First Hill streetcar could mean new connections for International District, Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill

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Dragon Fest (Image: Chinatown/ID BIA)

In cities much larger than our northwestern outpost, subways represent more than just a transportation option, they project possibilities. Neighborhoods that would otherwise be off the radar for a happy hour drink or street fair become a doable “few stops away.”

The First Hill Streetcar, slated to open by the end of this year, will bring that expanded state-of-mind to Capitol Hill as the new transit line adds direct connections to Chinatown/International District and Pioneer Square.

Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District BIA, said restaurant owners in his neck of the woods are eagerly awaiting streetcars full of Capitol Hill foodies to descend on the neighborhood.

“Capitol Hill has a really good restaurant scene, but there are 120 restaurants in Chinatown/ID,” he said. “I think people will wake up in the morning and think ‘hey, I can go have dim sum.’”project_area_map_lg

This weekend kicks off a slew of events around the Chinatown/ID neighborhood that Capitol Hill ought to start getting familiar with (if you aren’t already). The 39th annual Dragon Fest runs Saturday-Sunday and features dancers, musicians, a beer garden, and tons of street food. The $2 ID Food Walk will include over 75 dishes from 35 restaurants priced at just $2.

This year’s festival will also join forces with the Seattle Night Market to offer late night food trucks and a dance party on Saturday. During the day, the Wing Luke Museum will be previewing a Bruce Lee exhibit. More music and cheap street food will be had at July 17th’s Jam Fest, the Chinatown/ID’s summer monthly street fair. The Chinatown Seafair Parade closes out the week of activities on July 20th.

Skeptics might point out that Capitol Hill residents are already connected to the ID and Pioneer Square by relatively frequent bus service. But planners think the dependable, easy to understand, fixed route will attract more riders than bus routes and the streetcar will create a steadier flow of movement between the neighborhoods.

Even though the streetcar hasn’t opened, the Capitol Hill/ID/Pioneer Square neighborhood cross-pollination has already begun. Capitol Hill’s Cone & Steiner General will be opening their second location just a short walk from the future Pioneer Square station. Skillet Diner’s Josh Henderson, who’s also behind Cone & Steiner, will be opening a craft cocktail bar called Quality Athletics at 2nd and King. Melrose Market’s Taylor Shellfish is also slated to open any day now at their new Pioneer Square location. And it goes the other way, too — the ID’s Oasis Tea Zone will open it’s fourth location on Capitol Hill later this year.

The streetcar’s cross-pollinating effects could also inevitably create fertile ground for more development and higher rents along the rapid transit line. Blakeney said Chinatown/ID is already feeling the pressure of high rents for small businesses coming down from Capitol Hill.

“We’re looking at ways both in Little Saigon and in Chinatown to keep rents affordable,” he said. “It’s the same issue as on Broadway but at the total other end of the economic and cultural spectrum.”

There’s also been some cross-pollination at the community group level. Blakeney is a member of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and recently stepped up to serve as the interim leader of the group’s board of directors.

Business groups from Chinatown/ID, Pioneer Square, and Capitol Hill are already discussing ways to promote the new neighborhood connections. Blakeney said the groups will likely begin planning a multi-neighborhood streetcar kickoff event once the city sets a firm launch date.

16 thoughts on “First Hill streetcar could mean new connections for International District, Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill

  1. I’m curious to see how i’ll use this. I previously lived on 10th and Jackson and at times miss dining options in the ID. Parking can be an issue so I’ve tended to avoid it since. Also, last week I wanted to visit the Seattle Lighting showroom on 2nd and Jackson but didn’t because I didn’t want to deal with traffic. I will for certainly conduct a test run once its running to see how convenient (or not) it is. But I feel it will be a good option to link neighborhoods.

    Of course I could have taken the bus or Uber etc. for my above mentioned activities as well but this seems like it is a better option of the options for some reason.

  2. Not opposed to the idea of the streetcar, but man did they make Broadway look terrible. Lines and wires everywhere, the graffiti-magnet bollards for the bike lanes, etc.

    Even then, as a Capitol Hill resident I only see this useful for a year or so. As of 2016 when the Light Rail opens, Capitol Hill will have a much faster way to Pioneer Square and the ID.

    • At first glance it seems redundant, but connectivity and options are important to an inclusive city life (light rail does not run through the central district!) :D

      • Right, I was speaking strictly as a Capitol Hill resident. First Hill will make use of this line to get to the other two light rail stations since they didn’t get a stop.

        The Broadway extension could make it more useful to Capitol Hill. I can only hope that by then SDOT figures out how to do a streetcar without making Broadway look like hot garbage.

      • The streetcar does not run through the CD, and it doesn’t look like an inclusive option for anyone who lives east of 12th Ave. To us, it appears very redundant that Capitol Hill has two extremely expensive options for getting to the ID.

    • I’m happy to have the trolley, as the light rail expansion won’t be faster to Pioneer Square for me – plus the light rail doesn’t actually go into the Square, just near it. I’m happy to see that the streetcar will go all the way to Occidental.

      But I agree about the sloppiness – the tracks on Broadway look like they were designed by a drunk person. And the weird loop up to 14th detracts from the efficiency of the line. Based on the other forthcoming transit options and the inclusion of the tiniest corner of the CD, it really would have made more sense to run this line on 12th or 14th.

  3. this thing is going to be useless. broadway now bottlenecks to 1 lane with a street car that will be subject to traffic. how is this any faster than a bus? what a worthless project.

    • I travel on broadway every morning and afternoon on my commute. You say “bottleneck”, but the worst I’ve seen since the revision (excluding construction impacts) is a bit of backup around john… and even that is likely a construction issue given the mess there right now.

      Others have said it’s ugly… I’m not a huge fan of the blue bollard things, but they’re certainly not less attractive than more car storage, so it’s still net positive.

      • Broadway, pre-streetcar, was always just one lane in each direction, plus dedicated turn lanes and parking on both sides of the street, so there is no change as far as that is concerned. The big difference is that busses used to have load/unload zones separate from the traffic lane, so that some vehicles could pass by when the busses were stopped. Now that is no longer possible and results in increased backups. This will only get worse when the streetcars start up, because they too will block the traffic lanes when they stop to load/unload.

  4. Reading this article and the comments, it sounds like people around here think there’s an absolutely unlimited source of money for the convenience of a few. Build a streetcar for tens of millions of dollars so people can more easily go for dinner to a nearby neighborhood they can already bus to, or even walk? So we have a pretty new streetcar line (okay, maybe not so pretty, but let’s not quibble) in front of one of Capitol Hill’s real gems, SCCC, which doesn’t have money to maintain the facility properly and needs to cut faculty. Politicians I’ve asked say, well streetcars come from the transportation budget, and schools come from eduction — as if all the funding doesn’t come from the same place (individuals and businesses in our community). Meanwhile, why not just get some extra-nice buses and run them down the identical route we’ve spent tens of millions of dollars to put rails on? Well, simple, say our streetcar fans, because if it’s a streetcar it won’t get stuck in traffic, but if it were a bus on the same route, it would just get bogged down. Brilliant! I think the real feeling is what caused people to waste a few hundred million on the ill-conceived monorail a few years back — those nasty buses filled with poor people, ick! We need some nice, classy streetcars to move us around. What it costs? Somebody will pay for it, and if it’s cuts in bus service or education or public safety, well, they should just spend more of the unlimited amounts of money on those things too!

    • The streetcar was built with light rail money from Sound Transit, because they couldn’t put a stop on First Hill due to issues around construction and tunneling or something.

      The streetcar was First Hill’s consolation prize. That money was not transferrable to SCCC for faculty, it was voter-approved tax money for transit.

      • Just my point. Hey, Sound Transit has a pot of money, why not spend tens of millions of dollars for “consolation prizes”? So what if we spend 10x more for rails in the street than a bus along the same route would cost? Of course, since it’s voter-approved tax money for transit, it doesn’t have any effect on if there’s money for other taxes needed to support things like SCCC. We can just increase taxes for everything, because there’s an infinite amount of money in reserve. Make no mistake, the money for the streetcar does ultimately come from the same source as the money from SCCC — taxes on the same people and the same businesses, and no, there’s not an unlimited supply. So however we want to justify it, we’re making trade-offs, and right now, it’s streetcars the big winner, great institutions like SCCC the big losers. But, hey, it’ll be easier for people on Capitol Hill to eat dinner in the ID, so that’s a plus for all of us, right?

        • So, by your logic, I can come into your home, decide you spent too much on your couch and make you take it back and buy some big fouffy gold drapes?

          People ore to spend money on specific things. That’s how it works – especially in a state like Washington, where we prefer the rich are subsidized by having no state income tax.

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