With two streetcars on the way, our two mayoral candidates’ views on the topic deserve some scrutiny. Neither McGinn nor Mallahan appear to be pro-streetcar, but their level of dislike seems quite different.
The First Avenue streetcar is to be funded by the city through an as yet undetermined source. It provides transit mitigation for intra-city trips displaced by the removal of the Viaduct, and would serve to connect the South Lake Union Trolley with the First Hill streetcar.
The First Hill streetcar is a Sound Transit project, approved and funded as part of Sound Transit 2, to connect International District station and Capitol Hill station. It will serve the First Hill employment center that didn’t get a light rail station in Sound Move – the $350 million station would have increased University Link’s risk dramatically, likely losing us our $800 million federal grant – $1.1 billion is too much for one stop!
McGinn would fund more bus service in the city instead of the First Avenue streetcar, trading a capital investment that causes lower operations costs per passenger mile for all three streetcar lines for a few years of bus hours. This could put us in a bad situation later, depending on how these bus hours are funded – if we fund hours for five years, for example, users will demand continued service, requiring us to find a new source of money. If we fund them with a longer term funding source, we’ll be doing it instead of continuing to build the streetcar network.
Mallahan, however, is even worse. He not only wouldn’t build the First Avenue streetcar, he’d try to consider interfering with construction of the First Hill streetcar, cancelling it if possible. This is not just irresponsible, but goes against last year’s vote. The last thing we want is Mallahan on the Sound Transit board.
What concerns me the most here is that there’s even a question of funding these two projects for either candidate. Seventy years ago, the streetcars were ripped up and replaced with buses to kill transit use – and the reverse holds true. It’s much easier to fight for signal priority and dedicated right of way for a streetcar than for a bus, it gets higher ridership, it can spur development. In the long run, it serves more people for less money, especially the First Avenue line – it not only serves tourist central, it also connects the other two.
McGinn is so close to being a good transit advocate – but he seems stuck on buses based on their apparent short-term cost. We need to put pressure on him to change this attitude.