Transportation

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
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 12544
14th Avenue South
Looking north along 14th Avenue South
from city limits in South Park, 1915
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 876
Aurora Avenue and Denny Way
Aurora Avenue and Denny Way, 1940
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 54488
traffic signs
Traffic signs, 1920
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 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
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 294
Alaskan Way Viaduct under construction
Alaskan Way Viaduct
under construction, 1952
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 43549
16th Ave NW paving
16th Avenue NW paving, 1941
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 39942
Alaskan Way asphalt paving
Alaskan Way asphalt paving, 1952
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 43588

Bridges

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 and University Bridges, 2000
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 104309
U.S.S. Tatnuck passing under Fremont and Aurora Bridges
U.S.S. Tatnuck passing under
Fremont and Aurora Bridges, 1936
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 73874
West Garfield Street Bridge opening
West Garfield Street Bridge opening, 1930
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 4582
Fremont Bridge operator
Fremont Bridge operator, 2001
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 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
Until the 1940's, Seattle was
connected to other towns along the
Puget Sound and Lake Washington
by several private ferry systems.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 225
Capitol Hill electric trolley
Capitol Hill electric trolley
at 15th and Aloha, 1903
Prior to 1918, several private
streetcar lines were created, in part,
to spur neighborhood growth and
increase surrounding land values.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 64767
city bus
City bus, 1937
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 11818
South Lake Union streetcar
South Lake Union Streetcar opening, 2007
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 156926

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