Amazon plan adds more streetcar trips
Amazon.com is offering $5.5 million in streetcar and bicycling improvements to compensate for taking city-owned alleys for its planned high-rise campus in Seattle's Denny Triangle.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Streetcars would arrive as often as every 10 minutes in South Lake Union, if city officials approve Amazon.com's offer to buy a railcar and sponsor added trips.
The e-commerce giant wants to pay the city $5.5 million for streetcar and bicycling improvements that would help its employees get to work. The plan would also bring a public benefit, to compensate for Amazon taking city-owned alley space to build its high-rise Denny Triangle campus, Mayor Mike McGinn announced Friday.
Amazon intends to build a trio of towers, each 38 stories high, a few blocks south of its still-growing South Lake Union campus. Construction on the first tower could begin next year.
The funding announced Friday addresses part of the coming traffic congestion but is by no means a full solution. Although three-fourths of the 12,000 new Amazon commuters are expected to walk, bike or ride transit, the complex would include 3,300 underground parking spots.
Two streetcars now run every 15 minutes, except from 4 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays, when a third railcar is sent onto the route and service is more frequent. Amazon would buy a fourth railcar for $3.7 million and pay its operating costs for 10 years, allowing service every 10 minutes from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.
The 1.3-mile streetcar route skirts two towers that Amazon would build along Westlake Avenue. At peak hours, Amazon's South Lake Union workers already fill the streetcars, which carry 2,900 passengers per weekday.
In addition, Amazon would pay for bike lanes, known as cycle tracks, on both sides of Seventh Avenue between its buildings, said Marybeth Turner, city transportation spokeswoman.
Amazon would add $250,000 toward city design of the next cycle-track segment, on Westlake reaching Pine Street, Turner said.
The bikeway is well-placed. To the north, Seventh Avenue connects to the popular Dexter Avenue North bike lanes, while east-west Blanchard Street is the safest bikeway from South Lake Union to Belltown and points beyond.
Amazon's new towers along Blanchard would be set back from the street to allow wide sidewalks and plantings. Amazon would contribute $150,000 to a future triangular park nearby.
John Fox, leader of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, says $5.5 million equates to "a few dollars for what will be an extraordinarily lucrative development." He suggests the city establish a more stringent system of charging traffic-impact fees, as some Eastside suburbs do.
"They're going to point to projects like this, to legitimize further upzones in the area," Fox said.
The streetcar launched service in December 2008, costing $52 million plus nearly $4 million in nearby utility work. Nearly half, or $25 million, was paid by landowner Paul Allen's real-estate arm, Vulcan, which has extensive holdings in the neighborhood, including the 1.8 million-square-foot Amazon.com headquarters complex, which was recently put on the market.
The Amazon proposal goes to a public hearing before the City Council's Transportation Committee at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with a council vote expected in mid-December.
McGinn said in a statement: "Seattle is recovering at a faster clip from the Great Recession than the rest of the country. We are recovering because companies like Amazon want to build their future in our city and give back to our community."
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report. Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.