With push for Ballard line, streetcar’s Broadway extension now ‘realistic, viable’

To get the streetcar to reach north Broadway, Seattle needed to have a plan — for a plan — to get to Ballard first.

Monday, the full council is expected to approve the City Council transportation committee’s lifting of a proviso that will open the gates to further streetcar planning in the city now that a solid plan is in place for finishing the First Hill line.

“We’ve got a great master plan for a high capacity transit system in Seattle,” committee chair Tom Rasmussen said. “I’ll work hard to secure the funding needed for that.”

The Capitol Hill Complete Streetcar campaign’s proposal

Construction on the streetcar line connecting Pioneer Square, the International District and Capitol Hill via First Hill began in April with dignitaries and gold shovels and continues today with scenes like this along Broadway. The route will stretch at least 2.2 miles by the time service begins in 2014. The currently planned terminus on the Broadway end of things is Denny — where Capitol Hill Station will provide access to light rail beginning in 2016. A continued push from Capitol Hill community and business concerns has kept an effort to complete the streetcar line and extend the route all the way up Broadway to Roy or Aloha alive. The extension would add millions to the $134 million project but could help better connect north Broadway with the Pike/Pine area.

One proposal would add a stop both northbound and southbound in front of the Broadway Market shopping center bringing total stops along the line to 11.

The First Hill streetcar is expected to eventually serve around 3,500 riders per day, according to transit planners. Extending the route to Aloha would add about 500 riders per day. That study also said that extending the line to Aloha would add 3 minutes to the trip in each direction. Trolleys will leave every 15 minutes and vehicle traffic and streetcars will share a lane as a separated bikeway is added along Broadway.

Federal funding is now a reality for the Broadway extension (Image: Seattle.gov)

The lifting of the restrictions opening up planning for a new Ballard streetcar line comes as Seattle has been able to “federalize” the First Hill Streetcar project’s proposed extension down to Aloha/Roy St making the plan eligible for federal grants at both the planning and construction levels. Previously, city officials said they were unsure if grants could be secured to make the extension past Denny Way possible, but now according to Rasmussen, things are looking much clearer.

Funding will come in the form of  Federal Transit Administration 5307 Formula funds, with help from Local Vehicle License fees. A breakdown of the plan for the Broadway extension can be found in the proposed legislation, which will be voted on by the full council on Monday. The totals are rather staggering but, apparently, more modest than earlier predictions of a $30 million project. Here’s how some of the $24 million+ project breaks down: $50,000 for environmental planning, $2.1 million for preliminary engineering and design, $2 million for vehicles, and $9 million for the actual construction.

“It’s now looking realistic for the extension to happen,” a representative for Rasmussen’s office said. “We were able to propose a realistic, viable plan for planning and construction — we know that there is available funding in the pipe so to speak, and we know where it’s coming from.” 

Now that the extension has a plan for execution, the First Hill project has met the provisions necessary to lift the spending restrictions. That’s also a game changer for folks in Ballard. 

For those unfamiliar with the proviso, City Council has been dealing with an $800,000 chunk of funding for planning and constructing the downtown connector between Pioneer Square and First Hill. A proviso was placed restricting that funding “as a reserve for streetcar planning and construction with the expectation that funds would not be released until the Council was satisfied that the First Hill Streetcar project is funded and there is a funding plan for the potential Broadway Streetcar Extension” as was stated in the project’s legislation.

“We indicated most forcefully through the proviso that the First Hill project was a priority. The proviso was a means to make sure requirements for the project were met, because it can be very easy for a department to proceed with a new project before another is finished,” Rasmussen said. 

With the Broadway extension plan in place, Seattle City Council’s transportation committee lifted the proviso on rail funding for planning streetcar service to Ballard.

“This means we’ll look at the options for high capacity transit between downtown and Ballard. It doesn’t mean we’ve okayed light rail or a tunnel — it means we will fund a study of what the best option for transit could be,” Rasmussen said. 

23 thoughts on “With push for Ballard line, streetcar’s Broadway extension now ‘realistic, viable’

  1. Sometime, I think the city is out to kill me. These train tracks running parallel with traffic are a danger to all 2 wheeled traffic… especially scooters which have smaller wheels than motorcycles (and some bikes).

    They are scary even when it’s not raining. Downhill now? Hell, I’m riding on the sidewalk. Tickets are less than medical bills.

  2. So you think the tracks should run perpendicular to the direction the train needs to go?

    You are probably the type to ride through the arboretum when there are safer options.

  3. I know this may sound crazy to some of you. But you think about mass transit, and you think about the trains getting stuck in traffic due to accidents with cars, bicycles, or people.
    How about the monorail type idea or what the majority of other major cities do, elevated or underground railway? It is no longer competing with cars/people/bicycles. I know going underground is not as feasible in this city, but why not go up?
    I know we voted for the monorail twice, then it finally got voted down once people got sick and tired of the red tape and politics. Then we got what we had voted down some 4+ years earlier, the light rail system.
    I am happy we are moving towards more mass transit, but on street transit is great for a small city, not one that is continuing to grow and has dreams of being a big city some day.

  4. I have to admit I have little interest in using the slow streetcar, but I’m really excited about the cycle track being built (which will make it possible to get places safely and easier much faster than the street car.)

    But this article doesn’t mention plans to continue the cycletrack to Aloha. Anyone know if that’s part of the plans?

  5. Do I understand correctly that, because of the cycle track, there will be only one lane in each direction for vehicles, including the streetcar and buses? This seems like a setup for alot more traffic congestion and back-ups, as the transit vehicles stop to load and unload passengers, which at times can take minutes, thereby delaying many cars.

    At least, with the current setup, buses can pull over at bus stops, and other vehicles can then continue past the bus. Will that still be possible with the future configuration?

  6. The parallel tracks issue is resolved by separating the bike path from the track line anyway, look at the link provided above. As long as signage for merging and turning is handled well (we’ll see…) this should provide a safer and more pleasant riding experience by separating bikes from auto traffic.

    As to the traffic, deal with it. I bike for a reason, pay the same taxes as you, and don’t believe we need any more encouragement for anyone to drive. There are plenty of ways to get around Capitol Hill without a car, add one more to the list in a couple years.

  7. Forcing buses to pull out of traffic slows them down a ton since few drivers yield to let them back in. Making the bus and streetcar faster and more appealing is a win-win for everybody.

  8. Would the extended line follow 10th ave after Roy? or continue on broadway after Roy?

    and is it me, or would it appear that when the broadway stretch is completed, every stop the street car makes will bring traffic in that direction (including the buses that travel that route) to a complete halt?

  9. You’ve probably never ridden a motorcycle or scooter in a city with tracks. Telling someone who uses a two wheeled vehicle (motorized or otherwise) to “steer clear of the tracks” when they will run a few miles down a major arterial road and through more than one business district is preposterous. Making any turn onto, or off of Broadway will be hazardous for people on motor scooters or motorcycles. Even with the cycle track, the tracks will be a hazard to cyclists: explain this, you are traveling north bound on broadway by bike, and you want to go to Dicks… or any other mid block business on the opposite side of the roadway, what do you do? ride to the corner, dismount, cross the street, walk to your destination? How many people are actually going to do that?

    We could have had BRT, and more frequent bus service without any of the hazards posed by the street car tracks, or the inconvenience of the construction for less money.

  10. During construction we will live with one lane in each direction, and I think, so far, we can all see the impact that that is having on traffic: backed up from pine to olive southbound! @Pragmatic get’s it wrong, sure a bus pulling back into traffic from a bus stop can have a hard time of it if motorists violate the law and don’t let the bus back in, but periodic traffic lights on broadway give buses ample opportunity to pull out of a bus stop without fighting traffic.

    Calhoun is right, if you have the street car, the 9x, the 60 and the 49 all on the same stretch (from olive to pine) and they all wind up stacked up, they will be the only vehicles on that entire stretch, and each one will have to take a turn at the stops there. This is an example of (And will surely cause more) bunching (as transit planners often refer to it). Private autos will be redirected to lesser arterials (like 12th) and residential streets that are ill-equipped to handle them. 12th ave is already hazardous to pedestrians and cyclists due to speeding vehicles because of the lack of crosswalks and the unregulated intersections.

  11. Does anyone out there have a sense as to when we might know whether or not the streetcar on Broadway will be extended to Aloha?

    As the tracks are being laid, I would assume that the decision needs to be made fairly soon.

  12. I guess we should get rid of all those damn traffic signals and crosswalks on Broadway too so that the precious cars never have to stop for anything.

    Do you really think a streetcar that only runs every 10 to 15 minutes and only stops every 5 blocks is going to lead to carmaggedon?

  13. My point is not that we should get rid of signals and controlled intersections so that cars can move more easily. My point was that cars will abandon broadway as a viable option and move to lesser arterials and residential streets where there are fewer traffic controls. You can already see this on 12th where drivers treat it like a speedway because there is only 1 traffic light between aloha and pine (excluding pine).

    The street car will share the roadway with the #60, #9x, #49 buses, and will have to stop whenever they do if it is unlucky enough to find itself behind them, which during most of the day will probably happen quite often.

    The one thing that surprises me about the “street car debate” is that no-one can actually articulate why the street car is so much better than increased bus service on the same route? that would have come at a much lesser expense.

  14. When the monorail idea died, so did any plan for the 15th Ave W corridor. After voting for the monorail every time, including the last, the city decided that those of us on Magnolia and in West Seattle should be the people paying the gas, license and all other user taxes needed to pay for the rest of the city’s transit options.

    While I’d prefer a monorail, just about any form of 20th Century transit options would help.

  15. Every year I visit Amsterdam for a business conference. Amsterdam mya be the most bicycle intensive city I’ve ever been in(except maybe Postwar Saigon) and it also has one of the most extensive streetcar systems. And most Amsterdam bikers don’t even wear helmets! The only accidents I’ve ever seen personally were between streetcars and ignorant auto drivers.

    And closer to home, Toronto has what is probably the most extensive streetcar system in N. America as well as plenty of bicycle riders.

    My experience in Seattle with bicyclists has caused me to feel that they are not nearly as careful and that they are very much more arrogant than is prudent.

  16. While I am in the “make it a pain in the ass to drive so people take public transportation” camp, I also agree that this makes Broadway driving totally nuts (it’s already pretty damn slow for a through street). Let me take this opportunity to plug my personal total pipe dream, which is rerouting the Bway busses to 12th, right on down to Jackson, so the burgeoning retail and residential area south of Madison on 12th could get some much needed transit options.

  17. Will parking on Broadway be retained with the trolley and new bikeway? Could not tell for sure from the drawing. I sure hope so. People from other parts of the city will need a place to park.
    Also, what will happen to bus service north of Aloha/ Prospect if the trolley goes that far?
    Still wonder why a bike lane has to go down Broadway. Would be safer if parallel streets were used.