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First Hill Streetcar begins service with free rides — UPDATE


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 it's official!

The streetcar is on… 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


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18 thoughts on “First Hill Streetcar begins service with free rides — UPDATE

  1. So this new streetcar is a Sound Transit thing, right? Their website does not say how long the streetcar will be running on its “soft opening”. 11am Saturday until when? A free ride to Dinner in the I.D. sounds great, but don’t wanna get stranded there with the fam.

  2. Oops. This is SDOT. Looked at their website, no mention of what hours this will run after its 11:00am ‘soft opening’ Saturday. Anybody know?

    • From:

      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.

      • Hurrah! Options for those who cannot or do not drive. Public transit like in Europe.
        Bravo to SDOT! Another option for the elderly. Thank you.

  3. This route makes no sense at all. For much of its route it replicates that of the 60, without passing some of the bigger traffic generators (Virginia Mason, Harborview and surrounding offices). In a couple of months, once the Capitol Hill station opens, it will be much quicker to take light rail to Pioneer Square, ID, or the stadiums. And why would tourists ride it? To get to Dicks?

    • It’s a little late to be scrutinizing the plan. Everything’s in place and there won’t be any changes now. There was talk about eliminating the north stretch of the #60, but this is just too important and there was a lot of opposition to the idea.

    • I wonder what the transit time on light rail will be from Capitol Hill Station to the ID? Presumably much less than the minimum of 25 minutes on the streetcar… many people will take light rail, draining ridership away from the streetcar.

      On the other hand, the streetcar will obviously work better for those who get on/off at interim stops between the two endpoints.

    • also – the 60 is one of the worst bus routes I’ve ever experienced. Always 10 minutes late or more, and it’s incredibly slow.

  4. I believe the original point of this line was to connect hospital workers riding the Sounder train to the hospitals since they couldn’t make the first hill light rail station work. And I think the street car will end up doing this very well. All of the other uses are really just icing on the cake. Is it perfect? No. But the only way we could’ve had perfection is if the residents in the sixties had built a decent system then. As it stands now we are forced into a sort of hodge podge. It’s imperfect. But it works and it’s getting better.

    • You are spot-on. This is another option for octogenarians who carry groceries and who don’t drive. Cataracts and mobility issues aside, this isn’t just about the youth of Capitol Hill. This is about the future of everyone needing access to King Street and P Square. Don’t just think of dim sum. This is a much broader gesture. Hurrah to SDOT. Thank you. The more options, the better!

  5. Was tempted to call it the Dim Sum Express, imagining a bunch of Capitol Hill hipsters headed to the ID for brunch. But as slow as it is, it’s definitely the Dim Sum Local.

    • Think of your elders. You may lose you sight, coordination, strength and vitality. Is it really just about Dim Sum? Cars are a liability as one ages. We should be grateful for public transit options. Everybody ages, like it or not.

  6. It took 13 minutes on saturday to get from the 14th and yesler stop to pike/pine. Not blazingly fast, but within the range of acceptable. Love that there’s a new option!

  7. I applaud that’s it’s finally up and running but how about connecting the other end to a residential center such as 23rd and Jackson? I could see it actually being much more useful by extending it those 8 blocks.

  8. Stopping at 8pm on Sunday seems really early, especially for a line that runs past many hospitals. Does anybody know if there’s been consideration to extend the Sunday hours?

  9. This streetcar almost caused me to be struck by cars twice during the training runs alone. Near Swedish, while it is in the far right lane, cars taking their free rights around it shoot into the intersection before they can see the pedestrians now in front of the streetcar.

    Part of this current design is inherently dangerous, especially for one’s elders.