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City rolling out delayed changes on Broadway to speed up streetcar

Fuchsia Streetcar

Bowing to local business pressure — and what it predicts will be a radically transformed transportation corridor thanks to the  $120 million, 2.3-mile Madison Bus Rapid Transit project — the Seattle Department of Transportation has updated its long-delayed plans for improvements to the First Hill Streetcar following pushback business owners and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. Despite complaints about the elimination of left-turns and the addition of red paint for a transit-only lane, SDOT still plans to alter traffic signals and implement a transit-only lane — eventually.

“Complex intersections where other vehicles might be making a left turn or otherwise blocking the intersection slows down the streetcar,” SDOT representative Ethan Bergerson said.

Last year, CHS reported on SDOT’s plans for potential changes to the First Hill Streetcar route to make the streets more efficient for the rail transit and, hopefully, boost ridership. But Capitol Hill businesses — led by the now-disolved Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce — and the mayor’s office pushed back on the proposals and the project has been stuck in neutral since.

SDOT officials say the department has since made changes to traffic signals and turns on Yesler in an effort to speed up that section of the First Hill Streetcar. Adjustments included restricting left turning vehicles from east and westbound directions during peak afternoon traffic times at Yesler and Boren, restricting left turning vehicles at Yesler and 12th, and synchronizing traffic signals at Yester and 14th.

Officials say SDOT now plans to make similar adjustments to the Broadway section of the streetcar, implementing changes as soon as this fall. 

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Officials say they will also modify the traffic signal at the intersection with James to prevent streetcar delays. SDOT plans to restrict left-turns from northbound and eastbound directions at the Broadway to Harvard intersection, as cars turning left at the Harvard Ave intersection were also delaying the streetcar.

But the more controversial plan to add a streetcar-only lane between Pine and Madison intersections on Broadway have been put on hold, SDOT officials say, until the new Madison Rapid Bus Transit project has been completed and RapidRide G begins service in the summer of 2022.

“We looked at putting in the transit only lane right now, and we found it wouldn’t have the same kind of benefit it would have after the BRT improved Madison,” Bergerson tells CHS. “There is a larger opportunity to significant improvements in streetcar performance if we install transit-only lanes after BRT is installed on Madison.”

Altogether, the Broadway optimizations would cost around $50,000 to $75,000 to implement, SDOT has said.

The First Hill Streetcar opened in January 2016 after long delays and years of construction 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. The line was projected to serve more than 1.2 million riders in 2016, but only 840,000 passengers were tallied by SDOT’s estimates. About 3,500 riders were riding the streetcar daily last year, according to SDOT.

Sound Transit footed the bill for the $132 million First Hill route’s construction and has been on the hook for beginning operation costs of around $5 million per year as part of mitigation for the authority’s decision to not build a light rail station serving the First Hill neighborhood. The streetcar is managed by SDOT but operated by King County Metro.

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20 thoughts on “City rolling out delayed changes on Broadway to speed up streetcar

    • YES!!! So are left turns from Broadway to Pine. I see it all the time…vehicles turning where it says NO Turns except Streetcar/Transit or the illegal passing along Broadway & Yesler (double yellow line). Enforcement will be needed to make this work, otherwise people just continue to do what they want to do.

  1. Just wondering – do transit riders and neighborhood residents have a voice at all in these kinds of decisions? Based on the article, it doesn’t sound like they do.

  2. Oh brother. Anymore money spent on that stupid streetcar is a travesty. We just drove down Broadway this morning, it is a nightmare. The trolley sign said there was one coming in 14 minutes and the one that passed us was completely empty. It is not being used, it is being highly subsidized, we are being ripped off, and it was a useless vanity project for the city.

    • You may want to gather your data based on more than one observation. I can tell you that the Streetcars are being used to capacity. If you were to be at the 5th and Jackson platform riding to Capitol Hill (Friday’s are generally light traffic days traditionally) on most trips in the morning to the hospitals, the Streetcars are packed. Same with the afternoon commute. Or maybe try riding a Streetcar to or from Occidental when there’s a Seahawks game or Sounder’s match, or a concert at the stadiums.
      Seriously, I’m out there 10-12hrs operating the Streetcar and yes, there are times we are not full, but we are still getting the people where they want to go.

      • I don’t use it because it’s so slow one walking briskly could just about get there faster. And getting behind the danged thing in a car is misery. Sllllloooooooooooow.

    • I see it used all the time (and I use often as well). I will grant you that it’s not often packed (the most usage I have seen is rainy afternoons as people are leaving work from Pioneer Sq./Int’l District) but that could change if they can speed up the trips.

      • Have you ever seen fare enforcement on the First Hill street car? I have not. I see it regularly on the light rail. Street car seems to be free.

    • It certainly is used. I ride it daily and it is generally full, especially during commute times. Living close to the line has been a transformation. It is something that is useful. People who ride it regularly seem to typically like it.

  3. Someone should make a streetcar that isn’t on fixed rails and maybe attach a layer of rubber around the wheels. Maybe we can call it a bus or something and give it steering so it can navigate around turning or stationary objects and reroute during collisions. Wild idea I know.

  4. I understand Rapid Bus from Ballard and West Seattle to downtown, of course there are several alternate routes available for cars and bikes alike, But the Madison project is a waste of money . To reduce the only major thoroughfare from Elliot Bay to Lake Washington is going to back up commercial and personal traffic all day. All madison ever needed was to eliminate all parking on that street and but left turn signals at 12th and Madison. I have ridden both the #12 and the #11 from my home. the # 12 is rarely full, whereas the #11 has a near capacity at many times of the day. But the Madison Rapid line is from Elliot Bay to MLK and a very limited number of stops and it switches back and forth from the curb lane to the center lane and ….what the heck just close Madison to all traffic and let the near empty bus run back and forth to nowhere.

    • The Madison one will be fantastic for those living or working east of 15th. Right now I can walk the 26 blocks (mostly uphill) to work faster than taking 1 bus that winds away from downtown and on to the hill, then transferring to a 2nd bus at Westlake, having made a near circle by the time I finally get to work in the south(ish) part of downtown. The Madison line will provide direct service straight down Madison so getting to courts, the library, etc. I will give up driving in to downtown when the Madison line finally happens and so will many of my neighbors. Madison Valley and the surrounding neighborhoods are woefully underserved by metro.

  5. are not Broadway and Harvard Avenue parallel; they have an intersection?

    Does the Madison RR still have a cost estimate of $120 million? they dropped the electric trolley bus overhead; that must have reduced the total cost.

    on Yesler Way, east to north left turns are already banned in the p.m. peak.

    it would not be a streetcar only lane; routes 9 and 60 are also on Broadway.

  6. Ridership on the streetcar is well past 4,000 per week day now. It keeps growing. Any new system needs time. Mass public transit is the future. Anything to improve it is a great investment.

  7. Solution: get ride of the Streetcar completely. There are better options of getting around and people hardly ever ride it.

  8. I ride the streetcar at least twice a day. I live near the 14th and Washington stop. I use it to get to Capitol Hill easily and reliably (15 min trip) for groceries/bars, and I use it in the morning to get to the ID light rail station to get to work. Commuting home after work I’ll take the light rail to the ID and then the street car to 12th and Jackson. Any improvements to it will are welcomed by me. I don’t think the street car is of much benefit to those already living on Capitol Hill (there are better alternatives). However, it’s a great benefit to those living near the middle of the route.