Issaquah residents, a couple Bellevue citizens and even a man from Yakima flocked to the Issaquah City Council meeting on Monday to express their support for reinstating Issaquah Valley Trolley services.
The Issaquah Valley Trolley Project, which would restore service between the Issaquah Depot and Gilman Boulevard, made a plea to the council to operate as the certified acceptance agency for the group. This type of agency is needed for grant management under federal and state requirements, and the role can only be filled by city and county agencies, said Barb Justice, project leader.
The City Council voted unanimously to put the city in the role of managing the project’s $500,000 in federal grant money.
The Issaquah Historical Society established a committee to bring a trolley to Issaquah in 2000, and leased a trolley from the city of Yakima to demonstrate its potential in Issaquah, Justice said.
Trolley service began in April 2001, operating on weekends through the fall, and then again in spring 2002. During that time, it transported more than 6,000 passengers.
Craig Thorpe, communications director for the project, supported it not just as something unique to Issaquah, but a growing national movement.
“What’s going on here is part of a much bigger trend,” he said. “Virtually every major city over 100,000 — and many small cities — have or are considering street car projects. There are 50 happening around the country right now.”
He referred to the trolley as “iconic,” and cited a quote from a San Francisco reporter: “Without the cable cars and street cars, San Francisco would be nothing more than a lumpy L.A.”
In her comments, Justice emphasized that the city’s role would come at no cost – the project is funded entirely through federal grants and donations from private individuals and corporations such as Microsoft. The group also has already completed a feasibility study, a business implementation timeline, and has paid for and prepared all signage and operating expenses for the project.
Michael Johnson, vice president of the Downtown Issaquah Association, also spoke on behalf of the trolley project, and emphasized the role it could play in tourism, bringing people to downtown, and expanding programs and events.
“If you’ve been here on an August or September ArtWalk, you know what the parking is like. I’ve felt like this is a resort town, because people are inventing parking spots that don’t even exist,” he said. “We can really help each other by having that connectivity (between downtown and Gilman Village). It can help create an environment downtown, and we’ll see tourism and everything just increase. In a time when we’re concerned about the economy, local tourism is a huge way to support a town.”
Ken Johnson, president of the Yakima Valley Trolley Association, made the approximately two-hour drive to tell the city council about the success of the trolley in his city, and suggested that Issaquah could become the “trolley mecca of Western Washington” if the council supported it.
Councilman Fred Butler encouraged the trolley project, stating that it can help create partnerships that go beyond Issaquah, and the project should move forward quickly.
Councilmember John Rittenhouse agreed, stating that the trolley is an important asset to Issaquah residents.
“We have a soft spot for the trolley here,” he said. “We’d all like to see it back in action.”