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Broadway-12th Ave loop route for streetcar gets on track

Preliminary loop route plan ( Download PDF)

12th Ave Streetcar Group (aka Group for the Loop) organizer Tri Nguyen writes in with an update regarding progress on an alternative route being proposed for the First Hill/Capitol Hill/Central District streetcar line. He also says stay tuned for a Cap Hill/Pike Pine community gathering on the streetcar soon, where Seattle Department of Transportation will present the latest thinking on the project. Here’s Tri’s update:

Josh Mahar’s April and May CHS posts about the Streetcar sparked considerable interest; they got people involved (including me) and generated movement. I’m writing to summarize what’s happened since your last post.


In the last five weeks:
* Relevant decision makers have taken favorable notice:
    – Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin met with 7 of us to discuss the Loop alignment; at meeting’s end he deemed our arguments “persuasive,” offered that Council would strongly consider supporting the Loop, and directed his staff to draft a proviso that will make sure that the Council will take part in the decision-making of issues such as route selection. (While the Executive — Mayor’s Office — has the authority to make such decisions without Council participation, the Council has the right to insist on participation through its function as legislating necessary expenditures.)
    – For the first time, SDOT included the Loop as a possible alignment in its *own* presentation materials (PDF).
    – King County Councilmember Larry Phillips (District 4) sent a representative to walk with us down 12th Ave for an in situ discussion of the Loop’s merits.
    – Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen will meet with the group tomorrow, Thursday.
* The press has taken notice, too:
    – Public affairs blog interviewed a number of us for an article on the 12th Ave Streetcar movement.
    – The Stranger has scheduled an interview.
* We’ve been connecting with other organizations:
    – The 37th District Democrats invited us to present at an upcoming meeting.
    – The Seattle Streetcar Alliance invited us to join their association.
    – We have met with InterIm Community Development Association to engage Chinatown/I.D. stakeholders.
    – International Bicycle Fund has offered to study the route to determine its implications for cyclists.
    – We are seeking the endorsements of a number of neighborhood Community Councils.
    – We are engaging 12th Ave architects in Loop design.

To help organize the above, we set up a Facebook Group which has grown to nearly 100 members. The group is a hub that centralizes news and info (links to your blog, for example), gathers community and coordinates effort and strategy. For a number of active participants, it was the first step in their involvement.

Your reporting really helped start things off. I wanted to suggest that now might be a good time for a follow-up to your April/May posts — to summarize recent events, and to let readers know that, if they care about this issue and want to get involved, there now is an active group that they can connect with.

Good suggestion :) Here’s a start.

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23 thoughts on “Broadway-12th Ave loop route for streetcar gets on track

  1. great update tri! just want to let people know that this is a conceptual rendering of what the LOOP might look like. on this map it turns down John, but it could just as easily turn west in pike-pine and wrap around or under cal anderson. these are the types of questions it would be great to ask SDOT in a cap hill/pike-pine meeting.

  2. [originally mis-posted to the other streetcar thread]

    The illustration for the third option (“alternative 2”) is rather misleading. There should be two separate five-minute-walk-zones where the route is split between Broadway and 12th, but they are instead melded into one, giving the appearance of a larger service area. Someone on 16th or 17th. might be within five minutes of the eastern side of the loop, but that number is of little significance if he wants to take the streetcar southbound to First Hill without having to ride all the way up to the north end of the loop first, because he’ll still have to walk more than five minutes to reach the southbound route.

    Also, are there any proposals for how to deal with the proposed extension under the loop scenario?

  3. I’m also curious about accommodating the loop extension. We’re considering moving north up to the fancy pants end of Broadway, so reaching Roy has become an issue near and dear to us for connection to the Link station.

  4. So here we have a city that promised to put in sidewalks in the north end 60 years ago and still hasn’t done it crying that there is no money for it yet we seem to have money to put in unnecessary streetcars 70 years after we tore them out, to use up the minuscule 20% of new Metro service that we are allotted. Seems like the only winners here will be the developers who will swoop in to make a killing while the taxpayers take a licking.

  5. thanks for pointing this out phil. we have measured the walking distance between both legs (north and south) and at no point is is more than 5 minutes. but you are right, we will take a look at revising the “bubbles” that represent the walking distances as a result. one other thing to consider is that we don’t know yet what the travel times will be. we are hoping that the loop will be included in the SDOT EIS so that this information comes to light. for example, it might not take that long to ride one direction around to the distinaton on the other direction.

    in terms of the extension to aloha, it is not fully funded yet (i.e. not in last fall’s ballot measure that passed), but one of our arguments is that building the loop may save money (in time, utility relocation, etc.) so that we can afford the extension, and it could easily be accommodated by the loop.

  6. Bubbamike, the streetcar proposed here would be funded by Sound Transit, not by the City, so it definitely wouldn’t use any funds that could otherwise be used to build sidewalks. The proposed extention is rather complicated because of this; Sound Transit has no interest in moving people on the streetcar past their Capitol Hill rail station, but the idea of the streetcar turning around at their proposed terminus — John St. — is very unappealing to many of us in the neighborhood (there would be no more left turns from northbound Broadway onto westbound Olive/John), so we’ve been pushing to have it go farther north since they first brought up the idea a couple years ago.

    I agree that it’s unfortunate and extremely frustrating that people allowed oil companies, automobile manufacturers, and those who bought into the automobile-centric lifestyle to convince cities like Seattle to remove their streetcars years ago.

  7. In 1948 the city of Seattle promised that if it annexed the area north of 85th street that it would build sidewalks. They have failed to live up to their word due to, they say, lack of money. Meanwhile they waste money on old technology like streetcars. It has to do with fairness, keeping a promise and saving lives that are lost due to the lack of a common city amenity, sidewalks.

    Density like that dense South Lake Union area? More like what Paul Allen wants Paul Allen the developer gets. It is all about development, increasing land values for developer, gentrification and pushing low income residents out of the area. Streetcars require an expensive infrastructure with high upkeep. They are slower than other means of mass transit, they are nosier than other means of mass transit, like trolley buses. They will rape Seattle’s 20% of new transit hours. There are better places for tax dollars.

  8. Thanks, Bubba. I recently saw a City staffer give a presentation the Draft Pedestrian Master Plan to the Southeast District Council (citizen advisory group). The staffer did speak to the issue of lack of sidewalks in the north. City put an impressive amount of work into the Plan and you can find the Summary here:

    Metro Transit is funded by King County. This Streetcar line is fully funded already — not by King County, not by the City, but by Sound Transit when voters last November passed Prop 1 which included the moneys to build it.

    So there’s public moneys already available for this Streetcar and it’s going to built. Separate sources of funding mean that it’s neither “Streetcars vs Sidewalks” nor “Streetcars vs Buses.” That’s just not the issue here. What we’ve got now is the opportunity to see to it that City selects an alignment which, long term, benefits the greatest number of neighborhoods and citizens. Bang for the buck. I’m for the Loop, but you knew that.

  9. A lot of the suburbs don’t have sidewalks and north of 85th is basically the suburbs.

    Your sidewalks are not a better place to spend tax dollars.

  10. If I could steer the conversation back to the alignment — I don’t get how the loop is a good idea…if I am coming from east of 12th and want to go south, I either have to walk all the way to B’way or else ride all the way back up and around?

    And I don’t see how it would be faster, cheaper, or less disruptive to construct — you’d have to tear up two streets instead of one (while the other serves for traffic release).

    It seems to me you’re better off all around to pick one of the two streets and just commit to it!

  11. jbb – Per your scenario, if you were headed to the streetcar from the east to go south, you would need to walk to Broadway in the original alignment too. So the separation of three blocks really doesn’t affect you much, per your scenario. Of course, if you were headed north…

    A bit more seriously though, you do raise a good point about disruption during construction and potentially increased cost. The loop alignment will have slightly more track (and I am assuming that the Broadway alignment would be parallel tracks to allow for some capacity and achieve reasonable headways). It will also be more complex to route overheads. And it splits service between Broadway and 12th.

    But, the loop route does have some real advantages. Chief among the advantages are a widened service area. Yes, you wouldn’t necessarily want to hop on the streetcar at 12th if you were headed to the ID, unless you weren’t all that able bodied to begin with and didn’t mind the ride around. So a loop route broadens the area near and convenient to the streetcar, which in turn increases ridership and expands the area of desirable commercial activity. It also dissipates the impact of streetcar traffic on Broadway, where cars and bikes will only contend with streetcars headed south.

    What really excites me most about the proposed loop is it is forward looking. Instead of simply addressing some dysfunctional and poorly planned situation (i.e leaving First Hill without a light rail station), it seizes an opportunity to create far greater connectivity within and between neighborhoods while simultaneously focusing likely development and investment. It also generates enormous system capacity, allowing far more trains to be run than would otherwise be feasible on Broadway.

  12. it would be great to have SDOT come out and explain some of the details of the alignment planning. to our knowledge, there is no plan to place the streetcar exclusively on 12th, so i am not sure that the community has a choice between 12th alone and Broadway alone alignments.

    so i think that the correct question response to your question is, would you rather walk all the way to Broadway to catch the streetcar? or all the way to Boren? which is the street many on First Hill are advocating for.

    the LOOP attempts to still serve Broadway (south of Pike/Pine) while also widening service and economic development opportunities to 12th.

  13. I agree, great update! Great job!

    I don’t agree that the streetcar route could just as easily turn west in Pike-Pine though. Are you suggesting it could winds its way to the Capitol Hill light rail station around Cal Anderson or that the streetcar would not make it to the Capitol Hill station? If the former, I don’t really understand the logic in the added track routing complexity, not to mention the affect on traffic flows in Pike-Pine. If the latter, I think any alignment that doesn’t make it to the Capitol Hill station is a non-starter. The whole reason that the streetcar is funded and being built is to make up for the deletion of the First Hill light rail station. The streetcar will have to provide First Hill with connection to two stations–that’s Sound Transit’s obligation. That said, I think the streetcar is a fabulous opportunity for the neighborhoods it will run through and will be a great model for the city as a whole, and I am a strong advocate for the loop alignment.

  14. Currently there is a complete lack of transit options connecting Capitol Hill to the South Lake Union area. I’d like to see the Capitol Hill Street car go down the marble shoot (where Roy/Mercer turns into Lakeview to fly over I-5 on it’s way down to Eastlake) and connect to the SLUT. Connectivity is essential in making this a success.

  15. …the LOOP attempts to still serve Broadway (south of Pike/Pine) while also widening service and economic development opportunities to 12th…

    Yes! Exactly. And it also provides greater connectivity between different neighborhoods and (I hope) concentrates future development efforts to expand on the Pike-Pine and Broadway commercial districts.

  16. Complete waste of money. I understand why it’s being built (consolation prize to First Hill, existing funding, etc.) but it’s completely unnecessary. Wouldn’t you rather have extended hours for Bus 60, which means service to Georgetown, not just Jackson St? I’m tired of hearing about half-ass transportation “solutions”. Streetcars are pretty, even the red S.L.U.T. is purty, but they’re just silly trolleys that compete with traffic.

    “I’d like to see the Capitol Hill Street car go down the marble shoot (where Roy/Mercer turns into Lakeview to fly over I-5 on it’s way down to Eastlake) and connect to the SLUT. Connectivity is essential in making this a success.”

    If Boren is too steep for a streetcar (see Drago’s page) then Belmont definitely is. Besides, it’s a narrow two-lane road. Nowhere for the tracks to go.

    I think one major reason for the loop is Broadway (especially) and 12th can better accommodate one track instead of two. If they’re going to build it anyway 12th should be included.

    Anyway, let me know when a monorail conversation begins again.

  17. After thinking about this during regular neighborhood strolls, it occurs to me that there’s more than walking distance to consider for the area of influence. While the loop alignment is less convenient for traveling north on Broadway (likely a key visitor goal), it widens the *visibility* of the line. Unfamiliar visitors are likely to approach southbound stops and view a map, and a short 3-block walk to catch a north train is not likely to dissuade them from using the streetcar.

    If the Aloha extension is made possible, all the better; the increased visibility to visitors to Volunteer Park via Link should be quite a boon to 12th without stealing any of Broadway’s thunder.

  18. I think that what gerwitz said about visibility is interesting and worth considering. One the other hand, Phil’s original comment about the bubbles being misleading is really crucial. I would actually go farther and make the argument that the loop alignment actually *shrinks*, rather than expands, the effective reach of the streetcar.

    As far as I know, the vast majority of transit trips are round-trip. Moreover, I think it is generally unrealistic to think that anyone is going to want to take the streetcar north on 12th for a southbound trip (or vice versa) and any plan that depends on that sort of use pretty much kills the possibility of an extension up to Aloha. So if people won’t be willing to ride around the full loop, their destination needs to be close to both a north-bound and south-bound stop. The further apart you make the north-bound and south-bound stops from one another, the fewer areas exist that are within five minutes of both. (In mathematical terms, you should probably be considering the intersection, not the union, of the north-bound and south-bound bubble sets).

    I also think it’s too easy to say, “well, it’s only three blocks.” The stops in the proposed alignment are staggered between broadway and 12th, meaning that the equivalent north-bound and south-bound stops are often more like 5 blocks away from each other. More importantly, that’s 5 blocks on top of whatever the passenger already had to walk. Adding 5 blocks to an already 5-minute walk is substantial and I imagine will deter use.

    Anyway, I agree that 12th avenue has a lot of advantages over broadway as an alignment, but I’m worried that the loop proposal is the worst of the three options. There seems to be this idea that we can appease all the various interest groups, but I’m afraid that, in so doing, we might end up with a confusing and ineffective streetcar that falls far short of its potential.

  19. The First Hill community by and large is not very happy about how those to the east are trying to hijack the transportation infrastructure desperately needed on First Hill.

    75% of First Hill residents walk, bike, or bus to work
    24% of the population lives below the poverty level
    over 50% of households do NOT own a vehicle
    over 70,000 home-based trips to First Hill every weekday
    Highest concentration of low-income housing in the state
    Highest concentration of senior housing in the state
    22,000 workers
    26,000 daily visitors to hospitals
    Average speed of buses during rush hours: 6 mph
    (sources:, Sound Transit, City of Seattle)

  20. Below is the project description from the Sound Transit 2 Plan, as voted on November 8, 2007:

    First Hill Link Connector: IDS to Capitol Hill (John St.) via First Hill
    Enhance transit service connections between First
    Hill, the Central Link light rail line, and downtown
    Seattle transit hubs with new streetcar service along
    the Jackson Street / Broadway Avenue corridor
    between the International District and
    Project Purpose: increase regional transit
    accessibility to First Hill.


    This is not the “Capitol Hill Streetcar”, nor “12th Avenue Streetcar”, it is the FIRST HILL streetcar.

    22,000 people work on First Hill
    70,000 daily home-based trips are made to First Hill
    75% of First Hill residents walk, bike, or bus to work
    50% of First Hill residents do not own a car
    24% of First Hill residents live below the poverty level
    Population Density: 24,865 per sq. mile, highest in the state
    First Hill has the highest concentration of Senior Housing and Low-Income Special Needs housing in the state. (sources: Sound Transit, City of Seattle)

    Why should we be left with the options of:
    -climbing steep hills in inclement weather to access regional transit, or…
    -traveling in over-crowded buses on grid-locked streets, at an average 6 mph during rush hour?

    We deserve better. Capitol Hill has its light rail station. First Hill was promised a $300 million station, and gets a $125 million streetcar. But now Capitol Hill wants to take that away as well, so the folks buying pricey lofts and condos on 12th Avenue can have a cushy ride to the light rail station.


  21. I appreciate First Hill’s interest in this — the area definitely deserves rapid transit progress. I guess I’m most interested in how the route or service will be any different and why this is First Hill vs. Cap Hill kind of thing? The route begins in First Hill and ends in Cap Hill no matter what it’s called, no?