Seattle's South Lake Union streetcar began service today from the Westin Hotel at 12:15 p.m. The $52 million, 1. 3-mile line includes 11...

Seattle’s South Lake Union streetcar began service today from the Westin Hotel at 12:15 p.m.

The $52 million, 1.3-mile line includes 11 stops from the hotel to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Rides this month are free.

The streetcar’s hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays and holidays. Initial ridership has been projected at 1,000 trips a day.

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More than 600 people gathered for today’s opening ceremony and speeches by local politicians.

“This isn’t just about a 1.3-mile line, this is about how we’re going to build cities in the future,” said Mayor Greg Nickels, a strong supporter of the streetcar. It also shows, he said, “how people are going to live in proximity to work, and not rely on the internal combustion engine.”

Said State Sen. Ed Murray, a vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, “We are taking the first step in a journey, no matter how long it is, with this streetcar, to save our environment and our planet.”

Other streetcar lines are being considered, but so far, are not funded. James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, is advocating a line on South Jackson Street to 23rd Avenue South.

The O’Jays’ recording of “Love Train” blared as the train headed out from downtown. Kelly would like that to become the streetcar’s official name.

The streetcar has been opposed by some who consider the city too willing to serve billionaire Paul Allen’s Vulcan, the dominant landowner in the South Lake Union, and too willing to see low-rent apartments and small businesses displaced.

About half of the streetcar’s $52 million cost — for construction and the trains — is being paid by a tax on nearby properties. The city paid its half with help from federal grants