Streets as a one-way couplet? These streets are vastly different; trains should run both ways on Jackson.

    The Housing Authority planners should consider some street replatting (like they did at all the other Hope 6 redevelopment projects) and include a street that better accommodates the FH streetcar. I’m confident there’s a win-win somewhere — better service for the higher-density development in the project, and fewer obstructions and more passengers for the streetcar.

    1. I like that it brings the line on King Street: more exposure for the heart of the International District.

    2. I don’t think that SDOT plans on running the route down a King/Jackson couplet route and instead will run it solely on Jackson. I could be wrong. (The attached picture is simply the best map I could find, sorry about that!)

  2. It might be a hard sell, because it doesn’t serve pill hill very well, but I like the idea of running the streetcar up 12th Ave. E to Pine or John before heading over tp Broadway. There’s a lot of new pedestrian oriented development on 12th Ave. and that neighborhood could really use some N-S transit service. First Hill is already well served by trolley bus routes and it’s not a very long walk down the hill to one of the bus tunnel stations. It would also be interesting to consider running the streetcar on Yesler. They could turn that run-down park near the Pioneer Square station into a streetcar terminus. It would be a modern recreation of the original Yesler streetcar route.

    1. I don’t know if that one will happen. The idea is that it’s supposed to replace a First Hill station. 12th ave is fairly far from First Hill.

      1. The original station was planned right at the edge of First Hill and the CD/12th Ave. community.

      2. Seattle U has always been considered a part of First Hill, so a 12th Ave route would still be a First Hill streetcar, just on the eastern side of it. And it’s a side that has no north/south a lot of employees, residents, and students, but no north/south transit service.

        The “First Hill” light rail station was always actually on the border of three different neighborhoods: First Hill, Capitol Hill, & the CD. So I think it’s important that the streetcar replacement for that station still be accessible for all three of those neighborhoods too. A 12th/Broadway loop would provide great access to everyone, including two different Swedish campuses and Seattle U.

        That only leaves out Virginia Mason, which is too far west to be efficiently served by any of the streetcar alignments.

      3. It’s not just the eastern side of First Hill, it’s down a pretty steep hill. The west side of First Hill on the other side of Broadway wouldn’t be effectively served by a 12th ave streetcar.

      4. Look at the pdf under the link. Folks want a few options to be looked at, including a loop. The maps include institutional and commercial zoning, as well as walking ranges.

      5. Exactly – if you look at the walking radii from the loop line, you cover the west side of Broadway and down the hill quite nicely.

      6. Single-directional loops are a disaster for transit planning. Try to imagine running link in a loop. People need to make ROUND TRIPS. Creating a loop essentially means that rather than serving 50% of the population well and 50% poorly, you serve 100% of the population poorly. A trip is exactly as strong as its weakest link. Putting a loop in the line makes either the trip out or the trip back lousy.

        It also substantially undermines the effectiveness of the streetcar in doing its #1 task, which is to define the street scape. Businesses lose the motivation to be “close to the line” because now, no property is “close to the line”, only close to half the line, which doesn’t count.

        The loop concept is pushed often by seniors and other members of transit dependent groups that have far more time than physical ability. Essentially, if you are elderly, retired, not in a hurry and walking 3 blocks is really hard, you don’t mind waiting another 15 minutes to ride all the way around the loop to get dropped off at the stop closest to your destination.

        This does not work for people who have limited amounts of time, which is 99% of “choice riders” i.e. the people who could otherwise drive. The transit dependent will ride transit no matter how bad the service is. Choice riders demand time-competitive service. That’s why we’re building Link in the first place! If the idea is to “compensate” for the loss of the first hill station, the streetcar needs to be as fast, direct and frequent as possible, no meandering, no stopping every 2 blocks.

        Buses are a better vehicle to serve the transit dependent population. They provide the most flexibility and “pencil” at smaller loads. Light Rail, and the streetcar should be about attracting new markets with higher ridership potential, and that means choice riders, which means fast, direct, frequent and bi-direction.

    2. I’ve heard the grade issues with Boren being brought up several times, but I find it hard to believe that the City of Seattle and Sound Transit just didn’t see that in any of their preliminary studies of the route.
      Also, it is much better to run it on Broadway than on 12th; if it’s on 12th, it’s not the First Hill streetcar. On Broadway, it comes right next to Swedish Hospital, Seattle University, and Harborview. Maybe there can be a streetcar on 12th in a couple decades, but for now the Broadway route is the best to serve that area.

      1. So your argument is based on the name of the neighborhood?

        Swedish is within a 5-minute walk of the loop route suggestion, Seattle U sits between Broadway and 12th, and Harborview is also a 5-minute walk – and Harborview already has frequent electric trolley service on the 3/4 anyway. 12th and the areas around it have no north-south transit service.

      2. It would be cheaper to make this whole thing electric trolley bus service, if that’s what you’re suggesting (If it’s good enough for Harborview…), but there’s a definite advantage that has been shown for streetcars.

      3. No, my argument wasn’t against the streetcar – it’s funded, it’s going to get built – but rather toward expanding the transit options available to the larger neighborhood. I think the loop route does that more effectively than a 12th-only or Broadway-only route, and gives you larger walking radii from the stops, attracting more potential ridership. And if it’s run as a loop, given the short distance of the line, folks who didn’t want to walk “the other way” to catch the tram can hop on and just stay on. If the argument is that most of the ridership will be transferring to/from LINK, then it really won’t matter much if they’re going to Broadway or the ID Station – time between the two on LINK will be, what, 10 minutes or less? Folks who are really time-sensitive will walk the extra couple blocks.

        So along that vein, yeah, Harborview already has a ton of bus service; if Yesler Terrace is redeveloped appropriately, I’d love to see the 3/4 go up Yesler and then turn north to serve Harborview, rather than getting trapped in the freeway mess they currently do as they go up the hill. And again, with the loop route you’re still 5 minutes’ walk from Harborview.

        And again – one of the primary advantages for streetcars from the City’s perspective is development potential. You have that on 12th. You don’t have nearly as much of it on Broadway or Boren. I recognize there are transit rider benefits to a streetcar line, when implemented properly, vs. a bus line.

    3. As long as it is less than a 9% grade modern teams can handle the grade. Far steeper hills than Boren had streetcars back before we tore the tracks up.

    4. Alstom’s Citadis tram can handle up to 9% grades provided all the axles are powered (Jerusalem’s trams require this) … so it is possible (although I do not know whether or not the Inekon trams can do this

    5. A very serious gentleman (with real-deal surveying equipment I’ve been told) has come to a number of Sound Transit board meetings and has said he surveyed the hill there on Boren and it’s too steep for the Inkeon cars. According to the manufacturer, those cars have a maximum operating grade of 8%.

      Obviously, I wasn’t there when that gentleman did it, and I am not an expert on surveying, but the hill is fairly steep, and it’s not unimaginable that at least parts of it are too steep for streetcars. I’ll leave the final analysis to real engineers (I’m just a software engineer) but I imagine with 21st century technology something can be done on Boren to accomodate the streetcars somehow, even if it’s just past the 8% threshold.

  3. Maybe they should bring back the counterweights ;)

    I’m just glad to see the schedule for a form of rail actually advanced; the sooner we can get a a few visible signs of it, then the sooner that will change perceptions of the role rail can play in a transportation system.

  4. I would be so stoked if we could get this by 2012, especially if it actually went through first hill. I like yellow alignment (first hill community group) here, because it would really connect the First Hill business areas.

    1. Deep thought: if construction bids are coming in 20% under, this could cost less than $100 million.

  5. Check out how the Portland Streetcar operates. http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/

    Loop and couplet design seems to be the best in terms of ridership and connecting people to where they need to be. I was unaware of so much redevelopment going on on 12th Av
    enue that it really does make the most sense to build on 12th and return on Broadway. Boren is not an issue for the streetcar. The hill itself is only 6.82% and most modern streetcars are capable of 8 to 9%.

    Grades for the United Streetcar (New Streetcar built in Portland, Oregon) has already been approached by the City of Seattle to provide the new vehicles for future lines. I’ll be taking a tour the streetcar itself on May 9th.

    My biggest concern has been the maze of trolley bus wire on 12th Avenue.

    It would be nice if we could get working on the restoration of the Waterfront Streetcar but there is no will by any government official to return the streetcars back onto the waterfront. If I was in any position, especially with the future of many other streetcar routes, this presents a golden opportunity to have a second but large and main operations and maintenance facility for the streetcars, modern and vintage fleet. Now would be a good time to get Seattle to lobby for the return of the WF streetcar, even if it is just for the Spring and Summer months.

    1. Well, the Waterfront Streetcar certainly makes more sense than a 1st Avenue Streetcar! Especially as part of a new waterfront post-Viaduct.

      1. The 1st ave streetcar would serve a lot more people and neighborhoods than the Waterfront streetcar did. Don’t get me wrong, I want both, but the Waterfront streetcar was primarily tourists and maybe some vendors. You can’t compare that to Belltown, Lower Queen Anne (Uptown), and Downtown.

      2. I’m not exactly sure why serving tourists would be a bad thing… but there are plenty of Seattleites who like to access the Waterfront and the Ferry Terminal. There will be more wanting to go down once the Viaduct is gone.

        On the other hand, I’m not aware of demand from Belltown or Uptown for more transit on 1st Ave, nor do many of the businesses seem to want it there.

      3. I’m not aware of demand from Belltown or Uptown for more transit on 1st Ave

        Then you must not be looking around! I work in Lower Queen Anne and I’d definitely like a streetcar along 1st.

      4. I think that we need both, as 1st Avenue is a few blocks away up a steep hill from the Waterfront, and the old Benson cars would have to be completely overhauled to work along with Skoda cars, but I really like the old cars!

    2. You use the terms loops and couplets as if they were similar or even interchangeable concepts. They are not. A couplet is completely different from a loop.

      Couplets are directly adjacent to each other, not 3+ blocks apart. That difference is huge in terms of usability. Walking one extra block is not that big a deal, walking 3 extra blocks can be a tipping point. I know this sounds insignificant, but in transit planning, the little things make a very big difference in terms of usability.

      More importantly, couplets are often done on streets that are already one-way couplets for cars. This means both streets are prime targets for commercial development. Both streets are effectively “main streets” and they are tightly integrated. The two streets are essentially one street with a median in the middle that has buildings built on in it.

      Broadway and 12th are not tightly integrated the way pike and pine are. Broadway and 12th are two fully independent two-way streets. Transit should match the flow of cars. If the cars flow one-way in a couplet, then you can split the transit line. If the cars flow two ways, transit should do the same. Otherwise you make transit a second class citizen in the transportation world and that is exactly what got us into the mess we’re in today.

  6. So, here’s the problem with 10 Reasons to Love a Streetcar, John…

    While all 10 are good reasons I can support, exactly TWO of them actually address transit concerns; and none of those reasons really addresses moving people rapidly around a city.

    I know I keep harping on this with people but, seriously, this is Seattle Transit Blog not hugeasscity. We should not be wasting our scarce transit dollars on cute trolleys that only help to spur development and change our land use patterns.

    People have asked for and supported transit that rapidly and efficiently connects the neighborhoods with each other and Downtown. That’s what transit activists should be demanding.

    If streetcars cannot meet this need, or complete a transit connection, then business should be paying for it and/or it should come from planning and development funds.

    1. Well, if all people want rapid and direct connections, they can always use the highway. I mean, that’s the sole purpose of transit, right? Commuting for work?

    2. I know I keep harping on this with people but, seriously, this is Seattle Transit Blog not hugeasscity. We should not be wasting our scarce transit dollars on cute trolleys that only help to spur development and change our land use patterns.

      I completely disagree with you. Land use and transportation are nearly the same topic. It is absurd for us to talk about transportation without a focus on land use.

      We obviously do think that streetcars meet the need you discuss more effectively than buses.

      The 10 Reasons thing was a bit of fun. There are more and better reasons, you’re right.

      1. How are streetcars more effective than buses as transit solutions?

        I would argue precisely the opposite. They are not flexible in service or routing, require more capital to construct, and cost more to operate.

      2. Streetcars are more effective than buses for one very important and indisputable reason – they attract higher ridership than buses. Remember, the primary goal of transit is high ridership and not low cost.

        But beyond that, it is unclear whether buses are really cheaper than streetcars. The primary reason they “appear” cheaper is that ROW maintenance for a bus system is paid for by the local DOT and not the transit agency. However, for streetcars the track maintenance costs are borne by the streetcar agency. Properly account for these differences and the costs are actually very close.

        But, yes, building a streetcar line does cost more up-front, but doing things right is rarely cheap.

      3. Streetcars attract higher ridership in many cities for two main reasons: speed/time certainty and more comfortable ride.

        As we seem to currently conceive streetcars in the Puget Sound, they run in traffic, which makes them no faster or time-certain than a bus.

        We CAN carry more people more comfortably with the current streetcars vs. buses… but if this is the only selling point, than let’s just upgrade more bus routes to Rapid Ride buses and save on the rail installation costs.

        Seattleites prefer elevated transit over streetcars. That may not have anything to do with the actual mode, though, and more to do with that speed and time certainty.

        Therefore, if we’re going to lobby in favor of a streetcar network in Seattle, we need to make sure it’s grade-separated and rapid. It’s certainly possible to do with streetcars, as in other cities, but that doesn’t seem to be what SDOT and the City Council are proposing.

      4. Seattleites prefer elevated transit over streetcars

        Give me a break. I think most people in general, and specifically transit riders, prefer rail options to buses.

      5. Elevated buses? LEVX! LOL

        Seriously, I would choose rail over buses, especially if I had to stand. Rail has a smoother ride and is more predictable with turns. My arms and legs ache after trying to stay balanced on a crowded, jerky, and bumpy 73 in the articulated section.

      6. I would argue that your primary argument is not “this can be done cheaper” but “I don’t agree with where this is being placed.”

        That being said, I, nor most other people in the neighborhood really care what you think about the future viability or longevity of it, so your complaint about lack of flexibility and cost just sound like sour grapes to me.

        Which, really, is all transit advocacy is about anyway– not spending too much where the other guy lives so you can spend more where I live, even if the studies give value to the routing.

    3. In SLU at least there are real advantages to the streetcar over current Metro lines (level boarding, equipment lifespan, route, on-time performance). Transit and community development are interconnected–all the express buses that pass through SLU move people way too rapidly through the neighborhood! In my mind the SLUT provides a nice medium between long-distance rapid transit (Link, Sounder, Express buses) and local buses (or in some cases walking).

      Also don’t forget that 20/40/40 means that the cost of 20 hours of new bus service in Seattle is attached to 80 hours of new service in the South/East King County. I’m not saying that’s good/bad/ugly, but the streetcar system does an end-run around the issue.

      1. Once again, I don’t disagree with the points being raised.

        Transit and community development are interconnected. And 20/40/40 is a bad formula that should die.

        BUT… those are not answers to transit questions.

        Seattleites have clearly and repeatedly expressed a need for time-certain, rapid transit to connect them from neighborhood to neighborhood and with Downtown.

        If the question is how to meet that need, is your answer honestly a streetcar? Or more specifically, is it a streetcar as currently implemented in South Lake Union?

      2. Rapid mass transit is not the need that the SLUT meets, no. That’s the need that Link meets.

        However, “neighborhood to neighborhood” is not the only need that exists. The SLUT (and other streetcars like in Portland) provide easily understood routing that attracts new riders. Obviously it’s less flexible that rerouting buses, but how many of Metros routes have changed in the last 50 years? The capital costs, operating expenses, and lifespan of equipment are all tradeoffs that Metro makes with its variety of buses too.

      3. If the question is how to meet that need, is your answer honestly a streetcar? Or more specifically, is it a streetcar as currently implemented in South Lake Union?

        One of the drawbacks of the SLUT is that it makes legitimate streetcar implementations overcome the stigma this a wasteful endeavor. Seattle would never have built this line if they hadn’t been given half of the money from Paul Allen. 50% of isn’t a great deal if you didn’t need the thing in the first place. South Lake Union is going to take 10-15 years to develop and in the mean time the City is on the hook to the tune of over $2M a year to provide service which promotes this development. Paul Allen is a savvy businessman.

        That said, maybe the City can make lemonade from this lemon by stealing two of the trams to accelerate the opening of the Pill Hill Express. (OK, a streetcar isn’t much of an Express but it sort of rhymes with Boot Hill Express… oops, that’s probably not a good connotation seeing as how this primarily serves hospitals ;-)

      4. I was really excited when they built the SLUT. Partly because I work in South Lake Union, but mostly because I thought it would show Seattle that streetcars are quick and efficient modes of city transportation. But when I saw their implementation I was disappointed. They had blank slate to work with as far as the alignment and they could have made it a quick ride to downtown. Instead they choose an arduously slow alignment with horrible signal timing. I really hope they do a better job with the First Hill line. I still like the SLUT though, it’s a hundred times better than the #70 bus.

      5. So does purchasing the service hours from within the Seattle (or major institutional) budget :) but yes, the point’s well taken.

    4. In general I would agree with the thrust of the argument, but in this particular case (a) you’re taking people from LINK and getting them closer to their places of employment (major institutions all along the streetcar line) and (b) we already voted to build the thing in ST2.

    5. I know I keep harping on this with people but, seriously, this is Seattle Transit Blog not hugeasscity. We should not be wasting our scarce transit dollars on cute trolleys that only help to spur development and change our land use patterns.

      I agree 100%. But this streetcar line makes sense because it’s not trying to change anything and is the best mode to serve the existing demand. That demand has been there for 100 years and it’s not likely to disappear in the next 100. Hospitals sometimes disappear but Harborview isn’t going anywhere and there are still enough different health care entities on Pill Hill that with a growing and aging population the names may change but the overall number of beds will continue to grow. Likewise both Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College I would consider as fairly stable. The neighborhood doesn’t need to grow to create enough demand to warrant the streetcar but in all likelihood with the central location and proximity to reliable regional transportation we will see an significant increase in density (some plans are already in the works).

      The thing about a smart investment is the sooner you make it the more it pays off. This is one case where a streetcar really is the right thing to do right now.

    6. “I know I keep harping on this with people but, seriously, this is Seattle Transit Blog not hugeasscity. We should not be wasting our scarce transit dollars on cute trolleys that only help to spur development and change our land use patterns.”

      I disagree completely. Transit and land-use patterns go hand-in-hand, especially in the city. If you can craft land-use patterns around transit, ridership goes up, revenue goes up and operating costs go down. I think it’s been demonstrated all over the world that the effectiveness of transit depends not only on the mode of transit, but also the context within which transit operates. How are people supposed to be able to make the choice to exist without a car if neighborhoods aren’t developed to support that choice? And what’s wrong with spurring transit oriented development? Less sprawl, bigger tax base, higher transit ridership, safer neighborhoods, what’s not to love?

      1. If one looks globally, a clear pattern emerges: transit that is integrated tightly with wise land use is successful. Transit that is disconnected from land use fails. Universally. The opponents of light rail have a lot of ammunition to throw at you with countless examples of rail systems that have been built but fail to meet even modest ridership expectations. By every single possible measure of effectiveness, most light rail systems in this country fail. Some, the rare few succeed. Internationally however, the story is different. Many metro areas have built up new rail transit lines and experience both large and growing market share for transit. The difference is always land use. If you don’t have the land use, you don’t have the ridership. To suggest that we should not be paying attention to land use because this is a blog about transit is to perpetuate exactly the kind of thinking that brought about the downfall of transit and the rise of auto-dependency in this country. If you look at the history, the separation of transportation planning from land-use planning coincided directly with the decline of transit and the rise of the automobile.

  7. The grade on Boren is no greater than that on Harrison and into Riverplace on the Portland Streetcar. In fact, at one point, it’s a little steeper in Portland.

    Grade shouldn’t be an issue.

  8. I don’t see anything to disagree with on the 10 reasons! As we have seen from the positive transit oriented development around both Tacoma Link and the SLUT in South Lake Union, there is every reason to believe that in both cities the trolley/streetcars have been of enormous benefit.

    We need to remember that trolleys/link/streetcars and any other form of rail run through defined corridors and that they have a knock effect of defined transit inspired development which has a concentrating factor that helps rejuvenate the corridors they run through. Tacoma and South Lake Union are excellent examples of this process and I believe that Link will have the same effect on the Rainier Valley. In fact, the process has already started and once this recession lifts, it will take off even more.

    As for the First Hill streetcar, much of the alignment would run through an area that is currently massively neglected and run down. I was walking 12th Ave South the other day and it graffiti and debris are everywhere and if you look over each end of the Josef Rizal Bridge, the amount of debris thrown down there to the greenbelt would make you want you to throw up and add to it. What I am saying is that having buses running through the areas does not have the same positive effect on development because as they move through, they do not help to define the area as streetcars or trolleys or light rail do with their elaborate stations and area-defining art work. Sure the SLUT stations are not exactly eye catching but they are a step up on bus stops and the defined rail corridor ensures that unlike buses, they are unlikely to be moved elsewhere. People have a tendency to move away from bus lines or at least not realize they are near one, but with rail corridors, it seems that development has a natural tendency to move towards them and a greater awareness amongst folks that they are there. Perhaps it is just me, but it is hard to miss the trolleys, streetcars and trains.

    As always, when is the groundbreaking ceremony for First Hill or do we have to have a plethora of studies, public input and anger first before we can proceed?

    1. The anger over this would be primarily over alignment, but that would quickly subside.

      Actually, I don’t know– folks in certain parts of NW Portland and down in SE Portland are still bitter.

  9. As always, when is the groundbreaking ceremony for First Hill or do we have to have a plethora of studies, public input and anger first before we can proceed?

    Well this is Seattle afterall

  10. Alternative alignments have recently been suggested for the First Hill-Capitol Hill Streetcar and a great summary and visuals of them can be found here:


    Basically, cities build streetcars as much for economic development reasons as they do for transit. Given this fact, 12th Avenue would make a lot more sense for an alignment than Broadway or Boren, and would get around all of the grade issues on those arterials. 12th is relatively flat, marred by vacant lots that are zoned NC3-65, and in the heart of both the hospitals and SU. An alignment on 12th would link business districts (Little Saigon, 12th, Broadway) together the way that streetcars are supposed to. And, it would reach the maximum number of residents and employees.

    This is the only streetcar that will not be paid for by local property interests, so let’s make sure we put it in the right place!

    1. 12th is a fine corridor, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t serve the job centers between Downtown and Broadway (“Pill Hill”) that bring the ridership to this route. The steepness between 12th and Broadway would serve to constrain the ridership of Pill Hill employees.

      1. John, I’ve heard this argument many times. As a former downtown->First Hill transfer user, I struggle to understand why someone who worked at any of the hospitals wouldn’t just stay on LINK and take one of the many trolleys up the hill? They’re always packed in the morning, in my experience, with people doing exactly that.

        In other words, if there’s already an existing transportation alternative, and one of the key purposes of streetcars is economic development, how do we lose with the loop route? People have the choice of walking to the streetcar from First Hill hospital destinations, or walking a shorter distance and taking a bus. All the SMP research I saw said rail typically has a 1/4 mile catchment basin, which is roughly a 5-minute walk radius, which is what’s shown on the CDNews link that’s been passed around.

        Given that all of those major institutions already have trip reduction requirements, I would imagine they would strongly encourage their folks to take advantage of the new line. And that little bit of exercise just decreases our overall health care costs anyway :)

      2. Re: 12th St. Alignment

        Great thinking and explanation on this one John. The biggest issue I had with the 12th St. alignment was that it was not close enough to Swedish, Harborview and VM. However, as you astutely pointed out, it would be easier to just catch one of the many buses running up/down the hill.

        With this in light, I think that one of the 12th St. alignments would be the best available routes because it would expand capacity in the north-south corridors in that area. Additionally, it facilitate some infill development along and around 12th.

      3. I just wonder how many First Hill workers will just continue to ride one of the bus routes west to downtown and transfer to Link at University or Pioneer Square instead of using the streetcar line on Broadway. I know the original intent of the streetcar was to appease people for the loss of the station at Broadway and Madison, but I wonder if that is a really good rationale. There’s not as much room on Broadway south of Madison for new development as there is on 12th, and if they just want to get workers to the Capitol Hill station quickly they can just reinstate the #9 trolley bus route. Just my two cents. I hope that they look at both routes and pick the one that has the best ridership forecast and benefits the community the most.

      4. Regarding the goal of providing public transportation for those who work at First Hill hospitals, several observations:
        1. At present there are a number express bus routes that go directly to Harborview, Swedish First Hill, and Virginia Mason Hospitals during morning and afternoon commute times. A streetcar would be a slower alternative to what already exists for most workers.
        2. If the existing Metro bus routes are insufficient or are deleted, couldn’t the hospitals provide a shuttle service from one of the Sound Transit light rail stations as, for example, Microsoft does for its employees, at much less expense than a streetcar route? (Although, if the streetcar route is paid for by the public without contributions from the adjacent property owners, then, admittedly, the streetcar would be less expensive to the hospitals than a shuttle they might have to support.)
        3. Virginia Mason, one of the hospitals cited as benefitting from the streetcar route mapped out above (along Boren and Broadway) is about as close to a light rail station downtown as it would be to a streetcar stop. Most of those workers would not have a good reason to choose the streetcar to connect to light rail.
        4. 12th Avenue is a short walk from the Swedish First Hill campus, and a moderate walk from the Swedish campus at 15th and Jefferson (formerly Providence)
        5. Seattle University is equally close to 12th Avenue as it is to Broadway.
        6. The King County Youth Services Center complex (planned for significant expansion) is on 12th Avenue.

      5. We have talked about the mode preferences of streetcars vs. buses a lot, but needless to say that streetcars are easier to understand, have greater capacity, and attract riders who won’t ride the bus for whatever reason. I am unconvinced that the 12th avenue corridor serves the same purpose as the broadway one. Maybe if it weren’t such a steep walk to Broadway or even to the Swedish campus on 15th, but it is. And you can’t ignore that climb.

        If the bus service is already popular along that corridor then I think it might be time for a mode shift to higher-capacity streetcar.

      6. 1) At present Link isn’t operating. When the streetcar comes on line it will connect with one maybe two stations (depending on if the schedule is accelerated). The streetcar, with high ridership, is very cost effective. The many buses that serve the area are why this route begs for a streetcar as opposed to putting in tracks where there’s little bus service with the idea that it will create the demand.
        2) The hospitals providing shuttle service takes up public space but doesn’t serve everyone that has to share the streets. Cutting down on traffic improves the quality of life for everyone. Plus, there’s a big difference between a software company who’s transportation needs are virtually entirely employees vs hospitals which exist to serve patients (the public paying for the streetcar).
        3) VM is the smallest of the hospital. Swedish is the 800# gorilla and Harborview is the primary public hospital for the region. Swedish Cherry Hill (aka Providence) and VM are smaller hospitals at the outside of the medical center so it doesn’t make sense to torture the route any farther out than Broadway and 12th.
        4,5 & 6)Since all of these are a short walk from either Broadway or 12th it makes sense to cover both. It’s no more expensive, covers the core demand and expands it to a greater area of the neighborhood. A single street can absorb a single track, especially if it’s offset by less buses without becoming an impediment to other users (pedestrians, bikes, car/truck traffic). Since there will be a station at each end it will make little difference to Link commuters which direction they get on.

  11. What would be cool is that if this new line connected to the waterfront line and both the new and the old street cars were used. San Fransisco has a nice collection of vintage cars which they run on their waterfront, not all of which are from the same era.

    If this plan included a maintenance barn, maybe we could have the waterfront system back before the Viaduct was finished. At least for the 4 years it will take to dig the tunnel and with the two lines within a block of each other, even if the cars stopped at 5th & Jackson for most rides, if the maintenance track connected them it would be a major win for the city and the street car system.

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking, though by the time the maintenance barn was built, the Viaduct will be starting to be dismantled and the Waterfront Line probably wouldn’t be able to safely operate. Of course, if the Viaduct dismantling is delayed for the tunnel to be finished, then maybe this will give enough time to justify bringing the Waterfront route back until the dismantling begins. However, it just doesn’t seem like any of the powers that be have any interest in bringing the Waterfront line back, and they will always have plenty of excuses not to do so.

  12. I think TOD is backwards. It’s emphasis on development is control of public money to finance private ventures. The public needs to start letting our politicians know that want we need is DOT; Demand Oriented Transit. That said, this route screams out for a streetcar and starting construction next year is none too soon.

    The couplet looks to be the best plan here. Transit times aren’t adversely affect and neither is cost. The lower impact of a single track vs. double track on traffic and pedestrians is huge. With a link station at each end I think the only issue is will 3 cars be enough. The loop cuts right through the heart of the medical center which is the primary purpose for the route. Leaving out Harbor View would be totally irresponsible for public transit. SU and Seattle Central are a bonus. Keep in mind that there is a lot of travel between the different hospital throughout the day and college traffic doesn’t conform to typical peak commute either. And since Capitol Hill seems to “come out at night” this route should see high use at all times.

    I’m willing to bet the cost for the streetcar ends up being less than if they had put in a single Link station and the service is way better (better for Link too). This is how it’s supposed to be done!

    1. All transportation is demand-oriented but inevitably that transportation fuels further demand. TOD is a natural extension of that. Light rail isn’t going to Gold Bar for that reason (the demand doesn’t exist), but is following I-5, I-90, and SR-520 — past transportation corridors that were created to demand and of course created much more demand (sprawl, urban growth, etc).

    2. Maybe the bids will be so low that they can afford to build two lines. :-) Just wishful thinking. I really do hope they can come up with the money to extend the streetcar to Aloha. There is already a nice turn-around loop there. I was kind of surprised that the Link alignment they chose didn’t include a north Capitol Hill station.

      I do agree that the First Hill Link station could have been a real construction disaster. I’m glad they had they nixed it and focused on building a better alignment to Capitol Hill and the UW. I’m sure the streetcar will cost much, much less than that station would have.

      1. Yes making it go further north would be good. I’ve heard that they couldn’t have a North Capitol Hill Station because of soil conditions.

  13. There’s an excellent article on the history of trams in Zurich here:


    Zurich had a horrible traffic problem in the 70’s and their solution was going to be an underground metro system. The voters rejected it in favor of a streetcar system. Zurich now has one of the highest transit modal splits in the world and the city is very much defined by the streetcar routes. I’ve ridden the system several times and found it to be very fast and efficient for a system that runs in mixed traffic at grade. Zurich is similar in size to Seattle and it is also geographically constrained like Seattle. However, one thing that Zurich has that makes transit effective is an excellent commuter rail system bringing people in to the city. They also have stricter land use laws and a prohibition on the creation of any new parking within the city.

  14. Well thank god we have a government agency planning this. For the commenters who wondered whether the planning had started or if it could be done on time, what part of “running by 2012” do you not understand? Of course, I could be suffering from wishful thinking and learn that there is still a long period of public comment to go through. And wouldn’t that be fun.

    You can go to SF and ride a streetcar up a steeper hill than the south end of Boren.

    The big thing on this route is to get as close to the hospitals as they can. Yeah, I know young people are all like “Can it go past the bars?”, but hospitals are big businesses, institutions that have outlasted everything else on the hill, and a lot of people going to them have, y’know, health problems which make it desirable to make it as easy as possible for wheelchair users and people who have trouble walking.

    Once again, it seems entirely obvious that this trolley should connect with a waterfront trolley running at least as far as Pier 90 where the cruise ships will dock. I guess we need to honor George Benson by making some noise.

    1. I 100% agree with you about the hospitals. That actually makes going up Madison somehow (not really possible, but whatever).

      You say people get health problems sometimes. Sure they do, but a ton of people even work in hospitals all the time.

      1. Yes, and most of the people who work in hospitals are on their feet all day. Let me tell you, there is nothing that will make you less enthusiastic about a bus ride than spending your day on your feet serving the public, and then getting on a packed bus.

    2. Re: wheelchair users: almost every time I’ve been on a bus to or from First Hill, there’s been a rider in a wheelchair. Most of the buses going up the hill are high-floor trolley buses, meaning the wheelchair coming on and off the bus is about 1.5 minute proposition. A platform-level, multi-door, wide-door streetcar will be able to handle wheelchairs much, much more quickly.

  15. Thanks for remembering my presentation to the Sound Transit Board. After surveying the slope of Boren Ave., I researched the Seattle archives for the most recent official survey of the portion of Boren that is in the proposed streetcar right-of-way. At the time, the newest survey had been completed in 1944. The information for my presentation to the Board came from this survey. The gradient shown at that time was well over 10 percent.

    After the presentation, Ethan Melone wrote in an email that Inekon, the manufacturer of the SLU streetcar, states that their streetcar can operate on gradients up to 9 percent. Later, a Seattle Public Utilities re-survey found the gradient to be about 8.7 percent.

    This is a gradient the streetcar can barely manage-in good weather. But in rainy or snowy weather, the rails will be slippery. Sand can’t be used to improve traction because it electrically insulates the streetcar wheels from the tracks. That cuts the power to the streetcar. Also, the sand accumulates in the rail groove causing the wheels to derail. Practically speaking, the tracks on Boren Ave. would be unusable during inclement weather. A trolleybus would need to substitute during these times. But if you have to run a trolleybus part of the time, why not run a trolleybus all of the time. It sure would save money.

    All those advocating for tracks on E 12th Ave. have a good argument. At the original City Council Transportation Committee meeting for the First Hill streetcar line, everyone that spoke on the route suggested running on E 12th Ave. Then Union Ave. could be used to connect E 12th with Broadway. E 12th is ripe for re-development. Broadway has been mostly redeveloped.

    I hope the public transportation problems of this past winter have not been forgotten. In my view, a streetcar line is best on E 12th and a trolleybus line on Boren (to keep Sound Transit happy). Otherwise, it’s “slip, slidin’ away” on Boren.

    1. How about going down? With the counterclockwise 12th/Broadway loop shown the trolley would always be going down Boren. It seems like there might still be an issue with stopping but an auxiliary braking system would be easier to implement than a traction system.

      Also, how much of a problem is water? Doesn’t the weight of the trolley pretty much squeeze out the water and maintain steel to steel contact?

      How did the old Yesler Way route operate, was it actually a cable car?

      FWIW I looked the topo map and a rough estimate for the average grade worked out to 7.2%. I’m quite sure that would put the maximum at something over 8% so this is a real issue. Is there regrading work planned? That might take care of the traction issue and provide grade separation to improve system travel times.

  16. My only comment here is that ST2 was QUITE clear on what this project is – a means of connecting major employment centers on First Hill to the regional transit system @ IDS and capitol hill. This is NOT a redevelopment project for 12th ave. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT DESIGNED TO BE A PANACEA FOR 12th Ave dreams. The folks on 12th ave that are starved for transit service need to address their need to the appropriate provider: metro.

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