STB: No Streetcar on 12th Ave.

By Erica C. Barnett December 10, 2009


As we've reported previously, there's a big debate just getting underway about which route makes more sense for the proposed First Hill Streetcar—Boren and Madison (as originally proposed) or 12th Ave. (as supported by a group of Capitol Hill residents and businesses.) The streetcar was promised to residents of First Hill—after downtown, the city’s densest neighborhood in terms of both population and jobs—when Sound Transit eliminated a light rail stop in the neighborhood in 2005.

The obvious advantage of the 12th Avenue alignment is that it would serve an area with a lot of development potential but not a lot of transit, acting as a catalyst for even more development. The disadvantage is that moving the streetcar to 12th Avenue would essentially mean it would no longer serve First Hill and its thousands of high-rise residents (many of them elderly and thus less able to walk to far-away streetcar stops) and medical employees (who, again, were promised a streetcar in exchange for losing their light rail stop).

I've been conflicted about which First Hill streetcar route makes more sense. The 12th Avenue proponents have a good case—that area isn't well served by transit, and it's one of the few parts of the central city where development is still booming—but it's hard to get beyond the fact that the alignment would screw First Hill's residents and workers.

[caption id="attachment_20621" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="Image via Seattle Transit Blog"]Image via Seattle Transit Blog[/caption]

However, thanks to an editorial at the Seattle Transit Blog yesterday, I'm convinced: The First Hill alignment makes more sense in terms of demand, area served, quality of service, and development potential. I'll spare you STB's excessively wonky talk of "euclidian circular walking buffers" and "Manhattan distance-based walk sheds" and boil their argument down to its salient points:

1) By turning the streetcar route from a single line into a loop separated by three blocks, the 12th Avenue alignment reduces the number of people who have easy access to both a northbound and a southbound stop (which, presumably, you'd want for two-way trips).

2) The Boren alignment actually has more development potential than the 12th alignment, because of its greater height limits (160-240 feet, compared to 12th Avenue's modest 40-60 feet) and because of the coming Yesler Terrace development, which will add as many as 5,000 new housing units and 1.2 million square feet of office/commercial space.

3) There's already tons of demand for transit along the Boren alignment, including hospitals, senior housing, universities low-income housing, and high-rises. The 12th Avenue alignment would make service worse for all those folks except Seattle University.

Finally, STB makes the obvious—and perhaps most salient—point: The only reason a proposal to build a First Hill streetcar stop in the first place was the loss of the First Hill light rail station. To move the streetcar line away from First Hill would be to abandon the promise Sound Transit made to the neighborhood four years ago. Violating that promise would set a dangerous precedent and put all of Sound Transit's agreements with neighborhoods in doubt.
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