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As First Hill Streetcar turns one, Broadway business owners mixed on extension

img_1880When CHS broke the news late last year that the City of Seattle was pressing pause on the planned two-stop extension of the First Hill Streetcar on Broadway and that the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce was supportive of the decision, we heard from a few Broadway business owners disappointed in the news. Next week, the First Hill Streetcar turns one. We’ve talked with a few of the businesses up and down the street and found owners and managers torn over the benefits of more public transit on the street along with better infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycles versus the chaos and cost of constructing the extended line.

“Automobiles and cities are natural enemies,” David Schomer, owner of Espresso Vivace, tells CHS. “When you add transit and take out automobiles, people come out… the city becomes safer.”

broadwaystreetcar_factsheet_090315_optionb-01-306x550-1Schomer said the confusion and navigation are just part of the details of the puzzle that need to be worked out.

“You have to look at cities who’ve done this worldwide… when automobiles come out and transit goes in, the city is more viable,” he said. “My dream for years is to just eliminate traffic.”

Schomer said he knows his views are a bit radical and romantic, but he thinks the extension would be more beneficial than others are giving it credit for.

From a design standpoint, the city has put the brakes on the project just as its plans were mostly baked. The design is about 90% complete, SDOT’s transit mobility director Andrew Glass Hastings told CHS in December, which also includes extending the separated Broadway bikeway.

The extension of the protected bike lane and the changes to Broadway’s traffic layout alone are worthy of eventually completing, the Seattle Bike Blog argues:

As a part of a bold complete streets redesign of the street, the bikeway will come with extended crosswalk bulbs and islands to make getting across Broadway safer and more comfortable. Transit islands also free up sidewalk space for people walking along Broadway by giving people waiting for the bus or streetcar a space to do so.

The extension plan also includes removal of another handful of left turns on Broadway,. Those changes are part of the reason the chamber currently opposed the extension. “It would basically gut access to businesses on Broadway,” executive director Sierra Hansen told CHS last month. 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.

And regardless of support from owners like Schomer, what the chamber thinks is critical to the streetcar extension moving forward. 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. For Broadway the recommended LID would likely extend two or three blocks on either side of Broadway from Prospect to Boren.

Like Schomer, Jennifer Singer, store manager of NYXchange, thinks the streetcar would create a romantic ambiance like that of San Francisco. But, she is concerned about the construction period.

She said Broadway businesses just dealt with the construction of the First Hill Streetcar’s 3.1-mile route and Capitol Hill Station. Now, she is happy the city plans to let things settle before putting businesses through another construction project.

“I’m in favor of the growth of the city, but aren’t we already taking care of it with the light rail? Isn’t it a bit overkill?” She said, “They need to consider the chaos.”

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Jeremy Mills, store manager at Mud Bay, thinks the construction would be hard on business as well. “Short term, I think it would be really difficult.” he said. He is concerned about parking for residents, workers and shoppers, as well as access for delivery drivers trying to deliver inventory to businesses.

“I’ve used the streetcar, and I don’t know how efficient it really is,” Mills said. However, he has seen his business reap the benefits of the Capitol Hill light rail station. “We used to be just a walking store. Now, we get a lot more people from downtown, more tourists, people from International District, Beacon Hill,” he said.

Even a developer with a big stake in having transit nearby for his soon to open office-focused redevelopment of the Harvard Exit is lukewarm on the extension. “Conceptually, I like the idea of more public transit; however, there are some concerns” said Scott Shapiro, the developer behind the project creating offices and restaurant space in the old theater.

Shapiro said he thinks the extension would be helpful for future tenants of his office space, but it would make it increasingly difficult for Broadway customers to find parking, as well as cause more confusion.

“There’s a lot going on with streetcars, bike lanes, cars and pedestrians,” he said.

Wylie Bush, owner of Joe Bar across the street, agreed. He said some areas of the bike lanes are already extremely dangerous and extending the streetcar will only add confusion for drivers and bicyclists trying to make turns. If the roads cannot be easily navigated by all modes of transportation, the extension isn’t going to benefit anyone, he said.

“I’d rather have them put the money towards the subway system, which is magnificent. It creates mobility without interference,” Bush said.

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20 thoughts on “As First Hill Streetcar turns one, Broadway business owners mixed on extension

  1. I would love to see SDOT propose a better and more systematic way for commercial deliveries in retail areas.

    As it stands now, most deliveries that happen in my neighborhood (the southern end of pike/pine) are technically illegal, but accepted in practice:
    – parking in no parking areas
    – parking in the center turn lane

    Because there’s no legally understood way for these to happen, it’s understandable that businesses fear the loss of the slack space they need.

    None of the new buildings have prioritized loading as part of their designs. There’s no alley, no off-street access to businesses.

    There are no “loading zones” reserved for commercial vehicles — the loading zones there are are usually scooped up by people in cars parking to go shop or make a quick stop at a coffee shop.

    So, SDOT – here’s your opportunity. How should it work?

    • Great first comment. I totally agree.

      Lots of loading into bike lanes too- they seem to never be deep enough for delivery trucks and they tend to encroach on the lane.

    • Good point. The problem is the result of having every mode of transportation on a single street not wide enough to accommodate them. I do not understand why the streetcar wasn’t routed down 12th Avenue.

    • Yes it would be great to see Commercial Only loading zones on every block, even if it were only for certain hours. This would need to be combined with a real crack down on parking in Bike lanes, sidewalks, and turn lanes. Truck loading totally abuses the access of other modes because they know there are no consequences, and they feel justified because it is business. Yet they blow a gasket if someone else blocks their access.

  2. Walking is good for your health! C’mon people, it’s not that far from Roy to John/Denny. I see the streetcar as an expensive and unneeded luxury whose costs exceed its benefits.

    If you can’t walk (I’m sympathetic, having spent a few months on crutches), there’s the 49, the 9, and the 60 buses serving the proposed extension route.

  3. Streetcar or no, it would be great to make it safer to bike to the main business core on Broadway from the existing protected bike lane. Would definitely encourage me to visit more often.

  4. No numbers here on how many bikers use the separated lane. From what I can see, not very many. I thought SDOT conceded it was designed badly and had not accomplished the goal.

    Putting the lane behind parked cars makes it difficult for car drivers and bicyclists to see each other, especially when cars ar turning right. Passengers exiting cars on the right can also present a danger to riders.

    If, however, the city eliminates parking on one side of the street, that may impact businesses, which at the same time would be paying taxes for the “improvement”. Where are the numbers to see how this would work out?

    If you’re against cars, regardless of technological improvements like electric vehicles, ride sharing systems and safer self-driving technologies, it makes sense however to make driving less convenient, which seems to be the main advantage of the streetcar over buses, which cost about 1/8 as much for equivalent functionality. Bike lanes carry a very small fraction of car/bus traffic, so there’s a big trade-off there as well.

    • Not totally fair to look at current bikeway numbers — it’s an early stage in a network. Once it connects to downtown and, later, the new Portage Bay bridge and U District, it will get good use. I don’t use it now but will once it connects to something.

    • The current state of that protected bike lane makes it nearly useless going north, as you are quickly spit out into traffic on a busy street and next to parked cars with constant doors being opened. It’s much better in the southern portions, but there’s not much in that direction that I want to go to so I end up not using it at all.

    • @ Joe …..Broadway bike lane advocates have been saying for several years now that eventually there will be more use. That doesn’t seem to be happening. There might be a slight uptick when it is more connected to other routes, but I’m skeptical that will make much of a difference. There are other reasons why the lane is little used.

    • I won’t use it because I know that a dual way bike lane that travels against traffic is a really bad idea…. I am no fan of bike lanes in the first place, but that one is simply dangerous. Sure they put up “no turn on red” signs and lights, but have you ever seen how many people totally ignore those signs – tons. Even the Dutch have had to concede that any bike lane that travels against traffic is a very bad design.

  5. I used to live on Capitol Hill and now live in the Central District. The streetcar is a real boon for me, and I use it several times a week to get to the Hill to shop. There’s always a healthy amount of people on the streetcar, which is pretty impressive when you think about how frequently it runs.

    The extent of the streetcar line does influence the extent of my shopping. Yes, sometimes I will simply walk further north, but if it’s raining hard, or if I just bought a bunch of heavy groceries at the Pike/Broadway QFC, or if I’m just feeling lazy, then I will look for food / shopping near the streetcar station, because why not?

    Construction will take a toll on businesses in the short term, but IMO they will benefit in the long-term from “why not?” customers. “I’m already here, so why not buy a coffee at that place?” “I heard there’s a record / game shop further down Broadway so why not stay on the street car for one more stop?” “Why not grab dinner at Wedgwood Thai–I’m here anyway.” Basically what the Mud Bay manager described. More access means more customers, and the streetcar offers more access than having two or three parking spaces in front of a store.

  6. You know what irritates me about the Street Car on the hill. It meanders the streets to chinatown with the most unproductive route possible. It so irritating to ride it and it takes forever meandering back and forth across the sections of the hill. Good street car design just goes down one road for a long distance to the designation with the least amount of turns possible.

  7. What is with people an street cars?Street cars run on tracks not the roads.If their is an accident in front of a street car,it can only go one way,backwards or it sits there unti the accident scene is cleared.Electric buses run on electricity and diesel.The bus could go around the accident.Street cars bad idea.

    • Lol – I was on one of the electric buses when a driver unaccustomed to the route went straight instead of turning… Believe me that bus was going nowhere until it was pulled back onto the wires. They have a little leeway – they can change lanes, unlike a street car that is stuck on the tracks, but unless they are especially equipped with an engine or battery power as well as an electric motor, which I’m not sure any of the current trolley buses are, they cannot stray from their overhead wires.

  8. If you spend any amount of time on broadway between harison and roy you will see many trucks making deliveries from the center turn lane at all times of day. This stretch of broadway has no alley access, and eliminating the center lane would require elimination of significant parking to allow for truck loading and unloading for the businesses. I’ve got no personal problem with eliminating parking there, but I am sure most business owners would prefer that customers could find parking in the area.

    The streetcar was poorly executed and extending it is throwing good money after bad. Especially the absolutely absurd roy street terminus that SDOT came up with. You couldn’t pick a worse spot to end the street car. The plan should have ended it on the block between mercer and roy with the single track turn around there, not only shortening consutrction, but also leaving a challenging 4.5 way intersection at roy, roy 10th 10th and broadway out of the picture (not to mention the gas station driveway curb cuts and 700 broadway building garage curb cut.

    But even with a mercer-roy terminus on broadway, there is no way ridership numbers justify an extension when the stretch is served by the 9, 60, and 49 bus routes currently.

    From a rider behavior perspective, businesses would probably get LESS foot traffic not more because people would stay on the street car and ride right past businesses they might otherwise opportunistically stop into. Additionally, light rail riders emerging from the station would be more likely to transfer to a waiting street car, again bypassing all the businesses along broadway that currently they may walk by as they walk to their homes or other destinations north of the lightrail station.

  9. Have you ridden that thing? Good god. You could be drug by sloth faster.

    A street car that merely shares a lane with cars and has to stop at the same traffic lights as cars is next to useless and extending it two blocks won’t help these critical design flaws. Compared to light rail it’s a dumb vanity project with no serious niche and far too many draw backs.

  10. So… I don’t have a problem with extending the bikeway… but the train tracks are a death trap.

    The existing train tracks have already killed a bicyclist, permanently disabled a scooterist, and caused many broken bones on bikes, scooters, and motorcycles. They’re a danger to all two wheeled traffic (and anyone who’s in front of them when they can’t stop.)

    Extending them would just make the matter worse and put more lives at risk.

  11. if they want to do more streetcars, they should do them separated from traffic like the new first ave streetcar is planned to be.

    If they can’t do that on broadway, how about about a Belltown streetcar along first avenue instead? Bell town is as dense as Capitol Hill, but had no light rail station.

    Or instead of running up broadway, make a short tunnel under I-5 and add a direct connection to south lake union from Capitol Hill.

    Feels like they should go back to the drawing board rather than plodding along