First Hill skeptical of Sound Transit

The following letter was sent recently to the Sound Transit Board.

Dear Sound Transit Board:

At the Sept. 13, 2005 Board Meeting of the First Hill Improvement Association, Mr. Don Billen presented an outline of the Goals and Objectives for the study of First Hill Transit Alternatives. We were told the study has five objectives and criteria:

* Improve the Quality of Transit Service.

* Increase Transit Ridership.

* Provide a Financially Feasible Solution.

* Preserve Environmental Quality.

* Develop Alternatives that can be deployed by (the time of) University Link Opening.

The study will compare alternative solutions such as:

* Giving higher priority to bus lines along Madison, Broadway, Boren and James.

* Increasing the frequency and hours of service on routes nos. 60, 9, 2 and 12.

* New connections/modes.

* Other ideas, including sidewalk improvements and extension of the ride free zone.

During and after the presentation, a certain amount of community skepticism emerged, focused on four main areas, which we would like to share with you.


Up until July of this year, the First Hill Station was an integral part of the Sound Transit North Link light rail. In August, the Sound Transit Board made a difficult decision to drop the plans for a First Hill station.

The reasons given were schedule risk associated with uncertain geological conditions to be overcome while building the station, and the new formula for ranking projects that are competing for federal funding. Dropping the First Hill station brought the cost of the North Link project into an acceptable range to compete for funding.

In a letter we wrote to you on Aug. 10, 2005, we emphasized that the ridership associated with First Hill in the year 2030 still must be served. It recommended that some of the $300 million expense that was avoided by eliminating our station should be applied toward building a "3.2 mile light rail line connecting the Rainier at McClellan and the Capitol Hill stations via First Hill.

The line could be surface, cut and cover, elevated or some combination of the three." The Study of First Hill Transit Alternatives has an objective of staying within the "ability to fund capital and operating costs from existing or potential future revenue available to the city, county or Sound Transit."

We note that federal and state funding is NOT under consideration. In this era of diminishing revenues, we are skeptical that some combination of city, county and Sound Transit revenues will be able to generate the magnitude of funding required for a light rail line that operates above or below street level.

Environmental quality

Surface level solutions will compete with other demands for space, such as customer parking, sidewalks, delivery/loading zones and turn lanes. The First Hill arterial routes are VERY congested. Gridlock of vehicular traffic during rush hours already exists in 2005. By 2030, the increased population of residents and employees on First Hill will further compound this situation. We are skeptical that additional buses, streetcars or even surface light rail will "preserve environmental quality".

Vehicle congestion

We think that previous Sound Transit studies of the North Link focused on people such as residents, employees and bus riders who would eventually become train riders who entered/exited from the First Hill station. Because the train operated below ground, there was no need to gather data on surface vehicle traffic. Any recommendation of additional surface alternatives such as buses, trolleys or surface light rail must include an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Any recent EISs that were required for development projects in First Hill / West Slope area should contain traffic studies with data on delays at peak hours at key intersections. Additionally, we believe a current study of the origin and destination of drivers along Boren Avenue and Madison Street would enhance the evaluation of any proposed alternatives to the station.

Sidewalk improvements

Today, pedestrians walk on narrow, obstructed sidewalks throughout many parts of First Hill. There is little, if any, right-of-way to expand or improve the sidewalks in many locations. Our precious trees frequently shade the ground level from elevated streetlights, causing residents to avoid walking after dark. Some are skeptical that sidewalk improvements will have a significant impact on improving transportation.


The issue was raised that it appears that the people who will prepare this study do not live or work on First Hill. They lack first hand experience as passengers on the currently overcrowded, slow bus routes, or sitting in our gridlocked traffic. We are disappointed that the First Hill Community will not be represented in the Sound Transit/City of Seattle/King County Metro working sessions.

It is our understanding that the study will narrow the list of First Hill alternatives, and make some recommendations to the Sound Transit Board in late November. We have tentatively scheduled Mr. Billen from Sound Transit to make a progress report to our board at our Dec. 13 meeting.

The neighborhoods in the East District Council (Capitol Hill, Madison Park, Miller Park, Pike/Pine and Yesler Terrace) have expressed solidarity with First Hill's efforts to advocate for rapid transit alternatives in the wake of the elimination of the First Hill station. They have all expressed a willingness to endorse our proposed solution, which includes a light rail connection to and/or through First Hill.

Thank you for reviewing our concerns, and we look forward to working with you on creating a successful transit solution for the First Hill neighborhood.


Michael J. Gray, President

First Hill Improvement Association

[[In-content Ad]]