Go by Streetcar by Author
Go by Streetcar by Author

As the streetcar debate heats up once again, I want to point out a few things that we seem to be losing track of as we discuss future systems.

We are designing a streetcar route not a light rail route. Tacoma Link for example is light rail but using a streetcar to provide the service. The way it is ran; a single track system with a long “passing siding” with light rail signaling is similar to what you would see in terms of Sacramento’s Folsom light rail line.

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A streetcar by definition is to be ran with mixed traffic, buses, cars, etc. It is not meant to be a high-speed, high-frequency with minimal stops type of sustained mode of transportation (IE: Light Rail)

We also need to keep in mind streetcars are very successful, depending on how it is implemented. Portland Streetcar was successful because of the original location of the line was put an area that was slated to become dense residential with easy access to Downtown Portland. With that process, the streetcar averaged 3500 passengers a day. Aggressive expansion was also a key part of the streetcars stunning success and which it is also averaging 11,500 to 13,500 a day currently. Thanks to the streetcar, Portland has now seen $4 billion dollars worth of development and once “empty lots and warehouses” are now thriving communities, such as South Waterfront or the Pearl District.

Portland Streetcar needs to remain a key model into making a successful streetcar network here in our region. We can not play into the rules that streetcars need to be in the center lane or streetcars need to have a dedicated right-of-way. Coordination between the traffic lights, good signal priority and keeping the signals coordinated are the goal when it comes to keeping the service moving and thus removing the mindset that the system is slow and unreliable.

Portland Streetcar remains running at 13 minute headway’s and have done so since its start. When the Portland East Loop opens in 2012, it is expected to raise to nearly 16,000 daily riders.

South Lake Union Streetcar by Author
South Lake Union Streetcar by Author

So what is Seattle to do? Citizens that want a more efficient streetcar needs to push the City of Seattle to get the Streetcar running faster by adding signal preemption and priority at all lights. There is no way to reduce the headway without using the standby streetcar. This would be possible and realistic during peak hours but definitely not for off-peak for the foreseeable future. We must remove the mindset that the system is slow by keeping the streetcar in-motion and we must expand the route towards the University of Washington, even if it stops short of the University Bridge.  I would rather spend the money to get the streetcar to the University of Washington and eliminating the Route 70 and utilizing those buses on more frequent service for the routes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 49 than the First Avenue line and I wholeheartedly believe that until First Avenue can be completely made a 4 lane roadway with no parking between Royal Brougham and Denny Way, the First Avenue line will not work as it is intended to.

I am sure others will disagree, which is fine. We cannot all have an agreement 100% on items such as this but one thing for sure, a streetcar is a streetcar. We can not have a streetcar and expect it to be a light rail system. It just will not work and will only set yourself up for disappointment with that mindset. As Portland did learn however, spacing stops is a good way of boosting ridership and speed. Spacing stops every 3 to 4 blocks instead of every 2-3 blocks and allowing stop bypassing is the right direction to having a solid streetcar network.

Our goal now should be to focus on the First Hill route and to continue to develop the South Lake Union route along with focusing on Second Avenue for a main transit corridor. First Avenue will have its time and place but for the future, even with the promise of great ridership numbers, now is just not the right time for it. I would rather see funding for a West Seattle – Ballard light rail line and connecting the First Hill and South Lake Union streetcar line together at Eastlake Ave and Harvard Ave than toss my support at First Avenue simply because I believe they would have much more potential among younger riders in allowing the system to move forward. I honestly do not believe Belltown will allow the streetcar to eliminate the on-street parking on First Avenue whatsoever.

96 Replies to “Streetcar Ex Machina”

  1. If I could design a street car line, it would start out at Marion Street and Alaskan Way, near the Coleman Dock, then turn north on 1st Ave, go up to Pike St, then turn east and go up to Cap Hill. I think a line to the U Dist. would be slow and redundant.

    1. Sam, that’s the point of the Eastlake/UW line. It’s not light rail. It would be for local access to jobs and businesses, just like bus 70. As Brian pointed out, it would be redundant, allowing those trolley bus hours to be used somewhere else. (The problem being, of course, that we don’t have enough funding for current hours…)

      I like the idea of a Pike/Pine streetcar. Can it do that hill, though?

      1. I like the idea of a Pike/Pine streetcar. Can it do that hill, though?

        A streetcar should be able to do the hill. There were streetcars running up and down Pike and Pine between Capitol Hill and Downtown before the lines were all converted to trolleybuses.

      2. Sure it was just a street car and not a cable car? The Yesler hill and the Queen Anne hill were cable cars.

      3. Nope, it was a streetcar. Queen Anne avenue was a streetcar line too, they just had a cable assist for the cars (hence the name “counterbalance”). The lines going up Olympic Way/10th Ave W, and Taylor Ave N/Boston St. didn’t have any assist at all as far as I know.

        The cable car lines that still existed as of 1930 or so were between First and Broadway along James, Third to Leschi on Yesler, and First to Madison Park on Madison.

        BTW how cool would it have been if Seattle had kept the old cable car lines?

      4. hmm, are the tracks and ropeway still under the street?

        san franciso completely rebuilt their cable car system in the early 1980s so SF essentially has a circa 1980 cable car system. what if seattle rebuilt those 3 lines and had a circa 2010 cable car system on those lines?

      5. Well, start with a cable several miles long- that needs to be replaced on a yearly basis. You’ll need a powerhouse, of course, and the rollers and pulleys under the street. Going up and down hills is especially interesting where the cable changes vertical direction, and the slot for the grip has to be kept clear at all times.

        Cable cars are a non-trivial operation.

      6. A Pike/Pine street car would be highly redundant with the half dozen bus lines that cover that route. I see no advantages of street cars over buses. Seattle already has bus infrastructure. Why invest in street cars?

    2. a line to the U district would not be slow and redundant, especially if you consider that the Link won’t connect to the university anywhere near where the streetcar would [the campus is BIG].

      as an eastlake resident, i can see the importance of the U district streetcar. eastlake is an interesting, relatively high density neighborhood which is underdeveloped. all the express buses blow through the neighborhood, and cars treat it primarily as a transit corridor rather than a destination. this makes eastlake avenue very pedestrian unfriendly, despite a relatively high concentration of residential development in the surrounding area.

      we don’t *want* a streetcar that blows through as quickly as possible using a dedicated right of way, although such a right a way would definitely be a bonus. more important than speed is a high capacity transit service that improves the neighborhood and brings more activity to businesses along the way.

      1. Huh? Link and the extended SLU SC would mmet at the Brooklyn Station near the NW corner of campus (Old Safeco building). There would be a transfer point there between the two modes.

        Having an inter-modal transfer point is not the same thing as being “redundent”

      2. i am aware of that. my point is that the streetcar would service the SW corner of the campus in a way the link would not, and so the street car would not be redundant. it would serve areas of the campus that link wouldn’t.

      3. I think a U District line could also provide needed transit for students living around the University and provide some on-campus circulation missing from the University Link, as well as providing access to University Village. I’d like to see the line run along pacific and then montlake blvd up to University Village, connecting with the Stadium Station along the way. This could also be used by a future Ballard-Fremont-University streetcar line along Leary, 36th, and Northlake Way (off of which a Wallingford line could branch along Stone Way).

  2. From Wikipedia: “A tram, tramcar, trolley, trolleycar, or streetcar is a railborne vehicle, of lighter weight and construction than a train, designed for the transport of passengers (and, very occasionally, freight) within, close to, or between villages, towns and/or cities, on tracks running primarily on streets.”

    “Many newer light rail systems share features with trams, although a distinction may be drawn between the two, with the term light rail preferred if there is significant off-street running or if there are more than three cars.”

    Notice no mention of whether the tram/streetcar runs in mixed traffic or in its own lane. Brian, I think you are off-base here. The difference between “light rail” (or better yet “trains”) and trams/street cars is primarily the length of the vehicle (light rail can be 100 or even 200 meters long), top speeds (many light rail systems are capable of 55 or 65 mph), and the presence of SOME grade-separated right of way.

    Her in Los Angeles, we has one tiny tourist tram in San Pedro. It does not run in the street, it has its own right of way. But no one would call it “light rail” because it only goes 2 miles, never gets faster than 35 mph, and only has one-car vehicles. It is the rail equivalent of a tourist circulator bus.

    We also have a Metro / Heavy Rail subway (the Red and Purple lines) with grade-separated, long, fast trains, and we have three light rail lines. Two of the light rail lines run in the street, without signal priority for parts of the route (unfortunately) but never share a lane. One “light rail” line is entirely grade-separated, in a freeway median and as an elevated alignment thru El Segundo – unlike Heavy Rail it has shorter trains and smaller stations.

    In San Diego and San Francisco, the historic street cars (planned / in service respectively) have their own lane for almost all of the system. They are certainly not “light rail”, seeing that the vehicles are only one car long. Meanwhile, San Franscico’s Muni light rails system has very frequent stops and often travels at low speed, but its vehicles and occasional grades separations (especially the Market Street Subway) make it light rail.

    1. I don’t think there’s any real technical distinction, so I think Brian’s working definitions are pretty good. Others call fast light rail “Light Rapid Transit” to distinguish it from local access systems link Tacoma Link.

      1. Theres the term “Rapid Streetcar” which is used in a lot of Portland metro planning reports when listing current and possible future transit modes… Streetcar on a private RoW or signal premption. The Lake Oswego Streetcar extension would be this.

  3. I do think the distinction you draw between streetcars and light rail is a must, especially with the emphasis on their intended operation within existing street grids. However, streetcar lines without their own ROW (or dedicated lane) along the most congested stretches of the route will fall prey to the same congestion they are attempting to alleviate. The most prominent critique of streetcars in Seattle is way bother with the expense when you can buy buses, which provide route flexibility, et al, for so much cheaper… I understand the O&M costs, and am a streetcar advocate, but we are attempting to create a streetcar network in an environment that is at best indifferent/skeptical and at worst outwardly hostile to streetcars and their perceived expense. So to build a new line without doing whatever we need to do to ensure its success (i.e high ridership and congestion relief), we just endanger further efforts to expand the system.

    Drawing comparisons with Portland’s overall strategy is fine (aggressive approach, development of a network, steering dense residential development) but the usefulness of adopting actual on-the-ground implementation is more limited. Portland’s street grid is a much finer grained network, capable of more readily dispersing congestion and therefore permitting streetcars to operate as they do. Their streetcars also provide a finer grained transit network that serve districts rather connecting points. The long distance, point-to-point connections are left to their light rail system. The Transport Politic had a good article discussing Portland’s streetcar network expansion here.

    As for you advocacy for prioritizing an Eastlake-U District route, I could not disagree with you more. Going forward with the reintroduction of streetcars to Seattle, we need to focus on building a high ridership (or two or three) route that demonstrates the effectiveness of streetcars. SLUT will be great for SLU once the economy comes back around and the neighborhood fulfills its potential, but until then the SLUT will remain a target of critics. Admittedly, I am not very familiar with Eastlake, but my cursory (and beer-aided) assessment of the neighborhood did not leave me with the impression that it had the residential or commercial density to warrant a streetcar route, at least not the next route or two, which are critical to perceptions and long term success. Remember, streetcars aren’t about the endpoints as much as they are about the points in between. Also, obviously, U Link will connect the U District to downtown in a few years, creating at least the impression of redundancy. We would be better served pursuing the First Ave line to get the high ridership. Or the Jackson Street line. Or extending the SLUT into downtown. But the number one reason for pursuing the First Ave line is simply to provide some level of connectivity between the built and soon-to-be-built streetcars we already have (SLUT and First Hill) and allow maintenance to be centralized.

    1. Two things you’re missing about Eastlake-

      First, it is a bounded neighborhood, with the freeway on the east and the lake on the west. No place in the neighborhood is more than four blocks from the arterial street. And, for that matter, space limitations have meant many people there don’t use cars.

      Secondly, it is an attractive neighborhood. A shortage of would-be developers has never been the limitation on density in Eastlake.

    2. For what it’s worth, Eastlake has about 4200 units and around 1000 jobs (several large office buildings on Eastlake Ave, including my favorite: Westlake Associates). However, it is a “Residential Urban Village” not targeted for job growth. The big advantage of the Eastlake/UW line would be the connection with the SLU line, allowing Fred Hutch employees to get to Eastlake retail and Eastlake residents to their jobs.

      More neighborhood info is at

      1. You are right: Extending the existing SLU SC line up Eastlake should be a high priority. Not only does it generally improve the existing SLU line, but another really significant advantage is that it would tie in with University Link at the Brooklyn Station (funded under ST2). These multi-modal connections really improve the overall functionality of the entire system and improve total ridership of all modes.

        This temptation to identify an area of high ridership potential and then just plop down a SC line to serve it needs to be resisted. Some of these high ridership areas will be best served by true LR and some would be more cost effectively served by buses. What is needed is an integrated systems level approach to routing that allows all modes to play well together.

        Bottom Line? Think multi-modal integrated systems for best performance….this means we should extend SLU SC up Eastlake to Brooklyn as a high priority.

      2. I think future connectivity of the system is a big thing. For example, someone that lives in Shoreline and works at Fred Hutch can get off at Brooklyn and take the SLUT to Fred Hutch instead of heading into downtown and backtracking on the SLUT.

        Same goes for the First Hill line. Someone living in the north end can get off at Capitol HIll and take that streetcar to their job at Swedish or school at SU/SCCC instead of needing to go downtown to catch a bus up the hill, or get on the streetcar at IDCS.

        The article on the MAX Green Line that was posted yesterday discussed connecting more parts of the city/region with the Green Line – “Anything that grows the network and enhances the connectivity and allows many more possibilities to get around the region is a huge step forward.”

    3. “Admittedly, I am not very familiar with Eastlake, but my cursory (and beer-aided) assessment of the neighborhood did not leave me with the impression that it had the residential or commercial density to warrant a streetcar route.”

      you are correct in one respect, eastlake doesn’t have a high retail density.

      eastlake does, however, have a higher residential density than you might expect. there are a large number of apartments, condominiums and in the neighborhood, which tend to appear hidden because they sit on a hill [so if you are on eastlake avenue, they are either higher or lower than you and easy to miss].

      regarding the retail density, there is an interesting story about that. through eastlake avenue’s history, there has been a lot of residential development on the street itself, with patches of retail development here and there. more recently, codo developers have brought some major projects to the neighborhood, and pretty much *all* of this development includes retail spaces at street level. much of this space is currently vacant, but the capacity and the will to develop it exists.

      so to sum up, eastlake has high residential density, high developer investment, and high retail *capacity* – although much of that is going unused currently.

    4. For what its worth, I am not opposed to extending the SLUT through Eastlake to the U District. I do think it would be a viable line and I do appreciate the testaments to a streetcar’s viability in Eastlake. But, I am opposed to making that the next priority for the streetcar network for the reasons cited above. Additionally, there would not be any real efficiency to extending the SLUT (i.e use of the existing maintenance facility). From what I understand, the maintenance facility for the SLUT is extremely limited, thereby limiting potential headways and expansion based solely in SLU.

      Connectivity and a centralized maintenance facility are the items that make a First Ave SC a top priority, in addition to its high ridership potential and visibility. Two things here: A large centralized maintenance facility in the ID could serve both First Ave SC and First Hill SC, potentially SLUT through its connection to the First Ave SC, as well as serve future lines, like the one proposed for Jackson or a revitalized WFSC. And streetcars in Seattle are not just about transit, they are also very much about changing attitudes toward transit investment and the ways we move about. The First Ave SC has extremely high visibility, serving a broader range of people and businesses than an Eastlake SC would in the near future, and would be a positive advertisement for transit investment, specifically streetcars.

      1. Guys,

        You can’t do streetcar on Eastlake because there is too much traffic. Yes, streetcars can run in mixed traffic some places. Those places would be where there is little enough through traffic on the street that it does not queue at stop signs and lights.

        For instance, the San Francisco LRV/streetcar “L” line runs in shared traffic lanes out in the “avenues” as does the “M” through Oceanview. There’s also a short stretch of the “N” on Irving around the Med Center that’s in mixed traffic, but it’s only twelve blocks and Irving is not an arterial anywhere except right there.

        When they run on a major arterial — Judah, 19th Avenue, Junipero Serra, and most of the “J” route on San Jose, they have dedicated lanes. It’s true that the “K” runs in heavy mixed traffic on Ocean Blvd, but if Muni had its way it would get dedicated lanes there. It just can’t have its way because Ocean is the main access from southeast SF and the upper peninsula to SF State. The new Third Street line runs in mixed traffic from Kirkwood to Thomas, because Third is too narrow through that section. Other than that it has its own dedicated lanes.

        Do not put a streetcar on Eastlake in mixed traffic. There is only one lane without parked cars each direction in the section from the curves to Harvard Ave just below the University Bridge. This is a residential neighborhood; you can’t remove the parking from Eastlake.

        The express buses will be gone when Link gets to the Brooklyn station, and I doubt that you’ll find funding before that happens anyway. If you need more throughput on Eastlake, use articulated TB’s like the 7’s.

        And don’t put one on First Avenue, either, at least until you get it striped for four full lanes and no parking except in curb setbacks. First Avenue is a parking lot.

        To be successful streetcars must be more reliable than buses. Therefore they need dedicated lanes in congested areas, because they can’t pull around some thumbsucker waiting for a parking place with the flashers on.

      2. Eastlake has an almost entirely useless two-way left turn lane down its entire length. Get rid of the left turn lane and possibly parking on one side of the street and a streetcar could be given its own lane. Even without creating a dedicated lane I don’t think Eastlake has too much traffic for a streetcar. The biggest source of delays for the 70 and 71/72/73 locals when running on Eastlake are the stops nearly every block. A streetcar would have stops every 3 or 4 blocks and wouldn’t have to wait to pull back into traffic after a stop. The 66 runs along Eastlake but with limited stops and Eastlake is seldom a source of delays on the line.

        Besides I don’t think it is entirely appropriate to compare Muni or MBTA Green Line operations to the Seattle Streetcar network. Muni and the Green Line are old streetcar systems with some dedicated ROW that have been upgraded to light rail standards.

      3. Chris,

        If you removed the two way turn lane and a parking lane you would then have a four-lane roadway. It might be acceptable to give the streetcars semi-dedicated access to the right-hand lanes, allowing private vehicles to drive in the transit lane for up to one block to park or turn right. That might give acceptable reliability to make the investment worthwhile. But don’t do it until Link gets at least to Brooklyn, because the evening and weekend 70-series buses will still need to go downtown. You shouldn’t force folks to transfer from a bus to a streetcar. The Link, sure; it will be very fast between Brooklyn (or even better, Roosevelt) and downtown.

        However, I expect you’d get some pretty loud squawks about losing the parking because there is very little available in the neighborhood.

        So far as Muni and MBTA I would point out that both systems have downtown subways. Boston has had the Green Line tunnel for nearly a century, and San Francisco would not allow BART to be built on Market without the addition of the upper level “Muni Metro” tunnel all the way to Castro. The transit folks in both cities recognized that streetcars do not do well in heavy mixed traffic.

        In actual fact the Muni cars are not that different from the Portland streetcars. They are not Siemens or Duwag LRV’s; they’re shorter and narrower, and they use front-door only boarding for most stops in the sections where they run as streetcars. One can board the trailing car only at stations with a ticket machine or turnstiles. Most stations out in the avenues are really just stops and don’t have machines.

        They’re streetcars in a really, really nice tunnel.

      4. One comment: Muni Metro was not a requirement of the BART plan; it was a retrofit for available space after Marin county pulled out of BART. But still, it’s only marginally better than running at-grade: there are often long delays at the Duboce portal as the trolleys convert from tunnel to street mode and vice-versa.

      5. Putting a streetcar through Eastlake shouldn’t be a problem. Traffic on Eastlake is really very light to begin with, with the exception of the Lynn street intersection which is a complete disaster at rush hour, since it is how people get up and onto the I5.

        but other than that one intersection there is generally very light traffic, since none of the cross streets go more than a couple blocks and tend not to accumulate traffic. add in the useless turning lane, and eastlake has a lot of capacity [with the admitted exception of the lynn street intersection].

        while i agree that streetcars immensely benefit from right of way, in all the places where the “thumbsucker waiting for parking” would sit, the streetcar could use the currently unused middle lane.

        i don’t know anyone who parks on Eastlake Avenue anyway. Certainly not during Rush Hour when it matters. Southbound parking is towed from 7 until 9 and northbound is towed between 4 to 6. so for much of the day, Eastlake has an extra lane already, it’s just a matter of making that more permanent.

  4. However you define light rail versus streetcars, there is no reason to make either mode run in a mixed traffic lane. Here in Los Angeles we are finally trying to get the buses their own dedicated lanes on the busiest streets. Trams deserve dedicated lanes and signal priority just as much as buses do. There is no benefit of mixed traffic operation, except car drivers who would otherwise “lose” a lane or a line of street parking.

    You are right to advocate light rail instead of streetcars when possible, and to note that stops should be every 2 to 4 blocks (400 meters) and signal priority is essential. But reliability will suffer unless the streetcars get their own lanes.

    1. Joesph,

      Thanks! I actually stopped and thought about it for a moment but the question arose “Where would we put a dedicated lane anywhere within Downtown Seattle?” There really isn’t a way to put a dedicated lane without commandeering a general purpose lane in the city core. Going back to Portland, they do have some areas that do have their own ROW..roaming through the PSU campus, the park and at South Waterfront. There is no way to expand the streets here due to how narrow the sidewalks are and there is no center lane to use except for a very few select locations. First Avenue by design is a 2 lane corridor with on-street parking but it is striped as a 4 lane corridor. This needs to be a permanent 4 lane street.

      If we were to look at using a GP lane for a certain time period, how would traffic flow and how would the lane remain car free? (except for those turning)

      Game days for a good example will back First Avenue up from the Seattle Center to SODO. People trying to get to the stadiums, ferries, and the viaduct, are all trying to do so via First Ave. This makes placing a streetcar on this route so risky.

      Now having a dedicated lane (Elliott Avenue and 15th for great examples) would be a great solution but when do we make the call that “X location has too much traffic but there is no way to build a dedicated ROW for Y system” This is where I believe signal priority and signal timing is critical because you keep traffic moving at a consistent flow.

      I’d actually like to see a study on this because it is such an interesting but difficult thing to measure.

      1. People act as if it’s so speedy on 3rd because they pulled cars during peak hours.

        It’s not. I can see my neighborhood from work, but it still takes me 25-30 minutes to get there, even though it’s down one single street.

        With the exception of game days, First always seems to be a better and speedier choice for me if I’m in that much of a hurry.

      2. Seconded. 3rd is a lot better than it would be with mixed traffic, but rush hour buses still move barely faster than walking pace.

      3. But the idea is the high capacity of a streetcar would significantly reduce the number of buses. Many of the routes that run downtown (like the 2) would terminate at the Seattle Center. Yes it would force a transfer but if congestion is reduced transit time can be as good or better.

        I also like Brian’s idea of a 4th & 5th loop. It broadens the footprint of transit in a dense area with multiple major destinations. I think it would somehow need to loop or touch more of the Seattle Center and I worry about 5th with respect to the streetcar being stuck in traffic and traveling at a walking pace.

      4. I would love to see the 2 wire linked up with the 13 wire on W McGraw St – it would only be a 3 block addition and would allow for Trolley circulator service between a Seattle Center Streetcar stop, Queen Anne Ave N, W Galer St, and 6th Ave W. I’m not sure how the 3/4 leg would fit in since that is primarily residential. The other lines have a really great mix of medium density residential and small businesses.

        Add a dash of bus signal priority, some newer low-floor trolleys with a more open floor plan, and presto… A relatively inexpensive, hill climbing trolley system that integrates well with a Streetcar line. Getting the transfer to work smoothly though would be key.

      5. WHAT?!?!? Force a transfer from the Queen Anne buses at Seattle Center??? I apologize in advance for being insulting, but that is ludicrous! One of the main reasons people live on Queen Anne Hill is because the TB’s give them a quiet, one seat, quick, reliable ride to the CBD. That and they can see Mt. Rainier if they’re on the south slope….

        Get OFF the “I heart streetcars” kick, people. It’s just a technology, not the Toonerville Trolley. They’re great in places where they had dedicated ROW from the old days that still survives (Boston, Cleveland, SF) or they can hijack an abandoned rail line (The Waterfront here and in New Orleans and SF (the Embarcadero North Beach line). They suck most places in mixed traffic.

        Portland’s streetcar works reasonably well in the CBD because 10th and 11th are pretty minor streets; the 12th/14th couplet feeds to and from I-405 so most cars go that way. There is very little through traffic on the streetcar streets. Portland has twelve streets between its waterfront and I-405 and has 1/4 the downtown employment that Seattle has, if that. Seattle has six; it ain’t gonna work except maybe on Third once Link is finished to the north and east removing a lot of buses from downtown.

      6. “Game days for a good example will back First Avenue up from the Seattle Center to SODO. People trying to get to the stadiums, ferries, and the viaduct, are all trying to do so via First Ave. This makes placing a streetcar on this route so risky”
        But, Brian, the risk goes away if the automobiles are the vehicles removed from First Ave – there is no inherent right for them to be there. Having First Ave be a bicycle/pedestrian/transit corridor with automobiles limited to the Alaskan/Western couplet and the 2nd/4th couplet between about Jackson and Lenora makes the the problems on first on game days (and all day at hight tourist season) go away and yields a suddenly very pleasant First Avenue.

      7. OMG! I love this idea. I can close my eyes and see it and I have to have it. That would be so brilliant to just have trees and people and bicycles and a street car going all the way up first. Maybe it stops at Bell street at the new park boulevard that they are going to build. OOOOOO, this would be a dream!

      8. Not “OMG”, but “OMFG”! WHAT are you thinking? Most of the folks on this blog don’t want the Viaduct to be rebuilt and don’t want the deep tunnel to be dug. You want the “surface option”.

        But wait, there’s more! Let’s take away one of the six streets between I-5 and the waterfront! Can’t all those cars on the viaduct fit on Second and Fourth? SURE! We’ll run lots more buses and streetcars on First and Third and they’ll leave their cars at HOME!

  5. How about the “lakes” system —

    Extend SLUT to the UW (I’ll comment in a bit about the U-Bridge) — this is the Eastlake line

    Run a new Westlake line out Westlake, across Fremont Bridge to Fremont

    Run a line from the new Ballard Sounder Stop through Ballard to Fremont (use the BTR tracks?) connecting with Westlake and then to the U district meeting the Eastlake line and have both serve the U Light Rail Station. This is the Northlake line.

    Both the Westlake and Eastlake line extend downtown on either 2/4, 3rd, or 1st to meet the First Hll/Capitol Hill line.

    Bridges — Portland says in its planning for the East Loop that the Streetcar has less loading on the bridge than a fully loaded truck — Seattle seems to think that our bridges would need extensive rebuilding to carry streetcars. What gives? Is this an example of something being added to the cost of a streetcar that really isn’t a streetcar cost? There are no truck weight restrictions on either Fremont or University Bridges, so the streetcar shouldn’t be a problem. Vessel openings could be restricted to windows every 15 minutes or so (and I’m an owner of one of those sailboats that you drivers love to salute — single digit style) This is is same system used for Montlake.

    System — Signal priority and intelligent design and placement of stops would be mandatory. The replacement of buses (most of the 15/18/26/28/70-7 routes) would mean the streetcar system was moving masses of people. Some zones could be fare free — say the Ballard and Fremont zones — fare inspectors just would work those areas thus making it easy for shoppers to use the system to move a few blocks while shopping. The system could really help ease congestion at major events like Husky games and be a great tourist draw (take the Westlake car to the locks!). The old time streetcar barons thought in terms of moving people (thus the amusement part at the end of the line…probably owned by the streetcar company). UW, the Locks, and the Ballard and Fremont areas all are destination nodes.

    GO BY STREETCAR shouldn’t just be a Portland thing.

    1. Isn’t the hard part of the drawbridges is getting the rails and catenary across them? I’m not sure if this applies to University Bridge and Freemont Bridge, but if they have a steel deck, would you have to dedicate a lane to streetcars because of raised rails? Could you add an asphalt deck without making it too heavy to lift?

      Since electric trolley buses cross the bridges, obviously any problems with catenary are solvable. But since modern streetcars use different electrical standards than ETBs, would you have to kick ETBs off any bridges that streetcars use? Maybe you could run ETBs in outer lanes and streetcars in inner lanes.

      In any case, I think an extension of the SLU streetcar up Eastlake to the University Bridge would be worthwhile on its own. It could get some regular commuters on the line by connecting people living in Eastlake to jobs in SLU and downtown.

      1. They are already connected. There is a bus numbered 70 which follows Eastlake to Fairview and down to the CBD. I expect you know that.

        If you believe that people on Eastlake need a Westlake entry to the city instead of Fairview then advocate that the 70 be moved. Fairview south of the lake is pretty undeveloped.

        The University Bridge carried streetcars before they were replaced by the ETB’s. The rails may still be there for all anyone outside the Seattle City Engineers Office would likely know.

        And yes, your idea of having the ETB’s outside and the streetcar inside is exactly what is needed. Unfortunately both would be accessing the bridge from the University Way ramps.

        You wouldn’t want to end the streetcar at Harvard. That would be like the old #9 ending there in plain sight of all those origin/destination generators in the district.

      2. I’ll reply to myself here, because I did think of a way for both the TB’s and streetcar to use the U Way ramps. The TB’s can move to the lane adjacent to the wires, so it would be possible to have the single-wire for the streetcar catenary over the middle of the ramps and the double wire for the TB’s off to the right, over the sidewalk. The poles would reach over like they do when the bus passes a car stopped in the lane under its wires.

    2. If you could find ROW on Eastlake this would be a good idea. But you can’t, so forget that. And use Dexter, not Westlake, for the northwest line, because that’s where the people are. Westlake is pretty much a transit desert. The northlake line would be nice because it would take quite a bit of transit load off of 45th which needs all the help it can get.

      1. If we could fix the bike capacity/access issues on Westlake, I’d support that 100%. Right now, given that Dexter is an incredibly heavily used bike corridor, I’d be nervous about putting a streetcar there – even though you’re spot-on re: where the people are.

      2. Westlake really should be the main bicycle route in that corridor and would significantly increase ridership due to its flat profile compared to dexter.

  6. Whoa, back up the train!

    The modern streetcar, and by modern I mean starting with the PCC car of the 30s, can run at high speeds in the open country, and also more slowly on city streets. The actual distinction today is between high-platform and curbside boarding.

    Secondly. the streetcar of the past was very much different from the streetcar of today. The old streetcars were slow, small, and usually uncomfortable to ride- the virtue resided in the slogan of the streetcar companies, “A car in sight at all times”.

    The modern streetcar is larger, faster, and more comfortable- and you can’t afford to buy them in anything like the numbers that were formerly purchased.

    And, as a technical point, Seattle no longer has an area that can repeat the ‘rags-to-riches’ story of the Pearl District, which did occur during a long real estate boom and bubble. That ship has sailed.

      1. Sorry, half a comment there. In Seattle, I love to hate Vulcan’s unoriginal breadboxes on Westlake but the truth is that Paul Allen is spending a lot of money redoing the area. The public investment part (like the non-LID cost of the trolley) is very tricky. It’s clear that Vulcan is got an inside track at city hall because of their massive private investment. That’s not fair, but I’m sure from Nickels’ viewpoint it was a good use of public money.

        If anyone with a few billion wants to, there are a lot of available parking lots (Clise properties in Denny Triangle and the ones between King St Station and the stadiums come to mind).

      2. Well if some developer invests massively in some area and increases the property tax base by doing so, shouldn’t they get some input on how a portion of that new tax revenue gets spent? Not to the exclusion of citizen input, of course.

      3. Paul Allen and some others got great deals south of Lake Union because that neighborhood was stalled out, always with the threat of a freeway-Seattle Center connection being bulldozed through it. The buildings weren’t empty, but might as well have been, as they were employed for only marginal uses, and tenancy usually changed frequently.

        When Allen and others bought the neighborhood was like the Pearl District. Seattle used to have a number of neighborhoods like that, the MLK of the early 90s being a good example.

        Today, not so much. Any purchase in Seattle today has such a high price that appreciation can only be modest in the foreseeable future.

        As for who gets to vote, only property owners can vote on LID improvements. To reduce that influence, make improvements with other funding.

    1. “And, as a technical point, Seattle no longer has an area that can repeat the ‘rags-to-riches’ story of the Pearl District, which did occur during a long real estate boom and bubble. That ship has sailed.”

      Denny Triangle, 12th Avenue, Stadium District, parts of SODO.

      There’s no prescribed state for a neighborhood to be in for it to achieve what the Pearl District has, developers just have to focus on the neighborhood pretty intensely to get it up and running.

    2. And, as a technical point, Seattle no longer has an area that can repeat the ‘rags-to-riches’ story of the Pearl District, which did occur during a long real estate boom and bubble. That ship has sailed.

      I wouldn’t be so sure about that there still are a lot of parking lots and run down properties between SLU and Belltown or the Seattle Center for example. Jackson between MLK and Pioneer Square, the area along 12th/Boren/Broadway South of Jefferson, and Leary Way between Fremont and the Ballard retail district all have quite a bit of potential for further development. In a addition both Broadway and University Way could use a real shot in the arm as retail has been struggling on both streets for a number of years. Streetcars on both streets could be a big help to the merchants.

      1. Some of you are missing the point. The Pearl District was empty warehouses for obsolete commercial uses. Redevelopment started before the real estate boom and bubble of the 90s and 21st century. The improvement was huge because they started from a very low point.

        Yes, you can do a lot of infill in Seattle, but you can’t repeat the Pearl District story unless you can find another district of empty buildings. And believe me, there are plenty of people looking for that.

      2. Well, there’s the problem of losing industrial jobs and the industrial nature of the city. If SODO and Interbay and Ballard go all condos, (1) what are all these people going to do for work after the industrial jobs disappear or move to Bothell or Issaquah? Push paper? Just what we need more of. (2) Will anybody who’s not rich be able to afford these condos?

    3. modern streetcars are faster so long as you dont place the stops every 400 feet because people will get on and off at every stop along the route that they pretty much become stations.

      1. Yeah, but only in the same way a Lambroghini isn’t a fast car if you drive it in a traffic jam. Just because it’s not actually moving fast doesn’t mean it’s not fast as hell!

  7. As a Belltown resident, I would use all of these lines frequently and probably use at least one of them once every day. First Ave being chief among them.

    I live on Fourth and I would much rather walk down to First to ride the streetcar than deal with figuring out which bus is going how far on Third. Simple, sleek, clean, comfortable. It would make all the difference in the world. I’m sure it would mean the difference between public transit and a cab ride to the stadiums and Pioneer Square for many Belltown residents.

    I think the First Ave streetcar should stay a #1 priority after the First Hill route.

    There are PLENTY of undeveloped lots and parking lots in Belltown and I’m sure a streetcar would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to making those attractive for TOD.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see a route to Fremont/Ballard and one to the U-District via Eastlake, but those are small potatoes next to the ridership and development opportunities of the First Ave streetcar IMO.

  8. It’s great that people see potential for so many different streetcar routes. It would really be worthwhile to read through the Streetcar Network Report at http://www.seattlestreetcar.org/about/docs/StreetcarNetworkReportMay2008rev.pdf though. Note that it’s a “network”, not just individual lines, that make key connections as part of a multi-modal transportation network. Nine potential lines were reviewed, and four were identified as most feasible for early implementation: Central (1st Avenue); First Hill; Fremont-Ballard; and the U-line. The criteria were: technical feasibility; cost; operating efficiency; route structure and operating cost; ridership potential; funding opportunities; and community development opportunities. First Hill has funding from ST, and Central (1st Ave) is next on the list.

  9. In considering routes, I occasionally turn to Wikipedia and look at the tram routes for a number of mid-size European cities.

    Rather than attempt a summary, I will just recommend this as a pleasant way to spend some time.

  10. I’d like to hear where the Portland Streetcar’s ridership increase came from, whether it was primarily from expansion southward or just increased ridership on the original section (PSU to NW 23rd)?

    I’m thinking its more increased ridership on the original section than expansion, the extension to South Waterfront has relatively low ridership except for the rush hour OHSU streetcar-to-tram commuters. Whereas the PSU to NW 23rd portion is always packed. The Pearl District is very different now than it was in 2001 when it opened, then the Pearl was still an industrial neighborhood, now it is clearly a major residential neighborhood with a full range of retailers and restaurants serving residents and visitors.

    The Portland Streetcar’s original route (PSU to NW 23rd) was a very well designed route, with PSU anchoring then the southern end (which was still in downtown) and the northern end being anchored by an established Victorian era residential neighborhood with a high population density and a couple of major shopping streets (21st & 23rd), meanwhile it was routed through the developing Pearl District. So it started service from the beginning serving an established neighborhood and connecting it with downtown and the MAX lines, while over time the Pearl District would grow up and provide an additional large source of ridership on the same line. The Portland Streetcar southern extension to South Waterfront doesnt have the same strong anchor at its end, the South Waterfront is a developing neighborhood with few residents at present. This is just like the SLUT/SLUS… it has no strong anchor at its end, it just runs into a developing neighborhood which at present has few jobs and residents, sure that should change in the future but at present runs with minimal riders. It would have been much more successful had it run to the established neighborhood and strong anchor of the University District VIA the developing and upcoming South Lake Union neighborhood, much in the same way the Portland Streetcar’s original segment runs to the established NW Portland neighborhood via the then developing Pearl District.

    My point is many people think if you build a streetcar it will be magically successful and youll instantly have great urbanism but what is overlooked is how important the routing of the line is and that strong anchors at both ends of the line are essential (one end is typically downtown so thats usually a given anchor, or if you thru-route downtown you are pretty much talking about two separate lines that are operated as one, such as Portland… north of downtown and south of downtown).

    1. Very interesting thought. So which o the four lines the city is considering do you think should be given priority?

      1. In terms of ridership the Central line (First Ave) has the most ridership followed by the “U line” (extending the SLUT up Eastlake to the U District), then Fremont/Ballard via Westlake, last is the First Hill/Capitol Hill line.

        The funding picture is of course clearest for the First Hill line. The second easiest to fund likely will be First Avenue (or Central Line) as there is a good tax base for a LID, high ridership for getting Federal grants, and a possibility of some portion of City, County, or Port Viaduct replacement project money being used for building it.

  11. Last time I was in Portland I tried out the Pearl Street Street car. It was so slow that we got off and walked the 9 blocks to our destination. Street cars are really a lame mode of transportation unless they have priority at all the lights. The tracks they use are a danger to bicyclists especially when they are run down the edges of the street.

    As for more right-of-way in Seattle, the technically easiest way is to Elevate the track/roadbed. Of course the narrower the better, hence a small monorail or PRT system for local access is the least cost, easiest to build system and would suit the downtown to Ballard route.

    1. I agree completely. I moved to Seattle from Boston, which is the poster child for SLOW streetcars. I used to walk 1+ mile to and from the grocery store because it was still faster than taking a streetcar. If Seattle is going to do streetcars, they should be limited to high-density areas (Downtown, Capital Hill, U-District). No stops should be closer than 4 blocks apart…it’s not pleasant to get on the tram and sit down only to have it stopping every 30 seconds to let new passengers on (a 1 minute-ish process). Add in stoplights, etc., and you have a form of transportation that is essentially the same as a bus…a bit slower and a lot more expensive.

      I say limit streetcars and focus our transit dollars on dedicated ROW light rail to Ballard, Fremont, & West Seattle.

  12. Why the big movement to make 2nd Ave into another transit mall like 3rd Ave? I hate walking all the way down to 2nd Ave to catch a bus. Its location is so inconvenient and the street isn’t central enough in the financial district to attract new, happy, riders. Put the streetcars on 3rd through financial district, then up 1st or 2nd through Belltown is my 2 cent suggestion.

    I agree 100% that extending SLU to U district should be a high priority. The 70 bus already gets over 3,000 daily riders – and I’m guessing with a streetcar, that route could easily get double or triple ridership. And moving those buses for more frequency on busier routes like the ones to QA(which will hopefully be replaced by another streetcar route) sounds like a good, solid vision.

    Also, lets try to extend SLU streetcar down 3rd into downtown! If the Belltown/LQA line merges with the SLU/U-district/3rd Ave line downtown, we’d have at least 5-minute frequencies all day of streetcars going up and down 3rd Ave — which would be awesome.

    1. If I had my way, I would definitely run the Streetcar down 5th Avenue (Southbound) to Airport Way and loop back up 4th Avenue (Northbound) to Olive Way and reconnect at the Westlake Transit Hub.

      Why? Just for the reason that you stated. It will hit up the financial districts, its closer to more destinations and would provide a better connection to the First Hill Streetcar along with another connection to Link light rail along with Sounder and Amtrak. This route would also be much faster than the proposed route.

      I also like that fact that “my” route require less mitigation with bus wire crossings. 4th and 5th Avenue at Jackson would be a challenge but it is nothing compared to the multiple and many crossings that Westlake to First Ave would encounter.

      1. I’ve always thought that a monorail extension down 5th to the stadia would allow parking at the ends for events at the other end (park at Seattle Center for a Seahawk game) or park at the stadia for Bumbershoot, Folk Life, etc (I used to say Sonics, but that ship has sailed).

      2. Yes, connecting the two “centers” is more than just the parking. Because they both are built around peak capacity the Stadium/SODO and Seattle Center make natural hubs to reduce traffic and congestion through the core. Monorail, maybe? Streetcar, maybe? But to pull it off it has to have higher capacity and separation than buses. Although buses will still be key.

      3. One edit. I said “through the core” but more accurately “into the core” is the key thing here. If not weekends the at least evenings is when the Center and the Stadiums are packed. Making use of this capacity as terminals during weekday peak is just as important.

  13. Wow! I think I agree just about 100% with you, Brian… with the reminder to everyone that Seattle voters have repeatedly voted in favor of rapid transit connecting their neighborhoods — not just transit, and not just neighborhood circulators.

    1. Right, and four tracks instead of just two, with the center tracks running Express that skip most of the local stops.

      Or, you could just move to the 6th Avenue Line in NY…

  14. Regarding bicyclists and their detestation of rails, can we do something like what Chicago has done that allows for bikes to cross the rails without the danger of getting caught in the tracks? They use a rubber treatment that allows bikes to cross without getting caught while letting trains pass.

    Here are some picture:


    1. Keep in mind that a train only rides on these rails no more than twice a week. I don’t know the long-term viability of rubber-filled flangeways under constant daily use, but light rail designers should consider this.

      1. Same exact retrofit in the rails crossing Alaskan Way between Edgar Martinez Dr and Royal Brougham. Makes them utterly ridable/crossable. Way better patch of riding than the half mile of Alaskan Way south of there to the West Seattle Bridge.

      2. Agreed! The rubberized inserts do work.
        What many cyclists, including myself, worry most about are the tracks laid down on the same streets that are designated bike routes, or are heavily used by cyclists, like 1st Ave (or heaven forbid Dexter as someone mentioned above, and extending it through Eastlake). Westlake was a great bike route that has been pretty much abandoned by many cyclists because a bicycle cannot be manouevered over tracks running parallel to the travel direction. We need as close to a 90 degree turn as possible. Only after many cyclists were severely injured did Seattle finally improve signage there (but nothing else). I *think* that Portland has done a fairly good job with their routes and using rubberized inserts in more places than just street crossings. However, they also have more street availablity and room downtown than Seattle does. I am an advocate of more transit options, but totally ignoring potential problems until AFTER tracks are laid down can create more issues that will effect thousands of cyclists who commute in Seattle.

  15. Child, please. I mentioned that the Eastlake extension was a no-brainer like six months ago and got no traction on this site. I guess it’s all about who the idea comes from, rather than the idea itself. Sweet.

  16. Brian has it wrong about the Portland Streetcar system in several ways. The line was successful from the start, long before Pearl District development. Its success is due to the popular destinations along the route: NW 23rd, 21st and Good Samaritan Hospital at the northwest turnaround. Dense housing, employment and shops between there and The Pearl. Powell Books and the Brewery Blocks at Burnside. Stops near the crossing MAX line and Central Library. Safeway and PSU at the initial south terminus. And, there is no great call for the Portland Streetcar to run faster. Service ‘frequency’ is more important and they often run at intervals under 10-minutes. On 10th & 11th streetcars run in a traffic lane mostly at traffic speeds. 10th & 11th are one-way 3-lane streets and traffic can pass stopped streetcars. On NW Lovejoy and Northrup, these streets are 2-way 2-lane streets, but there’s not enough traffic to cause serious backups most of the time. When there are backups on eastbound Lovejoy, it’s not because of the streetcar.

    What Seattle should do is extend the line from Westlake Ave to either 1st or 2nd. Turn west on Stewart, south on either 1st or 2nd, east on Pike, north on 6th and reconnect. This is about 1 mile of single-track with 3 or 4 stops. Say $30 million Capital including 3 more streetcars. This extension would triple ridership overnight. The Westlake terminus is stupid. Put an extension to UW on hold.

    I too am skeptical of a streetcar line on 1st Ave. It would have to run and stop in a traffic lane. There would be operational difficulty between it and buses and traffic. A dedicated trolleybus line to run the same route at 10-minute intervals would be smarter. There’s no reason the Waterfront Streetcar Line shouldn’t be reinstalled. SDOT has done a lousy job designing the new Alaskan Way. Hand Grace Crunican a pink slip.

  17. Emphasizing the different goals of streetcars and light rail is important. What irks me is when people think a slow streetcar alone is an adequate substitute for fast light rail.

    The main feature of a streetcar is its closely-spaced stops. Running on a street is not required; exclusive ROW is always better if feasable. Moscow streetcars have some sections in dedicated ROW, and they’re a joy compared to the St Petersburg ones stopping at every light.

    An Eastlake streetcar makes sense if it’s primarily for those going to/from the middle of the line (Eastlake or Vulcanville). It does not make sense for UW-to-downtown trips because most people will choose Link, just as they now choose 71/72/73 over 70/43/49.

    But still, we should avoid oversaturating the downtown/UW corridor, even if it does have the most riders in the city. Why should we have two new systems going roughly the same place while neglecting the rest of the city?

  18. Eastlake doesn’t make much sense really. There is a major benifit of the streetcar that people seem to forget–more doors. More doors = quick load/unloads. It is also done so the floor is the same height as the platform, which means wheelchairs dont need to use a lift. Again, quicker loading. Take the 49 to seattle central and watch how long it takes to load/unload through the front door. Take the 7x’s and watch how long it takes to load/unload (often the driver will just open both doors because 95% of the people have a upass). With the streetcar, people have already paid and with the large numerous doors, it can load a crowd much faster than a bus.

    To me, the biggest wins are to replace lines that serve places where there are a lot of people who get on and off in “bulk”. Take the line sound transit wants that circulates up pine, down broadway, down madison. That will hit all the hospitals, both Seattle U and Seattle Central. That is a perfect application for a street car. Another good route would be through belltown into Seattle Center.

    Want another non-conventional place that would be a “win” for the street car. Alki -> Junction. Especially if it hits the water taxi. Of course, political it would have huge problems as you’d have to acquire the ROW. But if it were built, it would get a lot of ridership in the summer.

    You really want to know a good route? Down Bellevue Way. Ever take the 550? That “express bus” is used as a local bus with people getting on/off two stops after they got on. Great application.

    Bottom line–put it on routes that have lots of people boarding at one location and you’ll win. My $0.02.

    1. I was thinking along the same lines. If you look at where the bulk of riders crowd into buses at stop after stop, it’s Pike/Pine, Jefferson, Jackson, Seattle Center, Rainier, 23rd, 4th Ave S, Aurora. Nothing concrete has been proposed for Pike/Pine or Jefferson, unless you think the Link station and ST streetcar are sufficient alternatives (partly maybe). Rainier is actually a good case for a streetcar running parallel to Link, because there are so many tons of riders. And what about Mt Baker to UW (the 48 route). I’m stunned at how many people get on at 5pm at all those residential stops on 23rd. Where could they possibly be working at?

    2. And intra-Eastside streetcars is an intriguing idea. I never thought it would be possible, but their lower cost compared to LR would appeal to suburban voters, and their capacity is better suited to suburban densities.

      Bellevue Way joins into Lake Washington Boulevard to downtown Kirkland. LW Bv has an excellent water view and several lakeside parks. The main problem is congestion. The buses were taken off that street years ago due to it (and moved to 108th, which has no view). But perhaps a reconfiguration of the street could help that. Or people might accept a little slowness in exchange for the excellent view.

      A Kirkland-Redmond line between 70th and 85th also makes sense, and perhaps from Kirkland to Totem Lake or Juanita. Then there’s 8th Street from Bellevue to Crossroads, 148th/156th from Bellevue Community College to Crossroads to Redmond (or at least to a Link station, and Marymoor Park would be a bonus), and Lake Hills from Bellevue to BCC.

      1. And they’d be electrifying the route because there are no trolleybuses on the Eastside. This makes a better case than in Seattle, where the streetcar proposals often replace trolleybuses and are thus of less obvious benefit.

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