Streetcar update: Broadway Bikeway will help Capitol Hill ‘reclaim the street’

For the first time in more than six months, the Seattle City Council transportation committee heard an update Tuesday on the First Hill streetcar project that will connect Pioneer Square to Broadway by rail.

While the briefing was ostensibly an opportunity for Seattle Department of Transportation planner Ethan Melone to update the committee on the status of the new streetcar line, the real star of the show was the cycle track and pedestrian streetscape plan we first reported on last summer now being called the Broadway Bikeway.


The goal of the bikeway’s separated bike track is to help transform Broadway along the streetcar’s route into a streetscape that is more appealing and safer for pedestrians and cyclists. As was pointed out in the presentation, it doesn’t hurt the plan that the creation of a separated bike lane also will alleviate concerns regarding the streetcar tracks passing above a significant water main beneath the Broadway pavement.

On the streetcar project’s status, Melone covered two changes to the plan since the previous Council briefing. One, a decision has been made on a location for the maintenance facility. That resource will be built on city-owned land at the Charles Street site. Two, concerns about post-game traffic near the stadiums has pushed the route on the Pioneer Square end of things off 2nd Ave S and modified the plan for the southern terminus.

The project is expected to reach final design status in June and the total cost should be able to be presented to Council for its construction authorization vote by the end of summer or early fall. Depending on how that plays out, Melone said, early construction could be underway soon after.

We’ve embedded video of the briefing and the bikeway slides from consultant Steve Durrant of Alta Planning. You can view Melone’s status presentation slides here. Durrant’s presentation first lays out examples of possible bikeway designs and then delves into the solution being pursued for Broadway. Note SDOT’s credit to the neighborhood’s input and interest in “reclaiming the street” in forming the plan.

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18 thoughts on “Streetcar update: Broadway Bikeway will help Capitol Hill ‘reclaim the street’

  1. I watched the video and in general I would say this plan is very promising. But….a few concerns arise:

    1) What about the buses that currently run on Broadway? Will they be eliminated and replaced by the streetcar? There was no mention of buses in the presentation.

    2) The proposal is to end the “bikeway” at Denny, and it seems to me that the transition there (on such a busy street) would be quite dangerous….all the more reason to extend the streetcar north to Aloha, and with it the bikeway as well.

    3) There will be only one lane for streetcars and vehicles to share….this will result in some backups as the streetcar stops to load/unload, and there will be some frustrated/angry motorists as a result. ( Currently, the buses pull over to the right as they are loading/unloading, allowing some vehicles to pass). Also, with only one lane, there will be no room for left-turn lanes…this too could be a problem, as a left-turning vehicle will cause yet another backup. Or will Broadway now be a “no left turn street”?

  2. 1. Unlikely.

    3. This is probably by design. Streets are being modified around the city (most recently on Rainier Ave S) to add concrete “bulbs” that allow buses to load and unload passengers without having to pull out of the traffic lane and merge when complete.

    I am both delighted and concerned by the separated “bikeway”; I think it’s about time that Seattle added separated bike lanes to city streets. This separation will be tremendously beneficial for bicyclist safety. My concern comes over bicycle speed and pedestrian interaction.

    I hope that the bikeway is designed with braking features (chicanes, raised speed-bumps, etc.) designed to encourage bicyclists to think of the bikeway as the equivalent of a sidewalk and not an expressway / velodrome. Otherwise, it’s a matter of time before a little old lady on her way to Pill Hill steps out in front of a lycra-clad Lance Armstrong wannabe under full steam or a cell-phone talking, fixie-riding hipster and has every bone in her body shattered.

  3. I was pretty involved with this project for a while so I think I can address some of your questions:

    1) The streetcar is an SDOT project and the buses are Metro. I am almost positive that Metro has no intention of modifying current Broadway bus routes when the streetcar comes online (although possibly when the light rail opens)

    2) I completely agree that this will be problematic and certainly a reason to extend at least the bikeway if not the entire streetcar line. However, it is not entirely out of the ordinary. There are a number of unfinished bikeways in the region. Bikers will unfortunately have to stop and use the crosswalk to change. Ideally the bikeway would run down to Roanoke to connect with the Interlaken-LWB route and the BG via Eastlake.

    3) Actually stopping transit in-lane is becoming more popular (think Pine and 3rd) as it improves reliability and generally has minimal traffic impacts. Especially if the streetcar has signal priority it will essentially shift traffic bunches to transit stops rather than the street lights, not adding any stop time for vehicles.

    3b) There are a mix of options for left turns. You can use signals, you can limit some turns (at peak times or other), or you can take out a parking space or two and shift traffic right to add a small left turn lane. SDOT will likely assess all options for each distinct intersection along the way.

  4. Still no leadership from the city in trying to push through an extension of the streetcar line all the way to Aloha. Stopping at Denny is asinine. I fully support the streetcar, but let’s not build it so that it only serves HALF of the Broadway business corridor. Come on, Mayor McGinn, stick your neck out!

  5. If you build the proposed cycle-track, i.e. both north and south bound bike-traffic on one side of the street (either north-bound or south-bound) you may run into several problems:

    • Cars parking on the cycle-track side will be in between two traffic lanes, the cycle-track and the auto/streetcar-way…similar efforts have caused many problems in NYC where the cycle-track becomes an extended sidewalk with both pedestrians and motorists violating the space of the cycle-track.

    While the 2’ buffer is intended to mitigate this problem, I doubt it will do anything but consume 2’ of valuable street width as motorists exit their cars across the cycle-track to get to the sidewalk and pedestrians wonder from the sidewalk into the cycle-track (if this sounds improbable and/or anecdotal, please visit some of the abundant NYC examples online).

    • Having both north-bouond and south-bound directions of cycle-track traffic on the same side of the street will require the cyclist to get to the cycle-track even if they access Broadway from the opposite side of the cycle-track. This may seem trivial, but if you are headed south and accessing Broadway from the west-side and the cycle-track is on the east side of Broadway, why would you not simply stay on the west side and travel in the south bound lane of Broadway? Will Broadway be subject to unique traffic laws?

    Remember, this is Broadway; bicyclists have no problem keeping up with traffic as there are many lights and other impediments that already baffle anyone traveling swiftly.

    • Also, cyclists and motorists will have to now negotiate an extra set of left and right turns…that is to say, when cycling in a standard bike-lane (where cars and cyclists are traveling the same direction on the respective side of the street) cyclists and motorists have left and right turns to coordinate. For example, left turns yield to oncoming traffic if no free left signaling exists.

    With the proposed system, the cycle-track traffic will have motorist right turns in front of oncoming bike traffic as well as the dreaded “right-hook”. Motorist left turns will also have to negotiate two directions of bike travel; who will have right-of-way when, for example, bicycle and motorist are traveling the same direction and the motorist is turning left across the cycle-track and the cyclist is “inside” the left turn of the motorist? Are we adding “left-hook” to the vocabulary?

    And, unless bike travel in the auto/streetcar-way on the opposite side of the street from the cycle-track is prohibited, then the common bike/motorist left/right turn turmoil will remain as well.

    Lastly, how are cyclists in the cycle-track supposed to left (and now right) turn across Broadway? If you are left-turning toward the opposite side of the cycle-track you will be crossing five lanes of traffic; four lanes if you are right-turning toward the opposite side of the cycle-track. (Yes, perhaps oddly, I count the parking lanes as traffic lanes)

    IMHP, Broadway is not that lethal (hazardous, yes) and would be much better off with well painted bike lanes on both sides of the street and running in the same direction of travel as motorists and streetcars and most definitely not in between the sidewalk and parked cars.

    To qualify this, I have lived, walked, bicycled, motorcycled, and driven cars on Cap Hill for years. I commute by bicycle several thousand miles a year as well (to-and-from Bellevue from Cap Hill). In my experience, it is the transitions from non-motorist ways, e.g. multi-use paths, to streets that are by far the most hazardous situations for bicyclists. It seems this proposal will create such transitions at every intersection on Broadway as well as the termination points of the corridor.

    I hope this ramble makes some points…

  6. The main point of the streetcar is to connect the employers and residents in First Hill with the light rail system, as a replacement for the First Hill light rail station that was dropped way back when. Getting to Denny gets it to the Cap Hill light rail station, and that’s what Sound Transit is paying for. If the city can come up with more money to extend it further, great, but I don’t see a lot of extra money laying around these days. It can always be extended in the future.

  7. You must have been on a different post. I show only one spam comment automatically removed from somebody trying to slip in a link to a car insurance site.

  8. Very true. That is Sound Transit’s purpose/goal/requirement for killing an extremely useful and important light rail station. That does not, however, mean it has to be the city, or the Capitol Hill community’s objective. There ARE funding sources out there. Delays only make it that much longer until more businesses, residents and visitors can utilize a streetcar that serves the FULL Broadway corridor. With a mayor who claims to be all about transit, I don’t see why he’s not showing the leadership needed on this issue. The community has certainly weighed in heavily (mostly in favor, but some not) already.

  9. As a bicycling Seattleite currently transplanted to NYC, I love the cycle-tracks in NYC. Where have you read about the cycle track becoming an extended sidewalk? That hasn’t been my experience.

  10. @Steve…thank you for your reply…and your first-hand knowledge…I base my opinion on a few videos I have seen of the NYC floating parking lanes (4th Ave?) where the bike lane is in-between the sidewalk and the parking lane and it gets badly abused by pedestrians and parked cars, trucks, et al…that being said, I have also seen many more videos of non-separated bike lanes in NYC suffering even worse abuse. I have experienced the same myself here in Seattle.

    I think the barrier strip could prevent such misuse if built a bit differently as well as including some sort of barrier between the sidewalk and cycle-track. However, I believe we start to run out of street width on Broadway as well as money for implementing such.

    Also, I am not convinced the transitions will be engineered properly…(see whole post)…as I have daily experience with good intentions, i.e. bike paths and lanes, that catapult one into ridiculously dangerous traffic scenarios. I submit the Lakeview/Boylston Avenues Colonnade Park bike-path/bike-lane area as exhibit one.

  11. Actually, it’s very likely that bus service on Broadway will be restructured either when the First Hill line and/or when University Link enters service. The 12th Ave neighborhood pushed hard for the streetcar to come closer to them, and they have strong support from the Mayor and parts of the council. Trolleybus service might well be their consolation prize.

    There are three routes with significant Broadway segments: 49, 9, and 60. Virtually all the trips currently made on the 49 can be replaced by trips on Link (e.g. to the U-District and Downtown), the streetcar, or other existing services (10, 43, 70, 25), so that bus is on borrowed time. The 60 provides a connection to Beacon Hill, Georgetown and then an express White Center; those trips are mostly not replaceable by Link, but 12th is close enough to Broadway that shifting that bus wouldn’t cause too much heartache for riders.

    The 9 is the most interesting. The current (diesel) route 9 is actually express south of Jackson St, and it exists for two reasons: to provide fast rides from the Ranier Valley to Cap Hill (replaced by Link) and to provide local service on Broadway north of Jackson (replaced by the streetcar.)

    One idea that’s been mooted is to restructure Ranier Valley service to move downtown trips onto Link, and reroute the current 7 up onto Broadway (or 12th Ave), essentially turning it into a local 9. It would not be too expensive to make this a trolleybus, and the segment in the Ranier Valley and the I.D. can certainly justify 15-minute frequencies. In this scenario, both 12th and Broadway get the frequent electric transit they want.

  12. This will be a first–a separate bike lane that is actually striped to delineate north- and southbound lanes well away from the tracks (unlike the fiasco on Westlake where tracks are as close as 14″ from the edge of the sidewalk, posing a potential death trap for cyclists hapless cyclists who stray into them.

    Calhoun says, “There will be only one lane for streetcars and vehicles to share….this will result in some backups as the streetcar stops to load/unload, and there will be some frustrated/angry motorists as a result.” I disagree. Cars can use 12th Avenue, which even now is a faster north-south route through CH than Broadway.

  13. Finally! A real bike lane proposal! I like the idea of a dedicated bike thoroughfare. Most of the town is easy to get through, especially if you don’t mind taking side streets, but to get far can be a real struggle. I’m not saying that it is too formidable, just that it can be a bit sketchy. One step at a time. I hope to see more bike corridors soon.

    (BTW, I live here, grew up here, and have biked and driven many cars and trucks for over forty years.) The Cobb salad at the Roanoke was excellent.

  14. Bruce: I’m not sure the 49 will be replaced any time soon. Much the same way the streetcar will connect First Hill to Link, the 49 is really the only service for North Capitol Hill and I imagine it will remain to provide “last mile” service to Link. Also, it may be tough to reroute the 60 onto 12th since it goes right through the heart of Pill Hill running down Madison to Boren before heading over to Beacon Hill and South.

    I think the only real reroute possibility after Link opens is the end of the 43. Instead of heading downtown it could possibly be routed down 12th and into Pioneer Square. However, I think it’s equally likely that it would run the route of the 8 down Denny based on the growing demand for East-West service in that corridor.

  15. My comment about the 49 was predicated on the assumption that they build the Aloha extension. Anywhere south of Highland is reasonably within the Aloha extension’s walkshed, and anyone north of Miller is in the frequent-service walkshed of the 70. That leaves a small and (from my experience) not very transit-oriented half-mile to be served only by the 25. South of Aloha, the 49 would be cannibalizing ridership from the 10 and the streetcar. Thus think it would be a waste to keep the 49 after Link starts service.

    That possibility with the 43 is intriguing and I hadn’t thought of it, but I think it’s better to keep it serving the Western Slope: it’s our densest area and it will need more service than the 14 can provide. Running the 43 down Yestler or Jackson will just duplicate service from the streetcar, too.

    I like my “local 9/7 on 12th” idea more as it fills a hole in Link’s coverage. Link + FHSC will provide a faster two-seat ride from UW to First Hill than the 43 can, whereas from the Ranier Valley, my proposed 9 would get you to First Hill much quicker than anything else because Link bends away west.

    Finally, I’m not sure what the problem with putting the 60 on 12th would be… couldn’t you just turn left on 12th rather than Broadway?

  16. The problem is that the part of 12th that wants transit service is south of Madison – ie, the exact same segment the 60 doesn’t spend on Broadway. 12th-to-Broadway from Union north is pretty flat and lacking in obstacles, so transit service on 12th is less necessary; from Madison south, however, 12th-to-Broadway encompasses most of the slope of First Hill, and the Seattle University campus and the effect Boren has on the street grid combine to add more obstacles to simply walking up to Broadway.

    Whatever 7/9 route gets routed up 12th could sidle over to 10th north of Aloha. I have an idea for putting such a route in a loop around Volunteer Park; you lose one-seat rides to both Downtown and the U-District without making the steep climb down to the 25, though, and the area between Boston and Roanoke gets an inconvenient walk.