Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

This morning, Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn held a press conference at First Hill Park in which he called on opponent Joe Mallahan to fully support the First Hill Streetcar.  He said that support for that Sound Transit 2 project was “support for transit for neighborhoods who have long expected it” and that “when voters approve something, we should build it.”  The (pdf) handout is here.

McGinn wouldn’t commit to a specific First Hill Streetcar alignment, but he did say that the City should “strive to make it quick and separate it from traffic as much as is feasible.”  He cited Tacoma as an example where the design made a streetcar worthwhile.

Mr. McGinn was noncommittal about other streetcar lines in the City, seemingly backing off from the opposition to the First Avenue line he told the Times about last week.  “We need more mass transit.  Maybe First Avenue is the next best place.  Maybe somewhere else.”  However, he conceded that “there is value to connecting” the First Hill and South Lake Union lines, if not necessarily via First Avenue.

He wasn’t quite willing to say that the SLUT was a mistake, but he did say that the “problem is it’s stuck in traffic because it has insufficient priority — that’s the key.  It would not be my first choice.”  He also said a new waterfront streetcar would be “in the mix.”

I asked him whether he viewed streetcars as  a development opportunity as well as a transportation system:  “Buses, streetcars, and light rail are all development tools; some are better than others.”  He then shared an anecdote on how he selected his home in Greenwood partially because of nearby bus service.

To summarize, on the streetcar, we have Mallahan that’s opposed to all the City-built lines and willing to consider killing Sound Transit’s First Hill project; with McGinn, we have solid support for First Hill, some talk about a dedicated ROW, and willingness to consider more streetcars.  It’s not the full-throated support we’re accustomed to out of city hall, but there is a difference.

The Mallahan campaign has not yet returned my phone call, but I’ll update here if they do.  They do return the P-I’s calls, however, and spokesperson Charla Neuman told Scott Gutierrez this:

“We’re not making a campaign issue one way or the other. (McGinn’s) just playing games with it,” she said. “Generally, Joe thinks street cars are an inefficient use of transportation dollars. The only way they are effective is if they have their own right of way and don’t get struck [sic] in traffic. But if the City and Sound Transit work out an agreement before he were to get elected, we’ll move forward with it. His position in general doesn’t preclude anyone from moving forward with something that’s already been approved.”

87 Replies to “McGinn Supports First Hill Streetcar, “Open to” Other Lines”

  1. I’m very glad to see one of the candidates step up on the streetcar issue (especially the FH streetcar that has been approved and funded). With Nickels out, this is a start.

  2. Also, I’m not sure if we’ve discussed this with previous FHS posts, but how will the streetcar be affected/affect construction of Capitol Hill station?

    1. The problem is that there is a cut-and-cover pedestrian tunnel that’ll shut down Broadway for a bit. It’d have to shut down the streetcar, too. They might not open the last few streetcar stop until construction is complete, or they might move forward construction of that ped tunnel.

  3. Both candidates are right in saying that streetcars should have dedicated right of way. Mallahan seems to be saying that in order to stop streetcars from being built while McGinn is saying that to make sure that the ones we do build work well.

    1. Dedicated ROW is helpful most of the time, but it is not necessary all of the time. Broadway only rarely experiences traffic congestion, and if the streetcar gets signal priority, then the difference would be minimal.

      Of course First Ave (if it’s built) and the SLUT certainly need to have dedicated ROW. The principle is right, but the best choice always depends on the context.

  4. However, he conceded that “there is value to connecting” the First Hill and South Lake Union lines, if not necessarily via First Avenue.

    Is there really? For starters, the lines use different technologies — or at least, last I read the plan for the first hill streetcars was to use trolleybus compatible overhead wires, which requires a different set of streetcars and it requires the first hill streetcars to have a turn-around loop at each end of the line rather than reverse direction the way the SLU streetcar does. So even if you “connect” them, there’s going to be a transfer at King Street station under current plans. So who do you support with fewer transfers? SLU to Capitol Hill trips? Take the 8.

    1. Using streetcars with trolley poles isn’t really part of the plan yet, it was just a suggestion made during the technical feasibility analysis. I doubt if any choice will be made until the final route is decided. It is completely possible, and probable, that the line will use the same Skoda-Inekon cars used elsewhere.

      1. There are cities in Germany and Switzerland where streetcars using pantographs and electric trolley buses co-exist. San Francisco has this as well. There are ways for these wires to pass each other without derailing or electrical problems. I don’t think you’d want to try trolley poles on a streetcar in this day and age – pantographs are more reliable. But there is no reason why streetcars and electric trolley buses cannot co-exist on the same street or crossing each other.

    2. They will be using the same technology, and as far as I know overhead wires for buses will not remain in this corridor.

      You’re comparing endpoint-to-endpoint but that may not be entirely useful. All the in-between stops and neighborhoods matter too.

      But yeah, I don’t think connecting the SLU line to the First Hill line is a big priority. The First Ave line is valuable not for that connection, in my opinion, but because it brings Belltown and Lower Queen Anne a rail connection to downtown and light rail. The ridership would be four times as high as the First Hill line.

      1. But wouldn’t Belltown and LQA be better connected to downtown and light rail if the streetcar line was on 3rd? And wouldn’t it be much faster operating in a corridor that already has transit priority?

      2. Actually, no. 1st will generate higher ridership, and the connection up 1st to LOQA is easier than having to use Denny to go from 3rd to 1st.

        Seriously, you’re looking at the core of Belltown, LOQA, Pike Place, and Pioneer Square. 3rd doesn’t cut it at all.

      3. First is the only place the Belltown and Uptown street grids align, which is simultaneously why traffic is so bad and why that’s the logical place for a streetcar.

        I think the missing element in this conversation is Ballard/West Seattle light rail. 5 of the 7 bus routes using 1st are headed to one or the other. Replacing them with grade-separated light rail and connecting the stations with a streetcar for local service would be better than just injecting a streetcar into the existing mess, in my opinion.

      4. First only continues north for the expanse of the Seattle Center before it becomes way too steep for a streetcar. It would have better access to the Arena but line could be extended from 3rd to serve more of the Center perhaps with a turn around loop. South of downtown isn’t an issue because the proposed Central Line turns east on Main.

      5. They aren’t planning on bringing up to the top of the hill. If they did, it would just be a matter of using a counterbalance like they did 100 years ago (though a linear motor may work better and is a bit more modern).

        If we moved it to 3rd instead of 1st, could we bring it right though the Seattle Center? They’re planning on remodeling the place anyway.

      6. I think though the Center would be very cool. Streetcars have “Wow” factor that can’t be denied. It would complement the Center and create ridership! The Science Center is big time in the way but it was built for the Worlds Fair and long overdue for replacement. Seattle Transportation Museum? I mean with the Monorail right there how much more appropriate a spot could you find! Streetcars combined with tourism has proven to be viable. 3rd provides not only the best possibility of dedicated ROW but also the absolute best connectivity. With high ridership and faster transit times streetcars are economically viable.

      7. Seattle Center used to have the skyride (that is at the Puyallup Fair now, I think). If that was still around, along with the Monorail and a streetcar, you’d have some serious transportation fun going on.

        Instead, Seattle Center is getting blander by the year, but I digress.

      8. One problem with running the streetcar through the Seattle Center rather than next to it is you completely avoid the rather densely populated uptown neighborhood.

        Another advantage to a streetcar up First is relieving some of the local traffic between Downtown, Belltown, and Uptown on the 15 and 18 which leads to these routes being overcrowded, slow, and unreliable.

        If it was up to me I’d cut First to one traffic lane in each direction with no parking and use the remaining lane space for transit and a cycle track.

      9. Actually I think there was a “concept proposal” to connect the SLU and 1st Ave Streetcar lines through Seattle Center, roughly at Harrison though obviously not through the middle of Key Arena! I’m not sure it would make sense unless coupled with the complete redesign of Seattle Center.

      10. If there isn’t money for a second downtown tunnel for the West Seattle/Ballard Link line they should at least run it on the surface on exclusive right of way on 1st like MAX. By the time that’s ready to happen people should be much more receptive to getting rid of parking and a travel lane.

      11. I don’t think Ballard/West Seattle gets built without a tunnel through downtown. While the type of surface running Link does down MLK probably would work in other parts of the city, I don’t see it working in Downtown, Belltown, and Uptown due to the large amount of traffic and congestion. For one thing you’d have to allow a grade crossing nearly every block rather than every few like on MLK.

        Because the initial Link lines have essentially been built to pre-metro standards it will be hard to build additional lines to a lower standard.

        However this does bring up an interesting point considering many other cities light rail lines are much more streetcar like in their configuration than Link. Perhaps future Seattle streetcar lines should be built so larger LRVs could run on the ROW with minimal conversion. There would still be issues like voltage and platform height and clearance, but it is much easier to up the voltage and rebuild the platforms to accommodate larger LRVs than it is to raise the OCS and widen the turns.

        By the same token accessing West Seattle via rail is going to require some serious infrastructure, either an elevated ROW on the existing West Seattle Bridge, a new rail-only bridge, or a tunnel under the Duwamish Waterway. So at least part of a future Ballard/West Seattle Link line will look more like the current Link than the “cheap and easy” way light rail has been built elsewhere.

      12. Light rail will not work across the existing West Seattle high bridge. That was one of the reasons why monorail was proposed in that corridor.

      13. Mickymse,
        Are you sure Light Rail won’t work? It appears to be feasible to attach an elevated guideway for monorail above the traffic lanes on the bridge, and the streetcar study said something similar was possible for streetcars, so why wouldn’t elevated tracks above the traffic lanes work for Link? I grant Link cars are much heavier than either streetcars or monorails, so it is possible the bridge can’t be used for Link.

        It is also possible that the cost of retrofitting the bridge is similar to building a new one or even building a tunnel.

      14. Mickymse,

        We will never know for sure how well monorail would have worked on the WS Bridge because the SMP never got deep enough into the detailed design to fully flush out all the issues. But even at that the SMP was only proposing a single track monorail across the WSB with the resultant fairly pathetic functionality.

        If we build LR to WS in Phase III we should build it to ST design standards and not SMP design standards to ensure full functionality. This would probably mean a new structure as putting LR on the existing structure (if possible) would at the very least require taking a lane or two from general traffic – and that would be extremely unpopular politically.

        But we’re not going to get to a Phase III for many years anyhow so we have plenty of time to study it and get it right.

      15. lazarus,
        According to the streetcar study it would be possible to elevate streetcar tracks over the existing roadway on the WS bridge. However the study recommended against any streetcar alignments between West Seattle and Sodo/Downtown because the cost of the elevated approach structures and retrofitting the bridge put the per/mile cost up in Light Rail territory. According to the study there are some issues that keep the low level bridge from being a practical alternative for streetcar use.

        In any case it may prove practical to take a similar approach with a future Link line serving West Seattle. I’m envisioning something similar to the current elevated Link support structures but in the median of the WS Bridge. As I said elsewhere even if that is practical the cost or other considerations might make a new bridge or a tunnel a more practical option. We likely won’t know for certain until screening for potential WS Link alignments starts.

      16. Sorry, but if you are referring to the SDOT SC study then I wouldn’t say that putting an elevated SC/LR structure across the WSB “would be possible.” That document hardly addressed the West Seattle route at all, and the entire document was really just a scoping exercise and not a technical assessment anyhow. That document is almost entirely devoid of technical meat and shouldn’t be taken as technical validation.

        Putting elevated LR across the WSB doesn’t pass the old engineering “smell test.” I don’t believe it would be possible, and it would probably be cheaper to just step up to the plate and build a parallel LR structure anyhow. Tie into the WSB for additional lateral support (would probably reduce costs – TBV) and call it good.

      17. Bernie, I’m curious whether you’ve ever watched 3rd Ave work at rush hour. It doesn’t run smoothly — it’s quite slow and there’s a lot of weaving: buses merge around each other a lot, everyone gets stuck behind cars turning right (or illegally turning left), the buses themselves get backed up when another bus is slow to board, etc.

        I’m not saying bus-only 3rd ave is a bad thing — the alternative would be worse, for sure — but I don’t think a streetcar would be much faster on 3rd ave than it would be on another street. A streetcar wouldn’t be able to weave the way buses do and so it would need to wait at every block while the buses ahead of it board.

        Also, 3rd ave through downtown has some giant grates on it — I think they’re letting air into the bus tunnel — that it might be hard to lay track across.

        If we’re going to run a streetcar through downtown, it needs to be somewhere else, though still in a transit-only lane. This makes either 1st or a 4th/5th couplet the most appealing options, and I believe 4th/5th has some other downsides I can’t remember right now.

  5. Well I agree with McGinn and Mallahan that streetcars should be at grade-separated as much as possible, otherwise there’s no time savings benefit. Streetcars should avoid major congested streets if a ROW is impossible to acquire (like 1st Ave through downtown).

    A compromise situation, how about in the LQA/Sea-Center/Belltown area, the streetcars use 1st Ave or 2nd Ave, then the streetcars hop over to 3rd Ave using either Wall or Bell streets? They would continue using the 3rd Ave transit corridor the remaining way through downtown to reach King Street station to avoid SOV traffic jams along 1st through the financial district.

    1. I like that idea. I like it even more because it would very nearly take me straight to work with only a very short walk from Westlake station to the streetcar for the transfer. ;)

    1. Jeff, I don’t know if you realize this, but every time you say something like “you railfans blah blah blah… but trains are NEATO!” it comes across as really patronizing.

      1. Seriously, I haven’t used the word “neato” since grade school. Find a more mature way to express yourself.

      2. Matt L.,

        I’m fine with the way that I express myself, and don’t take direction in how I do so from you.

        I LIKE the term ‘neato’. You’re not required to.

      3. litlenemo,

        Good – then the intended effect has been achieved.

        But seriously – trains ARE neato. I think so, too. I just don’t think that ‘neato’ is a good enough reason to revisit a transportation option that’s over a hundred years old and the city abandoned 60 years ago for good reason.

    2. Also Jeff, people are interested in transit for many different reasons, one of which is land use.

      It’s hard to dispute that a rail investment spurs dense, walkable development. If I’m not mistaken, for every dollar a city spends on a streetcar system, $12 is spent on surrounding development.

      Buses are great (we did fine here with just buses for years), but someone is less likely to drop some serious dough to build or buy a condo just because it’s on a bus line – the buses route is not cemented (literally) in the ground like rails.

      1. While trolley lines may not be “cemented in place” they are a significant capital investment. When maintained in appropriate locations, especially hilly areas, the capital invested in trolley lines and newer buses will encourage development. I fail to see why this has to be a trolley vs. streetcar debate. If you have a corridor that lends itself to an investment in a streetcar, by all means pursue it. But in areas where streetcar development is problematic, trolley buses can fill in nicely.

      2. Trolley buses are nice, certainly preferable to diesel or even hybrid. But has Metro decided to stop buying new trolley buses?

      3. Not that I’ve heard. They just added new wire to the 14 and the 36 and are paying to train all of their existing drivers on the new wire so I suspect there are no immediate plans to scrap the fleet.

      4. New wire, yes. New trolleys – no.

        The folks closer to the long-term planning meetings and town halls may have a better answer on this, but my understanding is that the original timetable had the ETB fleet buses – Gilligs anyway – being replaced in 2012. This is what has spurred discussion about replacement of ETB’s as more or less currently configured as electric buses, or switching to hybrids, possibly continuuing to capitalize on stimulus monies.

      5. 2012 for the Gilligs? That seems too early for replacement – their predecessors lasted almost 24 years.

        According to Metro’s original announcement ( the electric motors can last “a long time” (They use the example of the waterfront streetcars which had 70 year old motors in 2001)

        Assuming the Gilligs are working out, kudos to Metro for coming up with a solution that saved $200,000 per coach. Although A/C would have been nice, New Flyer doesn’t offer it in their new Trolley coaches either.

        As you have already discussed, the Bredas are another story. They have always been temperamental and don’t appear to be much better since their conversion. It’ll be interesting to see what happens there.

      6. Velo,

        The motors do last a long time – that’s why the current batch of Gilligs have the very power plants in them that powered their predecessors. Metro bought empty cabs, refurbished the motors that needed it and put them in the new bodies.

        I don’t know that we’ll ever see A/C in the ETB’s. Not sure that the amps are available for pushing the coach and cooling the air both.

      7. I think you’re underestimating the importance of the “neato” factor. While I’m sure Jeff meant this in a patronizing and condescending way. The neato factor is critical in spurring the land use changes that Randay206 is discussing. The permanence of rail is actually not the driving factor, though it does contribute. No, the driving factor is that middle and upper class individuals, the kind of people who have the money to buy a new luxury condo, LIKE riding streetcars, and light rail, because their neato. This demographic, statistically speaking, does not enjoy riding the bus.

        Rails are better than buses not because they generate more ridership, or because they are fixed or even because they are fast. Rail’s #1 advantages is the KIND of rider that it attracts: the kind of rider with money. It may be ugly, but anyone who really understands transit and development knows that it is true. We just don’t like to talk about these sorts of things here in Seattle.

      8. Actually I meant “neato” in the “trains are really cool” kinda way.

        As to rail attracting a “different kind of rider”, I guess I can add to my list of reasons why I have a hard time supporting massive rail redevelopment statements like this that smack of elitism and frankly turn my stomach.

      9. Jeff,
        You may feel the phrase “a different kind of rider” smacks of elitism, but it has been proven rail attracts more so-called “choice” riders than buses. As a general rule those riders are more affluent, are more likely to own a car, and yes are more likely to be “white” than the typical bus rider. The “trains are really cool” factor is one of the things that attracts choice riders to rail. Why shouldn’t public transit take advantage of this in order to increase ridership and get more people out of their cars?

        By attracting choice riders you are in no way saying the poor, elderly, mobility challenged, or other transit-dependent riders aren’t welcome on rail. Why should public transit be limited only to those who have no other choice? If anything you should welcome broadening the transit riding demographic as it means it is much easier to get political support for expanding transit service or at least maintaining the service levels. There is a reason police and fire services are last on the chopping block when local governments face budget crises, it is in no small part due to people across all segments of society perceiving these services as useful to them and important.

      10. rail attracts more so-called “choice” riders than buses. As a general rule those riders are more affluent, are more likely to own a car, and yes are more likely to be “white” than the typical bus rider

        Like I said – elitism like this turns my stomach, and is an argument AGAINT funding rail.

        If affluent, car owning white folks need to spend MY tax dollars just to pull a stick out of their ass long enough to ride public transportation, that isn’t money worth spending.

      11. someone is less likely to drop some serious dough to build or buy a condo just because it’s on a bus line

        Someone might decide not to build a condo!

        OH, THE HORROR!

        Sorry, but as a Ballard resident, can’t see a downside to that one.

        And a route not being “cemented. . in the ground like rails” is in my view a huge PLUS. The transportation can adapt to meet the needs of the community rather than forcing the community to adapt to the fixed nature of light-rail based transportation.

        Some of this is fundamental difference in preferred urban esthetics. Many advocates of light rail/streetcar redevelopment seem to favor increased core population density, using the fixed – or “cemented” if you prefer – nature of rail transportation to force the issue. It’s just not a concept that I can get behind on a large scale as making sense for the majority of the region’s citizens, or for my personal quality of life as a lifelong Seattleite.

    3. The funny thing is that for a lot of people, even non-radical railfans, trans really are neato. They just never realize until they’re on one like Link.

      1. The funny thing is that for a lot of people, even non-radical railfans, trans really are neato

        Count me among them. I rode the link today in fact.

    4. Jeff, “neato” is a measurable part of what gets people out of their cars, and it’s part of why they’re more cost effective.

    5. Jeff – is your opposition to rail based on a perception that trains threaten your livelihood or am I oversimplifying matters? I am an ardent rail supporter, not because trains are “NEATO,” but for the myriad reasons that are stated time and again on this blog. That support for trains “continue[s] to mystify the hell out of [you]” makes me question if you are even reading the case being made for rail or just simply reacting to headings.

      1. Well with Jeff choosing to pay no heed to pretty convincing arguments for rail over buses in the aforementioned corridors and his overly simplistic dismissal of rail supporters, I figured there must be some threatening aspect to rail that was being left unsaid and figured I would try something as absurdly simplistic… intended as a bit of sarcasm on my part.

      2. dang,

        Don’t mistake my fundamental disagreement with those who strongly favor light rail and streetcar redevelopment as “paying no heed”. You seem to believe that I have dismissed the concept out of hand. I have not. As a responsible citizen, I continue to study the issue and vote according to the issue on the ballot and the arguments that make the most sense to me.

        Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this is an issue that lends itself to “absurdly simplistic”, but your attitude as expressed here for my own feelings is the type of thing that tends to prompt me to wonder about your own interest or willingness to understand why some folks don’t share your enthusiasm.

        Could it be that folks who aren’t as ardent a supporter of rail/streetcar redevelopment as you are don’t lack vision – they simply don’t share yours?

      3. dang,

        is your opposition to rail based on a perception that trains threaten your livelihood

        They don’t. In fact, expansion of rail enhances my career options. You realize that those rail operators are all Metro bus drivers, right? No, my general opposition to massive rail and streetcar expansion has to do with a variety of factors – including both short and long-term cost, and (a big one for me as a 20 year social worker supporting people with disabilities), the fixed, inflexible, and general lack of accessibility of that type of transportation to people with disabilities. Also mentioned in another message of mine this evening is a preference for an urban esthetic that discourages the type of high-volume density that can occur by forcing development to adapt to fixed lines of transportation, rather than designing transportation to meet the needs of the community.

        Yes, I have read the case for rail, and as with the case made for the monorail – which not only mystified me but which I found to be frankly idiotic on its face – is found wanting when closely examined. Someone recently provided me (thanks for whomever that was, don’t want to search for the post right now) doing some pretty comprehensive cost breakdowns and ridership analysis of rail vs. wheels, and both options came up about even when the numbers were really – and objectively – crunched.

        So cost and ridership factors being essentially equal (if you accept that, which I understand most ardent rail redevelopment advocates do not), my own feelings fall along the lines I mentioned above.

        I said before – I come from a long line of folks who worked to develop Seattle’s transportation infrastructure, including one Great-Great Uncle who lost his life in the Jackson Street Yard way back when black and white tintypes were the mode of photography.

        And let’s face it – trains ARE neato. It’s a pleasant way to travel, short or long distances. The ride is more pleasant. The windows are bigger. The machinery is more impressive.

        I just don’t see the ultimate esthetic preference for rail redevelopment as the most practical use of limited financial resources to serve the largest number of people over the broadest area to the most places.

        I hope that helps answer your question re: where I’m coming from. I’m not a neocon, just your average garden variety moderate Democrat and lifelong Seattle resident with a vested interest in seeing the place of my birth and residence developed in a way that maximizes my quality of life, that of my children and that of my neighbors. My own vision of that differs substantially from that of the more ardent rail redevelopment advocates. That is a reality that I can accept, even as the dialog continues.

        Meanwhile, I get to benefit from losing this argument by riding the trains and streetcars that get built over my objection. Not such a bad defeat, really – as they ARE quite neato.

    6. I agree, trains are neato! That’s exactly why they get much higher ridership, attract a huge amount of advertising revenue, and spur sustainable development wherever they go! And on top of that, they reduce operating costs so that the capital costs pay off in the long run.

      1. I’m reading Jeff’s argument as not anti-rail but more of anti-density (condo, hi-rise, mid-rise, etc.). My vision of the future as someone who probably still be living 50 years from now is more compact and walkable communities and that we cannot maintain the status quo for very long. Your children or my children are not going to be living the same lifestyle we’ve enjoyed for the past 50 years. It’s slowly going away and it’s not coming back. We need to prepare for a future with high energy costs (and a variety of other environmental problems) and the way it is right now just doesn’t cut it. What we (current and future generations) need is an urban form and infrastructure that’s more sustainable and we need to invest in it now before it’s too late.


      2. Oran,

        A decent analysis, though a bit oversimplified. No, I’m not a fan of knocking down a single family home and tossing up 4 vertically stacked ones on the same lot as has happened a lot here in Ballard (along with larger condo developments that among other things, took away our bowling alley).

        Rail transportation is also inherently inaccessble – or at the very minimum substantially less accessible – to people with mobility issues and other disabilities. It forces the community to meet the needs of transportation – rather than the other way around.

        But yes, I’m not a big supporter of the “land use” arguments as those aren’t priority issues with me in the same way that they appear to be with more ardent rail redevelopment advocates.

      3. “Rail transportation is also inherently inaccessble – or at the very minimum substantially less accessible – to people with mobility issues and other disabilities.”

        Less than what? Not any more than buses. Though certainly much less than the private automobile. If I live more than a mile from a bus stop then it’s inaccessible to me. A lot of transportation disadvantaged people can’t even access regular bus service and have to depend on Access or on private services if they live beyond the Access service radius (3/4 mile from a fixed local transit route per ADA). And yes, Sound Transit is required to provide paratransit service for Link light rail as well.

        You really didn’t define what the “needs of the community” are and each community’s needs are different. Or is it actually your personal or family needs, taken to represent the entire community? Within the same community, people have particular views of what they think the community needs. I know I am in the minority in my suburban neighborhood with regards to “land use” arguments. Similarly, your vision is one of them, a sample of voices. Taken as a whole it seems that most people in the regional community think that rail transit is needed, hence the overwhelmingly successful vote to expand light rail.

      4. Also, while I sympathize with losing community amenities like a bowling alley, density and compact growth are hardly to blame. There are two separate issues: form and function. It’s a failure of the public process and zoning regulations to get developers to produce aesthetically pleasing buildings. In a country with strong individual property rights, it is an uphill battle. I’m no fan of poorly designed buildings but that’s not why we should be against the concept. As for function, the activities (businesses) in those new buildings while at first may be corporate chains, it doesn’t preclude the future opportunity that someday those storefronts will be occupied by locally owned businesses. The market will deal with that. The newer generation increasingly prefer compact development and over time, the needs of the community will change, if not already.

        With regards to transit, we all know we need density for transit to function well. It seems that you’re arguing against the very thing that makes transit in Seattle work so well relative to its suburbs. We can do better. It doesn’t matter whether it’s buses or neato rail, compact neighborhoods allows transit to serve more people with the same resources, thus increasing accessibility without resorting to running buses all over the place or building rail far into the suburbs.

      5. Oran,

        Rail, be it light rail or streetcars, is inherently less accessible than buses to people with disabilities for a variety of reasons. 2 big ones: distance between stations and lack of on-board assistance.

        Saying that rail is as accessible as buses ignores those two fundamental realities.

        No, we all do NOT know that “density is necessary for transit to function well”. And building rail “far into the suburbs” is exactly what’s happening now – while bus service faces cuts.

      6. Jeff, service can be configured in any way. Even if you can run a streetcar that stops every 2 blocks, planners often don’t because it’s inefficient. I don’t even think we should have bus stops every 2 blocks and want to see more bus stops removed to speed up buses and improve reliability on every route. The high density of stops is a legacy leftover from the streetcar days. Bus stop spacing in Europe on average is much larger than in North America and they have better bus service than we have. If I ran a regional express bus service or BRT with limited stops, how is it different from Link light rail (which is not and can’t be compared to a local bus!)?

        OK, buses have on-board assistance, so can trains (like Sounder) but it is not necessary. You can design systems to be self-service that’s just as accessible. If I’m in a wheelchair, how liberating it is to not rely on the driver to strap me in? If I need more time I can push the red button and talk to the operator. Why does the operator have to do that job? What ever happened to people giving others a hand?

        As for density and transit, well know you know. It is a fact that’s taught in planning classes and supported by real-world data. That’s an important factor in how ridership is derived. If you want to ignore that reality then fine with me.

        I won’t dive into the budget issues as it has been discussed on this blog so many times but rail is not the reason why bus service is facing severe cuts.

      7. Jeff,
        I appreciate what you are trying to say about mobility for people with disabilities. However I don’t believe the best transit system for the population at large is one designed primarily for their needs.

        While some disabled people may need more assistance than they get on Link or the SLUT for many rail is actually easier to board and exit from. Level boarding with lots of nice big doors is all many disabled people need. Most people I know with mobility issues prefer to do as much as they can themselves without assistance. Rail is much more empowering to them than a high-floor bus.

      8. Chris,

        I don’t believe the best transit system for the population at large is one designed primarily for their needs.

        I’m not sure what you mean by that. I’m certainly not suggesting that any transit system be designed “primarily” for any one group’s needs – however, this being a pluralistic society I damn well do expect everyone’s needs to be taken into EQUAL consideration, and when the needs of the least enfranchised in our society take a back seat (almost literally) to the majority, I get real concerned.

        I spent 20 years as a social worker supporting people with disabilities and their families – I’m aware of the issues (more than most). No, rail is NOT “much more empowering” than buses – and high-floor buses aren’t the only thing out there. You know that, right?

        I will also note that while I regularly see people using wheelchairs (which again – nobody is on board the link to help secure) and other mobility issues on buses – I have yet to see a single mobility impaired person using the Link.

        Have you?

      9. Jeff,

        Link doesn’t need any tie downs or ramps. The ride is stable and predictable enough not to require them. It’s roll on and roll off. I’ve seen senior citizens, people in wheelchairs, power chairs, crutches, and walkers use the Link with ease, by themselves and within the 20-second dwell time. I asked a lady in a power chair who tried Link and she really liked the ease of boarding/deboarding. I suppose you could call that neato. Try that on most buses. SWIFT BRT will have the option of not securing with a back-facing position but it still needs to deploy the ramp.

      10. I agree, trains are neato!

        That’s a fact.

        they get much higher ridership, attract a huge amount of advertising revenue, and spur sustainable development

        That’s a myth. Any gain in ridership from the neato factor doesn’t cover the increased operational cost. Advertising is falling short for the streetcar while (stupidly) demand for bus wraps has been cut short through legislative action. The most positive (anti sprawl) development has been disconnected from streetcars. If streetcars really “pencil out” then developers would be funding the operating cost.

        capital costs pay off in the long run.

        No they don’t. After 10-15 years the projections start to equal a balance. By then you’ve used up half the lifespan of the streetcar running at 10-30% of capacity. Figure in the cost of funding the debt and it’s absurd.

        It’s so ironic that the same people bashing the Monorail as “wed to a technology” are so infatuated with rail that they succumb to the same argument.

      11. It’s so ironic that the same people bashing the Monorail as “wed to a technology” are so infatuated with rail that they succumb to the same argument


        I actually voted for the monorail before I voted against it. When it was initially proposed to extend the existing monorail line southward to the airport – possibly running more or less parallel to I-5, I thought the idea was worth exploring. When they started buying up $100 million worth of property between Ballard and West Seattle for an ever-shrinking, one-track line that would have been pretty much completely inaccessible to people with disabilities – they lost me completely.

        I see many of the same arguments for light rail and streetcar redevelopment as a rehash of monorail arguments. While I do love the darn things (my ‘neato’ word that seems to push people’s buttons), when examined objectively (as you have done an excellent job of here and on other threads), “light-rail/streetcar” is really code at this point for “bi-rail” (vs. monorail).

  6. I don’t think Ballard/West Seattle gets built without a tunnel through downtown. While the type of surface running Link does down MLK probably would work in other parts of the city, I don’t see it working in Downtown, Belltown, and Uptown due to the large amount of traffic and congestion. For one thing you’d have to allow a grade crossing nearly every block rather than every few like on MLK.

    Because the initial Link lines have essentially been built to pre-metro standards it will be hard to build additional lines to a lower standard.

    However this does bring up an interesting point considering many other cities light rail lines are much more streetcar like in their configuration than Link. Perhaps future Seattle streetcar lines should be built so larger LRVs could run on the ROW with minimal conversion. There would still be issues like voltage and platform height and clearance, but it is much easier to up the voltage and rebuild the platforms to accommodate larger LRVs than it is to raise the OCS and widen the turns.

  7. A point on the technologies…SF F Line cars (ex PCC and others) use poles which on Market St. share the overhead with one leg of the Trolley bus system. Muni Metro (the old J, K, L, M, N plus the new T) lines are run with LRVs using pantographs BUT the wiring is such that the pole equipped F line cars can (and do) run under the same wire. But nowhere in SF does a pantograph run under trolley bus wires. Also SF overhead wire for LRV is continuous — Seattle, Portland and other pantograph only lines use mile long (or so) blocks where the wire separates — which doesn’t work with poles. Its all in the deliberate design. (Many cool pictures exist of SF testing the T line with a 100+ year old work car equipped with poles — it was the first car over the new new line.)

    But — trolley bus can coexist with pantograph OCS with a little planning (the trolley wire would parallel the streetcar wire and be slightly higher except at crossings.

    The short SLUT line is doomed to failure unless its extended (to the UW for example) or joined by a First Hill/downtown line. And streetcars are not LRVs, run them in the street where they belong — they can carry a tremendous load (look at the SF “F” line or Toronto loads for example) while still running in traffic. ITS NOT THE SPEED THAT COUNTS – its the convenience, the comfort of the ride (compared to buses) and the permanence of route that give streetcars the edge.

    1. I agree running two dissimilar techs on the same cantenary system “can” be done, but I don’t really expect it “will” be done here in Seattle. For better or worse, I suspect our ETB fleet will continue to shrink due to decisions at the Metro level and continued development of hybrid tech (I know, it’s not the same), and theoretically at least there isn’t a need to parallel lines anyhow once the SC is in.

      The only exception to this would be for historic preservation purposes (for example running a historic PCC and a modern SC on the same trackage), but I don’t think most people view ETB’s as historic and worthy of preservation.

      Per extending the SLU SC, I agree, it really should be done. I view the existing line as more of a proof-of-concept system, and it has worked very well in that role, but to really maximize it’s usefulness it needs to be extended up Eastlake to the U and extended south through the CBD.

      1. The 70 was electrified about a decade ago. Can you list routes that have been removed in recent years? (I’m not talking 70’s – I’m wondering about more recent cuts)

      2. Ooops, I forgot. Tack on more wire to the 36 and 14 to connect to Link stations at Mount Baker and Othello. Short of the major changes done back in the 70’s, does anybody know of any cuts to the trolley wire system and/or the routes on that system?

  8. The first step in losing an argument is slinking down to ad hominem arguments. The second step is admitting a lack of understanding.

    It’s intriguing that any support for any type of rail can be construed as being single-minded, when in large part, this blog and most supporters of rail have long advocated for a multimodal approach, recognizing that sticking with a single mode is a losing proposition in the long run.

  9. Since it seems to have generated a lot of discussion, I thought I would track down the document where I read about the First Hill and First Ave streetcars using differnt technologies. I found this in the Streetcar Network Report from May, starting on page 19. Unfortunately, I can’t copy the text from the PDF for some reason, but you can find the report at

    1. Thanks for looking that up. We did that yesterday and found some interesting facts. Keep tuned.

    2. Well….all that is really saying is that conflicts between ETB overhead power systems and the SC cantenary “could” force a change to a pole based pick-up system as opposed to a pantagraph type system. While that could change other design aspects, I wouldn’t say that any of that is cast in stone since we don’t even know the final route yet.

      And besides, one way to resolve the conflict with ETB’s along any proposed route is to eliminate the ETB’s – and it seems like Metro keeps trying to do that anyhow.

      Note: I always view things coming out of SDOT with a little bit of skepticism. I would have a much higher degree of confidence in this report if it came out of ST, particularly since it relates to rail and ST has much more experience with that tech than does SDOT.

  10. If McGinn is serious about putting the First Hill Streetcar in, bringing back the Waterfront Streetcar after the Viaduct gets bulldozed, then he has got my vote. I appears that he is the most well-rounded on the subject of buses, streetcars, light rail, pedestrians and bikes.

    As far as the First Ave Streetcar, we’re going to have to wait until a better economic climate to propose a LID and generate money for it. However, this line will connect the SLU and FH lines and is necessary and I am sure there is a possibility of getting federal stimulous money for this as well.

    One thing that I am thrilled about, they’re more anti-car than even Nichols was. That is a plus, because I see gas only going up and hopefully SUV’s only going away! With the 2012 gas mileage standards, I think that will be a reality.

    1. Actually, with the Deep Bore Tunnel there is no reason you couldn’t bring the WFSC back today (other than the lack of a maintenance base of course). One of the beauties of the Deep Bore Tunnel plan is that the current viaduct stays functional in much its current state until the day you need to remove it.

      The only time you would need to shut down the WFSC under such a scenario is when you are removing the viaduct segment immediately above or adjacent to the tracks — you’d only to shut down the WFSC for a week or two.

      But I don’t’ really think McGinn is that serious about streetcars.

    2. The First Ave Streetcar is part of the tunnel plan, which is not just a tunnel. The tunnel plan also includes the widening I-5 and improvement of Alaska Way. While the tunnel addresses through traffic, the streetcar is intended to help mitigate the affect the viaduct’s removal has on local surface traffic by increasing transit capacity on First Avenue (at least in theory). Funding for the streetcar therefore would be part of the tunnel package, not a separate item subject to a LID.

      1. Actually, this is not correct. Widening I-5, streetcar, and significant street grid enhancements were all part of the surface-transit alternative that was rejected in favor of the Tunnel. The I-5 improvements are now completely unfunded and the streetcar, as well as most of surface street improvements are optional add-ons that the city can fund at its own expense if it chooses to. These “optional” plus the mandatory expenses the city is forced to pay for with the tunnel project are the “largest tax increase in seattle history” that McGinn keeps harping on.

        This is why the surface transit option was preferred by most people on this blog, even those who don’t hate cars with the passion of a thousand exploding suns: with surface transit, everything was paid for as part of the package. With the tunnel, all the money goes in the hole.

      2. Exactly, the 1st Ave SC is not funded as part of the current tunnel agreement. It’s currently unfunded and the need for it under the Tunnel+Surface plan has not been established.

  11. I wonder if some money for the First Ave streetcar could be bundled in with that Seattle Center levy they’re talking about.

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