Hope, fear mix as construction of Capitol Hill streetcar nears

Mar 20, 2012

“I know the parking is going to disappear. It terrifies me.”

Groundbreaking is just a few weeks away for a new streetcar line in Seattle. The line will connect the coffee shops and colleges of Capitol Hill with the hospitals of First Hill and the Chinatown International District. As some feared, there will be some disruptions in the neighborhoods.

Ritu Shah-Burnham is the owner of zpizza on Capitol Hill. With her magenta highlights and broad smile, she says she’s getting ready for two years of construction right outside her shop on Broadway. 

“I know the parking is going to disappear. It terrifies me.”

As a new business owner – her restaurant has been near this busy corner across from Seattle Central Community College for just 17 months – she wonders how vendors will make deliveries during construction. 

This will be Seattle’s second electric trolley, and it’s funded by Sound Transit. The goal is to connect First Hill to the link light rail stations on Capitol Hill and the International District. Michael Wells with the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce says more transportation options translate to more business opportunities.

“A streetcar in a way almost still feels like a tourist experience. It feels almost like an amusement park ride in a certain way.  I think people will be riding it in a different way than they ride the buses, perhaps.  I think maybe instead of getting into their car and thinking they’ll go try this new shop, I think they’ll get the streetcar.”

Wells for one is excited about the prospect of grabbing an easy lunch in Chinatown. The city plans to maintain pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the two and a half mile line during construction, but you can expect lane closures and heavy work on weekends and at night. As for Shah-Burnham, the pizza shop owner, it’s all in the attitude. 

“I mean I’m not going anywhere. I signed a lease. (laughs) So I have to handle it no matter what happens.”

When all is said and done, she might have more customers. Ridership on the First Hill Streetcar is expected to exceed three thousand people each day.