When 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.”
“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.”
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.