Zach’s criticism of the First Hill Streetcar last week was admirably selective about its target, limiting the criticism to the Jackson St. Segment that is duplicative with high-volume bus routes. He was, correctly, complimentary of the new connectivity between Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Little Saigon.
My complaint with the piece is that the stated purpose of the line is a good one — to connect the hugely dense, regionally important First Hill neighborhood with the regional Link spine, and to a lesser extent, Sounder. The line’s routing clearly implies that it is not intended to connect the downtown core with First Hill: as critics point out, there are lots of bus lines that do a semi-adequate job of that.
I contend that it will do a good job of meeting its goal. From the North, passengers headed from points north to Swedish Hospital or Seattle University will do best to utilize the streetcar. All Sounder riders currently face a two seat ride (or a long walk) to access First Hill; the Streetcar will make it one seat. Northbound Link riders could switch to the streetcar or continue on to Pioneer Square or University Street and face the slog on a glacial, overcrowded trolleybus. We’ll have to see how the relative travel times work out for a variety of First Hill destinations (and a more direct route around Yesler Terrace and Little Saigon would have been better), but there’s reason to believe the streetcar will be a better option. Furthermore, I think it has a better chance of getting priority treatments than those buses ever will.
It’s true there’s duplication with buses that are carrying people down Jackson, but we should view the First Hill Streetcar as one part of an embryonic network. When (if?) the streetcar is extended through downtown, segments of the 7 and 36 running from Little Saigon through downtown will be redundant with the streetcar network and Link, and those hours can be reinvested elsewhere.
It may be that Seattle would have been better off (with respect to some metrics) deferring Jackson St. until it can extend through downtown, and instead investing the money to get to Aloha St. However, I doubt adding a single streetcar stop is going to bring many more riders to Link or Sounder, which is what ST’s projects should be about. Moreover, I doubt that it’s actually better for the underserved First Hill neighborhood, or for regional connectivity. It may be planning by consolation prize, in Zach’s wonderful phrase, but why doesn’t First Hill deserve one?