First Hill Streetcar Map
First Hill streetcar alignment options, by Oran.

Central District News reports that the Seattle Department of Transportation is nearing a funding agreement with Sound Transit on the First Hill streetcar, which would connect the Capitol Hill light rail station with the International District station through First Hill and edges of the Central District.

Voters approved Sound Transit funding the streetcar line last November. At the time, the city agreed to handle construction at a cost lower than Sound Transit expected to reach independently. The city also agreed to be on the hook for any cost over-runs. Sound Transit would give the city $132,780,000, according to the report.

Initially planned to be built by 2016, the city is attempting to accelerate construction of its second streetcar line. Having a funding agreement in place is the first step toward delivering the streetcar years ahead of schedule. It now looks likely to see a 2013 delivery date for the streetcar, as early missed milestones may have put a planned 2012 date in the territory of too optimistic.

The exact routing of the line is still to be determined, with some groups arguing for an alignment on 12th ave near Seattle University to serve the Central District and an active street while others favor serving the hospitals by remaining on Broadway (see earlier coverage). The funding would cover these planning stages.

Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn has committed to completing this streetcar, as it is voter approved and already funded. His opponent, Joe Mallahan, is decidedly more lukewarm on the project. He told the Seattle Times that he would study and maybe even oppose the streetcar but has been vague on his exact stance since that remark. His new standard seems to be that a cost over-run of perhaps even a single dollar would justify canceling the project. McGinn, on the other hand, caused a stir in the transit community last week by promising to hold a vote for in-city light rail expansion in two years time.

44 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Funding Agreement Coming”

  1. I think they should run it on 12th, instead of up Boren and Broadway by Swedish/Yesler. There’s nothing on those streets in that area. Plus, people up there are on the top of the hill, making it easier to get to the link stations downtown.

    1. Trying to get between the area around Swedish and downtown can be very painful due to traffic and bus route congestion during the day. All of the routes serving First Hill are notoriously slow.

      Besides there is a certain amount of re-development potential on Broadway and Boren South of the Swedish and Seattle U campuses.

      That said the Broadway/12th couplet has a lot going for it and seems to be emerging as the consensus choice.

    2. There’s definitely more development potential on First Hill (which has 20~30 story high-rise zoning) compared to 12th (which has 4 story low-rise zoning).

      1. But the Boren & Madison area is already largely built up while 12th Avenue is very under-developed, especially South of Seattle U.

        Besides zoning can be changed a lot easier than a streetcar line can be moved.

        Mind you in an ideal world I’d say build a streetcar along all three proposed alignments but that isn’t going to happen.

      2. It’s true 12th ave has more empty lots, but Madison near broadway is a bunch of parking lots (like where that building above was supposed to go).

        It’s both more built up and has more building potential, considering the high-rise zoning, and don’t forget this masterpiece:

        which is on the west side of broadway and thus farther from 12th ave.

        You won’t get that much real-estate redevelopment anywhere but downtown, first hill and SLU. 12th ave is tiny compared to that.

      3. Personally I’m in favor of the couplet which would serve both Broadway and 12th. As part of any streetcar on 12th the hight limits should be increased to at least 6 stories. If a Broadway or couplet alignment is chosen the hight limits along Broadway between Yesler Terrace and Pike should be bumped up to allow 20-30 stories anywhere it isn’t currently.

      4. almost all of 12th is NC 65 already, and most of SU within their MIO is well over this, 100 feet and over in some areas, so there is high rise zoning on 12th in some places.

      5. also, since there can be no stop on boren due to the grade (almost 9%) yesler terrace will be very well served by a boren-broadway, 12th only or broadway-12th loop alignment, because they would all likely have a stop at 12th/Boren/Yesler intersection which is right next to their development and one block east of the yesler community center. the yesler terrace resident council also recently wrote a letter to sha in which they requested that commercial development be focused on 12th avenue, where most residents would like to have access to shopping and dining. 12th has the most potential for this kind of neighborhood serving retail and a streetcar would give direct access to it from the yesler terrace development. also, in and around 12th is where sha plans to relocate many residents when demolition begins, they have a new 6 story building planned at 12th and yesler and have slowly been buying buildings around the 12th corridor for years. it is not accurate to say that a boren-broadway alignment would serve yesler terrace better than other alignments.

  2. Many of us have urged a loop routing, which would cover both 12th and Broadway. As John says, the funding would cover the planning stages.

  3. I’ll throw my hat in for the loop. The streetcar accesses more businesses that way.

    Although looking at this map, I’m wondering why there’s the wonky J-curve in Link to Capitol Hill? Why didn’t Sound Transit just do a smooth curve from Westlake to the new Station?

    1. My understanding from a brochure that was around when the tunnel closed 3 years ago is that U-Link had to dive under I-5, and then climb a bit to the Capitol Hill Sta – the wonky curve gets it a few extra meters to keep the climb not too steep.

      1. Ah yes, the Third Dimension, so often obscured in 2D maps.

        Thanks. Although now I’m secretly hoping for WWII era klaxxons, and someone shouting “Dive! Dive!” when it goes under the highway.

  4. why does this streetcar connect two lightrail stations that are already connected? I can understand why sharing a stop with one lightrail station would be good. would it not make more sense to route it to cover an area not already served be lightrail?


    1. Because First Hill was promised a light rail station, so the hospitals threw their weight behind getting light rail moving. Ron Sims basically forced ST’s hand and had the First Hill Station removed, so Sound Transit made a compromise to serve the area that previously would have had a station.

      1. It wasn’t Ron Sims that caused the First Hill station to be deleted but the FTA. In spite of good ridership for a First Hill station it didn’t attract enough “new” transit riders to justify the increased cost, travel time, and construction risk. The difference was enough to take U-Link from the highest rated New Starts project ever to one not elegible for federal funding.

      2. That’s not quite accuratem, it had nothing to do with ridership. The FTA thought the construction risk was too high for a First Hill station and it jeopardised U Link’s $813 million New Start grant. With a construction price around $150~$200 million Sound Transit decided that $1 billion for a single station was too much money.

        As you can see here:
        First Hill station was worth 30,000 riders, more than any U-Link station other than Husky Stadium.

      3. I didn’t say the ridership at First Hill was low, I was trying to say that because few of the riders at First Hill would be new transit riders (as defined by the FTA) and because it would increase travel time for riders on the rest of the line as well as increase the construction risk the station had to be dropped to keep Federal funding.

        Given the incredible ridership numbers for First Hill Station it is a shame there wasn’t a way to keep it and keep Federal funding.

    2. Justin, endpoint to endpoint isn’t really the only metric at work. It’s pretty important what’s in-between. Look at it this way: is I-90’s only job to link Seattle with Snoqualmie pass? Or Boston?

  5. I think I’m getting to like the loop idea that you are all talking about now. Portland does it with their streetcar and I don’t see why we can’t do it at least from The International District to Capitol Hill. This way you would serve both the hospitals and Seattle U on First Hill and there is tremendous ridership potential from both.

    Now as far as the $136m funding for this line, I understand that the city believes that it will come in for much much less. If that’s the case, I hope Mallahan will not stand in the way. Youg guys were right, McGinn seems to just need some work and he will come around.

    Does anyone know if they’re going with Stacey and Witbeck as the contractor again?

    1. A loop is a bad idea in this corridor because the streets are significantly different heights. The idea of a loop isn’t to serve different corridors depending on your direction, it’s usually to minimize the impact on each street involved.

      1. I’d prefer for it to ALL be on 12th Ave…

        The original plan for this streetcar was to connect First Hill residents to light rail because their station was deleted.

        Now that LINK is open, I’d like to know how people are currently connecting to light rail or if they deem it too inconvenient.

        If folks are getting to/from the hospitals just fine utilizing buses in the Madison corridor, for example, then perhaps a solution that takes LONGER to make the travel connection is not desirable. Or perhaps we need to look at the Boren route and/or other options.

        If, however, hospital users and residents are making the connections now, then the original plan for connecting First Hill to Link might need to be re-opened. So why not serve the 12th Ave corridor better?

        My other concern continues to be sending streetcars down Broadway, which is already constrained due to traffic, and lacks good alleyways behind the businesses for serving deliveries. That leads to justinf’s question: Do we need to connect to a LINK station in both directions, or not?

      2. I definitely think you have choose 12th or Broadway. I feel there are good arguments for both.

        But I live a block from Broadway, on 10th Ave E, and for an arterial I honestly never see it at a crawl. It’s nothing like 45th in the U District or 1st Ave downtown. I think it could absorb a streetcar.

      3. Response to Mickymse regarding the need to connect to two LINK stations:
        If the purpose of the street car is to replace the first hill Link station, then YES, it needs to connect to Link at the north end too. Consider someone leaving the vicinity of Swedish or SU and heading north to UW: having to backtrack to the south on the street car and catch Link at the ID station could add some time (I’d say at least 10 minutes, but you can do the math if interested), and it might be faster to walk up north and catch a 43 or 49 bus.
        Regarding the street car placement, it seems like some study of potential ridership for each alternative might be helpful? One of the few good arguments for the street cars that I hear is that some folks are more comfortable riding a transit mode with a defined path and obvious stops, rather than the scary bus? If that’s true, might hospital users from outside the neighborhood be good candidates for street car users?

  6. IMHO… the loop would attract more ridership and more of the “right kind of development”. Check out Portland if you have not had the opportunity yet. They got t right. I think that a significant portion of the funding was from businesses along the route, which has paid off for them.

    1. I’ll be visiting Portland next month, ostensibly an Anniversary Trip with the wife, but I secretly plan on doing recon on how their light rail system works and is laid out. Sshhhh! Don’t tell the wife!

      I’m in the video games industry, and what I’d really like to do is make a game focused on transit and light rail, kind of like Sim City 4, but without all the non-transit related stuff. There was a german game out a few years back called Transit King, but it was really rough.

      1. Yeah, I think I’m more interested in it from a micromanagement/strategy/solving the people moving problem, rather than a 3D simulation of riding on a train. I’d like to cover regional needs, desire for destination, funding (do we tax, or do we up fares?), placement of routes and stops… More of a 2D or 2.5D game, like “Roller Coaster Tycoon 2” or “Sid Myers Railroads!” for Busses and Light Rail.

      2. oh I see. I think that transportation and land-use are so closely linked it wouldn’t be difficult to make an even sort-of realistic game without having both.

      3. I recall playing 2 games that deal with traffic and transit in a city: Traffic Giant and Mobility. There’s also Transport Tycoon which formed the basis of Roller Coaster Tycoon. It is succeeded by its open source clone OpenTTD which takes a regional approach and you play as the owner of a private transport company building roads, rails, ports, airports and manage the vehicles and routes they run in competition with rival companies. As for train cab simulation there’s OpenBVE. Japan also has a few bus driving simulators.

  7. Slightly off-topic… but I always forget that the DSTT and train tunnel cross twice – crazy! (You can see it in the map.)

    1. And to take us even more off-topic, how about that train tunnel? There is one 100-year old tunnel through Seattle. If that thing was closed, where else could the trains run? What about Amtrak and Sounder and all the freight?

      Speaking of Amtrak Cascades (which is operated by Washington State DOT), all of the talk of increased transit in the city limits is great, but how do they get outside the city – past Tacoma or Everett? Have you ridden the Amtrak Cascades? I know WSDOT has good mid-range and long-range plans, and I hope we get some of Obama’s Track 1 funding, but serious work needs to be done to make the Cascades a reasonable transportation alternative.

      If you agree, please consider writing our State elected officials and asking them to support improvements to Amtrak Cascades ASAP.

  8. The loop is a bad idea. A ton of the people going to the Hospitals on First Hill are elderly or disabled, and so they wouldn’t ride a streetcar that forces them to walk up a steep hill going one way. Portland’s streetcar’s couplet works but the two directions are just a block away in a completely flat area.
    Anyways, this is meant to serve First Hill, not 12th. First Hill is incredibly dense, both in jobs and in residents, so it really needs to be served. A 12th Ave Streetcar can happen sometime in the future but right now we need on that serves First Hill.

    1. A ton of the people going to the Hospitals on First Hill are elderly or disabled, and so they wouldn’t ride a streetcar that forces them to walk up a steep hill going one way.

      With a loop they don’t have to. They’d just have to ride the loop back around. Plus if they’re connecting with the DSTT they have the option of transferring at either the ID or Capitol Hill (in 2016 anyway).

      The ST ridership projections for their proposed route aren’t’ very good (1,300 per day). I suspect some of that is because it only serves Swedish without a hike. Not sure if 12th is the answer but as part of a loop it might be. Another big advantage of the loop is the diminished impact on a very busy Broadway and making it possible (or at least easier) to snake past Harbor View and VM. It also puts Swedish Cherry Hill into play. Harbor View is important since it’s a Public Hospital. It’s also true that it provides a large potential pool for employee and patient ridership. But, taken individually it’s numbers aren’t staggering. 300,000 patient visits per year. If you pull in even 25% of those on the streetcar it’s only about 250/day. Not sure how much staff and independent clinics will increase the numbers but it seems important to route this so that is serves all of the hospitals.

      I think I read somewhere that 12th would only support a streetcar in one direction without an expensive sewer relocation project which means it can’t be started without going back and finding more funding (hard to do for a lower ridership route).

    2. If the loop is a two way loop, then I would not have a problem with that. That would also help with intra-community travel. However, if it was an one way loop, then I prefer an out and back route.

  9. This thread is a good illustration of John’s recent statement that “an understanding of the conflicting issues and interests can often make the right policy woefully unclear.”

    At first, it might appear pretty obvious that running the streetcar past the big employers who have thousands of people a day coming to the clinics and hospitals would be a good thing. With a little luck you’d collect many fares and reduce the number of cars in the neighborhood, and possibly make it easier for the hospitals to attract and retain good people. There are three teaching hospitals on First Hill, affiliated with the U of W, and each nationally known for prominence in one or more specialties.

    But, being so close to Portland and the much heralded Pearl District, the prospect of stimulating some TOD on 12th assumes, in the minds of some, an importance even greater than the existing residential and medical development on First Hill.

    I gotta say, that would be some powerhouse TOD that in a few years would be greater than the existing development by Swedish, Virginia Mason, the Polyclinic, and Harborview. Nor is it entirely clear to me that 12th, if it appears depressed, is suffering from a poor real estate market. In fact, it appears pretty damned unlikely, and my guess would be that the Archdiocese and SU own property in the neighborhood that they are waiting to develop or sell later, when prices are higher.

    And if you adopt a policy of building transit to the places where there aren’t riders or development, how exactly does that work? Most of the people who live in the city can’t afford to buy a vacant lot and wait 20 years so they can develop it when the city builds a transit line to the most vacant neighborhood. Will people want to vote for another transit line if the one thing they can be sure of is that it won’t serve them?

    Well, call me old-fashioned, but I’m inclined to think that transit lines should be planned to serve as many people and employers as possible, at least in such a case as we have before us.

  10. Run the combination of Madison/Boren southbound and 12th northbound.

    Then go to Westlake Mall…

    There, run one southbound monorail track up 4th to Marion. Put a station at Central Library. Turn east and fly straight over I-5, turn south immediately on 7th and locate a station for that big empty lot to serve whatever is built there and those who park under I-5. Continue south and turn east up the hill to Jefferson with a station at Harborview. Continue east and turn north on Broadway with a station between Swedish Hospital and Seattle U. Continue north and turn west on Pine with a station at SCCC. Continue west on Pine and fly ‘diagonally’ over I-5 to land on Olive Way with a station at Convention Place transit center. Continue west and turn north on 5th to reconnect to the other monorail track. This is about 3 miles of single-track and 6 stations.

    For Seattle Center, again split the monorail guideway into two single-track lines that circle the Center. Run one line west and plunge under the Thomas Roadway to an underground station to access Center House basement, Fischer Pavilion. Decommissioning the existing monorail station will reconnect both sides of the Fun Center area. Continue west and exit the tunnel at a portal on the hillside that leads to Key Arena Plaza near 1st Ave. Locate a station in the NW corner. Weave through Warren Ave across Mercer, turn east an locate a station atop Mercer garage which could double as the system maintenance facility. (It only needs 6 monorail trainsets). Turn south along 4th or 5th and locate a station between Gates Foundation and the Memorial Stadium parking lot. Continue south and reconnect. This is about 1 mile of single-track and 4 stations. Add a double-track station at KOMO.

    The beauty of this combination monorail expansion and First Hill Streetcar line is how the monorail runs in a ‘clockwise’ direction. Deboard the monorail at SCCC station to access the Madison/Boren southbound route and northbound. Deboard the monorail at the Swedish/University station to access the 12th Ave route (either by making the walk or riding the streetcar further south and transferring near Jackson.

    This “Circulator Monorail” design proposal was estimated to cost about $500 million and produce more ridership than the failed Greenline. Single-track reduced all costs and physical/visual impacts. Oh well. I formally submitted the plan to Sound Transit in 2000 and subsequently many times to various agencies and media, but few took the slightest interest. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Vulcan sent an emmisary to my door to investigate, but I wasn’t home so whoever it was left a note: “WE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR DAMN MONORAIL! THANK YOU FOR INTEREST IN VULCAN VENTURES! WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!”

    1. Who said it would get more ridership than the Green Line? I don’t think monorail expansion and that much expense is ever going to happen for that route since we will have the streetcar and everything. However, I think it would be cool if whoever buys the Clise Properties pays to divert on monorail track coming from Westlake to go to the new development, since they usually only use one monorail train at a time anyways. Probably not going to happen, but it’d be pretty cool if it did.

      1. Green Line ridership, Alex, was based on rush hour commuters leaving trains mostly empty in the reverse-commute direction and off-rush hours. This Circulator Monorail proposal has ridership based on around-the-clock travel demand between Seattle Center/Lower Queen Anne and the downtown/First Hill/Capitol Hill station areas. It has very high capacity and it’s a really fast ride. Just as I’ve tried to integrate the First Hill Streetcar line, it integrates with light rail and other transit at major stops.

        Zed. You know what to do with it, Jack. Get over your jealosy and inferiority complex.

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