10 years ago this month, to great fanfare, Seattle’s modern streetcar line opened, a 1.3-mile route between Westlake and South Lake Union.
Though it seems insignificant now, cast your mind back to 2007. The Seattle Monorail Project died just two years earlier, after costing the city $125M. A month before the streetcar opening, the Roads and Transit measure to expand light rail had just been defeated. Many people were openly questioning whether rail-based transit had a future in Seattle (Not coincidentally, 2007 is the year STB was founded). Thousands of people crowded into Westlake square to see our shiny new toy. I was working in the neighborhood at the time and recall the insane crowds on opening day.
The Seattle Streetcar system has had its ups and downs over the years. 10 years seems like a good time to look back at the system, and forward as the Center City Connector moves forward.
After ripping up the last of the city’s streetcars in the 1941, Seattle’s modern streetcar system kicked off with the South Lake Union line (setting aside the historic waterfront line). Half the funding was provided by local billionaire Paul Allen, who waned the line as an amenity to kickstart development in what was then the sleepy warehouse district known as South Lake Union.
Since then, mayors and Council members have had varying degrees of enthusiasm for streetcars. The streetcar system has taken on a totemic quality that made it about more than just a transit mode choice: if you were for it, it means you were for real estate development and “placemaking.” To be against it was to be for spending money on More Important Things. As with many things in this town, it became a question of What Do We Want to Be When We Grow Up?