As of last Wednesday, Seattle Department of Transportation officials have a plan for the event to launch the First Hill Streetcar including a Pioneer Square celebration and a Jackson Street lion dance. But when that party will happen remains a mystery after SDOT representatives said “possible delays” mean the launch date still can’t be announced.
An update on the much-delayed project linking Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill is expected Friday afternoon when SDOT director Scott Kubly will bat leadoff in an unusual session of the Seattle City Council’s transportation committee which usually meets on Tuesdays. With the MLK Day holiday, the “director’s report” session and the committee meeting were pushed back to Friday.
UPDATE 1/22/2016 12:03 PM: It’s official. Service begins Saturday — and rides will be free:
First Hill Streetcar Gets Rolling!
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is excited to announce promotional service on the First Hill Streetcar Line will begin midday on Saturday, January 23. This “soft launch” will feature free rides to introduce the new service, and will be followed in the weeks to come by a grand opening and community celebration.
Funded by Sound Transit, the First Hill Streetcar connects the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Little Saigon, Chinatown-International District, and Pioneer Square. The First Hill Streetcar line is just one part of the Seattle Streetcar system that will help provide new mobility options, support economic growth, and strengthen connections in the urban core.
Thank you to the communities, neighbors, and businesses along the line for bearing with us during construction and testing. We appreciate your patience and support. We are excited to see you on the First Hill Streetcar discovering Seattle’s neighborhoods and attractions, commuting to work, and linking to other modes of travel. Learn more about how to ride the streetcar. Stay tuned for details on the grand opening events to follow.
UPDATE 1/22/2016 3:03 PM: Kubly said service is planned to begin at 11 AM Saturday and that rides will remain free until any issues are worked out of the system. Expect “a grand opening with a more celebratory feel to it then another week of free rides and then we’ll start charging,” Kubly said.
UPDATE 1/22/2016 8:59 AM: An email sent to “community partners” Thursday afternoon says to get ready, the First Hill Streetcar’s “soft launch” is Saturday. To translate the rather thickly worded message, service is slated to begin and the streetcar will be open to the public Saturday, January 23rd. So, dinner in the ID this weekend?
Dear Community Partners,I understand that in the past couple of days there might have been confusion caused by news of a soft launch of the First Hill Street Car (FHSC) this coming Saturday. This news might have been confusing because it was unclear whether this soft launch was in lieu of the grand opening celebrations that SDOT had been working with community and neighborhood partners to plan.I want to clarify that the intent for this coming Saturday is not to replace the celebratory events we want to hold in our neighborhoods, but to ensure that a soft launch of the FHSC is successful and we can ensure that the streetcar is in fact operational. The attached letter articulates SDOT’s commitment to this process and our continued interest in working with our community partners to finally celebrate the successful opening of the FHSC line.
Tomorrow, SDOT will be contacting the media to announce the soft launch on Saturday. We anticipate this will generate some media attention about the soft launch, but it is our intent to work with you, our community partners, to make sure that the grand opening celebrations are where we concentrate the most media attention.If you are interested in joining us for the soft launch, your presence and participation will be welcome, but again, I want to reiterate that we are not intending Saturday to be anything other than a soft launch of the FHSC.Sincerely,Scott Kubly
City of Seattle Department of Transportation
Tried to have my own First Hill Streetcar soft launch last night, btw. No dice. pic.twitter.com/7QUxASXLqt
— jseattle (@jseattle) January 22, 2016
Original report: Even with the extra time, it sounds unlikely a launch date will be announced after the event planning session last Wednesday with representatives from Seattle Police, Seattle Fire, and other city departments yielded a plan but no date for the launch.
The Pioneer Square launch on the Occidental Mall is being planned as a media event with Mayor Ed Murray on hand to cut the ribbon and make a speech. Though the focus is on the media and “partners,” “expect that some members of public will come,” the notes from the Special Events Committee planning session read. A lion dance will take place on Jackson between 2nd and Occidental. Due to the uncertainty around the event, police officials asked for “as much notice as possible” to make staff plans to cover the celebration.
At this rate, the delayed First Hill Streetcar just might, indeed, join the great Seattle transit spring of 2016 along with the openings of U-Link and Capitol Hill Station, and the new 520 bridge.
The First Hill Streetcar, a Sound Transit funded and SDOT built and managed $132 million project, has been hampered with delays and setbacks due to testing, damaged inverters, and ironing out glitches in the street braking systems and software over the past year since the rail line’s completion in late 2014. Streetcar service was originally slated to be up and running in 2013, then early 2014.
The First Hill Streetcar runs from Pioneer Square to a temporary Capitol Hill terminus at E Denny Way — across the street from light rail service at Capitol Hill Station when that line opens in March. It has ten stations along a 2.5-mile route from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way and connects Pioneer Square, the ID, Little Saigon, First Hill and Capitol Hill. When service begins, the streetcars will arrive at the 2.5-mile line’s 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from 10 AM to 8 PM. The streetcar travels in the traffic lane sharing space with automobiles and buses. Most left turns along the route have been eliminated and signals are now coordinated to help keep the streetcar moving. From Pioneer Square to Broadway, the streetcar will operate with power from a single overhead wire. Hybrid batteries will provide power generated through “regenerative braking” on the mostly downhill return trip.
3,000 riders are expected to use the First Hill line every day with fares set by Sound Transit. The South Lake Union line’s adult fare is $2.25. Riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms.
The Broadway Streetcar, meanwhile, is being planned as a half-mile, two-stop extension north from Denny 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.
In early December, SDOT held a First Hill Streetcar “safety day” to help riders and the community prepare for service operation of the line. But as January winds down and the streetcar line’s accompanying Broadway bikeway has lost its bothersome bollards, testing continues. Until the line is officially in motion, CHS’s series of historical accounts of Seattle streetcars past will keep running. A new Twitter account — @1sthillstrtcar — has been created by an anonymous developer to keep you abreast of the situation:
just a little while longer
— is it running yet? (@1sthillstrtcar) January 22, 2016