The 12th Ave Couplet alignment we don't support. Illustration from The Stranger.
The 12th Ave Couplet alignment that we argue against. Illustration by The Stranger.

Back to the great First Hill Streetcar alignment debate! (For background on these alignments, see an earlier blog entry.) After we editorialized about our continuing dislike of the 12th Ave Couplet, the Slog ran an Op-Ed supporting the alignment, written by two proponents, Kate Stineback and Bill Zosel.

Ms. Stineback works for Capitol Hill Housing, an organization, “in collaboration with the communities of the Central Area and Capitol Hill,” that heads the 12th Ave Initiative. The 12th Ave Initiative’s goal is to “better the business district along 12th Avenue, between E John and E Yesler Way.” Indeed, running a streetcar along 12th would support business along that corridor, but those interests don’t necessarily reflect the interests of the rest of the city or First Hill. The Central District community would be excited to see new transit access along its border, but what we give to the Central District should not be taken from First Hill.

Mr. Zosel is writing as a representative of the 12th Avenue Stewardship Committee, a committee that is closely linked to the 12th Ave Initiative — the committee’s meeting minutes are hosted on the 12th Ave Initiative’s blog.

The work that Ms. Stineback and Mr. Zosel are doing is no doubt done for all the best reasons, and it’s a joy to see two folks so interested in the future alignment of a streetcar line in their own community. However, since both authors of the piece are linked to the 12th Ave Initiative, it makes sense that they’ll find any contrary arguments presented in front of them unconvincing. Readers should know that the authors of the Slog post probably have an interest in building on 12th Avenue, regardless of the countervailing arguments, and their conclusions may not be the same as those of someone who isn’t working specifically to redevelop 12th avenue. (None of the contributors to this blog live or commute along the corridor under dispute, nor are any of us involved in any neighborhood redevelopment initiatives.)

Contained after the jump is a “fact check” style response to the proponents’ arguments…

  • Claim: “The Broadway-12th Avenue Couplet poses no threat to potential ridership.”
  • Fact: Accessibility for riders would decrease under a Broadway-12th Ave Couplet, which could have an adverse effect on ridership.

We’ve shown this effect through our walk shed models (pictured below). Since there is much more demand on First Hill (we talk about jobs figures later in this piece), an increase in walking time for those First Hill commuters would be greater than the total savings by 12th Ave commuters; the median walking time would increase. Proponents provide no evidence that this increased average walking time will be “no threat” to ridership. The increase in walking time for First Hill riders is a serious concern that is echoed in public meetings by representatives of Seattle’s Department of Transportation.

First Hill Streetcar Alignments
12th Ave Couplet has a significantly worse walk shed.
  • Claim: Proponents claim that the 12th Ave Couplet routing “does [not] take away service from First Hill” and is the “only alignment that maintains service to First Hill while accommodating future development and transit needs.”
  • Fact: The 12th Ave Couplet halves the level of service to the First Hill business district.

Instead of that district being served with bidirectional service to both the Capitol Hill and International District light rail stations, it will be served with only a stop heading north, toward the Capitol Hill light rail station just blocks away. The First Hill business district will not have access to the International District station without a longer walk than our preferred alternative would provide.

  • Claim: Only “some riders on some trips” will be affected by reduced accessibility.
  • Fact: Every single round trip rider will have to take an extra hike for one direction of their trip compared to a route without a couplet along this corridor.

This four-minute detour could would turn, for instance, a seven-minute walk into a eleven-minute walk, which is about the point where people decide to stop using transit and start driving cars. This walk is even slower if you’re with children, an old grandma, a patient going to a hospital, or disabled — there’s a reason why longer walks make ridership drop off dramatically.

Proponents paint a picture of a person who works at Swedish, on Broadway, having to only walk an additional four minutes to get to the ID. Even in that rosy scenario, however, the employee would be better off having to walk no additional time with a bidirectional stop on Broadway. And since there are more potential riders on First Hill, having them walking as no extra minutes preserves rather than diminishes ridership.

More to the point, most people who work on First Hill don’t work at Swedish, or on Broadway. An employee who works farther down First Hill, where most of the jobs are, would have to walk uphill to Broadway and then walk an additional 4 minutes to get the streetcar on 12th, through a right-of-way that is part of the Seattle University campus — hardly a typical walk for pedestrians, and one many might avoid.

Proponents should not dismiss an extra four minutes “here or there,” because time is a factor in any commute. If your car gets you to work 10 minutes faster instead of just 6 minutes faster, you’re much more likely to drive. It’s these rational decisions that can cause bad alignment choices to lead to lower transit ridership.

  • Claim: Proponents suggest that we’ve claimed “streetcar couplets don’t work and they aren’t that common.”
  • Fact: While one-block couplets do work and are common, three-block couplets, with one block on a hill and the other in a valley, do not work and are not even remotely common.

Not all couplets are the same, and even SDOT has told us in public meetings that a two-block couplet is about the limit of what passengers will allow. The couplet being proposed is nearly twice as long as the longest separation between the two Portland Streetcar directions — the example 12th proponents use.

Two-Way Broadway alignment. Illustration by The Stranger.
  • Claim: Proponents say that “the majority of the Portland Streetcar line runs as a couplet,” implying that Portland’s couplet is similar to Seattle’s.
  • Fact: In Portland the streetcar is separated by a maximum of 520 feet and a much lower average separation, while Broadway to 12th is around 980 feet, almost twice the distance. While Portland’s couplet is on flat ground, the 12th Ave Couplet requires one section to be built atop a steep hill.

We when we said this distance and grade was “unprecedented,” we were correct. Most Portland blocks are smaller than most Seattle blocks, and proponents didn’t inform readers of that fact.

  • Claim: Proponents say that SDOT has “been working with Seattle University to study the feasibility of installing some kind of assistance here, perhaps an escalator, to address incline issues.”
  • Fact: No money has been programmed to build any expensive outdoor escalators or moving sidewalks, but it is nice to see proponents acknowledge the “incline issues” that their alignment presents.
  • Claim: “By basing their argument against 12th simply on potential building heights, STB fails to acknowledge the power that streetcars have to specifically catalyze neighborhood-commercial development in the future.”
  • Fact: If 12th Ave is as easily accessible from Broadway as proponents claim, then a streetcar line on Broadway should spur development there as well.

As we have argued before, “the development potential along a Broadway or Boren alignment is an order of magnitude higher than along 12th Ave.” In First Hill, “most lots can be built (or redeveloped) as high as 240-300 feet (compared to between 40 and 60 along 12th),” Publicola reports.

  • Claim: “STB asserts that existing demand should drive the alignment selection of the First Hill Streetcar.” The Broadway or Boren alignments would serve the largest amount of commercial and residential, with 12th Ave coming in last.
  • Fact: We advocate balancing current demand, future demand, and city-shaping elements when considering how to build rail.

Proponents seek to exclusively focus on the city-shaping elements and don’t admit that providing half-accessible streetcar service is unlikely to create the density or the demand they are after. And again, if Broadway as easily accessible from 12th as proponents claim, then future 12th Avenue development will have no problem accessing the streetcar.

  • Claim: “While STB argues that First Hill has more existing demand, it misses the point entirely that we are planning for future demand and development.”
  • Fact: Policy should balance existing and future demands. Existing demand is high, because the 35,000 jobs located in First Hill make it the largest employment center outside of Downtown.

Proponents focus only on future demand, which could result in less demand overall than balancing the two concerns, especially because they haven’t demonstrated higher future demand for their alignment.

  • Claim: “Moreover, this existing demand already has numerous bus connections running directly downtown and directly to the hospitals, many of which will always be faster than a streetcar connection.”
  • Fact: These bus routes do not duplicate the proposed streetcar alignments. The streetcar connects Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the International District — not Downtown.

The benefits of a streetcar are not just speed, but also frequency, capacity, and easy-of-use. And again, if First Hill is as accessible from 12th as proponents claim, then this same bus service is available to residents on 12th meaning they may not need a streetcar either.

  • Claim: Proponents claim that though the streetcar is designed to replace the missing First Hill light rail station, that station was at “the nexus of three urban villages, and not at Virginia Mason’s doorstep” implying that the 12th Ave Couplet performs the same job.
  • Fact: The bidirectional First Hill light rail station was expected to be just west of Broadway & Madison, no further from nor closer to 12th than the proposed Two-Way Broadway streetcar alignment.

That light rail stop on Broadway would’ve been bidirectional, serving both the Capitol Hill and International District stations without 980 feet of extra walking for riders. The 12th Ave Couplet does not provide bidirectional service on Broadway; it doesn’t replace the level of service from the deleted First Hill Link station. And t only reason we have funding for this streetcar is to replace that station. The Two-Way Broadway alignment does a better job of providing the level of service that First Hill expects from a Link station.

Two-Way Broadway also provides a stop near 11th and & Madison, providing a connection to Seattle University’s 12th Ave edge and popular destinations like Cafe Presse. This stop provides service to the 12th Ave urban village that is even closer than the original First Hill Link station.

  • Claim: “The lost Link station was to have served residents, employees, and shoppers of First Hill, Pike/Pine and the 12th Avenue urban village, not just the three big hospitals on First Hill.”
  • Fact: The Two-Way Broadway alignment provides a bidirectional stop that is more similar to the the lost Link station than the 12th Ave Couplet.

We agree that a bidirectional Link stop on Broadway provides service to 12th Avenue, and note that a bidirectional streetcar stop does too. We see little reason to degrade the quality and accessibility of service for everyone else by moving half of the streetcar to 12th Ave.

As ECB at Publicola points out, this isn’t about serving just the hospitals: First Hill “is the densest neighborhood in the state, with nearly 25,000 residents per square mile (compared to around 10,000 in Capitol Hill and about 2,700 in Seattle as a whole). Yes, there are hospitals on First Hill, but there are also lots and lots and lots of residents. Most of those residents (75 percent) get to work by some means other than driving, and only 50 percent even own a car — prime real estate, in other words, for new transit.”


We think Ms. Stineback and Mr. Zosel are doing excellent work for their 12th Ave Initiative, but don’t think that initiative’s interests would result in the best transit line for Seattle or First Hill. Though 12th Avenue could certainly use additional transit service — like re-routed trolley buses — it would be a disservice to the rest of the city to build another streetcar that would likely be perceived as a poor performer. That would make our work as transit advocates harder in the future. We don’t want our next transit battle to be an uphill climb, just like no one wants their commute to have an uphill climb.

147 Replies to “Fact-Checking the 12th Ave Couplet”

  1. Just a couple of personal observations from my trolley days at Metro:
    1. The hill climb between 12th and Broadway is really steep in certain parts(Jefferson). I’ve walked it, and was huffing near the top.
    2. Mixing trolley overhead and Streetcar power lines is going to be difficult, and anything to mitigate that is a positive for both systems. The Broadway wire is a base route to Capital hill, and should be moved to 12th during construction on Broadway. Once moved, leave it there and start trolley service along 12th as a collector/distributor for CHS, and maybe keep it going to the U-dist for the same reason along the 49 wire.
    3. Traffic along Broadway isn’t that bad for most of the day right now. Finding a better place for On-Street parking would make it hugely more efficient and safe, or better yet, eliminate the need for those spaces with great public transit!
    4. Seattle is blessed with many E/W trolley routes. The N/S streetcar bisects those at many places, creating an efficient grid. Keeping things simple like that makes learning and riding transit a joy, not something to be endured.

    1. “2. Mixing trolley overhead and Streetcar power lines is going to be difficult, and anything to mitigate that is a positive for both systems. The Broadway wire is a base route to Capital hill, and should be moved to 12th during construction on Broadway. Once moved, leave it there and start trolley service along 12th as a collector/distributor for CHS, and maybe keep it going to the U-dist for the same reason along the 49 wire.”

      This is a clever idea. I haven’t seen any consideration of trolleybus/streetcar wire interface in any of the documents so far.

      1. You haven’t been reading the blog enough, Nathanael. There was a pretty exhaustive discussion about potential problems with streetcars using a pantograph about a month and a half ago. The general consensus is that it makes the most sense to use the “hot” wire of the trolley bus pair with a trolley pole, if the streetcars can run on the amperage available.

        The historic trolleys on Market do exactly that.

        Most everyone also agreed that the idea of moving the base route on 12th and eventually moving the 60 service over, at least for part of the way, is excellent.

        For me the deal killer of anything including 12th Avenue is the distance from Madison and Minor, where the station was to have been. It’s just waaaaaayyyy too far. The money for this thing is coming from the savings by not having to dig the deep station — well really, not being able to dig the deep station — under First Hill. If the streetcar deviates from Broadway it should be to the west, not the east.

  2. That was awesome. I just hope that McGinn is circulating this analysis around. Of course, he just might since he bowed to this blog and allowed makeshift park and rides in Rainier.

  3. Great editorial, especially the point that if 12th is conveniently close to Broadway with a streetcar, it’s conveniently close without a streetcar too.

      1. You’re missing the point — only the 12th Ave supporters make the argument that the alignments are close enough together. The folks wanting the B’way alignment disagree, so the same couldn’t be said the other way around.

      2. The 12th avenue supporters aren’t arguing “the other way around”. They’re arguing for splitting the line in two.

  4. Really nice post. Informative, but not just as a rebuttal. Also amply illustrates why the “because we live here and you don’t” assertion does nothing to create larger qualification of the asserter, no matter how intelligent or well-meaning. It’s a local mode in a regional system and has to serve far more than the interests of the local business development community.

  5. Great work John. Fact checking editorials is not always enojoable work, but obviously very valuable. I have to admit at first glance I thought the 12th couplet looked like the better alignment with greater exposure to more residents/commuters, but after reading some of the insightful analysis and comments posted here I think it is clear that the 12th couplet does not meet the purpose and need of the lost first hill Link station, of which this streetcar is meant to replace. Hopefully the right people are checking the facts as well.

  6. I definately don’t want to be grouped on the Stranger’s side on this one, and am being more and more convinced that the couplet is a bad idea, but I have to fact check a few of your facts:

    * Claim: “Proponents provide no evidence that this increased average walking time will be “no threat” to ridership”
    * Fact: STB has provided no evidence that increased one-way walking time is more important than round-trip walking time, despite requests to that effect. Without such evidence the claim of “increased average walking time” is dubious. Certainly no evidence of increased round-trip walking time has been presented.

    * Claim: “Every single round trip rider will have to take an extra hike for one direction of their trip.”
    * Fact: This is misleading at best. For the non-couplet stops, it’s plain false. For the couplet stops, one could have a, say, four minute walk in one direction and a zero minute walk in the other where under the other plan would have a four minute walk in both directions.

    There are other “facts” listed that can be grouped more as opinion or interpretation than evidence based. I’m not thrilled by STB’s one sided view of this. I’m coming to agree with you in substance, but reporting could have had a less biased feel.

      1. Issue 1: Obviously total walking distance influences ridership. STB’s claim is that one-way distance is more important than round-trip distance (4 minute each way is better than 1 minute one way, 5 minutes the other way), and both the colored maps and a large amount of debate uses this as an assumption. This defies logic and my experience, yet no evidence is given that one-way travel time is more important. I’d actually be surprised if one-way vs. round trip studies have been done, as they only become important in strange cases like couplets.

        Issue 2: But even then the statement was false. So much for “facts”.

      2. Matt this is just one part of an overwhelming set of other factors that points to the conclusion that a Boren or Broadway (or some combination) is the best solution. I have already expand why I disagree with you about travel times and your other point is being a bit nit-picky.

      3. You’ve offered opinions, not facts. Calling out the Stranger for not providing evidence when STB hasn’t provided evidence doesn’t seem like a great call.

        It’s not nit-picky. There’s a 3-block section where walking times are reduced for the couplet, and would be the same for others (looking at geography only, not density, and shifting half of the route). That’s a lot of potential riders and time savings.

        John makes good points below about First Hill present/future density that may make this time savings less important (because it’s just looking at geography, not density), but it’s still a real effect.

        “this is just one part of an overwhelming set of other factors that points to the conclusion that a Boren or Broadway (or some combination) is the best solution” And that’s why I’m strongly leading away from the couplet. I’m on your side. But I want to be on the side of truth and beauty, not on the side of half-truth and pretty but misleading graphs.

      4. Haha okay. How about this. We followed up our “opinions” with fancy graphics rather than just saying the other side is making claims based on bad assumptions.

        Claim: sldfjsd

        Our opinion that while it isn’t exactly a “fact” is founded on basic transit knowledge and fancy graphics: sldfjsd

    1. Matt, transit ridership is not based on an individual decision, but a group decision. That is, we’re not talking about transit rider A — we’re talking about how to maximize the set of transit riders. If rider A gets to walk 4 minutes less while B-G have to walk four minutes more, did the average walking time balance out? No.

      Say there’s 35,000 jobs in First Hill. Now say there’s 5,000 jobs on 12th, a complete guess that you can find actual numbers for if it’s a concern. Say your average walking time for a First Hill commuter from Broadway is “x.” Now, we add a four minute walk — so x + 4. Say your average walking time for a 12th Ave job from Broadway is y. Now we subtract four minutes — so y – 4. You imply that this all balances out because one group has a +4 and the other a -4.

      But you don’t scale the demand for job density, like this, very roughly: 35,000 * (x + 4) + 5,000 * (y – 4). (In this case, the mode walking time increases by 3 minutes.)

      The median walking time increases because there is simply much more existing demand on First Hill than on 12th. When the median walking time increases, your ridership certainly falls. Again this is very rough math, but you can extrapolate I’m sure.

      1. Yeah John I wanted to emphasis that last point. Accurately predicting how riders behave is hard on an individual basis, but is more possible on a large scale, for a travel demand model lets say. So John, Matt or myself could say that people will do this or won’t do that but it is really hard to tell. We are all making educated guesses and the scale is hard to gauge unless you are a computer.

    2. Matt: “one could have a, say, four minute walk in one direction and a zero minute walk in the other where under the other plan would have a four minute walk in both directions.”

      They could, but the more common case (because there is far higher demand in First Hill) would be a five minute walk in one direction and then a nine minute walk in the other direction. (As opposed to just five minutes each way with a Two-Way Broadway alignment).

      The same principle applies in my above comment. You are not combining these rational decisions with the fact there is a much higher existing demand on First Hill.

      1. “You are not combining these rational decisions with the fact there is a much higher existing demand on First Hill.”

        “Fact: We advocate balancing current demand, future demand, and city-shaping elements when considering how to build rail.”


        You’re trying to shift the debate into how to best serve First Hill. That’s fine, and a reasonable way to design the streetcar. It would also immediately exclude the couplet.

        I’m also fine with some sort of predicted ridership based on zoned densities, or even a combination of zoned density and existing buildings. But you haven’t presented this data, and your comment above is the first time I’ve heard this from STB (and even then only based on existing densities). Until this happens it’s a very weak claim to be on the side of the “facts”. I had assumed you were basing your claim on the data that has been presented – the colored maps – and was questioning that data.

      2. Do you really expect me to present ridership models? In response to a group that hasn’t presented any? That’s a low standard you hold the 12th Ave folks to, and a pretty high one you hold us to.

        First Hill has the highest current demand. It has higher building capacity, and will probably have higher future demand as well. You seem to view this as a marginal jobs issue — “if 12th Ave grows by 10k jobs over the next decade, and First Hill grows by 2k jobs then we should serve that future demand.” But that future demand still heavily favors First Hill.

        It is easy and tempting to think avoiding thinking in terms of groups but rather compare one 12th Ave rider to one Broadway rider. The problem is there are more Broadway commuters, and there will probably be more Broadway commuters forever. And if Broadway and 12th are so close, as proponents say, then I’m not sure why it even matters.

        “You’re trying to shift the debate into how to best serve First Hill. ”

        Good for me, because it is called the First Hill Streetcar.

      3. “Do you really expect me to present ridership models?” Not really. But saying they don’t have any evidence for their claims without providing any for yours seems like a pot-kettle issue. That said, I have provided no models myself (then again, I’m not claiming anything :-).

      4. Matt point taken but there is difference between just saying something and say something for a reason. No one yet has a ridership model but thee are corollaries to ridership like existing demand, walking distance, density, etc. which points toward 12th having the lowest ridership.

      5. Honestly, I hate the couplet idea for the same reasons presented here, but I don’t think a zig-zagging streetcar is the best method to serve First Hill…which is the point, right? Wish we could scrap the First Hill Streetcar, build a cable car, funicular, or escalators to downtown and call it a day. Build the streetcar on 12th both ways (which is the most direct, logical routing) with some other money some other day. But, a zig-zagging, worthless streetcar it will be…sigh.

    3. This argument is totally inane. Most trips will have a longer round-trip distance with the couplet, since most of the development (current and potential) will be on the west side of 12th ave.

  7. Great commentary, though I am surprised that this is even an argument, 3 blocks and a huge hill are too much of a separation. Regardless of current or future demand, it doesn’t make sense to have that kind of distance between the directionals.

    1. Yeah I saw this. What exactly do they need artist for? The stations? The streetcars?

      1. Wow cool. They are looking at art holistically, not just popping some sculpture here and there.

  8. I live in the CD in the vicinity of Cherry and 21st. I am a long distance runner that has run the streets of the CD (mostly Squire Park), Capitol Hill, and First Hill for years. I know both Broadway and 12th by heart. I work in an office in the Pike Pine corridor. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the people of the area and patterns and flow of the streets and sidewalks.

    I have a hard time understanding the logic that indicates the streetcar would better serve the people of Seattle if it was on Broadway. From my understanding of the City and how the neighborhoods involved in this dialogue function- this just seems counter to the City I know.

    I would just ask that you all just walk the alternatives (or run) and get a feel for the area. I would ask you to look at what lies beyond the facades of the streets, look where the people are going and coming from – if you are on Broadway count the parking garages and the vacant properties owned by the Archdiocese – be sure to check out the steep slope adjacent to Seattle U…. Broadway is not really a very alive street until you get to Union….it only becomes a true character at Pike. Along 12th, notice the very dense neighborhood to the east (Squire Park), Seattle U, all the student housing, the social service agencies, also take note of all the hospital workers on the southeast corner of 12th and Jefferson (from both Swedish on Broadway and Swedish Cherry Hill) – and be sure to note the lack of any existing north/south public transportation on 12th.

    I really believe… that the 12th alternative would better serve the people Seattle and would be a viable option of transportation for the people of our City.

    The claims that the streetcar would better serve the people of Seattle on Broadway has not been validated with a true and logical argument by this blog and I believe it is unfortunate that anyone with a computer can print something down and it is “news” – it is to hard to sift through the volume of inaccurate statements and half truths that are made in these sort of forums (from both sides of the argument)- unless blogging is your life.

    Anyhow, if it goes down Broadway – seattletransitblog and your followers, you win!!!! But I think it will be a real loss for the people that live, work and play in the Capitol Hill, First Hill and CD neighborhoods.

    1. Hi James, thanks for commenting.

      There are 35,000 jobs and 25,000 residents on First Hill, and 12th Ave does not have those same numbers.

      1. I got the number of residents way off, sorry about that. The original post doesn’t have this error.

      2. Actually both your numbers are off and so are Erica’s. First Hill has about 22,000 jobs and 6,000 households. The commonly (mis)quoted numbers of 24,000 households and 37,000 jobs refer to the combined “Capitol Hill / First Hill Urban Center” which is an agglomeration of four neighborhoods: Capitol Hill, Pike-Pine, First Hill AND (ironically) 12th Ave.

        First Hill does have more jobs, but 15,000 of the 37,000 jobs are located within the other three neighborhoods, and the large majority of the residential population is in Capitol Hill and Pike-Pine. Capitol Hill is denser than First Hill (20,000 hh per sq mi on Capitol Hill vs. 17,000 on First Hill). First Hill may be zoned highrise, but so much of the land on First Hill is given over to hospitals that the aggregate population density is actually lower.

        Belltown, by the way, is the densest neighborhood in Seattle (25,000 households per square mile), but if you choose to consider Belltown part of “greater downtown”, then Capitol Hill, not First Hill takes the crown as the densest neighborhood outside of downtown.

        All these numbers are taken from the Seattle Comprehensive Plan.

    2. Streetcars help spur density which is zoned-for on First Hill and on the Broadway corridor. Acquiring the same zoning within the same radius using 12th is impossible and would severely limit growth of the neighborhood while serving a nearly-built out 12th Ave corridor with limited growth potential and a highly active anti-growth population.

      1. To be fair, 12th is hardly “built out” particularly from Cherry to Yesler.

        Also I wouldn’t say there is a “highly active anti-growth population” in the area. True there have been concerns about how some of the institutional property owners in the area plan to develop their properties. However for the most part these concerns aren’t so much anti-growth as they are asking that development occur in a community friendly manner. For instance ensuring the street level along 12th is pedestrian friendly by not having parking lots, garages, garage entrances, or blank walls.

        That said I tend to favor the Broadway and Boren alignments for the First Hill streetcar. Mostly on the merit of providing N/S transportation on First Hill and because the ridership is likely higher. If the 12th avenue alignment wasn’t a couplet I might feel a bit differently but as it stands I don’t think the Broadway/12th Ave split serves either street well.

    3. I’m agreeing with james on recommending one walk the options. I worked in the area at Seattle U two years ago and felt that folks lived on 12th avenue, whereas Broadway felt like the back-end of the hospitals, the university and the other assortment of institutions. While I’m personally still on the fence, I can understand the strong feelings for 12th.

      The streetcar will look right on 12th, among all those front doors of residences and businesses facing the street. It is a vision of a hip and exciting city.

      1. Yeah that is why 12th has such a following, because it “feels right”. 12th is becoming a hip area with new housing etc. Its like SLU but hip and cool. Maybe something like the Pearl.

        The problem is by putting it on 12th you are turning a transportation project into something that looks pretty and feel right. That is the problem. It ceases being useful.

      2. The thing is, the part of 12th that’s hip and cool is served by the stop at 11th and Madison. Yes, it’s half-served and that’s the problem with a couplet, but around these areas the walk is less steep.

      3. Adam and John,

        You’re missing the point. The “hip and cool” portion of 12th Ave doesn’t need a streetcar, it’s already hip and cool. The real economic development opportunity that the 12th Ave folks are shooting for is the southern portion of 12th, which consists primarily of empty lots. The idea is that the streetcar can extend the “hip and cool” district that already exists on Capitol Hill further to the south as development follows the streetcar line.

        It’s perfectly fine to believe that this vision has little public value, or that the public value of serving interests farther to the west is more important. It is also fine to support this vision but believe that the loop will not be effective in implementing it, but regardless of why you disagree with your opponents position, it is best to at least understand their position.

      4. Tony I think everyone involved agrees that streetcars are catalysts to redevelopment, etc.

      5. Adam,

        Yes, hopefully everyone does agree that steetcars offer a unique ability to catalyze development, but they are not magic. They cannot, for example turn a street that is already heavily built up with pedestrian-hostile uses like office towers and parking garages such as Broadway south of Union Street or Boren Ave into a vibrant pedestrian oriented neighborhood retail district like Broadway North of Union St.

        The other critcal issue, and this is a key economics concept, is the importance of marginal development. The point I was making above is that the north end of 12th is caught up in the pedestrian shed of Pike-Pine, which is doing quite well. A streetcar would facilitate development here, but even without the streetcar, the development would still occur, thus the streetcar offers no marginal development benefit beyond what is going to happen anyway. The same can be said about the hospitals and Yesler Terrace. With respect to development, whatever is going to happen is going to happen regardless of the streetcar alignment.

        The key to figuring economic development and “place making” benefits is to identify the areas where the streetcar can “make the difference”, and it is under this metric that 12th Ave shines. The south end of 12th Ave is built, zoned and situated in such a way that the streetcar would make a big difference here. Most of the other alignments are in places that either A.) are already doing well so don’t critically need the streetcar or B.) are already built up in such a way that the streetcar will not be powerful enough to bring about a transformation.

        Of course there is value in serving future density even if that density is going to get built anyway, but the key is that serving that new (or existing) density is a transportation benefit, not an economic development benefit. It only counts as economic development if the streetcar “makes the difference” with respect to what gets built.

        Unfortunately, the economic development potency is undermined by running the streetcar in a loop. 1/2 a streetcar offers some economic development potency, but not much. As such any economic development advantage that might be ascribed to the 12th Ave loop should be discounted appropriately in cost-benefit analysis.

      6. Your logic is kind of funny, as what you have concluded is that if something looks pretty and feels right – then it is not useful. This is the sort of attitude that I don’t really understand.

      7. james, I think the point is that just because something looks cool and feels right doesn’t prove that it is useful. And barring evidence that 12th Ave will overwhelm the intense demand on First Hill, it seems to me that the 12th Ave moment has less to do with actual demand — either current or future — and more with a sense of improving the corridor. Which isn’t a bad motive, but it isn’t the same motive that the rest of Seattle have.

      8. Get real. That streetcar goes in, those “front doors of residences and businesses” go out. that’s the whole thing the 12th Ave people are talking about- how TOD is going to spur new building, which may or may not have street-level retail, but will definitely be expensive, built to 35 feet at least, and have multiple curbcuts for onsite parking.

        Streetcars looked natural trundling past front doors of single-family homes in 1918. Today, not so much.

      9. Curb cuts are prohibited on Broadway north of Pine Street; this design regulation could easily be extended to the south.

      10. I am not sure you know the buildings that are along the 12th Street route very well -as there are very few 1918 single family homes on the 12th Street alternative. There are a a handful – but they are in pretty bad disrepair (the onese between Yesler and James). I can not think of one single family home from Jefferson north… maybe even James all the way to Pike??? What 1918 single family homes on 12th are you talking of???

        I understand it is alot to ask someone to walk the 12th alternative… but maybe you could use bing or google maps to at leaset gain some sense of the built enviornment. The sort of statements you have made and your tone indicate that you are just arguing for the sake of arguing…. and that is just silly.

      11. I think he is being a bit sarcastic. There are single family houses just half a block of 12th in multiple locations.

        Let flip this on its head. Off the top of my head I know of one single family house between Broadway and I-5 and Roy and James?

        I know a few but they are few and far between.

        The point being that First Hill and the denser parts of Cap Hill already have, and in the future, will have much more density. If the streetcar is built on 12th I think that a building height of at least 8-10 stories should be on 12th. Going up the hill towards the CD that should probably drop off at 2 or so floors a block. Do you think that kind of zoning would be possible?

      12. When you type things like “get real” – it takes away from the useful dialogue.

        Please indicate where the early 1900 Single Family homes on the 12th Street Alternative are located….as you seem to like mentioning them, but between Yesler and Union.. I cannot really think of but maybe two or three.

      13. James, I have been walking around in that neighborhood so long I can remember buildings that you never even knew they existed.

        Yes, I agree, the development of the past 20 years has pretty much blasted out the nice houses that used to be there, and a lot of other stuff.

        In any case, I was responding to the comment above that imagines how nice it would be for the streetcar to run past the front doors of homes. Argue with him if you want to argue with someone about this.

    4. I can see why 12th looks better when you walk the areas, but looks are deceiving. You mention Squire Park being a “dense” neighborhood, but that is simply not true in comparison to First Hill. I used to live in Squire Park, and it is almost entirely single-family homes and will stay that way. Only 12th avenue itself is zoned for 6-story buildings.

      Broadway may look desolate, but walk one block west and you will find a sea of huge apartment buildings that make First Hill extremely dense. There is also huge employment density and also demand for hospital services. Don’t forget Yesler Terrace, either. The Broadway alignment would give Yesler Terrace residents a good 2-way stop, which the 12th alignment would not.

      It is a good point, though, that Broadway isn’t very user-friendly in that area, which is why I think people should look closely at the alignment option that goes along Broadway, takes a left onto Boylston, then a right onto Seneca. That would take the streetcar into a more dense residential part of First Hill, would avoid some heavy traffic around Madison, and gets the closest of all alignments to where the original light rail station was supposed to be.

      1. Of course, couldn’t some of the streetcar redevelopment magic help redevelop the pedestrian frontage along Broadway?

      2. Unfortunately, streetcar magic is unlikely to make a significant impact on the streetscape on south Broadway. Transforming the southern portion of Broadway into a neighborhood retailing street would require demolishing and rebuilding the current structures. Streetcars can help, but they can’t make a teardown/redevelopment project pencil when the existing development is already quite dense.

        You also have an issue with retail synergy. Even if a couple of parcels do redevelop, you will have a couple nice storefronts surrounded by sterile office towers and parking garages. In order to make a great urban retailing street, you need a continuous group of storefronts with minimal “gaps”. That cannot happen on south Broadway. It can happen on 12th Ave because 12th consists primarily of empty lots or storefronts that are already compatible with an urban retail corridor.

        Now, the commuter and residential density arguments may outweigh this, and I doubt that half a streetcar will be the retail catalyst 12th Ave hopes it will be (a 2-way 12th alignment is really necessary to work the full magic), but sadly, none of the western alignments present an opportunity to create a pedestrian oriented retail corridor. If we want to prioritize the hospital commuters and highrise residents, we have to give up the opportunity to create a southern extension of Capitol Hill’s retail core.

      3. Tony–

        I appreciate the economists’ perspective you bring to these discussions, and the “magic” of streetcar as an economic development catalyst is an apt topic for you. But, I question the assumption that the First Hill segment of Broadway needs to become more retail and pedestrian-oriented for it to be a successful alignment choice. If the First Hill stops serve primarily as a collector of trips to and from First Hill instituitions–including Seattle University and Swedish–while the other stops are successful because of the livability characteristics of Broadway, Pike Pine, Little Saigon, Japan Town, Chinatown, and Pioneer Square, that would make for a very successful transit line.

      4. Tony,

        The First Hill Streetcar is being paid for by the savings from not digging the First Hill Station and the extra half mile of tunneling. We would not be having this discussion without that salient fact. The streetcar is meant to replace the service that a Link Station in the heart of the hospital district would have provided.

        There is frequent service to the corner of 12th and Madison and 12th and Jefferson. Those places are about five blocks apart and between them cover nearly the entire stretch of 12th Avenue to be revitalized.

        Moving the base wire to 12th and adding service from North Beacon Hill to the University along it makes sense.

        The streetcar should deviate to the west, not the east, of Broadway.

      5. Binkly,

        You are correct that a broadway alignment would collect First Hill residents and employees and deliver them to vibrant urban retail streets on North Broadway and Jackson, which does serve some good. I was simply saying that the streetcar will not be able to transform South Broadway into a great urban retailing street the way north Broadway is. The streetcar could do this with 12th Ave. It’s a tradeoff. Economics is all about tradeoffs. In order to have this project provide the best service to the residents and employees west of broadway, we have to give up a great economic development opportunity on 12th Ave. Conversely, in order to take advantage of the unique opportunity that exists on 12th (and does not exist on south broadway), we would have to give up having the best service for the employees and residents west of Broadway. I’m not here to say which is better, only to help clarify the choices and tradeoffs so that the community can make a wise decision.


        The First Hill streetcar is being paid for by the taxpayers of the North King sub-area, which consists of the cities of Seattle, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. It is not being paid for by First Hill any more than it is being paid for by the people of Ballard, Greenwood, Delridge or Shoreline. Sound Transit has opted to fund the First Hill streetcar because the elected leaders representing the North King sub-area decided that serving the employment centers on First Hill was in the public interest. These same leaders could decide that re-appropriating the money to facilitate an economic development opportunity on 12th Ave would be a better use of public resources (though I think that is unlikely to happen).

        I have no objection to arguments that suggest that serving the employment centers on First Hill should be a higher priority, but I do object to the attitude that First Hill is entitled to their preferred alignment. They are not. They and their allies need to make the case that serving First Hill is in the public interest, not from a position of unwarranted entitlement.

        With respect to the 3/4 and 2/12 bus routes that you refer to, these routes travel east-west, not north-south. Furthermore, buses do not catalyze economic development. There are theoretical reasons for this which I am too tired to explain right now, but regardless of theory, the data shows that they don’t.

        Regarding your preference for a western (Boren-Seneca) alignment for the streetcar, there are a number of advantages to a western alignment, including proximity to greater residential density and Virginia Mason. There are, however, disadvantages including worse proximity to Seattle University (9,000 daily commute trips) and slower speeds which could increase operating costs. Tradeoffs again.


      6. Yesler Terrace will have access to the street car with both alternatives.

        Your comment about Squire Park is not true. There are single family homes in the neighborhood- but the larger part of dwelling units are multi-family: townhomes, duplexes, 3 to 4 level apartment garages. Also, Squire Park is almost entierly zoned for multi-family. Many of the single family homes that are left have been short platted and there back yards have been developed with single family homes. The single family lots are also some of the smallest single family homes lots in the City – many of the single family homes dont even have room for a drive way (they were platted before there were cars).

        I am not sure I understand everyone’s comment about the streetcar serving those who work in First Hill either; I am not sure alot of hospitol staff live in Capitol Hill or the International District and doctors don’t generally take public transit. Hospitol staff tend to catch a bus downtown where they get off at 3rd and Pike and then go where ever it is that hospitol staff go and quite a few live in the CD (between 12th and MLK).

        For us in thh CD, the 12th Street alternative would serve as a route to goods, services, and low paying service jobs on Captiol Hill (lot of cool Hill kids with low paying service jobs live in the CD) and the 12th alignment would serve as a route to the Number 2 (to get downtown to high paying service jobs) and the Number 8 (to go to lower Queen Anne/Seattle Center).

      7. ” There are single family homes in the neighborhood- but the larger part of dwelling units are multi-family: townhomes, duplexes, 3 to 4 level apartment garages.

        Is that a typo or do you mean to say that the apartments are small, low quality, etc?

      8. Okay because my point is that those of us that don’t have money to buy a house and want to live in the city are relegated in living in those “garages”. Nice buildings, especially lower density apartments, that don’t cost a fortune are hard to build at the scale that I think you want… a scale that in my opinion is too low for a corridor with a streetcar.

        I can foresee 12th getting the streetcar and then when the city tries to up-zone and everyone gettings up in arms if anything over 4 stories is proposed.

      9. Ok, now you’re tripping over your shoelaces. Why would hospital staff take a bus downtown to transfer to another bus that would go back up the hill to the CD? And in all the years I worked in those hospitals, I met maybe ten people who lived in the CD- that’s out of literally hundreds of people.

        Hospital people take buses downtown because that’s the only option they’ve got. They live in Beacon Hill, MLK south, Ballard, Ravenna, even Bellevue or Renton.

        As for the idea that a lot of people in the CD would be served by a 12th Ave alignment, but left out in the cold by a Broadway alignment- Holy cow Batman! It’s ten blocks! The 12th Ave alignment does not go wandering off through the CD carrying much needed supplies to the Lost Battalion. It goes a few blocks closer to the CD for a few blocks. That’s all.

      10. You state: Ok, now you’re tripping over your shoelaces. Why would hospital staff take a bus downtown to transfer to another bus that would go back up the hill to the CD?

        A lot of hospitol staff cannot afford to live in the City, so they catch a bus to one of the suburban communities at 3rd and Pike. When I was young and lived on Queen Anne Hill after school I would take the bus with these ladies… as an adult, I still see some of these same ladies waiting for the No. 2. My point was that hospitol staff wont benefit all to much from either alignment – the majority of the staff are not reall capitol hill type of people.

        I think its interesting that you know exactly where all the hospitol staff live: “They live in Beacon Hill, MLK south, Ballard, Ravenna, even Bellevue or Renton.” So none live in Queen Anne or Columbia City or Everett? That is a silly assumption you make and doesnt really contribute to moving forward with either alternative.

        You said: “As for the idea that a lot of people in the CD would be served by a 12th Ave alignment, but left out in the cold by a Broadway alignment- Holy cow Batman! It’s ten blocks!”

        You are really taking this dialogue somewhere that reminds me why I don’t like to contribute to these sorts of venues.

        Where are you coming from??? What is it inside of you that allows you to type with such authority and so condescending? It is really rude and doesn’t really help move the best vision – whatever it be – forward.

      11. Hospital workers all drive to work and park in my neighborhood, between Broadway and 12th.

        For some idiotic reason they’re given Zone parking to allow them to park there.

      12. I love this- the guy who knows all about it because he runs around the neighborhood is asking why I am what I am.

        Maybe it’s because I used to run around in that neighborhood. In fact, I still do on occasion, but it’s walking these days instead of running.

        James, your visions, although not entirely reality-based, are interesting. Please don’t fail to comment.

      13. The 8 will also get you to Link if you head south. But if the 2 and 8 are such desirable routes, why isn’t the area around the intersection of MLK and Union more heavily developed?

      14. All of the CD is underdeveloped because of the redlining that existed there until quite recently. The people who lived there worked just as hard as anyone else but they couldn’t get home loans (or business loans).

        That is the neighborhood that really deserves a streetcar for TOD, running on MLK from Madison south to Link. Of course, the people who got hurt are mostly gone now, but it’s a matter of justice.

      15. Exactly. It’s supposed to be an urban circulator, not a “through” route. So take it right into the belly of the monster.

    5. James,

      I’m sorry that people think this is about winning or loosing an argument. It really is about building the best project.

    6. Thank you, you rock. Everyone here keeps mentioning how the streetcar will serve the hospitals (which don’t even face Broadway and will be more quickly serviced by buses from downtown) and the tall towers of residents further to the west (further to the west! they will not be served well by a zig-zag streetcar ride). If the idea is to build something for first hill, a N-S streetcar is not the best method. First Hill interests are grasping onto it just because it is the only option on the table. Give them something valuable: a direct and quick connection to downtown. The residents around 12th: we can fight for a direct two-way streetcar some other day.

      1. Um, yeah, a N-S Streetcar on Broadway is a great idea for my neighborhood– I go to Capitol Hill all the time, many of my friends live there, many of my social services like healthcare and grocery stores are on Capitol Hill…

        God forbid that we First Hill residents should want to go North or South where everything is open after 6pm.

      2. (You don’t need to snark me). The way I see it, there are more people in and destined for first hill than those that go to group health on 15th. Ideally, First Hill would have all the rest of daily needs for themselves. And you are correct, more N-S connections are good for those wanting to explore other neighborhoods. But what I try to keep getting a discussion around is whether a streetcar that makes all sorts of turns really going to do that? Unfortunately, we don’t have to have this discussion because that is what is going to get built. You’ll see the first time you ride the thing. You’ll be able to walk to cap hill amenities while the streetcar is still sitting at a light at Madison. Don’t even get me started on the connection to the ID station.

      3. “All sorts of turns”. You mean angle left at Boylston, turn right at Seneca and angle left at Broadway? That’s only two “sorts” of turn.

      4. I think Wes is missing a few points here.

        First, the streetcar is access to Link. It’s the alternative to a station that will not be built. Going north and south in addition is a feature, not a bug.

        Secondly, there is no shortage of E-W transit on Pill Hill. Well, actually there is, because the buses come a minute before shift change instead of five minutes after, but whatever. The heavy ridership is mainly people who actually want to go north or south, but have to go downtown to transfer. This is definitely a bug and not a feature. It’s been a known bug in Seattle transit for 40 years at least.

        Thirdly, this whole idea that you don’t want to serve the people who are already there is for the birds. The people who are already there have paid their dues. They paid up front to get in the neighborhood on the assumption the city wouldn’t just hang them out to dry. They pay higher taxes all along on that same assumption. These are the people who left in the 60s when they thought the city was breaking that deal, and started coming back in the 80s and 90s when they started to trust the city again.

        And they have something to offer in return- ridership. The unbuilt station was supposed to deliver riders to the system, and that’s what the streetcar is supposed to do now. And one of the best ways to do that is to put the line close to riders. It’s a win-win situation.

      5. Sorry serial, I think you are missing the point.

        I don’t think going north-south is a bug; I think zig-zagging around hills and major arterials is because it will render the streetcar useless.

        Yes, E-W transit exists…take it sometime. It could use a little improvement. And better connection to link.

        I don’t remember saying we should not serve people that are already there. We are talking about densely populated neighborhoods here, of course there are people already there. Heck, I am there. Though I can reach anything I want within a 20 minute walk, improved transportation options couldn’t hurt.

        With that, I’m done with this topic. We all know the Broadway alignment is going in; I’m fine with that (I lost interest in the 12th alignment when they started talking about a couplet) except for the excessive turns it has to go through…but whatever. The alignments are being pulled this way and that for various political and topographical reasons. I was just offering my opinion on what would be a better option to serve First Hill.

      6. People can walk down First Hill to their hospitals and homes, and having half of the streetcar on 12th makes that walk even longer.

  9. Am I the only one that finds those walkshed diagrams to be a bit biased? Could you please provide any information on how these walksheds were actually calculated.

    1. They look biased because they measure one-direction travel, not round-trip travel. I’ve argued that this makes them biased, but I’ve said enough about that. The original post they came from (along with the post’s 249 comments!) is here.

      1. They simply show that the 12 avenue alignment gives half the service to twice the area.Please ignore Matt and his inane focus on round-trip times. To reiterate: If it takes me 15 minutes one way to get to work and 5 minutes to get back home, but my preferred walking time is 10 minutes, I will not average that out in my head, and call both directions 10 minutes. What I will do is drive instead. This is so obvious that it amounts to common sense and does not need studies to support it.

      2. Ok, let’s all stop calling Matt inane. Nobody has rigid prefered one-way walking times in their head except for Zef.

      3. You are continuing to focus on individual choices — assuming that for every Broadway rider lost we gain a 12th Ave rider, when current demand says that won’t be the case.

      4. Just to remind everyone there are other “fancy graphics” out there that use different area measures. My map isn’t the only one. In many ways my map is much less fancy looking.

      5. [John] I’m not assuming any such thing. Adam’s maps don’t include population, just geography.

      6. Matt and John. We are all just going around in circles. We know what the other person thinks and no amount of wasting time responding to each other will change that.

      7. The reason I bring this up is because this diagram seems a bit odd to me. For example, why are there some areas that are affected differently on the couple graphic as opposed to the other alignments, when that area will have the same routing for any alignment? (See: Jackson/Boren Yestler Terrace area)

        It seems odd. I do think that these diagrams can create discussion, but I would like to see diagrams that provide data. Measurements based on current transit ridership per area, development impact, density, amount of business/jobs, number of commuters (bus/car), # of residents, walking times, etc would be great.

        It just seems to me that these diagrams do not accurately represent the impact by any of the alignments.

      8. It seems that the area where the allignment crosses I-5 is treated differently for the three walkshed maps. For the couplet map, that area is blank, while for the Broadway and Boren maps, they are filled in. It makes sense that you wouldn’t attract any riders from I-5, but all three maps should treat that area the same.

      9. The blank area near I-5 is just an error with the layering of graphics used to make the maps. The walkshed shading along Jackson should look exactly the same, but Adam doesn’t have the original files any more to fix it. It wasn’t done intentionally and doesn’t change the argument because each alignment has the exact same stops on Jackson and the Jackson alignment isn’t what’s being discussed.

  10. First Hill is the densest neighborhood in the state? I always thought West Capitol Hill was the densest census tract.

    1. It’s all about definitions. First Hill as a neighborhood is several census blocks. The 2000 census density map shows the census blocks and density. The full tabular data has the exact population and acreage per tract.

      First Hill as usually defined includes several of those tracts, numbered 82-85 and about half of 86 on the census map (plus a small corner of 75). Capitol Hill is roughly 74 and 75. So as a whole neighborhood, First Hill is denser. But the West Capitol Hill tract is the densest individual tract. Aside from these 6 tracts, other tracts in the top 10 include parts of the University District (#2), Belltown (4 and 10), and Lower Queen Anne (7). The 12th Ave corridor covers the tracts that are 9th and 14th on the list in population density.

      This is all 10 years out of date. But a quick glance at the map shows that the density is concentrated west of Broadway. 12th is a good corridor for a streetcar but not nearly as good as Broadway.

  11. The whole 12th/Broadway couplet debate may be entirely moot. The city has to follow the inter-local agreement that they signed with Sound Transit. Two parts of the agreement that apply here;

    “The Project will be double-tracked, although termini or exclusive lane segments may feature a short segment of single track if this will not impede service objectives.”

    “The streetcar connector will directly connect First Hill employment centers to the regional Link light rail system at the International District/Chinatown Station at 5th Avenue S. and the Capitol Hill Station at Broadway.”

  12. John, I feel like you’ve split down the middle of two arguments again…

    Your writing above seems to indicate a bias in favor of Two-Way Broadway (although I think the comments by James accurately describes the problem with a Broadway-only alignment).

    On the other hand, STB folks in general keep arguing in favor of First Hill and serving all the density and ridership on First Hill.

    It’s correct that 12th Ave supporters are no less served by a streetcar stop near Broadway & Madison where the Link station would have been; but the same argument can be made for First Hill.

    This is NOT supposed to be the First Hill Neighborhood Streetcar, and some route options pull it westward onto the hill. The only reason it picked up the FH designation is because it replaces the First Hill Link Station. Many of the residents on First Hill were expected to walk or bus to a station just the same as 12th Ave folks.

    And, I’m with James that more folks need to travel the route options to see where actual pedestrian and business activity is in this corridor and where current transit ridership is.

    I still have seen little evidence that First Hill residents and businesses will ride a streetcar to Capitol Hill or ID to access Link when it it much faster to go Downtown.

    1. Mickymse, I still have seen little evidence that First Hill residents and businesses will ride a streetcar to Capitol Hill or ID to access Link when it it much faster to go Downtown.

      I have seen no evidence that going Downtown would be much faster. The same frequency and capacity arguments that always come up in a bus vs. rail debate come out in full force here too.

      1. The 3/4 is a combined electric trolly bus route that splits into route 3 and route 4 at the tips, but they run interlined between the Pioneer Square station and First Hill every 7 minutes nearly all day. The streetcar, by comparison will operate at headways of 10 minutes peak, 15 minutes off-peak. This amounts to 121 vehicle trips per weekday for the 3/4 compared to the streetcar’s 93. Even with a larger capacity per vehicle, the 3/4, by operating 30% more vehicles more than matches streetcar’s capacity and beats it on frequency.

        The 3/4 stops directly at Harborview’s front door at 9th and Jefferson and takes riders 2 blocks away from Swedish at Broadway and Jefferson.

        Total travel times from light rail to Harborview are 6 minutes, 8 minutes to Swedish, which is faster than the streetcar will arrive if connecting from the international District. Streetcar would be slightly faster for commuters arriving from the north, but that time savings is partially offset by the longer wait times that result from the streetcar running at a lower headway.

        Anyone traveling from Northwest Seattle, say for example on McGinn’s new Ballard light rail line or the Rapid Ride line on 99, would be much better served by transferring downtown rather than riding through to the ID and then taking the long way around via the streetcar.

        With Respect to Virginia Mason, it would be time-competitive with the streetcar to walk the 0.4 miles from the University Street light rail station (and save a transfer) even with the Boren Seneca alignment. With the Broadway alignment it would always be faster to walk up the hill. There of course a minor hill between VM and downtown, but the hill is much shallower on Seneca than it is on James. Nonetheless, some southbound commuters will prefer to transfer at Capitol Hill, but given how much everyone hates transfers, especially with a streetcar that comes every 15 minutes (10 during peak), a fair portion will opt to walk.

        However, for commuters inbound from Northwest Seattle, from the south or the Eastside, it will be significantly faster and more convenient to either walk from the University Street Station or take route 2 which operates at 15 minute headways all day and directly connects the University Street Station to VM’s front door. A simple rerouting of route 12 (madison street) to travel down Seneca instead would allow for 7 minute headways from VM’s front door to the University Street station.

        Streetcar undoubtably offers superior service for a portion of commuters, particularly those who hate walking, don’t mind standing around waiting for a transfer and hate buses just because they’re buses. Thus, streetcar will capture at least some ridership and therefore it may turn out to be a wise investment.

        As I hope I’ve made clear in other posts, I am not shilling for any particular alignment. I only hope to add some clarity and data to the cacophony that this discussion has devolved into. You asked for evidence that Downtown connections would be faster, so there it is. Your frequency and capacity arguments also do not apply. 7 minutes is more frequent than 10-15; 121 vehicles per day is more than 93. This has nothing to do with bus/rail. You can run a bus ever 3 minutes and as streetcar every hour if you want to. There is no inherent correlation.

      2. Tony, get a friend of yours to sit in a wheelchair and spend a day traveling around Seattle by bus. Push your friend up that “little” hill from 12th to any of the hospitals. Thrill to the ride up James on the #4 and stay to hear the boos while they unload your wheelchair at Harborview. Don’t listen to the driver, he’s just naturally crabby when that happens. Get the chair off the bus and push it a few blocks to a different bus line a couple of times.

        This might give you a little insight into why a wheelchair-pushing guy might prefer to get off near Swedish and push the chair to the View instead of connecting with the 3/4 and going directly there.

      3. new trolleybus overhead between Jefferson Street and 3rd Avenue via 9th Avenue and Yesler Way would improve the reliability of routes 3 and 4 and improve their speed in the congested peak periods. Yesler Way is the only east-west connection betwen downtown and First Hill that is not congested by I-5 traffic. after 2016, Route 49 could be revised to use the new Yesler wire via Broadway, Madison, and 9th Avenue. It would preform the functions of streetcar with more directness and speed. the best use of the ST2 funds would be to pay for the Yesler Way overhead, a turn around loop for Route 49 in Pioneer Square, and improved service frequency for the revised Route 49. how about five-minute headway? Cancel and substitute.

        the First Hill streetcar would be more trouble than its worth. The name First Hill (steepness) implies it is not a great place for streetcars. in the 1930s, Yesler Way, James Street, and Madison Street were served by cable cars as First Hill is too steep for streetcars. the SDOT alignments all go through the topograhic saddlepoint of 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. This key intersection also draws cyclists and frequent trolleybus service as well. The streetcar would have to be squeezed into other critical intersections as well: 5th Avenue South and South Jackson Street, Madison Street and Broadway, Broadway and Pine. SDOT published a consultant report on these difficulties and has begun to study them.

    2. In the future its not about going downtown it is about going from North and South of downtown to First Hill.

      Here is a perfect example. My friend lives on first hill (at boylston and seneca) and commutes to UW. Currently he takes the 49 to school. What your saying is that he should take the bus downtown, then transfer to link to go to the UW. It is much more nature (and I’m pretty sure faster) to walk to broadway, catch the streetcar two stops, transfer to link and go to the UW.

      Withe the 12th Ave couplet it would probably be faster to just walk the whole way to the cap hill station or just take the bus all the way.

      1. The whole way? The whole way from Boyleston and Seneca all the way to Broadway and Denny? That’s 1/2 mile John, well within the expected walking distance of light rail. Regardless of the alignment chosen, even if they put a streetcar stop at your friend’s front door it would still be faster to walk the whole way to the capitol hill light rail station. If your friend lived at Terry and James you could make a case, but this is ridiculous.

        I am NOT here to argue for the 12th Ave alignment and this comment should not be interpreted as such, but while we’re debunking biased arguments and harping on people for not getting their facts straight, you might want to take 30 seconds and type your friend’s address into google maps before trying to turn it into a sob story.

        For comparison, by the way, the current broadway alignment would put the closest streetcar stop to Virginia Mason at Broadway and Marion, which is 0.4 miles, which happens to be the exact same distance that Virginia Mason is from the University Street Light Rail station in downtown. Yes, VM employees would have to ascend a bigger hill if they got off in downtown, but they would save a transfer, which is undoubtably what many of the will end up doing unless SDOT recommends the Boren-Seneca alignment. That’s hardly an argument for 12th, but let’s just get our facts straight and argue from reason rather than emotion.

      2. I was making a pretty specific point that although most people assume that commuters would go downtown that will change significantly with LINK. In many ways LINK (esp north LINK) will de-emphasize downtown as a transit hub and emphasize station areas around the city. Over time it will change how people will travel and assuming like now that you always have to go downtown to make a connection won’t necessarily apply.

      3. Pull-eeze. Walk up the hill from Fourth or across the hill top to Broadway & Marion? This is unreal. Tony, go walk up and down that hill a few times and rethink this.

      4. I have walked up and down that particular hill a number of times. In fact it it was one of three routes I would alternate between when I walked daily from Capitol Hill to a job I had downtown a few years ago. Never underestimate the distaste that people have for transfers. The transfer issue would be less of a concern if the streetcar came every 5 minutes, but with 10 to 15 minute headways, it would be faster to walk than to wait.

        Of course, some people hate walking more than they hate waiting, but if someone really hates walking, they might as well take the 2 up seneca and get dropped off at VM’s front door. There will of course be some that prefer the streetcar. My purpose was not to show that downtown connections would be superior in all instances. Adam asked for evidence that downtown would be superior to a streetcar. I provided an explanation of the argument. You are free to disagree.

    3. First Hill resident, here. I thought the same as you, that when I moved to First Hill, it would be easy to go downtown for stuff, but I find myself going to Capitol Hill for practically everything. M Street Market is the only place we really have to shop that’s specific to First Hill, but due to size constraints, they don’t offer everything you could need and prices are higher to meet rent requirements.

      Capitol Hill also has a lot of nightlife, clinics, social services, community centers, parks, and so on. ID has lots of the same.

      Downtown does not provide all that and many of the same close between 6pm and 7pm.

      1. Excellent point, AJ. There is definitely a strong case to be made for improving north-south connections that bypass downtown. Capitol Hill is a major retail destination and retail generates more home-based trips than commuting does. Delivering customers to the Broadway business district is also a great benefit to the economic prosperity of Capitol Hill. This is one of the reasons that the Capitol Hill Camber of Commerce has long supported extending the streetcar to Aloha street, so that retail customers coming from the south can easily access the whole retail district.

        Unfortunately, I fear that retail trips are not being given much consideration in the analysis that SDOT is conducting. People should send comments reminding them that retail trips are a critical part of the benefits of this project. Remember, SDOT doesn’t read the comments on blogs, they read comments submitted to them via this website:

  13. The maps that you always show need some fact checking. All three alignments have a stop at the same spot on Jackson and 8th. Yet the walkable area is smaller on the 12th avenue map than it is on either of the other maps.

    1. All maps should have that same small walkable area, you’re right, because the rest of the maps include I-5 as “walkable.” Adam has already acknowledged this problem, but it has nothing to do with the 12th Ave section we’re talking about.

      1. No it doesn’t have anything to do with the alignment. It has to do with your credibility. You create some graphics which give a very strong visual presentation. There is a mistake that makes the side you are arguing against appear worse than it is. When you find a mistake like that you have an obligation to fix it. Instead you don’t but just recycle graphics that you know to be dishonest. You should do better than that.

      2. Jeff we aren’t being paid by SDOT or any other organization to do a study for them. They can do the same exact thing themselves (and I certainly hope they would do their own).

        I don’t have time to fix every small problem that someone finds. It simply takes too long. You should look at this graphic and say, okay I see what they are trying to express, and that is all.

      3. Jeff, I think you’re being a little petty. I think if the error were easy to fix, Adam would have already fixed it — I would ask that you trust us at our word they we’re not trying to pull a fast one. Our argument does not solely rest on a pretty picture as the many paragraphs in the above post illustrate. If the picture had an inaccuracy in the area we’ve spent all of our focus on then we wouldn’t run it.

        I would ask that you do not tell us what we are obligated to do. We run a volunteer-based operation, hoping to inform readers of what we think is the truth. Who here has sent 12th Ave Initiative letters telling them about the “obligation” to make clear that the couplet they are proposing is nearly twice as long as the biggest separation in the Portland couplet that they say is analogous?

      4. Of course you have no obligation to me. I shouldn’t have implied that you do.

        But when you often use a graphic that is misleading (considering one way walk times rather than round trip) and has mistakes (that make the other option look bad) then you have done little to earn my trust that you are not trying to pull a fast one.

      5. Jeff I think regardless of how the graphic looks you won’t trust us. I have already explained several times why I think round trip times aren’t a good measure.

      6. Jeff, it would be misleading to have each one-way trip on one map as some would prescribe. Most users do, in fact, make round-trip commutes.

    2. Good someone else is paying attention. Something else that needs to be updated is the last two stops should look exactly the same as the 12th alignment because all three options do a loopty-loo around Cal Anderson. Their maps show the route staying on Broadway the whole way, in affect making the walksheds look larger. It seems to me that the only difference will be the two stops in the middle, which will downplay their walkshed argument significantly. I don’t like the couplet idea, but just sayin’ your facts aren’t as full of facts as you argue.

      1. If you see the smaller walk shed when there’s a 3-block couplet, then you’re getting the broad point. I’m pretty sure you can apply this lesson to the exact alignments that were rolled out last month. We’ll try to update the picture, but the point of the picture isn’t to match the alignment but to illustrate something that is also intuitive: A 3-block couplet reduces bidirectional accessibility.

      2. Unfortunately, Adam lost the source files even before those images were posted online. We won’t be able to make another image for you.

      3. That is too bad. Even though they had a mistake and I think they choose the wrong information to represent, I should acknowledge that the maps are really cool. I am sympathetic to your argument and thought it would have been a stronger presentation if you had done them differently.

      4. Thanks for letting me know that I am biased, Ben. I thought the reason that I didn’t like this “fact-checking” post is that
        1) it a graphic with errors that conveniently favor the Broadway alignment
        2) one of the premises of the graphic is that some people will refuse to use transit if they have to walk more than three minutes on either end (How many transit trips in Seattle can be done without a walk of more than three minutes? How many car trips from First Hill can be done without walking more than three minutes?)
        3) Claims that “Every single round trip rider will have to take an extra hike” when riders from the middle of SU don’t have to walk farther in either direction. The underlying claim was arguably true (although some should really be most). John’s “fact” is just plain wrong.
        I guess I was wrong. Since I don’t think that the couplet is a particularly good idea (I would prefer either all on Broadway or all on 12th) I am a little confused about what my bias is. Can you please enlighten me?

  14. This doesn’t dispute the point of the post by any means, but a check or clarification of Publicola’s density numbers may be in order. They have Seattle’s overall density at 2,500 per square mile; the last figure I saw was about 7,100. Could well be certain single-family neighborhoods are at the lower level. And 25,000 residents/square mile at First Hill seems, well, awfully crowded. Again, the post was persuasive and well-reasoned; having the correct numbers better buttresses the argument.

    1. 25,000 sounds right to me– I stare at crowded multi-story apartment blocks all day and I can’t seem to find more than that one single family home in the neighborhood. The second lowest density property is a 3-unit home just off James that seems to have more than three people living in it.

  15. STB should get some kind of journalism award for taking the time and effort to do this fact-checking post. Erica Barnett also published a great piece on Publicola yesterday.

    What leaps out at me is the grotesque improbability of there being two “community organizations” dedicated to the short section of 12th described. Try as I might, I simply cannot believe this. What seems infinitely more likely is that these two “community” groups are actually small numbers of people who own land they want to develop along 12th. I’ve heard a duck fart underwater before.

    And it’s not too hard to see how that would play out- streetcar built, landowners ask for rezone, 30-story towers go up (to get the view from the upper stories), and the real neighborhood community that lives east of 12th realizes they got shafted. As would the bicyclers when they realize the only gentle grade now has rail tracks running the length of the street.

    Got a feeling that in the end the ST people won’t be too influenced by the 12th Avenue crowd.

    1. Perhaps you should pay attention to the community meetings, e-mail lists, Facebook group, and other 12th Ave/CD folks who have been pushing for that route option for a long time now — ever since the Link station was dropped, and not just recently to push a couple business owners’ development opportunities.

      1. That’s not true Mickymse. I’ve been following this on and and joined the Facebook group when it first formed last spring. There’s really only been impetus behind the idea of moving the First Hill Streetcar to 12th since early last spring. It certainly hasn’t been going on since the light rail station was dropped in 2005. There was some talk of a streetcar on 12th when the city was studying a complete network of streetcars, but that wasn’t related to Sound Transit’s First Hill Streetcar project.

      2. Y’know, in WW II the British discovered they could throw bundles of gum wrappers out of airplanes and the German radar would think it was fleets of bombers.

        And you see a lot of that on the internet today.

    2. Regardless of where you fall on the issue, Bill and Kate (and others) are not shills for developers/development. Like STB, they’re volunteers (Kate gets paid by CHHIP to work on 12th Avenue issues, yes, but she puts in a lot more time than she gets paid for, and Bill is 100% volunteer) who have spent years working for the community. Agree to disagree on the routing, argue the facts and the numbers and the fancy graphics :) – but the motivation, as John kindly pointed out in this post, is not the issue at question.

  16. One of your facts is not quite right. If you are going to a spot like the middle of Seattle U then your one way walk times are the same. It will take the same amount of to either the Broadway or Twelfth stops. (The Boren alignment would be worse than either for people at Seattle U.) I would think that Seattle U will drive a fair bit of the ridership for the Streetcar.

    1. That’s what the walkshed map for the 12th/Broadway couplet represents. The darkest coloring on the map is exactly half-way between the northbound and southbound stops, because that is the only place where the one-way walk times are equal. Basically the SU campus is the only place that is well served by the couplet.

  17. Let’s recap, shall we?

    Light rail to First Hill–great idea–dense neighborhood, thousands of jobs. Light rail is perfect, but it turns out the station is too expensive, too deep, too risky.

    The First Hill streetcar is promoted as a “make-up” idea. It is not nearly the transit solution rail would have been (a fact STB never seems to mention).

    Buses currently serve the hill pretty damn well.

    The main advantages to streetcars are to use electricity and to stimulate development due to fixed tracks.

    The time to complete this loop is short.

    What gets folks on trains is reliability. A loop on 12th may make more sense if you examine the real transportation benefits a streetcar delivers.

    1. rbc, the streetcar is a far more cost effective solution.

      We dealt with this years ago. The First Hill Link station would have cost nearly $1.2 billion – it would have cost $350 million on its own, and would have made us not competitive for the $813 million grant U-Link got.

      It was drop the station or drop U-Link entirely.

  18. Perhaps I should have been more clear. I approved of dropping the Link station at First Hill. But the streetcar was a political decision, not one made as a wise transit investment.

    anc–I am simply saying that streetcars are better development tools than transit solutions. And I think the development potential is greater with 12th, than the already built out Boren corridor.

  19. So how do we make sure this really bad idea is killed? The SLUT has its limitations but at least you can get from here to there without a three-block walk uphill to the other direction. I don’t think any other city has ever done it, and the people who think it would work have never ridden streetcars regularly. Not to mention out-of-towners, who would find the situation bizarre and may not ride the streetcar just because it’s so inconvenient.

      1. Not to get too picky about this issue, but the interlocal agreement says:

        The purpose of the First Hill Streetcar Connector Project (the Project) is to replace the connection to the regional Link light rail system lost when the First Hill light rail station, was deleted from the regional system.

        The streetcar connector will directly connect First Hill employment centers to the regional Link light rail system at the International, District/Chinatown Station at 5th Avenue S and the Capitol Hill Station at Broadway between E. Denny Way and John Street…

        (emphasis added).

        It does not say connect the First Hill neighborhood (as defined by neighborhood planning).

        It say connect the First Hill employment centers. Every definition of “First Hill employment center” that can be found in public documents includes Seattle University even though Seattle U is adjacent to rather than within the first Hill neighborhood planning boundaries. Seattle University is specifically referenced in the First Hill neighborhood plan and they are a dues-paying member of the First Hill Improvement Association. Seattle U was also completely contained within the station area overlay of the original First Hill light rail station while Harborview was not (see station area map).

        The loop serves Seattle U better at the expense of Virgina Mason and Swedish. The Boren-Seneca alignment serves Virginia Mason better at the expense of Seattle U. Given that the three major institutions that were included in the station area overlay (Virginia Mason, Swedish and Seattle U) are geographically arranged east-west, there is no way to design a single north-south alignment that serves all three very well. The question that plagues both the western alignment (Boren-Seneca) and the eastern alignment (12th Ave loop) is: “Is it better to serve one of the three targets very well at the expense of one of the others?”

        I would say the alignment that best fits the scope is the two-way Broadway, but that the loop does not stray farther from the scope of work than the Boren-Seneca does. However, I’m Tony the Economist, not Tony the Lawyer, so I could very well be wrong on this one.

      2. Yes Tony, I was paraphrasing and figured people would want to read it for themselves. That’s why I included the link. I had quoted it verbatim earlier way up near the top of the comments.

        In my opinion, I think the two-way Broadway alignment, with maybe the Boylston/Seneca jog, is the best route. The alignment is understandable to occasional users, should be fast, serves the east First Hill, Yesler Terrace, and SU. While it doesn’t penetrate in to First Hill like the Boren/Minor alignment, it’s more direct routing should allow faster travel times and shorter headways. Broadway is the main corridor connecting the three neighborhoods that the streetcar will serve, so it seems like the obvious choice for a streetcar line. I’d like to see Broadway rebuilt from Yesler all the way to Roy as a great boulevard with a streetcar at its heart.

        I still think Sound Transit’s requirement that the alignment be double-tracked, i.e. bidirectional, will kill the couplet.

      3. Two-way anywhere is what we need. A normal one-block couplet may be acceptable. A Broadway-12th couplet is not.

        Trying to solve all First Hill’s east-west employers in a north-south line is not possible, so we shouldn’t pretend it is. Having a one-way streetcar in front of your business is ridiculous.

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