The City Council appointed the City's first Street Commissioner in 1875. Management of Seattle's street networks resided with several agencies over the years, including the Department of Streets and Sewers (1896-1936), the Engineering Department (1936-97), and the Seattle Department of Transportation (1997-present). The City also ran its own public transportation system under the Municipal Street Railway System and Seattle Transit Department from 1919-73 before it was absorbed by King County Metro.

Street System

In 1900, Seattle had 106 miles of streets. Today, the City has over 4,000 lane miles of streets along with over 2,200 miles of sidewalks, 6,000 marked crosswalks, 100 bridges, 35,000 street trees, and 100,000 street signs.

 coal wagons

Loaded coal wagons near Spokane Street Bridge, 1919 (Item 12544)  

14th Avenue South

Looking north along 14th Avenue South from city limits in South Park, 1915 (Item 876)    

Aurora Avenue and Denny Way  

Aurora Avenue and Denny Way, 1940 (Item 54488)  

traffic signs

Traffic signs, 1920 (Item 12764)


Transportation Construction

Throughout most of Seattle's history, most street construction projects were approved and paid for, at least in part, by surrounding property owners through local improvement districts. Property owners could pay their entire assessments due at the time of construction or pay by installment over a period of years. Seattle voters periodically approved bond levies to raise money for arterial and highway construction.

Second Avenue repaving

Second Avenue repaving, looking north from Union, 1914 (Item 294)

Alaskan Way Viaduct under construction

Alaskan Way Viaduct under construction, 1952 (Item 43549)

16th Ave NW paving

16th Avenue NW paving, 1941 (Item 39942)  

Alaskan Way asphalt paving

Alaskan Way asphalt paving, 1952 (Item 43588)


Because Seattle is surrounded and divided by bodies of water, citizens rely on the City's network of more than 100 wholly or partly owned bridges to connect neighborhoods with downtown and other neighborhoods.

Ship Canal Bridge and University Bridge

Ship Canal Bridge and University Bridge, 2000 (Item 104309)

U.S.S. Tatnuck passing under Fremont and Aurora Bridges

U.S.S. Tatnuck passing under Fremont and Aurora Bridges, 1936 (Item 73874)

West Garfield Street Bridge opening

West Garfield Street Bridge Opening, 1930 (Item 4582)

Fremont Bridge operator

Fremont Bridge operator, 2001 (Item 110379)

Public Transportation
In 1902, voters in the City of West Seattle approved the first municipally-owned streetcar line in the United States. The streetcar line was later sold to private investors, but the City of Seattle assumed ownership of its own streetcar network in 1918 upon the purchase of Puget Sound Traction, Light, and Power Company's system. The Municipal Street Railway System transitioned to an all-bus network in 1940, and the agency reorganized as the Seattle Transit System. The City's public transportation system was absorbed into the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (METRO) in 1973.

Leschi ferry landing

Leschi Ferry Landing, 1914 (Item 225)
Until the 1940's, Seattle was connected to other towns along the Puget Sound and Lake Washington by several private ferry systems.

Capitol Hill electric trolley

Capitol Hill electric trolley at 15th and Aloha, 1903 (Item 64767)

Prior to 1918, several private streetcar lines were created, in part, to spur neighborhood growth and increase surrounding land values.

city bus

City bus, 1937 (Item 11818)


South Lake Union streetcar

South Lake Union Streetcar opening, 2007 (Item 156926)