More delay for First Hill Streetcar puts open date after July Block Party

(Image: Gordon Werner via Flickr with permission to CHS)

(Image: Gordon Werner via Flickr with permission to CHS)

It may be time to add the First Hill Streetcar to the list of Seattle transit projects facing serious setbacks. After the Seattle Department of Transportation pushed back the launch date from fall 2014 to “early” 2015, CHS has learned that the SDOT now expects the Capitol Hill-to-Pioneer Square streetcar won’t be in service until at least August.

An SDOT official, speaking at last week’s meeting of the Seattle Special Events Committee, said the streetcar would not be operational for this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party, which runs from July 24th-26th. SDOT media personnel did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The SDOT official who spoke at the meeting pointed us to this December update (PDF), but the document says nothing about when the streetcar would come online. Meanwhile, City Council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen also did not respond to our repeated requests for comment on the delay.

The six streetcars for the First Hill line were planned to be ready by October 7th as per the $26.7 million contract with SDOT. According to SDOT, Czech manufacturer, Inekon, had incurred a backlog of orders and a short supply of parts, including brakes, which was holding up production. Inekon, which built the South Lake Union streetcars, was also working out a wiring design issue.

Three of the six trains were undergoing final assembly in Seattle, while three others remained in the Czech Republic. According to SDOT, production in the Czech Republic was on hold until assembly and testing is finished in Seattle.

With the delivery deadline nearly up in October, SDOT announced that Inekon would pay $25,000 after the first day of delay and $1,000 per day thereafter. SDOT did not respond to our questions about these fines.

As of December, three streetcars were still in the Czech Republic and expected to arrive in Seattle by February.

project_area_map_lgLast February, CHS reported that Inekon incurred a fire resistance issue with the streetcar floors, which pushed back the streetcar’s projected start time from July to fall. SDOT officials said the fire issue was resolved earlier this year.

Construction of the streetcar tracks wrapped up last year along with the construction of the Broadway bikeway. When service begins, the First Hill Streetcar will have ten stations along a 2.5 mile route from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way and will connect Pioneer Square, the ID, Little Saigon, First Hill and Capitol Hill.

The impact of the delay is difficult to measure. Businesses along the route that suffered through the construction of the line are probably glad to have the work crews and torn-up pavement gone but also are waiting for the promised benefits of the new transit option. The bikeway’s opening, if nothing else, has created an interesting multimodal experiment for the area. And community groups are stuck in a sort of limbo as they’ve been asked to begin planning a celebration of the line’s opening from Pioneer Square, through the International District, First Hill and onto Capitol Hill for an undetermined date. The biggest loser, really, is me and you as we turn another six months older — and anybody who found a new place to live along the line thinking it would soon be in service.

A more general category of those losing out in the delay is transit riders in the area of the line where routes have been “optimized” around planning for the new resource. There are more significant “optimizations” to come with the start of service at Capitol Hill Station by 2016. Fortunately, Sound Transit’s timetable for hitting that mark is looking good — so far.

Once the First Hill line is running, a Broadway extension is being planned as a half-mile, two-stop addition from Denny to Roy that will also include an extended Broadway bikeway. Construction of the two stops, the tracks, and the bikeway could begin in 2016 with an opening in 2017. Meanwhile, Sound Transit expects Capitol Hill Station and the U-Link light rail line between downtown, Broadway, and Montlake to begin service by early 2016.

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34 thoughts on “More delay for First Hill Streetcar puts open date after July Block Party

  1. So incredibly annoying. I was really looking forward to using it for Sounders and Mariners games this spring/summer, plus dining in the International District.

  2. This streetcar, like the SLU one, was an unnecessary and pricey boondoggle from the get-go. At least we have a few more months’ reprieve before getting up and down Broadway becomes impossible all together. Let’s hope for more and endless delays– hey, Seattle is good at those! After that, it’s good-bye Broadway, hello 12th Avenue.

    • I hate to agree with you, but without a dedicated lane and no safe (or legal) way to drive around a stopped streetcar, traffic along Broadway is going to be a nightmare once they are in service.

      • Ugh. Can we do nothing right when it comes to transit in this town? So the completely unnecessary street car will be further delayed. If we’d just added better bus service, we’d have had it by now and without all the construction headaches.

        And yes, broadway will become a complete nightmare for any private vehicle or delivery truck. And while some people may think broadway SHOULD be free of private vehicles, where do you propose delivery trucks go to deliver to the stores on broadway?

        And how would we handle the diverted private cars and taxis? I know some would like to believe these vehicles will evaporate… that people will no longer take a cab, uber, flywheel, lyft, or private car to the neighborhood, instead choosing to ride the street car from pioneer square (or points in between) but not all vehicle trips will be eliminated and those cars will end up on the non- and lesser-arterials (like residential streets and 12th ave).

        Since the tracks are in the ground, and it does look like they will be extended, SDOT should seriously consider eliminating all street parking from madison to roy on broadway. All the businesses with howl (many of the same ones who were boosters for the streetcar i’m sure), but the only way to get people to stop driving their cars to broadway is to send a clear signal that there will not be cheap parking when they get their.

      • Not a good idea to eliminate all parking on Broadway….that will only send people seeking a spot to the surrounding, residential streets, which are already extremely tight as far as parking is concerned.

    • In my ideal urban world, Broadway would become a car-free street entirely. Pedestrianised streets are quite common place in Europe. With streetcar, light rail, bike lanes, and sidewalks, there is no need for cars to be on Broadway; they’re just safety hazards to the other forms of transit, especially pedestrians and cyclists. I doubt this will ever happen in Seattle, but it would be nice to try it.

  3. I’m still waiting for info on how emergency vehicles are going to be able to travel on Broadway. Even now, without the trolleys, there is not room for fire trucks or police vehicles to move quickly either north or south because of the added bike lanes plus the parking. It will be worse when the trolleys are in the way. They can’t pull over and get out of the way!

    Where is the leadership from the Mayor and the City Council and other Public Safety advocates?

    • Is there a reason emergency vehicles can’t go two blocks over and just make a turn onto Broadway?

      Perhaps you should learn a bit about how emergency vehicles work in civilized countries that have normal traffic calming, like any decent European city.

      • Emergency vehicles can and do drive over curbs and medians. If they need to, they will occupy the bike lanes (and with sirens blaring, bikes WILL get out of the way).

        Emergency vehicles drive on side streets and then turn onto Broadway? Side streets with parking on both sides, one two-way traffic lane, and traffic circles? Just Not Possible.

    • The police and fire departments were consulted on this, as they are on any change to street use, and they said the design was fine with them.

  4. Can street cars trigger traffic lights in their favor, to help reduce when they are in the way?

    And perhaps some cars will then choose to now drive on Broadway. I know it’s not fully avoidable, but maybe some will self-select to not drive on it.

    The thing that’s a huge waste from my POV, is that, should the line be extended to Roy or Aloha, they have to redo the end of the line. I wish they could have just decided how far it would go from the beginning. I do think it should go to North end of Broadway.

    The other thing is I wish the Streetcars were part of the Orca system, so transfers would work. I don’t think they are currently, though I could be wrong.

    These are people’s jobs to deliver these on time. What are the consequences

    And how dare Rasmussen not respond to questions!

  5. Can’t believe anyone is surprised in the ongoing delay. So, why is SDOT involved in ordering the streetcars? Wasn’t this a Sound Transit project? Perhaps, there are too many hands in the “cookie jar”?

    Actually, I think I’ve answered my question – just look at Broadway (in either direction) during rush hour – packed – then add an emergency anywhere along the way and you have a situation where the emergency vehicles can’t get through, so forth and so on. Doesn’t say much for our transportation planners/designers.

    • The emergency vehicle access concern is certainly valid. However, why is it just a concern in this one case? I see gridlocked streets all over seattle, including streets with no mass transit at all.

      The number one contributor to delays in Seattle is personal automobiles. They slow down emergency vehicles far more frequently than the street cars ever will.

  6. This is a total disgrace. 1890’s Seattle completed new street car lines in like 30 days, no joke.

    And why does SDOT favor Czech-made cars over the Oregon Iron Works USA-made United Streetcars?

    Something stinks.

    • …And here we are in 2015 putting in the best of 19th century technology! You needed rails back then because there weren’t very good rubber tire vehicles, like today’s busses. If we’d just extended the trackless trolley wires we already have to cover this route, the whole project could have been finished in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. With rails, we get the advantage of, well, rails in the street, and immobile vehicles that are going to block up traffic plenty. (What would a real 21st century mass transportation system look like? Maybe, group transportation. Maybe a variant of Uber? Or those little minibuses Microsoft runs around the neighborhood, changed to electric power, connected to modern routing technology and extended to wider availability? Whatever it is, not likely to come from our city transportation planners, firmly ensconced in the best of the 19th century.)

      One possible bright side of this boondoggle. By making it really hard for cars to get to Broadway, it’ll probably result in lower sales for businesses, ultimately driving rents down and reducing pressure for chains and fast food to take over all available retail venues. So maybe we’ll see a revival of less revenue intensive local biz when rents become more affordable. If they bring back B&O, it will all be worth it!!!

      • All the available evidence, including SDOT studies, shows that well above 50% of visitors to Capitol Hill’s business district get there by some means other than driving. Once the Streetcar is operational, and especially once light rail is open in 2016, the number of people who will drive to the Hill will drop even further, yet local businesses will continue to see customers.

        The challenge the locally owned retailers face isn’t whether or not people can park, it’s rising rents.

      • Oh please, most people that go to Broadway to shop or eat aren’t driving…most traffic is by foot, and very local. I walk down Broadway between Pine and Republican every day, and it’s definitely not the traffic Armageddon that people are describing here.

        As for the streetcar itself, it won’t be an uncomfortable way to get to the stadiums until U-Link is open…at that point it will be a slow, expensive, redundancy (but, to be fair, those Inekon vehicles are way more pleasant to ride on than the bus).

    • “This is a total disgrace. 1890’s Seattle completed new street car lines in like 30 days, no joke.”

      There wasn’t so much existing infrastructure to work around then.

      “And why does SDOT favor Czech-made cars over the Oregon Iron Works USA-made United Streetcars?”

      My understanding is that OIW didn’t bid.

    • The parts for the cars are manufactured in the Czech Republic but assembly is done by union workers here in Seattle – which was a big selling point in their favor. The delays are all on Inekon’s end and out of Seattle’s control.

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