As Seattle Department of Transportation officials are preparing the First Hill Streetcar for the start of service, they are also ramping up the process of educating people who are living, going to school, and working around the 2.5-mile Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square route about how the system works — and, importantly, how to be safe around the tracks and trolleys. They are also working to address a major hindrance to efficient service — an ongoing spate of poorly parked cars and trucks that have repeatedly caused the trains to come to a halt during testing in recent weeks.
Next week, SDOT will host a “First Hill Streetcar Safety Day” to help make sure the line gets off to the safest start possible as the streets along the line mix with streetcar, motor vehicle, and pedestrian traffic:
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will host a “First Hill Streetcar Safety Day” on Thursday, December 3 from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. at three station locations.
The Safety Day will feature Metro streetcar operators onboard stationary streetcars at the Broadway & Denny, 14th & Washington, and Occidental & Jackson stations. The public is invited to come aboard to check out the new streetcars, ask questions about how they work and learn streetcar safety tips.
“As we simulate service without passengers, we want to help everyone understand how to be safe around operating streetcars,” said Ethan Melone, SDOT’s rail transit manager. “Whether you drive, bike, or walk near the streetcar, we want you to be alert and safe.”
The First Hill Streetcar will operate from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday, with 10 minute headways during peak commute periods, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. It will help connect and serve major hospitals (Swedish Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center), higher education institutions (Seattle Central College and Seattle University), and sporting event venues (CenturyLink & Safeco Field).
If you can’t make it to Safety Day, here are few things you need to know:
Streetcars are quiet. They may sound warning bells and horns when necessary.
There are no fences or barriers separating streetcars from other cars, bikes or pedestrians.
Drivers should be prepared to stop behind streetcars.
Streetcars cannot swerve to avoid obstacles as they run on tracks.
Streetcars sometimes have their own traffic signals and can cross the street when other vehicles cannot.
Cyclists should cross streetcar tracks at a right angle to avoid falling.
One thing the safety day isn’t going to address but that needs to be solved is the route’s parking problems. Officials haven’t said anything publicly about the problems that have cropped up especially along Broadway when cars and trucks park at angles that partially block the streetcar route but tell CHS that there may be a need for signs and markings changes if there are repeat trouble spots.
— Zach Shaner (@zachshan) November 25, 2015
— punkrawker4783 (@punkrawker4783) November 25, 2015
“SDOT has observed these issues during testing and will be working with SPD on strategies to minimize the occurrences and their impacts,” an SDOT spokesperson told CHS. SDOT and Seattle Police are also “developing a strategy for faster response times when parking violations\ blockages occur.” In other words, be careful when you park or your car might end up hauled away — in a hurry.
Meanwhile, new wayfinding maps have been installed at the 10 stops along the First Hill Streetcar route. They’re designed to help riders find their way around the streets and “plan your trip” —
There are 10 stops on the First Hill Streetcar line, connecting the diverse and vibrant residential neighborhoods and business districts of Capitol Hill, First Hill, Yesler Terrace, Central Area, Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square, while also serving major medical centers (Swedish Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center), institutions of higher learning (Seattle Central College and Seattle University) and major sporting event venues (CenturyLink & Safeco Field).
But, as Seattle Transit Blog noted, as navigational aids, the maps leave quite a bit to be desired:
As testing for the First Hill Streetcar has proceeded, the final station touches have been added, including frosted glass and station amenities such as maps and rider information. Yet in a triumph of form over function, the well-designed maps omit just about every important piece of transit information that a rider might want to know. Their modal isolation – showing only two disconnected streetcar lines miles apart – bears no relation to the reasons riders would consult the map. Very few people will stand at Broadway & Marion and ask, “Is there another streetcar in this city somewhere?” as opposed to “Where can I travel to from here, and how long will it take me?”
Perhaps the biggest sin? The maps don’t mention Capitol Hill Station — the exact destination the Sound Transit-financed, SDOT-built $132 million line was intended to help serve.
After months of delays, the First Hill Streetcar entered a “new phase” of testing in October. When service begins, the new streetcars will arrive at the 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 streetcars will share traffic lanes with motor vehicles. The streetcar’s current northern terminus will deliver riders to Broadway and Denny — across the street from light rail service at Capitol Hill Station when that line opens in March. Planning to extend the streetcar and its accompanying bikeway north on Broadway to Roy by 2017 is also underway.
UPDATE 12/11/15 1:30 PM: Not to be totally obsessed by the parking problem but we continue to hear regularly occurrences of the streetcar being stopped in its tracks by poorly parked vehicles. For example, it happened again Thursday night. SDOT says its new streetcars have cameras, not side mirrors making the trolleys narrower and less likely to get stuck and has said it may turn to signage to help people be more aware of the problem but it’s hard to see how this won’t be an ongoing problem.