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?

79 Replies to “Crosscut: Trolleybuses, not Streetcars”

  1. I could see expanding the current streetcar system AND re-tooling the trolley bus system. Build the currently proposed streetcar routes, but integrate and upgrade the trolley busses too!

    Some routes will just never work with streetcars like an Upper Queen Anne or a Madison/Madrona route. Why not do a really sexy version of the trolley bus with platforms, high frequency and conceptual integration with the streetcar system?

    I could actually see it working really well if we looked at it as a serious re-investment to reboot and transform the experience rather than a piecemeal re-routing of our current trolley bus system.

    1. Although I am a railfan, as somebody who has grown up around the trolleybus, despite it’s disadvantages, I find the 7 to be a better service than the 39. I think the 7 and our evolving rail system will work fine together. I have always wanted to see the 7 converted to a streetcar if possible. I am all for more trolleybuses, especially converting the 71, 72, and 73 to trolleybus operation, once lines like the 70 are converted to streetcars. I know of one city in this country that has both trolleybuses and streetcars, Philadelphia. Boston has some unique trolleybuses that run in the same system as the Green Line Light Rail. Dayton, Ohio still has trolleybuses. Edmonton succumbed to anti-trolley bias, replacing the older trolleybuses with hybrid-electric buses, but they are planning on expanding Light Rapid Transit services on three corridors that were going to become BRT.

      Oh, and the Diesel buses that were replaced by trolleybuses and streetcars in the city, I would go for Metro redploying them to other routes.

      We might be able to get rail back on Queen Anne Hill, if there was the will to look into restoring the Counterbalance, and modifying modern streetcars to handle it.

      1. San Francisco has both streetcars and trolleybuses. In fact, they both operate on Market Street (heavy rail, light rail, streetcar, and trolleybus in one street).

        And, as noted, Philly, Seattle, and Boston all have trolleybus and light rail/streetcar.

        In fact, Dayton is the only US city that has trolleybuses but not streetcars or light rail.

      2. I jokingly like to call Market Street, Electric Street, for all the electric transit that operate on it. As for the F line, which has been mentioned, it is operated by streetcars from Philadelphia, some of MUNI’s old PCCs, and a collection of historic vehicles from the pre-PCC era from around the world, and the country, including 1 Perley Thomas on loan from New Orleans, and MUNI’s first car, No.1, temporarily out of service, but they hope to have it running by 2012, in time for it an MUNI’s 100th Birthday. This year is 90 years of Public Transportation being under some form of public control in Seattle, San Francisco is going on 100. Despite several attempts to do otherwise, including the guy who ripped up Seattle’s system giving it a try, they still have streetcars, some have been upgraded to Light Rail lines, actually all the survivors have, the J,K,L,M, and N lines, while the historic streetcar network will get the E-line, and I have heard faint rumors of a line to Golden Gate Park over the years, called the G-Line.

    2. Readers should note that the $8 million/mile figure in Crosscut is very conservative. It is from a City of Seattle streetcar report and includes new concrete street lanes. Without the concrete, the figure is closer to $4 million/mile – 1/10 of the cost of streetcar expansion. Seattle needs to expand the streetcar network, but also needs to fight global warming and more trolleys is a great answer.

      1. I agree that the $8mn/mile number is very conservative – I think it’d be more like $20mn/mile. How about linking to that report? :)

    3. Let me get this straight, this is your off the cuff response to a proposal in which you accuse it of being off the cuff.

      Like, dude, that’s a conversation going to result in a high quality result.

      As they say, garbage in, garbage out, for just about everything Seattle is producing these days – including the proposal for light rail over I-90.

  2. Here is a predictable comment to a predictable post.

    1) It is infuriating that this blog ridicules anyone who has a different idea about transit a transit opponent.

    2) What possible reason do you have for suggesting that operating costs for trolleybuses are higher than for streetcars? Rail has operating cost advantages only at high volumes where multiple cars are used. With single-car trains (like most streetcars) there is the additional cost of track operation and maintenance.

    3) Your last point is simply a matter of faith. Whether streetcars (or any other mode) are superior to buses depends entirely on whether they are deployed in the places where they are most effective – they all have their place.

    I think the Crosscut article was right on. Unfortunately the timing is poor, as we’re facing massive cuts to transit service in Seattle. But the current economy makes the idea of spending on capital-intensive streetcars even more senseless. We will need to get every ounce of benefit out of the things we’ve already got.

    1. 1) I don’t agree that Martin “ridiculed” him.
      2) The operating costs of streetcars are lower per rider than similarly routed bus lines. Streetcars attract more riders, and have similar costs, so the cost per rider is lower.
      3) Streetcars repeatedly have been shown to get more riders. Even the SLUT has shown this.

      Finally, if you think we should not build streetcars because of mounting cuts to metro, than we shouldn’t do this either, since this is capital intensive. At least with the streetcar lines we know the costs and the ridership.

      1. I agree, Martin didn’t ridicule the Crosscus author, but he did being up the question of whether his motives should be questioned.

        But your statement on #2 is ill-informed, and again a faith-based argument. It just isn’t true that streetcars are less expensive to operate, even if you believe that the technology itself (rather than the service attributes) generates a ridership increase. I like streetcars when used appropriately, but reduced O&M costs is not one of the arguments that favor them.

      2. If you read the post carefully, you’ll see that I’m saying that the bus costs will be higher because it’s a bigger proposed system, not because of any intrinsic property of buses or streetcars.

        I could just as well say “double all the bus service in Seattle!”. After all, the capital costs may turn out to be less than $600m. But oops, the operating costs are through the roof.

      3. Reduced O&M costs per rider happen all the time with streetcars. Look at SF muni’s costs for it’s streetcars versus buses.

      4. PORTLAND!!! Look at the Rose City and their streetcar network. It spurred all sorts of growth that buses NEVER did.

      5. #2 – COMET report, 1950ish. The cost for fuel outstrips the cost of electricity, and a mature system gets more ridership out of a streetcar vehicle than a bus vehicle for the same operator cost.

        All the same things they pointed out then are true now.

      6. Not to mention the vehicles themselves last longer and require less maintenance.

    2. The ultimate payback on doing nothing is still nothing. Fiske’s idea is simply a way of saying “here’s something that proves the streetcar is stupid, and you don’t even have to build it”, not “I have a great idea!”

      It’s what Crosscut specializes in when it comes to transportation: dead end ideas that are simply ways of taking the steam out of non-road modes. It’s obviously okay to be anti-rail, but when you suggest that a bus is not the all-giving panacea, oh no, you’re hateful (even when you consider where the trolleybus network proposed DOESN’T go).

    3. Greenwood Rider, I think Martin makes a good point that a lot of people get behind these “different” transit solutions just to have a proposal or ten to point to and say, “Why do X when we can do Y?” Sometimes, and frankly often, some of those folks want neither X nor Y.

      I don’t think the author of the article is like that. But Crosscut’s vocal readership rubs me that way. And from our perspective it is sometimes frustrating to respond to dozens of different ideas that frankly don’t have the momentum to get anywhere (not all ideas are born equally).

      Do I support the idea of increasing the frequency and reach of trolleybuses? Absolutely. Do I support the idea of nice, clear maps like the one in the article? Yes. It’s a pretty map because it omits the scores of stops that make buses more confusing than rail in the first place.

      But the article is just a bit unfair. It’s comparing an loosely defined plan with an undefined cost versus a very concrete plan with a defined cost. Having a near-final plan with costs associated can open one up to criticism.

      If we want to get to the meta-level — what’s more likely to get more [itemized] federal funding: moderate trolley bus improvements with nice maps and maybe TVMs or a streetcar line? Probably the streetcar.

      1. That’s fair. There are people who just want to throw sand in the works. But there are also smart and earnest people who are devoted to transit but have different approaches to transit than the ones favored in our region at the moment. I’m always saddened a little bit whenever someone’s motives are immediately brought into question when they have a contrarian idea – I think it gets in the way of learning and debate – so I respond perhaps too impulsively when that comes up.

        The feds have gone both ways on the bus vs. rail issue. Most of the time they have favored a sharp-pencil focus on cost-effectiveness that favors lower capital cost solutions, but more recently as more funding decisions have been made through earmarks, rail has had an edge over bus solutions.

        I still have a hard time favoring any specific technology as better than any other, since I believe that (almost) every technology has its place in the transit universe, and the key objective should be to put each where they work best.

        — Rob

    4. Streecars certainly cost more to upkeep as does light rail, I can’t speak to the situation in Seattle, but here in Denver putting light rail was one of if not the worst decisions RTD ever made

  3. I really like the idea of giving the trolley lines letters (and/or colors) to emphasize how they’re different. It would get confusing for those sometimes-a-trolley routes, though.

  4. What’s the point of this? Upgrading the trolley bus lines will cost money with probably absolutely no benefit. No matter how cool you make a bus look, it still can’t compete with streetcars. Streetcars practically always get at least 50% more ridership than bus routes, they stimulate TOD in a way that no buses ever can, and they work out to having much lower operating cost because of their higher ad/sponsorship level and their higher capacity. Spend money on streetcars, not on beautification projects with no value.

    1. I don’t think I know of any cities where something like this has been tried. Do you have any examples? It seems a little presumptuous to declare this a ‘beautification project with no value.’

      I mean think about it. If the system was more like a streetcar system, doesn’t it follow that at least some of the benefits would apply? I think it merits study.

      1. I respectfully disagree: it doesn’t merit study.

        However, our transportation needs in this region do merit actually making a commitment to a system that is already being implemented, which has proven ridership, proven ability to attract investment in the neighborhood, and for which expansion is already in the planning stages.

        Your point that “I don’t think I know of any cities where something like this [modified trolley buses]has been tried” just underscores the validity of streetcars: they’ve been tried and true in numerous cities for over a hundred years now. Do we really need more convincing?

        I like living in an area with a culture of participation in local government. However, if we’re really going to affect change in this region, its not going to be through the avoidance of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication (in favor of hip, short-lived ideas that are too clever by half). We’ve got projects on the board that work; we need to make them a reality.

      2. I didn’t mean to be a jerk; I’m just frustrated that our focus in this area never seems to last more than a year or so at a time.

        Perhaps this is one reason why Olympia brazenly picks our pockets while mocking our demands for rail: they assume that within one or two budget cycles, the whole concept will simply blow away with the wind, just like every other idea that comes out of Seattle & environs.

      3. You mean like Sounder, or Link?

        This bus beautification stuff is the kind of project that WILL blow away with political winds. Look at RapidRide – it’s gone now, as I have to point out I’ve been saying since we passed it.

        Olympia mocks Seattle because Seattle thinks every idea is worth a study and a blue ribbon commission, pissing away a few million here and there instead of just keeping our HCT corridor studies up to date and pushing for permanent solutions.

        This bus stuff IS the problem, you hit the nail on the head.

      4. Olympia mocks Seattle for a million reasons – Adam Kline’s quote about “In Olympia it’s Democrats against Republicans, House against Senate, and everyone against Seattle” is true for a lot more reasons than we don’t “push for permanent solutions”. There’s over a century of bad blood and hurt feelings over myriad issues, all kinds of misunderstandings about who really subsidizes what, etc., etc.

        Even if you built all five streetcar lines the City proposes we build, what percentage of transit trips in Seattle would happen on rail vs. on bus? Throw in Sounder and LINK and assume they’re both built out to the end of ST2 – and how many trips are still going to be happening on the same trolley buses that have been hauling folks for decades? I’m not saying don’t build the streetcars – I’m saying that the buses are going to be with us even if you do. If the argument comes down to prioritizing building streetcars over improving the trolley network, then yeah, let’s get apples-to-apples ridership and cost numbers and decide based on that. But at least let’s try to make sure we buy low-floor trolley buses the next time we need to replace the fleet :-)

      5. John – actually, when ST2 is built out, the 2030 ridership estimates show Sounder and Link carrying more passenger miles than every bus system in the region combined.

        The streetcars would just add to that. If we got Ballard and West Seattle by then, you’d be looking at more like 75% of transit miles.

      6. Boston just built two segments of their Silver line which is a partially dedicated trolley bus, intended to become another streetcar line as funding comes on line. Similarly, they are beginning to develop crosstown trolley routes that again are but a stepping stone to a higher capacity, more efficient streetcar. A point that I would like to stress that seems to be either forgotten or left unmentioned very often in discussions about streetcars is the need for dedicated ROWs. Without them, service is at the mercy of street traffic. SF attempted a partially dedicated ROW for its F line (running down Market from the Castro) whereby the lane the train runs in is dedicated during peak hours. Without enforcement, it doesn’t work and the F is left to the tourists by an large.

        Back to Boston for a second and to commiserate with Zach; yes, I share your frustrations about the lack of attention and willingness to consider long-term transit plans and see them through. That’s in part what I find so intriguing and admirable about what Boston is doing. Instead of abandoning potential routes because they might be too costly or complicated, they have determined where their system is deficient, what their end goal is, and steps to get there both from a constructability and financing standpoint. If only we could develop a similar long-range will.

      7. Seems like Sound Transit’s doing the same thing.

        The difference between Boston and a plan like this is that a plan like this is lots of pretty lines on a map, but Boston focused on just *two* lines – abandoning all other potential routes to pick the highest impact corridors – and then invested in right of way.

        I’m not sure what doesn’t work about F. Is it lower ridership per dollar than it should be?

      8. I disagree about the dedicated right-of-way. The purpose of streetcars is basically to be a high-capacity version of a bus, albeit one that gets way more riders and stimulates development to a much higher degree than a bus (trolley or otherwise). This means that they cost much less than separate ROW transit, and serve more as a feeder to true HCT.

      9. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Silver Line in Boston is a substitution, at enormous expense, of so-called “BRT” for a functional trolley line that was in operation. The Overhead Wire covered this a few months ago. Sadly, the Google search function on the OW did not work for me, so I can’t give you a link right now.

        If anyone has a link, offer it up, but from what I’ve seen of Boston’s transit they’re in a very bad spot, and likely to get worse before it gets better.

      10. The Silver Line has two (currently unconnected) sections. One is a new line (in a new bus subway) on the redeveloped south waterfront. The other is a (belated) replacement for a demolished elevated heavy rail line. Neither was a trolley.

      11. Yes, the Silver Line in Boston is tremendously expensive, especially the “missing” link at Downtown Crossing, which requires negotiating two existing subway lines while working underneath a densely developed area that consists of fill in large part. As Christof pointed out, it is not a substitution for a trolley line. Half of the area served by the Silver Line has been built out in the last 10+ years with the tunnel built as part of the build-out to provide the necessary transit infrastructure to serve the area in the future. Its other half, the trek down Washington and through the South End is still served by other bus lines. But this portion of the Silver Line is in no way a replacement for a demolished elevated heavy rail line. It is instead an example of identifying under-served areas and building to achieve the highest impact.

        Serial Cat—I am not sure where you are getting that Boston’s in a bad way. If they are having any budget crisis at the moment I would suspect its due to their massive capital investment in the renovation and modernization of their system. Additionally, they are aggressively expanding commuter rail service (planned and operated by the same agency directing transit service for the city itself) and are proceeding with two cross town routes as mentioned above.

        The whole point in bringing up Boston as an example is simply to point out the decisiveness and vision of their approach. Whether the Silver Line is a trolley bus now or a streetcar or light rail line at some indeterminate point in the future is really irrelevant at the moment isn’t it? They are proceeding with developments that will address immediate needs (albeit it partially) and do so in a way that sets up the next step in the evolution of their system. Its not an all-or-nothing approach, but instead realizes the need to build in some flexibility now to achieve bigger things later.

        Back to this thread, if the expansion of the trolley line service in the downtown core as proposed by Fiske were a step in the process of developing a serious transit system for this city composed of higher capacity streetcars, I would advocate for its implementation. But, from my take, when it is instead proposed as an alternate to a “more expensive” system and as a solution or end goal unto itself, I cannot help but shake my head and wonder. And, as Martin Duke suspects (and I would as well), if support for this proposal is only as deep as needed to quash the streetcar, then I really have to question our collective intelligence. Our continued growth as a city depends on the development of a transit system that really works; a system that can contend with continued growth of Seattle and provide a level of service that not only competes with cars, but prove itself vastly superior. Development of a transit system will only get more expensive as the city continues to build out. Land prices will increase. The complexity of construction will grow exponentially. And our choices will only become more and more limited. We can continue to argue over the “best” approach, but really shouldn’t we be figuring out where we want to be in the future and figuring out a course of action that provides better service now and the future flexibility to allow us the possibility to evolve/improve/adapt our system later?

  5. This proposal is unusual in that it’s a pro-bus proposal from someone who apparently actually does ride the bus — he recognizes the actual advantages of the streetcars and has actual realistic suggestions for what would improve the system (vs. the typical John Niles vague handwaves about how Seattle could be just like Curitiba and Bogota).

    This proposal has made me wonder whether it’s possible to get trolley buses that have 3 doors, low floors and wide aisles, which seem like the prime benefits of the modern streetcars (besides the smoother ride, that is).

    1. Plus, they are systems that are easily and readily understood by newcomers, tourists, and frankly lazy people who would rather drive before researching their local bus route. People don’t get confused and frustrated with a streetcar system when it takes an unexpected right turn and goes up some random highway because you didn’t put the time in to research that the route changes on off-peak hours. They are generally more frequent and exist in easily understood maps that don’t require research and planning to use like a city-wide bus system.

      It would be interesting to see statistics about what kind of people constitute the additional ridership for streetcars. I bet most of them are new to town, tourists, or just plain don’t want to deal with how confusing and frustrating a bus system can be.

    2. I agree that it’s refreshing to hear a pro-bus/anti-rail argument (we’re all pro-bus, but some of us are pro-rail) from someone who uses the bus.

      You’re basically describing BRT, but attaching “trolley” to it.

      1. I think some BRT efforts use electric trolley buses. For example I think at least one of the BC Transit BRT lines uses ETB coaches.

      1. Geneva is working on an even bigger one, like the buses used in Curitiba, only a trolleybus, and low floor. Geneva also has a good streetcar/tram system. Also connected to the rest of Switzerland and Europe via Electrified mainline rail.

        As for other modern trolleybus concepts, here are some good ones.

        One thing we do seem to have in common with Switzerland, is we seem to vote on everything. I think that is where Oregon got the Initiative and Referendum process from.

      2. Yes, and having lived in Geneva, and taken rail into the city center from outlying Archamps, the buses are a mere tack on to the heart of system, which is rail. (Curious, what brought you to Geneva…?)

        Moreover, to answer your question about costs: a streetcar has at two to three times the lifespan of a bus, so there are some savings right there.

        Lastly, (and this is NOT pointed at you, its pointed at all of us) I would stress our need to in this region to grow up, exercise some self-discipline, and actually make a commitment to a project, once we have started it. As Martin says, we have a long history in this area of substituting clever rhetoric for hard work. Short cuts make long delays.

        The Crosscut write-up isn’t a case for buses, its a case for Ritalin to be introduced into the Cedar River Watershed.

      3. When I saw the photo that Zed had posted, it reminded me of something I saw on Railfaneurope and Trolleycoaches for London websites.

      4. Geneva is a beautiful town…I don’t know that too many people pre-identify it as a destination point, but if you’re just backpacking around…well, why not stop-over for awhile? For myself, I was there briefly for a few months in ’04, for some grad courses. It’s a compact city, and the farms and vineyards still run close in to town. Parts of it are very French-oldstyle France, like something out of a Tintin magazine-and parts of it have a very modern, cosmopolitan flair.

        There is also a UN-protected village from the middle ages-Yvvoire, or something like that, nearby. We somehow managed to combine river-rafting with the usual wine and cheese tour in Yvvoire, all in one Sunday drive.

      5. One other issue for trolley buses vs. streetcars/trams is capacity. One of the 3 section Inkeon trams carries a heck of a lot more people than a 60′ articulated bus. If you need to carry more you can get 5 and 7 section trams or even trams that couple into multiple units like LRVs.

        One of the issues for the trolley bus system in Seattle is the routes even with every 10 minute frequencies are overloaded during the day. Just look at the 1, 2, 3, 4, 13 to Queen Anne. True some of that is due to using 40′ coaches, but even with European style low-floor articulated coaches I’m not sure the crowding could be helped.

        Of course an issue with converting many of the ETB routes to streetcar/tram operation would be the hills. Many of the busiest routes operate on grades trams would have a hard time dealing with.

      6. The hills may not be a problem. Remember, the South Lake Union Maintenance Shop is on a hill, the 99 had to climb a small grade to get to the terminal in the University District.

        In the old days, the streetcars on Queen Anne HIll had that Counterbalance to assist them, but there were other hilly corridors that did not have that, and streetcars once ran on them. On First Hill, Madison, James, and Yesler were Cable Car Routes, but Pike/Pine, Union, and Jackson Streets were streetcar routes. That’s right, the 14 was once a streetcar. I found an old map in the Seattle Room at the Seattle Public Library, it was from a study done for the Seattle Municipal Street Railway, and was dated October, 1926(forget the book and the call number it had). The city should put this map on the streetcar plan websites. How vast was what was lost? There were several North-South lines going as far north as 85th Street, as far south as Roxbury and White Center in West Seattle, and on Magnolia, one line went as far as this army garrison there, Fort Lawton, now called Discovery Park.

      7. Here is a photo of the old Seattle Streetcars, not much info on the photo, but I noticed the streetcar is signed for Cherry Street, as in East Cherry, and it sure is too big for a Cable Car, and Seattle Municipal Street Railway Cable cars did not have three-digit car numbers. So it climbed East Union, and by the way, the old Jefferson Street Bus Barn where the trolleybuses of the old network were stationed first in 1940, then again in 1963, and 1974, started out as an electric streetcar base. On the map I mentioned, the James Street Cable car line had it’s own barn, closer to Broadway. Jefferson Base is the site of one of Seattle U’s athletic fields, near 14th Ave, closer to Providence Hospital.

      8. I know streetcars and trams can climb hills. On the other hand I’m aware there are limits. The Inekon Trios can handle 8% and supposedly there are trams that can handle up to a 10% grade. I’d be curious which Metro routes have grades exceeding 8% or 10%.

        For grades exceeding 10% a rack system might be an option rather than a counterbalance or other wire rope booster.

    3. Responding to Steve who names me, even though I’m not sure who Steve is: After I listened to Penalosa, founder of Transmilenio, in late summer 2006 and then visited Curitiba a few months later and observed the “rubber-tired surface metro” bus transit system there, I have been more reluctant than ever to make “vague handwaves about how Seattle could be just like Curitiba and Bogota.” In fact, I don’t off hand ever remember saying or writing that Seattle’s well-used public transit system should imitate any other particular place.

      By contrast, my recollection over the past quarter century that I have lived here is that the light rail advocates among us have been very willing to claim with vigorous hand waving that previously all-bus Seattle needs to install light rail or street railroads to become more like Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, …. wherever.

      As I have reported several times, my personal, emotional Ah-Hah moment came upon moving to Seattle from Washington, DC and finding it easier and more pleasant to move around on King County Metro than I experienced using the National Capitol Metro Rail and a (then) deteriorating feeder bus system. Looking at the cost and benefit numbers came later when the ridiculous multi-billion dollar Sound Transit proposals came into view in the early 1990s. (Being open to new evidence, I can only hope that the forthcoming existence of Central Link running southward from Seattle CBD will show me how wrong I have been to oppose light rail!)

      Of course there have always been transit elements in other cities that are worth looking at for adoption around here. For example, stored valued cards for paying fares are widely used worldwide, and given that transit authorities have been working on such a system for Seattle area for over ten years, perhaps we’ll have that kind of payment system here soon. I’ve noticed the ORCA boxes are lit up now on the buses I take.

      Finally, there was also the vague implication in Steve’s comment about me that I travel locally mostly by car and don’t ride on buses. However, since July 2007, when I took my car out of service and put it into storage, that is not true.

  6. The love affair rail opponents have with buses is only matched by their feeling it’s what’s good for others – i.e. they’ll not be riding the vehicles themselves.

  7. You know Skoda(which makes trolley buses as well as the Streetcars in Seattle and Tacoma) offered New Orleans a chance to build trolley bus lines and they didn’t take them up on it. They would build the overhead infrastructure if New Orleans ordered the buses and built them locally. Seemed like a no brainer after Katrina but nothing happened. I wonder if they have similar deals these days. If so, it’s something that should be looked at…

  8. Or, you could do the short form. The Seattle DOT came up with five possible streetcar routes and three of those (Capital Hill, First Avenue, and Waterfront) are currently slated to be built. Would you like to trade those for a nice shiny promise of a future bus?

    The Fikse “idea” is total vaporware that doesn’t even try to be serious. I say this as a person who thinks current trolley-bus routes should become streetcar routes, and the current trolley-bus equipment should be used on new electric routes. To me that would make a lot of sense (and don’t pester me about Queen Anne, there’s no need to be quibbly about the whole thing) but that’s not the proposal on offer.

    The Seattle DOT took a different approach, adding a new layer of service in the form of streetcars, and this seems perfectly reasonable. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and nothing is less broke than a virtually silent electric bus operation (and don’t pester me about Queen Anne, the trolleys don’t come off the wires that often). Lots of people factored in the silent buses when they bought their homes and just keeping those running is a great option.

    IMHO this area should be running a lot more electric buses than we do. But running more electric buses instead of building streetcars is just wrong.

    1. You and I are on the same page here. :)

      Every dollar spent on a new electric bus could be spent on a new streetcar, so I’m pretty much just down on buses.

      1. The planning has a Central Line, possibly on 1st taking over for the Waterfront Line, probably 1st Ave. The Central LINE would connect the South Lake Union, University, and Ballard proposals with the First Hill line.

      2. Yes, that’s what I mean. It said “Capital Hill, First Avenue, and Waterfront” but the last one is gone and being replaced by the First Avenue line. By the way, any more insights into funding for that line?

      3. All the planning documents talk about 1st Avenue, which is just fine for now.

      4. In theory the waterfront line is supposed to come back as soon as the Alaskan Way Viaduct is dealt with.

        I really think the political leaders of Seattle, King County, and the Port need to have their feet held to the fire over what happened with the Waterfront Streetcar.

        The streetcar was popular, profitable, and useful for anyone traveling along the Waterfront. It isn’t as if the political leadership was unaware the streetcar barn was going to be removed for the sculpture park.

        Sadly the powers that be not only dropped the ball, but pretended the ball didn’t even exist.

        I’m not sure what the motivation is but given the actions of the city and county you could almost suspect the Waterfront Streetcar was intentionally killed. Though for what reason I can’t fathom.

        Imagine if the same neglect had closed the Pike Place Market, Monorail, or Space Needle. Heads would be rolling.

      5. The trolley is not dead, it’s just sleeping…

        Seriously, connecting the tour ships at Pier 91 with the central waterfront and Pioneer Square by streetcar is so obvious I think eventually it will happen.

  9. Sorry, but I have to agree with the Trollybusses idea. I think Streetcars are a monumental waste of money. Any at-grade rail system is a waste of money. I just don’t see how the Tollybusses wouldn’t be cheaper and just as successful as an expanded version of Paul Allen’s useless toy train.

    Bellingham created a system of 5 “Go” lines, each with unique colours with painted busses and stations. Walking or driving along the routes and you know you’re on the green line, because the stops along the way and banners tell you. Busses on these lines are more regular and come much more often. It’s been a huge success for them and I know from first hand experience that it’s made bus riding easier and more attractive.

    Seattle could do the exact same thing, so stop supporting Streetcars just because they’re on rails. We don’t need them. They’re expensive, stuck to one path, and still stuck in traffic (and actually making it worse for cross traffic).

    1. Yeah, Union is a real bustling place full of shops and glistening mid-rises and high-rises thanks to that number 2 bus.

      1. Hey, quit picking on the 2.
        It’s got the best layover in the whole system. Bathroom, small beach for bathing or fishing, quit sleep stop, nice picnic area, … the list just goes on and on! (retired #2 driver)

      2. Yeah and the #2 is almost always full. Been full since I was young in the 70s. The weekend diesel version really stinks things up. And anyway, no one is even offering a streetcar to replace it.

        Union is coming along slowly. Madrona is a destination for a lot of us. Not our fault that even though the city calls it the 23rd and Union Urban Village and has a lot of transit go through there that builders under build. Doubt a streetcar would change things.

      3. I think the point is that the #2 is a strong route, but development still hasn’t followed it. The stop at 8th and Seneca would probably look different if it were a streetcar stop, because the city would [eventually] upzone around streetcar stops.

        eeepc, we can have “green line” or “A line” (RapidRide) in addition to streetcars. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

      4. I live on the #2 right in the heart of the CD, and I don’t think a streetcar line on that route would make any significant development changes likely. Madison west of 23rd redeveloped in spite of no streetcar service (and no better service than Union gets with the #2), and if Jim Mueller can get financing we’ll have a new building on the SW corner of 23rd & Union, again without a streetcar.

        I can buy the development argument a lot better in already denser environs – which is why many of SDOT’s proposed lines made some sense to me. I know we used to have streetcars in the neighborhood – when Union was repaved a few years back you could see parts of the steel tracks, buried under the asphalt debris – but I’d be far happier to get electric trolley service back on the weekends. Frankly I think it’s a lot more reasonable than expecting to see a bunch of money invested in streetcar development – SDOT’s plans notwithstanding, I’ve not seen any kind of funding stream to build anything other than the ID – Broadway & John line.

    2. eeepc, the old streetcars in Seattle cost less to operate (a lot less) than the electric buses they were replaced with. They were also more reliable.

      I think we’ve been over this before on the blog, but I need to write an overall “trolleybus versus streetcar” post. Streetcars come out on top in the long run, even if they’re in traffic.

    3. Improvements like you suggest, like the crosscut writer suggests, or as seen in various BRT implementations can make both diesel and ETB service more attractive and easy to use. However at the end you still have a bus with its disadvantages and advantages.

      One of the issues in Seattle is capacity. Many corridors have all buses in the corridor operating at crush capacity even at peak travel times. Those corridors are also often topped out in terms of the headways you can achieve with buses.

      Streecars/trams and light rail offer a way of increasing capacity along trunk corridors. Trams and LRVs have a greater passenger capacity per vehicle than buses, and can operate with shorter headways than is practical with buses.

    4. eeepc, you are entitled to your opinion, but Seattle did what you said in 1940, and we got a good trolleybus system converted to diesel in 1963, and the City was hell-bent on ripping them out by 1970 in favor of diesel buses, because the trolleybuses were unsightly, and obsolete, even though the city owned the fuel company supplying the fuel for the trolleybuses. You suggest eliminating a mode that the uniformed call obsolete. The Automobile is older than the electric streetcar. By the way, the proposed Ballard/Fremont and University Streetcars will not be having new track laid to get into Downtown, a mile of it is already built. Both plan to use Westlake. The one mode fits all mentality has to go, streetcars, light rail, trolleybuses, diesel buses, automobiles, and High Speed Rail all have a role to play.

    5. The South Lake Union Streetcar is only useless to those who hate rail, love to take a cheap shot at Paul Allen, or are so focused on the micro issue not to notice the macro issue. Trolleybuses, regular buses, AND Streetcars work together for internal distribution within the city, LINK Light Rail and SOUNDER connecting the region, Amtrak Cascades connecting regions, including BELLINGHAN. You mention GO as an example, o.k. I say go for it, it will work good as another one of our many tools. As for the uselessness of Metro Route 98, you are right, it is useless, if the city admits they were wrong, instead of maximizing the use of this asset.

      While we built pavement, ran a few buses for the people that did not drive, Europe made the streetcar better. That is why, most of the Light Rail and Streetcar builders are from Europe. By the way, much has been mentioned of Skoda making trolleybuses as well. Polish Trolleybus maker Solaris is diversifying, they are building streetcars now. There are several variations of streetcars. In Germany, you got streetcars in the Capitol, Berlin, and in the town of Karlsruhe, they run down the streets of the city center(they are going to end that, by the way, more on that later), and some then not just go to the central railway station and drop off passengers outside, but continue onto the mainline tracks, sharing track with Deutsche Bahn’s ICE Trains, but some are operated by DB. Why are they pulling them off the streets, did the Germans in Karlsruhe finally get it that Germany is Car Center Europe? No, they just realized too heavily used, that they had to put them in a tunnel. The LRV/Trams used on the Karlsruhe services, especially the ones that use the mainlines and DB Branches, are Dual Voltage, run on the streetcar voltage, and the mainline rail voltage(which is 25Kv). Some of these routes run on DB Branches that DB was considering closing because traffic was falling off. After the TramTrain, ridership went up considerably.

      1. After re-reading the link I just posted, and looking at the website for KASIG(what Google allowed to work under Translate this page), it is the road traffic that is going underground, the trams will most likely be staying at-grade.

  10. Notice how bus proponents never count the cost of roadbed operations, maintenance and repair in their calculations. As buses get bigger and much heavier, those figures will continue to rise. The cost of bus-car accidents in mixed traffic is another “off the books” matter.

    1. Well, yes, there is some economy to having the road people completely fund the right-of-way. What’s lost is the control over priority of different vehicles in the traffic stream. A lot of the debate here comes down to whether one feels it’s possible for decision-makers to have the intestinal fortitude to re-assert priority for transit in the traffic stream, or whether one feels that is a lost cause. And specifically with streetcars – since they operate in mixed traffic as well – the question of faith is whether we believe cities will inherently take greater priority measures for rail than they will for buses. There is some local evidence in favor of the rail advocates on this point, both in SLU and on MLK Way – but if real transit priority could be achieved in many transit corridors, the benefits would be significant.

  11. As you can read in the comments to the Crosscut piece, improved trolleybus networks were already part of the AWV options, so it need not be armchair planning or back of the envelope. Fikse is an independent thinker, coming up with the concept already developed.

    Fare payment on buses need not be slow, though it is in Seattle. I rode in Paris in 1994 and they had proof-of-payment fare collection on their buses. Vancouver does now. It is quite common in Europe. Metro is planning faster fare collection on its BRT lines.

    Given the exisiting trolleybus infrastructure (e.g., base, overhead, buses, switches, drivers) the capital cost of the trolleybus concepts in the Crosscut piece or the AWV options would be modest. Of course, the fiscal crisis must be solved first. That will be necessary before the Seattle Central Line streetcar can be implemented either, as it depends upon Metro service subsidy, as does the SLU line.

    A new streetcar line costs about $50 million per mile. They can be wonderful, if placed in good corridors, as mentioned by Greenwood rider. They are best used as in Toronto, where they have semi exclusive rights of way, serve long high demand corridors, and provide pedestrians with significant range and advantage. Unfortunately, the proposed SDOT network does not pursue those attributes very well.

    An objective comparison between transit programs would spend equal amounts. The capital cost required for new streetar lines could be used for improved trolleybus service frequency and the modest capital needs of improving the existing infrastructure. Of course a single streetcar line has advantages over a single trolleybus line; but at $50/mile, our limited funds would be exhausted quickly. The SLU approach was to have the adjoining property owners pay for one-half the capital cost. Consider the budget constraint. Consider the existing infrastructure.

    We have one 1.3 mile streetcar line and Link LRT and Sounder, so we will be multi modal.

    An enhanced electric trolleybus network may make a great deal of sense with global warming, scarce transit funding, Seattle’s hills, and the exisiting infrastructure. One way to think about it: treat the trolleybus like you would a streetcar: provide in-lane stops, signal priority, faster fare collection, and provide short headways. We ought to be looking for good complements for the Link LRT line. Routes 7, 10, 9, 13, 36, 44, and 49 would do that very well if they ran faster and more often.

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