Mayor Mike McGinn announced that a streetcar has been selected as the preferred mode for a Center City Connector, and that two potential alignments have been selected for further study: 1st Avenue and a 4th/5th Avenue couplet. The Center City Connector will provide a new high capacity transit service to connect major destinations in downtown Seattle and nearby neighborhoods.
“More jobs, housing, and businesses are coming to downtown Seattle, and we need more high capacity transit to meet those needs,” said McGinn. “The Center City Connector is another important step forward in building a rail network that connects our neighborhoods to each other.”
The Center City Connector project seeks to improve north-south transit mobility and link the First Hill and South Lake Union streetcars through downtown. This route was identified as one of four priority corridors in the Transit Master Plan unanimously adopted by the City Council in April 2012. The Transit Master Plan prioritized these four corridors based on their ridership potential and need for higher capacity transit service. Each corridor will provide for a faster and more reliable transit network that adequately addresses the highest demand corridors in the City.
Analysis done by the Seattle Department of Transportation indicated that a streetcar was the best mode of transit for this project. Estimates show that by 2030 transit will need to carry an additional 8,000 people per hour into and within the Center City during the morning peak. This is equivalent to approximately 150 additional buses per hour on downtown streets and would require the equivalent of two new bus-only lanes. Alternatively, if this demand was met using rail vehicles, 20 two-car or 10 four-car trains would be required (assuming 160 passengers per car). Since a train can carry more passengers than a bus, the labor costs for operating trains are lower than for buses. This analysis also took into account future Sound Transit rail operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.
Analysis also showed that two alignments, one along 1st Avenue and one using 4th and 5th Avenues (in the same direction as traffic), should be carried forward for further study. Both alignments provide a connection to the Westlake transit hub and serve the key project purpose of connecting the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars. Each alignment also serves important destinations in the Center City. An alignment on 1st Avenue beyond Stewart Street to serve Uptown will be evaluated for a potential future phase of the project.
In addition to the two remaining route alignments, further analysis will be conducted on options for how a streetcar could operate on each street (in mixed traffic or in a dedicated lane). In November, a locally preferred alternative will be identified with a final alignment, and will be followed by creation of an implementation plan as well as a finance plan.
Planning continues on the other high capacity transit routes identified in the Transit Master Plan. The Ballard to Downtown Transit Expansion Study, a partnership between the City of Seattle and Sound Transit looking at rail, is under way. A Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit Study is being planned, as is a high capacity transit study of a University District to South Lake Union corridor. A study to extend the route of the First Hill Streetcar north on Broadway is also underway.