SDOT Photo – Flickr
SDOT Photo – Flickr

No later than March 26th, ULink will be open and the big ULink restructure will be in place. Lost in the glamor of that event, a major restructure of service on South Lake Union will occur the same day, with southbound Route 40 switching to Westlake Avenue and Rapid Ride C extended into South Lake Union via Blanchard/Lenora and Westlake. With a bunch of intensive work to be done to make that a reality just 3 months from now, effective January 4th the South Lake Union Streetcar will run only during weekday peak periods, with no off-peak, evening, or weekend service. In addition, the streetcar will also not run during Friday PM peak. Service hours will be Monday-Thursday from 6-9am and 3-9pm, and Friday from 6-9am only.

When the streetcar is not running, SDOT and Metro crews will be busy restriping Westlake, adding RapidRide stops and amenities, improving sidewalks and waiting areas, and more. With roughly two-thirds of the streetcar’s ridership occurring during peak periods, the loss of off-peak service will impose only a small and temporary burden relative to the service improvement it affords. When full service resumes, Westlake will have 20 buses or streetcars per hour per direction during peak, and with unprecedented transit priority. With South Lake Union’s drive-alone rate (46%) more than double that of the traditional commercial core (22%), these improvements can’t come soon enough, and with the passage of Move Seattle we can only look forward to more projects like this.

44 Replies to “SLU Streetcar Peak-Only Through March”

  1. So people who live and work in a neighborhood with a 98 Walkscore might actually have to walk?

    1. Yeah seriously. I live near SLU and very very very rarely find a need to actually ride the streetcar. The low frequency and relatively short distance covered mean I can usually walk anywhere in the area faster than I can wait, ride (aka sit in traffic) and make it to my destination. The only say I take the streetcar is if it’s sitting at the station when I walk up. It’s a pretty sad system and I hope it keeps seeing improvements ahead of the CCC streetcar being built. People seem pretty sour on streetcars overall when their only experience is with the SLU route.

      1. Did you read what is happening to require the service closures? When the project is complete, for nearly its entire southbound route the streetcar will be running either in its existing reservation or in new new “BAT” lanes along Westlake. Northbound it will still turn off Westlake at Thomas to Terry, but the traffic is much lighter on Terry.

        Hence, no more “sit in traffic”.

        Perhaps that makes it a wee bit better fit for your lifestyle?

      2. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m one of the very few who actually LIKE the streetcar. The only time I have had a problem sitting in traffic on the entire line was at the corner of Fairview and Valley. That’s when I was working at Fred Hutch. I haven’t had to ride that stretch in a while; I hope that bottleneck has been fixed. Now I board either at SLU Park or get off the 40 at Mercer Street and transfer. The only “problem” from there to the Westlake terminus is waiting for traffic lights to change. So I will welcome any improvements to what is, IMHO, a decent ride now.

      3. Yeah, as alluded to by Anandakos, this project is expected to shave almost six minutes off the streetcar’s northbound travel time and almost five minutes off its southbound travel time.

        As to the short distance covered, if the CCC receives federal funding the SLUS will soon run to Jackson and Occidental in the heart of Pioneer Square. Five-minute headways south of Republican and exclusive ROW along 1st Ave. as well.

    1. Not much can be done, as the design precludes major improvements without a major rebuild. The two streetcar/GP lanes are sandwiched between parking lanes that are too narrow to be repurposed for transit or vehicle lanes, so the only way to get transit priority on Broadway would be to close it to cars, which can’t happen for a number of reasons, not least of which is Swedish’s main entrance.

      1. I actually think there’s a bunch that could be done. Jackson is a no brainer: you could easily have a Westlake style treatment (restrict turns and make the streetcar lanes transit-only). As Jim says for the rest you could certainly have 3rd Ave style restrictions. In addition, looking at google maps images you could even be more aggressive on Broadway between Pine and Boren. There is a single, continuous center lane for that stretch so you could repurpose that for a GP lane in one direction and close Broadway in the other direction entirely. In essence, make Broadway a one-way street with a contra-flow streetcar on one side.

        I think this would be a reasonable compromise: it maintains auto access for local businesses and parking, but it does move much traffic off as it’ll be one-way. As there is a GP lane, the streetcar lane can be mostly exclusive, except at whatever turns you want to maintain.

      2. Just looking at the Google earth view it looks like the center turn lanes are the same width as the travel lanes, so like 11ft or something.

    1. Considering there are only three cars, one of which is always kept as a spare, there must be something like 6 so operators (peak period is still going) that will not be working.

      The operators are probably qualified for other things. It is extremely expensive to not organize things this way, because otherwise vacation time, sick days, etc. become very difficult to work around. The bigger the pool of employees the better the ability to work with this type of staffing logistics.

      My guess is, since King County Metro provides operators for Link, that Link and streetcar operators are qualified for either. Think about what it would mean otherwise: to have an operator to have any vacation or dick days you would have to always have one extraboard operator on hand any time the system is operating. If you pool that position with Link operators you can spread the spare employee positions over more of the system.

      1. My guess is the operators will be moved over to the First Hill Streetcar line for more testing.

  2. Good news that this project is moving forward, unfortunate about the streetcar service.

    What is the thought about these curb lanes as far as working? Seems like they actually might with the right turn restrictions. How much will curb parking impact service or is there very little or is it being removed?

    I’d be concerned about the Fairview/Valley area where the C will layover, that area is so congested they may need transit lanes there.

    1. >> unfortunate about the streetcar service.

      The streetcar carries about 2200 people a day. That is much smaller than the average bus (
      As Zach mentioned, most of the ridership is unaffected. If this was a regular bus route, killing this altogether would probably be considered a smart restructure. I suppose it is unfortunate that a handful of people will have to find another way to get around for a while. But in the grand scheme of things, it is a very small price to pay if the streetcar and, more importantly, the buses, manage to move through the area much faster.

  3. Is it safe to say then that ULink opens March 26 or whenever these service changes occur? Yes, ST and Metro are separate but I doubt they wont coordinate service or there will be a few days or weeks of the 43 serving CHS which will make that bus loss worse.

    1. Yes it’d be a disaster if Link were opened beyond 3/26. Look for an announcement soon, but it’s safe to say that it’ll be before the 26th.

    2. Wow, that’s right, January means Link is less than three months away. Two and a half months if we’re lucky. Double sweet.

  4. I generally like the Seattle SLU Streetcar, especially with my spine/back issues. Used it to get from Westlake Station to Whole Foods Lake Union to pick up stuff (mostly flowers) on trips to Seattle many times. Also close-by to my friend Melissa’s office. Plus is really nice for linking the I-5 Everett-Seattle (currently bus) spine

    For somebody like me with back issues and a February trip into Seattle partly on business not looking forward to at least a 15 minute walk from the nearest bus stop to the flower shop to Melissa’s office… at least Melissa really appreciates free flowers. I just hope these improvements are actually… improvements.

    Do have to say if there was better, er, wayfinding (thanks Dori!) between Westlake Station & the streetcar; that would be much, much appreciated. Heck, bright Amazon Orange paths and/or signage would be nice. So easy to get lost disembarking from the light rail at Westlake…

    1. I thought it would have been cool if the streetcar dove into a short 1 or 2 block long tunnel to the mezzanine of the Westlake Station where it would terminate (right by the elevators to the Monorail). This is what they have at some stations in Toronto (Union Station), Boston (Harvard Station) or Los Angeles (7th/Metro Center) where the streetcars/buses/LRT actually enter the station for a seamless transfer within the paid-zone.

      Obviously it would have added quite a bit of money to the project and wouldn’t work with the CCC.

      1. With how little distance there is between intersections along Westlake near the current terminal, a tunnel portal might not be straightforward to build… would be interesting.

      2. I guess my preference would have been to jackhammer away 4 inches of each streetcar platform, run the thing with Link cars, and drop a tunnel all the way to Link.

        Sadly, you wouldn’t have train capacity to do that until the buses are gone, but when the buses are gone I think a very frequent rail connection through downtown is going to be very helpful. Peak period Link is supposed to be every 3 minutes after EastLink and all that, but off peak it will becnice to have another train to get the frequency back up to every 3 minutes in the tunnel when the other two lines are running less often.

      3. No reason it couldn’t work with the CCC. Toronto’s St Clair streetcar enters St. Clair West station to connect to the subway underground from both directions. Check it out on Google Streetview if you’re wondering how it works.

  5. Did I miss this- or do we know what bus routes will cover or make up for the suspended streetcar service. As soon as the streetcar was announced, I started hoping the cars would get their own lane.

    One improvement will also help, with no new equipment at all. Reset the signal where the westbound streetcars cross onto the waterfront reserved track. I’ve seen inbound streetcar traffic thrown ten minutes off-schedule at that point alone.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Photo enforce blocking the block/intersection/track there, that area is already crosshatched and has numerous “DONT BLOCK THE TRACKS” signs so clearly that is not enough

    1. Try to schedule multiple contractors and inspections for night work without leaving any obstructions that would prevent the streetcar from functioning during the day or overly impacting city traffic while minimizing the budget and handling inevitable snafus. Even for a relatively simple job like this they probably have a monster gantt chart.

  6. Is there any signal priority too? I don’t see any mention. The buses and streetcars should be triggering the lights to green when they need to go. Crossing Mercer is among the worst.

    So what happens on Westlake at Denny NB? I see there will be a right turn signal for cars… are the cars turning from a shared right turn/transit lane at the curb there in front of Whole Foods?

  7. They have the operators. The only reason to reduce streetcar service is the specific right-of-way. Especially if these operators would have a paid three months off, then why not run a temporary bus route that parallels the streetcar? Especially since the demand for the streetcar is there, and current service has been seen as insufficient for the corridor (given that they are adding new and redundant service to downtown). Why close it entirely? Why not just close the streetcar and run a temporary bus, driven by current streetcar operators? The change as it stands effectively eliminates the use case for a third of its ridership.

    1. As I just posted above a second, these operators are shared with the First Hill streetcar line. This will Let SDOT do more testing as they move operators around.

    2. Bus and Streetcar operations do not mix. We can not send SC operators to drive a bus. You can send bus operators to provide the shuttle. You don’t see Link operators driving the 97 when its closed, so the same goes for Streetcar.

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