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Seattle City Hall presses pause on Broadway streetcar extension

January marks the one-year anniversary of the First Hill Streetcar

January marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the First Hill Streetcar

broadwaystreetcar_factsheet_090315_optionb-01-306x550The proposed project to extend the First Hill Streetcar beyond Denny on Broadway which would add two stops — one at Harrison and one at Roy — is in limbo.

Support from Broadway businesses is lacking for the current design and the financial plan, and with the neighborhood adjusting to the light rail station and the First Hill Streetcar, the Seattle Department of Transportation has stepped back from the extension with the intention to revisit the plan with stakeholders sometime in 2017.

Unless the plans change, the support SDOT is looking for likely won’t be there.

“If we want to see Broadway thrive … the streetcar is actually the best way to undermine that,” Sierra Hansen, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director told CHS. Initially, the chamber supported the project, but that’s no longer the case.

Since taking on the role of executive director in November 2015, Hansen has spoken to many businesses about the extension and the overwhelming majority oppose it.

The design is about 90% complete, SDOT’s transit mobility director Andrew Glass Hastings said, which also includes extending the separated Broadway bikeway. As the plan is right now, Hansen said the design would negatively impact businesses.

“It would basically gut access to businesses on Broadway,” she said.

The extension plan includes removal of another handful of left turns on Broadway, restricting mobility, Hansen said. She said access for delivery trucks is a particular concern as they are already dealing with difficulties on Broadway and at times park in the bikeway to make a delivery.

“The design is seriously flawed because it limits the access of panel trucks, which are the lifeblood of these businesses,” Hansen said.

Bike advocates would probably also like to see the extension — no matter how few stops it will actually add — be better engineered for bicycle safety.

The First Hill Streetcar opened in January 2016 to little fanfare after long delays to begin service on the new line connecting Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill via First Hill. The 2.5-mile route shares streets with vehicular traffic and, as a result, is subject to slowdowns that also snarl buses and commuters in cars. Unlike the South Lake Union line which average around 2,000 riders per day in recent months, the city does not make regular reports on ridership on the First Hill line available. SDOT’s 2017 budget expects the line to generate only $121,000 in farebox revenue in the coming year, though. You do the math! We’ll update soon on more information about ridership totals.

When it comes to money to pay for more streetcar on the Hill, the $24 million half-mile extension still needs another $10 million which would be raised with a local improvement district and taxing properties within it.

In the case of the Broadway extension, analysts from Valbridge Property Advisors recommended the LID extend two or three blocks on either side of Broadway from Prospect to Boren.

Once the two-stop extension is complete, the study estimates the project would increase overall property values within the boundary by $20,845,000. The study assumes the LID would essentially recoup 50% of that value over 20 years to generate $10.4 million.

How Capitol Hill property owners could pay for half of the Broadway streetcar extension

A LID would require the approval of a certain percentage of property owners and the City Council.

SDOT also has about $14 million in grants for the project which will eventually expire but there’s still enough time to use them even with the pause in the project, SDOT says. “We’re not at risk of losing those funds,” Glass Hastings said.

Without a design change and without full funding, the chamber isn’t in support of the extension. The extension, which is estimated to serve 1,000 people daily, poses a “significant risk” to negatively impact the economy, Hansen said.

“At the end of the day, nobody’s convinced us it makes sense,” Hansen said.

Glass Hastings said there’s isn’t a specific date for when the department will begin to re-engage with businesses and residents about the project. From those discussions, SDOT hopes to find the best way to move forward and meet the needs of the neighborhood.

“It’s not in SDOT’s interest to push a project through that doesn’t have strong support,” Glass Hastings said.

When SDOT decides to re-engage the community in the project, Glass Hastings said the department wants to work with the chamber and the Capitol Hill Community Council to figure out how to analyze how the light rail and streetcar have impacted Broadway.

Until that happens, a construction timeline for the project is still to be determined.

Hansen thinks the city should instead focus on the Center City Connector, which would 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.

Not only does connecting the lines make more sense than extending it, the Broadway extension is “redundant” with light rail, Hansen said.

“We want the city to connect lines and give us time as a neighborhood to settle down after years and years of highly impactful construction,” Hansen said.

Even without more streetcar construction, Broadway is due for even more dump trucks and cranes in the neighborhood. Capitol Hill Station’s development of four seven-story buildings is currently planned to begin construction in spring of 2018.


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46 thoughts on “Seattle City Hall presses pause on Broadway streetcar extension

  1. Quite understandable (and good reporting by the way). I think the proposed new section has a higher density of businesses needing deliveries from the street, compared to the rest of the line on Broadway.

    I would like to see a study of how effective the “removal of left turns” has been on the existing streetcar section of Broadway. Also the removal of right turns on red.

    Experience shows many people will illegally turn their car anyway. Then the protected bike lane suddenly becomes unprotected. This is bad if you are rolling downhill on a bike in the protected bike lane, partially concealed from view by parked cars, and traveling the opposite direction from the traffic lane.

  2. I am a strong transit and bike advocate but I sympathize with the concerns of local businesses. The design of Broadway south of Pine Street is really unfortunate and doesn’t work well for anyone. You have weaving streetcar rails making the street look unsightly and confusing driveways about which lane they need to be in, alternating turn lanes and street parking, too many driveways and loading docks crossing the cycle track, etc.

    I would hope the extension would make for a cleaner and more legible street environment. One way that would be done – and it’s probably too late for this – is to remove all curb parking, but retain a center two-way-left-turn-lane in the middle of the street that a) allows left turns at most places, b) allows for delivery trucks to park short-term, as they do today, c) place the streetcar stations in the middle of the street, which would preserve the precious narrow sidewalk space which is already inadequate.

    • Remove *all* possibility of delivery trucks parking at the curb? Pretty sure they prefer that — hauling stuff across the traffic lanes is more work and risky.

      I think there just isn’t room for all modes there.

  3. Occasionally the City Council actually makes a good decision. If someone really needs to get from the current streetcar terminus to Roy Street, they can walk those few blocks…or if they can’t do that for some reason, there is always the bus.

  4. I am biased because I live on Roy Street… but extending the street car is just good planning. It would better connect north of John and south of John. It would make the streetcar a more viable transportation option for folks traveling from one end of capitol hill to the other. Right now it ends in the middle of Broadway so once you have walked from you end to the middle, you might as well just keep walking further north/south to get to your destination. Also, I think the streetcar road network is more legible than north of John – cars are slowed down, but that is good! Cyclists have a dedicated space. Business delivery would be a problem since there isn’t an alley (I think??) on the block where Blue Moon Burgers and Than Bros is.

  5. The lifeblood of of retail is customers, not panel trucks. It is true that stores do need deliveries, but they take about 5-10 minutes each. Most of the store on North Broadway have no alley or rear entrance for deliveries necessitating front door loading. Judicious truck load spaces could service these deliveries. Pike Place Market has all spaces for truck load prior to 9am, then it is general parking. The market thrives even with these delivery restrictions.
    The key to having a thriving retail area is having lots of foot traffic. Many small businesses serving different needs is more “vibrant” than a few large large grocery stores and banks. Customers are what make a business go, and getting more customers closer to the stores makes for more business. The best retail areas have people out of their cars walking around. Better transit and bike lanes allow more people to access the area without congesting it full of cars.
    The worst kind of street to be on for business is a through route where people are just trying to drive somewhere else.

    • The trouble is that you normally don’t have a ton of control over your delivery time, especially as a small business. You’re only one stop that the driver is making and they are going to drive the most efficient route, which could put them at a broadway business well into the afternoon.

  6. I can’t say I’d ever use the streetcar, but I’d certainly visit these businesses more frequently if they had high quality bike access.

    But from the first phase of what SDOT has already delivered (a faux-protected bike lane without essentials, like signal protection), I see no reason to have faith that this streetcar extension would deliver that, either.

  7. This delay is unfortunate. I realize the First Hill Streetcar has developed quite a bad rep because of poor planning on southern Broadway, but connecting the northern end of the Hill to the rest of the neighborhood via the streetcar (and bike lanes!) would be huge for the neighborhood.

    To me, the arguments against the extension don’t hold up. As long as construction doesn’t restrict pedestrian access to storefronts, one would think businesses wouldn’t take too much of a hit. Additionally, in the long run, transit and bike access will provide more access to the businesses of North Broadway, so it should be a long term win! Additionally, the extension will provide another option for North Broadway/North Hill residents to access the Light Rail station faster than walking (assuming the Street Car extension isn’t mired in the same amount of traffic that it experiences on the rest of the line)

    I agree with Kevin’s comments on restricting early morning and late night parking to allow for business deliveries. There is definitely a way to make this happen without severely impacting local businesses!

    • I would say that the streetcar reduces bike access to businesses. Bike access is provided only on the two-way-bike-lane side of the street. The other side has hazardous tracks and no safe way to get there except crossing at the light and walking from the nearest corner.

      You don’t notice this so much on South Broadway because the West side has mostly institutional uses like Seattle Central and hospitals.

  8. While I agree that the design is flawed, slowing progress on the extension is so infuriating to me. It was foolish to leave the core Broadway business district out of this project to begin with (yes, I know that Sound Transit would only pay as far as the station), but the business owners are being short-sighted. We need to provide transit options that actually serve full neighborhoods, not just part of them. The more transit options we have, the better. I would have preferred to see the streetcar extend to Aloha, or even further, to potentially tie in to Volunteer Park.

  9. Speaking of connecting the north and south parts of the neighborhood: spend the money on restoring #10 service from Pike/Pine via Pine to 15th and John, then Galer on its old route. Who thought disconnecting two commercial centers (Pike/Pine, Pine/Madison) from a third (15th Ave E) on the Hill was a good idea?

    • I’m with you PT, but apparently in the minority; I miss being able to jump on the 10 and get to Pine & Broadway in 5 minutes, especially when it’s raining. I honestly don’t get the rationale for restricting and moving bus service just because the LINK opened up. There are more people moving here all the time, so we should have more bus service, not less. The only time the LINK is relevant to me is when I need to go to the airport. Even if I need to go to the U-district, I’m better off walking down to Broadway and taking the 49. And I’ve yet to use the first hill streetcar, though I probably will next time I need to go to the International District. Honestly, I’d be more inclined to use it if it went down to the north end of Broadway, but all I can think of is how much bus service that money would support.

    • The 10 moved because when Metro decided the 43 was redundant and gutted that route’s hours, they had to find some way to replace its frequent service to Group Health, and connect that service to Link. The 8 alone isn’t enough, and moving the 10 four blocks to the north was an easier fix than massively redesigning all the Capitol Hill routes.

  10. The only way that this line becomes fully usable and worth it’s initial investment is if it actually connects to the heart of the district. Not just the edge of it. I agree with some of the other commenters that it’s easier to just walk once you’re halfway down Broadway. I wish it went all the way down the business district. Then it would actually benefit the entire neighborhood.

    Of course the businesses are against it. They always assume that cars are their primary customers, but that is just not the case. Data has shown that pedestrians and cyclists spend far more money on everyday purchases than do drivers. I still think they should have access, but it’s a truly American idea that you must have car access in the most dense residential neighborhood in the city.

    We have already invested this much in the line. It’s worth a little bit more to get the full value out of it. It’s true that it was flawed to begin with, but I don’t think that makes it worthless. It just needs to fully connect to the neighborhood.

  11. They should still build the bike lanes! The current north end of the lanes is a terrible spot, throwing you back into traffic right before an extremely busy intersection (turning vehicles, high pedestrian traffic, and bus stops).

    Bus service currently does a decent job along N. Broadway, as a resident in the area I wouldn’t be too disappointed if the streetcar doesn’t make it – but will be unhappy if they don’t extend the bike lanes. Biking down Broadway in the current sharrows can be a bit frightening.

  12. The “farebox revenue” figure in the City’s budget is limited to cash fares paid at the ticket vending machines. The City’s agreement with Metro is for Metro to retain the revenues from trips paid with ORCA cards, and deduct those revenues from the operating costs that are charged to the City. It is odd, however, that the City is not reporting ridership on a regular basis.

  13. Will the same philosophy– that poorly designed and integrated transport “guts access to businesses”– be applied to the Madison BRT project?

  14. A couple of points on the business access issue:

    -the design retains parking on both sides of the street; this could be designated as load zones (for panel trucks) till 11 AM each day, then as parking for retail uses that start to pick up around lunch time. The delivery access would actually be improved, not gutted.

    -the design does restrict left turns at Thomas, Harrison, Republican and Mercer, but keeps left turns at John and Roy. The existing left turn volumes Thomas through Mercer are very low, the traffic analysis in the environmental document showed that restricting the turns improves the travel time for most of the traffic, which is through traffic.

    Not sure if anyone cares in our post-fact world, but those are the facts. That said, its is understandable that the property owners do not want to pay an LID for the project, no one likes taxes.

  15. One of the main reasons the Broadway bike lanes haven’t been as successful as everyone would like is that they don’t extend to the core business district along Broadway, which is north of the current end point. I hope the bike lanes at least can be extended even if the street car is not. It would certainly encourage me to patronize these businesses far more often.

  16. I’d like to see the streetcar project killed. Too much money for too little benefit. For those who can’t walk along Broadway, you can take the 49 or 60 or 9 (during the week).
    Property taxes are already way high!!! And about to get way higher with the ST3 approval!!!!!!

    Good statistics on ridership would be helpful–my anecdotal experience is that ridership is pretty low.

    • Metro was going to eliminate the 9 and 60 serving Capitol Hill and First Hill, leaving just the streetcar. There was a lot of backlash, and they never did it. The buses serve people on First Hill better than the streetcar does, and they wouldn’t miss it if it were gone.

  17. I never thought this was a great project, but it is a real bummer to see the city backing off a commitment in Move Seattle. They also have several federal grants for this project – at some point, the city will have to pay the money back if they don’t build the project.

    It looks like the businesses realized that they were the ones expected to pay a fair share. Fancy how their interest eroded after that!

  18. I see the streetcare virtually every weekday morning at Pine and Broadway heading south at about 8:00. Typically there are a handful of people on it. It seems really underused. Sorta like Pronto but way more expensive and instrusive.

    I’m inclined to believe the businesses on Broadway know what’s in their best interest, as opposed to the posters on this board.

    • Most people are riding northbound, from ID/Pioneer Square, to jobs on First Hill or to a lesser extent to Seattle Central, during the morning commute. That is why you are not seeing a lot of riders southbound at Pine. The northbound cars tend to be pretty full.

  19. Take the bus for Christ sake its too costly for such low ridership

    No mention that these plans also called for business and home owners within two or three blocks of Broadway extension would be taxed extra to pay for this boondoggle.

    Sorry folks Im taxed too much already and I know most of my neighbors are against it. If you are a renter guess who your landlord passes the tax increase onto?

    I don’t recall the city taxing the neighborhoods around the first hill expansion extra

    Lets wait a few years and absorb the changes that have already happened Time to take a pause on “development”

  20. All Seattle streetcars have been extremely expensive mistakes. Please, someone explain to me how these are in any way an improvement over buses.

    • By no means does this justify the expense, but it’s *far* easier to roll a bike onto a streetcar, so that’s one clear advantage :-)

    • @JR — Buses can (and have) been designed for level boarding. This not only means that it is easier to roll a bike onto the vehicle, but a wheelchair as well. Streetcars usually have very few seats, as they are optimized for standing capacity. It is easy to do that with a bus. The Madison BRT will have both of these.

      The primary (if not sole) advantage of a streetcar is the same as that of any train: it can carry more people. Unfortunately, Seattle streetcars aren’t any bigger than Seattle (articulated) buses. Other advantages of streetcars include taking advantage of an existing rail line. We don’t have that either.

      Streetcars have several disadvantages, such as the inability to go up hills, inability to avoid short or long term obstacles (cars or construction), inability to easily modify the route, hazard to bikes, and high cost.
      Basically, our streetcars have every disadvantage of all streetcars with none of the advantages.

  21. I find so many of these comments and the attitudes that they express exasperating and infuriating. It used to be prudent to avoid talking religion or politics in open forums. In Seattle can we now add transportation to that list?