History of the Roanoke Park and Broadway Streetcar

Topology of Northern Tip of Capitol Hill, 1899 (USGS T2421 via UW)

Topology of Northern Tip of Capitol Hill, 1899 (USGS T2421 via UW)

With news that a Broadway Streetcar will finally reach the streets near Volunteer Park by 2017 and the continued progress toward an early 2016 opening of the U-Link light rail connection between downtown and Montlake via Capitol Hill, here’s a look back at the area’s transportation past that can serve both as a reminder that we’ve been here before *and* that these kinds of connections surely must be needed for the people of Seattle to build them. Time — and time again.

This is how the new history of the Roanoke Park and Broadway Streetcar from past CHS contributor Robert Ketcherside ends:

Preparing to move massive crowds for 1909′s World’s Fair, SEC directly connected the Broadway line to the University of Washington campus in late 1908 (see Seattle Times 1908 10 23 page 1). The Broadway line was sold to City of Seattle with the rest of the former SEC system in 1918. Just over twenty years later Seattle converted all of the streetcars to buses. Fast forward through conversion to a countywide bus system, and this continues to operate today as the Metro 49.

For how it begins, read the whole thing here.

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5 thoughts on “History of the Roanoke Park and Broadway Streetcar

  1. The Seattle Electric Company was the precursor of what is now Puget Sound Energy. It was owned by Stone & Webster, which was/is a huge Engineering firm based out of Boston, with a Halliburton-y reputation. Seattle purchased the streetcar system because S&W wanted to concentrate on providing electricity to businesses, so they were running it poorly, and the city bought a failing system at an inflated price.

    SEC, by this time Puget Sound Power & Light, was only interested in commercial and high-end residential customers, and they were expensive – about ten cents a Kilowatt-hour (a dime went a lot farther in those days). The city had a lighting department, which was intended to provide street lights, but they decided to compete against PSP&L, and provide electricity service to regular people. Thus, City Light was born.

    The two companies were fierce competitors for years, with the Seattle Times acting as a cheerleader for the private company. There were acts of sabotage, and rumors of Socialism, but City Light steadily drove the price of power down until it was about a penny a kilowatt-hour (which it was until the energy crisis of the 70’s) . Finally, in 1951 or so the voters agreed to make City Light the sole provider of electricity in Seattle and seven suburban communities. The city purchased the remains of the PSP&L system, which like the streetcar system had been allowed to deteriorate, and thus ended the sixty years or so of “eastern meddling” in Seattle’s municipal life – at least until Puget Power bought Washington Natural Gas. But since PSE is now owned by Australians (or something) we can all breathe easy again ;-)

  2. If you climb the water tower in Volunteer Park, one of the info plaques describes how there was six (yes 6!) streetcars serving Capitol Hill. Sad to know all of their tracks were ripped out to make way for the auto era(r); and coincidently we’re now spending $100 million to build the 1st Hill Streetcar.

  3. It would seem to be inaccurate and misleading to report that ” a Broadway Streetcar will finally reach the streets near Volunteer Park by 2017″ when the terminus has not yet been determined, and your own article that you link to with that text says exactly as much.

    The (misguided) extension of the Broadway Streetcar, and the terminus will be discussed at Tuesday evenings community meeting. If you spend a few minutes actually thinking about either terminus, it is pretty easy to see how foolish both are. Let’s hope that SDOT does not sink an extra $10 million into extending this 19th century technology through two residential only blocks with the justification that it will bring more visitors to the Seattle Asian Art museum (another .5 miles uphill from a Prospect terminus).

    The Roy Street terminus (while the one I favor, assuming that this extension will happen) is also pretty silly. Most people probably don’t realize that the 1 block diagnol street between FedEx and the 76 Gas station is roy street, and that that is the stretch of asphalt that SDOT proposes to use for the Street Car terminus. A stretch of road that currently serves 2 bus routs with a stop and parking garage entrance on the north west (south bound) side, and has 2 curb cuts for the gas station on the south east (north bound side). That stretch of road acts as a connector between 5 different street segments. Adding a street car to the mix will surely create a dangerous traffic situation.

    The only sensible terminus option (if you believe that a street car extended north on broadways is sensible at all), one that was never publicly considered is Mercer Street, on the west side of the street. This would align the stop with the 49 bus north bound allowing someone who rides the street car from points south of the first 49 stop near broadway (pine) to transfer to the 49 with minimal walk to continue their journey north. There are no driveways on the south bound block of broadway between mercer and roy, and the street is perfectly straight. It would be a terminus that would serve the northern end of the commercial district and not leave people PAST the commercial district.

    Setting aside all discussion of terminus, the other big question is how trucks will be able to make deliveries to to the many stores and restaurants on broadway. Take a stroll any morning (or afternoon) and you will see trucks parked in the turn lane (which will be eliminated by the street car and bike way construction) making deliveries.

    • In the scheme of the city as a whole, even Mercer would qualify as “near” Volunteer Park. But I appreciate your other thoughts. Looking forward to seeing how this shakes out. We don’t expect to lear much new at the “information” session but who knows.

      • I agree that Mercer, or Roy, would be “closer” and probably close enough to Volunteer Park, but when the Street Car Proposals have talked about the prospect terminus as a Volunteer Park stop, it seems a little misleading to me. I am overly sensitive about though. I am very eager to hear what SDOT has to say.

        Every day as I walk from 10th to broadway and see existing traffic lined up at the roy/roy/broadway intersection I dread the prospect of a adding a street car to the mix, and also question the notion that putting a street car on broadway that ends at roy will be good for the businesses on broadway, since anyone riding the street car to the end will bypass all of the stores. A stop/terminus at republican would probably be the best for businesses.