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Streetcar Network Overview
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Seattle’s Transit Master Plan & the Seattle Streetcar Network

The Seattle Department of Transportation recently completed the city’s next generation Transit Master Plan (TMP). The TMP is a comprehensive and 20-year look ahead to the type of transit system that will be required to meet Seattle’s transit needs through 2030.  The TMP articulates the role of the Seattle Streetcar and other modes in this transit system.

Regional High Capacity Transit

Sound Transit, the regional transit agency for the central Puget Sound Region, is developing an extensive regional high-capacity transit system featuring light rail, commuter rail and express buses.  Voters in the region approved a major expansion of the light rail system in 2008, and Sound Transit is now actively developing light rail extensions to the south, east and north of the existing 14-mile system that connects the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown Seattle.

High Capacity Transit in Seattle

Within the city of Seattle, there is strong support for development of additional high-capacity transit (HCT) to connect Seattle neighborhoods to each other and to the regional transit system. For Seattle, high capacity transit will consist of both rail and rubber-tired transit modes that can provide residents with high-quality transit service.  The Transit Master Plan identifies HCT corridors identified to fill a key service need between Link light rail and local bus service. Seattle's HCT service will be distinguished by the following factors:

  • Seattle HCT will provide locally-focused service for transit markets within the city of Seattle and surrounding areas. Link light rail focuses on regional connectivity and longer-distance trips; by design, it is more of an intercity commuter rail model of transit operation than an urban light rail service.
  • Seattle HCT will operate primarily on local streets using a combination of exclusive and shared right-of-way. Link light rail uses exclusive right-of-way with partial grade separation.

Progress and Prospects for Seattle HCT Development

Seattle completed its first local streetcar project, the South Lake Union line in 2007 and is currently partnering with Sound Transit for the development of the First Hill line; each of these local circulators provides important connections to the regional light rail system.   

In 2012, Seattle will begin planning for further expansion of the Seattle HCT network, in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration and Sound Transit.  Seattle recently received an FTA Planning Grant for alternatives analysis of a Center City Transit Connector, which will identify a preferred alignment for connecting the existing and proposed streetcar lines through Seattle’s center city area.  Additionally, Sound Transit and the city of Seattle are developing a partnership to leverage this planning work and expand it to include a corridor that would connect northwest Seattle (Ballard) to the center city.  Sound Transit has proposed to accelerate a portion of its phase three planning efforts to leverage Seattle’s resources for HCT planning in this corridor.  This joint effort will consider a range of alternatives, from a regional light rail extension to rapid streetcar or bus-rapid transit.

Seattle HCT Modes

Seattle’s HCT corridors have the potential to be served by multiple modes. However, steep topography or constrained rights-of-way limit the available mode options for some corridors. The Transit Master Plan considers three high-capacity modes, plus an enhanced bus service, for developing transit corridors in Seattle:

Rapid Streetcar is the rail mode considered for HCT corridors. It uses longer articulated or coupled street-running vehicles and is envisioned to operate like European street tram systems. Rapid streetcar achieves faster operating speed and greater reliability through longer spacing between stops and more extensive use of exclusive right-of-way than is typical of U.S. streetcar lines that emphasize Center City circulation. Rapid streetcar stations would be on-street and would be designed to include high volume shelters, real-time passenger information, level boarding, off-board fare payment, and enhanced station amenities.  Rapid streetcar would have higher capacity trains, greater priority over traffic, and operate at higher speeds compared with a local streetcar circulator, such as the South Lake Union streetcar.

Local Streetcar is the rail mode considered for Center City corridors and functions as an urban circulator. It has relatively short distances between stops and operates primarily in mixed traffic.

Bus Rapid Transit is one of the two bus modes considered for HCT corridors. BRT combines a rubber-tired transit vehicle with the operating characteristics of a rapid streetcar, including longer stop spacing and use of exclusive right-of-way. BRT stations similarly include real-time passenger information, level boarding, off-board fare payment, and enhanced station amenities. BRT vehicles are often “branded” or stylized to distinguish them from buses providing local service, and they may have features such as multiple, wide doors to increase boarding capacity. King County Metro’s RapidRide service falls into a “light” category of BRT service with less extensive priority features, but it does include branded, stylized vehicles and, with the exception of the CBD, some well-developed station features. BRT may be implemented using fueled, hybrid, or electric trolley buses.

Enhanced Bus assumes a more basic level of improvements and priority features for existing transit service, with increased hours of operation and frequency comparable to BRT, but generally operating in mixed traffic. As with BRT, diesel or electric trolley buses could be used.

2008 Seattle Streetcar Network Plan

In 2008, the Seattle City Council approved Resolution 31091 supporting streetcar network expansion.  A Seattle Streetcar network would provide new urban mobility options that would enhance the city and regional transportation system while shaping and supporting continued economic growth. The network would serve and encourage a broad variety of work and non-work trip and greatly expand the ability to live and work without using an automobile in the areas it serves and connects. To learn more about the 2008 Seattle Streetcar network plan, download the Seattle Streetcar Network Development Report or presentations below:

Streetcar Network Executive Summary--May 2008
Streetcar Network Report--May 2008
Streetcar Network Appendix A
Streetcar Network Appendix B
Streetcar Network Appendix C
Streetcar Network Appendix D
Streetcar Network Appendix E
Streetcar Network Appendix F
Streetcar Network Appendix G

Seattle Streetcar Network Presentation (Powerpoint)
Seattle Streetcar Network Images (Powerpoint)

Network Map


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