75 years later, streetcars return to Capitol Hill

IMG_0313 conup_map1There were no ribbons to cut or long speeches when the First Hill Streetcar shoved off from Pioneer Square for its inaugural passenger journey to Capitol Hill Saturday, but the rain-soaked launch delivered where it counts: regular service started without any major hiccups. Demand on the sunny Sunday that followed was large enough that officials pressed an extra car into service to deal with the crunch.

It’s been a long time coming. September 1, 1940 was the last day that streetcars carried passengers on Broadway and down Harvard Avenue.

Speaking inside a crammed train car at the Occidental Square stop Saturday, Mayor Ed Murray distanced himself from the FHSC project’s many delays but said he was excited to take part in the first trip to his home neighborhood on Capitol Hill.

The opening is the first in a series of massive transportation projects opening in 2016 around Capitol Hill including an April debut of the new 520 floating bridge and the March opening of light rail and the Capitol Hill Station facility which is expected to serve more than 10,000 riders a day at Broadway and Denny.

Across the street from the soon to open light rail station, Saturday’s start of service (CHS Coverage!) for the First Hill Streetcar marked a decade of work to get the line operational. In January 2006, the Sound Transit board authorized staff to begin planning for a possible new streetcar line after it had taken a First Hill light rail stop off the table because of the risk and expense it determined would be involved in creating the station.

Driver Tom did the honors Saturday for the first departure from Broadway and Denny

Driver Tom did the honors Saturday for the first departure from Broadway and Denny

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First Hill Streetcar begins service with free rides — UPDATE

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First departure from Broadway and Denny (Image: CHS)

Go take a ride on the First Hill Streetcar. Saturday, the 2.5-mile line connecting Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill begins service. During the “promotional service” period, rides are free. The first streetcar should be leaving the Broadway and Denny end of things around 11 AM Saturday. Got a picture or video of your first ride? Send it to CHS.

UPDATE 1:35 PM: A bright yellow streetcar on the grayest of Seattle days was filled with around 60 riders and a driver named Tom for the first departure of the First Hill Streetcar from the Broadway/Denny stop Saturday morning.

With a “clang clang” and a round of applause, the streetcar departed just after 11:20 AM after getting the go ahead from operations that the train carrying Mayor Ed Murray and a huddle of dignitaries and community representatives had departed from Pioneer Square on the other end of the 2.5-mile route. On a day when the launch of the new $138 million streetcar line had already been downplayed by Seattle Department of Transportation officials, Murray also distanced himself from the brightly painted set of six shiny, new, Czech-designed cars. The mayor said he inherited a project that was delayed but was now happy the line was running.

The streetcar is on nextbus.com... it's official!

The streetcar is on nextbus.com… it’s official!

On the Broadway end of things, there was a little more enthusiasm. Some riders said they thought they would use the new line to visit the International District to shop at Uwajimaya or go out to eat in Pioneer Square. Some said they doubted they’d ever ride again except when tourists are in town to visit. A few riders said the line represented a more solid, perhaps more dependable kind of transit that they could be more confident in trusting to show up with regularity and provide a comfortable ride.

But it will be a slow ride. Even in light, Saturday morning traffic and with rather quick boarding and exits at the 10 stops along the line, it took nearly 25 minutes to travel from Broadway and Denny to Occidental Square. With the streetcar sharing lanes with with vehicular traffic and on a route that comes sometimes perilously close to cars parked on the street near the tracks, expect slower times when the line is needed most during rush hours.

Nobody but the media photographers trying to capture a small moment in Seattle history really seemed to be in a rush for Saturday’s first rides, however. Most riders were out to see the new streetcars and enjoy a free ride. The $2.25 fare will remain waived through a few weeks while the system ramps up. SDOT director Scott Kubly, who was part of the first ride out of Pioneer Square, is promising a larger celebration complete with lion dancers and a ribbon cutting when the line is ready for a “grand opening” in a few weeks.

The six streetcars travel the 2.5-mile line’s 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from 10 AM to 8 PM. The streetcar travels in the traffic lane sharing space with automobiles and buses. Most left turns along the route have been eliminated and signals are now coordinated to help keep the streetcar moving. From Pioneer Square to Broadway, the streetcar will operate with power from a single overhead wire. Hybrid batteries will provide power generated through “regenerative braking” on the mostly downhill return trip. 3,000 riders are expected to use the First Hill line every day with fares set by Sound Transit. The standard adult fare is $2.25. After the free period, riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms. You can learn more at seattlestreetcar.org.

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ST3: a Capitol Hill view of what’s next for Sound Transit

Capitol Hill Station opens in March (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill Station opens in March, part of the great Seattle transit spring of 2016 (Image: CHS)

ST3's "candidate projects"

ST3’s “candidate projects”

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 7.53.11 AMFresh from passing the $930 million dollar Move Seattle transportation levy, Seattle voters will vote on another major transportation investment next November: Sound Transit 3, or ST3, the ballot measure that will finance and guide the expansion of our region’s light rail transit system. The final package of specific new light rail projects and a funding timeline has yet to be put together, but the Sound Transit Board is currently weighing a variety of proposals that bring broader, regional transit mobility to District 3 beyond the University District and downtown connections that come with the slated spring opening of the Capitol Hill light rail station on Broadway between John and Denny. Here is what to watch for — and ask for — as the plan comes together from Broadway’s point of view at Capitol Hill Station.

A long route
ST3 has been a long time in the making, and still has a long way to go before going to the Ballot next November. After last year’s bitter legislative session, lawmakers granted Sound Transit the authority to seek approval from voters to raise taxes (to the amount of $15 billion) to extend existing light rail lines created under ST2—the previous Sound Transit expansion package voters approved back in 2008—as well as build new completely lines within Seattle such as the very popular Ballard to West Seattle connection (potentially via a second downtown transit tunnel). To get the ball rolling on ST3, last summer, the Sound Transit board took input from regional residents on their picks for potential projects. After studying the preferred options, Sound Transit rolled out a set of candidate projects, in addition to various funding timelines in early December.

Now, the board will spend the next few months putting together a draft package to be put under the public’s microscope in March, after which extensive public input will be gathered before the final, final, package put before voters in November. For now, public input and advocacy is limited to writing individual board members about what you would like to see in the draft proposal.

For local transit advocates like Abigail Doerr, advocacy director for the pro-light rail Transportation Choices Coalition and a Capitol Hill resident, ST3 is a key opportunity to get it right to go all out and build out the regional mass transit network to its fullest extent. “We would like to see as many of these good candidate projects in the package.”

The Sound Transit board has a lot hash out in formulating the draft ST3 package. In addition to extending the ST2 era-lines further south to the Tacoma Dome from Federal Way, north from Lynnwood to Everett, and east from Bellevue to Redmond and Issaquah, the Seattle area candidate projects include variations of the famed Ballard to downtown Seattle line — sub-options for this project include elevated and at-grade lines, or a mix of both (some also feature a second downtown transit tunnel) — a downtown Seattle to West Seattle connection, a east/west Ballard to University District route, an extension down south to Burien from West Seattle, additional stations along the pre-existing light rail line snaking through the Rainier valley, studying a potential Ballard to Bothell line (via Lake City) and helping fund the Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit line, a project in the heart of Capitol Hill, which is also relying on the Move Seattle levy and, potentially, federal grants. Continue reading

The great Seattle transit spring of 2016

Sept. 11, 2015 - Final roadway deck panels

22793353349_0900b6f8f0_bThe great Seattle transit spring of 2016 — or, at least, really swell first quarter of the year — is rounding into shape. State officials have announced an April grand opening for the new 520 bridge — the longest floating bridge… in the world:

The public will have the chance to run, bike or simply stroll across the world’s longest floating bridge in April. The Washington State Department of Transportation will host a grand opening celebration to mark the completion of the new State Route 520 floating bridge. The weekend festivities atop the new, 1.5-mile-long floating highway kicks off Saturday morning, April 2, with a community fun run and walk sponsored by the Virginia Mason Heart Institute. On Sunday, April 3, the 520 Go Long celebration closes with a public bicycle ride from the University of Washington, across the bridge and back, through car-free routes of downtown Seattle, and back to the university campus.

Part of the 520 festivities will include a once-in-a-lifetime ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. Reminder: You’ll have another opportunity to celebrate the new 520 in the future when the full Seattle-side portion of the project is completed.

The April opening of 520 is a little bit off our report from October of planning efforts around the bridge and the March opening of the ahead-of-schedule, under-budget Capitol Hill Station and U-Link extension. A Sound Transit media event Wednesday afternoon at the future Roosevelt station didn’t include an announcement by new CEO Peter Rogoff of an official opening date for the new Broadway station and the 3.1-mile twin tunnels between downtown and Husky Stadium but the agency did confirm the March timeframe. We’d put our money on a Saturday in March if you’re the wagering type.

In the meantime, you can learn more for Sound Transit’s plans for U-District Station at an open house Thursday night. Light rail is expected to reach that portal by 2021:

(Image: Sound Transit)

(Image: Sound Transit)

We don’t know if the final element of the great Seattle public transit spring of 2016 will really stretch into spring but, yes, there is still not an official launch celebration date for the First Hill Streetcar yet, either — though November’s safety day and a recent City of Seattle planning meeting for an event in Pioneer Square indicate we’re (probably?) pretty close.

CHS Pics | Capitol Hill Station big hand art a sign of good things to come in 2016

Forney in front of the almost ready to open Capitol Hill Station (Images: CHS)

Forney in front of the almost ready to open Capitol Hill Station (Images: CHS)

Who is ready to wave goodbye to 2015? On Friday’s chilly night, hands were busy linking pinkies and letting their fingers do the walking at a sidewalk party to celebrate the installation of local artist Ellen Forney’s giant murals at Capitol Hill Station — easily one of the most exciting reasons for 2016 to hurry up and get here.

When the station opens for service in March 2016, Forney’s Walking Fingers and Crossed Pinkies porcelain enamel on steel panels will greet thousands of riders descending and ascending the escalators at John and Broadway about where Twice Sold Tales used to stand. Meanwhile, down the escalator, the massive, hot pink Jet Kiss sculpture featuring the deconstructed hulls of two A-4 fighters hangs above the Broadway light rail station’s underground platform.

March of 2016 will be an amazing month for Seattle public transit. State officials are planning a grand opening event for the 520 bridge replacement project that will include a fun run across Seattle streets and WSDOT’s new floating bridge. But the ultimate highlight will be the opening of Capitol Hill Station. The $110 million Capitol Hill Station facility stretches from John to Denny below two acres of Broadway just northwest of Cal Anderson Park. When service begins, Broadway riders will descend around 65 feet via escalators or elevators to reach the Capitol Hill Station platform. In addition to the main entrance near Broadway and John, the station will also be accessed by a Seattle Central-friendly entrance near Denny on the west side of Broadway and a third entrance on the south end of the site. The ride from downtown to UW via Broadway is expected to take about 8 minutes — 3 minutes from the Hill to the Montlake station adjacent Husky Stadium.

And, maybe by then, the streetcar will also be running on Broadway.

Planners: Prop 1-powered Madison ‘bus rapid transit’ plan no less ‘rapid’ with shortened dedicated lane

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Move Seattle’s election night victory assured a crucial chunk of funding for a new tram-like bus to run on E Madison, but the latest design proposal is not quite living up to what its name might suggest.

Instead of a “bus rapid transit” route running in a dedicated lane all the way up and down Madison, Seattle Department of Transportation’s latest proposal has the bus running in mixed-traffic east of 18th Ave.

“Travel time analysis doesn’t show that dedicated transit lanes are necessary east of 18th in order to (improve) transit time and reliability,” Madison BRT advisor Maria Koengeter told CHS, adding that signal priority would help speed up the trip to its MLK terminus.

A dedicated center lane with island stops would only run from 9th Ave to 13th Ave in the current proposal, which includes First Hill and part of Capitol Hill. The rest of the route would run curbside with right-turning traffic until 18th Ave. Continue reading

‘Open items’ — First Hill Streetcar hits more delays

IMG_7702-600x400The cynics in the CHS audience may have nailed it. The long-delayed First Hill Streetcar may not begin service until 2016.

KING 5, reporting on Tuesday’s City Council transportation committee meeting, says Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly acknowledged that the system faces further delays:

Kubly says a problem with the propulsion system caused the first delays, and testing revealed “water damage in the inverters” for all seven cars. He says they’ve undergone 250 miles of testing, and six of the seven cars are currently in the area. However, one of the cars’ inverters had to be sent back to Switzerland for maintenance. There has also been a problem with a software glitch.

In a briefing provided to the committee, SDOT said testing is not complete and various “open items” remain to be solved before service begins on the ten-stop, 2.5-mile streetcar line from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way:

  • The manufacturer has completed dynamic acceptance testing on cars 1, 3 and 5 and plans to complete this for cars 2 and 4 by the end of next week. SDOT/Metro also completed traction power integrated tests last week.
  • Completion/acceptance of Car 6 is uncertain due to need for repair of water-damaged inverters
  • Various “open items” remain even on cars that have completed dynamic testing, ranging from installation of informational graphics and loading route information to the passenger information system, to correcting important features that are not functioning as required by Metro

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.27.54 PMIn August after SDOT still had not identified a start date for the line originally planned to begin service in 2014, CHS polled readers on their predictions for when the streetcar would begin carrying passengers on Broadway. The overwhelming top pick? “2016” — UPDATE: Details on the changing timelines over the years — a range from 2012 to 2016, then 2013, then 2014 —  are below in comments.

Construction on the rails and the line’s accompanying bikeway have been complete since late 2014 and the streets impacted by the construction have seen all of the work and changes but few of the intended benefits of the new transit option.

Issues around the trolleys manufactured by Inekon have lead to delays and contractual financial penalties that have reached $750,000 for the Czech firm. The unique power system being deployed in the First Hill line has been a big issue. Heading from Pioneer Square to Broadway, the First Hill Streetcar will operate on electrical power provided by a single overhead wire “which receives electricity provided by four traction power substations strategically located along the 2.5 mile route.” On the return trip downhill, new hybrid batteries will provide the streetcars power “generated through its regenerative braking along the inbound route, much of it downhill.”

When service begins, the new streetcars will arrive at the 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays. The trains will share traffic lanes with motor vehicles. The streetcar’s current northern terminus will deliver riders to Broadway and Denny — across the street from future light rail service at Capitol Hill Station. Planning to extend the streetcar and its accompanying bikeway north on Broadway to Roy by 2017 is also underway.

A race, of sorts is shaping up, Capitol Hill Station and the 3.1-mile light rail extension connecting downtown to Husky Stadium via Broadway is set to open in early 2016. Will the Sound Transit-financed, SDOT-built $132 million First Hill Streetcar to meet it?

UPDATE: A statement on the delay from Mayor Ed Murray has been posted to the Seattle Transit Blog:

I share the public’s frustration that the First Hill streetcar has yet to enter service. We continue to focus on fixing the problems this administration inherited. SDOT renegotiated the penalties for late delivery to make the delays more painful for the manufacturer, which now owes the City nearly $800,000 for failure to meet deadlines. This delay is unacceptable. If these higher penalties are not successful in motivating the contractor to complete its work, we will be forced to consider other alternatives.

Metro’s ‘next generation’ of Capitol Hill-friendly electric trolleys ready to roll

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Hill-friendly and relatively clean and quiet, electric trolleys are important workhorses in Seattle’s commute. Starting this week, Metro’s ancient fleet will begin a two-year rollout of replacement trolleys.

The first five of 174 replacement trolley buses go into service Wednesday with the remaining trolleys “phased in over the next two years.”

Metro says the new trolley buses will use up to 30% less electricity than the current fleet “and will significantly reduce operating costs.”

“Electric trolleys are ideal for moving people in dense urban environments, making up 12% of our fleet but carrying 20% of our weekday riders,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in an announcement of the rollout. “And they emit zero emissions. By running trolleys instead of diesel-hybrid buses over the next five years, we are keeping 42,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions out of our air.” Continue reading

Sound Transit seeks feedback on light rail to West Seattle, Ballard… and beyond

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 9.28.17 PMSound Transit 3, a “sales-tax, car-tab tax, and property-tax increases”-powered $15 billion package of projects for the agency to take on once its currently planned investments are complete in 2023, will go to the ballot in 2016. Right now, Sound Transit wants your help shaping the package:

The Sound Transit Board needs your help to determine which projects should be included in the ballot measure. The Board will also consider the findings of technical analysis about each project, feedback from the public and key stakeholders, and project cost considerations. The Board is made up of 17 elected officials throughout the Puget Sound region and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. It is scheduled to release a draft plan for system expansion in early 2016 for public review and comment before advancing a final ballot measure for public vote in late 2016 or afterward.

Sound Transit is conducting a survey through Wednesday, July 9th collecting feedback on 39 alternatives on a “draft priority projects” list including multiple variants of light rail options connecting to Ballard and West Seattle. You can learn more about ST3 and take the survey here.

The Madison Bus Rapid Transit project is also included in the draft list.CHS reported on SDOT’s Madison BRT planning here. We’ll have to follow up to find out how the new Sound Transit package funding would mesh with the current planning process.

The survey provides the opportunity to weigh in on the individual importance of each of the draft items on the project list and also provide “top 3″ rankings for the regions Sound Transit serves. It also includes question #8 which seems to inform as much as it queries:

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Sound Transit’s Capitol Hill light rail project, meanwhile, is on pace to begin service by early 2016. Isn’t that? a) awesome b) totally awesome or c) all of the above

Sound Transit selects Pride flag as Capitol Hill Station icon

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20150630_SignageThough it will be rendered only in blue and white, Sound Transit has selected a symbol of Gay Pride as the legally required identification icon for Broadways opening-soon Capitol Hill Station.

“Pictograms, as part of our overall general signage program, are not produced in color,” colorful Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray regretfully informed CHS.

The new symbol was spotted by eagle-eyed @gordonwerner in Sound Transit’s latest project update newsletter. Sound Transit also announced that the Seattle-side line of light rail will be known as the Red Line while Eastside extensions will be known as the Blue Line.

The Pride-based icon was selected as part of a design and community feedback process designed to “create pictograms to identify Sound Transit Link light rail stations” that “serve as a tool to easily differentiate stations.” “This is important for non-English speaking audiences, particularly those that do not use a Roman alphabet,” a report on the process reads.

It’s choice comes in a summer of revival for the rainbow flag on Capitol Hill. While the flag continues as a ubiquitous symbol around the neighborhood every June for Pride, the addition of 11 rainbow crosswalks in Pike/Pine has represented a small restoration, for some, of the neighborhood’s eroding LGBTQ identity. For others, it’s a groovy photo op. You might expect a similar response for the Capitol Hill Station icon — though we wouldn’t mind holding the license for the branded blue Pride flag merchandise.

Art inside the station will be, well, kinda gay, too, with war+love machine Jet Kiss (Image: CHS)

Art inside the station will be, well, kinda gay, too, with war+love machine Jet Kiss (Image: CHS)

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