The Seattle Metblog has a round up of the streetcar lines in proposal by the City. Its a nice round up, but I’d like to add a bit of politics to the conversation.

First Hill line
This is the line from the ID to Little Saigon and up Broadway to John or Aloha. This is in the Sound Transit proposal, so if the Son of Sound Transit 2 passes this November (vote yes, btw) it will include the First Hill streetcar.

Central Line
This is line on First Avenue from Uptown to Pioneer Square. This the most likely line to get city funding first. The investment district that would be covered by the line is the largest, since it goes from the Seattle Center through Belltown and all of the Financial District. The problem with this line is that it would need to either clear all parking on First, or run in the center of the road, which would eliminate most lanes for driving. The ridership here is the largest.

Ballard/Fremont Line
This is the longest line, and thus the most expensive. It would continue up Weslake and travel through the Westlake neighborhood between Queen Anne and South Lake Union, across the Fremont bridge and through Fremont on to Downtown Ballard. The largest criticism I have of this routing is that it would endanger future Federal grants for light rail to Ballard since, though the same could be said of the Central Line through Belltown and Uptown.

University Line
This is actually the least likely line if Sound Transit 2 passes. The University district, the big destination, will be well served by Link, with a station at Husky Stadium and another at Brooklyn and 43rd. Don’t hold your horses on this.

43 Replies to “Streetcar Forums”

    1. At the forums, the presenters discussed that the Ballard-Fremont line could fork at Fremont with one fork heading west to Ballard and the other north to the zoo. This option remains on the table as a possible future augmentation after the initial line to Ballard gets built.

      1. Another idea for the Fremont/Ballard line would be to build a Phase 1 to an interim terminal in Fremont. There, it could tie into Metro routes 26 and 28, potentially allowing those routes to be truncated. The Fremont-downtown portion would always have higher ridership than the Ballard extension; build the Phase 2 Ballard extension later when the funding picture allows.

      2. It’s very possible you’d decrease service quality on the 26 and 28 by doing that. The streetcar wouldn’t be nearly as fast.

      3. Streetcar not as fast as a bus? That’s not clear at all — it depends on the exact route selected, degree of signal control, and other factors. (Of course, I’m discussing 26 and 26 locals, not Expresses). SC could also have much more frequent service

  1. I love the idea of the zoo streetcar, that’s one of my favorite places to take my kids.

    I’ve heard from that the “first hill streetcar” might not go on Broadway but rather on 12th ave because boren is too steep!

    I hope that’s not that case, no one will walk up the hill just to take the streetcar home, that’s a steep hill!

    1. If Sound Transit is involved in building the FH carline (which it will be, if the Nov. ballot measure passes), it will HAVE to serve the Capitol Hill light rail station at Broadway & John/Denny.

      The whole point of that line was to provide a FH connection to Link light rail, in lieu of the FH light rail station that ST eliminated a few years ago.

      Running on 12th Ave. instead of Broadway would not connect with light rail, and wouldn’t connect with much of FH either.

  2. I don’t see how ST2 would have anything to do with the U District extension happening, since U Link is already funded.

  3. Actually, I don’t see the University Line and Link as competition but more complementary. Link would be the fast service from UW Station to downtown, but the University Line would provide more local service between South Lake Union and the light rail station. In fact, it could provide some distribution to and from Link. I believe it should be built sooner rather than later.

    1. Re: the U-district line. Considering how long it took, start-to-finish to build the westlake line, this could get rail access from the u-district to downtown a lot quicker than 2020, which is when ST2 finally gets there. I know that the husky stadium station for the LR will be open in 2016, and that’s great for the UW medical center, but it doesn’t serve the rest of the U or the U-district well, as it’s a hell of a walk from the stadium to most classrooms (side note: I really wish they’d figured out a way to put a station right on campus, instead of a few blocks either side of campus. A station in the basement of the HUB would be perfect.)

      In addition, I’m imagining a decent amount of traffic between the UW and the UWMC and all the research facilies being built in SLU, right along existing the streetcar line. Hutch, Children’s, there’s a new Allen-funded neurological research thing, etc.

      The issues I was hearing with the U streetcar line (which, BTW, the condo sellers at Paul Allen’s SLU discovery center were recently presenting as a done deal, opening in 2009) is that it would be funded through a LID, and the University itself would be a signficant property owner along the line, and they weren’t interested in shelling out the money, feeling that the bus service was fine.

      1. The UW SLU complex is fully built (though I’m sure future expansion is an option). Access is via UW Shuttles which is basically a very small bus system (UWMC, Campus Parkway, Fred Hutch, Roosevelt, Children’s, Harborview, and SLU) which anyone can ride for free. They run every 20 min during workdays. It’s packed out during Seattle Center events. That’s not to say the streetcar wouldn’t improve things. I have no idea how much the UW Shuttles cost but it can’t be cheap.

        The other unfortunate thing about the Husky Stadium light rail station is that there’s basically no place for TOD anywhere close to there.

        By the way, the Allen Institute for Brain Science is several years old and located in Fremont last I heard. They’re trying to become a self-supporting grant-funded organization like Fred Hutch.

      2. “The other unfortunate thing about the Husky Stadium light rail station is that there’s basically no place for TOD anywhere close to there.”

        But the whole getting to Husky Stadium on gameday becomes a leadpipe cinch.

    2. I agree it’s complementary, but the federal funding grants are required to get the lines built. The FTA looks at a number of factors, one of them whether existing high-quality and capacity transit exists. Link Light Rail definitely counts.

  4. The Central Line isn’t going to take away any lanes of traffic. I’d be shocked if they gave this thing its own ROW on First.

    1. But it’s useless without it’s own ROW on First. Have you ever taken first anywhere near rush hour or on a game day? It’s complete gridlock.

      1. And so when you build it, people will say “it needs its own lane”, and eventually it will get one. Saying it’s pointless without its own lane just prevents you from getting it ever.

      2. Ben is spot on here. This has happened in a ton of places, in San Francisco for example, the N line now runs in basically a dedicated lane on Irving.

      3. I’ll buy that. The point isn’t the expected point of moving people, but the slightly less sharp point of getting stuck in traffic so that someday it can move people. Oh how I love politics.

      4. “And so when you build it, people will say ‘it needs its own lane,’ and eventually it will get one.”

        Well… people are saying that now. It’s not as though gridlock on 1st Ave is something that people will only realize exists once a steetcar is built. It is fairly obvious. Let’s just do it right from the outset.

        You don’t build a library with empty shelves, and then rely on public outcry to later convince politicians that they need to put books in the library. You buy the books WHEN you build the building. A streetcar that sits stuck in traffic is analogous: It is a waste of money. Why are we accepting half-solutions for transit when we wouldn’t accept them for other public investments?

      5. I see your point, but “don’t build a library with empty shelves” is very strange. Libraries need significant room for expansion (that’s one of the big innovations of SPL Central Library’s Book Spiral) so you actually do build new libraries with empty shelves, or at least spaces for shelves.

  5. There was an article in the UW Daily about the University Line public meeting expressing community support for the line. However, in the next Daily paper a business owner on The Ave (University Way) wrote a letter to the editor saying that most business owners oppose it. He is circulating a petition around to property owners to try to kill the LID process.

    I couldn’t find a copy online and I threw my paper copy away so I forgot the name. This matters since a lot of people who live in the U District are renters who don’t own the property.

    1. Hmm. From a map, it looks like most of the U-Line is Eastlake, not near the Ave — I’d bet the support of Eastlake is at least as important as the support in the U-District.

      That said, my impression is that Eastlake property owners are divided — in general, the worry is that if the streetcar comes through, it’ll take out some parking, and the issue is whether the loss of parking plus the cost of the streetcar is as valuable to the neighborhood as the riders the streetcar would bring who wouldn’t already be brought by the 70.

      1. Right. I think the streetcar would be great for Eastlake and the U District. The business owner who wrote the letter seemed to forget that fact.

        Yesterday I took the 70 towards Downtown. It got to the streetcar terminus on Fairview just about the same time the streetcar was departing. Our bus got stuck in the light at Valley St. By the time we got through the light, the streetcar was long gone. So who got to 5th and Westlake first? The streetcar did, and there was already a sizable crowd sitting on the train waiting for its next departure.

        Many people boarded the 70 bus instead of the streetcar at the terminus and most of them got off at 3rd and Pine. They could’ve saved some time by taking the streetcar. If the SLU line was extended to the UW and connected to the proposed Central Line, there would be much more ridership.

      2. This is a perfect illustration of why streetcars only make sense when they have their own right of way. The ONLY reason the streetcar beat the bus downtown in this instance is because it has its own right of way, separate from the flow of traffic, at the north end of its route and was therefore able to continue on its way while the bus was stopped at an intersection. Had the streetcar been in a regular lane of traffic, as it is for most of the SLU line, it would have been stuck at that light right along with the bus.

      3. Actually, that seems to illustrate that partial right of way is worth something. There was no chance to close Westlake to traffic so the SLUT is stuck there, but at least it can skip that awful Fairview/Valley intersection via its own ROW. If only it could skip the lights at Stewart and Virginia as well!

    2. Reminds me of the 1970s Ave Pedestrian Mall plan to close the Ave to all traffic, championed by Andy Shiga and opposed by Don Kennedy and other absentee landlords.

      Why do the landowners oppose? Because they’re slumlords and won’t pay now and wait years for the benefits.

      1. Don Kennedy is one evil motherfucker.

        Oops, I made a swear on this blog but he is truly a lowlife who gets rich on the misery of others and is by far the WORST of the absentee landlords in the U District.

        I sincerely wish the city had seized his property for drug abatement after all the shit he spewed following a drug related murder in them (this was about 5 or 6 years ago). Basically, he tried to blame the drug deals in his complex on the presence of Teen Feed and a Young Adult Homeless shelter in neighboring churches and not his own negligence and indifference to his renters.

        There’s nothing I’d like to do more than put a rock through the window of one of his Rolls Royces. If you ever see one with the vanity plate DK1 (or 2, 3, etc), you know which asshole is driving it.

  6. The central line should go up the Counterbalance (using, you know, a counterbalance). There’s a dense area on top of Queen Anne that would provide a large increase in ridership for little extra cost.

    1. I’m not sure that a new counterbalance would be “little” extra cost. Probably a hundred million on its own – it would require wholesale replacement of the roadway, plus excavation and mechanicals.

  7. How ironic that we are going to spend millions of dollars to build a network of streetcars that will be inferior to busses (due to lack of ability to change lanes combined with lack of a dedicated ROW), while at the same time we have a dedicated streetcar ROW on the waterfront/pioneer square/international district this goes unused.

    Building streetcars without ROW is worse than doing nothing, because it wastes a lot of money. If we are going to do this, let’s not do it halfway by putting streetcars in the regular flow of traffic. That’s what busses are for.

    1. If you’re thinking Streetcars are for getting people very quickly from point A to point B, you are mistaken. By your logic, the Pearl District alignment of the Portland Streetcar should be a bus.


      1. Why shouldn’t streetcars be “for getting people very quickly from point A to point B”? Shouldn’t that be a goal of any transit investment? The Portland Streetcar, for the reasons I’ve stated, is inferior to frequent bus service. It is, however, much, much cuter.

        I don’t discount the psychological/emotional draw of a streetcar in terms of attracting ridership. However, in terms of efficiency, cost effectiveness, and ability to navigate traffic, it can’t compete with busses.

        SO… why not create a system that has the appeal of a streetcar WITH the efficiency of a dedicated ROW? To continue the Portland example… Look at the dedicated transit-only streets and lanes in downtown Portland, where light rail and busses operate in their own ROW. Even the North MAX line in Portland runs alongside streets, but with its own ROW. It stops every few blocks, making it far more accessible than LINK will be running at street level through the Rainier Valley.

        Seattle is in need of a serious mass transit system within the city; something that is both appealing AND efficient. Cute and functional. Why settle for a system that attracts some additional riders, but then leaves them stuck in traffic?

        If, as you suggest, streetcars won’t get us “very quickly from point A to point B, they are not worth our investment.

        Also, what is QED?

      2. Streetcars are by and large created for continuous development which is why they flow at a pace that links different pedestrian elements together without taking on the appearance of being something for longer distances.

        The Portland Streetcar is not simply cute as you inaccurately portray it, it draws development by creating a transit link that is faster than walking but distinctly tuned toward taking people from one pedestrian zone to another.

        The Monorail moves people quickly from one area to another– but why is the Seattle Center a moneypit? It has _FAST_ transit!

        And don’t belittle the streetcar further by comparing it to full LRT– it’s all a function of scale. The MAX light rail service is a commuter system while the streetcar is a low-speed neighborhood circulator. That “cute” streetcar has brought in 3.5 Billion dollars in investment, or $875 million per mile. MAX on the other hand brings in about $136 million per mile. I defy you to propose how we achieve $875 million per mile in investment with a bus.

        How much did the Portland Streetcar cost? About $70-80 million, depending on who you ask. In development impact, it draws in 10x that initial investment. How is that not cost-effective?

        It would be nice to give the streetcar its own ROW, but sometimes all it takes is allowing the streetcar the ability to bypass certain bottlenecks and local back-ups. Taking the easy route on this sort of thing suggests a blatant disregard for both development opportunities and the communities served.

      3. Building a streetcar builds public opinion on transit for right of way. Remember, all our major cities started with streetcars. There’s a reason they didn’t start with subways.

      4. 1) I’m not comparing a full light rail system to a streetcar in terms of moving commuters between the city core and outlying areas. What I am doing is comparing the dedicated, street level ROW that the MAX light rail line has within the city of Portland itself to the Portland Streetcar system, which is also at street level, but – unlike MAX – runs in a regular lane of traffic.

        Within downtown Portland, MAX functions as a second (better) streetcar line. People can use it to get from one area of downtown to another. It stops every few blocks. Within downtown it does not travel at top speed. It circulates pedestrians. The difference is that it has its own ROW. All I’m saying is that streetcars would be better investments if they followed that model.

        If we are talking about building streetcars all the way from downtown to Ballard, I think the MAX north line should be our inspiration, rather than the SLU streetcar. Sure, a streetcar won’t go as fast as a light rail train, and it won’t have the same capacity, but giving it its own ROW along a busy corridor within the city seems to be the obvious way to go.

        2) Claiming that $3.5 billion in investment in Portland’s Pearl District is a result of the streetcar is like saying that anything built in South Lake Union is the result of our streetcar. The Pearl was booming long before the streetcar went in. Do you seriously think that a single one of the huge condo buildings currently under construction in that area of Portland is there just because of the streetcar? Right. And Amazon is only building in South Lake Union because of the Seattle Streetcar.

        3) As for the Monorail… It makes no intermediate stops, it is not integrated with the rest of our transit system, and it goes to a quasi-desirable destination. Despite those glaring shortcomings, you claim that the real problem with the monorail is that is it too fast? Interesting hypothesis. I’m not proposing that we build streetcars based on the monorail model.

      5. 1) The primary function of the MAX running at its speed downtown is for transfers. Downtown is a hub for many lines and having stops in multiple places helps facilitate this.

        It has its own ROW because MAX trains are very large.

        2) That figure of $3.5 Billion is limited to development within 2 blocks of the streetcar. Your smug defense of dedicated ROW again fails to see the fiscal reality of what a streetcar is for.

        Homer Williams, a lead developer and booster of the Pearl District has adamantly stated that the Streetcar was the key investment that made it successful and spurred on further development. He even went so far as to repeatedly tell the developers of a similarly styled development in Texas that they would be stupid to not put in a streetcar.

        3) You’re good at twisting words, aren’t you? You used speed and efficiency as positives but when presented with an example of a system that is both fast and efficient, you throw in different parameters.

        It’s great that you want to apply the scale of subways to systems like these, but it’s just not realistic given the scale the streetcar hopes to take.

        They want to maximize space without tunneling or taking away too many parking lanes. They also want to capitalize on rail bias. They don’t, however, want a system that blitzes through the idyllic walking scenes of the neighborhood they want to create.

        I can guarantee to you now that they will absolutely make intermediate zones dedicated and faster. Areas like zones on Eastlake that are lined with the backs of buildings instead of actual storefronts.

        And of course if transit has to be as fast or better than a car and it’s pacing all this purported traffic… we can say that on one end, it meets that purpose. And you don’t even have to park.

  8. It’s a nice conceptual map, but I think the approach to streetcars will change somewhat once Link LR is up and running. But…

    First, other than the FH line funded under ST2, I think the first SC line to be built will be an extension of the existing line up Eastlake to the UW. Eastlake would really benefit from this, and a tie-in between SC and LR at the U would benefit both systems.

    Second, if you believe anything that came out of the failed monorail (and I’m not saying that I do), then it might just be the transit demand forecast for the Ballard corridor. This level of ridership is not well served by SC, and in any case eventually the DSTT will be at capacity anyhow. If so, then I’d modify the map as follows:

    1) Move the 1st Ave line out to the old heritage SC line and extend it to Amgen and the ID.

    2) Put true LR from DTS along 2nd to SCC, then up 15th to Ballard.

    3) Change the current N-S orientation of the Ballard SC line to an E-W line connecting Ballard-Fremont UWMC-Link Husky Station (and maybe U-Village)

    Note: an E-W Ballard SC line would connect Ballard LR, Eastlake SC, and University Link. Intermodal only works if there are good connections.

    1. I don’t think UW/Eastlake will happen first. It won’t qualify for a small starts grant with U Link on the table already. 1st Avenue has great density, there’s enough there to justify building a new line instead of trying to use the waterfront. The waterfront line is not going to be able to operate during viaduct work anyway.

  9. if SDOT were really ambitious, they would take the Fremont line north to Bitterlake (Linden Avenue North) via Phinney-Greenwood avenues North and North 130th Street. It would be the Interurban redux. The entire route developed along the Interurban in the first half of the 20th Century. It would serve the Zoo. it would subsitute for a diesel bus route instead of an electric trolleybus route, as is the case with three of the lines they are studying. The LID could include the addition of sidewalks to Greenwood Avenue North north of North 90th Street and to Linden AVenue North between North 130th and 145th streets. That is a designated urban village. The center of Greenwood have significant development potential. Phinney-Greenwood is wider than Eastlake. The sidewalks are a significant need.

    all the potential streetcar corridors will be difficult to implement, as they depend on LIDs without Vulcan as the majority landowner and they will require changes to parallel parking and two-way turn lanes, both tough political issues. the federal grants needed will be quite competitive, as there are many other transportation needs.

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