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Get ready to roll your bike onto the First Hill Streetcar

IMG_0219IMG_0217Streetcars and bikes have gotten off to a rough start in Seattle. Planning that neglected bike safety has led to many injuries, especially on Westlake Ave and Jackson Street. We have written about the need for protected bike lanes when streetcar tracks go in, and we will continue pushing for them.

But in this post, we’re going to look at what it will be like to take your bike onto the First Hill Streetcar when it begins service (there’s still no official start date for the delayed line). And so long as the streetcar’s not at crush-capacity, it might actually be pretty easy.

Unlike the South Lake Union Streetcar, which has no designated bike space, the new streetcar trains have two bike hanging spots. And the space across from the bike hanging area is an open accessibility priority space, so a hanging bike probably won’t get in everyone’s way like on Link light rail (especially if you’re a taller person).

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And because all the streetcar stops load at street level, there are no stairs or elevators to navigate to roll on. So it’s easier to get on than Link and no need to do battle with a sticky bus bike rack arm. This could prove to be the easiest bike-on-transit option in Seattle.

2014-12-04 Streetcar Overview Map-cropOf course, there is an ability barrier any time people need to lift their bikes to hang them. And this solution also does not work for most big cargo and family bikes, which you will just have to try to hold in the open floor space. But it’s something.

I could see it becoming popular to ride from the ID or Pioneer Square up to Broadway, then biking from there. Yesler Way is a hell of a hill to climb from Pioneer Square, but once you’re on Broadway it’s smooth sailing to just about anywhere on First Hill, Capitol Hill and parts of the Central District.

In the end, taking bikes on transit is not a concept that can scale beyond a certain point. There are limited spaces per run, and it becomes a huge hassle when trains are packed. But when it works, it’s awesome.

A more scalable solution is to expand Pronto Cycle Share and make sure there are stations very close to (preferably right next to) streetcar, light rail and major bus stops. And if Pronto fares can be better integrated with transit fares, more people will be able to access both systems. Bike share can expand the reach of every transit investment we make, but only if we do it right.

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16 responses to “Get ready to roll your bike onto the First Hill Streetcar”

  1. William C.

    “I could see it becoming popular to ride from the ID or Pioneer Square up to Broadway, then biking from there.”

    But how slow will the streetcar be as it detours via 14th in mixed traffic, and how seldom will it come? I don’t see it ever becoming a popular solution to anything.

  2. asdf2

    Over the years, I’ve had at least a few moments where I’ve suffered some kind of mechanical breakdown and used transit I would ordinarily never take a bike on to get home or to a repair shop. If nothing else, the bike capacity on the First Hill Streetcar would certainly be good for that – especially if there are some decent bike shops near some of the streetcar stops.

    1. Ben P

      The racks are also great if you go one a date with someone who can’t do the uphill part of the trip;)

  3. […] towards having more passengers stand than sit. (Northeast Seattle Greenways and Tom Fucoloro at the Seattle Bike Blog also had some criticisms, specifically that the two vertical bike racks included inside the new […]

  4. <cynicism>The streetcar could also become popular for riding down the hill, since it threw a big wrench into westbound Jackson and southbound 14th…</cynicism>

    1. In case anyone wonders why we should care about 14th and Jackson, which aren’t (where the streetcar runs) marked as important corridors in the BMP: these streets follow a particular path through the topology that makes them inherently important transportation corridors for travel modes where grade matters, like cycling.

      – 14th, between about Cherry and I-90, is (roughly) in a “gap”, or low-point, relative to the avenues on either side. For a cyclist whose most natural route is 14th, taking any other route adds “out-of-direction” climbing, often at very steep grades.

      – Jackson doesn’t dip into the gap (centered around 14th) or climb up the Yesler Terrace hill (centered around Broadway), it heads smoothly downhill all the way from 14th to downtown. I would guess that about a hundred years ago a lot of dirt was moved to bestow this advantage on this particular street… but probably less dirt than it would have taken to bestow it upon any other street. This is akin to, perhaps, parts of Delridge: a

      The combined result is that you can roll from 14th/Cherry to King Street Station via 14th and Jackson without ever climbing, and go the opposite direction without any particularly steep blocks. There is literally no other route that does this — starting almost anywhere along Jackson or near 14th, diverting to any other route adds really tough climbs. This is not lost on the streetcar planners — it’s exactly why they chose the route they did for the streetcar. Jackson runs gently uphill eastbound to 14th, and Yesler runs uphill westbound from 14th, effectively a “switchback” route up First Hill. It makes for closer-to-level stops, for easier boarding than along any other route, and avoids really steep blocks.

      14th and Jackson, together, are sort of like Stone Way — Stone, similarly, isn’t considered a major corridor in the BMP either and various interests continually target its bike lanes for removal, but its inherent importance as a bike route is obvious to anyone that knows the streets up there. Favorable natural grade characteristics have been augmented with public investment over decades to form a critical transportation corridor, and it’s not acceptable for that corridor to exclude human-powered transportation, not when we know what we do about the local and global effects of transportation-related pollution.

  5. Canadia

    So the streetcar is free if you’re using a bike since they took away our roads, right?

  6. (Another) Tom

    I appreciate your positive spin but I’m still squarely in the ‘whooop dee dooo’ camp.

    I have to make a left turn across the tracks on Jackson on both directions of my commute. It was already one of the most dangerous parts of my route as the wide, straight lanes encourage drivers to speed, especially east of the I90 overpass. Coming down from Beacon Hill there is no reasonable alternative. I can take King further down if I want to deal with stop sign after stop sign but I still have to make a left over the tracks at 5th to get to the 4th Ave bike lane.

    This streetcar line will not be useful for anyone that actually lives in Seattle. It will be a minor tourist attraction during the summer months and a death trap for cyclists the rest of the year. The streetcar will still get stuck in traffic and at the lights since it doesn’t have exclusive ROW and when you add all the stops and a route that doubles back on itself just about any other option will be faster and more reliable.

    Who is even supposed to ride this thing? In less than three months the light rail will have stops at both ends of the streetcar line. Wouldn’t you rather get on the light rail which will be a faster and more reliable way to transit between those points? Shorter rides to some mid-point might be enticing for those unable or unwilling to walk a few blocks but where will they be going to/from once they get off that isn’t also a multi-block walk from the stop?

    How much have we spent on this project already? How much are we going to lose in operating costs going forward? There is no way this pencils out. Will the line operate at a loss all 12 months of the year or just 10?

    A series of moving sidewalks along the route would probably be cheaper, more useful, and a more novel tourist attraction.

    1. Robert

      I live on Capitol Hill, and at first I was fairly skeptical of this street car. Now, I’m much more of a “wait and see” feeling about it. Actually, it would appear to be a great way to shoot on down to the ID from the Hill, so I can see myself going to the ID far more frequently than I do now.

      Regarding your rhetorical question: “Will the line operate at a loss all 12 months of the year or just 10?” You do realize that public transit is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE PROFITABLE. Buses, trains, the police and fire departments, and other government services are there to provide infrastructure to make our lives easier and more secure, and boost the surrounding economy. I take the bus to Redmond every day, and believe me you, the money I save not having to drive goes straight back into the local economy. You might as well complain that our bus system is “operating at a loss”…as ALL buses and trains around the world do. So let’s take profit margins off the table, please. It’s not relevant.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Yeah, I don’t think the route is really designed to go from end-to-end. I see it mostly serving Yesler Terrace and First Hill from two directions. But we’ll see how people use it in the real world.

        Especially once Yesler Terrace homes and businesses start to fill up, I think the Broadway section of the streetcar will be pretty cool. Definitely not fast, but cool. This section also has the bikeway, which makes the rail danger less bad.

        From a purely transit service perspective, Pioneer Square to Yesler Terrace will also be cool service to have, I think.

        The design of Jackson is dangerous and should be changed. It doesn’t work safely for people biking. I’ve been against it from the very first design concepts. The street needs bike lanes, there’s no way around it.

      2. (Another) Tom


        You are absolutely correct when it comes to profitability, that was a poor choice of words. I guess my point when it comes to the operating cost is that this line will be one more ongoing transit cost which would be better spent on just about any other transit project.

        The same mistaken thinking surrounding profitability is what leads many to rail against any transit “subsidies” as if transit users are some kind of freeloaders. As you pointed out, there are so many factors this stance doesn’t consider such as the boon to local businesses along the route, reduced congestion, reduced pollution, a more robust network able to handle disruption, etc. Not to mention the “subsidies” SOV drivers enjoy through general fund highway funding.

        Regarding the utility of the line for Cap Hill ID transit; in your situation do you think the streetcar will be competitive with the light rail once the Cap Hill station is open in a few months?

      3. Roberto

        The Other Tom:

        “Do you think the streetcar will be competitive with the light rail once the Cap Hill station is open in a few months?”

        Excellent question that to be honest, I hadn’t given much thought. I was mostly focusing on the light rail’s new route to the U-District, and its utility of getting you to the airport and further flung suburbs. But you’re 100% right…once it’s up and running, I can go the ID on the light rail. So is the First Hill street car redundant?

        Looking at the streetcar’s route, the answer is yes and no. Yes, if you’re purely going to the heart of the ID, you could just as easily take the light rail. However, the street car does serve under-served areas in the Central District that are a quite a distance from the Light Rail’s ID stop. So, on my hypothetical trip to the ID, I’m guessing I’d hop on whatever shows up first. But you do make some very valid points. We probably would have been better off focusing on the light rail to relieve congestion in Seattle’s worst pain points…mainly the Denny corridor, and Ballard/Fremont. We’ll just have to see how this shakes out.

  7. Wells

    A bit off topic, not really, but I still can’t see the streetcar connector on 1st Ave operating safely. Curbside bus and trolleybus stops make median streetcar stops redundant. Patrons will take more frequent buses than wait between raging traffic, many will dash into traffic between curb and median stops to catch a suddenly appearing bus or streetcar, risking their lives and cause accidents. So, I’ve always recommended improved trolleybus service on 1st Ave, with specifically designed trolleybuses for hillclimbing and manueverability, rather than the latest models which are a standard bus converted. The safest streetcar connector is via a couplet on 4th/5th Aves. I’ve laid out a streetcar stub route or loop from Westlake to 1st Ave near Pike Place Market to cross transit lines, a relatively cheap fix for Lake Union Streetcar line to increase patronage.
    But Seattlers can’t take criticism and so deserve what they get:
    Bertha, Wsdot’s worm monster that ate Seattle.

  8. biker bob

    Whoa, what is going on here? Bikes are to ride on the roads and trails, are they not? Why would bikers put bikes on a street car to avoid a short ride? Is this a town full of bike weenies? Bikers now have bike lanes on the street, street cars have lanes on the street, now we need bikes on street cars? What’s next – street cars on bike lanes?

  9. […] Elsewhere on the First Hill Streetcar route, planners included the separated Broadway bikeway to reduce bicyclist interactions with the tracks. The Seattle Bike Blog published this safety guide for riding near the tracks. […]

  10. […] Broadway bikeway to reduce bicyclist interactions with the tracks. The Seattle Bike Blog published this safety guide for riding near the […]

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