75 years later, streetcars return to Capitol Hill

IMG_0313 conup_map1There were no ribbons to cut or long speeches when the First Hill Streetcar shoved off from Pioneer Square for its inaugural passenger journey to Capitol Hill Saturday, but the rain-soaked launch delivered where it counts: regular service started without any major hiccups. Demand on the sunny Sunday that followed was large enough that officials pressed an extra car into service to deal with the crunch.

It’s been a long time coming. September 1, 1940 was the last day that streetcars carried passengers on Broadway and down Harvard Avenue.

Speaking inside a crammed train car at the Occidental Square stop Saturday, Mayor Ed Murray distanced himself from the FHSC project’s many delays but said he was excited to take part in the first trip to his home neighborhood on Capitol Hill.

The opening is the first in a series of massive transportation projects opening in 2016 around Capitol Hill including an April debut of the new 520 floating bridge and the March opening of light rail and the Capitol Hill Station facility which is expected to serve more than 10,000 riders a day at Broadway and Denny.

Across the street from the soon to open light rail station, Saturday’s start of service (CHS Coverage!) for the First Hill Streetcar marked a decade of work to get the line operational. In January 2006, the Sound Transit board authorized staff to begin planning for a possible new streetcar line after it had taken a First Hill light rail stop off the table because of the risk and expense it determined would be involved in creating the station.

Driver Tom did the honors Saturday for the first departure from Broadway and Denny

Driver Tom did the honors Saturday for the first departure from Broadway and Denny

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The District 3 case for Prop 1, the Move Seattle levy

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 10.12.21 PMAt nearly a billion dollars over its lifetime, Proposition 1, or Move Seattle, a $930 million dollar dollar property tax levy spanning nine years to fund transportation infrastructure throughout Seattle, dwarfs any other transportation investment Seattle has seen before. So, what’s in it for Capitol Hill and District 3?

Move Seattle will pick up where its predecessor — the $365 million dollar Bridging the Gap transportation levy which is set to expire this year — leaves off. Since its enactment nine years ago, Bridging the Gap has funded nearly twenty-five percent of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s budget. Those levy funds were spent conducting basic transit infrastructure maintenance like repaving streets and replacing street signs, as well as beginning investments in infrastructure for alternate transportation modes such as Broadway’s current protected bike lane. SDOT has a handy map of successful projects financed by Bridging the Gap.

Move Seattle continues this basic maintenance work, with an extra emphasis on accommodating growth and reducing congestion by accommodating all modes of transportation on Seattle’s streets.

“We are growing pretty quickly,” says Shefali Ranganathan, a Capitol Hill resident and deputy director at Transportation Choices Coalition, a non-profit transit advocacy organization that is backing Move Seattle. Everyone knows Ranganathan’s not exaggerating. After adding 14,000 people in 2014 alone (and 100,000 over the last twenty years), Seattle is expected to add 120,000 new residents in the next twenty years. And with that has come increased traffic. Earlier this year Seattle was ranked as the 5th most congested city in the U.S.

“We don’t have room on the streets any more to accommodate [more] cars. We have to give people workable options to get around,” said Ranganathan. Continue reading

Seattle moves to limit sidewalk closures around construction

255/365 - Get Coffee Before Crossing the Street

“Sidewalk closed” signs are ubiquitous in boom-era Capitol Hill. A proposed rule change by the Seattle Department of Transportation would limit those sidewalk closures by making construction crews prove that closing a sidewalk is the absolute last resort to getting its work done.

UPDATE 10/26/2015: SDOT says the deadline to comment on the proposed rules is coming up:

You may comment on DR 10-2015 (it’s official gov name) up through October 29, 2015, by sending an email to leanne.nelson@seattle.gov, or calling 206-684-3897.

If a sidewalk closure is needed, the new rules would require developers to put up a temporary walkway lined with water-filled barriers instead of the common orange tube “candlesticks.”

“This new rule means fewer people walking into traffic or zigzagging across intersections on their way home,” said Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen, chair of the transportation committee.

As the Seattle Bike Blog notes, the new rules do not specifically outline how to manage bike lane closures. The rules do give SDOT the right to evaluate bike traffic impacts, but they don’t go as far as mandating and specifying temporary bike lanes in construction zones.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Murray is working on the Vision Zero plan to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the city by 2030. Part of that plan will include creating more pedestrian friendly corridors.

You can read SDOT’s proposed rule change here.

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Bus Stop | September upgrades and the 15-minute goal for Capitol Hill

10 bus on 15th Ave E

The 10 saw added service in June. This week, almost all other bus routes follow.

This week, the second phase of increased bus service in Seattle begins, funded through Prop 1 after it was approved by voters last November. In June, Seattle transit riders saw the groundwork laid for a large increase in service, but it is this week that we are seeing the majority of added trips on bus routes around town.

In Capitol Hill, this increase might very well be the most important move that King County Metro (thanks almost entirely to Seattle voters) will be making in the lead up to the commencement of light rail service between downtown Seattle and the University of Washington early next year. With only one light rail station serving the entirety of Capitol Hill, frequent bus service to areas not directly served by light rail will be paramount to ensuring as many Hill residents are able to use the frequent, dedicated service as possible. Continue reading

What’s holding up the First Hill Streetcar

"Test train." (Image: SDOT)

“Test train.” (Image: SDOT)

Testing. Specifically, a longer-than-expected fine tuning and integration of the various First Hill Streetcar systems in order to have all six cars pass the final tests needed to start taking passengers. The most recent setbacks were highlighted last week by Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly.

Adjusting and testing the streetcar software to ensure an optimal blending of the two braking systems is one of the latest issues getting attention, according to SDOT’s Ethan Melone. The problem is jerking decelerations and stops that occur as a result of the dynamic brakes, which generate electricity back into the system, and friction brakes not working in harmony.

Unlike the streetcar’s propulsion system (which also caused delays), the dual braking system is not new. Melone said the longer-than-expected testing has been a surprise to both SDOT and to Inekon.

“It’s not really a new hold up. It’s just been this process of getting all the vehicles tested.”

Several component manufacturers are now in Seattle working with Inekon, the lead manufacturer, and Pacifica Marine to iron out the kinks, Melone tells CHS.

SDOT is also waiting for two streetcars to complete the “acceptance testing” phase. That requires up to two weeks of preparation and one to two days of track testing, Melone said. Once that’s finished, the cars will still have to go through another round of testing that will require running the 2.5-mile Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square route multiple times (around 300 miles) during normal operating hours.

“It’s not really a new hold up,” Melone said. “It’s just been this process of getting all the vehicles tested.” Continue reading

City Council advances $930 million Move Seattle levy with only minor tweaks

LevyMapFINAL-400x518-400x518Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $930 million transportation levy made it through the City Council gauntlet relatively unscathed Tuesday. While council members added a handful of amendments to the Move Seattle plan (PDF), an amendment to slice the proposed levy by a third and replace it by other funding mechanisms failed to pass.

Council committee members unanimously advanced the bill to a full council vote on June 29th, teeing it up to appear on this year’s ballot. “A unanimous vote by the Council in committee sends a great signal to Seattle residents,” Murray said in a statement.

Murray rolled out his Move Seattle plan during a Capitol Hill event in March, calling for a roster of transportation projects to make Seattle’s streets safer and more efficient by 2024 and a property tax levy to pay for it. Continue reading

Council’s Licata proposes adding parking tax, development fees to property tax levy for $930 million transportation plan

LevyMapFINAL-400x518A new proposal would allow Seattle to build a $930 million war chest to fund transportation projects across the city but would pay for more than a third of the total with a mix of an increased commercial parking tax, an employee tax, transportation-related fees on developments, and a smaller, $600 million property tax levy.

The proposal from City Council member Nick Licata was released Tuesday in advance of a public hearing on Mayor Ed Murray’s Move Seattle Levy, a proposed $930 million in transportation funding planned to be powered fully by property taxes.

Licata said his new plan should reduce the burden on “those on fixed and low incomes” and, he said, give the transportation levy its best shot at being approved by voters this fall.

“I believe we need to consider the size of the levy, and examine alternative funding sources, in an effort to reach the $930 million goal,” Licata said about the new proposal. “We should also consider the risk that a large levy might be less likely to pass, and consider the potential consequences.”

The Urbanist blog looked at how the two proposals would stack up:

Today’s median housing price is $450,000, which would translate to a 2016 tax bill for the average homeowner of $176 under Licata’s levy plan versus $277 under the Mayor’s. Homeowners of median valued units will pay $136 in the current year for the soon-to-expire Bridging the Gap levy.

In a statement, the Downtown Business Association called Licata’s plan “the wrong message to send to employers that are looking to create jobs in Seattle and those that are already here,” KING TV reported.

Mayor lays out 10-year plan for Seattle transportation including Broadway streetcar extension, Madison BRT

“We’re redesigning streets like Broadway to provide many low-cost travel choices," Mayor Murray's plan promises

“We’re redesigning streets like Broadway to provide many low-cost travel choices,” Mayor Murray’s plan promises

"The list of new technologies impacting transportation expands every day"

“The list of new technologies impacting transportation expands every day”

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.09.21 PMTeeing up a ballot measure this fall to help pay for it all, Mayor Ed Murray rolled out his Move Seattle plan Monday including an “A to X” (come on city planners, you couldn’t think of two more initiatives!) roster of transportation projects being planned to make Seattle’s streets safer and more efficient by 2024. The plan includes projects with a combined budget of $835 million.

Longterm goals include a roster of safety initiatives and the target of providing “72% of Seattle residents with 10-minute all-day transit service within a 10-minute walk of their homes.” Continue reading

Barefoot Ted’s laptop vehicle revolution starts on Capitol Hill


(Image: Jacob Olson for CHS)

It is an electric-powered vehicle that is compact and innocuous enough to be allowed as a commercial flight carry-on, like a laptop. It is “green” and it is suitable and legal to ride on pedestrian walkways. You may have seen one spinning around Capitol Hill.

“The Segway was supposed to be what this is,” says Capitol Hill’s Ted McDonald — better known as Barefoot Ted — of his sweet ride.

Much of his life’s work and play has been particularly marked by themes of back-to-basics, human-powered transportation, but McDonald is now pushing things in a slightly different direction.

The early enthusiast of barefoot running was featured in the 2011 book “Born to Run” and is owner of 19th and Prospect-headquartered Luna Sandals. He founded the company in 2010 and is listed as “Spokesmonkey” on its website. In his newest venture, rather than stripping away more recent advancements in athletic footwear, McDonald is helping promote some current reinventions of the wheel, positioning himself as one of the world’s leading spokespeople for a recently-developed iteration of personal transportation technology. McDonald says he thinks the emergent class of vehicles could significantly reduce many Seattleites’ reliance on cars, buses and bicycles, while also improving the quality of their commute, changing the equation and concerns in the city. Moreover, McDonald thinks the technology, like major advancements of the past, could bring major changes to life across much of the world.

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Council finalizes plan to build Capitol Hill Station development to 85 feet in exchange for affordable housing

8544081730_0eabcefa7bThe Seattle City Council Monday afternoon approved legislation laying out a development agreement between Sound Transit and the City of Seattle for the land surrounding the under-construction Capitol Hill light rail station that will allow developers to build to 85 feet along Broadway in exchange for meeting affordable housing requirements.

The approval marks the fruition of a multi-year process lead by the city and a Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce-Capitol Hill Community Council joint venture to forge a consensus for how best to frame requirements for developing the 19 properties Sound Transit purchased along Broadway to construct Capitol Hill Station.

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