Seattle effort to return historic Benson Trolleys to service has Capitol Hill connection

(Image: Friends of the Benson Trolleys)

With less than a week to go, backers of a community effort to raise funds to plan restoring Seattle’s historic Benson Trolleys for use on the city’s modern streetcar system are about halfway to their $28,000 goal. Though you’re unlikely to see Seattle’s two remaining 100-year-old trolleys on Capitol Hill’s tracks, the project has its roots in the neighborhood’s history.

George and Evelyn Benson owned and operated Capitol Hill’s Mission Pharmacy at 19th and Aloha for 40 years,” Don Blakeney of Friends of the Benson Trolleys tells CHS. “Also, apparently they used to drive around the Hill delivering prescriptions to families in a van painted to look like a transit bus.” Continue reading

SDOT plans summer ‘Broadway Corridor Streetcar Improvement Project’

The Seattle Department of Transportation has a plan to optimize signals, eliminate turns, and add a “Business Access and Transit” lane to Broadway between Pine and Madison in an effort to make traffic flow more smoothly and to help speed the First Hill Streetcar through the area.

Here’s SDOT on the proposed “spot improvement” project being lined up for summer of 2018: Continue reading

Wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit filed over First Hill Streetcar bike crashes

The family of Desiree McCloud, who died in 2016 after crashing her bike on a track of the First Hill Streetcar, and a rider who survived her crash a year later at the same E Yesler trackway are joining forces to sue the City of Seattle.

“The Defendant City knew there were other bicycle crashes occurring when bike tire were caught in streetcar rail grooves before DESIREE’s injuries and death and SUZANNE GREENBERG’s injuries,” the lawsuit filed just before Christmas reads.

Suzanne Greenberg was injured when she crashed her bike near the spot at 13th and Yesler where McCloud had fallen a year after the deadly incident.

McCloud, 27, died following her May 2016 crash that led to calls for safety improvements near Seattle’s streetcar tracks. The city’s investigation was unable to determine if the First Hill Streetcar tracks had caused the fatal crash.

Their joint lawsuit reads like a project list any street, bicycling, and pedestrian planner would be familiar with in Seattle. Continue reading

Long-term fix for First Hill Streetcar likely to take months, bill to be determined

IMG_0702The First Hill Streetcar went back into operation at 5 AM on Monday after a sliding incident on March 1 took it out of service. Short-term fixes and precautions have been put in place until a long-term solution is ready, which could take months. And, while a bill for the 20-day outage and repairs is still being tabulated, officials told a City Council committee Tuesday afternoon that Seattle shouldn’t be on the hook for the costs.

“If we go the direction that we’ve kind of talked about, some of those components have to be specifically ordered and manufactured, and that’s a two month period just to get the components made in Germany,” Michael James, with the Seattle Department of Transportation said. “So we’re probably talking months not weeks.”

SDOT did not provide an estimated cost due to the service failure, but James said it appears to be manufacturer Inekon’s or its insurance company’s responsibility to cover costs from the service closure, which could include work to get the streetcar operating again and bus service provided during peak travel times on the route by King County Metro. Continue reading

First Hill Streetcar fleet ready to return to Broadway after repairs

IMG_0029-600x400 (1)The Seattle Department of Transportation announced late Sunday night that a fix was identified and executed and the First Hill Streetcar will be back in action Monday morning starting at 5 AM — albeit at a speed-restricted 7 MPH through the stretch where the March 1st sliding incident occurred:

Prior to returning to service, the entire fleet of vehicles had a modification installed, tested, and documented individually. The modifications and operating orders have been reviewed and approved by the required safety officials. With these modifications, operating orders, and safety approvals in place, the vehicles are safe and operational for return to service. Continue reading

Mechanical issue knocks First Hill Streetcar out of service — UPDATE

IMG_0511Officials shut down the First Hill Streetcar system Wednesday after a mechanical issue was identified prompting officials to inspect the fleet of six seven Czech-designed cars that serve the line.

The service stopped serving riders mid-Wednesday afternoon. The first announcement of the disruption came from King County Metro, the agency that operates the City of Seattle service, just before 3 PM Wednesday. An announcement early Thursday morning confirmed the line was still not operating.

A King County spokesperson told CHS Wednesday night that a mechanical issue was identified in one of the streetcars prompting officials to pull all of the cars back to the service facility on 8th Ave S in the International District. The spokesperson said he did not yet have additional information about the nature of the issue.

The First Hill Streetcar began service in January in 2016 after months of delay. The start of service on the line was bogged down, in part, by longer-than-expected testing on the propulsion system designed specifically for the First Hill line. The system uses regenerative braking during downhill sections in order to power special batteries allowing streetcars to periodically detach from their overhead wires so they can travel alongside city busses. The system was developed for the First Hill Streetcar to reduce overhead wire conflicts with the Metro trolley buses.

In 2015, CHS reported more details of some of the issues that caused the rollout of the service to be delayed including “water-damaged inverters.”

The Seattle Department of Transportation says that around 3,000 riders utilize the First Hill Streetcar daily. UPDATE 3:25 PM: Metro is operating a shuttle (PDF) to partially cover some of the streetcar’s route.

Wednesday, SDOT also said its announcement of changes to Broadway to help speed up service on the notoriously slow-paced streetcar route was premature and that planned changes to the street won’t happen until after more “analysis and outreach.” A department spokesperson told CHS that SDOT plans to begin that outreach this summer.

UPDATE 5:50 PM: A spokesperson said he still could not provide information on the nature of the mechanical issue but it must be serious. The First Hill Streetcar will not be in service again on Friday.

City planning 2017 changes to speed up First Hill Streetcar

Denny-and-Broadway_6033-600x400Capitol Hill pedestrians you might soon have to up your pace to beat the First Hill Streetcar in a footrace.

The Seattle Department of Transportation is planning a roster of changes in three sections of the 2.5-mile line to help boost the performance of the streetcar connecting Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill including the addition of a “southbound Business Access and Transit lane” to Broadway. Continue reading

Happy first birthday, First Hill Streetcar

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

On Saturday, January 23, 2016 — after more than two years of construction and then lengthy delays caused by technical issues with its brightly painted set of six shiny, new, Czech-designed cars — the First Hill Streetcar clang-clanged to life. The start of service marked the return of the tracked streetcars to Capitol Hill’s streets after a 75-year absence and reshaped Broadway with a new bikeway. While many have questioned the need for the $134 million, 2.5-mile line paid for by Sound Transit in lieu of a planned First Hill light rail stop, CHS reported in December that the line was serving more than 3,000 riders a day. With City Hall, the local chamber of commerce, and merchants mixed on a planned two-stop extension north on Broadway, any ridership boost will have to wait for the 1st Ave-routed “City Connector” line that begins three years of construction this month. Work on 1st Ave will also hopefully help inform safety efforts to improve the bike-dangerous tracks across the city — including along the First Hill Route. In the meantime, you can celebrate the anniversary with a weekend of free rides across First Hill from Pioneer Square to Broadway — and, if you like, back again. Happy birthday, First Hill Streetcar:

In celebration of its first full year of service, the Seattle First Hill streetcar will provide free rides for three days this weekend, from Friday, January 27 through Sunday, January 29.

The First Hill Streetcar is currently averaging 78,000 monthly riders and has 3,050 average weekday riders.

Streetcar riders and its service area neighbors are encouraged to enjoy a free ride and explore the many shops, businesses and restaurants in the Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square, First Hill, Yesler Terrace and Capitol Hill neighborhoods.

There is no other free service. All other transit service requires valid payment of the regular fare.

Thank you for riding the First Hill streetcar.

City convenes task force to improve bike safety along streetcar tracks

screen-shot-2016-01-27-at-4-24-07-pmStreetcar tracks, especially wet ones, are notorious hazard for cyclists. Westlake Ave is a perennial problem for biking along the South Lake Union Streetcar line and one young woman’s fatal crash along the First Hill Streetcar in May prompted calls for safer street designs.

A group of mobility advocates and members of the Bicycle Advisory Board are now being tasked with finding ways to improve bike safety around the next leg of Seattle’s streetcar system.

The Center City Connector will connect the First Hill and Westlake lines by 2019, and with this group’s help, could also include some much-needed bike infrastructure downtown. Officials say the streetcar design group for the Center City line will also look at how to make existing lines safer — including the First Hill Streetcar. Continue reading

Investigators unable to determine if First Hill Streetcar tracks caused fatal bike crash

In the moments before Desiree McCloud fatally crashed her bike near 13th and Yesler, she crossed in between the tracks of the First Hill Streetcar to pass a friend. After a police investigation, it remains unclear if it was the track that ultimately caused McCloud to flip over her handle bar and land headfirst on to the street.

“That question appears impossible to resolve,” said a SPD investigation report obtained by CHS.

According to investigators, all signs point to “operator error” in McCloud’s May 13th crash which led to her death a week later. Security camera video obtained by police show McCloud passing her friend while riding in between the tracks, but does not show the actual crash. McCloud was riding westbound on Yesler when she crashed shortly after passing through the 14th Ave intersection. Continue reading