Seattle City Council approves First Hill streetcar line


While Vancouver dithers on approving a tram/LRT line for the city, Seattle council have approved its second streetcar or tram line, the First Hill Streetcar Line.

The problem in Seattle is, streetcars are not seen as LRT, rather something else as light rail is planned as a very expensive light metro. Only when Seattle gets a few years of experience with revenue operation with a streetcar will the ‘penny drop’ that streetcars are indeed light rail and a reserved rights-of-way or a HOV lane with rails is just as effective as a hugely expensive viaduct or a even more expensive subway tunnel.

In Vancouver, one doubts that the ‘penny will drop’ as the city council and TransLink fumbles and bumbles along planning hugely expensive ‘pie in the sky’ subway lines instead of proven effective LRT/tram lines.

Seattle City Council approves First Hill streetcar line

A First Hill Streetcar route on Broadway was unanimously approved Monday by the Seattle City Council.

By Seattle Times staff

A First Hill Streetcar route on Broadway was unanimously approved Monday by the Seattle City Council.

The $130 million line is to open in 2013, connecting the International District/Chinatown light-rail station to the train station on Capitol Hill scheduled to open in 2016. A short loop will pass King Street Station and Pioneer Square.

Voters approved the line as part of a regional $18 billion Sound Transit expansion measure in 2008.

Streetcars will run every 10 minutes serving hospitals, Seattle University and densely populated neighborhoods. The technical challenges include overhead wiring conflicts with electric Metro trolleybuses; and how to share the streets with storefront parking spaces and proposed bicycle lanes.

The Seattle council said it would seek transit funds to study a north extension, beyond the light-rail station at Denny Way.

An unofficial route map, by transit fan Oran Viriyincy, is at:


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4 Responses to “Seattle City Council approves First Hill streetcar line”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting and perhaps telling comment on the Seattle Times article:

    “I ride the SLU streetcar commonly. It’s ridiculous how slow that goes. It would be better to just have a bus go that route because at least the bus can go a little faster, go around cars etc. In fact, many days I walk the entire distance from Mercer street to Westlake in less time than the streetcar. They should time the stop lights to favor the streetcar to make this viable, but no. And this new one will be just as bad I’m sure. It’s a waste of money!”

    Zweisystem replies: The Lake Union streetcar is far too small to be effective and shows not only bad planning, but lack of vision. I doubt it is slower than a bus and certainly the streetcar is not slower than walking. The lack of priority signaling certainly shows the planners and engineers do not understand modern trams nor what to implement to make them successful.

    Why not build a 10 mile line?

    The answer could be that a true LRT/streetcar line would show how over planned and gold-plated the LINK hybrid light rail/metro is!

  2. David Says:

    Any transit vehicle that is forced to operate in mixed traffic is going to be slow. That’s why successful trams run in dedicated lanes and have their own priority signals.

    Zweisystem replies: Several studies in Europe have shown that the commercial speed of a tram is about 5% to 10% faster than a bus in mixed traffic. But when the tram runs on ‘reserved RoW’s’, with signal priority at intersections, the commercial speed increases dramatically. Commercial speed on a true light rail system (operating on ‘reserved RoW’s) has more to do with the number of stops per route/km, thus the commercial speed of an on-street LRT can reach that of a heavy rail metro or light-metro. This is one of the many reasons LRT made light-metro (SkyTrain & VAL) somewhat obsolete!

  3. Richard Says:

    I suspect the unfortunately named SLUT is slower than walking because it only comes once every 30 minutes even at 5:30pm. Really, what is the point, walking is faster than waiting 30 minutes.

    Zweisystem replies: Seattle’s South Union tram is nothing more than a demonstration line and is operated as such. The analogy between walking and 30 minute headways is false.

  4. LamontCranston Says:

    trolleys are a bastard child of the streetcar/tram/lightrail and the bus
    convert them to streetcar/tram/lightrail

    Zweisystem replies: Not necessarily true, but the case for trolley buses has been overstated.

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