At the end of 2016, CHS reported that a $28 million plan to extend the First Hill Streetcar north on Broadway — and, in conjunction, improve the streetscape and extend the street’s protected bike lane — was put on hold by City Hall and changes in the Capitol Hill business community. 2017 was supposed to be a year for revisiting the plan.
No need. $3 million worth of planning for an extension and the street changes will remain packed away and some of the millions already collected from grants to make the construction happen is now being handed back.
“I would describe it as indefinitely deferred,” the Seattle Department of Transportation’s transit and mobility director Andrew Glass Hastings tells CHS. “That project is pretty much designed. That design is still useable should we decide in the future, in conjunction with stakeholders up on Capitol Hill.”
The extension plan would have included the removal of another handful of left turns on Broadway, removal or reduction of parking to extend the protected bikeway north to around Roy, intersections marked using skipped green paint, and new bike traffic signals. Plans also included new designs for the transit stops along Broadway with access at-grade from a raised crosswalk. The bikeway was planned to come up to sidewalk level at the crosswalk, encouraging people biking to slow down and giving clear priority to people on foot. You can check out the block by block plans for Broadway’s streetscape changes here.
SDOT’s Glass Hastings said the bicycle and streetscape improvements connected directly with the First Hill Streetcar extension project. No streetcar means no plan for improvements.
Tom Fucoloro from Seattle Bike Blog wants to see the street improvement (like extending the bike lane) continue with or without the streetcar.
“It seems weird to stop the streetcar there, so close to it being useful,” he said. “Right now it’s ridiculous the way the bike lane just ends at Denny, halfway down Broadway, kind of on the wrong side of the street. It’s really awkward.”
Fucoloro said businesses have to choose between off-street parking and delivery services. Currently, the Hill is often sprinkled with delivery trucks occupying turn lanes. It’s illegal and a safety issue overlooked by the entire city. The truck delivery men have to operate in the middle of the road.
Meanwhile, SDOT is working with the streetcar’s grant agencies to return the money, approximately $10 million worth. At one point, SDOT had collected around $14 million in grants for the project, CHS reported last year.
The First Hill Streetcar opened in January 2016 to little fanfare after long delays to begin service on the new line connecting Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill via First Hill. The 2.5-mile route shares streets with vehicular traffic and, as a result, is subject to slowdowns that also snarl buses and commuters in cars. The line was projected to serve more than 1.2 million riders in 2016, but only 840,000 passengers were tallied by SDOT’s estimates. About 3,500 riders were riding the streetcar daily earlier this year, according to SDOT.
The extension up Broadway was planned as a half-mile project that would add only two stops — one at Harrison and one at Roy — to the First Hill line along with the extended bikeway and streetscape changes. Though it was short in length, the project would have been a logistical challenge to finalize and build given the heavy commercial activity in the core of Broadway.
Sierra Hansen from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce said her position on the extension hasn’t changed from her last discussion with CHS on the pause in December of 2016. She said all the Chamber heard from Broadway businesses was about the project’s design flaws: bike lane concerns, delivery truck limitations, and an expensive tax. The city wanted to use a local improvement district (LID) to raise $10 to $15 million from property owners to help pay for construction.
Hansen said the LID would have been “a huge price tag” for landowners and would have had “a seriously negative impact on their commercial tenants.”
The Chamber, according to Hansen, strongly supports the Center City Connector streetcar, saying it will make the existing streetcar lines more useful, increase ridership, and allow riders more options.
Hansen said the Chamber feels “extremely disappointed” to hear about City Council pushback on the connector. Council member Kirsten Harris-Talley said money should go to bus routes running throughout all of Seattle and not just the rich core. Council member Rob Johnson argued during a City Council meeting that the streetcars are crucial for Seattle’s future because of the light rail’s impact on bus routes once it opens in Northgate and beyond. Bus routes, he said, would likely be redistributed to mainly serve the northern or southern portion of Seattle. The planned connector line seems to be on its way to making it through Seattle’s budget process.
Meanwhile, you may not have realized it but the First Hill Streetcar has finally gotten faster and will continue to do so. SDOT has taken its Speed and Reliability Program and applied it to signal fleets, which includes streetcars. They’ve already implemented changes along Jackson. SDOT is also considering a transit-only lane on Broadway from Pike to Madison. Glass Hastings said this would save three to four minutes per trip.