Moving on from streetcar extension plan, city also ditches Broadway bike and street improvements

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.

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14 thoughts on “Moving on from streetcar extension plan, city also ditches Broadway bike and street improvements

  1. Wow, this is a surprising turn for the city. Usually if something is failing this city usually continues carrying the ball down the field, spending even more of our money, rather than throwing in the towel.

    Bravo for coming to your senses on this one!

    • I agree again, Timmy! This is a wise decision, for a change. But what a colossal waste of taxpayer money! (3 million for the planning). Once again, SDOT proves itself to be a really dysfunctional department.

  2. I would really like to see this north end of Broadway turned in to a super pedestrian friendly boulevard (and before people assume, I own a car and live just off Broadway). Maybe have hours where trucks can park on it, lower speeds dramatically and remove half the parking. If there is anywhere in the city where we can go pedestrian friendly, it’s on this section of Capitol Hill. Businesses along this strip that rely so heavily on customers who get to them by car are quickly on their way out. Maybe the city or chamber should help those businesses adapt to pedestrian business and the ever increasing foot traffic from nearby apartments and light rail.

    • “Businesses along this strip that rely so heavily on customers who get to them by car are quickly on their way out.“

      No, they’re not. But keep making it more and more difficult for those of us who don’t live close enough to walk to it to get to them, and they sure will be.

    • I’ve never had an issue with pedestrian space on Broadway’s sidewalks. It’s always quite plentiful. You have some tree’s creating occasional bottlenecks on the East side of Broadway but there are much bigger fish to fry.

    • How is street parking so necessary, Jim? I’m not saying eliminate it all, but we should reduce it. There are plentiful parking spots inside the neighborhoods apartment buildings or businesses or inside QFC if you HAVE to take a car. Or you can come find parking in the neighborhood around Broadway for 2 hours (FOR FREE!!). This thin line of parking on Broadway is minimal and so cluttered with 3 min zones, truck loading zones, bus stops and other restrictions that it’s practically useless. When you have SO MANY pedestrians, why cater to the people who use these limited spots. I like Gregory, am curious who these parkers are and why they choose not to utilize the other parking options in the area.

  3. Phew. It looks like we’ve dodged a bullet! Hopefully the plan stays locked away for eternity. With that said, Pedestrian and bike improvements that extend to Roy would be welcomed. The sidewalk on the east side of broadway is really too narrow for the amount of pedestrian traffic we already have. I’d be interested to know who drives to those 5 blocks of broadway and parks on the street, and why they don’t choose off street parking (in Lyric, QFC, or the building with Core Power).

    As for the way the current bike lane ends, there should really be a bike box or some other street markings and signal priority that allow southbound riders to get into the bike lane.

  4. Following is text of a 2010 hard-copy letter from Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan Stewardship Council (Thelma Coney, Paul Dwoskin, Kyle Gulke Allan Jones, Rich Lang, John McMahon, Phil Mocek, Christopher Pasco, Jennifer Power, Tony Russo, Kate Stineback, and Karl Swenson) to the head of SDOT:

    Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan Stewardship Council
    c/o Capitol Hill Neighborhood Service Center
    425 Harvard Avenue East
    Seattle, WA 98102-4908

    February 18, 2010

    Peter Hahn
    Seattle Department of Transportation
    P.O. Box 34996
    Seattle, WA, 98124-4996

    RE: Community Council recommendations for First Hill Streetcar

    Dear Mr. Hahn:

    The Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan Stewardship Council joins the Broadway Improvement Association, Cal Anderson Park Alliance, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, and Greater Seattle Business Association in supporting the Capitol Hill Community Council’s three key recommendations as described in their January 25, 2010, memorandum regarding the Capitol Hill segment of the future First Hill Streetcar.
    We reviewed and discussed a draft of the memorandum at our January meeting. Members in attendance unanimously agreed that these recommendations are congruent with the goals expressed in the Capitol Hill Urban Center Village Neighborhood Plan, and that our group should stand with the Community Council in issuing the recommendations to Seattle Department of Transportation.
    Recommendation #1: Plan to extend to Aloha Street
    Since tentative plans for the First Hill Streetcar were introduced to us several years ago, we have consistently advocated running the line at least as far north as Aloha Street.
    Our neighborhood plan lists as a top priority the development of a Sound Transit rail station in our North Anchor District on Broadway between East Aloha Street and East Roy Street (Neighborhood Plan Approval and Adoption Matrix: A8, TR-2 and DD12, TR-25). Sound Transit has no plans for this northern station, so it is particularly important to provide transit connection from the future Capitol Hill rail station south of John Street to the North Anchor District.
    The impetus for plans to build the First Hill Streetcar line was an effort to mitigate the removal of a rail station on First Hill from Sound Transit’s plans. We hope that the line will also compensate for the lack of a North Capitol Hill station.
    Recommendation #2: Keep the streetcar on Broadway north of Union Street
    Alternatives would route the line on 11th Avenue, a quiet residential street, disrupting the character of the street and endangering pedestrians. The street is not presently used as a transit corridor, and our neighborhood plan does not call for making it such.
    Recommendation #3: Reclaim the street
    The proposals to which the Community Council has referred as “reclaiming the street” would dramatically improve the utility of Broadway for pedestrians and bicycles by calming traffic, providing narrower pedestrian crossings, and providing dedicated bicycle lanes separated from vehicular traffic by a parking lane. It would not affect buses, and would have only slight negative effect on cars’ use of the street (the removal of left-turn lanes at some minor intersections and of the little-used center turn lane).
    Our neighborhood plan calls for upgrading the Broadway streetscape from East Roy Street to Yesler way in order to both enhance the pedestrian orientation of the corridor and strengthen its connections to other neighborhoods (C6, TR-8). The plan also calls for prioritization of pedestrians on all neighborhood streets, “balancing uses of the streets in the following order: 1) pedestrians, 2) bicycles, 3) buses, and 4) cars”, (there were no plans for streetcars at the time, and we believe that the spirit of the plan includes them with buses in this prioritization), to realign curbs to increase the portion of street right-of-ways that is dedicated to pedestrians, and to decrease the length of pedestrian crossings (DD1, TR-14). It calls for upgrading pedestrian streetscapes and bicycle routes within one-half mile of each rail station (DD12, TR-25).
    We appreciate the work the Community Council put into crafting these recommendations and we hope that SDOT will implement them.

    Sincerely,

    Phil Mocek
    Chair, Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan Stewardship Council

    cc: Councilmember Sally J. Clark
    Councilmember Jan Drago
    Councilmember Jean Godden
    Honorable Mike McGinn
    Councilmember Richard J. McGiver
    Capitol Hill Community Council

  5. see also: CHS: “North to Aloha: Community weighs in on streetcar’s path across Capitol Hill,” by Lauren P., February 22, 2010

    The Community Council calls the Aloha extension a “consistent priority.” This would extend streetcar service to the far north end of Broadway and Aloha, ultimately connecting the Broadway neighborhood in one north/south route.

    “Make the streetcar a catalyst for reclaiming the use of right-of-way on Broadway,” the Community Council states. Specifically, they want to focus on eliminating the center turn lane on Broadway (except major intersections), and instead focusing the space on bicycle and pedestrian use.

    17 of the 18 comments left in response are supportive.

  6. Widely-distributed e-mail from Josh Mahar of the Capitol Hill Community Council on this topic:

    Date: Tue, 26 Jan 2010 12:51:57 -0800
    Subject: City Council Transit Committee Review
    From: Josh Mahar
    To: Cathy Hillenbrand
    Cc: Tony Russo, Alex Broner, Paul Symington, Brad Trenary, Chris Hoffman,
    Eric Butler, Bob Corwin, Zef Wagner, Web Crowell, Daniel Goddard,
    Jennifer Power, George Bacon, CHCC Officers, Kate Stineback, Phil Mocek

    Hey All,

    So Bob, George, Alex, and I all went to the City Council Transportation Committee today to publicly comment on the Broadway Streetcar Proposal as well as get an initial read on the council on this issue. You can take a look at the Streetcar discussion as well as our Capitol Hill delegation comments here:

    http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2131001

    First read of the council: Very excited. Tom Rasmussen, head of the transportation committee had already reviewed the proposal and had it on hand during the meeting and discussion, he said it was a really great proposal. There was near unanimous support for an extension to Aloha as well as excitement about the pedestrian improvement and bike boulevard. Although they didn’t speak much to the 2-way Broadway alignment, Rasmussen seemed very set against any large couplets, especially after hearing that this would be one of the widest couplets in the streetcar world. On the 12th to 11th Couplet/Loop Rasmussen said, “Can we just get rid of a few of these alignment alternatives now in an effort to save money? This looks like a fun sightseeing tour but not good for commuting”. Great for us, bad for 12th Ave.

    A few other quick points:

    – The general agreement was that any extra funds from the streetcar should be used to study, design, and implement an Aloha extension. This is good but the sooner we can get the funding for study and design, the easier (and possibly cheaper) construction will be.

    – Ethan has begun design work on the Bike Boulevard concept and should release more data on that at the February meeting

    – Licata seemed very concerned about travel times. This may be a challenge if our configuration adds additional trip time. Initial numbers for travel times, ridership, and cost differentiation should be available at the February meeting.

    Overall it went well and with the success at the Chamber I think we are in a really great place. Thanks everyone!

    – Josh

    • Unfortunately, the Seattle Channel archives go back only to 2012.

      Fortunately, I put them on Youtube:

      From: Phil Mocek To: Josh Mahar, Cathy Hillenbrand, Tony Russo, Alex Broner,
      Paul Symington, Brad Trenary, Chris Hoffman, Eric Butler, Bob Corwin,
      Zef Wagner, Web Crowell, Daniel Goddard, Jennifer Power, George Bacon,
      CHCC Officers, Kate Stineback
      Sent: Tue, January 26, 2010 7:13:38 PM
      Subject: Re: City Council Transit Committee Review

      On Tue, Jan 26, 2010 at 12:51:57PM -0800, Josh Mahar wrote:
      > So Bob, George, Alex, and I all went to the City Council
      > Transportation Committee today to publicly comment on the
      > Broadway Streetcar Proposal as well as get an initial read on
      > the council on this issue. You can take a look at the Streetcar
      > discussion as well as our Capitol Hill delegation comments here:
      >
      > http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2131001

      Thanks, everyone.

      In case anyone wants to see the streetcar-related parts of the meeting without digging through the entire meeting: I pulled out the relevant portions (public comment period, First Hill Streetcar update), split them up, and put them on YouTube. The video is off-center for some reason, but the audio is fine:

      * public comment 1/6:

      Jim Erickson

      * public comment 2/6:

      Robert Shireman

      * public comment 3/6:

      Josh Mahar

      * public comment 4/6:

      Bob Corwin

      * public comment 5/6:

      Alex Broner

      * public comment 6/6:

      George Bacon

      * streetcar update (1/6):

      Introduction, background, by Christa Valles (Council Central Staff)

      * streetcar update (2/6):

      Presentation by Ethan Malone (SDOT): impetus for this line, interlocal agreement, proposed project schedule, questions about: operating funding from Sound Transit, start and end locations, adjusting Sound Transit funding amount for inflation

      * streetcar update (3/6):

      Presentation: alignment: Chinatown / International District core

      * streetcar update (4/6):

      Presentation: alignment: First Hill and Capitol Hill, questions about commuters’ use of the line, contribution to greater usage of light rail, effect on Metro bus routes, distance from King St. station to hospitals

      * streetcar update (5/6):

      Presentation: alignment evaluation criteria, Q&A: accessibility, extending to Aloha

      * streetcar update (6/6):

      more Q&A: tie-in to larger transportation network, extension to Aloha, precedent for streetcar couplets and loops separated by multiple blocks, possibility of saving money/time by having Council eliminate some alignment options soon, starting planning Community Council’s proposed bicycle track now


      Phil Mocek

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