Capitol Hill streetcar on track for 2012 — whether on Broadway or 12th

We reported back in November that Capitol Hill could have its extension of the city’s streetcar system by 2012. In December, the City Council voted to support that plan. We checked in with city project manager Ethan Melone to see how progress on the streetcar will play out.

Melone confirmed that streetcar planners are still aiming at being operational on the First Hill-Capitol Hill extension by 2012.

“Our goal is to complete the design and environmental processes in about a 1 year time frame, which would have us in construction in 2010, and in operations in 2012,” Melone wrote in an e-mail to CHS. “Since streetcars can be built quickly, we think it makes a lot of sense to bring the benefits of the streetcar to Capitol Hill as quickly as we can, recognizing that the light rail project will be in construction in the area for several years and is not scheduled to begin operations until 2016.”

Key to this speedy turnaround, of course, is money. Melone said the City is working with Sound Transit on an “intergovernmental agreement” to help push the $140 million project forward quickly. Sound Transit will likely foot the entirety of that bill according to their ST2 plan.

As for what route the extended streetcar line will take to and through Capitol Hill, the planning process is still pounding that out.

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Above are the main routes under consideration. But we’ve also heard about some other ideas being kicked around including:

  • A phased approach that terminates at Pike/Pine until Broadway light rail construction is completed
  • A loop that includes both Broadway and 12th
  • A loop that circles the Capitol Hill light rail station
  • Extension that continues down Broadway to Aloha

Capitol Hill Housing is pushing for a plan that includes 12th Ave. Here is their argument in this post to the 12th Ave Neighborhood & Business District group blog that they support:

Broadway is currently nearly 100% built out. 12th Avenue, however, especially the southern end near Yesler, is marred by vacant lots that are desperate for economic development. Add to this that the King County Detention Center at 12th and Alder will be redeveloped within the next 5 years and you have to wonder why on earth our City is considering placing a streetcar on Broadway?

Melone didn’t comment on the other concepts but he did weigh in on 12th Ave proposals. “The City has heard from quite a few stakeholders interested in a 12th Avenue alignment. We will look at alignment alternatives when we begin the design process, which should start this spring.” Melone said the goals need to remain moving people between First Hill and the light rail stations on Capitol Hill and in the International District and positioning the line for future extensions.

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15 thoughts on “Capitol Hill streetcar on track for 2012 — whether on Broadway or 12th

  1. I really like this idea, just make sure to use the same stops for both the light rail and streetcars. The two systems need to complement each other. I think pushing the street car to 12th is probably a good idea. It’s not too far from either Broadway or 15th, so you’re getting the best of both worlds.

    Just image, taking light rail from the airport to the Broadway/John St. station and then hopping on a street car for the final leg of your journey home. Sounds like a good system to me.

  2. I’m a big fan of the 12th Ave alignment. I bike that street every day to work and I just see so much potential there. I think a streetcar line would be a great thing for that area. First Hill is also closer to most everything and thus has better foot connections to things. A future Madison streetcar would be a better option there I think. In fact, a line that runs from Madison Park to downtown, turns at Third then goes down James to Pioneer Square and the Ferry Terminal would hit a nice variety of uses and connections.

  3. I fear that the limited traction of steel on (wet Seattle) steel may prevent a streetcar making up the steeper parts of Madison. As I understand it, the old “streetcar” was a cablecar, pulled up by an underground cable, and hence immune to such friction issues.

    I’ll be happy to stand (or ride) corrected.


  4. I’d support either one but I’d actually be more supportive of the 12th Avenue route. A lot less mitigation with web of bus wires all over on Broadway and it would serve a good portion of First Hill.

    If the extra funding was made available, I would really like to see the line go North to Mercer, left onto Mercer and back South on Broadway and return on Pine Street. It would serve quite a bit more residential than what it current offers and thus a bigger benefit for everyone.

    On a side note, does anyone know the routing from I-5 to the International District? Is it going to go all the way down to King Street Station or just 5th and Jackson?

  5. Last alignment I saw had it going down Jackson to 5th, but that assumed the waterfront streetcar line (which terminates at the same location) would be back in operation at some point. I’m sure they’re considering having it go further depending on what happens with whatever succeeds the waterfront line.

  6. Does anyone know how steep Madison actually is? The Inekon streetcars are said to be able to climb an 8.75% to 9% grade.

  7. I’m not sure if people are simply unaware or are ignoring the fact that this line was specifically included in ST2 to replace the canceled light rail station on Summit and Broadway. The line is designed to connect large employers such as Swedish hospital to the system – something that a 12th ave. line cannot do effectively. A Broadway alignment will be within walking distance of Harborview, Swedish, Polyclinic, and Seattle University. So to answer Mr. Melone’s “why on earth question”: because far more people work closer to Broadway than 12th.

  8. It is true that CHH has been talking with a lot of 12th ave stakeholders (residents, businesses, property owners) about locating the streetcar on 12th. I want to just point out a few things that we have learned and brainstormed in the process:

    -According to Sound Transit (who is fully funding THIS streetcar – $120m ) the line is to make up for the fact that the First Hill light rail station was taken away when planning the Link Light Rail. However, it is important to remember that this station was to be at Madison and Broadway, which is widely accepted as the convergence of many neighborhoods (Cap Hill, First Hill and Central Area/SU)and was to serve a great variety of riders, not just the hospitals on First Hill.

    -While employment centers are very important to ridership, it is also instructive to take a look at all of the SDOT and Sound Transit research on streetcars, which clearly state that dollar for dollar, you get way more transit efficiency from a bus system, which already exists on Broadway. So why build a streetcar anywhere then? Because according to their own documents, there are compelling economic development reasons to invest in the very expensive streetcar technology ($40m a mile to build) and when it comes down to it, 12th just makes more sense from this perspective, as it has experienced very little growth in the past 20 years, unlike Broadway.

    -The Central Area has no north/south transit service from Broadway to 23rd. Does this feel equitable to you?

    -Connecting business communities is important! (not just hospitals) Folks on 12th are in no way saying that the streetcar should be taken off of Broadway in Capitol Hill. In fact, people think that it makes a lot more sense to weave together the business communities of the ID/Little Saigon, SU and Broadway on Capitol Hill by streetcar, since there is currently NO north/south bus service on 12th. If a streetcar were to run down 12th it would either turn to Bway on Pike or Pine or perhaps do a loop all the way around the Light Rail on Denny and John, thus running north on 12th and south on Broadway down to Jackson and back. Or other way around…either way, both business districts get served.

    -Sound Transit and SDOT are currently looking at the options for alignments. As of now, 12th is NOT BEING STUDIED as a possibility. If you feel strongly about this issue, please consider writing a letter to your Sound Transit Board members: Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips. Or, any of your Seattle City Council Members.

    Thanks for letting me share.

  9. Regardless of where it goes on the South side… I think it should definitely go all the way to E Roy. The commercial strip of Broadway has a pretty clear end point on the North side, why not just take it all the way? It’ll be within reach of a lot more housing up there on the North Broadway/10th too. Also would make for much easier access to Volunteer Park for a lot of people.

  10. Right now the streetcar is funded only to the Light Rail Station on Broadway at Denny and John. There is an extension proposed north to Aloha, but that is not paid for. One of the downsides of getting that built would be that the local community would likely need to tax themselves to do it through a Local Improvement District (LID), as was done in South Lake Union.

  11. I do not argue that 12th ave does needs service – I just don’t feel that the solution is to skip straight to a capital-intensive solution such as a streetcar. For the record, I felt the same way about the South Lake Union streetcar – the operating cost for which could have easily be used to oh, I don’t know, start a new bus line on 12th. At any rate, this project was pretty clearly defined to those of us who approved of it at the polls – a streetcar to replace a station near Broadway and to connect to the major employers, which are concentrated mostly west of Broadway. I suggest to the folks that are dying for a 12th ave streetcar that they push for a such a line in any local network developed by the city.

  12. Boren and Broadway may need more service, in addition to the existing bus routes. But why skip straight to a capital-intensive solution such as a streetcar? In the “Center City Streetcar Workshop Report” prepared for the Seattle Department of Transportation in January 2007, a key message is that “(c)ities do not build streetcar lines merely for ridership reasons. Cities build new streetcar lines because of streetcars’ unique ability to organize development and catalyze economic development strategies.”

    When Sound Transit axed the station planned for Madison and Broadway it took away the opportunity for a lot of people to access the nearest light rail station with a short walk. That benefit could be approximated for some who work along Broadway south of Madison by more frequent service on existing bus routes and, perhaps, one leg of a streetcar loop. On the other hand, most of Broadway south of Madison has much less potential for new development than does 12th.

    This streetcar is paid for by Sound Transit unlike, for example, the SLUT which required contributions from adjacent property owners. Doesn’t it make sense to spend economic development dollars in the Central Area where it seems to be needed more? And, if the transit goal of the streetcar route is to connect two stations in the regional light rail network, doesn’t it make sense to increase the population served by creating a loop route that includes both Boren/Broadway and 12th?