SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway
SDOT's Recommended Alignment: Two-Way Broadway

Seattle’s Department of Transportation has recommended the Two-Way Broadway alignment for the First Hill Streetcar. The recommendation was given in a presentation to the interested parties Wednesday night, according to Richard Sheridan from the department. The recommendation was first reported by Central District News; an impressive scoop.

The park loop initially proposed, which would have had the streetcar route encircle Cal Anderson Park, was dropped because it “didn’t have a lot of advantages” and was “creating more concerns” than keeping the route on Broadway north of Union, according to Ethane Melone, who headed the recommendation process for SDOT.

The Two-Way Broadway alignment performed the best on most metrics the city measured; perhaps most importantly in this climate, it is expected to be the most frugal option. SDOT’s presentation also covered the cost of perhaps extending the Broadway line north from its planned terminus at John St north to Aloha: just $20 million, but some money would be needed to fund the design of the extension in the short term to make the exention “shovel-ready.”

“If that extension were funded by the early part of 2012,” Melone said, “it could be added to the construction contract, and completed at the same time or shortly thereafter.” He also noted that the quarter-mile extension could be completed “in a matter of months” regardless of when it’s funded. Mayor McGinn’s light rail package that will be sent to voters sometime next year could well include funding for an extension.

The exact configuration on Broadway is to-be-determined. The city will be looking at a proposal from the Capitol Hill Community Council for a two-way “cycle track” that is separated from traffic. A cycle-track would have little impact on parking, Melone said, but would require removing the center-turn lane from Broadway.

Some neighborhood groups are likely to be disappointed by the recommendation after heavy lobbying for a 12th Ave Couplet alignment, which this blog editorialized against. Melone told us that the stations being separated by distance and grade could have made the line “less intuitive” to ride and create “a perception of inconvenience.” First Hill hospitals hoping for alignments that pass closer to hospital entrances were probably expecting this decision after earlier analysis concluded their favored alignments were much more expensive than other alternatives.

SDOT made its recommendation to Mayor McGinn, who will in turn make a recommendation to the City Council, who has the final say. CHS reports that the mayor has said he’s leaning toward the Broadway alignment.

68 Replies to “SDOT: Two-Way Broadway for First Hill Streetcar”

  1. While at first I was leaning twords the Seneca/Boren alighnment, after the initial assessment I swung to 2way Broadway. Coupled with Aloha and the street improvements proposed by… that Capital Hill Community group that was posted a month or so ago, this could completely transform the area.

  2. If an extension all the way to Aloha isn’t feasible cost-wise, how about a shorter extension to Mercer or Roy? One more station to serve the north end of the Broadway business district.

    1. I think it is best to just push to find the extra money to do it at the same time. It will just make it more expensive to do it as part of a different contract.

      1. Ethan Melone has said the contract will be structured so the extension can be added onto the existing contract when it gets funding. The project could theoretically be in construction starting in the ID when the extension gets added on.

    2. There are two key capital costs associated with an extension:

      1.) Cost of the track (~$30 million per mile)
      2.) Cost of an additional vehicle (~$3.5 million per vehicle)

      The extension would add to the total cycle time. In order to maintain the required 10 minute headway, SDOT would need to run five streetcars on the cycle instead of four. Extending to Roy, Aloha or Prospect St (Volunteer Park) could be done by adding only one extra vehicle, but they do all require adding one.

      For a number of logistical reasons, Aloha is not an ideal stop location, so the final stop would probably need to be at Roy St (one block south of Aloha) or Prospect St (one block north). The advantage of Roy St is a cost savings; the advantage of Prospect is that it would place the final stop directly at the doorstep of Volunteer Park and the Asian Art Museum, both major regional destinations.

      Roy St would cost ~$18 million (including the vehicle); Prospect St would cost about $25 million (also including the extra vehicle.

      Either way, we need to find some extra money and if we’re talking about Uncle Sugar’s money (federal grants) the difference between $18 million and $25 million is a rounding error. If we can’t find federal money and have to look to local sources, we may have to go with the shorter extension, but we’re going to try to push it to the park if we can.

      Another thing to consider: any extension that requires an additional vehicle will also require an additional operating subsidy (~$750,000 per year total cost minus whatever we make back in fare box recovery and sponsorship). That will need to be factored in to the cost of an extension as well.

  3. This is great, and unsurprising, news. Also of note–as shown on this map but not the CD/CapHil blog’s–is that the Pioneer Square loop seems more popular and likely than the Weller St. one. One of the many advantages of two-way Broadway is that it holds the most potential to yield some leftover funds, which I hope we can get ST to let SDOT use for designing and planning an Aloha St. extension.

    1. What does the Pioneer Square loop mean in relation to getting the Central Line Streetcar?

      1. I’m not sure there’s any direct relation, though if the Central Streetcar is on 1st, with the FH Streetcar stopping on 2nd Ave. S. between Main and Jackson, they could have stops as little as one block apart. I’m curious where a Ballard-West Seattle line will run through that area.

      2. The stops should be zero blocks apart. If the Central line is ever constructed, the tracks should be connected to the First Hill line, with the same vehicles making the entire circuit. Why make people get off, walk a block and switch streetcars?

      3. Each streetcar line is determined on its own merits and drawbacks. It is an advantage to connect all streetcar line, but various measurements of 1st Ave Line can relate to First Hill Line as if a transfer between them is assumed. The line seems illogically indirect to me, east for blocks then west seems circuitous. Earlier route proposals seemed more logical. Don’t put cost considerations above design.

      4. The Central Streetcar would overlap with the First Hill one on Jackson St. I don’t where the Ballard-West Seattle one would go, but I wonder about 1st Ave. The Pioneer Square loop and stop were a late addition to the FH line as it is; it was only mandated to serve ID-Capitol Hill. We lucked out on Pioneer Square.

  4. that cycle track is an excellent idea…same setup in densely populated of Madrid, Barcelona, Copenhagen, many cities in South America are even starting this type of street reclamation. being a pedestrian and being insulated from moving cars by two sets of curbs, a row of parking cars and moving bicyclist, and a streetcar line–? Fantastic.

    although this option will most likely make 12th much more busy car wise, creating a slowdown e bound and wbound at pine and madison. if they build it for bikes on bway, and toss a bus on 12th, then i’ll relent on my 12th ave leaning.

    It seems that most streetcars have signal priority in many other cities, will this bway one potentially be stopping at every light like the 43/60/49/9x do? Punishing, not rewarding those who choose transit (such as in the case of initial total removal of the olive/john stops) is bad policy. The lengthy 52 minute SEATAC to Westlake LINK journey i had last sunday made me consider other options. in other words, unacceptable, really.

    1. I don’t think they’ve made any decisions on signal priority yet. There’s obviously a lot of interest in putting a bus on 12th, but that requires Metro’s involvement. I’ve heard that SDOT is leaning in favor of the Broadway streetscape proposal from the CHCC too, which would be truly awesome.

    2. I’m pretty sure there will be at least low level TSP for the streetcar. I would expect the part around 14th Ave to have some for sure. It certainly won’t be absolute priority but a lot can be done with a little tweaking. Also I would expect that SDOT is much more comfortable with TSP now than it was just a few years ago when the SLUT was built. That is good news because usually agencies are scared of giving a lot of priority if they haven’t done it before, but once they have some first hand experience they realize that it works pretty well if done correctly.

  5. A rep from the Cap. Hill Council presented at the last Seattle Bike Board meeting earlier this month about the proposal (I attend these meetings as a guest citizen). It was quite impressive! While there were some concerns brought up by SBAB the function of the whole street; pedestrians, vehicles, streetcar, cyclists, etc. had all been taken into consideration. If only SDOT’s presentations could be so complete and well thought-out. There are some lingering issues regarding bike lights, street crossings, etc. and how it will all function – that will likely fall under SDOT’s purview and SBAB will have some involvement in that.

    1. Thanks for that info. Al how can I better keep updated with the SBAB. Is there a listserve?

      1. If you go to there should be a listserv from the city you can subscribe to. If it’s like the Ped Board list, it will pretty much just be meeting agendas. They meet on first Wednesdays 6-8 in City Hall L280. The Ped Board is the same but on second Wednesdays. The CapHill Community Council invited interested members of the Ped Board to meet with them next Thursday. I’ll be there. I can’t speak for the Bike Board, but we’re on Twitter now at @seattleped.

      2. I attend the meetings most months. If you’d like my notes, or want me to watch for something, let me know.

  6. I’m really glad the City solved the embarassing problem of the First Hill Streetcar not serving First Hill – by expanding the limits of the “First Hill” neighborhood to include it – brilliant!

    You’ve made your engineering work easier but forgot the point. Exactly how far do you have to pervert the orignial intention to be ashamed, SDOT?

    1. Actually, Broadway is part of First Hill, although it is on the edge. I agree this streetcar does not go through the “heart” of First Hill, but there are technical reasons why it is not feasible. Streetcars have trouble with steep grades–they can manage but they also lose a lot of efficiency so operating costs go up. SDOT also found significant issues with traffic, bike conflicts, utility costs, etc. Broadway will be accessible to that part of First Hill that is not already close to downtown, which is what the originally proposed light rail station was meant to accomplish.

      1. If folks will recall… the planned “First Hill” light rail station was just west of Madison and Broadway. It certainly was not in the middle of the neighborhood.

        It will continue to be faster to access much of First Hill by simply walking to/from Downtown or riding one of the frequent buses.

      2. Also ST has always discussed the “First Hill Streetcar” in the context of running down Broadway not swinging down to Boren or Virgina Mason. A Broadway alignment was what was shown on the ST2 maps.

      3. Not to mention that, even if the streetcar went of Boren, it would still be faster to take a bus from King Street Station to First Hill, as the streetcar goes around Yesler terrace.

  7. The *real* First Hill route was turned down because it was more expensive than the Broadway alignment – but now we can find 20 million extra dollars to extend it on Broadway to Aloha?

    1. I really see it as two separate missions. Sound Transit is funding light rail to Capitol Hill station, and SDOT has the mandate/contract to execute that alignment as intelligently as possible. The north extension is a separate “phase”, one for which Seattle will likely have to find its own means of funding.

      1. ST only funds the streetcar from the Capitol Hill station south. The two Boren alignments would’ve exceeded the budget SDOT has to work with from ST. Funding the Aloha extension would take another funding source. Moreover, the city’s adopted streetcar plan calls for this route to go up to Aloha St. I would’ve been equally happy with a Boren alignment, but there are just too many problems with them as others have enumerated. Cost, bike conflicts, utility issues, road width, travel times–all better on Broadway.

    2. This is not a case of 20 million for either Boren or the extension. Boren would be part of the funded project, so it has to stay on budget. Sound Transit is not going to pay for the extension construction. Also the extension can be added on later, giving us flexibility in finding money over the next few years. Boren would need the money now.

    3. The “First Hill” light rail station would have been just a block or two off of Broadway @ Madison so it wasn’t exactly in the middle of First Hill either. Second the streetcar line included in ST2 was showing Broadway as a potential alignment on the ST2 system maps. This line does serve Yesler Terrace, Harborview, Swedish Medical Center, Seattle U, The Polyclinc and other First Hill destinations. An alignment serving Virgina Mason was always a bit of a stretch.

      1. So it looks like that’s what the circle with the diagonal line through it represents on the “Recommended Alignment” map/aerial; the previously proposed First Hill station.

  8. Why the dog-leg around the elementary school- via 14th? I thought it was supposed to go from Yesler south via Boren to 12th and then to Jackson?

    1. Most likely to avoid gumming up the intersections at Boren and Yesler and Boren and 12th with left turns where all traffic stops.

      Besides, it give 12th and Yesler service. The folks who’ve been advocating for a 12th avenue couplet should be pleased that the city apparently listened to them.

    2. A few reasons.

      1) Underground utility issues and overhead trolley wires are worse on 12th.
      2) Despite the shorter length, travel time would actually be slower going up 12th because the streetcar would have to wait so long to turn left from Jackson onto 12th.
      3) Bike conflicts; 12th Ave. is a major bike corridor.
      4) The grade is smoother on 14th than 12th. Going downhill on 12th, the conductor would have to ride the brake all the way downhill which is bad for the vehicle.
      5) Little Saigon at 12th & Jackson wanted a stop. They didn’t like the streetcar going through that intersection without stopping and serving the area. By continuing to 14th, there can be a 12th & Jackson stop. (stops on this line will default to being in the middle of the street, feeding to/from crosswalks at intersections)

      1. 6) You want streetcar crossings with bikes to be as close as possible to right angles. To use Boren you have bikes and streetcar tracks crossing at a slight angle which is tough on bikes. The 14th Ave. alignment maximizes right angle crossings.

  9. What are folks’ thoughts on the number of stations/station placement planned for the SDOT recommended route (as cited in the presentation linked to in the Central District News story)? My initial reaction was that 10 stops didn’t seem like enough for the distance/shape of this line.

    1. I think SDOT is trying to space the stops out more on this line than on the SLUT. It may be money/pressure from ST to keep the service fast and maintain 10 minute headways. I don’t mind spacing them further apart than in SLU, but I do have some concern that they’ll be too few and far apart–especially in places where getting to a stop will be a fairly steep uphill walk.

      1. The interlocal agreement between Sound Transit and SDOT specifically requires stops to be spaced 1200 to 2000 feet apart. This is reflective of ST’s core philosophy of rapid transit. They are not interested in providing a social service for the transit dependent and the disabled as Metro is required to do; they are interested in one thing: get the middle class out of their cars. Thus, they always seek to provide transit that is time-competitive with the automobile whenever possible. In the case of streetcar, that means wider stop spacing.

        For comparison, the stops on the SLUT are spaced about 600 feet apart.

      2. Where did you get that misinformation? 600 feet would be nearly every block. On it says 11 stops for 2.6 mile route (13728 ft). 13728 / 11 = 1248 average, though of course a few are closer together than others. The SLU Trolley has about half as many stops at the MT 70 through SLU.

        The SLU Streetcar does have one big problem area: the large number of stoplights and cross streets on the diagonal part of Westlake Ave. The McGraw Plaza redesign will help a little bit with that.

      3. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. We have few blocks that are 600 feet long, and at least in the Pedestrian Master Plan, have an official policy of breaking up such big blocks. The SLUT stops generally are about 2-3 blocks apart.

  10. This is great! I’m really excited that they picked by far the best alignment to serve everyone and that they’re actually looking into the cycle track proposal.
    I would be careful, though, about saying that “Mayor McGinn’s light rail package will be sent to voters sometime next year.” McGinn said, “I think it’s highly unlikely that we will propose light rail expansion this year. I think we will move forward in 2011.” That’s far from the sure thing that you make it out to be. I certainly hope it is next year, though, as long as they do adequate planning for it before.

  11. whats the arrangement on broadway… traveling in the center lanes with islands or right-side lanes with bulb out stops? (i’m hoping for center lanes with islands)

    i’m not clear on the cycle track… this is on both sides of the street, between parked cars and the sidewalk?

    1. If I understand the map correctly, going east from the Broadway Market it’s (1) sidewalk, (2) two-way bike lane (the light blue strip), (3) bus bulbs/parking/narrow sidewalk (I assume the green strips are sidewalks), (4) southbound streetcar/autombile lane, (5) northbound streetcar/automobile lane, (6) bus bulbs and parking, (7) sidewalk.

      The rectangles on the bus bulbs could be bike parking or seats.

      What are the green circles? Trees (but they’re spaced too regularly)? Posts?

      1. The green circles are trees. The streetscape drawing is conceptual. We are not actually calling for the trees to be placed exactly where they are on the drawing.

  12. This is brilliant: Serve the existing communities (the hospitals) and serve the best hope for future development (absolutely no doubt: Yesler terrace) and build it cheaply. Well done!

  13. Still waiting for a streetcar route that I am impressed by. The city should create a centerpiece for the city first, and only then do these inessential peripheral lines much later on. Coleman dock – First Ave – Pine St – Cap Hill. Now that would be a smart streetcar line.

      1. Are you sure about that? Pike/Pine isn’t a terribly steep hill.

        In any case a line up Pine is unlikely any time in the near term.

      2. Of course they can. The hill on Pine is no steeper than the one up Harrison that the Portland Streetcar climbs. It’s longer of course, but actually a little less steep.

    1. The Capitol Hill-First Hill Urban Center has over 35,000 employees, 35,000 residents and 15,000 college students. I would hardly call this an “inessential peripheral line”. I agree that Coleman Dock to Capitol Hill via First Ave and Pine St is an excellent route though.

      1. Actually, they should build the Central Line and then connect Pier 90 via Colman and Pioneer Square. The cruise ships brought over 800,000 passengers to Seattle last year.

    2. The city has a transportation hub strategy based on Westlake, Coleman Dock, and King St. Station. McGraw Park will be the first of those (opening this fall), and over time they plan to close more blocks of Westlake Ave. which will improve SLUT travel time and reliability as well as the environment for bikes and pedestrians. The Central Streetcar would serve the ferry terminal from 1st Ave, and King St. Station as it goes east on Jackson. It would have quite high ridership with frequent service–like 5 minutes. It’d serve Pioneer Square, SAM, Pike Place, Belltown, and the Sculpture Park among others. Seems pretty darn good to me. But we need funding for it.

      I’m not sure Pine and Pike are too steep for modern streetcars. I understand from Ethan that Denny is. I really wanted the QA-CapHill ine.

  14. They should really beef up trolley route 12 as part of this. It’s a better connection than the streetcar will be for most riders who would have used the First Hill Link station.

    1. Low floor trolleys and signal priority would be a good (necessary?) first step on improving the 12. It’s painfully slow even when moving, and probably 50% of the trips I’ve taken it on have included long stops for someone to use the wheelchair lift. It’s usually quicker to walk from DT to First Hill, if you’re able to walk it.

    2. Oy! The #12 is the REASON that the First Hill Link Station (and it’s subsequent crappy proxies) were/are necessary.

      – Misses EVERY light.
      – Light-cycle timing disfavor Madison/Marion vs numbered avenues 5:1.
      – Those 90-degree zig-zags that trolleybuses are SO good at.
      – No straightforward connection to any downtown tunnel stop.

      12-20 minutes to go 3/4 of a mile uphill is not acceptable, no matter how much you “beef up” the frequency.

    3. How about a Madison Cable Car! This is good, however, for those coming from the north or south of downtown, as now they can get off at Capitol Hill or ID, respectively, and get on the streetcar. A Downtown-First Hill cable car or part of a future link line should be considered, though.

  15. Alex, funny you say that…

    I’ve long thought that they could adapt this — — to Madison (or Spring or Marion for less construction disruption). Since it would be immediately sub-surface, it wouldn’t encounter any of the “soil problems” that were trumped up as a reason to cancel First Hill Link. And it would be pretty easy to build an underground pedestrian walkway to the Pioneer Square tunnel station.

  16. this narrowing of broadway from 4 to 2 lanes with cycle track and streetcar seems to me like this is a very big deal of national significance for those of us in the liveable streets crowd. this would have been unthinkable a few years ago anywhere in the US. i am amazed that the retailers on broadway have the foresight to see that creating a quality urban built environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders is more benefical than trying to cater to motorists. typically the merchants on these kinds of traffic clogged yet pedestrian oriented streets want to make them more suburban.

    1. I think the preservation of on-street parking is a key component to the conversation. CHCC wisely recognized that trying to fight the street use and parking battles at the same time would be extremely difficult; while I am concerned about the width of the proposed cycle track given its proximity to parked cars, I highly appreciate the strategic compromise implicit in the proposal.

  17. This alignment looks fine to me looking at this map. It seems to hit all the right bases. Just one question:

    Does SDOT envision a stop outside both Union and King Street Stations?

    1. With the Pioneer Square loop, there WOULD actually be two stops at the same intersection–one toward CapHill (southbound on 5th at the N side of Jackson), one toward the PS stop on 2nd Ave. S (westbound on Jackson on the W side of 5th) .

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