Tuesday I asked for streetcar questions, now I have the answers via Ethan Melone, SDOT’s project manager for the Seattle streetcar.
STB What sort of in-street configurations are being studied? In San Francisco, they run streetcars in the street like the SLU car in some places, in dedicated right-of-way in others, and in subways in some sections. I am sure a subway is out of Seattle’s price range, what sort of in-street configurations are being studied? Could any have their own right of way?
EM We are generally looking at in-street configurations, not separate rights-of-way. As noted, some cities have “hybrid” light rail systems that operate primarily in their own right of way, but on streets in some neighborhoods. It is also possible to consider a “hybrid” streetcar system, which would operate mostly in-street, but with some separate rights-of-way. We have not ruled out that possibility, but most of the corridors we are looking at would work well with in-street configurations. In-street configurations are generally less expensive and do more to connect passengers with the urban environment. We are also looking at left-lane alignments and other options to address concerns about conflicts between cycling and tracks.
STB One of the major concerns with the proposed study was that an at-grade West Seattle-Ballard line would be built in lieu of a faster light-rail system. Some of those fears would be allayed with a more rapid streetcar alignment like San Francisco’s. What is the ultimate purpose of that potential line?
EM We agree that the speed and reliability that a streetcar could offer needs to be compared against rapid bus and light rail alternatives for longer corridors such as West Seattle and Ballard. It is possible that one or both of these corridors would be best served by a “hybrid” configuration such as San Francisco’s MUNI system, or by bus rapid transit. For the Ballard corridor, we are also looking at alternative routing to take advantage of the relatively free-flowing Westlake Avenue N and Leary Way.
STB Would the streetcar lines be constructed one at a time? If so, is there any idea which line/lines are likely to be constructed first? Also, when is the earliest a new streetcar line/extension would be ready for use?
EM We envision the streetcar lines would be built in phases, although simultaneous construction of more than one line would be feasible if funding were available. One of the major objectives of the study that is now underway is to identify the “most promising” route or routes to be built first. We anticipate that the “most promising” routes would be those that have the best combination of ridership potential, economic development potential, ease of construction, and funding opportunities.
STB Do you have any updates on the Waterfront Line #99? We miss it.
EM King County Metro is continuing to work with a private developer on a joint-use project for a new maintenance facility in Pioneer Square that would allow the Waterfront line to resume service. However, there is no development agreement in place yet.
STB Why are there no cameras on the streetcars like there are on buses?
EM The streetcars are wired for CCTV and we intend to add the cameras as funding becomes available.
STB Are you working with the police to prevent parked vehicles blocking the line?
EM We have asked SPD Parking Enforcement to give special attention to parking along the streetcar line. We have experienced very few blocking incidents to date, and the handful that have occurred have mostly related to emergency vehicle response, or construction equipment.
STB Are there plans to avoid the troubles the trains have been having with cars?
EM The two incidents with cars involved illegal traffic movements by the motor vehicles–running a red light, and making a right turn from the left travel lane. They do not seem to result from cars lacking awareness of the streetcars. However, we do plan to experiment with converting some of the exterior lights on the streetcars to strobe lights to increase driver awareness.
STB What should a cyclist biking on the street (between the rails, on the nice new smooth concrete) do when a streetcar comes behind then in the same lane?
EM A cyclist “taking a lane” that is a streetcar lane should follow the same traffic rules that would normally apply to “taking the lane.” The streetcar operators are required to follow all traffic rules, as well as Metro’s Standard Operating Procedures, which include lower speed limits than the general posted limit. Cycling in the streetcar lane in front of a streetcar should not present any issues different from cycling in front of other traffic, as long as the cyclist feels comfortable with the maneuvers necessary to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle when they leave the trackway.
STB Thanks Ethan for the answers!