Westlake Streetcar Plaza; Concept by Seattle's Department of Transportation.

SDOT hosted an open house for the Westlake Streetcar Plaza last Wednesday. (For background, Adam covered the project in great detail last year.) The open house presented the project at the 60% design stage and took public comments. From this point SDOT will move towards finalizing the design and implementing the project. If you want to make a comment, do it as soon as possible. Construction is planned to begin this July and finish this November.

A full report from the open house after the jump…

Many of the attendees were members of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. The proposed design has covered bike parking next to the streetcar platform and also a secure bicycle storage facility, kind of like the Bikestation but on a much smaller scale. The current idea is to use one of those prefabricated bike storage units that can be moved to another location should a permanent full service bike station be constructed.

While the long term vision has transit removed from 5th Avenue, this project will not change current bus routes. SDOT worked with Metro to ensure buses have adequate turning radius from Stewart St to 5th Ave. The signaling will allow traffic to turn left on to 5th and cross Olive Way without stopping. Another transit improvement is widening of the Olive Way sidewalk at the bus stop in front of the Medical Dental Building. This should relieve crowding and eliminate the need for buses to move over a lane in the middle of the intersection. The current load zone will be preserved.

A mobile vendor or kiosk can set up business near the McGraw monument. Water, sewer, and power hook ups will be provided. The curb ramp on Olive Way will be wide enough for mobile vendor access. There should be sufficient space for many tables. Who will occupy that space is still under consideration and will be worked out in later stages. Runnels (a small channel loosely paved with bricks) arranged in circles channel water to the rain garden for irrigation and filtration. It also defines the plaza space.

You can view the current proposed design and send comments at SDOT’s website.

68 Replies to “Westlake Streetcar Plaza Open House”

  1. Looks wonderful! Now if only that streetcar continued to the U-District or Fremont/Ballard….

    I’ve always thought they should tear down the Bank of America building there and make it a Westlake Park 2 – The Sequel sort of thing.

  2. I wish they’d tear down Westlake Mall and the attached Westlake office building. That thing is ugly. The old Westlake was gritty and “urban”, but had a neat feel to it – much better than what they replaced it with.

    And while I like this plaza, I wish there was a better connection with the tunnel. (another reason to tear down Westlake Mall!)

    1. I don’t think this is a true multi-modal hub. It only ties together the streetcars, taxis, and a few surface buses. If it were possible to extend the streetcar to Westlake park, then yes, it would be a hub, and a fantastic one at that, but in this location, it’s not one.

      No amount of tinkering is going change the fact that the southern streetcar terminal is simply a poor location.

      1. It’s a one block walk South to a tunnel entrance.

        Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

      2. Through the wet and rain! Sorry- this isn’t a “hub” if you have to walk a block outside. Nope.

        Don’t let the good enuf be an enemy of getting it right.

      3. Walk across the street, go down through the bottom floor of Westlake Mall, and you’re in the tunnel… That’s really close.

      4. It really isn’t that hard. All we need is good wayfinding, which is part of the long term vision. I don’t know why something that seems simple can’t be done any sooner. I mean, just change the signs in Westlake Station to include the streetcar. This is something that should’ve been done before the tunnel reopened.

        You can get from the tunnel to the streetcar in under 3 minutes:

      5. The current streetcar terminus on Westlake is inadequate. Creating the dubiously-named transit plaza will only be a nominal improvement. The line must extend and cross transit corridors of 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. It should also come closer to the center of the commercial district. Running both tracks up Stewart is too far to the north; thus, my proposal for running 1 track west on Stewart, turning south on 1st or 2nd, turning east on Pike, turning north on 6th and reconnecting at Westlake is logical. Perhaps the southbound track could continue south on Westlake and 5th, turn west on Pine and return to Westlake Ave via Pike/4th/Stewart? Leaving the eventual track extension on Stewart is stupid.

      6. Oran’s video of the 3-minute walk from the DSTT to the streetcar stop includes a clammy flight of stairs. No way, ADA. Plus, reaching any desired exit from the DSTT isn’t intuitive at all. The ideal streetcar extension should include a stop near or at Westlake Park. Duh.

      7. Wells,

        There’s an elevator right next to those stairs.

        And it’s not that the city did not consider extending the streetcar to Westlake Park.

        Adam wrote earlier “SDOT looked at extending the streetcar to Westlake plaza, but complications with crossing over the DSTT and turning streetcars around became too problematic, so it was decided to focus on other improvements instead.”

        Your proposal is ideal but is it workable in real life, given the limited budget for the project? The engineers at SDOT suggest it’s not.

      8. You haven’t provided the least evidence, Oran, that SDOT determinations about what is workable in real life are credible. The elevators and arriving at two street crossings without having to wait for the signal, discredits your 3-minute walk ‘best case scenario’, so like many questionable arguments SDOT makes to justify back room decisions. It’s not surprising that you settle on limited budgets to strengthen your case of what’s possible. I call your defense, BS, Oran.

      9. Um, well you haven’t really provided anything either Wells. If it wasn’t money, then why was it not run all the way to Westlake Park?

      10. Wells, it’s easy to make potshots at people from here without knowing what they went through before they made that decision. I give you a limited budget, a deadline, citizens, property owners, politicians and other entities and other projects to deal with on a daily basis. How would you develop a solution to improving connectivity between the two modes with these constraints with minimal disruption that all parties can reach an agreement on?

        I don’t see how anything you say discredits my video. It’s still a relatively short walk for any user. The worst case is I wait a minute for the elevator and another minute or two to cross the street. The walk between King Street Station and International District Station is about the same distance yet thousands use it every day.

        (And while I am defending their actions, I am speaking personally, not as an official rep of any agency)

      11. “The current streetcar terminus on Westlake is inadequate.”

        It’s perfectly adequate for me, I use it every day. It takes a whole 2 minutes to get from the Westlake mezzanine to the streetcar. Extending the streetcar to Westlake park wouldn’t have made the connection any faster, because most of the time is spent getting out of the tunnel. Once you’re out of the tunnel it’s less than a block to the streetcar.

      12. I transferred from the 212 to the streetcar for a summer, so I can say with experience that 3 minutes is about the average time it takes to get from the DSTT to the streetcar stop, not best case. The two street crossings are a diagonal cross, so you can take whichever crosswalk turns green first. Alternatively, a rider can go through Nordstroms to get to street level and avoid one street crossing.

      13. Having ridden the street car only once, it did seem odd that it stopped a block short of Westlake… Maybe if the first Ave street car line gets built the tracks can run from it’s current location, to in front of Westlake then down to 1st and hook South on 1st.

        It wasn’t a far walk, it just feels odd, because you are left on a busy (auto traffic) corner and not the busy (pedestrain) Westlake park/mall front. A mall at the stop will help, but only if the auto traffic is calmed as well and Retail moves North to give more pedestrains a reason to walk there.

      14. The Westlake transit hub is a copout. The SLU streetcar line must extend west and cross transit corridors on 4th,3rd,2nd,1st Aves if it is to build ridership from those transit lines. It should also reach closer to the commercial center of Pike/Pine. As for the streetcar line crossing the DSTT, I doubt it has any effect. Isn’t San Francisco’s Muni streetcar system installed above BART and cross it?

        It seems to me that Seattle’s retailers and hoteliers are segregating upper-class clientelle onto Link and SLU while low income bus riders are refused even the simplest connections. Is this why buses are free in the DSTT and Link LRT not free there? Are Link LRT fares ‘direction-based’ instead of ‘time-based’ to double the cost of all Link trips and thus discourage those who don’t use it for commuting?

      15. Wells,

        I think the SLU streetcar will be extended as part of the 1st Ave streetcar project, which is unlikely to happen. Financing it would require a large contribution from benefiting property owners like Vulcan did for SLU.

        Link fares are time-based if you pay with ORCA. With ORCA you get a 2-hour transfer good for any direction and any amount of trips for the fare you paid. This is an incentive to get everyone to use ORCA. Disposable, low-cost ORCA cards are being considered for tourists and occasional users.

        The reason why Link isn’t free downtown is because fares would’ve been 25¢ higher to subsidize those free trips unless the city kicks in some money like they do for buses. The public comments said they’d rather have a lower fare everywhere than free train rides downtown, as they still can take the bus for free (which comes more frequently than the train anyway). This is documented in the ST board meeting materials.

      16. Actually judging from my observations as a pass carrying LINK rider. Tunnel only riders (the free bus zone) rarely pay for LINK rides. And enforcement is spotty at best and non-existent 90% of the time.

        LINK and ST would have done way better to cut a deal with the Downtown Assoc for any amount of cash.

      17. These infernal questions I raise about Seattle transportation planning, Oran, are my way challenging the status quo. Seattle is overloaded with dangerous and debilitating traffic due I’m sure in part to Seattle’s refusal to deal with such hard questions.

        Boarding Link in the DSTT is easier and faster than buses. Making buses fareless there increases bus boarding time which can then delay Link trains. The fare strategy doesn’t make sense.

        The SLU streetcar extension I’ve described is about 1 mile of single track, 4 station stops and probably a couple new streetcars. Some short extension of this sort is do-able and likely to more than double ridership overnight. Leaving the terminus at Westlake is a mistake. Build the plaza, but it will not increase streetcar ridership, and SDOT knows it.

      18. Wells,

        they never said the project would increase ridership. And you’re pulling ridership numbers out of thin air.

        Making buses fareless there increases bus boarding time which can then delay Link trains.

        You have it the other way. Putting fares on buses during the day will increase bus dwell time, especially on those routes to Northgate and the U District, making congestion in the tunnel worse because the number of buses far outweigh the number of trains. Those busy bus routes that will be replaced by U Link and North Link, which by the way, you are against.

        I use the DSTT everyday between downtown and the U District so I know what I’m talking about.

        Some short extension of this sort is do-able

        Now tell me how do you pay for this? And what do the adjacent property owners think of the impacts during construction and operation?

      19. I figure the DSTT should be fareless for both Link and buses, Oran. Around the year 2000 I advocated for the Express lanes on I-5 to become first BRT and eventually LRT as was their original intent. Then came the circulator system connections to First and Capitol Hills. I didn’t lay out a circulator system for UW from an I-5 Link station but figured circulators at 40th and 45th. I-5 is central to the area. UW is off center.

        My rationale for this SLU streetcar line extension is based on need and potential return on the investment. If the line crosses main transit corridors and reaches main commercial destinations, this is the obvious predictor of increased ridership. I base my support for Link extensions through suburbs on the same premise. Link through Capitol Hill to UW are areas already served with transit.

        Zed, Seattle doesn’t seem to learn much from Portland. I conclude Seattle’s backwardness is conservative obstructionism.

      1. The office building will stay regardless of what happens to the shopping center, sadly. General Growth is being real quiet these days about Westlake Center.

      2. What’s wrong with the office building? Sure, it’s not incredibly beautiful, but it seems just about average to me. Westlake Mall is good, it really anchors that area.

      3. Well, when the original Bartell’s drug store was torn down you could stand where the Westlake mall is and look North by North East at Lake Union. Pretty remarkable to be able to have a clear view from the center of the retail core.

        A lot of folks realized this before the retail/office tower was built but without the funding and support of Nordstroms, The Bon, and Fredricks dept. store, the park/tunnel/plaza wasn’t going to happen. And the then mayor poo-pooed the whole view thing. Once the building was down though everybody could see for themselves what had been only claimed and by then it was too late to take back the permits and deny the tower.

        In another 20 years that tower may come down and then we’ll get another chance at it. So tell your kids about the view, as they’ll be the ones’ to have a chance at putting it back.

      1. Unfortunately, try as we might, we could never replicate Ben Paris. It would be like trying to recreate the Doghouse, or the Paul Bunyon Room….

  3. I would like to see all of Westlake Ave south of Denny closed to traffic and dedicated to Streetcars, pedestrians, and bikes. I don’t know if this is possible with the traffic patterns or not, but it seems like Westlake just messes things up as it is.

    Also, I hope that Bank of America and it’s parking lot will soon be torn out and either replaced with something bigger or turned into an extension of the square.

    1. I think some kind of skyscraper would be great for the Bank of America lot. It would provide great infill in a current kind of awkward little gap in the middle of the most busy part of our downtown.

    2. Keep dreaming. That BoA location has got to be worth tons. Expect that it would only be replaced by someone with deep pockets, and likely, unless zoning comes into play, something quite imposing and tall.

      1. Is there something wrong with it being tall? It’s downtown, surrounded by tall buildings anyways, it’s a great location for a skyscraper. It doesn’t need to be imposing.

      2. Something tall would be a big improvement. I’m surprised that whoever owns the property allows it to be so wasted. Given the location, it is one of the most underused properties in Seattle.

      3. No, the most underused properties are all the parking lots, including the one behind BofA. A lot of these north of downtown lots are owned by Clise, as is the Westin property. Look at the insane number of lots:
        http://www2.impark.com/pages/default.aspx?lang=en&region=seattle

        Impark has a billboard there that says something like “Over 425,000 parking spaces for you.” I assume that must be how many they manage worldwide.

      4. Yes, there are a horrible amount of parking lots and car-oriented business in the Denny Triangle. My point is that the Bank of America site is a 2-story building with a parking lot, and it is right across the street from 1)Westlake Center, 2)Nordstrom, 3)Pacific Place, 4)DSTT, 5)the Monorail. And it has the streetcar terminus right outside of its front door.

      5. Clise had a big chunk of properties on the market, but pulled back in the midst of the land value/financing disasters. I’m sure they’ll market them again when things pick up.

  4. How is SDOT planning to discourage transients/homeless from setting up camp here? Currently this area has a couple of ‘permanent residents’ which make it an undesirable stop for most commuters.

    1. Which is why ‘activation’ of the space, to get regular activity and eyes on the street, is important. Recently, they demolished that brick structure to the north that was an eyesore and camping location for people who shouldn’t be there.

      1. Careful there. Look closely and notice how many of the homeless are relatives of our city’s namesake. Then ask yourself who is the intruder. (Sorry if this is off-topic, but I hate to see this blog be degraded with homeless-bashing.)

        Related to that, and hopefully more on-topic, there is something I really would like to see added as a transit amenity around the Westlake hub: a couple more public restrooms! I have to give credit to Westlake Mall for putting up with the use of its food court restrooms for all sorts of hygiene purposes. The mall is providing a needed service ST, Metro, and the city are failing to provide. The tunnel ain’t called “the pit of pain” for nothing. Maybe require use of an ORCA card to enter the transit customer restroom? At any route, Westlake Mall needs help, as their facilities are maxed out.

        I think the city is trying to force people to buy something in order to get relief while downtown. I’m similarly confused why public restrooms weren’t installed in the substantial space available at Mount Baker Station or Beacon Hill Station. And yet, there they are at TIBS and Airport Station. Does the city consider public restrooms a hindrance to TOD?

      2. He wasn’t homeless bashing, I don’t think anyone would argue that we should have people living out on our streets…
        Macy’s men’s restroom is right next to the tunnel entrance, and in my experience they let anyone use it. It would be nice if they get some restrooms in the stations themselves though, as you say. They just need to figure out some way to do it without encouraging illicit activities.

      3. Sorry if you read it that way but I didn’t mean any offense. Think about it, those people shouldn’t be there, they should be in a home or a shelter that’s more dignified than a former bus stop.

        I agree on the need for more public restrooms. And no, not those expensive automated toilets they ripped out a few years ago.

      4. I’m sorry if I read something that wasn’t there.

        Our shelters are full. Yeah, the more shelters we open, the more people come here to fill them up. So, in a sense, we’re housing the homeless from the rest of the country that criminalizes their right to exist. That’s fine with me, as long as the federal government kicks in some incentive money to provide the services to give these human beings some basic dignity while we wait for the economic system to sort itself out (or not).

        The Fed tries to program an unemployment rate into the economy, so I think it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide a safety net for the people who win the Fed’s unemployment lottery. If Seattle gets a windfall from such safety net spending, and part of it goes toward providing affordable public transit, that’s fine by me.

        We’ve still got the silly no-sleeping-in-your-own-car law, which I consider to be there because of the apartment owners’ association, trying to artificially eliminate vacancy rates. Little laws like these jack up rent for people like me who are fortunate enough to have a job and afford to pay rent. This is part of a displacement formula where people pushed out of their own cars push other people out of shelters, who in turn have no place to sleep but a park that was once nice and grassy but now concreted over just to try to chase the poorest people away. But it doesn’t work, as there is no place else to go.

        Transit-oriented development needs to recognize the existence of unemployed and underemployed, people between living situations, etc. When given a fair shake and a path back to a normal life, they will be our fellow riders.

      5. I think you are kind of romanticising the homeless to some degree.

        Yes, while some of the permanent homeless (as opposed to temporary) are there due to economic reasons, most are there due to mental problems and/or drug issues. For those people no amount of money or jobs is going to change anything. The Asylums need to be reopened so these people have a place to go, b/c city streets are never the place. It is understandable that people would want to limit their exposure to these kinds of people.

        Unfortunately, many of the temporary/economic homeless get lumped in the mix. I agree with you about the stupidity of the car laws, and others of that type.. For these people more can and should be done to get them back on their feet.

  5. The fact that they are taking away part of a street, even just a little bit of one, for transit and people without any noticeable fuss is a good sign. And no it isn’t an ideal modal hub, but it is alot better than the current situation so I’m pretty pleased.

    1. I for one am not happy that 5th Ave will be closed to buses. Put a transit lane on it, but don’t migrate commuters to 3rd or 2nd Avenue away from the core retail area. As you travel south that’s not just a 2 or 3 block walk from 5th Ave, it is considerably uphill and difficult for those less able.

      1. How about looping the 1st Ave or Waterfront Streetcar to serve the top end of downtown, so that wheelchairs can access the highest streets and always have a connecting ride downhill? The streetcar could run down the middle of the street, so as to stay out of the way of cars doing pickups/dropoffs on 5th, as well as to not be blocked by emergency vehicles.

        I hope whoever is pushing to move the buses off 5th Ave is paying attention to ADA issues.

      2. The fact that some buses do a 2nd-4th couplet and some do a 4th-5th can be really confusing… I think it would be good to move the buses that are currently there to 2nd, and then put in a downtown circulator bus along 5th. Maybe what they could do is abolish the RFA and add in a specially branded 4th-5th couplet bus, and maybe make the 1st Ave Streetcar free downtown as well.

      3. The fact that some buses do a 2nd-4th couplet and some do a 4th-5th can be really confusing

        5th Avenue is one way south, 4th is one way north. If I want to ride north I’m not going to wait for a bus on 5th Avenue, and vice-versa. Doesn’t seem that hard of logic to follow.

      4. The map at this link is very nice! If posted at bus stops, it would help newbies find the tunnel entrances.

        Still, public restrooms do not seem to exist. :(

  6. Agree with the comment that the way to discourage unhealthy activity in any public space is to fill the place with healthy activity. Might also apply that theory to certain transit centers- human nature hates a vacuum.

    But don’t like Parks Department’s current habit of demolishing structures artistically designed at public expense in order to get rid of “the homeless”.
    Anybody remember Bergen Place, in the middle of Ballard?

    The canopy had gotten run-down, and could have been repaired. But how many well-grown Norway maple trees were cut down- and not to advocate art criticism with a chainsaw, but if somebody relocated those pillars and the art on top of them someplace else- they were originally designed to go someplace else- I’d be ineligible for jury duty.

    Result is also a shadeless, shelterless patio hot as Arizona in the summer, and habitable only by- a homeless guy too far gone to care.

    Then there was the Occidental Park pergola. Don’t miss the pergola as much as the beatiful little bronze drinking fountain at the end of it. I always liked the little brick structure across north of the streetcar stop- and wasn’t there a beautiful little bronze fountain there, too? Where are these fountains now?

    Anybody even bothering to estimate the value of the public property we’ve been demolishing just to deny “the homeless” a place to sleep? Might be cheaper to find these people…..homes?

    Blog readers and writers might also want to consider something else- this depression isn’t going to spare smart young professionals like the last one did. Until you know where you’re going to be sleeping year after next, might be a good idea to leave some pretty park benches around.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Those gaudy “trees” look much worse than the blue canopy did. I can’t believe how the city ruined Bergen Place. Fortunately the mural is still there.

      1. Back when I lived in Lake City, we had a nice grassy mini-park at the southwest corner of Lake City Way and 125th. It was a de facto outdoor homeless shelter. The local businesses got the grass torn out and the plaza filled in with cement.

        Now, the same number of homeless sleep in the storefronts in front of the businesses. Karma is a b—-.

        Let’s get the city to reverse it’s abhorrence at public restroom facilities. Transit should not be exempted for business restroom requirements. That should start with this plaza.

  7. How do you make a comment? Email the project planners?

    It all looks good except those blue arcs. Those don’t really strike my fancy. I can see the point of a curved line linking areas, but those arcs in that blue are kind of distracting, like imposing geometric circles on it.

  8. Needs more green space….not more concentre apocaylse. They could use high traffic grassy area instead of concentre

  9. Is there a light fixture directly in front of where the tracks end? It would seem to be a bad location if, just maybe, those tracks were ever extended in that direction at a future date. Is that possible, or is this forever the “end of the line”?

  10. I remain intrigued by what drives decisions.
    With the empty spaces now at Westlake, it would make so much more sense to end the streetcar under the monorail.

    To route the streetcars along side the old Seattle Times building not only places the run on an incline, but makes the line longer for future extension.

    IF your were to route the line alongside Westlake, then cut up over the bus tunnel on Pine to Second or First Avenues, you would have less incline, and easier curves, plus use streets that are already used to flow chokes such as the Pine street mid street bus stop (which could then become modified for streetcar use.)

    Any hill traction deals with in Seattle means attempting to start or stop on moisture slick rails more than half the year.

    Stoping under the Monorail would be a direct connect to the Tunnel below and the Monorail above. If need be, take it half indoor… the windows there are at street level but the stores are above that. The reason the Monorail built the hefty pillors and squeezed the track was that at the time any change in the facade of the old Fredrick and Nelson store was grounds to re-write the old lease that was based on the price of gold in 1930 or some such. It should never have been pinched to allow future expansion, but thats another topic.

    Lastly, I wonder if the folks involved in attempting to turn the old Seattle Times building are aware that all the sidewalks there are hollow underneeth. That was how they used to load all the newsprint into the printing room in the basement. Those huge high roof alcoves were turned into storage (the one I worked with leaked on occasion).

    It just seems like such a nice natural sweep to stay on fifth, curve through Westlake, and end up on Pine before heading south. Imagine the line connecting the Market AND Westlake… could add a lot.

    Lastly, nice to see the group address the charter bus zone issue. The Westin is one of the busiest hotels in cruise season (May-Sept)and often has up to 5 busses loading at the same time. It will still need that abiltiy.

  11. IMO too much empty open space. That space needs to be programmed more and have some edges for activity to concentrate. A cafe stand? Fountain? Some planters to create edges and break up the open plaza? Some places to sit? Some gravel, grass or sand as a ground surface instead of all concrete plaza?

    Personally I’d rather see the tiny triangular parks stay (which I rather like) and just traffic calm the surrounding streets to make them more pedestrian-friendly… curb extensions, shorter wait times for pedestrians, widen sidewalks.

    I would really suggest getting the Project for Public Spaces to come out to Seattle to help with this project. They are all about creating vibrant people-oriented places.

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