Map by Oran
Possible alignments for a First Hill Streetcar. (Map by Oran)

Via Capitol Hill Seattle, Sound Transit and the City have agreed to accelerate the opening of the First Hill Streetcar from 2016 to 2013.

“We are now anticipating a Fall 2013  opening for First Hill Streetcar service,” Ethan Malone of the City’s Department of Transportation told us.

Earlier in the year, the City optimistically put forward a plan for opening the line in 2012.  Sound Transit is responsible for capital costs up to $132m. The City will begin construction in 2012  and is responsible for any construction overruns. Sound Transit will fund the line’s operating costs.

As the map at right indicates, the actual alignment of the streetcar is not yet determined, and will go through the Environmental Impact Statement process until 2011.

In other streetcar news, Ben reports that operators on the SLUT are announcing that on Thursday and Friday this week, Metro and SDOT will be experimenting with 12.5 minute headways instead of 15.  SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan said that the plan is not yet confirmed because “Metro Transit is still finalizing some details.”   In terms of the rationale, Sheridan said:

With ridership continuing to increase and more businesses moving into South Lake Union, the city wants to ensure that it can accommodate any additional ridership growth. By ending layovers at the end of each run and reallocating current staff, this experiment tests the line’s ability to increase frequency and capacity through slight modifications.

76 Replies to “Streetcar News: First Hill and SLU”

  1. Wow, while 12 would be preferable, I will certainly take 13 over 16. And the SLUT news is pretty awesome. Good to get some good news after yesterday.

    1. What about a Seattle University Campus/Cal Anderson park routing?

      12th Avenue seems like a great street for a short Capitol Hill BRT, say from Yesler to Aloha, with a jog over to the Capitol Link Station. It could be a joint operation corridor with the Streetcar for much of the distance, Capitol Hill bus routes could be pulled out of downtown and you’d still have great service to Madison Park, Madrona, etc…

  2. I really hope the city opts to align the streetcar properly so bicyclists can also continue to use the corridor safely.

    1. The German’s managed it pretty easily when I lived there. Maybe the bicyclists should opt to learn how to ride properly. :p

      1. Most bicycles in Europe have “fat tires” as where in the US most bicycles have race tires.

        Jack to address your question I believe this entire line will be center running. This has been identified as a solution to streetcar/bicycle interactions and is also more closely associated with some level of dedicated ROW or TSP. I also think that this time around bicycles safety will get *much* more attention than it did last time around. Especially with McGinn. Simply put I think this issue will be very well vetted by the time a design is selected.

      2. I imagine new tires and training in how to ride would be much easier than adapting the whole system.

      3. And by a “whole system” you mean 2 miles of tracks that are being built in 3 years?

        I don’t see why people have such an ingrained belief that streetcars have to be bad for bicycles. Streetcars and bicycles can live peacefully together.

      4. I’m in SF right now and this afternoon saw many cyclists sharing Market St with streetcar tracks… as they have for over 100 years.

      5. Umm… maybe I am reading it wrong, but where did you get those statements? From my reading those were the recommendations of the Bicyclists Lobby Group that published the Memo you link to, but nothing more. From my reading it is just a compilation based on an internet survey of Portland Bikers and email interviews with people (some officials, some just enthusiasts) in various cities.

        In fact the more I start digging around in the citations the more questionable it becomes:

        Flange filler: Zuerich & Basel both tried it out, and it works for train tracks where train traffic is occasional (3 -5 times per day),
        but tram tracks have a different geometry, and the hard rubber gets compressed too often and crumbles. VBZ (Vertrieb…zuerich) did
        extensive tests over many years, and finally they had to conclude that it was a no-go. If we have similar types of wheels, he predicts
        the same result.
        Oliver Schulze, Gehl Architects

    2. Portlands streetcar network doesn’t seem to kill bicyclists and it runs on the right-hand side of the roads. Maybe bicyclists should adapt.

      1. Or maybe we should build it with bicyclists in mind? Center lane construction ain’t a bad thing after-all.

      2. Businesses in some corridors rely on the center lane to unload trucks. How could center lane construction accommodate these users?

      3. I’m pretty sure that is illegal and pretty dangerous. If they can’t find parking there needs to be more delivery parking set side.

      4. Sure… feel free to pass the cup next Critical Mass get together… Looks like you’ll have a year or so to collect the necessary millions.

      5. Anc if you are going to be so dismissive and disrespectful the least you can do is explain yourself.

        Why will it cost millions?

      6. Honestly, no clue.

        But unless the planners not only hate the smug yet entitled attitude of most bicyclists but are also as petty and spiteful as I would be were I in charge, I just pretty much assume they have a good reason for not going with center lane construction. And with a budget the size of the one we are talking about here, it’d probably have to be above a million or a city as progressive as Seattle to not do it anyway.

        There you go. :D

      7. If by ‘serious’ you mean thin skinned, humorless, and unable to comprehend basic logic, then feel free to ignore me. :p

      8. Hey no fair! You deleted your snarky comment and now mine looks out of place. :(

        Oh well, mods please delete the above and this if you notice it.

    3. Sweet mother. I bike and have no issue with the streetcar tracks in ANY city. The bicyclist do nothing but complain. Ride smartly and careful and not reckless and perhaps you won’t have ANY issues with railroad or streetcar tracks.

      I am tired of hearing this as a complaint.

      1. Brian this is no way to build a coalition around a project.

        Safety concerns for ALL road users is important and should not be dismissed. A solution might include more education but summarily dismissing safety concerns is not the first step of that process.

      2. I recently asked Ethan Malone about this and he said that center platforms will be their preferred option in order to facilitate cyclists on the right side.

      3. Thanks for confirming this! I was pretty sure SDOT wanted to do this but wasn’t entirely sure.

        Do you know if there is money for a two way 12th Ave/Browaday loop or just a one-way loop? From what I have seen it is only a counter-clockwise loop, not a clockwise and counter-clockwise loop. I gave Ethan a call yesterday but he hasn’t get back to me yet.

      4. I’m pretty sure that they are planning and designing for essentially one streetcar route from the ID station to the Capitol Hill Station and he explicitly said that they do not want to hold up the project by waiting for additional funding. He did mention that they might seek additional federal funding but I’m pretty sure that an extension to Aloha would be first on the list for this money.

      5. So your interpretation is that the Boren/Boardway alignment will go forward and that the 12th Ave boosters have simply done a good job of bringing a lot attention to their cause but haven’t changed the course of the project?

      6. That’s not my interpretation. It’s my impression that the coming study phase will focus on 3 options: the Broadway alignment, the Boren/Madison alignment and the 12th Avenue Loop.

      7. No sorry, I mean that if it were the “loop”, I think it would be single tracked on each street with no potential for passing cars. I think calling it a “loop” isn’t the best term because it would really just be a single line running on parallel streets in different directions, just like the SLUT on Terry and Westlake. It just that these two streets are further than one block apart.

      8. Of course, you’re right, Adam, but I certainly sympathize with Brian’s weariness.

        I ride on Westlake a couple times a week with 700×25 tires and fail to see the big deal. Is it “possible” to align your wheel “just so,” and get yourself in trouble? I’ve heard it’s been done, so apparently yes. It’s also possible, on any street, to clip a car mirror with your handlebars, clip the curb with your pedals, bike into the rear-end of a parked car (which I shamefully admit to having managed), bike into another bike, bike into a pedestrian, and so on and so forth.

        Is the configuration ideal? No. But what’s irksome to me (and perhaps to Brian, although I won’t speak for him) is the tone and volume of the critique: Westlake has not been “ruined” for cyclists, and the tracks aren’t some fire-breathing gaping maw chomping at my wheels. We’re not talking about freight tracks. Planners have acknowledged the SLUS could have better accommodated cyclists and for some time have promised center-lane alignments moving forward.

      9. Yep, I ride with 700x23s, and I’ve never had a problem. You just have to avoid them. Riding one street over isn’t that hard, either.

      10. Jason that comes with having one of the most powerful bicycle advocacy groups in your city.

        Yes Westlake has not been “ruined” but is for sure is not better than before. I tried to ride to Ballard once from my office two blocks off Westlake. I took the signed detours and it probably took twice as long as going down Westlake. I have also take Westlake and while I can do rider in the right lane it is very uncomfortable. If I have to make a sudden movement and the rails are wet I have a *significantly* more dangerous riding environment than before. And all of this simply because the streetcar is in the outside lanes.

        The point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Center running streetcars are better and faster than outer running streetcars. Center running streetcars are better for bikes too. Its a win-win.

      11. Sorry if I wasn’t clear, Adam, but we’re on the same page regarding the superiority of center-lane streetcars for all roadway users. As I said, I just feel there’s a bit more volume regarding the SLUS configuration than the situation merits.

      12. Also, the city mitigated having the tracks on Westlake by making two-way bike lanes one block over on 9th, for those who don’t want to ride next to the tracks.

      13. How often do you ride down westlake? I’ve ridden my entire life, so have no lack of skills, but that corridor is a serious liability now. If you ride in the right hand lane you are constantly on edge about either hitting the curb or slotting into the tracks, all the while nervous about a street car coming up behind you. If you ride in the left, you are obviously attracting the ire of drivers.

        No reason we should ruin one of the main N/S arterials by not taking into account cyclists when building this streetcar. Saying there is no problem is just dishonest. Lots and lots of riders have fallen due to the tracks on Westlake, we want to be encouraging cycling and increasing comfort levels for new riders, not saying they need to suck it up.

        As others have noted, running down the middle is a perfectly great compromise to the problem, why oppose it?

      14. I think the people here are agreeing that it would be better to have the tracks in the center, but we’re saying that Westlake isn’t as bad as everyone is saying it is. I think they should paint sharrows in the center lane on Westlake to show drivers that bicyclists should be there, though, to placate those who don’t want to ride near the tracks and refuse to ride one block over on Ninth.

      15. Westlake isn’t too bad. However, heading south on Fairview and taking a right at Valley (towards Westlake) is a clusterfrak of tracks. When they added new street car tracks, they didn’t even both removing the decades old tracks that were already there! My girlfriend took a spill on Fairview because of that terrible section of track.

        And don’t tell me I should be on the sidewalk during that section like the sign says. That portion is much slower and often as dangerous (it is narrow with lots of pedestrians and low hanging SLUT signs).

      16. You and thousands of the rest of us. “Advocates” like Josh “Bike Helmets Kill People” Mahar and Adam are the ones who are killing any hope of a coalition with the majority of people, who do NOT Cycle (AKA Ride a Bike).

        Hey Josh, how come you removed your name as the author of that POS article from June 12th over on Great City????

      17. Thank you Brian and Adam! This endless serenade of “woe is me” from the irresponsible bicycle riders is growing more monotonous every time streetcars are the month. Ride carefully, slow down, act civil and you’ll still get to your destination just fine.

    4. In Amsterdam, probably the most bike-friendly city on earth, the two manage to coexist very peacefully despite streetcar tracks on just about every major road.

      1. Bicycles in Europe usually have wider tires, but I’m not sure if that makes a difference.

  3. I heard that SDOT is an Environmental Assessment rather than a full EIS.

    Most dangerous for bicycles would be the bottom of Boren Avenue: a cyclist zooming down at 30mph could be toast if they crossed poorly-located streetcar tracks.

    1. Tri is correct, this will be an assessment not a full-on EIS.

      And I have not heard that SDOT is even considering a center alignment here. I have only ever heard Ethan speak of the streetcar moving in traffic, like it does in SLU.

    2. A cyclist could be toast for a lot of reasons if they went zooming down Boren at 30. The speed limit drops to 20 before 12th Ave for a reason.

    3. No, the bicyclist will be toast if she or he rides irresponsibly over the tracks – no “zooming” around or over the track please!

  4. From a different thread:

    Comment on Regular Link Service Restored by Adam B. Parast
    11/17/2009 11:31 AM
    The reason it was pushed back to 2016 was because of cash flow problems, not planning or design problems. ST simply didn’t have enough money to cover the costs any earlier. The city stepped in and will cover the additional 3 years of interests payments that allows for the accelerated construction. At least this is what was happening last time I read about it.

    So let’s follow the money. If ST uses their standard model of 50% down that leaves $68 million to finance. Interest on that (30 years, 5.75%) is about $4.8M a year. Operating costs according to the Seattle Streetcar report are estimated at $4.2M. So in essence the City is funding the first three years of operation in order to accelerate building the line and in exchange for accepting cost overruns takes sole possession of the routing and land use issues. That alone would be a great deal for Seattle. But wait, there’s more. By accelerating the expenditure of the capital funds ST loses the investment income. So ST experiences virtually no net benefit from this deal. Rank has it’s privileges and Seattle owes Mayor Nickles,the outgoing chairman of the ST board, a big thank you for this “going away present”.

    1. ST’s net benefit is delivering a streetcar years ahead of schedule. Its mission is to [fund,] build, and operate transit — not make investment revenues. Your criticisms seem misguided. We have subarea equity and nothing can change that.

    2. If the interest exceeds ST’s investment rate of return, which I suspect it would, ST comes out ahead. If ST comes out ahead financially and gets to deliver three years early I’d say that’s a pretty good outcome for ST.

      1. ST does come out ahead on the funding and yes now is better than later for Capital Hill. And there’s also the revenue generated from the SC. Some of that gets apportioned back to the ST budget.

        Bus service will be eliminated and that’s a net benefit to the rest of King County. In a budget cycle where the City is having to cut back funding not just for additional transit service hours but pretty much across the board is this earmark for a new streetcar really wise? Maybe. ST is going to pick up the operating cost so any bus service that the streetcar replaces amounts to a gift of North sub-area equity funds to KC Metro. And since sub-area equity sort of works in reverse with KC Metro it’s a redistribution of North area ST funds to the whole county on a 40/40/20 payout.

      2. What “earmark” for the streetcar? You mean the voter-approved project in totality? I feel like the debate on whether to build a streetcar or not ended when Prop. 1 passed last November and explicitly promised a streetcar.

        Bus service will be eliminated [because of the streetcar]? This streetcar will replace bus service? There are no plans of the sort. More broad service cuts may happen in the future, but as you’ll see from tomorrow’s post near-term service cuts don’t seem to be materializing. What exactly are you talking about?

        It sounds like you’re triangulating which is sort of frustrating.

      3. What “earmark” for the streetcar? You mean the voter-approved project in totality?

        No, I’m talking about the money that was “fast forwarded” from City of Seattle. That’s money no longer available for anything else; like making up transit funding lost with the decision by the City Council to eliminate the head tax. What ever route is chosen I certainly hope that it replaces some bus routes. If I remember correctly that was a part of the deal.

  5. couple of things I hope that they think about re: the MX facility …

    • it should be sited so that it can be expanded for this line and possibly other lines.
    • it should be built to accommodate more than three LRVs …
    • it should be built to accommodate the waterfront streetcar so that when the viaduct is torn down … they can rebuild that line and have a MX facility (this line should also be built to use the new INEKON Trio LRVs (or OR equivalents) as well as the old Melbourne cars (they can be used on weekends for tourists … and the INEKON TRIO cars for regular commuters.
    • it should be built to accommodate the INEKON PENTO cars (5 unit LRVs … which of course hold more people)

    1. I heard Portland was studying the Pento type cars for the Lake Oswago Streetcar but haven’t really heard much else. That would be pretty wise and extending the stations won’t take too much of an effort.

    2. • it should be built to accommodate more than three LRVs …

      From the budget numbers and the promised headways it looks like they’ll need at least four trams. Probably a fifth as a spare since it doesn’t look like there’s anyway to use the SLU trolly as backup.

      1. From what I am seeing, they will be purchasing 6 vehicles which will allow 12.5 minute operations. 4 in service during peak, 2 spares.

      1. the SLUT currently uses 750DC.

        The waterfront streetcar uses 600DC …

        However … since the streetcar uses old-fashioned trolley poles … it wouldn’t be too difficult to have a dual-use mx base that has both voltage overhead wires … a bit more complex maybe … but not as difficult as wiring capitol hill will be with all the trolleybus dual wire overhead lines.

        perhaps the Melbourne cars can be upgraded to handle 750 volts DC …

      2. It is funny how there are 6 different voltages for 6 different systems.

        Portland, 1 voltage. MAX and Streetcar are both 600VDC. This enables great flexibility when the Streetcar and MAX lines use the new bridge over the Willamette when the Orange Line opens.

    3. I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t run the old Melbourne cars all the time. Maybe buy a couple more so they can have a little better headways.

      1. They could but they have to install pantographs and convert them over to a 750VDC power source. They’ll also have to create a high level platform or some way of loading passengers.

  6. Starting construction in 2012 and ready by fall of 2013? That’s a pretty optimistic time line. Better be January 1, 2012. If I recall correctly, it took about a year and a half to build and open the South Lake Union line, substantially shorter than the proposed First Hill line. Here’s hoping…

      1. Yes I would hope so. Considering the lessons learned from the SLUT and the depressed construction market (which I do not believe will be completely recovered in a few years) I would think construction would be faster than last time.

  7. The tracks from my experience, and many cyclists, are a problem of installation not accommodating a street user not of the idea of a Streetcar.
    These routes are being laid out on current bicycle routes (12th, Westlake, Broadway) that were chosen as bicycle routes because the terrain, traffic levels and roadway itself were great for cyclists. If you ride a bicycle around this city much, you appreciate a good, level, easy to access street that feels relatively safe to ride on. This is a narrow city with a lot of hills. Portland does have some hills to the West but for the most part is a larger splayed out grid system, so that if you can’t ride one street northbound, hop onto the adjacent street and you are good to go (I’ve seen this as a cyclist there). Here, it’s very possible that that adjacent street ends up going up an 18% grade while the flat street remains level. Which is the same reason the streetcar is being planned on these routes.

    The Westlake route is very dangerous for a cyclist. If you ride bicycles at all, you’ll know that to cross a track with any modicum of safety, it must be done at as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. Making a right turn or making a sudden movement anywhere in the right lane becomes almost impossible, especially when there’s motor vehicle traffic as well. We could use the left lane, but drivers of motor vehicles don’t like that so much. They get aggressive, which is also dangerous. The last time I rode Westlake in the spring, a driver decided to pass me on the right, using the parking strip, and then proceeded to yell at me because I didn’t move over for him, not understanding that I physically couldn’t. I won’t ride Westlake again, even though it’s the flattest route from SLU to downtown. Sad. This also effects motorcyclists. I saw a motorcycle crash on the SLUT tracks along Fairview recently. He was not speeding, just hit the tracks at a bad angle executing a simple lane change where they curve into the street. Same things happen to cyclists, it’s not “education” or “lack of skills” it’s physics and poor installation.

    The City also ignored bicyclists input to put in the rubber flanges to help cyclists navigate the tracks. These work very well – there is one flanged track on Alaskan by the Coast Guard facility. It works great. This is great to use at heavy crossings. The rubber fill also was recommended (remember they put the SLUT along an active bike route without even bothering to put up RR Xing signs for those cyclists who turned onto Westlake from side streets – also resulting in many crashes).

    Routing the streetcar along the center would preserve the bike routes. This would heavily impact cyclists who use Eastlake if the current SLUT is ever expanded and the 1st Ave Streetcar line. Both routes are used often by cyclists. Installing the route well, with forethought and consideration of both two and four wheeled road users is huge.

    1. Earlier someone claimed the same thing (about Flanges in Europe) and posted a study supposedly proving that, however in reading the actual interviews with Europeans, I have yet to find a single interview to support that finding. A fact that makes me call into question the entire ‘study’ since it appears the facts do not match the findings.

      1)Flange filler: Zuerich & Basel both tried it out, and it works for train tracks where train traffic is occasional (3 -5 times per day),
      but tram tracks have a different geometry, and the hard rubber gets compressed too often and crumbles. VBZ (Vertrieb…zuerich) did
      extensive tests over many years, and finally they had to conclude that it was a no-go. If we have similar types of wheels, he predicts
      the same result.
      Oliver Schulze, Gehl Architects

      2. Legal precedent: tracks are considered a normal hazard and the state is not
      liable for injuries due to crashes. Product: VeloSTRAIL is a bicycle-friendly track filler product between open tracks, but is only used at
      trail crossings; probably not suitable for use along entire system

      3. Not aware of flange filler use.

      4. A product called Velostrail claims to be better than previous attempts although I have yet to be convinced and as for the OMNI
      units with hose pipe fitted in the flange way- a total mess in Seattle after only relatively few movements.

      1. At the time SLUT was going in, at least one manufacturer of flange gap filler offered to guarantee performance and replacement of their product at crossings.

        The note about tram tracks having a different geometry actually brings out one of the problems with Seattle’s system — they decided *not* to use those narrow flange gap tracks that many European systems use, so it’s much easier for wheelchairs and bicycles to get stuck in the rails.

    2. Unfortunately cyclists and streetcars like the same kind of street: not too steep. You can thank the Puget Lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet for our limited choices; unfortunately for our regional rivalry, the influence of glaciers on Portland’s then-future street topography was limited to meltwater/outwash.

  8. Sure, but flanges are not the only option to creating a “safer” network and could be used at crossings where cyclists may be encountering the tracks at a turn or oblique angle. Like the ones on Alaskan. Maybe that’s not technically a flange, but it works wonders. Seems to help the street traffic “up over” the exposed metal. It’s held up incredibly well for several years now.

  9. The other day I absent-mindedly added some lemon juice to some milk while I was baking, and what happened next was pretty typical of this whole “bicyclists v streetcars” meme.

    Take that comment by Tri: “Most dangerous for bicycles would be the bottom of Boren Avenue: a cyclist zooming down at 30mph could be toast if they crossed poorly-located streetcar tracks.” Now, I have actually ridden down 6th from Madison to Westlake at 30 mph at 5 PM in the rain in December- that’s dangerous, no streetcar tracks needed. In fact, bicycle brakes in general aren’t good enough to make it safe to ride down any arterial at 30 mph.

    Maybe it’s just that there are so many young people in Seattle. I see lots of bicyclists in Poulsbo, who are almost all over 50, and none of whom look like they’re going to fall down on a railroad crossing.

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