First Hill Streetcar Map
First Hill Streetcar, by Oran

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.

132 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Alignment”

    1. Sound Transit is broke! They could use Oran’s maps as they are now, as Oran very generously licenses most (if not all) of his content with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license–meaning that anyone is free to use and modify his work so long as they a) give him credit and b) if they modify it, they have to share their modified work under the same license. I think the only reason they don’t do this is that it wouldn’t look very professional if they make brochures, flyers, etc. and have a caption that says “Map created by
      Oran Viriyincy”. Don’t get me wrong though–they definitely should! Oran’s maps are so incredibly readable and I’d write more, but I’m tired.

      1. London Transport paid the guy who created the classic Tube map a measly small amount and didn’t properly credit him for years so I won’t be too bitter if they just took it ;). Sound Transit did take my ST 2023 map and made their own version, which contained some flaws I fixed in later versions.

    2. The map is amazing. It’s the reason I wrote the post. I saw that map and said to myself “I need to write that post now, that map is perfect.”

  1. Add a 4th reason. The intersection where Union, Madison, AND 12th Ave all merge is much more dificult to get through than Madison/Broadway.
    Trolley routes 2 and 12 have to negotiate some difficult turns and switches in the overhead wire to make those street and lane changes. If streetcars are given signal priority, the existing cars and trolleys would have a longer queue to get through.

    1. BTW, credit Wayne Hom, retired Senior Scheduler at Metro, for many of the old maps Oran uses as a base. Oran is plowing new tracks in the snow, as have other ‘transit junkies’ in the past have.

      1. For the record, the only overhead map from Wayne Hom I’ve used is for the physical overhead trolley system and I credit him on the map. All the other maps were derived from GIS sources, current route maps, and other planning documents. It is worth nothing that the streets in this map were from OpenStreetMap, also Creative Commons licensed. The streetcar and light rail route were from a previous Sound Transit map posted on this blog, trolley routes from their maps on the Metro web site, and proposed alternate routes from each community group. This is disclosed on the map’s Flickr page.

      2. Sorry Oran. Your work is fantastic, and I only meant the comment to praise you and Wayne in general, as providing unique and new ways to look at things.
        My apologies.

      3. Apology accepted, its really hard to tell what people mean online and thanks for the compliments :). I wonder what’s Wayne doing nowadays?

      4. Well retired, and seeing the world thru the eyes of a hopeless “transit Junkie”.

    1. In the grand scheme of things, not too much more complex.

      And the First Hill Streetcar is part of the promise made to the First Hill stakeholders when they deleted the First Hill Station.

    2. Yes, rail in the street is a very good place to start. It’s an ‘anchor development’ that Nordstrom’s can’t match. It’s a promise you can believe in. It’s not like those bus improvements for 2008 that disappeared in the rising tide of fuel prices. It’s something a pedestrian can see, and walk along until they reach a trolley stop. There are even some drivers so hyper-alert that when they see rails in the street they think “Gee, there might be a train around here”.

      And it doesn’t hurt that when they put the rails in the street they will also rebuild the street to 21st century standards. Some of those streets up there are about 100 years overdue for that.

      1. “It’s not like those bus improvements for 2008 that disappeared in the rising tide of fuel prices.”

        Streetcar trips can be eliminated too if there’s not enough money to operate them.

        I wish Metro would stop operating the SLUT due to the budget shortfall, to avoid making cuts to more useful routes that don’t have other buses on the same street.

      2. The city of Seattle pays 100% of the cost of the SLUT, so it’s not like it costs metro money to operate it.

      3. Not for long. As part of the whole LINK rigamarole Metro will start picking up 75% of SLUT costs in September. That’s where most of Route 42’s hours are going.

      4. Given that the SLUT has higher ridership per revenue mile than most other Metro routes, it would not be cost effective to stop operating it. Anyway, Metro doesn’t fund it, so it’s not part of the picture. The new streetcar is the same – it’s not funded by Metro, so Metro cuts won’t affect it.

      5. So what’s going to happen to the PacMed building when Amazon vacates? Columbia Tower and Union Station should be able to fill their space relatively easy but the PacMed building, while way cool, is isolated. Link missed it by a mile and the 1st Hill street car will be a mile north. What will happen to the old lady on the hill?

      6. PacMed hasn’t been a viable hospital for about 30 years. It’s a historical landmark and anchor with clinics for an underserved neighborhood and office space.

        It used to be the Marine Hospital with free care for any American merchant mariner or fisherman who got sick. The care was proved in 18 and 24 bed wards. The funding for care and the nature of medicine changed over the years. In 1983 I got a tour when I applied for employment as a nurse. It was a scrupulously clean and elegant ghost town.

        Which is as it should be. Primary care to the community with clinics and the maintenance of community landmarks is a much more effective way of maintaining public health than hospitalization.

      7. It isn’t the cost of the fuel that makes extra buses expensive when high gas prices increase transit use. In fact, per gallon, riders become more profitable in full buses.

        The problem is, to add riders you need to add buses, and with every bus you need a trained driver. Labor costs go through the roof and it’s hard to maintain a pool of highly qualified ‘temp’ drivers for employment on split-shifts.

        In contrast, you can add 50% or 100% to the ridership for a train driver by adding cars. Trolleys have more standing capacity, speeds can be increased, and headways decreased, and platform times are shorter. This all adds up to more capacity for the same labor costs when ridership rises.

  2. SDOT just resurfaced Madison last year. I remember being out there last summer laying out the lanes for it. A new streetcar would likely require removing a short stretch of pavement.

    What the map doesn’t show are the non-trolley bus routes: 9 Broadway-Rainier Express, 27 Yesler-Colman Park, 60, and the express commuter routes 64 Lake City-First Hill, 205 UW-First Hill-Mercer Island, 211 Eastgate P&R, 303 Shoreline-Northgate, 941 Kent-Des Moines.

    The 60 in particular takes Madison and 9th, passes right in front of Harborview, and Yesler Terrace before continuing to Beacon Hill, Georgetown, and White Center. It runs through the neighborhood but only every 30 minutes.

    The Madison-Boren routing is an idea proposed and supported by the First Hill Improvement Association.

    Also, in the community proposals, it seems that people want a few more stops than the 13 proposed by Sound Transit.

      1. It makes it slower, but not as slow. Because fare payment doesn’t happen at the time of boarding, and wheelchair access is more direct, you don’t see a lot of the issues you do that slow down buses.

      2. In comparison to stop spacing, those issues are minimal. I’ll take a bus with slow wheelchair access and pay-as-you board that stops every 1/4 – 1/2 mile over a streetcar that stops every 1/10 mile any day of the week.

  3. Okay, here’s my question: If the trolley is going to use bus-compatible overhead wire infrastructure, doesn’t the Boren routing mean putting wire on a street that doesn’t currently have it?

    1. There are wires on Boren from Jackson to Broadway largely because the 9 was originally electrically powered, but also as a back way to the base from Capital Hill w/o having to go through the CBD.

      1. Sorry, hit send too soon.

        But north of Broadway there are only wires crossing Boren (except for way further north between Virginia and Stewart where the 70 travels along Boren for a bit).

      2. Well, I’d imagine we’ll reconfigure a lot of it anyway. I don’t know, does the electrical infrastructure need wholesale replacement for the streetcar?

    2. Also, will that mean that they can’t run those streetcars and the SLUT interchangeably once they are linked via 1st Ave?

  4. Will this use the same tech as Tacoma Link or will it use the SLUT tech, like the other planned Seattle streetcar lines?

    And will it be painted in ST colours? (important question! :D) I like the blue waves…

    1. SLUT and Tacoma Link use the same sort of cars, so the technology is the same. It would be owned by the city, so it might get Seattle Branding.

      1. It’ll have the same branding as the existing Seattle streetcar, but may have an ST logo. I was just asking city folks about this.

        I think it’ll run on double wire rather than single, though.

      2. By double wire, I assume you mean catenary and carrier (one over the other), not side by side as in a trolley bus.

      3. I do mean side by side. It will share right of way with a couple of buses. This allows us to later make Broadway and 12th, say, one way couplets, while still having two way bus service on Broadway.

      4. You wanna see some awesome fireworks?

        Have a pole touch both trolley wires at once!

        Ben: I gather you’re thinking of having the trolley touch the +650-700vdc bus wire, right? That can be done, but requires using a trolley pole and shoe.

        So in other words, the waterfront streetcar cars could do it now, but to have Inetkon (did I get that right?) build a streetcar to do it would make the first hill cars incompatible with the rest of the streetcar network (except the existing waterfront streetcar infrastructure).

      5. I remember during the SLU Streetcar inauguration while the Mayor was speaking the #70s trolley pole crossed the streetcar wire and a huge pop and sparks were heard. Stopped the crowd for a moment.

  5. Does the dotted line between Pine and Yesler means that northbound runs on 12th and southbound on Bway? The SLUT does this too, going out one way on Terry and returning on Westlake. What’s the advantage to doing this?

    It always struck me as confusing, especially if you don’t use the trolley every day. It’s more intuitive to have the entire line on the same route. And having one way service doesn’t expand the coverage area, as it’s hard to justify going in a circle.

    1. The dotted lines represent the 3 different route plans. One all along broadway, one on Madison/Boren and one on 12th. The streetcar will take only one of these routes.

      It does split, like the SLUT, on Jackson and King street. But that’s only a block away, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

      The dotted line to the north is a potential future expansion.

    2. There’s another alternative proposed by a community group not shown on the map which is the 12th Ave/Broadway Loop. It would follow 12th Ave and right on to E John and turn back down Broadway.

      You can see the original map at Central District News:

      Portland Streetcar and MAX do the same thing but they’re on one way streets. Probably to encourage more walking? It’s just a block. Not so for the 12th Ave/Broadway loop.

      1. There’s also a hill there, so the couple of blocks is more walking than it seems.

  6. I have reservations about the Boren/Madison alignment. That intersection is highly congested, and running the streetcar through there would make the streetcar schedule unreliable at best.

    For the same reasons, I think running the streetcar down Broadway would be a mistake. I’ve seen traffic consistently back up from the Broadway/John intersection a block and a half long. But I think a Broadway alignment would bring massive amounts of riders to the streetcar, especially with connections to SCCC, the light rail station, and First Hill.

    But don’t dismiss a 12th Avenue alignment out of hand either. The area is becoming densely developed and is midway between the Broadway and 15th Avenue business districts. I guess the question is how many would walk from 15th or Broadway to a streetcar on 12th? But 12th connects Volunteer Park, the Pike/Pine corridor, Seattle U, Little Saigon, and the International District. With all of the bus routes on 15th and Broadway, perhaps 12th is the best.

    This is a long way of saying I don’t know what I prefer. :)

    1. 12th ave is a little crummy for walking, since 15th is up a hill (hard walk) and so is broadyway, so I think it stinks for walkability.

      12th is developing, sure, but not high-rises. The density on First Hill, especially in terms of jobs, is going to remain higher for a very long time.

      1. I wouldn’t over-emphasize the hill issue. I live on 11th and walk to 15th all the time. It’s not that bad.

        I agree that First Hill has more density, but I don’t think that outweighs the problems the line will face if you run it through Boren/Madison. Broadway is likely the best of the three choices.

      2. I agree that Broadway is the most likely, but I think the boren/madison problem can be sorted out. Take a look at SF, there are really busy streets with streetcars running in them.

      3. Yes, if you are young and healthy, walking is no problem. For people in wheelchairs, or pushing wheelchairs, walking is a problem.

        You may have seen someone use a handicapped parking sot at the grocery store and you couldn’t see what was wrong with them. They seemed to walk just fine for a hundred feet getting in and out of the store. If you had their heart, or their lungs, or their swollen legs, you might understand a little more bout how hills become a problem.

    2. If automobile traffic is given priority over (or thought to be more important than) transit, then yes there will be problems at intersections in this denser area of our city. In the 21st Century we must reduce the use, importance and priority given to autos which are a sad but omnipresent pest left over from the 20th Century. Prioritize the intersections for transit, make walking and transit use frequent and desireable activities, and convert the subsidized on-street parking to bike lanes – we’ll all be better off.

  7. The real question is, who will ride it? It’s touted as a connection for First Hill workers and residents to get to/from Link light rail. But, for most people, riding one of the trolley bus routes or walking to downtown will still be a faster connection. Is anybody going to want to increase their trip time just to ride on the streetcar? First Hill is already well served by transit, what will the streetcar really add? The streetcar isn’t really a good surrogate for a light rail station on the hill. I would rather see it running on 12th where it will be adding transit capacity rather than duplicating it.

    They’re also talking about running single-ended cars with trolley poles instead of pantographs, which would make them incompatible with the rest of the (eventual) streetcar system.

      1. The 60 runs every half hour, and the 9 runs weekdays and not very late. This will be pretty significantly different. :)

      2. The 49 follows that route for just a few blocks.

        People are focusing way too hard on First Hill. Yes, it needs to serve that area — but it also serves Capitol Hill and the ID. Anyone who has a job along Jackson or in First/Capitol Hill could take Link to the ID station and finish their ride on the streetcar. If it opens early, the line effectively brings Link to Capitol Hill years ahead of schedule. So we just can’t ignore the ID connection.

        How would you get from the ID station to First Hill via bus?

      3. How would you get from the ID station to First Hill via bus?

        Right now you can get there directly by boarding buses that say “to Route 43 via Broadway” but those buses are really sparse.

        The opposite direction is the same, board any bus going to “Atlantic Base” or “Intl Dist”.

        Otherwise, you need a transfer.

      4. When the bus pulls over and stops and opents its door – put your foot up the step, followed by the other foot up the next step, and so on. That’s what folks do on 3rd Avenue downtown as I’m doing my last run from Queen Anne on the 13 headed south.

        If the bus is on Capital or First Hill headed North – stand at a stop and stick your arm out. Wiggling your hand a bit can help, too.

      5. If I was trying to get from anywhere south to capitol hill, or to get from capitol hill (where I live) to Link, I would never for a moment consider taking the streetcar, no matter which of the alignments is chosen, to the ID. I would take the 49, 14, 10, 12, or 43 to Westlake and board Link there. As “cool” as the streetcar is, each of those routes provides a much, much shorter trip to link than any of the Steetcar routes does. So to suggest that building the Streetcar is going to “bring link to capitol hill faster” is a stretch. I might use the steetcar to get from Capitol Hill to First Hill or the ID, but not to Link.

    1. A lot of people don’t understand that health care workers spend their whole day on their feet working with the public. For a lot of us, a good stiff walk at the end of the day or standing in a crowd on a lurching swaying bus (so we can stand and wait to transfer in the fumes of downtown) would not be the first choice.

      Standing on a trolley is different because the ride is better and the crush crowds are less frequent. Standing on a trolley that takes us to a LINK that takes us 90% of the rest of the way would be heaven.

      1. Then how about a Seneca/Boren alignment to better serve Virginia Mason? It has the added advantage of serving more of First Hill and avoiding having to turn THROUGH the Madison/Boren intersection. It has the added DISadvantage of not serving Seattle U at all, further screwing me, and – perhaps most important – coming rather close to duplicating the 49 and 2 to varying extents.

      2. The Broadway alignment runs alongside quite a bit of Seattle U property…

      3. So you’re going to walk farther and stand for longer just because the ride is smoother? I don’t think that most people will make that same decision. People will choose the streetcar if it comes sufficiently close to them and if the length of their trip is comparable to the alternatives. That’s why it’s critical that they choose an alignment that both serves the densest area and is quick and reliable. There are so many transit options on First Hill that the streetcar will have a hard time capturing riders unless it offers a significant advantage over the alternatives.

      4. On the contrary, when given different ride qualities, people do change systems. This is already happening with bus service and the Connector – the Connector has very hard shocks compared to a Metro or ST bus, and people dislike the poor ride and are switching back to Joe Metro. A train is a completely different animal than a bus to ride.

      5. That wasn’t my point. I know the merits of streetcars. I’m just doubting how many riders a First Hill streetcar will capture given the number of bus routes serving the hill. I ride the SLUT because it is better qualitatively than the #70, but I wouldn’t if I had to walk 3 more blocks or if it took a considerably longer time than the #70. Hypothetically, if you worked on First Hill and wanted to connect to Link on a daily basis would you choose a 3-5 minute bus ride or a 10-15 minute streetcar ride? I think that people usually consider time and reliability first and comfort second. For a First Hill streetcar to be successful it has to do more than just exist.

        As for the Portland Streetcar, it was built in an undeveloped area to spur development. It wasn’t shoehorned into an already developed area with plenty of bus service. The Pearl District was developed around the streetcar, that’s why it has been so successful. The Pearl has more in common with the 12th Avenue area than it does with First Hill. That’s why I’d rather see the streetcar on 12th. Let’s use the opportunity to build a new transit-oriented district rather than spending a lot of money to duplicate bus service on First Hill.

      6. Is there a single bus route right now that will serve/serves Link or Sounder ridership or is the mere existence of buses on First Hill prove that it is adequately connected to all modes?

        Broadway south of Madison is a pretty undeveloped area, as is the Jackson corridor. Of course Broadway north of Union is very heavily developed, but the streetcar will run there regardless of the alignment.

      7. Metro has Route 211 come from I-90, serve the Sounder station then head to First Hill. The schedule works reasonably well with the trains.

      8. Schedule reliability and headways are something to consider as well. If I’m trying to get to First Hill the fact that I don’t have a huge wait for a transfer and I have signs telling me when the next car is are huge.

        For most of the day the schedule on the 2, 3, 4, and 12 is essentially meaningless. The bus shows up when it shows up and gets you there when it gets you there.

        A streetcar will have less of a wait on transfers and should be more reliable.

      9. Yeah, that’s a tough question all right…a few level blocks through a leafy neighborhood to a modern trolley, or board the standing-room only bus for the ride down the Hill of Doom?

        Wait a minute! That’s not a hard question at all!

    2. First Hill is already well served by transit, what will the streetcar really add?

      Shouldn’t the amount of existing service that a streetcar could replace be factored into any decision so that those resources can be deployed elsewhere?

      1. That’s true, and I’m sure it’s taken into account when the official analysis is done. But I can’t see any of the First Hill routes being reduced when the streetcar comes online. The majority of the routes go through First Hill east to west, except the #9 and #60, on their way to other neighborhoods. They’re not going to reduce service to Madison Park and the CD because of a new N-S streetcar line.

  8. The Boren/Madison alignment would kind of screw me, as a Seattle University student constantly screwed by the bus system (the only reason we get any bus service at all, other than a few sometimes-perplexing commuter routes, is because we’re so close to downtown and several routes serve us incidentially – I’m still pissed about the 9 getting truncated so it doesn’t serve the U District), as it would only connect to campus at the corner of Broadway and Madison, though that’s the most accessible place to enter campus in most circumstances anyway because Broadway is in the process of going up a very steep hill south of there. The best alignment for *me* would be 12th avenue, but it probably wouldn’t be best in the big picture…

    1. Pulleeze. If you had a class at Kane Hall and ate lunch at the Hub, you’d be walking further than you do to cross the entire SU campus. God forbid you should have an anthro class at Kane and microbiology at Health Sciences. Do you look good in spandex and in-line skates? That’s how some Huskies do it.

      1. I used to have a class at Health Sciences and immediately after a class in the business building (I forgot the name) at the far north end of the quad. That’s like walking from SU to downtown in 10 minutes each day

      2. That argument cuts both ways. Hospital workers can walk the whole three blocks to catch a street car on 12th. Or Broadway.

      3. It’s not three blocks from Virginia Mason to 12th ave, and it’s uphill (and downhill) both directions. Might as well walk from Downtown.

      4. 12th Ave routing wouldn’t serve the hospitals (the job centers) that this streetcar route is supposed to serve. Hills make that ridership impossible. It’s just a bad idea.

        At the very least, the Broadway alignment doesn’t require uphill walks both ways for those on 12th or those who work in a hospital.

      5. Broadway is probably what we’re going to get, not so much because it serves 12th ave better, but because it’s the only street wide enough to carry the streetcars and cars.

        Still, I think if you’re options are serve (for on example) new yesler terrace or 12th ave, you pick new yesler terrace just because there’s more people. etc etc.

      6. Broadway is probably what we’re going to get, not so much because it serves 12th ave better, but because it’s the only street wide enough to carry the streetcars and cars.

        That’s one of the things that looked good about the 12th/Broadway loop; far less impact on any one street. Maybe 12th and 14th could be made one way to further reduce conflict?

        The hospitals are the most important stops for this SC line. The Madison Shuffle gets you closer to Virgina Mason and Harborview. Spring & Terry would be closer yet and might reduce traffic conflict. Would it then be possible to return to the ID via Yesler and 5th? Eventually the goal should be to create a transit only lane for the alignment. I don’t think that would be possible without a loop.

      7. Hospital workers, who spend their days on their feet, are not the same as students, who impatiently leap from their chairs at the end of the 50-minute hour.

        And of course, there are the patients. Y’know, people who come to clinics because they’re not in good health.

  9. I just want to see them build it right. The success, or failure, of this line will have a huge impact on public opinion of streetcars in Seattle and will definitely affect the city’s ability to build future lines. The public’s opinion of the South Lake Union line is tepid at best, so the city needs to take this opportunity to show how well streetcars can work.

    1. Ah, the “concern troll”. Not to worry, Zed, history will little note nor long remember what we do here today.

      In spite of the wailing and gnashing of teeth by bicyclists (who never rode in South Lake Union when the old rails in the broken pavement made it more than your life was worth), the Paul Allen-haters (a hardy perennial sprouting regardless of season where the noxious hand of Paul Allen may be imagined) and the ever-present scofflawus parkititus, another Seattle perennial, the city appears to like the trolley and ridership has exceeded expectations.

      This line is being built to do a job. The First Avenue line will be built to do a job. The job is not “re-inventing the wheel as we know it” or “a revolution in transportation”. Both of these lines will probably do their jobs about as well as the rest of us do ours- not perfectly, but good enough.

      As long as we don’t ask them to do too much.

      1. I think he was teasing. You’re right, though, that the perception of the line matters is what builds support to build new lines.

      2. reading this one laaaate: FYI a ‘concern troll’ is different from a regular troll/flamer –

  10. Oran again awesome job. I really like the 12th ave alignment. I hear what you all are saying about the boren/madison setup but looking at the rest of the transit options avail to those who already live in CD the 14/3/4/2 routes are kinda far apart compared with the plethora/proximity of routes running through the boren/madison area. In addition that area already is pretty well developed and has those amenities that we in the CD would love to see sprout up…having a direct connect to the LR station and the multimodal King Street Station would be amazing in the CD. Plus it looks like a streetcar on 12 would be much much less expensive and less congestive than the boren/madison or broadway option–which is already a very busy street. Putting someone within striking distance of other trolleybus and bus routes make it a lot more likely to have extremely ridership.

    1. The 12th alignment would require building a lot of new electrical infrastructure where none currently exists, so I suspect due to cost it won’t happen. It also essentially misses a couple of major medical facilities – I believe ridership would be lower.

  11. Does anybody spend any time on Boren Ave.? Either as a motorist or a pedestrian? It’s an ugly, slow, congested, pedestrian-unfriendly street. During the PM rush hour, Boren becomes a major freeway access route, and traffic slows to a crawl.

    It may look fine as a line on a map but in the real world, it’s the last place I’d invest in a new streetcar line. Don’t forget, we’re only getting a streetcar line here, not a complete street makeover like ST did to MLK.

    I humbly suggest keeping the carline on Broadway to Yesler, then down to 12th. If Seattle Housing Authority proposes a new street grid for their Yesler Terrace rebuild project, then work with them to find an optimum route.

      1. Thanks, Andrew. Can we PLEASE get over looking at problems based on how much traffic there is now or was in the 20th Century, and start thinking about how Seattle will look in the future with fewer cars clogging our city and more transit/bicycle/pedestrian oriented streets?

      2. No so fast. As Zed pointed out “The public’s opinion of the South Lake Union line is tepid at best, so the city needs to take this opportunity to show how well streetcars can work.” That means hit the ground running. However, WSDOT and City of Seattle have had in the works for a while now a plan to eliminate some of the downtown I-5 exits/on ramps. I don’t know specifically which ones. It could make Boren better or worse. I’m sure the City has taken this into account even if it hasn’t been communicated very well to the public.

        As far as reducing the number of cars I can only believe it’s going to get worse, probably a lot worse, before the public finally says enough and measures like congestion pricing in London and/or the Green Zone in Berlin are adopted here. Our politicos still think a billion dollars a mile for a four lane road is a grand idea!

      3. If we want to look at more bicycle-oriented streets, will the new lines learn from the mistakes of the SLUT?

        S Jackson and S King Street are the two best bicycle routes to the I-90 bicycle trail from the bus tunnel and King Street Station. Will trolley rails be installed with bicycle traffic in mind this time?

        When the South Lake Union lines went in and started causing bicycle accidents, many people asked why no flange gap filler was used where the rails had to run in the right lane of popular cycling routes. The city claimed there wasn’t a viable product available, manufacturers disagreed and said they had just the thing for it.

        Does anyone know what bicycle-friendly mitigation would be used if Jackson and King get tracks?

      4. What exactly do you want them to do with the rails to make them bicycle-friendly? Portland has three different sets of light rail system tracks going through their flat downtown, with much higher cycling rates than we do, and they don’t have all the complaining we do.

        I really think this is just a matter of riding next to the rails instead of in them.

      5. Portland is putting more of the streetcar work in left or center lanes as opposed to the right-most lanes that bicyclists ride in. I’m not sure if all of Portland’s work follows this guideline, but that’s a biggie.

      6. That’s something I’d like to see on Broadway as well. It would also make it easier to use the outside edge space when closing the street for events.

      7. Put the trolley tracks in the left or center lane, not the right lane.

        Where trolley tracks must cross the right lane, and through intersections where cyclists must turn across the tracks, use compressible flange gap filler.

        Where trolley tracks must be put in the right lane, put sharrows and signage directing cyclists into other lanes, and alerting motorists that cyclists don’t belong in the right lane with the tracks.

        If it didn’t mean re-doing the existing tracks, use one of the other commercially available trolley track profiles with a narrower flange gap to reduce entrapment of bicycles and wheelchairs.

      8. But for this route you’re putting down all new track, to the best of my knowledge…or were you meaning the SLUT tracks, Josh?

        In any case – Seattle’s official policy going forward is supposed to be no more right-lane streetcar tracks.

      9. I’m assuming, I’d be happy to be wrong, that they’ll stick with the SLUT track profile to keep the systems consistent. If they can use a narrower flange gap on new installations, they certainly should.

        As I was riding up King Street this morning, I paid more attention to the existing width. If there was political will to eliminate on-street parking, I suspect there’s room for a trolley up the middle with decent landing platforms, and still reasonable traffic lanes each side of the trolley.

      10. I’m by no means pro-auto, but I agree with Transit Guy.

        For me, how do you reconfigure the Boren/Madison intersection to accommodate 90 degree turns by a street car without essentially destroying the function of that intersection? If you want to run that route, run the street car on Terry or Minor then turn on Madison.

  12. The Broadway route by far serves the most people, with the huge number of people working at and going to the hospitals and other amenities on the west side of Broadway(many of whom really can’t walk those few blocks up the hill) while also serving Seattle University, Yesler Terrace, Harborview, and many other attractions. The argument that there is density near 12th is negated by the fact that there is more density near Broadway.
    Also, although Boren/Madison looks good on the map, Madison is too narrow for the tracks to turn there, and also Madison can get extremely congested. It’s better to put it on broader streets and give it a straighter route.

    1. Chiming in late:
      So don’t turn at Madison or Boren. You can’t argue Broadway serves more than FH: there just isn’t the data to support such a claim. The heart of First Hill (say, Minor to Seneca) holds both more current density and several magnitudes of potential growth. I could care less about the hospitals -that is, relative to- how many people LIVE in the center of First Hill and the terrible existing public transit travel times (per, First hill trips to work take longer than 12th ave neighborhood trips to work). That, and a google maps search of aerial pics showing WAY too many parking lots…Oy
      Using Minor also prevents the streetcar from having to cross Boren at all. ;)

  13. There is currently a van service for Harbor view workers from S. King street at the Union Street station to harborview morning and evening. Runs about every 10 to 15 minutes with what looks to me like a full load. A street car that moves those workers down to the Tunnel that is patroled during the operating hours would make this service superfluous and save us money! (well reallocate it to a direct transit.) The Block between Boran and Harborview isn’t too bad even in the evening but the walk down the backside of the hill on Yesler isn’t great.

    If I had my choice I’d move the two stops to as close to Harborview and to Swedish as I could both for the patients as well as the workers.

    1. There is also the Health Sciences Express which runs from various U-District locations (D-Wing, UW Tower, Roosevelt) to Harborview every 15 minutes, 6am to 6pm. There seem to be a decent number of North Seattle commuters that transfer to it from Metro the couple of times I’ve used it in the morning.

  14. The Boren/Madison route is crazy. That will turn out to be the slowest and most expensive option. People west of Broadway will have much quicker transit times to light rail by taking one of the many buses heading to and from downtown.

    The lost “First Hill” light rail station was at the corner of that neighborhood at Madison & Broadway. It actually sat at the corner of three neighborhoods (First Hill, Capitol Hill, and the CD). So it seems like its replacement should have similarly broad coverage, and not be tortured to focus exclusively on the institutional belt of First Hill.

    Also remember that this is likely the only streetcar project that will not require LID taxes on neighboring properties. Therefore it’s an opportunity to design an alignment that will drive positive pedestrian friendly development around it. 12th Ave offers a lot of opportunity there, even if it won’t be composed of 20 story high-rises (plenty of people can live in the 3-6 story apartments that are under consideration there). In contrast, First Hill is very much built out and has plenty of commercial property owners who could support a LID tax to fund a streetcar if it’s important to them.

    The 12th/Broadway loop offers the best connections for the largest number of potential riders. And the travel times to each end and each light rail station from Swedish will be very similar, allowing people to avoid the walk up & down the hill if they so desire.

    1. I prefer the Broadway alignment myself. The 12th & Broadway couplet isn’t a good idea: the hill between those streets isn’t something to gloss over. I would go as far to say that it’s not even the same corridor for many riders.

      1. Well, the International District Station and Capitol Hill Station will only be minutes apart on Link. If one’s destination is on Broadway, they could get there via the CH Station, and get back to Link via the ID Station (and vis-a-versa for 12th); no need to hike between Broadway and 12th. Of course, this would be awfully confusing for new riders. The couplet would also be rather inconvienent for the four years after the First Hill Streetcar opens before the CH Station opens.

      2. Broadway is a long street and it seems like some are making the implicit assumption that it ends at Pike. :)

        In fact, the jobs in First Hill are more than a half mile from the Capitol Hill station. The couplet poorly serves the reverse direction commuters who work in First Hill job centers: Someone living in the CD would have to take the streetcar to the ID station and then go to the CHS station and then walk a half mile to his job on First Hill.

        12th ave doesn’t provide the service to First Hill that this streetcar should, and a 12th ave/Broadway couplet eliminates one of the primary appeals to rail: That the corridor served in each direction is identical. A couplet is almost worse because it serves neither 12th nor Broadway at their full potential. I generally dislike couplets, but sometimes 1-block ones make sense when you can’t widen a street. But a three-block couplet with often a large hill gulfing the two rail lines? That’s just trying to have it both ways and succeeding in neither. :(

    1. First, great map! While I understand the three broad arguments presented in this post (location of previously planned First Hill light rail station, jobs and TOD potential) I would like to point out a few assumptions that I think have been made.

      As Scott point out so well above, just because the Light Rail station was nicknamed “First Hill” doesn’t mean it was to be located deep in the heart of First Hill. In actuality, it was supposed to be at Broadway & Madison, which is the convergence of three neighborhoods: First Hill, Central Area and Capitol Hill.

      Jobs and employment centers. Currently, shuttle service is provided between King Street station and several of the hospitals on First Hill. And, for folks at Harborview, which is several blocks west of Broadway, it is likely that employees will continue to walk to use the bus to travel from King Street/Capitol Hill, as it is as close to downtown as to Broadway. We really need to be careful about making assumptions related to density of jobs. Just because the hospitals are west of Broadway (Harborview, VM and Swedish) doesn’t mean that they will actually ride the streetcar, if on Broadway. Moreover, Swedish actually has two campuses – First Hill Swedish and Swedish Cheery Hill, which is east of Broadway. Lastly, Seattle University needs to be considered as one of the major employment centers surrounding the potential streetcar and it is east of Broadway as well.

      When it comes to Transit Oriented Development, I honestly do not think that the case can be made for First Hill as a strong location for this to happen. When you examine the land use west of Broadway and north of Jefferson, it is almost entirely built-out by institutional uses (hospital and office) and large already existing high-rise apartment buildings. With the exception of Yesler Terrace, none of these sites is likely to experience redevelopment anytime soon, even if they are in a high rise zone. TOD is much more likely to happen where there is vacant and underutilized land (i.e. cheaper to buy) within a high density zone, which exists on 12th in abundance, particularly south of Jefferson. And, if there were to be an alignment on 12th, or a LOOP that included 12th, Yesler Terrace would be served just as well as a Boren alignment, as the distance between the two (Boren and 12th) is about one block down there.

      While the 12th & Broadway Loop concept does represent a non-traditional couplet concept (because of the three block distance and in some places, hill, between the streets) it offers the best opportunity for maximum ridership, economic (TOD) development and service to all the major institutions on First Hill. Also, I strongly believe that it will be both cheaper and faster to construct, since there will be a lot less mitigation and/or relocation of utilities with the laying of only one track on each street. The maps that have been posted on CD News and Capitol Hill Seattle show the Loop turning down John, but in reality, it might make more sense to turn it down Pine until the Cap Hill Link Station is done in 2016, then we can get this thing built quickly and have money left over for important extensions to other neighborhoods and future streetcar lines.

      1. First, the last Draft EIS before the station was cut had it located at Summit and Madison. Broadway and Madison was an early option, but was ruled out by the EIS. Summit is as close to Boren as to Broadway. Not at all close to 12th ave. So the point that “just because it was called to first hill doesn’t mean it was going to go there” is totally and completely incorrect.

        Second, There are FAR more vacant lots and parking lots on First Hill than in the 12th ave area, and beyond that Yesler terrace by itself is going to be a much project larger than what is possible on 12th Ave. Saying there are more TOD opportunities on 12th ave is way, way off. A brief walk around First Hill shows the number of parking structures, and the potential high rise zoning. They’ve put over a thousand units of housing there in just the last 10 years, that’s more than exists in 12th ave in total! Saying that there’s as much TOD potential on 12th is also completely incorrect.

        Third, There’s only one corner of a 28 acre Yesler Terrace site that would be connected to the 12th ave car, so that point is misguided.

        Finally, since there are are no trolley buses on 12th currently, it would cost more to construct there than it would on Broadway.

        It’s very likely going to end up being on Broadway, but your argument for 12th ave ignores the facts on every point.

      2. it might make more sense to turn it down Pine until the Cap Hill Link Station is done in 2016, then we can get this thing built quickly and have money left over for important extensions to other neighborhoods and future streetcar lines.

        I think that would be penny wise and pound foolish. Seattle Central Community College has more students than SU (10,000 vs 7,500) and a community college is a lot more commuter oriented than a tradional University with residence halls. Also, once the tunneling is done building the station is going to be a major source of employment. Plus you want to establish long term commuter trends by completing the project.

  15. None of that land, 12th or Broadway, is “cheap to buy”, nor would it matter if it were. It’s like the hull of a boat, a very small part of the total expense.

    The Archdiocese may be holding lands off the market around 12th, something they can do without penalty because they don’t pay real estate taxes. This can make the area look underdeveloped, but when the price is right they will sell.

    The price will never be as good around 12th as on Broadway or 15th because you have to build higher to see the mountains.

    As for the development along Broadway, Swedish, VM, and even the Archdiocese again (the old Francis Cabrini) all have property there where they will tear down buildings and build new ones when they can do so at a profit.

    That’s some of the best view property in the state. You literally won’t believe what they do with it in your lifetime.

    1. I’m not sure if there’s any land that needs to be purchased beyond for the storage barn. Almost all of this stuff is in city-owned roads (being re-purposed by the city department of transportation). So you’re right, land costs are a minor part of the decision.

  16. Ben,

    Martin is correct. If the King County Council approves the September service change ordinance, Metro will cover the service subsidy for the Seattle Streetcar SLU Line. Route 98 will use 16,800 annual bus hours.

    Also, routes 26-28, 70, and 17 all attract more riders per platform hour than Route 98. Route 70 is a clean quiet electric trolleybus route that penetrates downtown and extends to the U District. Routes 26-28 extend to Fremont. Both run every 15 minutes, as does Route 98. They both provide riders more advantage as they connect to more places.

    In the 1930s, the Broadway streetcar line extended to the U District on the same path as Route 49 today.

  17. Great discussion.

    I hear the arguments for 12th and SU, and they make sense to a point. However, must agree with those that stuck up for First Hill, as it is not built out. Just walk to Boylston and Spring and report back to me. High rise zoning is also getting a bump with mutli-family code update, so the density potential is huge. Also many NC and low-rise lots on Broadway as well as on 12th.

    Consider couplet option with streetcar IN SU campus, and hillclimb assists. Could be interesting. However, Yesler Terrace is also quite compelling, and it should be a battle to figure out which makes more sense.

    As far as Cap Hill terminus, Pine St south of park in interim, and at Denny north of park once completed. If there is a 12th Ave couplet option, slinking over to 11th via Union makes a lot of sense to me to avoid congestion at Pike and Pine, plus you could install signal priority across P/P that would help pedestrians.

    I live in First Hill and want to like Boren/Madison but it doesn’t make any sense.

  18. I rode both the routes yesterday morning after rush hour and I think that Boren/Madison option would be a much slower mess. I bike or bus most places and rarely get in a car, but the idea of Boren for cars (its like a freeway shortcut to Denny/Rainier) Broadway for bus/car’s and 12th for streetcar–biker’s already preferred n/s route sounds good to me. I know the hi-rise zoning exists there but that is sooo close to downtown (and all downhill–easy close walking). Without a doubt the 12th ave option would serve people deeper downhill in the CD better, and definitely spur development all the way down 12th. Running it all the way to broadway would be a bigger mess than you can imagine.

    That said I am so excited to see that we are finally getting another option in this neighborhood. The frequency of the bus stops is really slowing up/down broadway and the streetcar with its limited stops would serve those looking to get out of the area faster, better.


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