This week the city council approved the conceptual expansion of streetcars to new parts of the city. But the trick is that those plans are largely just wishes, seeing as there’s no funding tied to most of the new lines. But it’s a different story with the “First Hill” line: it has $120 million in capital funding and long-term operational funding from the Sound Transit proposition we approved in the November election.
As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the original route for the line was to run between the International District and Capitol Hill via Broadway. But that’s not the first choice of the friendly folks on First Hill. They’ve been angling to get the route changed to run further west, going up Boren as far as Madison before turning back east toward Broadway and the hill. In fact, they’ve been writing letters to the city council to try and get promises that the streetcar will serve that part of their neighborhood, and Jan Drago appears to be on board with their request.
Here’s the three main options for the route:
Via Broadway: (shown in red on the map) This is the default route and the one that drove the $120 million budget from Sound Transit. On the plus side, this is the most direct route and thus probably the cheapest and will likely have the fastest travel time from end to end. It also directly serves Swedish Hospital which is a major employer. The downside is that streetcars aim to serve neighborhood “main streets”, with a mix of retail, residential, and businesses. Broadway south of Madison will likely never fit that description since it’s so institutional and has a steep grade on the south end that makes such developments impractical. Additionally, Broadway already has transit in the form of the #9 bus that could pose some duplication and conflicts with a streetcar.
Via Boren: (shown in yellow on the map) The route favored by First Hill folks since it would cover more of their neighborhood. But it will be about 1,000 feet longer and thus more expensive, possibly more expensive than the budget allows. And similar to Broadway, Boren is not envisioned to ever take on the “main street” sort of development. Such a route also takes the line away from Seattle U, which would be a big source of ridership.
Via 12th: (shown in green on the map)Unlike the other options, 12th Ave is developing into a diverse mix of retail, residences, education, and employment centers. It also has a nice wide right-of-way and doesn’t have nearly as steep of a grade to climb as Broadway or Boren. And perhaps most importantly, it currently lacks any sort of transit options, even though the people in the area have asked for transit service for a long time.
A line on Broadway would be a little bit useful for residents of the Central District. People on the far west side of the neighborhood could walk uphill a few blocks and get a connection. A line on Boren would be totally out of reach for us. But a route on 12th could serve a lot of people in the CD, students at Seattle U, workers at Swedish, and residents on the east side of First Hill. And it would provide a long-needed connection between the CD and Capitol Hill.
I’m sure our friends on First Hill will make the point that the route is intended to replace the “First Hill” light rail station that was nixed due to cost. But in some ways that’s really an accident of conceptual naming, seeing as the light rail stop was going to be on the east edge of their neighborhood at Broadway & Madison. The station could have easily have been called the “Seattle U” station and thus change the entire discussion.
Bottom line: other neighborhoods are organized and working with the city to get new transit service to their neighborhood. If we don’t speak up and get on the list, we could be left out for a generation. Maybe it’s time to write some letters of our own.