Priority Treatments on the Streetcar

seattlestreetcar.com

One of the more exciting ideas in the new Transit Master Plan is the Rapid Streetcar Network, which is a way of having Seattle control its own transit destiny. The crucial word is “rapid,” which makes this potentially transformative rather than a fancier bus line. The lines would have significant stretches of dedicated right-of-way and ubiquitous priority treatments.  But how are Seattle’s existing and under-construction lines doing in this regard?

According to SDOT’s Ethan Melone, of the 18 signalized intersections on the South Lake Union line, ten have some sort of signal priority or preemption, while only one has a queue jump.

That’s not ideal, but it’s a magic carpet compared to the First Hill Line. I count twenty-two signals each way,  and Mr. Melone confirms there will be only four priority signals: across Broadway & Boren and Broadway & Howell in both directions; southbound, the left from Broadway to Yesler and the right from 14th to Jackson, across the diagonal of Rainier/Boren; and northbound, the left turns on and off 14th Ave.

Mr. Melone explains that cost, which is “a few thousand dollars per intersection,” is not the constraint. Instead, the transit lines and high vehicle volumes that cross Broadway make “it difficult to prioritize green time for the streetcar through movement, because of the impacts to transit/traffic on the other movements.” However, he adds:

Signal priority is therefore pretty limited, but we have made other changes—signalized left turn pockets on Broadway, the southbound exclusive track on 14th, and the streetcar-only approach lanes at each terminus, some new left turn restrictions—that supplement the signal priority in terms of speeding up the streetcar operation as much as possible in this corridor.

I find this disappointing for reasons of perception and branding. Although from an engineering perspective the time penalty of a traffic light may be small, coming to a complete stop creates the perception that the ride is slow. If the city can show voters that the streetcar network is more than just more transit stuck in traffic, they might be more inclined to support it. And frankly, if rail isn’t a means of making priority more politically viable the capital expense is much less compelling in corridors that don’t need the extra capacity.

As a candidate, Mayor McGinn understood this, saying that we should “strive to make [the FHSC] quick and separate it from traffic as much as is feasible.” Obviously, there are many cooks in the kitchen of this project besides the Mayor, but it’s sad his department hasn’t been more imaginative in fulfilling that sentiment.

About Martin H. Duke

Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.




Comments

  1. Mark Y says:

    I look at the streetcar lines they build here and see the same situation as BRT. It could work if you did all the little things right, but alas, we don’t, so it just ends up creeping along.
    Hard to get excited about that.

    • No kidding. A little cut here, a little cut there, we don’t really need this, nor that, no big deal. But soon enough, your piece of paper is now a snow flake; full of holes. RapidRide, oh RapidRide…

      • “coming to a complete stop creates the perception that the ride is slow”

        unlike the SLUT line which is not only perceptively slow, it’s just plain slow by every other measure, say like by walking faster than the ride.

  2. With no downhill wire on Jackson (they coast down), hows that going to work when the uphill wire is not working (power out, broken overhead, track blockages)?
    Do they have enough battery juice to make it all the way uphill on battery power, or have any crossovers to make use of the other track.

    • When the juice goes out, it’ll work just like any other electric traction system: it won’t until it’s fixed. Before going crazy, Link, SLUT, and the trolley network have excellent reliability in terms of the power system. If the track is sectionalized (there’s no good reason not), the streetcar could travel though the “broken” section on battery, then hit the next live section to recharge. I can’t really comment on battery streetcar technology and it’s distances since it’s rather new. Additionally, I haven’t been able to read the RFP for vehicles, so I don’t know what ST/Seattle is looking for. Electrification failure is such a small issue in Seattle, as well as nation-wide, I’d say its dismissible in the grand scheme of things. Plus, if the power is out in a large area, there are bigger concerns.

      Can’t have crossovers either since the streetcar is tied to on-street traffic for its direction of travel.

      • It’s not that uncommon to run trolley buses on the opposite side of the street, using the other wires. It’s DC, but still works OK, like when road paving projects are going with flaggers, or a blocking accident investigation causes traffic control measures, or a transformer trips.
        My question was about how far uphill the streetcar can travel on battery power fully loaded – sorry you missed reading the question.

      • The trolley bus system is designed to be operated in a single-direction. It has no crossovers, the facing point switches are powered (driver has control), and trailing point switches are sprung (driver has no control). Additionally, the bus would have to cross its poles or have some other internal mechanism to change polarity since the opposite side of the street would be reversed*. When there’s construction, Metro either pushes the electric buses w/ a wrecker, runs diesels, or lets them sit there and pile up.

        I didn’t miss that question. I addressed it by saying “I don’t know”. Haven’t read the streetcar RFP yet to see what sort of range ST/Metro is looking for as they would specify that.

        *a fitting explanation in terms of model railroading:
        http://www.azatrax.com/model-railroad-reverse-loop.html

      • Sorry Mike, but your just wrong. I drove trollies for 10 years and actually drove in the wrong direction on numerous occasions on the opposite wire. And you can’t cross the poles, there the same length so you can activate some of the switches. The DC polarity is internally and automatically switched on board. It’s not your HO train system.
        I was thinking more of just shuttling one car back uphill on battery power.

      • Alright, I’m completly wrong. Good to know, actually. FYI let me know in advanced next time so I don’t make a fool of myself. That said, I’m curious to know how the buses would deal with the facing and trailing point switches? I do think the trolley wire is identical to the electrical layout of a model train system. Same sort of polarity and crossing issues, just at a different scale.

    • Mike Orr says:

      There was that power outage on lower Broadway in January when I was going to a waterfront meeting in Town Hall. I almost took the 2 from downtown but I end up walking from Capitol Hill… and a block away from Town Hall I saw four eastbound #2 buses stranded.

    • For those without access to the internet outside of the STB, most of the answers to technical questions about the FHSC are in these documents;

      SDOT construction certification (includes operating plan);
      http://clerk.seattle.gov/~public/meetingrecords/2012/transportation20120228_2b.pdf

      Streetcar specifications;
      http://www.seattle.gov/purchasing/docs/bids/RFPTRN2801TS.pdf

      Enjoy!

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Thanks Zed!

        For those that don’t want to read the whole thing, the RFP had a performance specification for the battery section. Provide enough battery so that with a charge between 40% and 80% a streetcar can run the full line 20x in a day including the wireless segments, without air conditioning (I assume they’ll just condition the air on the wired segments). Though they do throw in a minimum battery size of 6 kWhr.

        Will this be enough to get back up the hill without power? There’s no way of knowing at this point, as that wasn’t a requirement.

  3. Brendon says:

    This is really disappointing. As a 49 rider, I was really hoping that the bus would piggyback improvements on Broadway. It’s amazing how much of the route from Capitol Hill to U District is consumed in stop and go on Broadway, especially during peak times. Shouldn’t Broadway prioritize North-South movement over East-West (with the exception of a few major corridors from downtown)?

    • Adam Bejan Parast says:

      I think allowing the streetcar and buses to stop in line will actually help solve some of this problem, although if it a bus takes too long, it could actually delay a streetcar behind it.

  4. Thanks for making this astute observation. This should really be called the First Hill Cycle Track project. The bicyclists are getting the “exclusivity” on Broadway, not transit.

    • Chris I says:

      Transit vehicles and cars are much more compatible than bikes and cars. It makes sense to separate bikes, for everyone’s safety.

    • Al S. hits the mark. I’ve been working in other regions the past few years, so it’s kind of cheesy for me to comment as the line goes into construction–but let’s learn from this. Bikes get the benefit in the Broadway corridor, and it seems so unnecessary. The lesson from the South Lake Union Line is that, when the streetcar (or any priority transitway) shares a key bike route, you make every effort to locate transit in the center lanes. You resolve left turn conflicts with left turn lanes for cars where a station doesn’t consume the ROW. Bikes then get a calmed lane towards the curb minus the transit and track conflicts. Works nicely on Market Street in San Francisco (though they didn’t solve the left turn problem).

      First Hill Line got it half right. In many places the streetcar is in the center. That is a big transit priority treatment that buses would be grateful to share. Avoids those double-parked trucks, taxis, emergency vehicles, etc. But then First Hill adds the Cycle Track along Broadway and seriously curtails all transit. How many more riders on transit in the corridor than on bike? Look at the northbound stop at Pine Street (at least as shown in a recent Times article). Streetcars, buses, general traffic, AND left turning vehicles are all stuck in the same lane–at a station! Transit can’t even reach the station, let alone get through the intersection. Indeed, bikes get the benefit.

    • Looks like the same sort of thing is lining up for the Waterfront. I agree that First Avenue is on the whole a more attractive transit corridor than the Waterfront. Yet the geographic barriers between First Ave and the piers, from Pike Place north, justify a strong waterfront transit element. There is a lot of right of way to work with, including that land which has been occupied by the Benson Line single track and turning pockets. There is room for more than bikes, general traffic, horse carts, and zero priority buses along the new seawall.

      I support a serious look at a restored, doubled-tracked, reserved ROW Benson Line on the Waterfront, in tandem with First Avenue streetcar. Attractive extensions for modern streetcar from the Benson Line would include a connection over the future Broad Street Bridge to Uptown via Western Ave., and a SODO line via First Avenue South and Lander Street. Also consider an upgraded West Seattle water transit connection near Main/Jackson/Yesler; this would connect with transit running the length of the California Ave/Fauntleroy Way corridor.

      • Zach Shaner says:

        I would have loved to see a 12th Avenue Cycletrack instead of on Broadway. When going from Capitol Hill to the ID on a bike, who wants to make the climb from Union to Marion on Broadway when you could just coast down 12th all the way to Jackson? Going in reverse, who wants to climb up Yesler or Boren to access a cycletrack when there’s an easy uphill grade on 12th?

        Post ULink, I would have much preferred to see a new sub-10-minute-headway trolley route that merges the 36 and 49 via Broadway while interlining service on the 7/14 for a frequent-service transfer at Jackson.

      • Gordon Werner says:

        in line with what Zach said … I never (or so rarely that it may as well be never) see bicyclists on Broadway (at least south of Pine St) … but you see hundreds of them on 12th ave.

    • Bicyclists get the exclusivity privilege of being hit by cars turning off of Broadway. As a bicyclist, I don’t see the cycle track on Broadway as a benefit to anyone but pedestrians, because it moves the few bicycles that ride on the sidewalk off. However anyone wishing to go to a business on the other side of the street, will be riding and blocking traffic, or running down pedestrians.. even if riding slowly.

      IMO this cycle track is just a “show piece” and not part of a serious bicycle transportation network.

  5. Matt the Engineer says:

    Ugh. I can’t say I’m surprised, but that’s one of the strong benefits of streetcars – that it should be politically easier than buses to give them their own ROW. I’m glad there’s signal priority on 14th – that intersection is a nightmare. But they’re not even giving it priority at Boren & Yesler? I think Boren’s the primary street there, giving Yesler long light cycle times (I’ll check on that next time I walk through).

    • Priority on 14th perhaps, but a big “oxbow” to reach Broadway via 14th. Turn on 12th would have been nice; I’m sure traffic was the concern.

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

      Many of the FHS stops seem to be located mid-block which will eliminate one source of delays on Portland’s streetcar network. In PDX many of the stops are located right at the intersection and if there is a passenger vehicle ahead of the streetcar, the streetcar has to wait for the car ahead to clear before the streetcar can pull into the platform and open its doors. That often means waiting through a full signal phase. Mid-block stops should lessen those delays.

      I’m hopeful that someday, in a distant future, the FHS will become 2 lines: a Jackson Street line that runs from Pioneer Square to MLK & Jackson and a Broadway line that connects to the future East Link at the I-90 station and to the existing Mt. Baker Station. Just dreamin’…

      • I’m with you, GOBH, on those extensions. Operationally, how about Jackson Street both to the northern CD (23rd Ave) and south to East Link and the Mt. Baker Station. From there, how about center lane rapid streetcar on Rainier Avenue to Rainier Beach?

  6. It seems like Seattle always follows other cities in just about everything … BRT, Streetcars, Light Rail … And then when we finally do decide to copy whatever other cities are doing, we never improve upon it, instead, we compromise and dilute it until it’s rendered ineffectual, or at best, average.

    • I’m always too negative, so I want to say something positive. I think this will be a good tourist attraction!

      • Mobilitor says:

        Let me jump in for you. The monorail already serves as the gizmo transit tourist attraction. Unless the streetcars look funny or old they won’t be tourist draws. You’re right: the middle-of-the-road mediocrity of Seattle is its chief characteristic. Mezzo City.

      • I happen to agree with Sam on this. I see tourists on the SLUT all the time going to the Wooden boat Center etc. Locals have figured out that it’s faster to walk.

      • It’s only faster to walk if you are only going a few blocks, or can’t tell time and always miss the streetcar.

      • East Coast Cynic says:

        You don’t negative. You sound like you’ve lived here for a long time:)

      • Ah, it doesn’t matter whether I can tell time or not, if get off my bus at Westlake, and walk to SLU, I beat the SLUT every time, unless it’s just left, in which case waiting for the next one is even more ridiculous.
        Besides walking is healthier so I get a double bonus.

    • Community Transit BRT has been a big hit, but nobody ever talks about it. Our bus system is one of widest reaching and most interlaced on the continent. Link is embarking on a transit expansion so massive in scope, it’s second only to the Second Avenue Subway in NYC. Agreed the streetcar is a bit of a faff, but we are the pioneers along with Portland and the SLUT has been doing very well. Seattle isn’t doing too poorly in terms of transit.

      • Mike Orr says:

        That’s true, Seattle is #7 in terms of transit usage and comprehensiveness nationally. Of course, the corollary is how bad #7 is, and how astronomically ahead of us #1-5 are.

  7. Big steetcar fan, but it really is starting to sound like this project is a crappier idea day it crawls along. Bike improvements, big yes. Make Broadway look nicer, big yes. But the train… $150M in a congested corridor, no signal priority(?!?), and it’ll be slower than the trolley bus alternatives? We may have goofed on this.

    I hope I’m totally wrong on this, and the streetcar will be a big hit.

    • Stephen says:

      We’ve goofed but it’s very easy to fix with two inexpensive changes:
      1. Paint the words “Transit Only” on Broadway at each intersection
      2. Install TSP at 100% of intersections

      Would it be so catastrophic to lose one N-S street for SOV’s? No! There are plenty of parallel streets that traffic going north-south on cap hill could use. If total capacity is truly an issue, you could remove street parking from some of those parallel streets and then turn those into travel lanes.

  8. Steve M says:

    Do streetcars in Toronto have signal priority? Not a trick question, I’m curious if anyone knows. Toronto does seem to have the most comprehensive and successful streetcar network in North America (though it’s a holdover from the former era, not a new development)

    • I don’t know about signal priority, but they do have left turn restrictions and legacy center lane running.

    • Andrew Smith says:

      Lots of dedicated lanes, including some subway tunnels. I don’t know about signal priority.

      • Breadbaker says:

        I think they have their own signals, which I assume is what you mean by signal priority, i.e, you get a white (I think) trolley only light before the green.

    • Nathanael says:

      Some lines have signal priority, some don’t. Steve Munro is the blogger whose archives you should read when looking at Toronto.

  9. Please tell me that off-board payment won’t be rolled back to off-board payment unless you want to pay with cash, and only during the hours of 6 am to 7 pm, and only at select stations.

    Will there be ticket machines?

    Will there be off-board ORCA readers?

    Or is the plan to make it a free ride?

    • Why wouldn’t the payment set-up be exactly the same as the SLU Streetcar?

      • You mean free for clueless riders? No Orca reader, no fare checking? Just an overpriced honor system?

    • Mike Orr says:

      Because the FHS is being built by Sound Transit after ORCA was introduced. The SLUT was built before ORCA was introduced.

    • Mike Orr says:

      This 7pm thing has got to go. It’s as bad as the 7pm changeover in the Ride Free Area. Whenever I tell visitors or occasional riders the myriad fare rules (“it’s $2.25, now but $2.50 weekdays during rush hour within Seattle and more to the suburbs, and you pay as you leave on runs going out of downtown until 7pm when it switches to pay as you enter, and Sound Transit has a different fare, and Link has distance-based fares, and you have to go up to the mezzanine and get a Link ticket or ORCA card and come back down or the inspectors will fine you. What’s AN ORCA card? This is. It’s $5 but it’s totally worth it, and it gives you free transfers between transit systems. What does “between transit systems” mean? Metro buses are one system, ST buses are another, and Link is a third one…)

      … their eyes glaze over and they don’t comprehend anything after the first clause, and they think “Seattle transit is so complicated” and “I won’t bother going up to the mezzanine to get a Link ticket” and “I’ll drive next time”.

    • Gordon Werner says:

      I believe there will be Orca card readers on the streetcars themselves. Do not know if there will be any on the platforms.

      • Oddly, Metro seems to have pulled the rear-door ORCA readers from the RapidRide buses. Maybe they figured out how fares get evaded?

  10. Whose interests are being met with this kind of design? It seems like drivers would rather not share lanes and signal time with streetcars than have to contend with them.

    I’m thinking of Boston’s green line, which gets tons of signal priority and is essentially disconnected from the roadway. Seems like both drivers and transit riders are happier in that situation than in some kind of muddled middle-ground.

    RE: Bicycle prioritization. Capitol/First hill needed a cycle track 10 years ago, as did every other major bike route. Seattle is falling further and further behind in dedicated bicycle routes, let’s not shoot our own foot by complaining about a huge step forward for bicycling in this city.

    • Green Line is 95% lane segregated but, alas, it has no signal priority at all.

      It is a testament to the ubiquity of automobile interests that even on a line carrying a quarter of a million riders, that even in a city with the nation’s third-highest mode share and no class stigma against transit, that a packed-to-the-gills B-line train waits for minor side-street cross traffic.

      At least light cycles there are a heck of a lot shorter than they ate here.

      • Nathanael says:

        Well, the Green Line in Boston (B and C branches) stops at what seems like every second street, and some of them don’t even have signals (just stop signs), so I’m not sure how much help signal priority would be. There are a few spots where it would help though.

    • Shane Phillips says:

      I don’t know about the bicycle improvements actually, the more I think about it. If I’m heading south I take my bike on 12th, and that seems to be the general sentiment. Most of the time I ride my bike to get somewhere, not just for exercise, and I typically would rather arrive at my destination without being covered in sweat. Heading south on Broadway past Pike is a much more difficult ride than it is on 12th. Even though the cycle track will almost definitely be safer than the lanes on 12th, I honestly don’t see it encouraging many “sometimes” or “rarely” bicyclists to start riding more frequently. It’s not a very enjoyable ride.

  11. lazarus says:

    I think the last paragraph is the key one in this post. Despite his campaign rhetoric, the mayor has been shockingly absent when it comes to actually getting things done on transit. For example, the Aloha Ext should be well beyond just a topic of conversation by now and should at least have its design phase funded to the level of being shovel ready.

    The mayor has really dropped the ball on this, and he gives no indication that he is even concerned about making changes in the future. It’s an embarrassment.

    That said, even without the Aloha Ext and signal priority the FHSC will be a success (just like the SLUSC), and if it is determined that the system needs improvement we can always add signal priority later.

    • Mike Orr says:

      The mayor is limited by how much taxes people will tolerate. He did offer Proposition 1 which was defeated in November, because half the people said it wasn’t ambitious enough and the other half said the money should go into bus hours or sidewalks/potholes.

      • Jason Mitchell says:

        Prop 1 should be a poi-sci lesson in writing and branding policy failure.

      • Jason Mitchell says:

        “poli-sci” obviously.

      • lazarus says:

        The design phase for the Aloha Ext will not require spending at a level requiring new taxes. The design can be accomplished without raising taxes, but the mayor isn’t even trying.

        This mayor doesn’t know how to lead, and doesn’t know how to sell anything to the voters.

    • “This summer, the City will use a mixture of $50,000 in federal funds and $450,000 in local funds to begin environmental review on the north Broadway extension. That’s the first step toward competing for the federal funds we’ll need to build it.”

      “We are also applying for regional funds to pay for engineering and final design. With the help of Councilmembers Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien, the streetcar extension was selected as one of twelve projects that the Puget Sound Regional Council is considering funding. If successful, the PSRC funds can help pay for the $2.5 million cost of the engineering and final design in 2013.”

      http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/bringing-streetcar-to-north-broadway/

      • I’m not enamored of the Aloha Extension anymore than I am of the FHSC, but it’s not accurate to imply the Mayor has done nothing. Thanks for posting that, Zed.

      • lazarus says:

        Exactly what I mean! This mayor is totally ineffectual and doesn’t know how to get anything done.

        “Environmental review” is a half step that doesn’t get the project shovel ready, and applying to the PSRC is little more than kicking the can down the road by making the funding issue someone else’s problem.

        I’m ready for a mayor who can make decisions and get things done.

      • Mike Orr says:

        If you don’t support an “ineffective” pro-transit mayor, you may get an effective anti-transit mayor. The issue is moot until somebody emerges who’s both pro-transit (and pro complete streets and pro density) and can gain more widespread public support than McGinn. I doubt there’s a chance of Nickels running again after losing in the primary, but who else is there?

      • Nathanael says:

        Actually, getting stuff through environmental review is a major step. The Lakewood Sounder extension was delayed for how many years by environmental review?

  12. Bellinghammer says:

    Rail development should be “go big or go home”. Give me fully grade-separated rail (Seattle Subway!) or give me frquent buses! The worst thing you can do is spend rail-level money to get bus-like performance. UGH.

    • Mike Orr says:

      Upper Broadway has frequent buses. Lower Broadway has ad hoc frequent buses in the southbound early evening because it’s on the way to the base. But even with these frequent buses, it takes a long time to get from the Broadway Market to Chinatown, or from the Broadway Market to Bellevue Ave, or from downtown to Broadway.

      (Going from the Broadway Market to UW is pretty quick by comparison: 10 minutes northbound off-peak, 15 minutes southbound off-peak, 15 minutes northbound peak, and 20-25 minutes southbound peak.)

    • Ben Du says:

      I though it was give me fully grade separated rail or give me death…

    • Rod N. says:

      Frequent buses. LOL.

  13. How has Ethan Melone not been let go yet?

    • Whoa! What are you talking about? Do you think he has complete control over every aspect of the FHSC?

    • Jason Mitchell says:

      Easy, killer. Let me know when Ethan sets policy. Transit planners rarely get to build the transit they would like to build—especially, it seems, in Seattle.

    • zefwagner says:

      Ethan is a great guy, and is doing the best with what he was given. So please be quiet.

  14. Mayor to propose Seattle City Light rate increase of 28% over 6 years

    Since it’s been City Light’s policy to stab Matro for the highest rate rather than give them the discount any other large commercial customer would receive I wonder how this is going to play out in the ETB and streetcar budget? Since Link extends beyond City Light boundaries can it buy power from the lowest bidder and run it’s own grid independent of City Light?

  15. I had an SDOT signal engineer tell me over a year ago that they would fix the signal at Westlake and Seventh so that the southbound streetcar could proceed across Seventh with the green traffic signal. Hasn’t happened yet. The streetcar still has to wait for the special streetcar phase to cross Seventh, even though the street was reconfigured so that it’s not necessary any more. This not only wastes passengers’ time, but it blocks traffic behind the streetcar, because Westlake is only one lane in that area.

    I also wonder how much signal priority the streetcar is even given on Westlake, especially northbound. Nine times out of ten, when leaving the terminus headed northbound, the streetcar ends up stopping at three consecutive signals. Just some simple signal timing would fix that problem, even without signal priority.

    • As a rider of the SLUT and walker-by it would appear that the SLUT has No signal priority at all anywhere along the line.

  16. All I can say is “yikes”.

  17. The solution to mobility for 1-2 mile neighborhood trips is bicycles, not a super-expensive train that sits there stuck in traffic, to be laughed at by people on bicycles who zoom past it.

    To put $150 million in perspective, that’s enough money to buy a $150 bicycle for a million people, or a $1,000 bicycle for 100,000 people. You could buy a brand new bike for every person within a mile that streetcar line and still come out financially ahead.

    • Please forgive me, asdf, but I have heard similar arguments for why highways should be funded over transit. Even when everyone in the city has a decent bike, city livability, economic vitality, civil rights and environmental justice depend on a good transit system. Seattle has a good bus system, but that is not enough in any major city. Everyone having a bike in Detroit would not revitalize Detroit (though it would be a good start).

      Both bike and transit facilities are needed, even for shorter city trips. I agree that the bike mode should be encouraged for these trips, but not at the expense of transit riders. At the same time transit should not discourage biking in a corridor, as the South Lake Union Streetcar does along Westlake. What percentage of First Hill employees would chose to get there from the flatlands by bike?

      One of the big benefits of streetcar is its impact on city building: it helps to focus investment where you want it. That’s investment in infill development, attractive streetscapes (for pedestrians, bicyclists, all city stakeholders), investment in good transit corridors. The key is to get every possible benefit from that investment. Unfortunately, Seattle is having some challenges there (Link North & South, First Hill Streetcar). Streetcar done well meets a need in Seattle.

      • Peter,

        The problem with highways, at least in the context of cities, is space. If you want to achieve urban levels of density, there simply isn’t enough space for everyone to get where they’re going if everyone drives solo. Therefore, even if highways were cheaper than trains (which they’re not), urban highways don’t actually solve the mobility problem that cities have.

        If cars are a problem for urban mobility rather than a solution, that suggests that the most effective and worthwhile transit investments are ones that supplant the need for cars, rather than ones that serve trips for which walking or biking could be acceptable options.

        That doesn’t mean that streetcars aren’t worth funding. But it means that the money spent on a streetcar may very well be better spent on grade-separated services which are optimized for longer-distance trips.

    • Mike Orr says:

      Of course, there’s a steep hill from Jackson Street to Cherry Street that only a few hardy individuals can ride a bicycle up.

  18. Reply to Aleks:

    Thoughtful response, thank you. I’m right there with you on urban highways. You bring up an interesting subject: providing mobility alternatives to cars in dense urban settings, and when grade separation (full exclusivity) becomes necessary for transit. Guess it depends on the travel distance and how fast the transit trips must be to compete.

    Semi-exclusive corridors (reserved lanes or surface transitways) can do very well in dense urban settings (Boston Green Line, San Diego Trolley, LA Blue and Expo lines, and many other examples). Shared ROW corridors with exclusive segments can also perform well (San Francisco MUNI, Philadelphia Subway-Surface, etc.). Streetcar operations with strong transfers to exclusive ROW rail can also be effective–and the more exclusivity, the better (to paraphrase Vukan Vuchic). Fully separated corridors can be prohibitively expensive; there is a lot you can do on the surface before making that investment. North Link saved a bundle by eliminating stations (First Hill, Convention Place, Broadway North). One tradeoff, there, is only a single station to serve the three miles or so between Westlake and Husky Stadium. Mobility vs. access.

    As an alternative to bus or BRT (services providing better access than typical grade-separated lines), streetcar with an emphasis on effective service is a shared investment in transit, streetscape, livability, and urban center building. Surface-emphasis LRT is a step-up from that, and is generally for longer corridors.

    My Masters thesis focused on how to make a downtown streetcar network function for inner-city neighborhood extensions. I see that as a big part of the transit future in Seattle and other North American cities. It is especially important for the health of inner neighborhoods–CD and Rainier Avenue nodes, as examples.

    Peter

  19. I guess it’s a little late to be saying, the streetcar should cut over to Broadway on Jefferson and avoid crossing Boren 3 times? (And avoid running a few blocks away from itself, serving a smaller area than it could…)

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