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Broadway businesses wary of a two stop extension to First Hill Streetcar

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

BroadwayStreetcar_factsheet_090315_optionb-01As Capitol Hill piles on the transit projects in 2016, some business owners want the City to pump the brakes on an expansion to the First Hill Streetcar on Broadway.

Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Sierra Hansen says some of the organization’s members are less than thrilled about the prospect of more street construction and a proposed tax on businesses to help pay for the two stop addition.

“People were really excited two years ago…  but I think the (First Hill Streetcar) delay has made people nervous,” she said. “I think the emphasis has focused away from expanding the lines and more on connecting the lines.”

The First Hill Streetcar line finally opened last Saturday, returning streetcar service to Broadway for the first time in 75 years — but only after more than a year of delay on the project.

The Broadway Streetcar calls for adding two streetcar stops on Broadway — one at Harrison and a new terminus at Roy — that would extend the First Hill Streetcar route and accompanying Broadway Bikeway by a half mile starting in 2017. The new stops are estimated to serve 1,000 riders per day by 2030.

As the project enters its final design phase with construction slated to start as early as the end of this year, funding remains a question mark. So far, SDOT has secured $10 million in federal funding and $4 million in state grants toward construction, putting the project roughly $10 million short.

Using a Local Improvement District is one option to make up the difference. A LID works by raising the property taxes of buildings near the project based on value added due to the streetcar extension. It also requires a certain percentage of businesses to vote in favor of the tax, which Hansen said would be a tough sell at the moment. The chamber is neutral on the project, Hansen said.

A LID would eventually require approval by City Council. No other near term votes would be required by Council for the project to continue.

The Roy terminus has drawn some strong criticism among those who wanted to see the streetcar land closer to Volunteer Park. Some have even called for the remaining two stops to be scrapped, though it seems unlikely given the millions already sunk into funding the early stages of the project.

Saturday’s launch of the First Hill Streetcar, with ongoing free rides, was a big step towards completing a connected streetcar system in Seattle. With one transfer, riders will one day be able to travel from the southern shores of Lake Union, though the Denny Triangle, downtown, the ID, First Hill, Pike/Pine, and up to Broadway and Denny across from the soon to open Capitol Hill Station.

To do that, the Seattle Department of Transportation will need to complete the Broadway Streetcar, as well as the Center City Connector to run between Westlake Station and Pioneer Square. The line is planned to run along 1st Ave with stops at Cherry, Madison, and Pike, and one more at 3rd and Stewart before connecting with the South Lake Union line on Westlake Ave.Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 4.24.07 PM

In October, SDOT applied for a $75 million federal grant (PDF) to fund the connector as it continues to study local funding options to cover the remaining $35 million. Design of the downtown line is currently 60% complete. Both the Broadway extension and Center City Connector are part of the City’s Capital Improvement Program.

Meanwhile, the countdown continues towards the first light rail train pulling into Capitol Hill Station on March 19th. Celebration plans are in the works. While you wait for details, check out how you can win a “golden ticket” for a seat on the first regular service train.

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57 thoughts on “Broadway businesses wary of a two stop extension to First Hill Streetcar

  1. The chaotic design on Broadway,the lack of a dedicated lane for the streetcar, not to mention the little-used bikeway, have come in for alot of criticism on this blog and elsewhere. I say, cut our losses and cancel the extension….otherwise we will just be compounding the problems, and wasting alot of money in the process.

    • A relative aside: There’s the “little-used” bikeway again (sometimes the term invoked is “unused”). I ride it to and from work daily, Monday through Friday, and I am not alone in this. So, having regular Broadway street lanes rendered un-rideable with the addition of street car tracks necessitating the bikeway, I am more than a little curious what qualifies as “little-used”?

      • “Little-used” would be a lane used by, say, 10/100 riders per day, versus a dedicated transit lane that would more efficiently move thousands of people per day.

      • You might use the bikeway, but you are one of a very few that do. According to many comments on this blog, based on personal observations over time, it gets very little use.

  2. It would be nice if this could connect to South Lake Union from the north end. (Take Roy to Belmont cross I-5 on Lakeview, is one sugguestion). There’s a lot a commuting and general traffic between the two neighborhoods, and even at the slow pace of a streetcar, if it didn’t run on Denny, it would probably still be faster than the 8. I know there are a lot of hurdles to making that happen, but extending only to Roy seems like a lot of expense for limited gain.

    • This makes way more sense to me as well. The 8 is insane during rush hour- there have been plenty of times when it’s much quicker for my husband to walk 2.5 miles home than it is to take the bus.

    • As someone who lives along that route (Summit @ Belmont), I would fully support this. My understanding is that streetcars don’t do too well on inclines and declines, so that may a challenge for this particular route.

      • Yes, that is the problem, which is why it was really stupid to build a streetcar line in a city this hilly.

        A bus route like that (whether a regular bus or a BRT) would make a lot of sense, though. I could easily see a bus route starting out in Queen Anne, then heading east, over Aurora and then onto Eastlake and then Lakeview and Belmont. Once Bertha gets finished, a bus will be able to go over Aurora at, say, Harrison, making that connection more directly and much faster than is possible today.

    • The portion of your suggested route between Bellevue Pl E and Lakeview is extremely steep….I’m no expert , but I doubt that a streetcar could manage that grade.

  3. Nix the bikeway part and just run the streetcar up the rest of Broadway. Still have yet to see the bikeway achieve usage that validates the loss of a lane and the money it cost…

    If they do extend the streetcar line, at least they won’t have to wait on the trains, which I understand was most of the delay?

      • If only all cyclists cared about safety enough to warrant it down Broadway. A better alternative would have been 12th.

        And if it’s all about safety, mandate that when a bike lane is available that cyclists must use it – will aid in keeping them out of traffic lanes when there’s been a nice shiny cyclists lane installed for their exclusive entitled use. And then, the most unlikely part – law enforcement of said law (or any traffic laws as pertaining to cyclists).

      • I don’t believe that Westlake has a dedicated bikeway, and have not heard of an unusual rate of accidents on that street involving cyclists.

      • The streetcar tracks on Westlake were indeed put in without consideration for bicyclists. It was a bike thoroughfare until then. But the tracks were installed up against the curb or against the parking strip – where we’re typically expected to ride (“as far to the right as is practical”). Riding parallel to the track, and within inches, is too much like walking a tightrope, at best, and an invitation for a “wheel suck” incident (a wheel gets caught in the track, and down you go) at worst. So when the bikeway on Broadway came up, it became important to assure it wasn’t laid out in the same way. Broadway sans bikeway and/or street car may not be the ideal bike route, but at some point, many rides must at least touch on it. If there’s going to be a street car and the necessary tracks, some space between where cyclists are expected to ride and said tracks is mandatory.

    • The cost of the bike lane was basically zero because if it hadn’t been created a lot of utilities would have needed to be moved and armored costing a lot more money.

      In terms of usage, it literally connects to no other safe bike infrastructure. Feel free to comment again when it becomes part of a safe network (of which, the Broadway extension is part).

  4. I agree with putting the breaks on the extension. We need some time to adjust to all the road changes before we break ground again. Plus, I don’t know many people who wouldn’t just walk the extra 5 blocks to make it from the current terminus to Roy St.

      • The stretch to Roy is already served by the 49 and the 9 (and the 60). The two stop extension is throwing good money (that we don’t even have) after bad. If you look at the The 5 blocks of broadway (unlike the majority of the stretch of broadway south of denny that suffered through construction of the streetcar line) it is ALL commercial, 100% of the frontage (ok with the exception of All Saints) is commercial on the ground floor.

  5. I agree with Bob above. This whole thing has been an epic missed opportunity and a huge waste of money. I’m all for expanded and efficient transit, but this whole project seems poorly conceived from the beginning. Give it a dedicated lane, then let’s see. I say cancel the planned extension.

  6. This seemed like a no-brainer in the planning stage. But Broadway is now a confusing mess, the bikeway is barely used, and no one seems particularly happy with the result. (At least the smurf turds are gone.) Doubling down on this with the current project manager/designs seems like a bad idea.

  7. I have to agree, any further extensions of this boondoggle need to be stopped. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 10 years, and was very excited for the streetcar to go online. But the actual results are ridiculous, and the layout will prove to be nothing but something that further snarls traffic. I’m also an avid cyclist, yet agree the bike lane was poorly executed and needs to go. Frankly, it’s dangerous to everyone, cars and cyclists alike. The layout makes it one more thing drivers have to watch out for, and when that’s occurring on a Friday night when people are out having a good time, the problems become obvious. I never use it when I ride because of how I see it when I’m driving and ride on side streets instead. Remove the bike lane, remove parking from one side of the street and MAYBE this mess can get cleaned up. If future bike lane options that could connect to the hill made sense, the bike lane can be reinstalled on Harvard or Nagel/10th. This would be a drastic change, but other than ripping the street car out altogether and starting over, I don’t see how this mess can be fixed.

      • My friends and I have said this many times! There’s no better way to get people on the fence about mass transit to side against it than to implement designs like this which absolutely suck.

    • I like it. The bike lanes would be less obtrustive and more safe on side parallel streets. Probably just tacked on the streetcar project since they were already having to tear up Broadway.

      • Exactly! And you won’t hear many cyclists complain that they had to ride a block out of their way. We measure rides in miles, not blocks.

  8. I live near the north end of the proposed extension, and hope the do extend it.

    As for the underutilized bike lanes, perhaps they would get more use if they didn’t abruptly end, and actually connected to other bike infrastructure? I don’t ever use the current lanes and use 12th Ave instead because the lanes end and dump you into a very busy intersection (Broadway & John); from there continuing up Broadway is not a pleasant ride – too many buses, turning vehicles, and potential car doors to contend with. Same with the other direction- you have low visibility for turning vehicles, parked cars, and the terrible intersection at Broadway & Olive to contend with, plus cross traffic from Dicks, and then you still have to cross to get to the bike lanes.

    If they were extended to Roy, where the road widens and traffic gets quieter, I would gladly use them.

    • agreed. I would use the bikeway much more if it were extended to Roy. Most of my trips are start & end somewhere between Pike & Roy, so it’s not of much use to me seeing as it dumps you off at a very un bike-friendly spot.

    • I wonder if it makes sense to just focus on this. Extend the bike lanes and not the streetcar. I would assume that would be a lot cheaper and a lot less disruptive to the current businesses.

  9. In defense of the streetcar (I can’t believe I’m writing this), the delays were caused by the poorly managed contractor of the cars themselves, not the tracks and infrastructure, which were completed on time. So perhaps (again, I can’t believe I’m writing this) the badly needed Broadway extension will be completed painlessly and on time, since we already have the cars for the tracks.

    I’m even more eager for the First Avenue extension, which is the missing piece that connects everything together. I love the idea of eventually creating a full loop of Capitol Hill and downtown. Let’s move on this!

    • To a certain extent, the streetcar delay is similar to the Bertha problems: both miss the big issue. To be fair, Bertha has the potential of leaving us with a huge hole (not a tunnel) so obviously it is a lot worse. But even if it was on time and under budget, the SR 99 tunnel won’t be very good, because it won’t have ramps at Western and downtown and will thus push traffic to already congested areas.

      The problem with the streetcar starts with the fact that it is a streetcar. Streetcars can’t go up hill. We have a lot of hills. That means that we are very limited in the route that can be taken, and the result is a very bad route. Broadway is fine and maybe Jackson is fine, but the connection between the two is terrible. For most trips, you are better off walking.

      Connecting everything together won’t help much. No one will ride this from one to the other — no will ride this half the distance. There are much faster alternatives (in many cases, walking). But having transit service again on 1st is long overdue. There are buses (from Ballard, Queen Anne and Magnolia) that start out on 1st and then go up to 3rd because of the traffic. If nothing is done about the traffic then there is no point in running the streetcar there. If something is done about the traffic, then those buses can once again travel on 1st, and you would have much more frequent transit along here, even if you never laid down another inch of rail.

      • I share your thoughts about the tunnel! I thought it was a great idea, and the main advantage is obvious – getting the Alaskan Way blight off the waterfront. But…not providing the same access the aqueduct had is lunacy. It seems Seattle just can’t get major projects right, other than the lite rail

  10. I don’t think we should waste anymore money on non-separated streetcars. I’ve tried taking the streetcar three times since it opened up two times a car parked on or too near the tracks and I ended up walking. the one time I was able to take it from start to end the ride itself took 28 minutes and approximately 10 minutes walk on either end. I live near QFC and work in Pioneer square and I can walk in 35 minutes. I can take a bus with a transfer and it takes about 30 minutes.

    My primary method of commuting to work is by bike, I’ve taken the Broadway cycle track twice, since its opened. And I never see anyone one it. In fact I have a pretty funny picture of two pedestrians in the bike lane and a bike on the sidewalk. Lets spend out money on transit improvements and bike lanes that work.

    • I am not surprised that the streetcar is not popular (streetcars have way too many fundamental weaknesses) but it is disappointing to read about the bike lanes being unpopular. I thought that might be one of the better things to come out of this project. I do wonder, as was said earlier, if the answer is to extend the bike lanes farther, so they can connect to more bike lanes (or just quieter streets). Doing so would be cheap (much cheaper than extending the streetcar). Of course, if it still isn’t popular, then it would be putting good money after bad.

      • I think you have a point there. Once the cycletrack becomes part of a network rather than a one off I could see it becoming much more useful. I know its too late now but I’ve always felt we are asking too much of broadway a cycle route, bus/ streetcar route, cars, parking, pedestrians etc. Something needs to give I think while I would prefer taking out cars at least the parking and making it a people and transit oriented street I don’t think that is realistic anytime soon. Perhaps moving cycle route to an adjacent street would help alleviate some of the pressure. If that did happen the lights would have to re-worked of course.

    • I cross the cycle track every day in my walking commute, and see people using it frequently.

      Regardless of the effectiveness of the trolley, I’m glad the bike lane exists (and yes, it should be extended to the north end of Broadway)

      • I rarely see any bikers in the dedicated lane. Yes, there are some, but they are way too few to justify the cost and disruption to street flow generally.

        That said, it will not be removed…ever. So, it should be expanded to Roy to try to increase usage. But please, change the traffic light system at Broadway and Pike by the Community College. A driver heading north on Broadway and attempting to turn right onto Pike is completely unable to see bikers heading north in the bike lane. Unfortunately, both get the green light at the same time so the driver attempting to turn right just has to hold their breath and hope for a miracle. Very dangerous.

      • That intersection freaks me out because of the bike lane and lights, just as you point out. It IS dangerous!! I say this both as an avid cyclist and someone who drives. I mention that, because there are some in the cycling community who instantly jump to the ‘against cyclists/transit’ position if anyone has the nerve to point out the obvious. Well, I’M a cyclist and those bike lanes are dangerous in spots in their current form

  11. Streetcars are one of the cheapest-per-mile forms of fixed-location public transport. They are quiet, level-entry (no stair-steps) and people like them. But running them on major crowded arteries without their own dedicated right-of-way turns their plusses into minuses. They can’t go faster than traffic and they can’t maneuver around obstacles like: poorly parked cars, accidents, wide trucks in loading zones, etc. Streetcars first returned to the city as a sop to Vulcan to connect South Lk Union to downtown transit & businesses. As a short hop on a wide avenue like Westlake, this almost makes sense, though a center lane (too expensive) or curbside placement would have been better than the current alongside-parked-cars alignment. The Broadway streetcar came as the consolation prize for lack of a light rail station under First Hill. Trying to connect the two via an already crowded, jammed First Ave in downtown seems crazy. It will only increase the unreliability of the entire system. Give the streetcars a dedicated lane, whether center or curbside, and these negatives go away.

    • The other negative that streetcars have is that they can’t go up steep hills. Meanwhile, BRT (like what they are planning right now on nearby Madison) has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages. It will have level boarding and off board payment just like the streetcar. For much of the way it will have dedicated lanes. But if a car is stuck on the other sections, or even if a car is stuck in the dedicated lane (it happens — I’ve seen it in Toronto) then the bus will just go around the obstacle.

      In short, a streetcar rarely makes sense, and in this town, is a really stupid choice.

      • I know we have all been giving streetcars a hard time, including myself but I wouldn’t right them off completely. I think there are several poor decisions that made the first hill streetcar less effectual than it could have been. #1 being the diversion to 14th. WTF that extension not only adds length to the line but 4 additional lights compared to turning on 12th. I noted the time it took to each station twice in this area and both time it took close to 10 minutes to get from the last station on Jackson to the Yesler and Broadway station that’s a huge percentage of the overall trip. #2 lack of signal prioritization. #3 as everyone has noted lack of a dedicated right of way.

        However the point you make about steep hills is pretty damming for streetcars in Seattle. I am a huge fan of BRT but have worked on a couple projects that started as BRT and did not end up that way due to “BRT creep”, Which happens way to regularly on “BRT” projects in this country.

      • That diversion to 14th is terrible! I too timed it, and it was about 8 minutes of a ~25~26 minute run in each direction, and one time one the light at jackson, rainier and 14th had a problem taking even longer, but other stretches of the ride went faster for a similar total ride time. Bottom line is, we could have denny to occidental reliably in less than 20 minutes without that diversion.

  12. Can’t we wait and see how this new line does before adding on to it? I would really miss losing even more parking around Broadway as well.

  13. Parallel metal tracks are fundamentally unsafe to ride over in a motorcycle, scooter, or any two wheeled vehicle. These vehicles may be unable to stop or steer if both wheels are on metal at the same time.

    The current design which requires those vehicles to either ride on or cross over metal tracks, several times in some blocks, is going to kill people; Riders… pedestrians… who knows.

    I know of at least one accident already. I’ve voiced this feedback many times… I guess the only way to stop it is the wrongful death lawsuits.

  14. It will be great for the north end of broadway which has been needing an infusion of vitality for years. Build the extension and continue the bike lanes with the ultimate goal of connecting to SLU and beyond. Pay for the CH extension with a mix of LID on commercial property owners, tourist/airport fees and gas tax. It’d be great if we could install a luxury tax the nouveau riche transplants who’ve arrived here in the last 5-10 years as well – especially the Millennialtechs who continue to suck the life force out of neighborhoods.

    • …”especially the [kids who are on my lawn] who continue to suck the life force out of neighborhoods.”

      … said by every person as they pass their 30s and move on into crank-dom.

      They probably said that about you too.

    • Yes, sure, the north end of broadway with 3 award winning restaurants among a dozen or more — at least two over 30 years running– 4 bustling cafes, 8 banks, a yoga studio a gym, a grocery store, a few bars…. yeah, that north end of broadway really needs a streetcar to revitalize it.

    • The taxes on commercial real estate owners you advocate is paid by the renters if their leases are ‘triple net’, which is the most common type of lease for retail…

  15. “With one transfer, riders will one day be able to travel from the southern shores of Lake Union, though the Denny Triangle, downtown, the ID, First Hill, Pike/Pine, and up to Broadway and Denny across from the soon to open Capitol Hill Station.”

    Who, in their right mind, would subject themselves to this? you could walk to the shores of lake union from anywhere on broadway in less time than it would take, and if you can walk, then you could take any number of buses (or the light rail) downtown and switch to the SLUT. The capitol hill street car, and the central city circulator (if it ever gets built) are intended to get people from points in between light rail, to light rail or their final destination, but not really intended for people to take from point to point that is served by lightrail, and for most people you would have to really not value your time to do so. Pioneer square to capitol hill is supposed to be <10 minutes on light rail with shorter headways. It takes over 25 minutes on the street car.

    Any talk about how "people could get from capitol hill to downtown, or lake union on the street car" is disingenuous, nearly no one would do this!

    Furthermore, if you are merely traveling a few blocks on the street car, 2.25 is pretty steep price to pay, so in practice, anyone who is paying full fare is likely to only use the street car if it is part of a 2 seat ride that includes a longer leg on a bus or light rail. The idea that our streetcars are "walking extenders" is pretty spurious given the fare cost and time cost of using them. — in 2 years of working at 6th and stewart and living on capitol hill, I doubt i used the SLUT more than a dozen times (to connect to the 8, or go to lunch, or grocery shopping during work hours) I could nearly always beat it on foot, especially when factoring in the headway (and traffic lights).

    • i would do this. please don’t allow your opinions to speak for everyone. we’re all different and have different ways of doing things; even if they don’t make sense to you personally.

      • zeebleoop: you would ride the street car from south lake union, through downtown to pioneer square, up jackson, and then north on broadway, rather than taking the SLUT to the 8, or to westlake and transferring to lightrail or bus to get up to the hill? The full route will likely take an hour or more and require a transfer, as compared with perhaps 25 minutes and a transfer to switch from one mode to another. Reminds me of what they say about open source software: its only free if you don’t value your time.

      • i might. i might also take the first hill down to 1st ave, stopping in the id for lunch and maybe some shopping. i’d then, maybe, go to the aquarium and hang out at the waterfront for a few hours. then, again maybe, i’d follow on to slu for dinner and take an uber back home.

        i like to have options and i don’t always like riding the bus. you are of the mindset that people are going to ride the line from start to finish in one go.

        if you allow yourself to believe that other people in this world think differently from you – whether you think it makes sense or not in your mind – you’ll see how some of our transit options might make sense for some people. we aren’t all of us, you. nor is everyone me.