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First Hill Streetcar launch party planned — only question is when — UPDATE: SATURDAY SOFT LAUNCH

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

As of last Wednesday, Seattle Department of Transportation officials have a plan for the event to launch the First Hill Streetcar including a Pioneer Square celebration and a Jackson Street lion dance. But when that party will happen remains a mystery after SDOT representatives said “possible delays” mean the launch date still can’t be announced.

An update on the much-delayed project linking Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill is expected Friday afternoon when SDOT director Scott Kubly will bat leadoff in an unusual session of the Seattle City Council’s transportation committee which usually meets on Tuesdays. With the MLK Day holiday, the “director’s report” session and the committee meeting were pushed back to Friday.

UPDATE 1/22/2016 12:03 PM: It’s official. Service begins Saturday — and rides will be free:

First Hill Streetcar Gets Rolling!

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is excited to announce promotional service on the First Hill Streetcar Line will begin midday on Saturday, January 23.  This “soft launch” will feature free rides to introduce the new service, and will be followed in the weeks to come by a grand opening and community celebration.

Funded by Sound Transit, the First Hill Streetcar connects the diverse and vibrant neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District, Little Saigon, Chinatown-International District, and Pioneer Square. The First Hill Streetcar line is just one part of the Seattle Streetcar system that will help provide new mobility options, support economic growth, and strengthen connections in the urban core.

Thank you to the communities, neighbors, and businesses along the line for bearing with us during construction and testing. We appreciate your patience and support. We are excited to see you on the First Hill Streetcar discovering Seattle’s neighborhoods and attractions, commuting to work, and linking to other modes of travel. Learn more about how to ride the streetcar.  Stay tuned for details on the grand opening events to follow.

UPDATE 1/22/2016 3:03 PM: Kubly said service is planned to begin at 11 AM Saturday and that rides will remain free until any issues are worked out of the system. Expect “a grand opening with a more celebratory feel to it then another week of free rides and then we’ll start charging,” Kubly said.

UPDATE 1/22/2016 8:59 AM:  An email sent to “community partners” Thursday afternoon says to get ready, the First Hill Streetcar’s “soft launch” is Saturday. To translate the rather thickly worded message, service is slated to begin and the streetcar will be open to the public Saturday, January 23rd. So, dinner in the ID this weekend?

Dear Community Partners,
I understand that in the past couple of days there might have been confusion caused by news of a soft launch of the First Hill Street Car (FHSC) this coming Saturday. This news might have been confusing because it was unclear whether this soft launch was in lieu of the grand opening celebrations that SDOT had been working with community and neighborhood partners to plan.
I want to clarify that the intent for this coming Saturday is not to replace the celebratory events we want to hold in our neighborhoods, but to ensure that a soft launch of the FHSC is successful and we can ensure that the streetcar is in fact operational. The attached letter articulates SDOT’s commitment to this process and our continued interest in working with our community partners to finally celebrate the successful opening of the FHSC line.

Tomorrow, SDOT will be contacting the media to announce the soft launch on Saturday. We anticipate this will generate some media attention about the soft launch, but it is our intent to work with you, our community partners, to make sure that the grand opening celebrations are where we concentrate the most media attention.
If you are interested in joining us for the soft launch, your presence and participation will be welcome, but again, I want to reiterate that we are not intending Saturday to be anything other than a soft launch of the FHSC.
Scott Kubly
City of Seattle Department of Transportation


Original report: Even with the extra time, it sounds unlikely a launch date will be announced after the event planning session last Wednesday with representatives from Seattle Police, Seattle Fire, and other city departments yielded a plan but no date for the launch.


A “safety day” tour in December

The Pioneer Square launch on the Occidental Mall is being planned as a media event with Mayor Ed Murray on hand to cut the ribbon and make a speech. Though the focus is on the media and “partners,” “expect that some members of public will come,” the notes from the Special Events Committee planning session read. A lion dance will take place on Jackson between 2nd and Occidental. Due to the uncertainty around the event, police officials asked for “as much notice as possible” to make staff plans to cover the celebration.

At this rate, the delayed First Hill Streetcar just might, indeed, join the great Seattle transit spring of 2016 along with the openings of U-Link and Capitol Hill Station, and the new 520 bridge.

The First Hill Streetcar, a Sound Transit funded and SDOT built and managed $132 million project, has been hampered with delays and setbacks due to testing, damaged inverters, and ironing out glitches in the street braking systems and software over the past year since the rail line’s completion in late 2014. Streetcar service was originally slated to be up and running in 2013, then early 2014.

The First Hill Streetcar runs from Pioneer Square to a temporary Capitol Hill terminus at E Denny Way — across the street from light rail service at Capitol Hill Station when that line opens in March. It has ten stations along a 2.5-mile route from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way and connects Pioneer Square, the ID, Little Saigon, First Hill and Capitol Hill. When service begins, the streetcars will arrive at 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 South Lake Union line’s adult fare is $2.25. Riders without ORCA cards will be able to purchase tickets at fare box machines located on station platforms.

The Broadway Streetcar, meanwhile, is being planned as a half-mile, two-stop extension north from Denny that will also include an extended Broadway bikeway. Construction of the two stops, the tracks, and the bikeway could begin in 2016 with an opening in 2017.

In early December, SDOT held a First Hill Streetcar “safety day” to help riders and the community prepare for service operation of the line. But as January winds down and the streetcar line’s accompanying Broadway bikeway has lost its bothersome bollards, testing continues. Until the line is officially in motion, CHS’s series of historical accounts of Seattle streetcars past will keep running. A new Twitter account — @1sthillstrtcar — has been created by an anonymous developer to keep you abreast of the situation:

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37 thoughts on “First Hill Streetcar launch party planned — only question is when — UPDATE: SATURDAY SOFT LAUNCH” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Like the other boondoogle of a streetcar, no one is going to ride it. Too expensive, too slow, too infrequent, too short. Please delay some more– if/when it starts up, it will only make Broadway more impassable.

    • In theory, I agree with most of what you’re saying — streetcars without a dedicated right of way offer little advantage as transportation.

      But my housemates and I are definitely planning enjoying our new dim sum express once it opens. The restaurants in Cap Hill are just too noisy and too expensive these days, and having the ID conveniently accessible will be a game-changer. At least for some of us.

      • If it ever gets going, i’ll be riding it five days a week given that Its a direct route from my apartment in the ID to class at Seattle Central. Also, I don’t consider 10-15 minute arrival times to be infrequent. Its quicker than driving and finding parking around Broadway at 9:00 am.

      • It’ll be much faster (and the same price) to take the light rail. It also goes from CapHill to the ID.

        The Westlake SLUT travels (with stops) at the same speed as I walk. I once followed it from Mercer to Westlake. I doubt that the CHiT (Cap HIll Trolly) will travel any faster.

      • I agree that the light rail will be great once it gets going. Its sort of funny that those of us living/working in the ID have went from having only awkward, round about public transportation options that require a transfer to get us a distance of just over a mile (sccc), to now having two direct routes opening around the same time this year. I have also been curious about how much faster walking to Capitol Hill is compared to taking public transportation.
        Given that I walk to Capitol Hill everyday already, I’ll try an experiment. On Monday I’ll leave from the light rail station near my apartment at the same time as the trolley to see if I beat it to my destination. I’ll let you know who wins!

    • They should have run it up and down that unused bike path. Then it’d definitely prove itself a quicker form of transportation.

      • I’m sorry to learn that I don’t exist as a bicycle commuter, that I don’t use the Broadway bikeway, and that mine is not a quick form of transportation. I guess I’m easily fooled!

    • Agree that it was not the best use of resources, but I think the area is so starved for public transit that people will use it. At least at first.

      It’ll be interesting to look at rider numbers in a couple years.

    • Wrong – I will be riding it frequently. I go between the International District and Capitol Hill a lot – and would go even more often if that fecking street car would just open already. Agree that a streetcar should run more frequently, but it’s a lot better than riding the 60 and having to walk several blocks west.

    • Dunno about you, but I’m looking at is as great. I live on Rainier Ave S, south of Columbia City, and it’ll make getting to the doctor offices at Virginia Mason a lot easier than waiting for a 9 or hoping the 2 or 12 are on time. And it’ll run on the weekends, which is also going to be a huge benefit.

      • Would it be of use for you if the Virginia Mason shuttle were to stop at the First Hill station on Broadway to transport you to the clinic?

  2. This project really annoys me. It is so pointless–without a dedicated lane, I am going to able to walk to the ID faster than this thing. And once the light rail station is open, Pioneer Sq and the ID will be super accessible from Capitol Hill anyway. Just seems like a total waste of time and money.

    • This may shock you–but there are a WHOLE LOT of people along this route between the CH Hill station and the Pioneer Sq station, that are too far to walk to the light rail stations, but walkable to this route to get downtown and/or to light rail. SeattleU… Yesler Terrace… people along Cherry, Jefferson, Yesler, Jackson… I know, amazing–there are transit riders that aren’t on Capitol Hill!

      • Yeah, I am sure that level of vitriol was required. I am aware of this, and actually I myself no longer live on Capitol Hill (got attached to the blog when I did for a decade). I work in the CD, but still feel there is no utility to this due to the lack of a dedicated Lane.

      • For the countless people living in this ever-growing city who can’t or don’t want to (I don’t blame them considering the sorry state of car drivers) physically walk, uphill, in often rainy conditions, sometimes at night, this will be very useful and will be utilized.

      • Thank you for realizing that not all Seattlites are able to drive or want to drive. Americans are sometimes blind to those who have disabilities and who need other options for transportation. The streetcar offers just that kind of option. It is not a bus, it has a designated route. I proudly rode it this weekend and look forward to using it in the future. We need to break our reliance on the automobile, especially if driving is not optimal. The ride is smooth and you can socialize with other riders. This 2016 route is worth the wait.

      • sounds like there are many people who are looking forward to the streetcar opening so, right there, is your utility.

        just because it doesn’t personally benefit you doesn’t mean it’s a waste of money or not worthwhile to a community that you are no longer a part of.

      • I guess that doesn’t accurately answer how much a dedicated lane would speed it up.

        But I think we can guess about 10 minutes end-to-end, or 30% reduction in trip time in traffic.

  3. Yet another utter waste of tax payer time and money. I’m all for transportation, but how is this in any way better than just adding a bus route?
    I get that it is marginally quaint, but it seems at best a foolish expenditure.

  4. I “raced” it the other day on my bike from Broadway/Pine to Rainier/14th and we got there at just about the same time. For all the trolls about to jump on me, yes, I stopped at every light/stop sign/etc. Going uphill, the streetcar would be way faster- I’m way slow. This is really exciting!

  5. This is exciting news for First Hill! And for all of the naysayers perhaps the reason we have the streetcar in the first place needs to be revisited. Back when light rail alignments were being discussed in the mid-90s the initial plan called for a First Hill station where the U.S. Bank is presently located on Madison. It would have been ideal for the several medical centers for their patients and staff.

    However due to budget shortfalls and geological issues the First Hill station was cancelled. The medical centers demanded some form of service in lieu of this station and thus the streetcar was born as a way to aid people getting from the light rail stations to the hospitals on First Hill. It is not intended as a people mover for the young and fit but for the elderly and infirm, not that all are not welcome aboard. This is the primary reason for the streetcar. And for the bus advocates, buses just aren’t as friendly for the elderly and disabled as these low-riding streetcars will be.

    Could the alignment have been different? Indeed. Many of us attended the public sessions and spoke out for a Harvard/Seneca alignment or one on 12th but we lost out. So it is what it is.

    Next steps could be to make Broadway a pedestrian and transit mall from Pine to Olive/John. Then convert Harvard to a one-way south street between Roy and Pine with improved signals and three lanes southbound. Then convert 12th to a one-way north street between Pine and Aloha with three lanes as well. Just a thought.

  6. The whole route is built and it’s about to open. Why do people keep whining about how a bus would’ve been better? It’s built. They’re not going to tear it out. Give it up.

  7. When the grand opening finally occurs on the Capitol Hill end maybe we should have MaMa Tits or a few of the Sisters of Indulgence or both do the christening with pink champagne on a pink street car to start off the festivities up here.