The Stranger seems to have begun throwing its weight behind a 12th Ave couplet routing for the streetcar:

There’s also an opportunity for compromise: Seattle can split the line in two directions, as several neighborhood leaders have advocated, between Broadway and 12th Avenue, which would satisfy the hospitals near Broadway and provide a boon to the 12th Avenue neighborhood.

In fact, that compromise is not one worth supporting and is a bad idea, as we’ve argued in the past. Though a strong argument could be made for new bus service on 12th Ave, a streetcar couplet with three blocks of separation — and with one block up laying atop a steep hill — is unprecedented and would create significant access issues that could dampen ridership:

The first and most fundamental problem with the 12th Ave alignment is the couplet. While the couplet increases total coverage of the streetcar, it dramatically reduces the quality of that coverage. By separating the northbound and southbound travel by 3 blocks, the area that is close to both a northbound and southbound station is reduced significantly.

First Hill Streetcar Alignments
12th Ave couplet has a significantly worse walkshed.

We also tackled development arguments in that previous post. ECB, the former Stranger transportation geek, recently editorialized on Publicola supporting our conclusions. The Stranger, often a strong and smart ally on transportation issues, made the wrong call here and should re-evaluate its position.

UPDATE: Andrew Smith (founder of STB) made a comment that rings so true I wanted to add it to the main post.

Here’s the problem with this “12th ave couplet is great because it spurs development on 12th and provides access to the hospitals” argument: you can’t say 1) three blocks isn’t too far to walk and 2) it has to go to 12th ave to drive development.

If three blocks isn’t too far, it doesn’t need to go to 12th. Walk three blocks, no big deal. If three blocks is too far, then the couplet is a bad idea because any destination is always three blocks from the train.

139 Replies to “Editorial: 12th Ave Couplet is Still a Bad Idea”

  1. I live in Capitol Hill on 12th and I still support the Broadway alignment with the south end on Boren Ave to eliminate the two right angles and extend it to Roy.

  2. Whoh, slow down here. “would create significant access issues that could dampen ridership” is not what you’ve shown in your previous post. All your graphic shows (in what I consider a biased way) is that single direction walking times would increase. It isn’t terribly obvious or substantiated that single-direction walking times are as important as round-trip walking times. A graphic that includes round-trip walking times would make the couplet look much better than either of the other routes.

    “The Stranger, often a strong and smart ally on transportation issues, made the wrong call here and should re-evaluate its position.” Let’s not call their transportation reputation into question just because they disagree with you. It’s not like they’re calling for park-and-rides for the streetcar.

    1. Matt, it is in fact obvious (and probably substantiated) that people do not think about round-trip walking times. If I am taking the bus and it is a 3-minute walk on one end and a 7-minute walk on the other end, and my limit for walking to transit is 5 minutes, I won’t take that bus. My brain doesn’t do the math and decide that since they average out to 5 minutes it is fine. People don’t think or behave that way.

      We also have to think about the quality of the walk. I don’t have a problem with the 11th avenue couplet because the walk between directions is 2 level blocks on pike street, which is at least interesting to walk through and designed for pedestrians. The 12th avenue loop features 3 blocks, part of it quite steep, and would force pedestrians through the SU campus which is designed for students, not the public. There is no obvious path through campus, plus people will feel uncomfortable if they are not students. This is clearly a bad idea and I hope the Stranger realizes that soon.

      1. While I don’t know if I would have used the term ‘quite steep’ myself, it is definitely not exactly level, and the multiple hospitals were supposed to be a major target – targets that seem pretty ill-served by a 12th alignment.

      2. When I talked briefly with Ethan Malone at the public outreach last month he mentioned “steep” as defined by the ADA compliance of the grade and accessibility between the stops on 12th and stops on Broadway. When he mentioned some of the mitigation efforts to avoid any ADA compliance issues, things such as switch-backs or even elevators and escalators, the cost benefit of a “shorter” couplet option seemed absurd. My assumptions would lead me to believe that a streetcar serving hospitals would have a more significant impaired patron usage than if it were another line else where in Seattle. But I guess if we design it to be inconvenient for hospital visits we won’t have to worry about people wanting to use it and thus not run into problems of compliance…wait a second…

      3. The last two procedures I had at VM they wouldn’t let me leave the hospital unless I had someone waiting for me (before the procedure started) with a CAR.

      4. Inpatient surgeries, yes, the hospitals require a car, although I think a taxi is OK. But most patients have one or more doctor visits before and after the surgery, or ongoing physical therapy or tests. They can ride transit, as can the thousands of employees. How many people aren’t going to Capitol Hill or Chinatown for lunch or a bit of shopping because the transit is too infrequent? (The 60 goes twice an hour, and the 9 less than that.)

      5. Obviously, “quite” is a subjective term. I have walked through SU campus from 12th and Marion up to Broadway to go to a clinic and I remember it being “quite” a climb. Transit use is highly dependent on convenience since most people also own cars. I think a lot of people will be unwilling to climb a hill like that just to switch directions. I guarantee it will make the streetcar a laughingstock just like the SLUT has become.

      6. “My brain doesn’t do the math and decide that since they average out to 5 minutes it is fine. People don’t think or behave that way.”

        I don’t know why you think this. I don’t have a hard and fast 5-minute walk limit, and certainly wouldn’t mind walking a bit further if it saved me walking later. Even if people do behave as you describe I certainly wouldn’t call that is “obvious”.

        Your other arguments are reasonable but were not the points raised in this post.

      7. It’s not individuals that matter here. In groups, we can accurately predict how many people are willing to walk different distances – that’s one of the basic metrics used in urban planning everywhere.

        You, personally, are willing to do things that other people aren’t. Because we can predict how many will and won’t, we can make a really good guess as to the ridership impact – meaning how cost effective the project is.

      8. Great. So simply point me to a reference that says that people, as a group, are willing to walk further if two walking segments are equal than if the walking distances were unequal.

      9. Matt you are the one making an unusual calm. I think you need to justify your assertion first not the other way around.

    2. Here’s the problem with this “12th ave couplet is great because it spurs development on 12th and provides access to the hospitals” argument: you can’t say 1) three blocks isn’t too far to walk and 2) it has to go to 12th ave to drive development.

      If three blocks isn’t too far, it doesn’t need to go to 12th. Walk three blocks, no big deal. If three blocks is too far, then the couplet is a bad idea because any destination is always three blocks from the train back.

  3. Try walking from 12th to Broadway. It’s a good distance. And it’d be quite a walk to go from a business on 14th to the opposite direction train on Broadway. A 6 block walk would be very unappealing.

    1. This is exactly right. Say I take the streetcar one way, get off on Broadway, then go to Pacific Medical Center in First Hill, a few blocks west of broadway. To go back the other direction to go home, I have to walk a few blocks to broadway, then walk 3 blocks through the SU campus to get to the streetcar. Who would ever do that? The streetcar will lose a lot of its effectiveness with this couplet.

    2. One could point out that the lack of good transit on 12th already requires a significant number of folks to walk between 12th and Broadway, particularly SU students.

      1. I think an SU student walking through their own campus is a different than putting general street traffic through a campus.

      2. How is that an argument, John? SU doesn’t make up the entire portion of 12th Avenue; and many of the folks who would prefer to have a streetcar along 12th Ave are SU folks who would prefer not to have to walk all the way over to the corner of the campus at Broadway and Madison.

      3. Yes, SU needs access ASAP. Do ridership projections and if the numbers are in line with most bus routes, add a bus route. Brain not required on that one, right?

        Streetcars are a bit more permanent so align it accordingly. “100 year plan” style. How were SF streetcars planned? How were Seattle’s? How were NYC MTA alignments planned?
        4 easy basics that come to mind: Aim at density, connect major institutions that served the greatest number of the public, reduce traffic by trying to replace common & frequent commutes, connect with other transit modes and routes.

        define “SU folks”, please? Transient (2 to 4 year) student population? The ones who are mainly housed on-campus in the numerous dorms and nearby SU-owed residential units??
        Or the professors/staff of SU? SU’s population (aka customers and workers) doesn’t really rank quite as highly as ‘community members’/stakeholders as FH residents and business owners.

        The purpose of the streetcar is highly debated, but the law lays it clear: it’s to connect first hill to the ST light rail. The use/ridership/need of these ‘SU folks’ to get to, say, UW stadium or Columbia city is suspect compared the need of the 7000+ residents of first hill and x number of patients, customers and staff to get on and off the real First Hill area (moreorless: I-5 to broadway, union to yesler) daily.
        Thousands of washington voters backed ST so we could take cars off the street, encourage transit as a culture rather than SOVs, and hold back damage needless to the environment. Economic development on 12th (aka money in the construction industries’ pockets + yet another Quiznos) and college convenience or support(SU isn’t suffering from low enrollment by any means) aren’t part of the regional-transport-focused ST equation, so they therefore must not be part of the streetcar equation.

        Rather than ‘walk sheds’ & ‘3 blocks is too far VS no it isnt’ debates and ‘potential development’ or ‘socio-economic justice’ BS, will someone please work up a map that shows where SOV vehicle density/congestion is currently worst (AND maybe also where current ped use is least), and then tune an alignment to those facts?

        (Oh wait, the federal census already did partially do that: and found FH has longer transit and car commute times than the 12th Avenue neighborhood… Despite the disparity in bus routes. Huh. Could it be the fact First Hill is one of the densest zoned neighborhoods? THE most densely-zoned residential neighborhood in the city? Perhaps a factor is the proliferation of parking lots and garages ENCOURAGING car use for trips to St James, or Virginia Mason, or Harborview?)
        Can’t help but think the folks charging 20+ bucks a day at the hospital garages are perhaps funding the pro-12th alignment campaign…

      4. It’s an argument because going from Broadway to 12th from the hospitals would go directly through the SU campus, which is not the same as putting foot traffic on a public street.

      5. Yes, and the SU campus is ripe for wayfinding improvements and many other things. SU would welcome more people crossing the campus, which frankly in many ways is a far nicer pedestrian environment than the streets which flank it.

        And there’s more to the neighborhoods than the hospitals…several of which would have had far longer walks from the light rail station that was to be built in the first place.

    3. A good distance. Are you serious or are you fat? The distance between 12th and Broadway is not that far.

      1. Are you serious or are you making ad hominem attacks? I’m not fat but I have a one-year-old who isn’t going to walk six blocks.

      2. You can carry your one-year old. I have a one-year as well. Give me a break.

        And it’s 4 blocks. So, you should be fine. I walk it everyday.

  4. I’m getting annoyed with people who see the streetcar as a development tool first, and transportation second. The argument that’s always presented first, including the Stranger’s, for routing the streetcar on 12th is that it will be a “catalyst for development.” How about we develop a streetcar that’s an effective transportation option first and then worry about development later? The areas being served by the streetcar aren’t exactly having trouble attracting development as it is. There’s been more new development on 12th recently than there has been around any of the Link stations.

    No transit planner would ever suggest running a bus route on a 12th/Broadway couplet, why route a streetcar that way? After the coolness of having a new streetcar line has worn off and 12th Ave. is built out, the people who actually use the streetcar will be smacking themselves in the head wondering who in their right mind would build a streetcar with tracks separated by 3 blocks and a hill.

    1. Well acting as a ‘development tool’ and social engineering piece of a larger puzzle is partly what makes Seattle the nice city it is. We kind of like our projects this way, but I also agree that it is a heavy burden we place on our projects and one of the reasons they take so long! We expect a lot from them that they cannot deliver in the equally unrealistic time frame critics set for them. Economics are an important consideration, but so are the social aspects. At least the proposed area is agreed and we can confine the discussion and not need to wander off placing streetcars in other parts of the city at this point in time. We only have to look at three corridors and even in Seattle, it should not surely be too hard to come up with an agreement on the best one – taking into account, the economic, aesthetic, museum potential, social and TOD aspects beyond the thing itself!

      1. *LOL* And what would you call the SLUT, if not a “development tool” before a transit element? That’s how it was sold by certain City Council members.

      2. The SLUT was also a pilot project. It answered a lot of questions:
        1) How long does it take to build a streetcar?
        2) How much does it cost to build a streetcar?
        3) How much does a streetcar help spur development?
        4) How much does it cost to operate a streetcar?

        We know the answer to a lot of these questions now, while we only had a vageu idea of the answers before the SLUT was built.

      3. and the SLUT will become really heavily used once moves into their new digs in South Lake Union!

      4. I can imagine that it will also be heavily used on weekends when SLU Park reopens and MOHAI moves into the Armory.

      5. That’s ridiculous, Andrew… There was no need for a pilot project for the streetcar. They exist all over this country and the world. And we had an old one running on the Waterfront and a new one running in Tacoma. What were they supposed ton be demonstrating?

        I have no problem with streetcars being built as development tools, but then we should be targeting economic development funds to their construction, and not just transit funds. And we should acknowledge the transit trade-offs we are making.

        The fact is that if the SLUT was a demonstration, the City has failed miserably to convince many citizens that they are worth spending money on.

      6. I’m ridiculous?

        There was no need for a pilot project for the streetcar. They exist all over this country and the world.

        This is Seattle. We couldn’t get voter approval for a large rail system until there was mostly-finished rail line, and that thing came in way over budget. According to the average Seattle pundit, Seattle is “special” and nothing works here.
        we had an old one running on the Waterfront and a new one running in Tacoma.
        Yes, we had an old one that didn’t get a lot of riders and went to places that neither needed nor could sustain development. That’s utter bullocks, “we had a line”.

      7. the waterfront line carried 300K+ trips a year. What’s the definition of “didn’t get a lot of riders”?

      8. The same mode of transit can have different objectives in difference environments. The SLUT obviously was meant to spur development (by improving access to downtown and regional transit) but that doesn’t mean that the future streetcar lines have to built with that being the sole objective.

      9. I agree that social/economic aspects ought to be considered in transit planning, but the problem with this 12th Ave loop idea is that it renders the entire project useless to everyone by severely limiting its ridership. And for those folks who need this pointed out a little more explicitly: a project that is useless to everyone is USELESS TO EVERYONE, including developers, SU students, and property owners along 12th.

    2. I think we can ignore the development needs and still consider a couplet, as it will increase the area served. This may increase ridership.

      1. Sure. You double the area half-served, plus have a 3-block strip of people fully served. It certainly isn’t ideal, but worth considering.

      2. No, your sums are wrong. You double the area half-servered and reduce the area fully served by a large amount (look at the map, matey).

      3. The map makes the strange assumption that half-trip distance is all that matters. The map would look better for the couplet than the others if you look at round-trip distance.

      4. I agree. We need to look at round-trip distance. Half trip distance is being used because it serves the purpose of making the 12th avenue option look bad. There is no data to support looking at it this way.

      5. Are you seriously saying that round-trip distance is all that matters?

        So a 29 minute walk plus a 1 min walk later is the equivalent of two 15 minute walks?

        I don’t believe many people would agree with that. Two short walks is almost always better than a really short walk and a pretty long one. Have you ever gone for a walk with a kid? With an old person? Carrying a lot of books? In the rain?

      6. If you really just want to look at round-trip distance for the 12th/Broadway couplet all you have to do is make a dot half-way between opposing stops and draw your 1/4 mile catchment circle from there. What does that get you? A coverage area that is shifted east towards the Central District and away from First Hill. Isn’t this the First Hill streetcar? Looking at it this way the couplet is basically equivalent to running a bi-directional line through the middle of the SU campus. Guess we should call the couplet the Seattle University Streetcar.

      7. “So a 29 minute walk plus a 1 min walk later is the equivalent of two 15 minute walks?” In general, absolutely. Although I certainly agree that walking with a child and an old person carrying a lot of books in the rain favors shorter walks (or at least a stop at a coffee shop). On the other hand, your example is a little extreme – will it really take 28 minutes to walk three blocks?

      8. I picked an extreme example for a reductio ad absurdum argument. Still, for an old person or one in a wheel chair, three blocks up hill could easily take 28 minutes.

        “So a 29 minute walk plus a 1 min walk later is the equivalent of two 15 minute walks?” In general, absolutely.

        I still can’t believe you’re honestly saying that. A 29 minute walk hauling a backpack full of books in the rain is WAY worse than two 15 minute walks in the rain hauling a backpack full of books. And if you’re old or with a little kid a 29 minute walk is not even possible. Similarly a 7 minute walk plus a one minute walk is worse than two four minute walks.

      9. “I still can’t believe you’re honestly saying that. A 29 minute walk hauling a backpack full of books in the rain is WAY worse than two 15 minute walks in the rain hauling a backpack full of books.”

        Really? In the first case you only get wet once. In the first case I’d consider a cab in one direction (sure beats two in the second). In the first case I’d just take the streetcar in the wrong direction and take Link. In the first case I’d be only a minute away from the streetcar – very useful if I’m running late.

        But I feel like we’re straying from the point.

      10. Matt we have already been thought this and I think you simply see it differently. I explained before both from a practical (example above) and a theoretical (travel models) why round trip travel times aren’t the best way to look at it.

      11. It is if you are dealing with small children, carrying something heavy, or the weather is simply nasty out.

      12. “The difference between walking 15 minutes and walking 29 minutes is hardly noticable.”

        Walking twice as far is hardly noticeable? Maybe in bizzaroworld.

        I don’t mind walking, but certainly wouldn’t want to include a 30 minute walk as part of my daily commute. A 15 minute walk is about the max that most people are willing to do as part of a transit trip, and 5 or 10 minutes is more realistic for a lot of people.

      13. Matt, it will decrease ridership. There’s no ‘may’ here. You’re trading away high density service for lower density service.

      14. “You’re trading away high density service for lower density service.” Now that’s a reasonable argument. We’d have a long strip of dark yellow in the chart above, rather than points of dark color. Great news for those that want more coverage for more people, bad news for long term development. I’ll buy that.

      15. Ben:

        Your analysis assumes that all built density has equal trip generating capacity. This is not the case. Retail generates far more trips per square foot than office space (or hospitals). I don’t have exact figures on the ratio, (though they do exist), but it’s at least 5 to 1. That means that 100,000 sf of retail generates the same number of trips as 500,000 sf of office space.

        If you are going to evaluate ridership potential, then you need to consider trip density, not built density, and that means multiplying built density by its relative trip-generating potential. 12th Ave has substantially more retail capacity (the top trip generator) than any of the western alignments. As such, it could, conceivably generate more trips (upon full build out) than the western alignments.

        There are ways to answer these question, and a detailed analysis may reveal that even with the trip-generation factor, the western alignments have more ridership potential, but that is not a forgone conclusion. The analysis must be done. With respect to this issue, you speak with far more confidence than your data justifies.

      16. I don’t have either the ITE or ULI travel demand generation books with me but I’m pretty sure that offices and hospitals have different travel demand with retail having the most, then restaurants and hospitals roughly the same and offices as the lowest.

      17. This is just silly. For one thing, the offices and hospitals already exist. And they can expand as quickly as 12th can be developed- they’ve been doing so for about 30 years. Secondly, the retail gets the customers from the people in the offices. People in Bellevue are not going to hop a train to go shop on quaint brand-new 12th.

      18. quaint brand-new 12th = awesome oxymoron

        Gotta ask about the NIMBY-colored elephant in the room: how the fawk are you going to get the folks on 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th to allow the zoning changes required to justify a streetcar-line-sized jump in retail density …next to all those old be-front-lawned craftsman homes???

        Ain’t going to happen soon, and will require a 15-25 year plan of buying houses, converting to townhomes, and changing the entire character of squire park / cherry hill / the east half of the 12th avenue neighborhood.

      19. Ignoring the development issue is a bad idea. The fundamental difference between streetcars and buses is not capacity, speed, or cost-effectiveness. Their primary advantage is place-making. Buses move people, streetcars make places. If you are going to ignore the place-making potential of a streetcar, there is no way for a streetcar to pass any kind of reasonable benefit-cost analysis, but when those place-making advantages are considered, streetcars easily pay for themselves. No streetcar discussion can ever achieve an efficient outcome if the place-making aspects are ignored.

      20. Well, excuse me for living, but this streetcar has already passed the cost-benefit analysis. In fact, the only reason anyone is lobbying for 12th is the unspoken assumption that it can run anywhere, and doesn’t need to pass the cost-benefits test. If you start costing out the benefits of getting hospitals employees on transit, that argument has the streetcar running by the hospital front door, serving riders who already exist.

        And please, spare me the argument that if they’re stupid enough to ride the existing buses, that’s good enough for them. Don’t think those straphangers aren’t dreaming of the day when they can get a job they can drive to.

      21. One huge problem with the current bus service on First Hill is it is very slow and often quite crowded. Just look at how long the 2, 3, 4, and 12 take to get from Third Avenue to Broadway or even Boren or look at how long the 60 takes from Broadway and John to 12th and Jackson. In addition to being slow the ride is uncomfortable, especially for standees, with sharp turns, rutted streets, and sudden starts and stops.

        Even if the First Hill Streetcar offers no travel time advantage over the 60 between Broadway/John and 12th/Jackson it will still be a much more comfortable ride.

      22. Actually streetcars can have capacity advantages over buses, many models of streetcar/tram can hold many more passengers than even a 80′ double articulated bus. Even more so if the vehicles can be coupled together into multiple units.

        In addition streetcar/trams can have an advantage over buses in stop dwell time due to level boarding through multiple wide doors.

        There is also the rather well documented rail bias where there is a clear passenger preference for rail based transit.

      1. Couldn’t the 9 be moved from Boren/Broadway to 12th between Boren and Denny or even Aloha to provide transit along 12th?

      2. I had thought about that before, too. I’d like to see an electric trolley bus route the full length of 12th from Jackson to Aloha. The route could then move over to 10th and follow the route of the 49 to the U-District to serve north Capitol Hill. The 49 could then be done away with when Link opens.

      3. Electric busses, of course – we desperately need to order 300-400 new ones and electrify several more routes.
        I’d bet some sort of remnant of the 49 will need to remain for local service, but yes, most of the Bredas (and their successors) could move to the “new” route 9 along 12th and Aloha to 10th and on to the U – and all the way to Roosevelt Station, too.

      4. If you create this 9/49 hybrid, where would the people from North Capitol Hill transfer to go downtown?

      5. Looking at the maps I’d say bus service down 12th should probably turn to Broadway at either John or Pine. Due to the link station shifting over at John would make a lot of sense as it would provide a direct connection.

        In any case even with routing along 12th all the way from Aloha to Jackson there would be the option to walk to the Capitol Hill Link station at John or to transfer at John (8, 43), Pine (10, 11), Union (2), Madison (12), or even Jefferson (3, 4).

  5. Why can’t anything in Seattle be designed/built with common sense? The businesses are on Broadway, the hospitals are on/very close to Broadway, build the damn streetcar on BROADWAY! Coming from another part of Seattle, I would want the streetcar to drop me off near the hospitals and businesses that I want to visit, not next to a few homes that I have no desire to go to.

    1. Well I think a fairly strong argument can be made for swinging the line to the West of Broadway on either Minor or Boylston and Seneca. This puts a stop near the hospitals as well as several of the large condos/apartments on First Hill. The stop would also be fairly close to where the First Hill station entrances would have been.

    2. Chad,

      Do you live on Capitol Hill / First Hill / 12th Ave? Do you walk around this area every day? Have you walked all three routes, looked at the built environment, studied zoning maps, conducted a buildable lands analysis, read neighborhood plans, consulted the literature on streetcars, identified the principles behind good streetcar planning, conducted a data-driven benefit-cost analysis, listened to the stakeholders, considered the engineering issues, examined the trip-generating capacity of various land use types, etc., etc.?

      If not, kindly refrain from telling the people who do understand and have done or are doing all of these things that they are incompetent buffoons and that an uneducated layman is better suited make a $120 million decision than the professionals who are trained to do so.

      I do not wish to discourage you from expressing an opinion. I only object to your assertion that there is an obvious solution to this problem. There is not.

      You are more than welcome to express your preference for a Broadway alignment. That becomes a data point in the analysis that should be considered along with the hundreds of people who believe a 12th Ave alignment would take them to the destinations they want to go to, or the hundreds of others who believe a Boren-Seneca alignment would take them where they want to go. Your personal streetcar preferences do not, however, represent the obvious solution to a complex technical and political problem.

      In the end, Broadway may be chosen as the preferred alignment, but it will hopefully have been chosen based on a detailed and through analysis rather than a gut instinct.

      1. Tony, since you are pulling out the profession card, perhaps you would like to elaborate beyond “the economist” what makes you expert. Are you a transit planner? Urban planner? And do you know something about Chad that gives you knowledge that he is just a layman in this area? Frankly, he makes a very succinct point here that I think is far more relevant than much of the rest of this discussion. If you will recall, the purpose of this streetcar is to provide access to the regional institutions/destinations/employers that would have been served by the original link station. Chad’s comment “The businesses are on Broadway, the hospitals are on/very close to Broadway, build the damn streetcar on BROADWAY!” is I think the most sensible thing said in this entire thread..

      2. sorry ron,
        the “purpose of the streetcar” has been written into legal docs by both Sound Transit and the City of Seattle: the 1st priority is linking First Hill to the Light Rail. Employers and institutions are mentioned in the Agreement, but you’ll notice that they’re listed dead last.

      3. No, I don’t live on Capitol Hill or anywhere near Broadway. I live in Fremont. But, I visit the Broadway area many times during the year and I believe the streetcar, or any transit, should be near businesses that people from all over the city would go to, not just near homes. There are far more businesses, condos and apartments along Broadway than there are 12th Avenue. People coming from around the city would more likely take transit if they know it is going to drop them off where they want to spend money, or where they work, not just where a few people live.

        Yes, this is my gut reaction to having ridden Metro since 1981. I believe that transit belongs on the main roads in an area, and Broadway is far more a ‘main’ road than 12th Avenue. And coming from Fremont to Broadway, I would much rather have the streetcar go along businesses that I would visit rather than a string of single-family, low density homes. And yes, 3 blocks uphill is a long way to walk if you’re visiting a neighborhood rather than if you live there.

      4. Tony I agree that there are many different things that need and should be looked at… but it is obvious that the most intuitive streetcar alignment would go down Broadway because it forms the backbone of Cap Hill/First Hill. Broadway is the historic center of Cap Hill and while the center of gravity moves around it is never more than a few blocks away from Broadway.

      5. Call this conjecture, which it is, but I believe that Sound Transit would ultimately reject any alignment that is too far from the regional destinations served by the station’s original location near the hospitals. Given that assumption, I believe that ST is allowing a large amount of pointless debate to occur. As someone that has lived on capitol hill for 4 years, first hill for 5, and Seattle his entire life, I feel pretty damn confident in saying that the intent of this service was clearly and concisely presented to the voters and that deviating the route to do other things is a huge disservice to voters that support transit. The moment that I feel that rerouting an investment to create a yuppie paradise on 12th ave, you’ll know it, because I’ll vote for it. 12th Ave – do your homework, create an LID, approach the city. Until then, stop trying to steal a regional investment with regional goals. Its not yours, it doesn’t belong to you. Hands off please.

      6. I agree but I think this is a result of an unguided process by ST and a poor transition to SDOT. Too much was left open for too long and that is the only reason 12th Ave is even being considered.

      7. Adam has hit the proverbial thing on the head.
        The 12th “option” helps no true friend of long range transit planning(but may help garages on FH defend their monopoly on profit from bad commute choices) and clouds the real transit priorities at stake from the beginning of ST, or dare I say even, from way back when ‘Forward Thrust’ was pencilled.

  6. Given that we rightly expect so much from our construction projects – aesthetically pleasing, have museum-potential, repository for art work and inspirer of architectural dreams and surrounding transit-oriented-development, my main question would be, which of the three corridors is in most need and therefore be most likely to benefit from the streetcar alignment?

    That is one consideration – well a placeholder for many actually. The other would be, the economic and pedestrian to streetcar traffic benefit? Which corridor has the most employers and other types of businesses (Hospitals)?

    From my albeit fairly limited knowledge of the area, I would say that routing close to hospitals would be important and also to the university and colleges up there. Which of the alignments would get me close to these? Broadway at is southern end is certainly in need of a cleanup as blight is strong for whole blocks so I would be inclined to view Broadway favorably for these reasons. Isn’t Seattle University also along Broadway? So the streetcar could have both an economic and a rejuvenation benefit on the road.

    I do not think we should spend forever on the discussion, else more and more stakeholders will just weigh the thing down. A quick deep analysis, a quick design and evidential review and a swift decision will bring this project to completion muuch more quickly.

  7. I agree that the distance between the stops would decrease usage, but it seems like the potential confusion caused by the stops being so far apart would also hurt ridership. For a first-time rider it could be very frustrating to not be able to find the stop to get back home.

    1. This is especially true when you consider a lot of riders will use the service infrequently has they make twice a year visits to the hospitals.

      1. Twice year users aren’t really the target riders. I wouldn’t worry so much about the minority of riders getting confused versus the majority of riders who will easily adapt to it.

      2. For the hospitals I think people who will only use it a couple times a year are target riders. Streetcars, and trains in general, seem a lot less intimidating than a bus to people who don’t usually use transit so this will get a lot of those people who are going to the hospitals.

      3. hospitals aren’t the focus of the streetcar… but IF they were, look at them as a business (that’s essentially all they are): they have both one time and regular customers, they have an enormous FT staff, and they run 24hours, so that staff arrives thrice, in three different shifts everyday of the week, 365 a year. While some employees might be living on FH, the mjority are not. Their parking/transit/commutes needs are unusually high, and the pedestrian traffic they create is especially vunerable to non-ped-friendly environments (slow/sick/disabled peds). Additionally, their long-stay customers (patients) generate visitors, and add yet more demand. They are much like schools/universities when compared this way, except SCHOOLS DONT RUN THREE SHIFTS AND 7 DAYS A WEEK. There are 3+ major medical institutions and DOZENS of “minor” med centers on Pill Hill: PugetSound Blood center, polyclinic, private doc offices (like at Seneca Tower), and a bunch of hotels to support the pill hill businesses. Add to the mix 7000+ FH residents and HR/300′ zoning EAST of I-5 and WEST of Bway/Boylston. Add two major private schools and a regional museum. Add the regular joe businesses like banks and cafe’s, george’s deli and Mstreet market…

        Minor or Boren alignment please.

    2. Yep, and riders won’t know where to get off – it’ll be a question of which stop is closest to their destination, which is an unknown that drops ridership as well.

      1. That’s another great point. Confusion leads to fewer riderships. One of the core reasons why people prefer rail to buses is that it’s more clear where rail goes and where it stops and that it is unlikely to change.

      2. Very true, Andrew, an excellent point. This issue, however, matters more for certain types of riders than it does for other. Commuters make the same trip every day. They know the drill and can put up with a trip that is a bit confusing. Commuters tend to care more about overall travel time and comfort than they do about simplicity, because once they learn the drill, the uncertainty is no longer a deterrent. This does not mean that commuter routes should not be simple and easy to understand, it merely means that relative to other considerations, this one is less critical for this type of rider.

        Retail customers on the other hand, do not make the same trip every day. They often have many different destinations. They also don’t have to be there, unlike commuters who have much less of a choice in whether they make a given trip. Retail customers are heavily affected by whether a transit route is easy to understand. This becomes one of the major reasons that streetcars attract more riders. Streetcars and buses attract about the same number of commuters (with a very slight edge for streetcar because of the comfort issue), but streetcars attract much more tourists and retail customers.

        I agree that we really do need to make our systems easy to understand, but we need to keep in mind that simplicity is one of many factors and it affects different types of riders in different ways.

  8. Though I agree with some points on both sides, I do not agree with the broadway option. The same PacMed argument could be used to argue for a 12th ave route. I do understand that walking this distance may be unattractive for some, but a 12th Ave/Broadway couplet around Seattle U (at least) would work great. You can walk through campus fairly easily, and it serves both streets. The hospitals would be served, the University would be served, and the businesses on both streets would be served. There is also opportunities for bus transfer points in many more areas with this option.

    Yes, it does also provide incentive for TOD, which many people believe is an important part of growing neighborhoods. I do agree that TOD should be a factor, but I also agree that service and ridership should be the biggest factor.

    Also, as a Capitol Hill resident I do believe that this project belongs to First Hill, and that our neighborhood has sort of taken over as the “decider.” This streetcar option was put on the ballot in ’08 as an transportation option for First Hill. Hence: First Hill Streetcar Project. We should be allowed to voice our opinions, but this project impacts our neighbors to the south much more that it will impact us.

    Ultimately, what it boils down to though is that we should think of what impacts us as individual neighborhoods AND as part of the central city.

    These are just my two cents.

    1. “unattractive for some” basically translates to “creating new cost-benefit based anti-streetcar arguments for the next time we’re asking for money to expand the network.”

  9. There are many reasons to run down 12th, my favorite is that the first hill street car would hardly be on first hill, but I think that your graphs are a little deceiving. I suspect that people north of Pike would not mind rounding the north corner on the street car and heading the other direction. Obviously this would add a few minutes to their trip, but it would substantially widen your walking shed at Pine for the 12th ave alignment.

    1. The next goal should be to extend the streetcar line, north to Aloha, so relying on the loop is not smart. Also, note you chose the advantageous direction. If someone were wanting to head north but is far closer to a southbound stop going to go all the way to the International District to get to the Capitol Hill light rail stop? Probably not.

  10. As I’ve said before, the original reason for this pot of money even existing is to connect people to the light rail stations. Based on that metric, the 12th Ave Couplet would actually be a great option.

    What’s actually sad to me is that I think we need it on Broadway from around Madison northward, and on 12th from around SU southward to the ID. Unfortunately, the grade through the middle of the SU campus seems to be much too steep to make a connection through there. :-(

    1. Yes. To connect *First Hill* with the stations. Or at least, to replace the Link station that would have been at a certain location on First Hill.

    2. The goal isn’t to connect people to light rail stations. The goal is to connect people in the First Hill urban center to light rail stations.

      1. And here I thought that the goal was to provide functional, affordable, accessible public transportation that folks want and need.

        Here’s hoping the Sim-City types remember that’s what’s supposed to be at the bottom of all these thought experiments.

      2. Regardless of what makes the most sense now, or what the eventual result of this process is… the pot of money from ST exists because a light rail station near the corner of Madison and Broadway was not built, and a promise was made to serve the potential riders in that station area with a streetcar line connecting them to light rail.

        That is the promise that was made; not to “serve the hospitals” nor to create a new transit option.

        Some folks have suggested that 12th Ave to the SE presents an under-served transit corridor, an area with development potential, the interests of a major university and another hospital, etc.

        It’s hardly crazy to suggest that the route from the Madison and Broadway area to the ID/Chinatown station could follow several different paths.

    3. I wonder if there is a diagonal route across the SU campus from NW to SE, that is Broadway and Madison to 12th and Cherry, that has a reasonable grade and could be built w/o being too disruptive to the campus grounds yet be similar to the PDX Streetcar as it passes through PSU?

    4. The 12th ave couplet would connect people to the cap hill station just as well as the Broadway or Boren alignment.

  11. I have to say the idea of having the two directions so far apart is just silly. It’s one thing for the different directions of a transit line to be one street apart (for instance downtown where there are one-way streets) but a user just doesn’t expect that if they got off at an intersection that on their return trip they have to walk up/down a fairly steep hill. No, really, that hill *is* steep, esp for someone with limited mobility, wheelchairs, etc. But really the problem is that it’s just not usual for the two directions of a transit line to be so far apart. The most usual thing is right across the street, maybe down half the block since it’s the other direction (or in the case of rail/subways, the other track right there).

    Surely there are also maintainence issues here as well. If they need to close a track for repairs or something at one block, if the tracks for both directions run on the same street, you can at least run the cars on the opposite track through some sections. Or run limited slower service on one side. If the tracks are separated by blocks, this seems useless.

    1. I should note that I don’t really have an opinion of the broadway vs 12th, just that it makes no sense to have it on both.

      1. Walk a minimum of three block out of our way to take the bus every day and then tell us it is not that far, especially when you are only getting on the bus for 5 minutes. That is the thing. This isn’t a light rail line. People will not walk a 1/4 mile just to take the train one stop. It has to VERY easy any fast for people to utilize it. If it is not ridership will hurt.

      2. You walk a quarter mile to go one stop on a streetcar route? That is what Adam is talking about. :-)

  12. they could get rid of a lot of the traffic never mind the complications with the OCS systems … if they make the pike/pine street buses into streetcar lines as well

  13. We can agree that 12th Avenue needs better transit service, but without concluding that transit service should be one-way of a streetcar couplet. 12th Ave. is crossed by something like 10 bus routes, and it wouldn’t take much transit planning genius to reroute a couple of those buses to provide north-south service on 12th.

    That would provide useful transit service without compromising a streetcar line, one that was promised to serve First Hill, btw — First Hill in both directions, not just one.

  14. Not a fan of the couplet. For the reasons already mentioned (increased walk time, confusion, etc) but also b/c the more couplets we have the harder it will be to properly expand the streetcar network in the future. Have straight shot now, and in the future you can put another straight shot in 3 or 4 blocks over in the future. Put a couplet in, and not only do you crappy coverage NOW but a proper line will have to be built even further East ensuring continued crappy coverage for that area in the future.

    Use the Streetcar as originally intended, and give 12th a couple bus lines for now.

  15. Not to mention this creates a huge hazard on 12th, a major bicycle route. It’s a great route for cyclists due to terrain, lack of (mostly) traffic – basically everything that makes it good for a streetcar route (Westlake anyone?), lack of traffic also noted by The Stranger. Hopefully they are considering a center roadway rail configuration…The Stranger notes the problems the Streetcar would have getting backed up in traffic on all the other routes. Couldn’t this be solved by giving the Streetcar ROW and traffic signal preference? This would increase the draw I’m pretty sure by making it faster than a bus.

    Just my POV on walking distances…How far a stop is from where I am does make a difference. I do consider how far I have to walk each way as a separate challenge. The 54x is only 5 blocks from 35th and the 21x. This 5 blocks is deceiving being separated by a *steep* uphill walk. At 11:00 pm do I want to walk uphill a steep three blocks in the pouring rain to get home even if the bus runs more often or do I want to wait an extra 10 minutes for a bus that drops me off 2 blocks from home on a downhill? The “round trip” calculation plays no part in a common sense decision unless all terrain/people/weather are exactly the same.

  16. Just wanted to reiterate some comments I have been making in the past:

    The Streetcar was designed as an alternative to the “First Hill” light rail station, which was actually designed to serve North First Hill, South Capitol Hill, and the Western Central Area (12th Ave corridor). This is apparent in the original station area overlay map:

    Notice that Harborview is not included in this area.

    Also, First Hill is, and will remain, better served by buses than the Streetcar. The 2,3,4, and 12 all have shorter distances from the downtown Light Rail tunnel to the medical centers and have peak headways of around 5 min, much less than the probable 15 min for the streetcar.

    A final factor is that, although building heights may be higher, TOD planning for either of the First Hill routes would be difficult. If we review the neighborhood plans, both Boren and Broadway are not designed as pedestrian or commercial corridors. This means that neighborhood focal points have been elsewhere (namely the West slope) and its also why you see big blank facades going up along Boren Ave. Not that this couldn’t change but the Neighborhood Plan Update is a long and complicated process and would require many additional funds and resources.

    12th on the other hand is designated specifically as a pedestrian and commercial center and development over the past decade has facilitated this, including plans for the future redevelopment of the King County Juvenile Detention Center. In addition, the 20 year master plan that SU developed highlights 12th as a central reference point for the campus. This type of street is a much better corridor for a streetcar line.

      1. Well Broadway really isn’t much of a commercial or pedestrian corridor South of about Union. !2th is more of one though 12th is pretty dead from the Juvenile Service Center to Main.

        Do remember that all of the alignments are partially on Broadway from about Union North. It isn’t like the commercial heart of Broadway would be ignored in favor of 12th.

        Still my inclination is for an alignment along Broadway or one of the alignments to the West. If any of the proposed alignments were two way on 12th I might feel differently but the 3 block separation of the couplet with a steep hill in-between is just such a bad idea.

        I’d like to see either the 36 or the 7 go to Aloha and Broadway rather than going downtown. It would improve service reliability on those routes, add a new transit connection, and boost Link ridership by forcing downtown bound riders to transfer. (see Rapid Trolley Network) However I’m not sure how to reconcile that with the various planned streetcar alignments. The buses could run 12th/Boren/Broadway but that would be somewhat redundant with the streetcar should the Broadway alignment be chosen and especially if the streetcar is extended to Aloha. The buses could run up 12th but that would mean turns on and off Broadway at the congested Pine/Broadway or John/Broadway intersections. Running the buses on 12th would also miss the hospitals and possibly SCCC which would likely be major destinations if these re-routes were done.

      2. The #7 has ten minute headways between Henderson and downtown throughout the day, mostly on fairly crowded articulated buses. MANY of those people are traveling to and from downtown. You want to force them to transfer at Mt. Baker why? To make Link look better.

        Of course, now that transfers between MT and ST are verboten except with an ORCA, irregular riders are going to pay more than twice as much to ride to or from downtown. More likely they’ll transfer on Jackson to the 14 or at Jefferson to the 3/4, overloading those already crowded lines.

        The #7 has been a backbone route for Metro for a century first as a streetcar itself and now as a bus. Don’t screw with success because of some ideology.

    1. Josh I’m sorry but as I have said before that is a zoning map, not a map of where that station has to serve. The station location was a comprise also. ST would have liked it further south but that would have been even more expensive. Also note that 12th ave is included in the map area just as much as Virginia Mason is.

      Most importantly though the Broadway or Boren alignments would server the location where that station should have been much better than the 12th ave alignment would, hands down.

  17. I am in place and my neighbors and I want a frequent dependable people mover. The proposed streetcar could provide us much needed north/south transportation. We at the north end of Broadway don’t want a streetcar as a catalyst for development. We need a system that will link us to the light rail station and also then on to the International District. Why hasn’t the new streetcar line been designed to continue north on Broadway to a common sense end near Roy Street? Why are we proposing a streetcar that doesn’t serve the entire Broadway geographic region? If you don’t live in my neighborhood you probably don’t know that you are overlooking a lot of people who find a walk north from Denny St. to Roy St. a hike. And, don’t come back and say to me why weren’t you asking in the early design meetings … I and MANY of my neighbors are at the north end of Broadway as a result of new construction.

    1. The streetcar is intended to go to Aloha if additional funding can be found. Lobby your city council to provide the funding.

    2. Mark,

      You do not want the streetcar north of the Capitol Hill Link station, at least, not on Broadway. The traffic is bad enough without adding a vehicle that stops in the middle of the street periodically.

      1. But on Broadway is exactly where we do want it, because that is where the businesses are. A noisy streetcar–bing, bing!–does not belong on a residential street going past houses every 10 or 15 minutes, but does add to the atmosphere of a busy neighborhood along Broadway. If there is too much traffic, then get rid of the parking lanes.

    3. What’s the story on this? Why aren’t they running this car one more stop North to the Roy/Aloha vicinity?

      I don’t get it. Why rip up the pavement along Madison if the train never even stops there? Why run a loop around Cal Anderson? Why not create a stop that serves the other half of the hill and drops folks off within walking distance of Volunteer Park? Has anyone even bothered doing cost/benefit studies on this?

      1. Yes. It has been studied. There is not money allocated to go north to Aloha, but that would be the obvious place to extend to. It is possible, and even logical, to extend the streetcar once it is built, but you’re going to have to come up with some money to do so. That money does not yet exist.

        Also, I do live in that area (10th and Harrison) and while I’d love to see a streetcar along Broadway, is Roy from Denny really a “hike”? It’s pretty much a level walk and I can’t imagine many folks waiting for the streetcar to go one stop. Now, Roy to Pike-Pine, I can see.

      2. I don’t mind walking few blocks for most things, but I just think it is retarded that the city would spend good money to build a mass transit system & have it stop just as it begins to reach the most densely populated section of the most densely populated neighborhood of the largest city in the entire region… If they extended the rail line another six blocks, how many homes & businesses would they add to those “walking shed” maps? Where else could they possibly get more bang for their buck in terms of placing mass transit within a few blocks of more homes & businesses?

        If they’re interested in spurring development, why not consider that there are literally hundreds of new, empty residential units & lots of empty commercial space over there? Last time I checked, having lots of empty units in the neighborhood does not inspire investors to start breaking ground on developments a few blocks away.

        Also, perception is very important: Seeing a train running up & down the entire length of Broadway adds to the visibility of the streetcar, and reminds folks, “Hey! I can be anywhere along Broadway and take the streetcar to & from Pioneer Square!”. This is part of the reason that a 12th Ave loop would be a disaster: it would not create enough of a visible, logical, easily conceptualized transit system.

      3. ATE,

        Your last paragraph says what I’ve been trying to say, but in a much better way. I would love to be able to go all the way to the Harvard Exit theatre on the streetcar, go across the street to Dilletante for dessert, and then downtown, all on the streetcar.

      4. Yes! Broadway from end to end! Just make sure you lobby your new mayor and city council for funds to complete it. And make sure you let SDOT know your routing preference. It’s all well and good to make your preference known here, but you also need to tell the people who will ultimately make the routing choice. You can bet the 12th Ave contingent will be out in force at the open houses and planning meetings, so make sure you are too.

  18. As Seattle depopulates trolleys begin to make no sense at all.

    I have proposed that Mike McGinn begin to buy up empty properties and increase the space between houses so that King County becomes more livable and proportioned to healthful life.

    1. “As Seattle depopulates?” What are you talking about? Seattle and King County’s population has been increasing not decreasing.

      I also wonder how you managed to miss that McGinn is aproponent of increasing density.

  19. Nickles was for density and for a be all and end all urban core.

    McGinn from the onset has been for a dispersed network of neighbors where Northgate is as important as Capital Hill.

    Lower density, less crowded streets may make Seattle habitable again.

    Overall, Seattle will have to live life as one of many exurbs that make up the Salish Sea.

    1. Again, you really haven’t been paying attention have you?

      Having spoken directly with McGinn on this I know he is for increased density in Seattle’s urban villages and around transit facilities. For instance he supported the TOD bill the last legislative session that would have mandated 50 unit per acre average density within 1/4 mile of Link stations and other major transit facilities.

      The future of Northgate is Thompson Place not 1 house per 5 acres or even 1 house per acre (which would be a lowering of density from what is currently built).

      There is no way Seattle will ever have exurban density. For one thing it is hardly Detroit (which even in the most empty areas still has higher than typical exurban densities and a much higher average density than that). For another even the least dense areas of the city have far more intensive land uses than is typical in exurban or even suburban areas.

      So McGinn is for increasing the density in Seattle, just that at the same time you are increasing it in Downtown, Belltown, and SLU he wants to increase it in Seattle’s other urban villages. If anything he wants a higher average density for Seattle than even Nickels did.

      1. More than that I believe him/her/it to be intentionally trolling. Most of it’s posts are so off the wall/off topic/uninformed that I can come to no other conclusion.

  20. A phenomenal amount of this discussion proceeds on a fallacious assumption- that 12th is an Avenue that needs and would benefit from TOD.

    TOD might be roughly defined as the extra boost to development that results from the extra goodness and extra expense of rail transit. In order for there to be TOD, you have to assume conditions in which there is no other demand to stimulate development.

    For example, an avenue that didn’t have a university to attract many students and staff, or an outlying avenue in an area where demand for housing was weak, or an area where no other employers would ever move in without some stimulus, or an area so chronically depressed that only a large and prolonged development by the government could save it.

    None of these factors apply to 12th Avenue! The reason 12th Avenue isn’t developed is that the property owners don’t want to develop it- yet. And why would they? With Seattle’s famous “hipsters” blowing the bugle of TOD, the property owners would be nuts to say anything. Sure, they could form an LID to build a streetcar, but look what happened to Paul Allen when he did that. They’ll just postpone development and hope the city will build them a new street before they start to develop- a new street that will be clogged with construction trucks for five years after it opens.

    Seattle just went through a decade (1996-2006) of full-throttle real estate development. 12th Avenue is about a mile from the city center, surrounded by dense development and use. If 12th itself is “under-developed”, the reason is that the property owners chose not to develop it- for reasons unrelated to transit or the market. TOD means nothing in this context.

    1. It’s not really that simple — many of the property owners along 12th *are* interested in development as evidenced by the number of DPD land use proposals on vacant or underused lots along 12th.

      A 4-story woodframe building on 12th costs about the same amount to build as a 4-story woodframe building on upper Queen Anne. But in the last few years, QA projects have gone forward and 12th Ave ones haven’t because the rents on QA are higher, regardless of the university and hospital jobs near to 12th. Adding a streetcar to 12th would theoretically make 12th more desirable, maybe make the 12th projects start to pencil out. They’re probably not too far away from pencilling if the property owners got as far as land use proposals.

      All that said, I’m for the Broadway alignment. It’ll get better ridership, it still provides plenty of development opportunities, and it’s closer to what was sold to voters. And in addition to total ridership, there’s someting to be said for targeting casual ridership — a transit system that provides 100000 rides a year has more support if it’s giving 10000 people 10 rides a year than if it’s giving 200 people 500 rides a year — and Broadway is much better for that.

      1. Well at least on the north end of 12th Ave (and in the Pine/15th/Union area) that is the only place that development have gone through.

  21. 12th ave is a bad plan. Of the three options, I support the Broadway alignment. I also provided my input to the streetcar team and suggested something I haven’t heard anyone else mention – a Broadway/Harvard couplet – Northbound on Broadway, southbound on Harvard, 2-way Broadway aligment heading south from where Harvard/Broadway/Madison intersect. This seems like a better plan than rounding Cal Anderson park, and it’s a fairly short block between these Harvard and Broadway. I hope this is given some consideration.

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