Seattle saw a sizable increase in ridership for its streetcar lines in 2018 thanks to a 31% uptick on the First Hill Streetcar line, according to a new report submitted by the city’s Department of Transportation.
“2018 was a very positive year overall for streetcar operations,” SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said at a Seattle City Council committee this week.
System-wide ridership went up by 18% in 2018 and indications show another increase in early 2019 over the same period last year. All of that jump came from the First Hill line, a 2.5 mile route that connects major medical facilities, Seattle Central College, Seattle University, and mixed income communities to the King Street transportation hub.
The line, which first opened in January 2016, has seen ridership increase over each of its first three years. It also went up by nearly a quarter in the first three months of this year. Chris Eilerman, SDOT’s streetcar and transit corridors manager, added Tuesday that increases continued through at least May.
“The First Hill line continues to grow,” Eilerman said. “So far, the numbers are encouraging through the early part of 2019.” Continue reading
Bowing to local business pressure — and what it predicts will be a radically transformed transportation corridor thanks to the $120 million, 2.3-mile Madison Bus Rapid Transit project — the Seattle Department of Transportation has updated its long-delayed plans for improvements to the First Hill Streetcar following pushback business owners and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. Despite complaints about the elimination of left-turns and the addition of red paint for a transit-only lane, SDOT still plans to alter traffic signals and implement a transit-only lane — eventually.
“Complex intersections where other vehicles might be making a left turn or otherwise blocking the intersection slows down the streetcar,” SDOT representative Ethan Bergerson said.
Last year, CHS reported on SDOT’s plans for potential changes to the First Hill Streetcar route to make the streets more efficient for the rail transit and, hopefully, boost ridership. But Capitol Hill businesses — led by the now-disolved Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce — and the mayor’s office pushed back on the proposals and the project has been stuck in neutral since.
SDOT officials say the department has since made changes to traffic signals and turns on Yesler in an effort to speed up that section of the First Hill Streetcar. Adjustments included restricting left turning vehicles from east and westbound directions during peak afternoon traffic times at Yesler and Boren, restricting left turning vehicles at Yesler and 12th, and synchronizing traffic signals at Yester and 14th.
Officials say SDOT now plans to make similar adjustments to the Broadway section of the streetcar, implementing changes as soon as this fall. Continue reading
Last week, CHS reported on Seattle’s $286 million plan for a 1st Ave streetcar route (and lots of budget for infrastructure work along the way) linking the First Hill Streetcar to the South Lake Union Trolley via downtown.
We asked city officials about a much smaller $50,000 to $75,000 investment in the existing streetcar resources that has been held up at City Hall for more than a year and finally heard back — changes to speed up the streetcar on Broadway are coming… but we won’t know the details of the proposal for a few weeks. Continue reading
1st Ave circa 2025
Like most things, the longer Seattle waits to build its downtown streetcar line, the more expensive it will get. Mayor Jenny Durkan put Seattle’s 1st Ave route back on track Thursday, announcing a new $286 million price tag for the planned Center City Connector to link the First Hill Streetcar and South Lake Union Trolley via 1st Ave. Meanwhile, there is still no word on planned optimization work for Broadway to speed up the route for the First Hill Streetcar as it shares the lanes with vehicular traffic.
When it finally goes into service in about six year, the 1st Ave streetcar shouldn’t face similar delays — it will have its own dedicated lane. Continue reading
(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
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
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
The 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
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
Officials 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.