SEATTLE – The city of Seattle will host an open house Wednesday to kick-off the Center City Connector project, which will explore new transit options for downtown Seattle, including the possible return of a streetcar line.
Supporters of a downtown streetcar argue it only makes sense to forge a connection between South Lake Union’s streetcar and the new line coming to First Hill and Capitol Hill.
“Moving toward a streetcar network is where, I think, we want to go,” said Tony Mazzella with the Seattle Department of Transportation.
One of the primary questions now facing the city: where would that new streetcar line go? While the city plans to study numerous ideas, two options have quickly come to the surface.
One popular option would run down First Avenue, serving tourists who visit Pike Place Market, Seattle Art Museum and other popular attractions. That line could also run north on First Avenue, through Belltown and up toward Lower Queen Anne.
A second option, which could cost about $50 million less, would run down Fourth and Fifth avenues, catering more to commuting workers.
Tom Graff, president of Ewing and Clark in Belltown, prefers the First Avenue option.
“First has the nightlife and the weekend business that Fourth and Fifth doesn’t,” Graff said.
Anne Fennessy, who lives and works in Pioneer Square, also prefers the First Avenue option. The new First Hill streetcar line will come to an end in Pioneer Square, and she would like to see it extend into the heart of downtown.
“The trolley can really help us bring people down to the new restaurants that are opening and helping some of the retail businesses,” Fennessy said.
Both Fennessy and Graff admit that some business owners might have concerns about the impact streetcar construction would have on parking and traffic.
“Most small businesses feel like, if construction can be controlled, it would be a benefit,” Graff said.
More than 70 years have passed since streetcars wound their way through downtown Seattle. At the turn of the last century through World War Two, they were the most convenient, affordable form of transportation, said Leonard Garfield, executive director of the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).
Then car ownership began to soar.
“What happened was the streetcars became less popular and eventually they were abandoned,” Garfield said.
By the early 1940s, rail lines were removed to make room for cars as more people moved to the suburbs. But now those tracks might return as more people return to the city.
“It says that there are a lot of lessons in history,” Garfield said. “Sometimes we do things right and then we forget about how good those ideas were.”
Wednesday’s open house for the Center City Connector project takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Bertha Landes Room at Seattle City Hall.