As a Capitol Hill resident I spent a good chunk of the weekend observing the belated launch of the First Hill Streetcar, both actively as a rider and passively as a nearby pedestrian. Though anecdotal observations should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, anecdotes confirming widely-acknowledged structural characteristics should be a bit more trustworthy. Here are a few things that I noticed:
- People love the ride quality. In a city of rough pavement, especially on major bus corridors, I consistently heard praise from riders about the quiet, comfortable ride offered by the streetcar. The comparison to, say, Route 43 on the potholes of Bellevue Avenue is quite favorable to the streetcar.
- Even on Day 1, I saw plenty of local circulation. I was surprised by how many local trips I saw between 5th/Jackson and 12th/Jackson, for example, with riders waiting on the corner to quickly decide between a curbside 7/14/36 or a center-running streetcar. On Capitol Hill, this was less the case, with curious riders packing weekend trains, but with mostly empty trains when I rode during Monday AM and PM peak.
- Even weekend trips are slow. The inaugural train took 25 minutes on a quiet Saturday morning. Without an official schedule to compare by, we cannot be sure of how much recovery time streetcars will be allowed, and therefore how much buffer they have to offer reliable headways. But anecdotally, streetcars on Opening Day seemed to be on a 1-hour cycle time, with 5 to 8 minute holds on each end and 22-25 minute travel times. With four streetcars in service on Saturday and each car making one cycle per hour, that equated roughly to 15 minute frequencies. A major uncertainty going forward is if SDOT will be able to deliver the promised 10-minute weekday peak frequency. Bunching is almost certain to happen regularly, and riders may frequently be delayed waiting to access the single-track terminals at Denny and Occidental.
- Weekday peak trips are painfully slow. Yesterday I rode from end to end at 4pm, and the ride took 32 minutes (4.7 mph average), 11 minutes of which were spent stopped between Madison and James streets waiting for box-blocking cars at James. When traffic is heavy, the streetcar will be forced to pull just short of a station, wait for the intersection to clear, then move forward and open the doors. This means often multiple light cycles per station stop.
- The 14th Avenue deviation is a huge weakness. Outside of peak, the streetcar moves pretty well on both Jackson and Broadway. But the streetcar takes 10-12 minutes to work its way through the middle third of the line, with a circuitous 1-mile route from 12th & Jackson to Broadway & Terrace, which is only 1/2 a mile walk. Riders that left Pioneer Square excited and happy tended to deflate a bit in the middle of the line.
- The lack of OneBusAway integration is extremely disappointing. Consider a few trip options. For Capitol Hill Station to Seattle University, riders will have real-time info for the streetcar only at the platform, while information for Routes 9 and 60 will only be accessed by OneBusAway. If a streetcar rider wants to check real-time on their phone, they will have to use Next Bus instead. Or consider a rider wanting to go from 5th/Jackson to 12th/Jackson. They need to choose between bus and rail, as they are located on separate platforms, but again they would need to toggle between OneBusAway, NextBus, and the streetcar platform’s level real-time information.
Did you ride this weekend or this morning? What did you notice?