Seattle South Lake Union Streetcar

From nycsubway.org


South Lake Union Skoda-Inkeon Trio 302 streetcar at Westlake/Denny Way, outbound. Photo by Peter Ehrlich, November 2008.


Seattle started its first streetcar line since before World War II in 1982, when the Waterfront Streetcar opened for service, using rehabilitated ex-Melbourne, Australia W2 trams. The line was extended in the late 1980s, but service ended abruptly and controversially in 2005 when the land housing its streetcar museum was usurped by the Seattle Art Museum for a new sculpture garden. Its reopening is contingent on finding a new carbarn and resolving the demolition of the Alaskan Way elevated freeway. It may never resume.

Even as the Waterfront Streetcar service was winding down, the area just north of downtown and Lake Union was experiencing much new construction and research institutions, primarily botech, and including the University of Washington's Cancer Research Center, were moving into these new developments. The City of Seattle, noting the overwhelming success of the Portland Streetcar in stimulating neighborhoods and promoting smart growth, proposed a new 1.3-mile line between Westlake Center, in Seattle's busy retail shopping district, and the south and east shores of Lake Union. To finance the new line, a local assessment district on area property owners provided half of the $50+ million budgeted cost of the line, with federal, state and local funds providing the rest.

Construction, using low-cost methods similar to what Portland Streetcar used, began on July 7, 2006 and was completed a year later. Three new Skoda Inekon Trio low-floor trams, nearly identical to Portland Streetcar's newest units, were ordered. A new carbarn was constructed on city land at Fairview and Harrison, two blocks east of the northbound trackage on terry St. N. Service opened on December 12, 2007.

Officially known as the Seattle Streetcar, the little system garnered a very unfortunate acronym, which has endured despite officialdom's efforts to eradicate this name, which is short for "South Lake Union Trolley", or SLUT. Nevertheless, ridership has increased, much like it has on Portland's system.

Service is every 15 minutes, starting at 6:00am weekdays and Saturdays, ending at 9:00pm except on Fridays and Saturdays, when trams run to 11:00pm. Sunday service is between 10:00am and 7:00pm. Fares are the standard King County Metro fares, and transfers are valid on both streetcar and King County Metro buses, with a 2-hour time limit. There are day passes available, but you have to buy them at King County Metro's office at S. Jackson and 2nd Avenue, near Pioneer Square. The Seattle Streetcar line doesn't enter Seattle's weekday fare-free zone.

The streetcars operate from Westlake Center via Westlake Avenue as far as Thomas Street, where northbound cars jog one block to Terry Ave., while southbound cars remain on Westlake. The tracks rejoin at Valley Street, on the south shore of Lake Union. At Fairview Avenue N, the line turns northward to a station at Fairview and Campus Drive. This is the tram's outer terminal, but the cars change ends a block further at Yale Ave. N. There are 11 stations located every 2 or 3 blocks apart. Like in Portland, the Seattle Streetcar rails hug the curb. At Westlake Center, it's a short walk to the Monorail terminal and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel's Westlake Station, where hybrid buses now run and where LINK Light Rail trains will begin service in mid-2009.

Trams from the carbarn access the line at Terry N and Harrison. Between Harrison and Valley, remnants of rails used by the railroads serving this one-time warehouse district are still embedded in the street.

With the success of the South Lake Union Streetcar, the city is making plans to bring streetcars to other parts of the city. Plans are being made to open a line along 1st Avenue (ironically, a block east of the now-shuttered Waterfront Streetcar). The city may also extend the South Lake Union line onto First Hill and Capitol Hill, where it would connect with an expansion of LINK set to open in 2016.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 93198

(578k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Fairview/Campus Drive

Image 93203

(194k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Terry/Harrison (Northbound)

Image 93219

(242k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Westlake Hub - Pacific Place

Image 106188

(231k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Westlake Hub - Pacific Place

Image 106190

(211k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Fairview/Campus Drive

More Images: 1-33

Photos By Location

Westlake Hub - Pacific Place, Westlake/7th/Virginia, Westlake/9th/Blanchard, Westlake/Denny, Terry/Denny (Northbound), Terry/John (Northbound), Terry/Thomas (Northbound), Terry/Harrison (Northbound), Terry/Republican (Northbound), Terry/Mercer (Northbound), Terry/Valley, Lake Union Park, Valley/Fairview, Fairview/Aloha, Fairview/Campus Drive, Fairview/Yale, Valley/Westlake (Southbound), Westlake/Mercer (Southbound), Westlake/Republican (Southbound), Westlake/Harrison (Southbound), Westlake/Thomas (Southbound), Westlake/John (Southbound), Harrison/Boren (Car Barn Access), Harrison/Fairview Car Barn


Official Site - Seattle Streetcar. The official site of the Seattle Streetcar, including schedules, fares, and more.

Page Credits

By Peter Ehrlich.

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