A colorful start to Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar testing

Mayor Murray and King County Council and Sound Transit board rep Joe McDermott take a ride (Images: CHS)

Mayor Murray and King County Council and Sound Transit board rep Joe McDermott take a ride (Images: CHS)

In front of a rainbow assortment of new trolleys, the first completed tram for the First Hill Streetcar — sky blue — took a very important load of passengers for a 600-foot ride Friday morning as testing for the system has moved into full motion.

It only required one “reboot.”

“This is another step in our efforts to get streetcars running throughout Seattle,” passenger and Mayor Ed Murray said to the media assembled to cover the event at the system’s International District maintenance facility.

Inside, workers were assembling three more cars set to join the fleet including a hot pink number one Seattle Department of Transportation representative said captured the, um, “modern energy of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.” The colors of the multi-hued cars were “inspired” by the “different characteristics” of the neighborhoods the 2.5 mile streetcar route travels through — Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill.

IMG_7731

IMG_7709 IMG_7672 IMG_7731Earlier this month, CHS reported SDOT’s new contract with the Czech Republic company manufacturing the trolleys to keep new streetcar project serving Capitol Hill from falling any further behind schedule. According to SDOT, the sixth and final car in the Inekom deal is due by June 30th. SDOT officials say that a seventh optional tram is also part of the deal and would be due by mid-June.

The testing now underway will be a slow, deliberate process, officials say, with an emphasis on tedious repetition like making sure each door on the trams has been opened and closed 100 times. One SDOT representative said the streetcars will travel a collective 500 miles before service begins. The tests, especially early, will stick close to the 8th Ave S streetcar barn.

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 project will cost somewhere around $130 million before all is said and done. Sound Transit is footing the bill as part of mitigation for being unable to construct a First Hill station as part of the U-Link light rail project. That project along with Capitol Hill Station is slated to open in early 2016. The streetcar’s current northern terminus will deliver riders to Broadway and Denny — across the street from Capitol Hill Station. A plan to extend the streetcar and the bikeway north on Broadway to Roy by 2017 is underway. Meanwhile, the city is working to better optimize Seattle’s first streetcar route as the SLUT has seen a downtick in ridership as traffic in the corridor it travels has caused a slowdown in service.

Like the SLUT, the First Hill Streetcar will share Broadway and the rest of the streets it travels with other traffic types. Changes like curb bulbs and the elimination of some left turn signals have already re-shaped the route. Adjustments by drivers, riders, and pedestrians for a train cruising a lane of Broadway every ten minutes will be something else altogether.

Fares will be set by the Sound Transit board. The South Lake Union line’s adult fare is now $2.25. First Hill Streetcar fare is “anticipated to be similar to Link Light Rail and Metro peak hour fares.” Riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms.

Hours of operation will be 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays. “The streetcar will run at 10-minute intervals during peak hours (Monday through Friday 6-9 AM and 3-6 PM), 12 minutes midday and Saturdays, and approximately 15 minutes at other times,” according to this FAQ.

From the status update presentation

From the status update presentation

“People living in the city are going to see these cars going up and down the tracks staring on Jackson but then to Broadway as we test them,” SDOT director Scott Kubly said Friday. And then later this summer we’ll launch service.”

Don’t expect to see the streetcar on Broadway until very late in the testing process this summer. SDOT officials say the testing won’t make it up the Hill until there are three or four cars ready for service conditions. At that point, SDOT can begin a process of mimicking standard service. An official said at that point, the streetcar needs to perform as planned for about two weeks. Once it passes that test, the new trams — including our special hot pink car — will be ready for business.

Kubly stopped short of predicting a start date for the delayed route. “We’ll come out with a launch date as we get further along in the testing service,” Kubly said.

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42 thoughts on “A colorful start to Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar testing

  1. Maybe this is a good opportunity to revise the Roy Street extension design to have center running dedicated transit lanes. It would be a shame to design the new extension with the old failed mixed traffic track alignment design that we are finally trying to get away from.

      • Agreed. There is so much parking on the side-streets, I agree we don’t need parking on Broadway (at least, not more than we need fast public transit)

      • Yes, there is alot of parking on the Broadway side-streets, but it is in high demand and almost always filled up. Removing parking on Broadway is a nice fantasy, but it will make access to the businesses even more difficult.

      • The streetcar will only help some people access Broadway. What if you, say, lived in the north end and wanted to patronize a Broadway business?

        We could do without the sarcastic name-calling on this forum.

      • Extra wide sidewalks w/space for outdoor restaurant / cafe seating, protected bike lane & exclusive transit lanes ….

        would make Broadway even nicer place to shop/dine/visit

      • I could not agree more! Broadway is the perfect place for sidewalk cafes and restaurant seating. The more of it, the better!

      • Who even tries to park on Broadway anymore? It’s been unworkably crowded for at least a decade now; that entire side of Capitol Hill might as well be a no-parking zone. Replacing the parking strips with train tracks sounds like a great idea to me.

  2. Dear god, my bleeding ears! Now we’re going to have to hear that terrible screech 20 hours a day!

    Also, why are we spending tax dollars on outdated technology when buses are superior in every way and cheaper! Just because some old fart feels nostalgic about using a rail line? How about we just start using horses and carriages while we’re at it. That’ll “attract development and encourage people to use public transit.” Isn’t that the only reason we’re using this dumb streetcar in the first place?

    • People want trains. You must not be a bus-user if you think busses are better than trains. Trains are faster, more reliable, more spacious, more comfortable, and have a higher capacity than buses.

      We just need the tracks to be in a dedicated right of way. Mixed-use traffic lanes are a monumental failure.

      • Agreed! Anyone who’s ever lived in a city with rail and buses knows you ALWAYS prefer rail–definitely my experience when I lived in Boston, where they have subways, trolleys, and buses. Buses are a poor third.

      • There’s a reason Boston got rid of the last of its snail-like mixed-traffic trolleys (A Line and outer E Line). The 57 and 39 buses tend to be almost twice as fast as the trains they replaced.

        Seattle has just spent hundreds of millions of dollars building precisely the thing effective transit cities have relegated to the dustbin if slow-transit history.

    • @andrew

      if you read the article, it answers your question:

      “Sound Transit is footing the bill as part of mitigation for being unable to construct a First Hill station as part of the U-Link light rail project.”

    • “Just because some old fart feels nostalgic about using a rail line?”

      Lighten up, Francis. That’s not an old fart, that’s our mayor!

      ““This is another step in our efforts to get streetcars running throughout Seattle,” passenger and Mayor Ed Murray said.”

    • What kind of magical mystery buses are you riding that are better than trains? Buses are bare minimum functional transit, and riding them sucks! I will *always* take a train over a bus, my god… I can’t understand your point of view at all.

      • It’s the Seattle way. Long after an issue is settled, if you don’t get your way, just keep endlessly debating and re-arguing the question, over and over and over. Eventually you’ll cobble together enough sore losers to sue, and get everything overturned. Then you can start the whole “process” all over again, wasting million$ along the way. Nothing’s ever really settled in Seattle. There’s always room for another last word.

      • Buses are far more versatile. They can serve a wide network and can adapt as demands change, at little or no cost. You can’t re-route a train, only build new rails, and that’s expensive. The only advantage trains have is speed. That’s great if it happens to travel your course. I have yet to use the light rail myself.

  3. Kudos to the city for choosing bright colors for their streetcars. That’s the only aspect of the whole thing that I really like, at least visually; of coure that is until they sell the surface for advertising because we all know advertising will save us from everything and all we see are giant rolling billboards that we have to pay to use.

  4. Kudos to Scott Kubly and SDOT for getting this project back on track. And to Capitol Hill Blog for providing good coverage to urge them to do so.

    I’m excited to ride.

  5. Really hope this is ready to use soon! At least in time for most of the Mariners and Sounders respective seasons. Plus all the food options in the International District, hooray.

  6. ” The colors of the multi-hued cars were “inspired” by the “different characteristics” of the neighborhoods the 2.5 mile streetcar route travels through — Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill.”

    Polite rationale for the yellow streetcar in the pictures?

  7. I’m looking forward to the launch. Any word on fare? Is it going to be as much as it costs to ride our buses, which is already among the highest bus fares in the country? Will it be more? I really hope there is an affordable option or an option of paying less if you’re only going a few stops. I’m thinking of disabled riders, people who just want to get up the hill in the rain, etc. We won’t get more cars off the road until sound transit can prove that they are reliable, efficient, and cheap. With only 6 cars, I’m wondering how frequent the trains will be.

    Also, I’m really hoping cyclists stay safe. I know way too many people who have crashed on the tracks and service hasn’t started yet…

    • I should have included — will update up top.

      Fares will be set by the Sound Transit board. The South Lake Union line’s adult fare is now $2.25. First Hill Streetcar fare is “anticipated to be similar to Link Light Rail and Metro peak hour fares.” Riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms.

      Hours of operation will be 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays. “The streetcar will run at 10-minute intervals during peak hours (Monday through Friday 6-9 AM and 3-6 PM), 12 minutes midday and Saturdays, and approximately 15 minutes at other times,” according to this FAQ http://www.seattlestreetcar.org/fh_faq.htm

      • Because at some point cyclists have to leave the Broadway bike lane.

        I grew up in a city with trolley tracks, never had an accident, and seriously wiped out on Jackson earlier this year. It was a wakeup call! I witnessed another, far more serious crash on Yesler and one at the foot of Jackson. Cyclists need to use a great deal of caution around the tracks. They suck tires right in!

    • The fare for the streetcar should be the same as bus fare. The streetcar offers more frequent service in a much more pleasant and clean environment, so why should riders be charged less than passengers who have no other public transportation option than a crappy, unreliable Metro bus? There are many times I have been forced to pay full Metro fare for riding a short distance. Yes, it sucks; however, if the expectation is that bus riders are required to do it, streetcar riders need to do it as well.

    • Where is it going to take you when everything closes at 2am? there’s no line you can transfer to and this thing avoids any of the transit hubs. Maybe in 10 years we have a proper network it makes some sense to have service on weekends.

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    • It’d seem that cars are more suited to keep up the pace of a train. Like they do in SLU and nobody has complained yet.

      Maybe you just don’t like bikes, but that’s fine, a lot of us don’t like cars on the streets.

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