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Seattle - April 2012

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April 2012

First Hill Streetcar Construction to Start

The Seattle Times reported in early April that construction is expected to begin on the $134 million line this month followed by public operation in early 2014. The line was conceived to replace a planned underground light rail in the neighborhood when geologic studies concluded that it would too costly and dangerous to dig the needed deep shaft among the high rise buildings in the area.

Voters approved using a small part of the $18 billion Sound Transit 2 plan funded by increased sales tax. The streetcar will share traffic lanes with other road traffic and over a one-mile stretch of the route special bike lanes will be constructed.

According to backers, benefits from construction of the line include:

  • Inspire economic development along the route
  • Serve planned new housing units proposed for Yesler Terrace
  • Encourage more people to travel by bicycle along the mile-long "cycle track" lane
  • Create a streetcar building capability locally as Pacifica Marine of South Seattle assembles six Czech designed cars similar to those used on the South Lake Union line
  • Pioneer a technology not yet used elsewhere in North America by powering the cars by battery on the south bound, downhill part of the journey (with conventional overhead wires on the uphill section)
  • Connect to a possible future streetcar line serving downtown
  • Improve access to businesses in Pioneer Square by serving the edge of that district

Planners at Sound Transit estimate the line will carry 3,000 to 3,500 people daily, compared the the 2,500 carried daily on the South Lake Union line. Other estimates go considerably higher. The route will connect with light rail stations at International District/Chinatown and Capitol Hill. Many medical centers and schools are close to the route.

Some critics have suggested buses or trolley buses would provide a less expensive solution to the area's transit needs.

Supporters counter that streetcars will attract riders who would never consider riding a bus and will inspire economic development.

Impressive animations of the First Hill Streetcar line are on the Seattle Bike Blog at:  http://seati.ms/IpmUGn

First Hill Streetcar route map

Streetcar Survives Bicyclists' Suit

The existing South Lake Union streetcar, Seattle's first modern streetcar line, survived a lawsuit filed by bicyclists who alleged that the streetcar tracks cause bike accidents and that the City knowingly allowed these conditions to be built, the Seattle Times reported.

However, Judge Harry McCarthy ruled that the cyclists had not proved that the city violated any standards or regulations in placing the streetcar tracks in the travel lane closest to the sidewalk. The cyclists alleged that putting the tracks in the lane cyclists normally use created a hazard as bike tires could easily fall into the flangeway causing the riders to lose control.

Six cyclists, all of whom suffered serious injuries in accidents on the track, sued when the city would not cover their medical costs.

The city admitted knowing of the hazard, but the court agreed that the design did not violate any standards or laws.

The city erected cautionary signs and painted bike lanes along Ninth Avenue. Since then, no new similar accidents have been reported, though not all accidents may be reported.

The First Hill streetcar (see above) has been designed with a segregated bike track along one mile of the line, thus avoiding the hazard cited in this case.


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