‘A magnet for great expectations’ — Seattle Times on the First Hill streetcar

Bike box at Broadway and Pine, from a 2011 presentation to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board

The Seattle Times might take some peculiar stances on parking but transportation writer Mike Lindblom sure knows how to write good transit porn:

Now that voters have approved the funds — a near footnote in the $18 billion Sound Transit 2 plan of 2008, funded by higher sales taxes — construction on the $134 million streetcar line is to begin this month. Service is expected to start in early 2014.

There will be fewer lanes for car traffic and a loss of parking. On the other hand, the line will mean more-frequent transit, and a huge gain for bicyclists. Along much of the route, the streetcar will share a traffic lane with cars, as in many cities.

Despite its origins as a consolation prize, the 2 ½-mile project has become a magnet for great expectations, beyond just moving people through the state’s most densely populated corridor.

Give the full report a read. It’s a great write-up of the history of the project and the many changes it will bring as it connects Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill via First Hill. Below, we’ve included the latest streetcar coverage from CHS and a series of graphics from the recent streetcar open houses provided to CHS to share on the site. You’ll find a construction timeline, some before and after imagery and more. You won’t find a date for a groundbreaking, though. We’ve yet to hear from SDOT about the plans for a groundbreaking ceremony. More juicy streetcar goodness, below.

More from CHS:

The First Hill streetcar open house presentation graphics are below. They were designed to be displayed as large posters so the best way to view the slideshow is in full-screen. According to the construction schedule, we’ll see the first track work on Broadway start this June.


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13 thoughts on “‘A magnet for great expectations’ — Seattle Times on the First Hill streetcar

  1. … to spend it on bikes, when the money was ear marked for light rail. Seems the whole project benefits cyclists more than it does people who would use the light rail. Plus the liability to the city due to cyclists who cant figure out how to navigate around the actual train rail.

  2. Not sure I agree, Russ. It seems like the whole road has to be re-surfaced anyways, so adding that bike lane is no more costly and it removes bikes from the auto lanes. Not to mention that the bike lane will need much less maintenance than the rest of the road, decreasing over-all maintenance cost. The only examples that I can think of issues between the city and bicyclists regarding rails involve the end of the Burke-Gilman, where rails run at an angle to the path, and not perpendicular to the marked route.

  3. Actually Chris, there was an attempt at a lawsuit against the city over the placement of the SLUT rails. Bicyclists were complaining that they couldn’t ride down Westlake “legally” without putting themselves at risk by riding between or alongside the rails.

    Russ, the waste of money isn’t the bikes (they are much safer when separated from everyone else), it’s spending money on a transit system that is actually slower, less efficient, and way more expensive than buses. Rail based transit systems only truly work when they are separated from the normal flow of traffic. Try using the SLUT after watching the 4th of July Fireworks or during rush hour, then try using a subway anywhere else. The SLUT gets stuck in traffic while the subway keeps on rolling, on schedule.

  4. Usually they just paint a bike in a real lane anyway – how does this change anything? Do you think the green paint will make them more bold, perhaps enough to make them fly through red lights more than they do now?

  5. The rail crash thing is definitely blown a bit out of proportion. There are plenty of places where people do this with no problem (Westlake being one of them). The scariest looking rail intersection I’ve seen in recent years is at Duboce and Church Streets in SF. Here, there are three tracks coming together and a bike path/cycle track running straight into this mess. I’ve sat and watched people crosss this intersection for a good 10 minutes at a time while waiting for a train and never once saw anyone have any problems. On shared streets (no sidewalk, no bike lane) in Amsterdam, the easiest place to ride a bike is in between the rails of the tram tracks as well. You’ve just got to make sure to pay attention to where your wheels are positioned.

    In Seattle, myself, I just ride slightly to the left of the rails in the right lane on Westlake and when I need to turn, I turn at 90 degrees. That’s all you need to do. I am not sure if that’s much help to scooters or motorcycles, but modern rails are designed now so bike tires, canes, walkers, etc cannot get stuck in the rails anyway.

    Also, the project benefits the communities along the route. No one more than any other. Recent national studies are showing that cities that are embracing streetcars are seeing new businesses and housing going up along nearly all routes. Also, this alignment will calm traffic dramatically. People still have the choice of using 12th or Boren and less traffic will be seen on Broadway. This will make the walking experience along Broadway much Safer. Lastly, seperating the bike lanes and giving them their own space makes byclists feel safer. This means some people who use sidewalks to ride on (shaking my fist at you) will feel okay with riding on the road. This will increase pedestrian safety too. The cycletrack will also improve traffic by removing road users from the roadway itself. This will allow the streetcar to run more smoothly and those few that drive on Broadway will be able to have a realatively smooth ride because of this. This will not be like the SLUT. Westlake is still designed to be a major auto thoroughfare. Broadway is going to be calmed a whole bunch.

    It’s been done the world over. We can do it to. It just takes some getting used to. :)

  6. If you read the earlier posts, they more or less HAD to make the bike lanes or they’d have had to relocate a very expensive water main, which runs underneath where the bike lane will sit and wouldnt have taken the impact of rain running overhead.

    So this solution wound up being a win-win.

  7. Took a lot more than that to get me and my wife to move here from Sammamish. The street life. The restaurants. Walking to the grocery store. Being able to get on 520 without getting on 5. The density that means that even though it’s a small percentage, I speak to dozens of my neighbors.

    And a streetcar sounds nice too.

  8. Rog, the lawsuit brought by cyclists was recently thrown out of court by the judge…..seems right, as cyclists must accept some responsibility for avoiding the obvious hazards (streetcar rails) and keep themselves safe.