I was on my way home this evening and went to wait for the streetcar only to find the electronic sign saying: Expect Delays 1 Streetcar Running. Shocked, confused, and curious, I found out that yet again another accident has occurred with the streetcar! Everyone jokes about hitting the parked car when you get your license, I think the jokes will start to fly now. The red car hit a parked truck on Terry near Harrison. Sigh….the problem is I have heard they are going to rely on one streetcar for tomorrow. The orange streetcar is in being serviced, and the red one is now obviously bruised and in need of some TLC. So I guess that we will have to expect more delays in the future as only the purple one will be running. So now, a couple questions run through my mind.

1. This is now the third accident in the short 4 months the line has been open. This clearly shows that the future additions to the line need to be away from traffic preferably in its own lane with space to clear all objects. That last part is most important. I don’t get how people still park their vehicles incorrectly, however, clearly there needs to be better information out about this. I have had to get off twice due to illegal parkers and the streetcar not being able to get around it. Perhaps banning parking on the line? That would eliminate that problem.

2. I have been on the streetcar when it has had to stop quickly, although difficult it can be done. Terry is a slow untraveled road, how is this not able to be avoided by the operator especially if it was parked? I am not placing any blame, but it seems odd to me that it couldn’t have been avoided?

I hope this isn’t a series of events that we can expect in the future, perhaps just isolated incidents. Although, they say three is a trend. What do you guys think?

70 Replies to “Streetcar Crashes Again”

  1. This is just an issue of time. We don’t have to do anything to fix it – people don’t like having their cars destroyed, they just need enough media exposure of what happens to learn.

  2. Remember, other cities all over the world have non-separated trams without this kind of problem. We’re just new to it.

  3. An answer to 2)

    You can’t really tell, driving a rail vehicle, exactly how much clearance you have. The driver probably didn’t know he was going to clip the car.

  4. Most, if not all street car operators are coming from Metro. I hear they are locked in for one year commitment before they can return to driving a bus, and even then, there’s no guarantee they can go back at the end of the year. Some, who desperately want to stop driving the street car, are purposely messing up to be forced back to their old bus driving job, I hear. I hope this accident isn’t part of that messing up.

  5. I know that when the waterfront streetcar began service, there were also several accidents – because it is hard to stop a streetcar quickly. Some high seniority Metro drivers chose not to drive it so they wouldn’t ruin their safe driving records. There will be accidents on the streetcar and people will stop noticing that as the novelty wears off.

    The other issue is whether it matters whether the streetcar is reliable. If it’s not there, the #70 bus will get you to the same place, and faster. The reason we have this streetcar is the same reason streetcars were built at the beginning of the last century – to help market real estate, or in this case, to help make overpriced real estate even more expensive and unaffordable. Do we care if it isn’t running for a day or two? Who will notice? The only people who will be hurt are evangelists for the technology who could sense a public relations problem as a result.

    When we have a desperate need in Seattle for real mass transit, and for fast and reliable service, it’s depressing to see the city promoting streetcar service that is even slower than buses. Transit can be an amenity, but it will be a more effective amenity if it also provides a transportation function. We can’t afford to put all of our money into making yuppies feel more cosmopolitan, and making their condos more upscale. If we’re going to put money into rail, please put it into something fast in a reserved right of way, not into an inflexible and slow amenity that serves only a secondary transportation purpose.

    One more thing before I stop ranting. I am not opposed to streetcars when they’re implemented to accomplish something specific. They are good at circulation. But if circulation was the goal, we’d be talking about taking it through the downtown to connect pedestrian nodes and transportation terminals, not extending it out Eastlake as an underlay to the existing trolleybus service. IMHO, there are too many arguments on these pages about what technology is best. and too few about where each is most appropriately applied.

  6. What Sam said does not make sense. The only reason drivers would want off of the streetcar assignment would be to protect their safe driving record. They would not intentionally cause accidents.

  7. Rather than banning parking along the line to accommodate a poor choice in transit options, how about ditching the streetcar and just using busses — a transit solution which can, AMAZINGLY, maneuver around a parked car.

  8. chris, or we could be patient until the problems clear up, just like all the other recent streetcar construction in the world.

  9. Even San Francisco had problems with the streetcar, one guy drove down the market subway entrance.

  10. For whatever it is worth I agree with Quasimodal… We’ve been kinda bad a picking the right transportation technology to fit the application. We use buses where we should be using light rail (or real-BRT) and street cars where we should be using buses.

    Seattle is great at creative hacks, I’ll give us that. Really that is all the ride free area is. A way to get a free set of circulators and keeping downtown moving by changing the location of the fare collection to a spot where less concentrated volume.

  11. err strike ” where less concentrated volume.” replace with “where the number of people boarding is lower per stop.”

  12. nick, why should this be a bus corridor? It’s fixed, it will be extended later, and it can handle higher ridership than a bus in a corridor where there is more demand than supply.

    I have seen NOTHING to indicate that crashes are a long-term problem with streetcars. They cleared up with MAX and the Portland Streetcar.

  13. Ben, how on earth can you say “it’s fixed”? And for those who think it will get better with time – remember that drivers will never have the kind of experience with and knowledge of streetcars that you do – there’s new drivers coming in from the burbs every day.

    How did Portland get by without this? Maybe they’re not running this close to parked cars? Anybody?

  14. Whenver I hear about the streetcar and a car colliding (and yes, I know in this last incident the car was parked), I always recall this older video from another city: http://youtube.com/watch?v=CV2rdGX4JYc

    I wish Seattle had a similar camera whose footage they could share with us.

  15. Never mind on the “fixed” comment, obviously you meant the service – although I’d disagree there too; buses’ oft-touted flexibility has little to do with shifting routes and all to do with being able to shift lanes.

    IE, the #1 has been running in its current corridor in Austin essentially unmodified for decades. But it can, in fact, get around a double-parked car.

  16. Ben,
    To flip it around, why should this be a street car line?

    One thing I kept hearing bantered around about the street car is that they historically have higher ridership. However in a conversation with a reasonably knowledgeable friend neither of us were to get at as to why. Some of this was designed nature of the stops and the information provided but you could provide this with buses at a lesser capital cost with more flexibility.

    To be clearer I tend to agree with quasimodal that
    “the reason we have this streetcar is the same reason streetcars were built at the beginning of the last century – to help market real estate, or in this case, to help make overpriced real estate even more expensive and unaffordable.”

    I’ve only ridden the South Lake Union Streetcar once, but honestly it seemed slower (although smoother) than a bus.

  17. One thing you will never get street car fans to admit to is some of the more superficial and subconscious reasons they like having a street car in Seattle. I would, just once, like to hear a street car fan be honest, and say something like … “I like having a street car in Seattle because it makes me feel more european and cosmopolitan.”

  18. I’ll play devil’s advocate; there are lots of reasons to support streetcar – but most of them apply only in cases of reserved guideway. If you need a spur to development, obviously, streetcar beats bus. If you need to cater to tourists – obviously, streetcar beats bus. Operating costs are lower – the transit agency may be able to provide more or better service elsewhere with the money saved. Capacity is higher (although not much higher – streetcars aren’t exactly LRT).

    But running on a fixed path in a shared lane brings along enough negatives of BOTH the bus AND rail modes that it’s very difficult for the positives above to possibly win out.

  19. So, apparently a trolley driver misjudged and sideswiped a truck. Well! That settles it! Time to rip up the tracks and turn to the technology darling of every third-world city, the bus.

    Because, if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it would be an endless supply of oil to make tires from and power the buses.

    And nothing says quality-of-life like a bus ride. That’s because you can go around things that get in your way, so your bus will never be late.

    Who knows, maybe trading the streetcar for a bus would restore the vibrant quality of life once exhibited by a South Lake Union neighborhood filled with commercial laundromats, empty storefronts, and mysterious holes in the ground filled with weeds. Good times, good times, but now wasted and wracked by the agony of new buildings and young employed people coming and going.

    Now, I’m sure that a lot of our streetcar detractors feel a great sense of mastery at having learned how to ride a bus. I felt that way too, when I was 13. In fact, I actually like riding buses and would rather do so than go to an art museum, a personal quirk that created some frosty moments with my first wife when we traveled.

    But that was then, this is now. Never in my 27 years in Seattle would I have considered riding a bus from downtown to south Lake Union, because it was so obviously, not only quicker, but also more comfortable to walk there.

    In contrast, on a recent trip to Seattle I was in town for ten minutes when we met the streetcar, which wordlessly mimed out the message “Ride me! I’m comfortable and the ride will be like silk!”

    Of course, if you were to build new streets for the buses, and hang overhead wire, and buy a new fleet of electric trolleys (which, unfortunately, share the inability of the streetcar to ‘go around’ stuff), for about the same cost you would have constructed a system that would attract almost as many riders and be almost as comfortable as a streetcar. A triumph of forward-thinking, to be sure.

    (And, incidentally, m1ek,the much-touted ‘flexibility’ of buses has everything to do with shifting routes from decaying areas to developing areas- at least, according to most of the pro-bus literature of the past and present, if not in your own revisionist history of buses.)

    But m1ek inadvertently hit the nail on the head when he connected bus service with suburban drivers. Making Seattle a parking lot for suburban commuters is so yesterday. Like most of our productive cities, Seattle is attracting people who want to live in a city, with good transit and the benefits of density.

    That’s your wave of the future, and they won’t be tearing up the streetcar tracks to meet it. Even if a few fenders get crumpled along the way.

  20. Oh come on, the incidents here (and in other cities) usually are a result of the car driver’s actions.

    But that’s really the point isn’t it? And wait until Link Light Rail opens with its at-grade crossings in the Rainier Valley!

    Rail transit should be grade-separated. Period. Otherwise, you might as well just use trolley buses.

  21. The possibility of hitting parked cars is yet another reason why I hope the next set of streetcar tracks go down the middle of the street.

  22. serial catowner, that’s an insulting piece of trash – I wish you’d reconsider.

    I’m a light rail guy – not a bus guy – I want as much rail as possible, but rail that clearly underperforms buses ends up making it harder for me to sell the next rail project. That’s it.

    And your streetcar line is clearly one of that type – it has very little advantage for the rider over the bus, but substantial disadvantages.

    As for buses’ flexibility, you can move a streetcar from a line in an area with declining population to a line in an area with increasing population pretty easily too (cities did it all the time). Not a strong argument either way – I was just pointing out that the flexibility of buses that actually MATTERS _isn’t_ the fact that they can go to a completely different road, because they almost never do, but the fact that they can go to a different lane.

    Which again is an argument for buses here, light rail there; not buses everywhere. If you can’t change lanes, you need to be sure nobody else is in your lane – period.

  23. serial catowner, thats a bit harsh. I’m saying I don’t get the cost/benefit of a streetcar over dedicated buses in this situation.

    Can anyone answer the simple question, why is the ridership higher?

    Michael, anonymous answered your jab against light rail in the Rainier Valley, I drove (yes please hold hold your gasps and stares) that whole section of MLK yesterday, every at grade rail crossing is at a stop light, so hopefully it should work just fine. Not the greatest situation, but I’m sure putting it at grade versus elevated saved a bundle.

  24. Serial Catowner- electric trolley buses do not share the same inability to “go around stuff” as streetcars. They routinely change lanes and most certainly can avoid vehicles making right turns and parked cars that are parked too far from the curb.
    What a trolley bus shares in common with a streetcar (besides being electric) is that it can only travel on the fixed guideway (rail in the streetcar’s case and overhead wire in the ETB case). So if a road is closed it can’t take an alternative route. And in that case, much like a streetcar that could face the same problem, the only viable solution is to provide an interim diesel bus service.
    By the way, new trolley buses in Vancouver come with a battery so they can run off-wire for a few blocks. So perhaps our trolleys in the future could deal just fine with road closures or other re-routes.

  25. Serial Catowner doesn’t like buses – that’s fine. Most of the wealthy new owners of our city don’t like anything that requires mixing with us normal people, which is why we will no longer have bowling alleys and need to replace stadiums with new ones that allow the wealthy to watch the game without mixing with the rest of us. I know that’s snarky and maybe that’s not how Serial Catowner sees it, but he does seem to look down his nose at the riffraff who deign to use buses.

    Problem is, I still need to use a bus to get around. Even if we build the entire streetcar network and entire Sound Transit plan, the *vast* majority of transit riders will still be using buses for decades to come.

    And Serial Catowner is right – bus service in Seattle is slow, unreliable and increasingly crowded. Buses need to be dramatically improved – they need to be more frequent, and we need to spend some real money to free them from congestion. Otherwise we are writing off the system that most of us still need to rely on. People who don’t rely on transit scoff at spending money on stinky old buses, but those who do are getting desperate to see spending priorities that focus on making transit better throughout the city.

    That’s why I have trouble with rail investments that don’t seem to be strategic. We seem to be throwing around streetcar ideas like spaghetti against the wall to see whether it will stick, rather than figuring out what function a streetcar circulation (or grade separated light rail) system should accomplish and designing it to provide it. Rail has tremendous potential to improve transit, but only if it’s put in the places it will add the most value and designed to maximize its strengths.

    Otherwise it is money that could be spent on the improvements needed to the rest of the system – and the needs are huge. The SLU streetcar used up all of the service hours that would have been freed up for more bus service when Airport Link opens. So what I’m saying isn’t theoretical – it was a conscious choice made by Seattle leaders to use money for the SLU streetcar rather than to address the lousy conditions bus riders elsewhere in Seattle are facing. I don’t know about you, but my bus have been packed to the gills lately.

  26. m1ek, here’s a clue for you- for 60+ years Seattle has had at least one floating bridge where a blocked lane made 30,000 people late for dinner. Seattle was slow to respond, but there are solutions.

    And, although I haven’t checked recently, it used to be that when the police impounded your car, they towed it to the lot with the “Toe Truck”, the lot that is one block from the mid-point of the streetcar line. Readers who actually live in Seattle will know what I’m saying.

    So, I’m sure you mean to be helpful with your demands that we not interfere with the your efforts to “sell the next rail project”. I just don’t think you actually are being helpful.

  27. nickb, you really can’t see why a streetcar would have higher ridership than a bus? I can think of 3 reasons off the top of my head:

    – quality of ride
    – roominess (higher ceiling, etc.)
    – glamor

    That said, I agree with the idea that it would be much nicer with dedicated right-of-way, especially as South Lake Union grows. But right-of-way isn’t everything — just watch a line of buses crawl down 2nd some afternoon.

  28. quasimodal, I’m wanting to read more.. Do you have a source for “The SLU streetcar used up all of the service hours that would have been freed up for more bus service when Airport Link opens.”?

    Re: Quality of ride – okay I’ll give you that one. Although you’re really just saying that roads are not maintained well. (You’re right.)
    Re: Roominess, I actually thought the SLU streetcar was a little cramped. I’m kinda curious what the seat pitch is on that versus most of the buses. Perhaps I’ll go and take a tape measure.
    Re: Glamor, Eh, this will fade once the jet set finds the next shiny object.

  29. What is this, a game of Telephone? I say, “I personally like buses” and it comes out at the other end as “Serial Catowner doesn’t like buses”.

    And as for being part of the wealthy new class that won’t mix with the common folk, just try making the Dog House the peak of your dining experiences. Oh, that’s right, you can’t, because it’s been closed for 15 years. If you wonder what it was like, try Smitty’s in Gorst- Open 24 Hours!

    What I look down my nose at are attempts to use a collision with a double-parked truck as the reason to tear up the streetcar line- and then resignedly conclude that because the “authorities” won’t do so, it’s all part of a conspiracy by the uber-rich to steal our heritage.

    Riding the bus in Seattle is not my problem. When I visit Seattle now, it is, by actual test, quicker to walk where I want to go than to ride the bus. That’s just the way things are, not a comment on whether the bus system is good or bad.

    30+ years ago I decided that my hatred of commuting or being dependent on the car meant I should choose a career with multiple employers on bus lines or in walking distance. In Seattle then, that meant hospitals, today it might mean bio-tech or higher education.

    And that’s what I recommend for all of you. In addition, I would recommend building model railroads. (m1ek can find the old Fleischmann model buses on e-Bay sometimes.)

    Seriously. Model railroading makes you deal with problems of acquiring right-of-way, dealing with grades and curvature, developing routes, envisioning markets, and, usually, some historical and technical reading. As an incentive, I will offer a HO model of a Big Red Car (a combine, unfortunately my first attempt at spray-painting) to the first commenter here who sends me a picture of their HO line with working overhead.

    But seriously, the south Lake Union property owners came up with an LID that passed the tests, got support, and put a working improvement on line. Were choices made? Of course they were. That’s the nature of the transit environment today. And probably tomorrow too.

  30. nickb:

    On glamor: I agree that glamor can fade. That said, it’s a huge mistake for transit advocates to ignore public perception that buses are for poor people only and trains are for everyone.

    Obviously, it would be nice to change public perceptions to make all transit okay for everyone, but similarly obviously, public perception is not changing any time soon.

  31. The Portland streetcar does have curbside parking next to it, yes. They also had this problem at the beginning. It clears up as people realize that the train wins, and take steps to prevent losing their cars.

    I mean that the requirement for a route is fixed. Those buildings aren’t going to pack up and leave. We have plenty of demand there to make rail more cost effective in a long timeframe, and people do prefer to ride rails over buses (for whatever reason you like), so we built it.

  32. My apologies to Serial Catowner if I misread your comments – I’m sure I read and responded too quickly.

  33. Get off your high horse about m1ek – who is dead on regarding this particular issue – he actually sat on a transit board of a major American city and supported light rail while there – what have you done? Why the hell should this city or any city be wasting money building streetcars that have to share lanes with automobile traffic and have to interact with parked cars, all the time or nearly all the time? In Europe, where they have experience with these things, streetcars quite often have their own lanes for huge parts of the line. If not, they, gasp – they often run in the center lanes of four lane streets away from parked vehicles and careless pedestrians. Even Portland is getting their streetcar out of traffic more and more. Notice a pattern or something????

    And you are and have been absolutely ignorant about trolleybus operations. I’d like to dig it up, but it was either here or on orphanroad where you insinuated that trolleys are better than trolleybuses because you know the former can regeneratively add power back into the grid and you don’t know if the latter can. Except of course that, well, the latter do and this is something that you can look up frankly anywhere!

    Everyone here is too nice to you but your fucking strawmen suck fucking balls and you should shove them up your ass. Buses co-exist with tracked transit EVERYWHERE and are not only some third world crap. Even Tokyo and Hong Kong have buses and my gentle Jesus, they invest in them like nobody’s business. m1ek, if you’d actually read his blog, is a dedicated supporter of actual LRT (not BRT) and you’re just a old crusty fart of a rail warrior. But you never miss an opportunity to take a swipe at him because he doesn’t like these half-ass streetcars that Seattle (and Austin) are getting. I’m sure you’d like transit supporters to act like they’re members of the fucking Soviet Communist Party and toe some “all rail investment good” line but it’s not going to happen Some of it, just like lots of road investment, is a big waste of money for the actual results delivered.

    And how is it a game of telephone? You basically called buses “third world” – that’s pretty insulting of them considering that they are one of the building blocks of a good system everywhere in the world. You’re the one playing telephone with people’s arguments or else you’re deliberately misconstruing them. I can’t decide which is the worse of the two situations.

    PS. Model railroads as proof of concept – you’ve got to be joking.

  34. Well. It’s great that everyone is passionate about transit. But it’s sort of sad when it gets unhinged.

  35. cjh, if this were my blog I’d ban you. Or at least give you a stern talking to.

    People misinterpret each other, it happens all the time. Trending toward vulgar and juvenile language only looks bad on you.

  36. Everybody, whoa, slow down.

    Serial Catowner spoke specifically of rail and buses both existing in an urban environment. I think we all know that rail is cheaper as a mainline and buses can be cheaper as feeders, but I don’t think that downtown Seattle routing can really be considered a feeder.

    When looking at the likely lifetime of the South Lake Union Streetcar as a transit corridor, it does make sense to give it a fixed guideway, as it’s less susceptible to fuel prices and political changes. The cost to install it was miniscule – running buses in that corridor for fifty years would make vehicle lifetimes and fuel costs overwhelm the capital cost of the streetcar. As I said, those buildings aren’t moving.

    cjh, the Portland Streetcar’s extensions are more grade separated, you’re right. We will learn to do that as well. The perfect is seriously the enemy of the good in this town – $50 million is a tiny drop in the bucket for an object lesson in transit planning. This streetcar is a necessary building block for Seattle to accept rail transit. It’s a springboard. Live with it.

  37. Dig that SLUT, baby.

    I do find it odd that people want to blame the streetcar for the accident. It’s like Seattlites think that they have a constitutional right to park their car like a retard. With all the signage around, you’ve got to be Helen Keller not to pick up on it.

    Oh, and for all ya’ll who are class baiting on the streetcar issue: I’m working class, and I’d rather ride a streetcar than a Metro Bus, even if it sometimes takes longer. The big bonus is the load/unload times. It’s just get on, get off. No fare box issues, no “waiting for that guy to find that dime he was looking for”.

    The people who write and comment at this blog may know s-loads about which technology may fit so-and-so route better than such-and-such, but it’s the non-nerd stuff that tends to motivate people to ride mass transit. Streetcars are snappy, even if they’re not grade separated. We can always build more that are.

    So simmer down, have a milk, and go watch some Thundercats.

  38. Yes please keep comments civil!

    We all enjoy a spirited debate, and all of us are passionate, but let’s not insult eachother please.

    And please don’t use vulgar language.

  39. “m1ek can find the old Fleischmann model buses on e-Bay sometimes”

    You’re a really awful person. I hope you grow out of this.

  40. “I’d rather ride a streetcar than a Metro Bus, even if it sometimes takes longer. The big bonus is the load/unload times. It’s just get on, get off. No fare box issues, no “waiting for that guy to find that dime he was looking for”.”

    Uhhh this can be done for buses as well. In fact the new BRT routes around here will be doing this. If this region ever gets a clue and does ORCA it would really help with these types of issues.

  41. It’s hard to know which is more surprising- the heat of the comments, or the small amount of light from all that heat.

    cjh, as interesting as your comment was, it would have been more interesting as a brief post on which trolley bus systems are regenerative and how that affects the total load picture. You’re absolutely right, in a previous comment I said I did not know.

    It’s kind of funny sometimes, but also a little sad, how much energy people put into being *emotional* about stuff that just isn’t so. I had a bro-in-law once who would bet on something even when he couldn’t possibly know the answer, and the guy he was betting against absolutely did know the answer. Which side of that bet would you like to be on?

    Now, it is true that I’m an older semi-retired guy. Thinking about this stuff brings back a lot of memories, and some of them will sound pretty ‘out of left field’ to people who don’t know how Seattle used to be. Incidentally, I have never been in any of the three big stadiums, but I have other stuff to worry about, so I have no opinion about them otherwise.

    I’m so old I actually voted against the rapid transit in 1970, because us young poor people thought it was a plot to tax us and build gold-plated subways for the rich. In retrospect, it’s hard to know exactly who we thought the ‘rich’ were in Seattle in 1970, but I lived just outside the Broadmoor wall, Kent State was just a few months in the past, and emotions were running high.

    Now, if I thought for a minute that the streetcar was diverting funds from the construction of a better solution, I would be all like “Boo! Bad streetcar!” But, you know, with facts and reasons why I disagreed.

    But I don’t see that at all. In fact, m1ek pretty much nailed it when he listed reasons to support the streetcar- to encourage development, appeal to tourists, and have lower long-term costs. All of these reasons apply to a streetcar running from the hotels of downtown to the parks and emerging high-density office and lab space of south Lake Union.

    Now, take several deep breaths, and reflect that, as provocative as the above comments may appear, they are just comments, and I have no power at all to impose my desired outcome upon you. If you’re stimulated to verify some fact you think you know, and use it to argue against me, that’s a good thing. If you’re smashing your keyboard in a rage, maybe not so good.

    Let’s just try to remember that maybe someone who doesn’t know anything at all about transit is reading and wondering if they want to bookmark this blog. There’s a lot more of them than there is of us.

  42. wow, this debate is pretty ragin’

    it’s funny, despite all the discussion of “appropriateness” of technology, etc., i really am not seeing or hearing anyone make a convincing argument as to why the streetcar is actually a useful transit service, in that it really does not and is unlikely to in the future *move lots of people*.

    this is part of the larger elephant in the room that is clearly bugging some more than others – the streetcar is really just a decorative “accessory” to the SLU development – as someone else said, a way to sell real estate – except in this case, as opposed to in the past, there is no real transportation value being provided. i’d argue that, despite the rhetoric coming from city hall and elsewhere, there never was any real goal for this line to have any real transportation value at all. it’s not a transit system – it’s a boondoggle that has been assigned to a transit agency to operate (metro was more than happy to have a way to consume service hours without having to actually do anything real to improve its core service).

    the reality of the streetcar project is it was a huge handout to the SLU development efforts in the hope of generating more property tax and sales tax revenue for the city. it’s a project, like many other similar “development” efforts that doesn’t pencil out for ordinary people (in this case not only did the city throw some serious cash into the incinerator, but transit riders also lost a major chunk of service hours).

    so, while there’s plenty to be bummed about, i don’t really even consider the streetcar as even *being* public transit – is not, and will never be (c’mon, they gave out bumper stickers on opening day!) – so why argue about it like it is?

  43. Ok, whew! After all that, I’ll chip in as a semi-regular SLU rider. I ride my bicycle most days, but when I don’t, I take the SLU instead of the route #70 to work.

    The good: It’s comfortable – well heated, clean, quiet and yes, people are on/off quickly. All sorts of people ride it – business people, tourists, construction workers, the occasional street person, all kinds. I also know exactly when it will show up. Before I leave work, I can look up when the next train will be leaving and time my exit to the minute. With the 70, I just have to wait and maybe the bus shows up, maybe it doesn’t.

    The bad: It waits in traffic – my #1 problem with it. It doesn’t have lane right of way. It waits at red lights. It can be slow. If you have to stand, the upper hand-holds are too high (and I’m 5’6″!). The tracks make a bike ride down Westlake a little hairy.

    As for crashes, there are many near-misses as well. And all of the near-misses I have seen were 100% the automobile’s fault. Parking outside the well-marked (signs and pavement markings) lines, someone pulling across the intersection right in front of the trolley, people running stops/lights, people jaywalking infront of trolley – and giving the trolley driver a finger while doing so, construction workers parking a lift on the tracks, emergency vehicles parked on the tracks.

    I do believe most of the problems will clear up while the trolley becomes more ingrained w/in the city – however if lines are added, a dedicated right of way should be mandatory.

  44. And yes, I would rather see more bus service in West Seattle than a trolley line. The only way I would welcome a trolley line (as part of a larger piece of the transit system, Andrew) is if it was faster. There’s no way I would ride the trolley with its speed limitations to West Seattle as it is now. I can bike home faster than the bus as it is now! The city must make transit a priority in transportation design, not figure out how to incorporate transit into the automobile grid.

  45. “It’s hard to know which is more surprising- the heat of the comments, or the small amount of light from all that heat.”

    Kinda like setting a building on fire and then complaining about the heat, your comment is. You took it to the next level by accusing me of being a rail-hating bus-lover, when you know darn well that’s not the case.

    And thanks, cjh, for the support.

  46. Andrew Cencini, it is clear you are simply pushing an agenda, after you’ve completely ignored the comments I’ve made above on why the streetcar was a better long-term choice than a bus.

    And seriously – no, buses can’t have guaranteed low on/off times. Buses don’t have the ride quality. Buses don’t have fixed routes. With a bus, you can’t see the rails, then see the rails five blocks away, and think “Oh, that’s where this goes” – you have to remember a number, which is less likely to happen, so ridership is lower just due to uncertainty. People arguing against that one tend to just lose me immediately – I work on user interfaces! I’m sorry, you’re wrong!

    All transportation capital investment is arguably a handout to developers. What a ridiculous argument.

  47. Wow I am shocked! Keep personal attacks out of this blog. After all, we are adults here. Think Progressive!!

    I agree, I think that it will definitely take time to get used to. I was glad to see that the red streetcar is up and running today! Bumper has parts of the orange car on it. Not too bad. Looks like these streetcars are made to handle some of these incidents.

  48. Ben, your UI argument is indeed compelling – for first-time riders. It’s not compelling after that, though; and daily commuters will quickly figure out what’s what, whether it be a bus or a streetcar or LRT or subway.

    So, yes, you can attract first-time riders more easily. But you can with LRT, too. The difference is that riders who ride shared-lane streetcar just a few times will notice that the performance and reliability are poor, even compared to the bus, which is no great shakes either!

    So you can get them to try, but can you get them to stay? This very blog post argues that point quite eloquently – a transit-positive rider is just about fed up. What do you think Joe Choice Commuter is going to say?

  49. i read the comments (and must admit, at 8am with 45 comments in the thread it was a lot to digest)

    i’m not making an argument on bus vs streetcar. i honestly don’t really care all that much (in this case, that is). i don’t think either are really relevant. there is no transportation problem or solution here, it’s just a really expensive decoration. i do think the comments on streetcars in the past being handouts to development are excellent and totally relevant. in the SLU case, though, i see the primary difference as being a solution to a transportation problem vs a neighborhood “amenity” that isn’t really public transit at all.

    that’s all!

  50. m1ek, you don’t create regular commuters until after you get them to be first time riders.

  51. Ben and m1ek, one think about the UI about buses that can be fixed now is a full blown street level map with all the routes on it. Given the complexity this would probably have to be split up by region. But one of the things that makes riding the bus difficult to new areas for me is figuring out where to get off and where to get on.

    This gets even worse if you’re wanting to know how the closest most frequent route if you’re willing to bike or walk more than a mile or so.

    We need better transit information. I just pulled out the Transit Map & Rider’s Guide (September 2005, how I have this I don’t know because I wasn’t in the state at that time.) but it isn’t street level, its the standard just put in some major streets and the ones the buses run on and forget every other street, like the ones people live on.

    I know this would be a tough map on paper, but providing actual digital options would be great.

    An example from yesterday: I was going from University Village to my home on Beacon Hill. Trip Planner wanted me to take the 67 I believe. I looked up the map of the 67 online, and that was no help. In the end I just gave up and used my knowledge of the system to take the 75 to the U-District to the 49/7 to home. A new rider who researched wouldn’t have the luxury of this knowledge. And I’ve been in that boat before as well, and ended up giving up and calling a cab.

  52. nick

    The only people you’re distributing a transit guide to are already riders. Giving a first time rider a big booklet doesn’t help them – they aren’t going to carry it around for when they need to get from A to B, and they aren’t likely to study it on their own, either.

    I don’t know of any transit agency with a better map than the large riders’ guide we have – it could clearly be better, but I’m not sure how we’d even go about getting KC Metro to do that.

  53. Rail has many clear benefits – it is easy to understand and permanent, and the ride quality is high. There’s no question the user interface is better, and that does affect ridership. Of course, if SLU development occurs as planned and has a high mode split, a fifteen minute headway and one-car train streetcars will barely make a dent in the added transit capacity needed to bring people into that developing neighborhood. SLU is crying out for a real rail station that is on the regional system.

    (Example: run the Northgate rail line to Bellevue, and run a Fremont/SLU line to the Airport.) That would actually provide the regional access that neighborhood needs to achieve its mode split goals. But that would mean abandoning the nutty idea of running service from Everett and Tacoma through the tunnel – the worst use of that capacity I can imagine.)

    But comments here suggesting that it is cheaper than buses are ill-informed. The streetcar has a lower capital cost than LRT, but about ten times the capital cost of electric trolley-bus. On top of a higher capital cost, the operating cost is higher as well, since in includes not only a driver, but a higher level of supervision, track and overhead catenary maintenance and dedicated vehicle maintenance facilities and staff.

    So my only point is – we can’t afford rail in very many places, and it comes at the expense of improving buses. So we should sharpen our pencils to figure out where those places are (meaning, we should make the business case) rather than to assume that rail in any place will have a positive effect. There is always the opportunity cost to consider — that’s all I’m saying.

    I would also challenge this group to be more creative about the improvements possible for buses as well – not because buses are better, but because most transit riders will continue to rely on buses for several generations hence.

  54. Ben,
    I should’ve been clearer. I’ve hacked what I want using Google Maps at times but its a pain.

    The instance I did this was with the 545. I put in my destination as somewhere near the end, at least it was past my intended destination, then I could use Google Maps to follow the actual route.

    I’ve attempted to use Bus Monster, but it doesn’t seem to like me, and never loads up map in the background.

    A random aside. Does anyone else dislike Google Maps for transit? I’ve found it can be quite naive, moreso than the Trip Planner at times. It might just be where I live on north beacon hill, near the Pacific Medical Center building, but Google Maps often wants me to cross I-5 and/or I-90 on foot. Anyone who has seen that side of Beacon Hill knows it is not to be walked on a normal commuting basis..

  55. “m1ek, you don’t create regular commuters until after you get them to be first time riders.”

    Yep. And everybody who’s turned off by the streetcar is probably lost even to good LRT service when it opens. You’re effectively advertising that your restaurant is 4-stars and open for business and then providing surly 2-star quality. Next year, when you open another branch in your chain, people aren’t going to believe it isn’t the same crap as the first one.

  56. THAT is boloney in my humble opinion. Do you think marketing is all there is, or could function be important too?

    I don’t find that the streetcar meets my functional transportation needs. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t *love* a streetcar or light rail line that’s designed to meet my travel needs – meaning it gets me quickly and reliably into places I want to go. I don’t like something because of its user interface alone. With this streetcar they are relying on UI alone to make it attractive, but old fashion transit design is needed too. A technology is not a product – the application is what counts

  57. Ben,
    From a user interface standpoint I agree that rail in the street is a strong visual identifier. The problem is that most rail is not in the middle of the street. Link will be in a tunnel from Northgate to the ID. How does that work?

    Service design and information design are more important user interface components, and can be developed equally for bus as rail (though most do a poor job when it comes to bus). The user interface of Link will work just fine despite the very long tunnel because 1) the frequency will facilitate travel without the use of a timetable, 2) the maps will clearly show where it travels and stops and 3) stations will have plenty of wayfinding signs in the vicinity that point people to the station.

    Don’t believe me? Do people in Ballard see Sounder go by and then wander down the tracks till they get to Edmonds to catch the next train? Of course not. It doesn’t go where they need to go and it doesn’t come frequently enough or stop frequently enough.

    Nickb brings up a good example. Could Metro make a map that shows only the routes that come frequently enough that one doesn’t need a schedule. That way, the map could show street-level data like where it stops? Could more investment be put into wayfinding around major stops? The downtown tunnel is such a poor example; it’s like they tried to hide it.

  58. Ben, I am not making the perfect the enemy of the good. I am trying to make not learning from the experience of others the enemy of thoughtful investment. If I’m a bit more aggressive-aggressive about my opinions than the passive-aggressive natives, well, even though I grew up in the Northwest, I will never be a native. If I think you and your opinions suck, I’ll tell you and not post some rambling story about how it’s impossible to find scale model buses while you can get tons of model trolleys and then pretend that what I wrote wasn’t a personal jab (and meant to denigrate buses). Maybe I’d be more polite in expressing it in person but I was also raised to be polite in person.

    Anyhow, I do not actually regret that $25 million city dollars were spent on the line even though a lot of potential design failures should have been evident even before it opened. First off, why should I? I live and work in another city in the region – it was not my money. Second, I think that its construction is a model for how to finance future capital intensive projects (LIDs are really fantastic for transit oriented development as is having property developers chip in directly). Finally, it’s good to have a proof of concept/test line that will lay bare all of the advantages and disadvantages sufficiently well to influence, one hopes, the design of future lines. But that’s what has to happen – recognize problems in this line and look to design them out of future lines as much as possible and not just write them off as “learning period” mistakes. Also, of course, look to other cities that are building new central city lines and the evolution of lines in cities that have maintained their streetcars.

    That’s exactly why I’ve written elsewhere that they need to be thinking of lines after this one as LRT lite and not some wrong but wromantic vision of trolleys running in the same lanes as cars and, thus, being bigger and nicer (for now) Buses Stuck In Traffic (to borrow a phrase used elsewhere on this blog).

    Also, frankly, denigration of buses gets us nowhere. Some of the amenities offered by fixed track transit can be implemented on buses (e.g. better maps, automated announcement of stops, electrification) without having to buy into BRT (NB: I don’t). This isn’t the cjh show, so I’ll sum up by saying – more capital investment in rail, more capital investment in buses, but make all the investment count. Oh, and change zoning laws to be more transit friendly.

  59. nick —

    i’m with you on disliking google maps for transit. i’ve given up on them as they just don’t seem to be well-suited to the task. they’re “neat” but really not very useful or visually helpful for transit purposes.

  60. wow. what a thread. I thought I would add my two cents. M1ek and I have had this argument a few times over at TOW. I disagree with him on many things but we’re always cordial.

    With that being said I think there are a few more points that are missed here. Streetcars are not meant to be rapid transit but they can be used as such (ie rapid streetcar idea.) In traffic, they are pedestrian accelerators. That is why you get development on a streetcar corridor vs around light rail nodes. This changes the development paradigm and the pedestrian experience by slowing down traffic in general. What happens when that development is created, dense as it is, is that there are more “rooftops”, meaning more nearby retail meaning more walking. The streetcar is part of this solution, but it helps raise the bar/density for walkable communities. This in turn reduces driving and green house gas emissions. In Portland, they measured a reduction in 53 million Vehicle Miles Traveled per year. This is not from the streetcar alone but rather all the walking! With that increased density, there is more value and tax base created from that land which is why over the long term, it’s BS when you claim a bus is cheaper because that isn’t taking into account all of the value created from the transit investment. Note that 90% of zoning was reached 1 block from the Portland streetcar line, 75% two blocks, and 60% 3 blocks and so on. From a service (ie transit, water, sewer etc) perspective, the creation of a high density environment by zoning and streetcar service is much cheaper for the city because they create more overall revenue long term.

    What I’m trying to say is that streetcars are a multi disciplinary strategy. We seem to be looking at it from the TRANSPORTATION ONLY standpoint and we need to get out of our silo thinking if we are going to save our cities from the future we’re moving towards now.

    I would also point out that in a City which can’t decide anything, at least something is in the ground that has created a whole new neighborhood. No one can deny the effect of the streetcar with all the development happening and the movement of Amazon.com to the corridor.

    Final note. In street, the Portland Streetcar has not had one injury accident since opening. It’s had accidents, but none serious as some of those dumb drivers in Houston. I wish also highways operated that way, but alas they kill 43,000 people a year. Let’s make cities that are safe and work for everyone. That includes light rail, streetcars, buses, bikes, cars and pedestrians.

  61. It will get better, but will continue with any new extensions. It’s not like it goes fast enough to do much damage. Just one reason among the many that surface-level transit additions are retarded.

  62. As I just said at your blog, Jeff, I don’t buy it – there’s no pedestrian expansion fairy dust which streetcars provide which buses don’t also provide, except to tourists.

    The fact that shared-lane streetcar will never be any better on speed and reliability than the bus and can often be worse is what matters. We only have a few rail dollars we can spend; if we spend them making buses, except worse, we’re being fundamentally stupid.

  63. I respectfully disagree M1ek as I did over on my blog. You’re just not getting the connection I’m making between the streetcar and developer confidence. The pedestrian experience has everything to do with the amount of services and retail at your walking disposal. The more density, the more likely that you have a service you need close by. A bus does not shape growth and if a bus were in SLU you would not get half the density they have, let alone the movement of Amazon.com to the corridor.

  64. Of course you guys are both right.

    Streetcars clearly can affect the character of development in a way that buses tend not to without a similar level of investment at least. Strategically designed, they are worth the cost. And my guess is that they are more effective at this if they also are designed to deliver a transportation function effectively.

    The questions are (1) is the streetcar in SLU making the difference or would that sort of development occur anyhow in this upscale neighborhood, and (2) is it worth the opportunity cost in improvements that could otherwise be made to the transit system. Transit Now will add $12-15M/year in Seattle transit service total. The streetcar capital cost is equivalent of a few years of that, and there are significant operating costs on top of than that that are far higher than the cost of operating a bus route.

    So the question is: is the streetcar likely to have enough of a land use effect so as to be worth forgoing that level of improvements to the bus system. My impression is that the streetcar will make some difference in walkability, but that the developers’ intent was to promote the upscale nature of their development. But I’ll gladly look back years from now and rejoice if it turns out I’m wrong.

  65. I agree on development promotion, as I said elsewhere in the past. I disagree that Seattle (or especially Austin) needs the help – the impediment to redevelopment is usually zoning laws, not the lack of a rail in the street.

    But if you DO need the rail to bring in the developers, why not learn the RIGHT lesson from those few streetcar lines that survived the transit disasters — i.e., if you don’t have at least SOME reserved guideway, you’re going to suck?

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