The Center City Connector Is A Critical, High Quality Transit Project

On October 14th, former Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata wrote a blog post that may mislead enough people to stop an excellent local transit project that Seattle Subway has supported since its inception. Since publishing his post, “The Center City Connector Streetcar–A Solution Looking for A Problem,” the Seattle City Council is hearing from misinformed constituents and long-time streetcar detractors. 

Please write to Seattle City Council by Thursday, October 19th at 12PM, and urge them to OPPOSE the budget provision to defund the Center City Connector:

The detractors claim they cannot identify the problems the Center City Connector is trying to solve, so we thought we’d assist. Below are five top-level benefits of the Seattle Streetcar:

  1. Buses will be removed from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) as early as 2019. The curbs at 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Avenues at Pike Street lack the necessary capacity to serve riders connecting between the International District and South Lake Union. Currently, DSTT buses serve many trips that are within the core alone, from the International District to Westlake Center. The Center City Connector expands capacity to 25,000 daily riders by connecting South Lake Union, International District, and First Hill.
  1. Anyone travelling from Capitol Hill to Westlake Center would likely not take the First Hill Streetcar, but light rail doesn’t serve Colman Dock or Pike Place Market directly. The Center City Connector is the last mile connection with five-minute frequencies to destinations, including South Lake Union, Pike Place Market, Colman Dock, Pioneer Square, the stadiums, and Chinatown/International District. The Center City Connector will also catalyze the BRT network that will expand access across the City. The Center City Connector is currently designed to share a platform at 1st and Madison with future Madison BRT buses. The infrastructure we build on 1st Avenue now can and should be shared by more BRT buses as the BRT network expands all over Seattle in the future.


CCC station diagram
The Center City Connector Station at 1st Avenue that could be shared with BRT.
  1. Detractors suggest that the Center City Connector is only an economic development tool for certain businesses along the line. While businesses within a three-block radius of streetcar lines tend to benefit more than others further from the route, the real economic benefit stems from moving a large quantity of people through the urban core with an accessible, easy-to-navigate mode. For visitors or first-time transit riders, rails in the ground are intuitive compared to learning a comprehensive bus system run by separate transit agencies. In 2011, the streetcar line saw 12.1 million visitors within a ⅛-mile radius. Providing dedicated transit lanes enables 25,000 daily riders to travel from one end of Downtown to the other in 6.1 minutes during the PM peak by 2030. Try doing that on the 3rd Avenue bus corridor today.
  1. Some suggest that this project won’t increase the ease of getting to work Downtown for underrepresented people while stating 1st Avenue residents and businesses would be inconvenienced by the construction. The Center City Connector has the ability to improve transit options for people who rely on transit. Transit-dependent riders skew towards lower income, people of color, people with limited mobility, and people seeking hourly wages. The new CAF streetcar vehicles are 100% low-floor and enable people with limited mobility to board independently from curb level. Additionally, the Center City Connector will serve as a last-mile connector for those commuting to the 37% of hourly wage jobs located in Downtown Seattle. Appealing to the constituents who would never want 1st Avenue torn up for any project is easy, but these voices go directly against our city’s interest. With this project, Seattle’s interest is as simple as moving people around. Those who chose to live in the vibrant core of our city share the responsibility of building the infrastructure to make it accessible and inclusive to all.
  1. The argument suggesting that capital dollars could be better used for bus operations is false. Overlooked is the fact that if Seattle fails to follow through on our commitment to federal funds, it has a ripple effect on funding existing projects with the federal government, including critical BRT lines. Many of those BRT improvements also include bike and safe streets infrastructure. At stake is $185 million in bus funding if we choose not move forward with the Center City Connector, including:


    • Madison BRT – a $60 million project given high priority by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) tied to a FY2018 spending bill being considered by Congress.


    • Roosevelt BRT – a $35 million project submitted to FTA for review in the Spring of 2018.


    • Rainier BRT – an estimated $50 million project beginning planning phase this spring and will be submitted to FTA in September 2018.


    • Fremont/Ballard BRT – an estimated $40 million project submitted to the FTA in September 2019.

If you’re still on the fence, here are five fast facts that support the Center City Connector (CCC):

  1. CCC will build exclusive right-of-way downtown for transit and attracts a big ($75 million) federal investment of $177 million cost, which includes roadway and utility work.
  2. CCC hits high value destinations and is projected to move 25,000 people per day.
  3. CCC will have a lower cost per boarding than Metro buses.
  4. CCC is far more reliable transit than separate South Lake Union (SLU) and First Hill Streetcar (FHSC) lines and it will give both routes more access. CCC is more than just a connector; it’s a high-frequency, reliable trunk line that completes a transit line, which links SLU/FHSC. It also allows more transit routes to serve the core in the future.
  5. CCC is very reliable, frequent transit that has exclusive use of the center lanes of 1st Avenue and runs every 5 minutes.

US Senator Patty Murray has had tough fights with Republicans to secure our region federal funding. We don’t need to undermine those efforts locally. Please write to Seattle City Council by Thursday, October 19th at noon, and urge them to NOT support the budget proviso to defund the Center City Connector:

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The Urbanist encourages dialogue on important urban issues through guest contributions. Over the years, we've had dozens of guest authors share their opinions and insights ranging from commentary on current events to community interviews and researched think pieces. If you would like to see your name behind a byline on The Urbanist, feel free to reach out to our Editorial Team at editorial[at]theurbanist[dot]org.

Ben Broesamle (Guest Contributor)

Ben Broesamle is on the board of Seattle Subway, a Washington State non-profit and 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. During its planning process, in 2013, he helped organize grassroots support for the Center City Connector to have exclusive lanes along First Avenue.

Paige Malott is the chair of Cascadia Rail, a Washington State non-profit and 501(c)(4) social welfare organization advocating for high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest.

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>> CCC is far more reliable transit than separate South Lake Union (SLU) and First Hill Streetcar (FHSC) lines

You do know how this is supposed to work, right? A train will go from one end to the other. If there is a problem anywhere along the track, then the train won’t continue. The train on the CCC can’t possibly be more reliable than a train on either end, because it will run on both ends.

There is a reason why the C and D were decoupled. It is because reliability on one was effecting reliability on the other. That is the way all long transit lines work. The only way to improve reliability on the streetcar line is to address reliability on the existing lines, not tie them together. Tying them together actually makes them *less* reliable. A train serving South Lake Union will be delayed because the First Hill Line is unreliable (and vice versa). This middle section will be unreliable because both ends are unreliable.

I find your statement troubling because you either have no idea how transit systems work, or feel it is OK to mislead people.

Benjamin Plotke

There could be a flip side to this sunk cost fallacy. Once people realize the CCC is compromised by the First Hill, there will be double the sunk cost to chase. It might be enough impetus to make Broadway one way for cars and give transit exclusive lanes. That would be a win for team cost efficacy, right?

Richard Bullington

No, it won’t “go from one end to the other.” Cars will start of Fred Hutch and end at International District on the north leg. Others will start on Broadway and turn around at Westlake. Essentially the CCC makes two lines which share a central core. Even were the cars to go through very few people will get on at Fred Hutchinson or anywhere else in SLU and ride around to Capitol Hill Station. They’d probably walk first.

But they will get on up there and ride to the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square or a ball game. As shown in the ridership projections, there won’t be so much synergy with the Broadway end because it already goes to Pioneer Square and, as you argue, for most people to go to the Market from Capitol or northern First Hill, the east-west trollies are better. Eventually the salvation of the Broadway car will be heading down Rainier to MBS. At that time the SLU-CCC will probably be extended to 12th or 14th Avenue.

The SLU cars have red lanes most of the way along Westlake now which also help the C and 40. But, duh, it will also help the streetcar!

You’re right that most local folks won’t wait for the streetcar if they’re headed to transfer to Link or anywhere from Third Avenue up the hill. They’ll take a RR if it comes first. But if you’ve gotten off the ferry and want to go to anywhere in SLU that streetcar stop with five minute headways at First and Madison will look mighty good.


Not once have you explained why the streetcar is better than a bus. Probably because it isn’t. You suggest that the only possible alternative is nothing. This is the transit equivalent to the SR 99 tunnel argument. We have to build it, because if we don’t, we’ll build nothing else. That is absurd.

The answer is obvious. Simply take the right of way for this project, and apply it to buses. The city of Providence did this exact thing, and redirected federal funds into the project: There is no reason why we can’t do the same.

The result would be much better transit, for far less money. A more detailed argument is made here:

John Schneider

No other way to say this: Paige Malott’s role in the grassroots advocacy of Cincinnati’s streetcar project is grossly overstated


Letter sent, hopefully they get a solid message from the community that this should BE BUILT!


The City Center Connector is a worthwhile project. It ties together two stub-end streetcar lines, of marginal worth by themselves, and creates a useful whole. This might look like throwing good money after bad, but this is one case where it’s warranted.


It looks like throwing good money after bad because it is. For far less money, we could “tie together” far better bus lines. The existing streetcar lines are not only bad because they are short, but because the routes are poorly designed. The First Hill routing is terrible, and everyone knows it. The decision to make a button hook on 14th was the wrong one, and would be reversed, if it wasn’t so expensive to move rail. Heck, if it was a bus route, they would simply skip the stop on 14th, and run on 12th, at no cost at all. But you can’t do that with a streetcar.

This is not only terrible for that particular part of the line, but ends up messing up the entire streetcar system. Proponents promise five minute service through downtown with the new streetcar. Great. But what if a train is stuck on First Hill? What if traffic, or a parked car (inches into the streetcar lane) brings it to a halt? You will have to wait way longer than five minutes, and when the mess is cleared, you will end up with 3 trains in a row, heading up 1st. Oh, goodie.

This is nothing more than a desperate attempt to salvage what almost everyone admits was a mistake. The streetcars are sunk cost. Even the shop keepers on Broadway don’t want it extended (which means it never will be extended). They know that it is silly, and that the far more popular 49 works just fine for getting around. There is no reason to spend so much money on something that doesn’t offer any advantages over a bus.


You’re arguing for removal of the two existing streetcar lines, and that simply isn’t going to happen! They will not go away, and they are not going to be converted to bus routes. In this real world, the CCC is a worthwhile project.

Jonathan Hopkins

Ross, you’re right about the First Hill line having shortcomings. But the CCC has none of these issues (we learn) and is not fatally flawed due to any sub-optimal system characteristics on the spurs.

That said, I’m yet to see any major transit project with capacity to move tons of people that you support. Our economic growth is only possible because of investments in 1996 for light rail that has opened over the past 8 years (despite imperfect decisions made at the time). It simply moves tons of people that buses never could. Likewise, our continued economic growth in the future will only be possible due to decisions we made in 2008 and 2016 (that latter which I know you opposed). This capacity investment in downtown Seattle is of similar ilk. Voting down every project with any compromises, or every project that has rail as you seem to advocate, would live our region stuck…literally.

Last note: Providence and Seattle are not comparable in a number of ways (density of jobs for one). Another major difference is tourism. Pike Place Market alone has a tourism volume comparable to the ENTIRE STATE of Rhode Island (10 million vs. 19 million). One thing that tourists rarely figure out? A: How to ride the bus. But what do they find easy to navigate? Rail. This project is unlike any other in the country (exclusive lane), is legible, frequent, and connects part of our city that currently have poor connection (CBD to SLU). This is an advance that would be unwise to vote down now.