Designed on the Hill | A well-designed ride on the First Hill Streetcar

Designed on the Hill is a new series reflecting on good design, as observed by Greg Janky and Treasure Hinds of Anvil Studios, a product design firm based on Capitol Hill.

On a recent sunny winter day, we found ourselves with a craving for Mexican food. We decided to make it a destination luncheon and head for Matt Dillon’s Copal in Pioneer Square. Our ulterior motive? Taking a ride on the First Hill Streetcar on the occasion of it’s first anniversary.

We were rewarded with an easy, relaxing experience that also pleased our inner design critics. We found the Streetcar’s implementation follows many basic principles of good design.

For example, it’s very easy to purchase your fare (or swipe your ORCA card) via the kiosk at each stop, —which is in english, Spanish, and Mandarin—reducing any stress for first-time riders. Clean, modern iconography and graphic signage provides intuitive way finding. Elevated platforms at each stop allow people of all ages to walk into the car without stepping up or down.

The interior is well thought-out, with careful consideration given to touch points, including an ample amount of well-placed hand rails, stop request buttons, door release buttons—and there are even cool bike racks inside for securing your bike. The prevalent hand rails allow for easy movement within the cars even while in motion.

Remarkably, the interior was quite clean despite a year in service, a nod to the King County Metro’s management. We especially liked the drain holes in the floor of each cabin for easy hosing down of the cabin if necessary!

Plus, it was a smooth ride—literally! We were impressed with how easily the Streetcar moved on the tracks.

A good meal is worth traveling for. And it’s even better when the trip is part of the fun. We recommend making the Seattle Streetcar part of your commute or next outing. And if you don’t experience any frustrations or unpleasantness, you might just have good design to thank.

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7 thoughts on “Designed on the Hill | A well-designed ride on the First Hill Streetcar

  1. At Pioneer Square, the streetcar stops well in front of the fare kiosk, so you have to walk the length of the cars and then some to get to the kiosk. Always fun to have the streetcar pull out while you’re running to the kiosk.

    As for the kiosk itself, many times I’ve seen people waving their Orca cards all over the place trying to figure out where they’re supposed to swipe them. The glass section appears to be the most obvious spot.

    There are single seats facing each other, so close together that two people cannot possibly sit with their legs in front of them.

    I’ve never understood the advantage of a streetcar with no dedicated lane, subject to the same traffic and signals as everything else on the road. Anything even slightly blocking the track will obviously cause the system to come to a halt.

    • The seats with no leg room are the most egregious example of poorly thought-out design. The ticket kiosks on the street are not intuitive, and the ticket vending machine inside the streetcar (at least on the SLU line) has never worked when I tried it, meaning I was rode without paying a fare, because I couldn’t. And that section of Broadway between Pike and Pine with the streetcar and bikeway looks like 10 different design teams took their ideas, dumped them into a bucket, mixed them up, and then tried to make a coherent streetscape out of it.

    • The stop at Pike is a mess. Cars are often held up for three lights waiting for the street car and the bus to pass. Can’t they adjust the schedules to avoid this?

  2. I’m no expert on design but the part where the light rail would get you from Capitol Hill to the International District in less time seems like a failing point in design. The only two stops that are not repeated by light rail are Yesler Terrace and 14th and Washington.

  3. Please explain why a street car is vastly superior to a bus, in a way that would justify its additional expense, and the hazard the tracks pose to bicyclists.