While designs for a Broadway extension of the First Hill Streetcar remain at 90 percent, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director Sierra Hansen is 100 percent sure the neighborhood doesn’t need it.
“It sits, as of late 2015, at 90 percent design,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, SDOT transit and mobility director. “It hasn’t moved since then.”
The planned extension of the streetcar, from in front of Seattle Central College to two more stops at East Harrison and Roy streets on Broadway, remains in a waiting period as SDOT works to address concerns raised by Capitol Hill stakeholders.
When Sound Transit decided to remove a light rail stop in First Hill from U Link expansion plans, the First Hill Streetcar line was the compromise. Sound Transit contributed the funds through ST2 for the city of Seattle to own and operate the First Hill Streetcar.
Then Capitol Hill community stakeholders in 2009 appealed to the city for a Broadway extension north. That included a push by the Capitol Hill Community Council through its Complete Streetcar Campaign and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, when it was being directed by Michael Wells, who now works for the Seattle Office of Economic Development.
Glass Hastings said after Wells left, there was also changeover in the chamber board.
“The chamber reached out to me and said, ‘We’re not sure where we sit with this project anymore,’ ” he said.
Sound Transit has about $14 million in grant funding for the project. There is still another $10 million to $14 million needed to finalize design and construction, which the city had planned to recover through the formation of a local improvement district.
A LID doesn’t require approval to be created; rather it requires property owners representing 60 percent of the assessed value in the proposed district area to vote it down.
“You don’t vote for it, you have to sort of vote against it,” Glass Hastings said. “Ultimately, if that threshold is not met, then the city council is actually the entity that approves the LID.”
The city estimates the addition of the streetcar line would increase property values within the LID by 25-30 percent.
“You’re going to have buildings and property owners paying up to a million dollars in a 20-year period,” Hansen said, “and they’re not going to get a million dollar benefit from having 500 customers coming into the neighborhood.”
Hansen said it isn’t just the cost of a lid, but the belief that adding another mode of transportation on Broadway will negatively impact commerce and safety. The addition of the Capitol Hill light rail station on Broadway also was a big game changer.
“It’s not a great use of street space when we have light rail, and light rail is awesome,” Hansen said. “Light rail is fast and it’s reliable, and it connects you to downtown in two minutes in terms of Westlake.”
Many businesses receive goods from vendors that rely on the center turn lane to make deliveries, Hansen said. Left-turn lanes would also be removed along the line. Add in a loss of parking, Hansen said, and the Broadway Streetcar doesn’t seem like an economic benefit to the neighborhood.
“The street is just not well designed to manage multiple modes of transportation, particularly when one or more of those modes fail,” Hansen said. “If a car breaks down on Broadway now, the whole roadway shuts down.”
The First Hill Streetcar had been expected to be ready to launch in late 2014, but was delayed to last January due to complications with Inekon. The Czech manufacturer ended up paying $1.5 million in penalties by the time the project was complete.
Utility work for construction of the Center City Connector, which would connect the South Lake Union and First Hill Streetcar lines, creating new north-south connections from Stewart Street in Westlake to Jackson Street in Pioneer Square, is expected to start in late summer, Glass Hastings said.
“We’re currently at 60 percent (design), and we’re now able to take that up to 90 percent,” he said.
The Capitol Hill chamber and community council support the Center City Connector project.
SDOT still has plans to construct the Broadway Streetcar, Glass Hastings said, but the design could change following reengagement with community stakeholders. If those discussions don’t result in a change of opinion, there is the potential to not go through with the project. Glass Hastings said adding the extension doesn’t make sense if the community that spearheaded the project no longer sees it as benefit.
If that were to happen, federal funding granted to the city by the Puget Sound Regional Council would be returned for reallocation to other grant requests. Glass Hastings said the city has other projects that could end up receiving some of that funding under this scenario.
Right now, SDOT is focused on constructing a Broadway Streetcar that won’t harm the business district.
“I don’t think a streetcar, in and of itself, is a threat to the business district,” Glass Hastings said.
Hansen said the city has been extremely responsive and understanding that the community’s opinion has changed. Hansen started with the chamber in late 2015, and remembers early conversations with members of the business community, she said.
“One of the first things they would come and talk to be about was the streetcar extension,” she said.
The conversations she would prefer to have SDOT engage the community in, rather than the streetcar extension, revolves around longtime pedestrian and bicycle safety on Broadway. A woman struck last Friday in the crosswalk at Broadway and John, near the north light rail entrance, illustrates that point, Hansen said.
While the Capitol Hill light rail station has been a boon to the neighborhood — Sound Transit reporting record-breaking light rail ridership following its opening — cycling and pedestrian safety advocates have been critical of the city for not including more transportation infrastructure improvements around it.
The Broadway Streetcar expansion does include a separated two-way cycle track.
Find more information on the Broadway Streetcar project at seattlestreetcar.org/broadway.htm.