Capitol Hill Seattle is arguing for a 12th Ave alignment for the First Hill streetcar. The post is a good argument for streetcars in general, but I’ve never found the 12th Ave alignment that compelling. Sure, 12th Avenue is an up-and-coming area with plenty of development opportunities on the Central District (eastern) side, and the streetcar could really anchor the district. And I agree with CHS that the Broadway alignment is not the best choice. But I see three big reasons why a First Hill routing, particularly, the Madison and Boren routing shown in Oran’s awesome map, is preferable.
Sound Transit originally had a station planned for First Hill, and the first “preferred” alignment for North Link in 2004 included a station on First Hill between Westlake and Capitol Hill. However, preliminary engineering found a ton of potential problems with such an alignment, mainly due to soil conditions under the hill and the close turn-around south from Westlake and back north toward Capitol Hill. The station was dropped, and Sound Transit added the streetcar to ST2 to ensure First Hill would retain a rail connection to the rest of the region. So First Hill is sort of “owed” the line, and the Madison-Boren routing covers the largest portion of area, providing the best replacement for a station there.
First Hill already has a ton of jobs at the hospitals there, and many more at the many clincs and the handful of medical office towers. If you take a look at Oran’s amazing map, you can see that most of the hospitals, as well as the huge office office on Madison, would be within a couple of blocks of the Boren-Madison alignment. Along with the high-rise apartment buildings in that neighborhood, there is already the potential to be all-day activity on the street that could make the First Hill streetcar get a ton of riders.
First Hill also has one of the best opportunities for transit oriented development in the city. Outside of the low-lying areas in and around downtown, it’s the only area in the city with high-rise zoning. A number of fairly serious high-rises went up in that district during the last development boom, and a streetcar there could drive more development for the next cycle. Since First Hill is currently about half-filled with parking lots, there’s still a ton of space for new TOD and with the higher zoning – some areas as high as 300 feet – the potential development in square footage terms is vastly higher there than on 12th Avenue. The 12th Ave line would also barely touch the massive re-development of Yesler Terrace that will put thousands of units of housing along with a million or so square feet of office space, but going up Boren would ensure connectivity to most of that neighborhood.
First Hill is just too important a part of Seattle to not have a rail connection to the rest of the city. With high-rise zoning, the TOD opportunities are huge, and the area’s already a major employment center. Veering a bit West of Broadway can help the First Hill Streetcar get more bang for the buck and fulfill Sound Transit’s promise for the neighborhood. 12th Avenue can wait.