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First Hill/Broadway Streetcar project picks up speed, code 'pink' project
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First Hill/Broadway Streetcar project picks up speed, code 'pink' project

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

A streetcar is coming to First Hill and Broadway, that much is certain. The exact route, on the other hand, was less certain - until recently. On April 5, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sent his recommendation to the City Council for the Broadway/Jackson route as the preferred option for the First Hill Streetcar project. McGinn's recommendation piggybacks with that of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The Capitol Hill Community Council sponsored an organizing effort which drew the support of the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, to name but a few supporters of the routing proposal. In addition to endorsements, the Capitol Hill committee met with councilmembers and successfully lobbied and communicated with other transportation groups.

If approved by the City Council, construction would begin in 2011. According to the mayor's office, the First Hill Streetcar project will create new construction jobs in the short term and support economic development over the long term when operations begin in late 2013.

"I will have the streetcar alignment legislation before my Transportation Committee on both April 13 and April 27 at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall in the Council Chamber," City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen told SGN. "I encourage anyone and everyone to let the City Council know their thoughts on the new streetcar line by attending one of the meetings or by calling 206-684-8808 or e-mailing me at tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov."

Streetcars are transit vehicles which run on rails, yet easily share the road with other ground transportation instead of requiring an isolated corridor of their own. This increases public transit capacity without impacting other options.

The First Hill Streetcar project - a two-mile connector serving Seattle's Capitol Hill, First Hill and International District areas, with connections to Link light rail and Sounder commuter rail - was included in the mass transit expansion ballot that voters approved in November 2008. First Hill is considered a regional destination due to its concentration of major medical facilities and Seattle University.

According to McGinn's office, the Broadway/Jackson alignment is consistent with the origins and history of the First Hill Streetcar project. Ten years ago, the City Council approved a route for Sound Transit's Central Link Light Rail project that was to include a First Hill Station on Madison Street, near Broadway. As the project advanced, the costs and risks of a deep bored tunnel and light rail station under First Hill led to the eventual deletion of the station by the South Transit Board. However, a study of alternative means of connecting First Hill to the regional transit system was conducted. A streetcar connector operating primarily on Broadway and Jackson emerged as the preferred alternative means of connecting First Hill to the regional transit system.

"There are many advantages to the recommended route," McGinn's office said. "The Broadway/Jackson route is estimated to cost approximately $125 million - comfortably within the maximum Sound Transit funding limit of $132.8 million - and will provide an efficient and accessible new transit option."

In addition, McGinn says the route also presents opportunities to "rethink the Broadway streetscape in ways that support walking, biking and riding transit."

In the Chinatown/International District, the Jackson Street route and the Pioneer Square loop integrate well with other transit and connect First Hill and Capitol Hill the historic district and the adjacent stadium district, said the mayor.

"Having a streetcar on Broadway will add vibrancy and charm as shoppers, students, business owners, artists, and families hop on and off as they go about their business in the once-bustling heart of Capitol Hill: Broadway," said Louise Chernin, executive director for GSBA. "Streetcars are fun, convenient, and move people efficiently while at the same time keeping the passengers more closely connected to the shops along the way."

Chernin told SGN, "As we all know, the LGBT community truly is everywhere, but we remain connected to the historical center of our community, Capitol Hill. The GSBA, your LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is thrilled that by supporting the streetcar, the city is demonstrating its commitment to investing in the cultural district that has always been a destination for LGBT tourists and residents alike."

Kay Rood, president of Cal Anderson Park Alliance told the SGN, "The initial plans had the streetcar essentially waffling the park. It didn't seem appropriate to the park or space - and did not seem efficient for a streetcar line. Beyond our self-interest, we thought the city planners were not seeing the plan in a realistic way. The Broadway/Jackson route is simple and efficient, less costly, and serves the neighborhood beautifully. The new route has the park as an adjacent attraction, rather than a turnaround area. We are hoping that the line will be extended to Aloha and Prospect."

"We are really pleased that the mayor is onboard with this [Broadway/Jackson] route," she said. "This will serve everyone well. The route is really serviceable and equitable and the Cal Anderson Park Alliance is pleased to be supporters and we really hope that it goes all the way up to Volunteer Park. It is a great thing to connect two parks."

Extending the streetcar further north to Aloha and Prospect would provide further access to fine dining and shopping opportunities, in addition to closer access to Seattle Asian Art Museum and Volunteer Park, said Executive Director of Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce Jack Hilovsky. "A streetcar provides an alternative transportation that is quiet, clean, and links the neighborhood with major population and employment centers," Hilovsky told SGN. "I think the streetcar will further activate Broadway, and, with enhanced bicycle lanes and streetscapes, bring a pedestrian flair to the neighborhood."

"Broadway, with major light rail station connections, is a natural thoroughfare for the streetcar," he said. "The streetcar will serve the First Hill medical institutions, in addition to students and employees of Seattle University. Tourists and shoppers will have the opportunity to ride the streetcar and experience one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Seattle - one that is continuing to grow and change with interesting retail, restaurants, and services."

Hilovsky says the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is delighted that the City Council and mayor "have endorsed a plan that benefits both business and the community."

"Capitol Hill, the historical home of the Gay community, artists, and students, will benefit greatly from this alternative system of transport," he said.

Future stories will include interviews with Capitol Hill Community Council spokespeople as requests for comment had not been responded to at press time.

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