Matt Fiske’s proposal in Crosscut to replace the City of Seattle’s streetcar proposals with expanded and improved trolley bus service is pretty good fodder for armchair planners out there. I understand our own Adam Parast is working on a characteristically well-informed post on this subject, but I wanted to make a few quick, less-well-informed points:
(1) When a region finally makes a decision and starts getting momentum behind a project, beware of poorly developed alternate proposals that suddenly materialize. As we’ve seen with constant battles between Link, other technologies (BRT! Eastside Commuter Rail!), and other alignments (rail over 520 first!), a lot of the support for these ideas comes from people more interested in killing whatever is on the table rather than seeing through an actual transit solution. Regardless of Mr. Fiske’s intentions, expect a lot of his support, such as it is, to evaporate once the streetcar project dies. All that said, I see no reason to assume he isn’t operating in good faith here.
(2) As back-of-the-envelope proposals go, it’s as good as most others. You won’t find this blog suggesting that massive increases in bus service are a bad thing. However, there are no cost estimates associated with this proposal. While it’s true that the per-mile capital costs for buses tend to be lower, the system Fiske proposes is far more extensive than the streetcar plan, and the operating costs promise to be much, much higher.
(3) Even with all the improvements Fiske proposes (which aren’t cheap), you’ll still have less ridership per mile than a streetcar because the ride will be rougher, payment will be on-board, and because of the general stigma that buses carry for a portion of the population. This is not to disqualify his proposal outright, but to require some idea on how ridership of the two proposals compares.
As it is, the Fiske proposal is much more ambitious in terms of service, with no reckoning whatsoever of both up-front and recurring costs. In the absence of those basic facts, it’s not really productive to debate the costs and benefits of this versus other city transit projects. I’d be on board with Fiske if he said “this is a good idea,” but his thesis is that this is superior to some other project, and for that he needs a lot more evidence than he has.
And furthermore, why no Route 7?