People fear change for many reasons. In the International District, unfounded fears have reared their ugly head again, this time in opposition to tracks for the First Hill Streetcar.

The City’s Charles Street Service Center, at 8th and Dearborn, is to be the site of the streetcar maintenance facility. Lead tracks will extend south from the line at Jackson to Dearborn. These will be the same as any other streetcar – downtown Portland, the South Lake Union Streetcar, and many others around the US and the world.

I could understand if this were an opposition, say, along a major cycling route – cyclists riding parallel to the tracks can catch a wheel in them. I could also understand an issue if there were fast-moving trains here. But – neither of these are the case. The Seattle Chinatown International District preservation and development authority, or SCIDpda, is “worried” and “concerned” that people crossing the street will trip and fall.

Now, when I first heard about this, I was given an example of a senior citizen catching a walker or cane in the rails. I can see that happening, as there’s senior housing right next to 8th – so I asked how often it happens. It turns out… it doesn’t. The city hasn’t found any instances, nor has the SCIDpda, or any other groups who have picked up on this claim. What’s more, SDOT went on to investigate in Portland, just to be sure – and heard back from Good Samaritan Hospital, located in the streetcar loop in Northwest Portland, and a retirement facility next door. They’ve never heard of a problem.

These groups say their concerns are being ignored – but they claim “hazards” and “risk” without any evidence at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if street safety improves – as crossings and sidewalks will be improved throughout this project. If there were ever a legitimate claim here, it’s lost in an unwillingness to accept reality.

54 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Fearmongering”

      1. Since you brought it up, you speaking against fear mongering is pretty funny. That’s been your whole schtick on multiple websites over the past several months, and I reason I’ve drastically reduced my traffic here.

      2. If only you would stop making comments that spread misinformation! Please, carry on with this trend.

      3. I actually don’t spread much of anything — I just speak my piece here and there.

        I think it’s unfortunate that this is the tone you’re taking. STB used to be such a nice blog with tempered activism. I’m thinking specifically of the Nickels endorsement that recognized his broad contributions to rail in this city, and I doubt you would issue something that nuanced today.

        There are better ways to fight for transit improvements. Declaring war on one-time allies seems like the worst way to do it.

        On the topic, I’m excited for First Hill Streetcar development and can’t wait to see construction get started.

      4. Whenever Selma speaks “her” piece, it seems to be against the values that transit advocates share.

        That’s why, at the end of “her” comment, “she” pivots back to trying to rah-rah a transit project. It’s never a transit project there’s any debate about. ;)

      5. Ben,

        Whenever Selma speaks “her” piece

        This is completely uncalled for. I have no idea who Selma is in real life, but barring other information, it’s simply common courtesy to treat her online identity as legitimate. (Even if she is using a pseudonym, that’s 100% her right, and she wouldn’t be the first person on STB to do so.)

        You’re STB staff. If you think that someone is posting as a sock puppet using the handle Selma, then check her IP, and if appropriate, contact the offending user and moderate/delete the relevant comments. But it’s rude and disrepectful to accuse Selma of misrepresenting her identity just because you don’t like what she’s saying or how she’s saying it.

      6. Aleks, I know who both “Selma” and “Marge” are. I’d rather respond than moderate, because their names match across several sites, and I like having asinine comments to point back at later. :)

      7. Aleks, I know who both “Selma” and “Marge” are.

        Ah, okay. My apologies then. But still, considering that most casual readers (like myself) probably don’t know, moderation seems like it would be more appropriate than snarky comments… :)

      8. Ben, i have to agree with selma to an extent. the STB used to be fairly nutural about non transit issues, however this whole tunnel debacle you’ve been taking up has made the site loose some credibility in my mind. Personally, i dont care what gets done, but something needs to be done to address the viaduct. Its been ten years since the earthquake and its been ten years of bickering about the central viaduct. i hate to say it ben but its people like you is why we cant have nice things in this region. intead of focusing your efforts on improving the plan by adding transit, you and your type are out there opposing the plan entirely, confusing the issues with these ballot measures and making the project a lot more expensive than it has to be. Remember the old line of priase and push. That being said, transit wise, i want the waterfront streetcar back. Not only does it hold sentimental value to me its an efficent and effective method of transportation along the waterfront, and as much as i hate the scuplutre garden and those behind it i think that will serve as a strong anchor for ridership on that end where ridership had been historically weak.

      9. @Z the only thing that “has to be done” is for the viaduct to come down or get retrofitted. You complain of nothing having been done in 10 years. That my friend shows you’ve bought the tunnel builders and real estate developers MEME’s hook line and sinker.

        As a thought experiment, if the tunnel proponents really think the project is so vital, would they agree to a requirement that the land that a future removed viaduct sits under could never ever be developed or sold to private developers? The answer to that question will provide some perspective on what is really going on.

  1. Has anyone from Sound Transit, the City of Seattle, or King County Metro Transit met with this group to discuss their worries?

    I’m sure there are many people of the affected age-group in the International District who have personally lived where street rail is common, and who will be glad to have the streetcar convenient to them, and glad to say so.

    It’s also likely that whoever is raising this particular issue is also worried about some other things about this project, or something else that has nothing to do with it. Of everything the project has to worry about, this is probably the one most amenable to common sense.

    Mark Dublin

      1. And I would add that the interlocal agreement between Sound Transit and the city confers complete soup-to-nuts responsibility for construction to the city, so I doubt ST will get involved. Metro may end up operating the streetcar, but they’re not heavily involved in the planning or construction as far as I know.

      2. Let us hope this turns out to be the non-issue that it is, and that we don’t get caught in a “Save the 42” type nonsensical situation.

  2. Pathetic.

    As a pre-teen, I lived in Yakima. They had a very extensive street railway, the Y.V.T. Even at that age, and as stupid as I am, I had enough common sense on how to co-exist with street railway tracks. And I road my bike across them and parallel to them regularly.


    1. It’s a miracle what’s left of that line survived. After YVT dropped passenger service in 1947(replaced with buses), locals were trying to get the freight concession ended too. I heard they got the last newbuild streetcars built for an operator in Washington State prior to the SLU line. Brill Master Units delivered in 1930.

      1. Would the tacoma LINK cars count or is that a light rail line? I dont know wheater to call that a streetcar or light rail line.

  3. My comment:

    I have to say, living right by the SLU Streetcar tracks for the past few years, I have never seen any pedestrian trip over or get caught in the tracks, and there is a fair bit of senior housing in SLU as well such as the Bart Harvey and Mirabella. I do not have any mobility disability but I do often push my daughter in a stroller over the tracks. Probably the most important thing to note is that you’re typically crossing the tracks at a 90-degree angle, so little chance of the wheels getting stuck. Poorly maintained sidewalks are a much bigger tripping hazard, both in SLU and the ID.

    I have seen bicyclists take a fall, though, because they usually ride parallel to streetcar tracks. It is important to be extremely cautious on a bike, and possibly choose an alternate route or get off and walk the last couple blocks to the library.

    I will say that I love the low boarding of the streetcar, where I can leave the stroller unfolded unless there are two wheelchairs in the priority seating areas (which has only happened once).

    Oh, and in Portland’s South Waterfront there is a streetcar that goes through a pedestrian plaza between an OHSU facility and senior housing (another Mirabella):

  4. I don’t think the Ped Board has heard from this group. And I’ve heard no similar ped concerns on the South Lake Union line. With smoother new pavement, center streetcar stops also serving as median refuge islands, and perhaps some new signals and other crossing improvements like curb ramps, I also suspect the streetcar will improve walking conditions.

    1. From my understanding the section in question is only used when the streetcars are traveling to/from the maintenance facility so their are no stops along the line. This is a low volume, slow street.

      1. Hm. Maybe the “fearmongering” is really a proxy for bitterness that they’re affected by the construction but not getting a stop right outside their door…

      2. Possibly, but if they ever want one, they should say that. They’re not on the route anyway, it’s just a lead track.

  5. I’ve seen people trip on the poor pavement without the tracks in this neighborhood. With the track, 8th Ave S will actually be safer to cross for pedestrians once the street is improved.

  6. I frequent the area of the SLUT, with my cane, and you do need to be very careful, especially where the tracks turn. Avoidable? Absolutely. But I can imagine a situation where the street is slick and my cane slips into the gap. Should this stop construction? No, there is some downside to everything. But this is not a completely unfounded complaint. Please don’t dismiss us gimps because we have yet one more obstacle to verticality to watch out for.

    1. Nobody dismissed it! The city welcomes any actual report of this happening – but in asking around in South Lake Union and Portland, they haven’t been able to find anything. If this had happened at 23rd in NW Portland, Good Samaritan would have heard about it. I don’t think you can call it founded in anything if it hasn’t happened…

      1. My mom slipped on rails in the rain (these were vestigial rails near the waterfront) and actually broke her femur last year because of it. She never reported it to the city, though.

      2. That sucks. If they’re what I’m thinking of, though, they’re a hell of a lot worse than a new streetcar well rail (they stuck up, and they’re freight rails, right?)

      3. Yeah — this is near the Art Institute’s North Campus/RealNetworks. The rails are in the road but not really connected to anything else at the moment. She was crossing the street, apparently stepping from one of those rails up to the sidewalk.

        I actually wiped out on a Honda scooter once because of those exact same rails. They are at a slight angle and I was turning to pull the scooter into the parking area there.

        Anyway, I don’t think this should be used as an excuse to derail (heh) the streetcar. It’s just one of those things that can happen.

  7. In PsyOp we call this the ‘Good Idea Fairy.’ You always swat away the Good Idea Fairy and just go off the evidence at hand.

      1. I’m… honored? Confused?

        Why do you think I would write a book, and more importantly, why would you want to read it?!?!

      2. I think you’ve got some great insights and a different perspective than we civilians can ever have. Look how successful Ollie North has been (a #1 best-selling author). Obviously you’d write it to pay for grad school!

      3. Bernie,

        If you’re looking for pro-transit writings of a recent war veteran, you’re closer than you think. ;-)

  8. (deleted, ad hominem)

    The best thing for transit: get the old fart transportation wars behind us. Start by ending the quake dominated debate over the Viaduct. Then unite to defeat I-1125.

  9. Just beware that one day of the year, when the First Hill Streetcar will not be able to operate the entire route. That is when the Chinatown/International District parade is going on (the Sunday evening before the Torchlight parade). That also includes the trackage to/from the Charles St carbarn).

    1. They’ll just have to close Jackson to all other forms of traffic, while the paraders learn to share the street with the streetcars.

      Because nothing is more ridiculous than building “permanent/reliable/mentally-mappable” fixed-transit networks with the expectation that they should simply shut down for any regularly-scheduled event.

    2. This is no different from other events downtown and on Broadway that cause trolleybuses to be dieselized or replaced by shuttles.

  10. Mmmm, there is a lot of senior housing just north of the TC in Bellevue. Sounds to me like a good reason to oppose the at grade alignment in DT Bellevue :=

  11. Aside from streetcar tracks, the thing about roads that has scared me the most is: curbs. Why in the heck do they build such a tripping hazard?


  12. Sorry, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of needing a trolley in the first place. We have electric buses. They are essentially the same as the trolleys, except that they don’t require special track and because of that are more flexible overall.

    1. Considering they’ve been running in the same place for something like 110 years, I don’t see how flexibility is a good argument. :)

      In the long run, streetcars are cheaper to operate than buses. Did you see Martin’s post about the 4th/5th alignment? That doesn’t take long to pay for itself in reduced operating costs.

  13. Sorry to try to get back on topic, but I just thought someone should point out that in Washington you can’t amend the state constitution by initiative. And be thankful for that because otherwise things would be even more screwed up here. A far, far better approach is to launch a campaign to bring back the MVET to pay for transit and mobility. The real problem with the old MVET was it was typically several hundred dollars paid all at once and the legislature had allocated the revenue to worthy, but unrelated causes such as public health. It’s been more than 10 years since Initiative 695 and it is past time to revisit the issue. An MVET of no more than $200 per vehicle, paid at purchase and with options for annual, quarterly or monthly payment after that dedicated to transit and mobility uses (and that has to include arterial street repairs to be acceptable in other parts of the state) would be a heck of a lot better proposal than any goofy gas tax increase that the legislature will dream up in 2012.

  14. Tom and John,
    I’ll be contactng DSA within the next week or so. My contacts with the waterfront business association were very good and, yes, they do want good N/S transportation included in the park plan. Re-activating the WFSC is high on their priortiy list.
    Hopefully, the Waterfront Park Advisory Committee will take a stand on the matter, too. So, if anyone knows folks on this oommittee, please let them know of your support for the line.

  15. If you want another example:

    I have dealt with a slip and fall on the Link tracks at Lander.
    A pedestrian on crutches had it slide out from under him while crossing the tracks.

    It was not a big deal, the trains at that hour were running 15 minute headways, One operator spotted it, I responded before another operator (who was notified of the situation) arrived.

    The customer reported no injuries.

    As stated before, not nearly as dangerous as those ‘curbs’ everywhere.

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