The First Hill neighborhood already has a history of being let down by the region’s plans for light rail. Now, community leaders are calling for the neighborhood’s residents, workers, and businesses to speak up as the Sound Transit board is considering an important change that could once again leave the neighborhood disconnected from the growing light rail network around Seattle.
The First Hill Improvement Association is calling for people to email and testify before the board Thursday as it takes up a future alignment proposal that would eliminate the Midtown Station, a facility planned near 4th and Madison that would serve as a relatively nearby access point for the transit service from First Hill as Sound Transit prepares its plans to expand lines to Ballard in the north and to West Seattle.
“Back in 2016, regional voters approved Sound Transit 3 – which included a Midtown Station in downtown Seattle. Sounds Transit estimates show this will be the third-highest ridership station in the entire system – with 15,500 people estimated to ride it to and from our neighborhood every day,” the FHIA writes. “First Hill residents and workers are waiting for and counting on the transit access the Midtown Station will bring to our community.”
The FHIA says the elimination of Midtown Station would slice a key connection with First Hill as the RapidRide G bus route is completed on Madison.
There are also longtime transit wounds to heal in the process. First Hill was originally lined up for a station of its own in 1996 with the start of light rail planning in Seattle. According to the Seattle Times in 2005, Sound Transit staff told the board that a deep-underground First Hill Station posed potentially expensive construction and schedule risks and would hurt the light-rail line’s prospects for badly needed federal grants.
In lieu, Sound Transit paid for the 2.5-mile, ten station First Hill Streetcar route which cost approximately $134 million and still has city planners scratching their heads trying to find a way to speed up the service.
At one point, First Hill advocates hoped the Midtown Station component of the planned Ballard and West Seattle expansion would be sited closer to the core of the neighborhood but planners ultimately chose the location closer to downtown.
Now there is the prospect of losing the station altogether.
“Most of First Hill is within walking distance to the Midtown Station,” the FHIA writes. “We were supposed to have light rail years ago, we can’t double-down on cutting our dense residential and employment neighborhood to reach connections.”
The FHIA has sent a bulletin to the community asking for support:
- Email the Sound Transit Board at [email protected]
org and tell them that removing the Midtown Station is not what we, the voters, approved.
- Testify to the Sound Transit Board on Thursday, February 23rd at 12pm (sign up here by 11:50am)
- Forward this email to your neighbors! We need to build awareness of this short-sighted proposal.
New expansion, meanwhile, is coming to the system. The East Link extension connecting Seattle to the Eastside with a station at Judkins Park is expected to come online in the winter of 2024.
And the larger third wave of Seattle-area light rail that could span a total of 11.8 miles and add 10 new and four expanded stations is coming. West Seattle Alaska-Junction service could begin by 2032 with a Ballard route converging downtown sometime before 2040.
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The Midtown station should be replaced by a First Hill station. Imagine a new line, from Ballard to Westlake, then a new station at Madison & Boren. It can end there for now. The new line can have automated trains, like the ones they are building in Toronto, Copenhagen, and have run for years in Vancouver. This allows for better frequency and smaller trains. Smaller trains means smaller stations, which are much cheaper and better. That would be a huge savings, and result in a system that is significantly better (for everyone).
Eventually the line to First Hill could keep going to Yesler Terrace and beyond. It would eventually cross paths with East Link and end at Mount Baker (if not travel under Rainier Avenue, to better connect to neighborhoods in Rainier Valley).
This makes way more sense than what we are planning to build.
They’re already doing Ballard to West Seattle link expansions, you could connect easily to Westlake via the current streetcar line.
How do you “connect easily to Westlake via current street car line” from First Hill? What you said made zero sense (just like your username which also makes zero sense).
I agree. “Relatively close” to 1st hill doesn’t cut it (and I’d argue 4th isn’t that close). With all the hospitals bringing in tens of thousands of people every day to their place of employment and for doctors appointments, it makes sense to have a stop ACTUALLY in First Hill.
4th and Madison is not that close to First Hill. At least those who are at like James and Boren. And plus there are the hills to consider which not all can walk. I have done light rail to and from SeaTac using the street car to get to the international station and it worked great but not always an option for all. Seattle is so behind on Transit it’s a shame they took so long to get to where we are now and will be in like 2050.
I still contend that Sound Transit should build Hong Kong-style outdoor, covered escalators from Pioneer Square station and this new Midtown Station up to the top of First Hill