Central Streetcar, by Oran
Central Streetcar, by Oran

First, an aside: When we last discussed the candidates and the streetcars, I didn’t realize that the First Avenue streetcar we keep talking about has a better name – the Central Streetcar. I plan to use that name going forward.

Last week, Joe Mallahan came out against the voter-approved and funded First Hill Streetcar. McGinn’s campaign responded with a public appearance in support of the project, and a PDF with lots of information about how the First Hill project, and streetcars in general, are great (see the last page). It touts First Hill’s high projected ridership, and claims that “Ridership exceeds other streetcar options studied by Sound Transit, including South Lake Union.”

Now wait a minute. I wasn’t aware that Sound Transit studied South Lake Union. I’m pretty sure that’s a Seattle Streetcar project. Of the potential Seattle Streetcar lines, in fact, First Hill has the lowest ridership, as noted in the Seattle Streetcar’s Network Development Report (PDF). Now, it does fill a much needed gap in service, and I certainly support it, but the Central Streetcar will have four times the ridership: 4.0-4.9 million annual riders, as opposed to First Hill’s 1.0-1.2 million. It also connects all of downtown to the South Lake Union line – someone at Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square would be able to go to South Lake Union, potentially without a transfer. In addition to being the highest ridership of all the streetcar lines, this line would improve ridership on both First Hill and South Lake Union lines, making them even more cost effective.

The existing (tunnel) viaduct plan would fund the Central Streetcar. So why, with pro-streetcar talk, does McGinn’s viaduct plan move that money to bus service? It’s not a cost savings, the same expenditure is still there – it’s just moved to buses, even when McGinn’s own document points out that a streetcar is a better idea.

McGinn’s arguments for streetcars are sound – and they apply doubly (really more like quadruply) to the Central Streetcar. Perhaps this was an oversight in his original viaduct funding plan – but it’s time to correct it.

147 Replies to “Editorial: First Hill, But Not First Avenue?”

  1. So…..I wasn’t aware that funding for the 1st Ave SC was actually included as a firm item in the Deep Bore Tunnel agreement. I thought it was in the DBT agreement as an unfunded option, but was only truly a firm budget item in the Surface Only proposal.

    That said, I’m really not a big fan of the 1st Ave SC for a variety of reasons.

    First, thinking long term, I believe the next “big” investment we make in LR within the NK subarea will be a second N-S LR line under 2nd Ave and then following something approximately the monorail Green Line. If you build this second line, then it completely changes what sort of SC lines you build. Building a SC line on 1st Ave would not be as high a priority nor receive the ridership that the report estimates.

    Second, building a SC on 1st might delay building true LR on 2nd.

    Third, connecting the FH SC and the SLU SC via a couplet on 4th/5th is a lot more direct route and offers the same functionality. Ridership obviously is TBD, but we don’t know what ridership would be on 1st Ave with LR on 2nd either, so that is still TBD too.

    1. lazarus –

      A 4th or 5th connection might look good if we were only considering connecting the two lines, but when downtown is taken as a whole, ridership would be vastly higher on 1st – that’s why it was identified as the preferred alignment.

      The $930 million from the city for the tunnel agreement includes the streetcar.

      The streetcar capital costs won’t really put a dent in a future light rail alignment. The study for that alignment won’t even come until 2015, and funding would come from Sound Transit first.

      1. I wasn’t thinking in financial terms, I was thinking in political terms.

        Asking for a regional vote on a package which includes “expensive” LR on 2nd after Seattle already build a new SC line on 1st is just handing the critics of ST and “government waste” ammo, not to mention that it plays to the old “Seattle gets everything and we get nothing” sentiment that so many regional voters have.

        And I’d like to see the ridership numbers on the 4th/5th couplet. If the numbers are anywhere close to those on 1st it still might come out ahead due to lower costs (better cost/pax).

      2. Lazarus – Central Streetcar and a future West Seattle corridor are pretty radically different. CS goes up Jackson, and CS interlines with SLU. And as for the regional attitude problem – Seattle is paying for it, subarea equity is subarea equity.

        More importantly, though, these are a decade apart. CS could be 2012-2015, West Seattle light rail is probably 2020-2025. It’s not even on the table until a 2016 vote, likely, and Sound Transit may yet build UW-Ballard first. There’s no either/or.

      3. This doesn’t change the fact that CS is at least partially redundant with a future light rail line. Bus service, as you are so fond of pointing out, IS cheaper in the short run, and 10 years IS the short run by any definition. Rather than spend the capital on a streetcar today that will be redundant in 10 years, spend that money on bus service today and then you get to stop spending that money on the bus when LR gets built.

        Also, don’t forget, money is money and it all comes from the same place: Seattle tax payers. Spend their money well and begin with the end in mind. We’ve waited 100 years to get Light Rail in this city, we can wait another 10 and do it right.

      4. At this point we have no real idea what alignment ST would pick for a future Ballard to West Seattle LR line. I see both 2nd and 5th as being possible routes. Any light rail line is going to have a limited number of stations. South to North you are probably looking at one near King Street, Columbia or Marion, Pine/Westlake, one in Belltown, and a Seattle Center/Uptown Station with possibly a Second Station on the East side of Seattle Center if 5th avenue is chosen as the alignment. Its entirely possible the final alignment for Link to Ballard might bypass Uptown entirely, though that would be rather silly on Sound Transit’s part given the population density there.

        Other than the current Ballard and West Seattle service I also don’t see a lot of service hours being freed up in the Downtown area by a WS/Ballard link line.

      5. I’d really like to see the studies for ST3 happen sooner. Ideally I’d like to see another vote in 2012 or 2014. Of course any ST3 plan that is more than simply reallocating the Sound Move and Prop 1 revenue streams would need taxing authority from the legislature.

        I guess the good news is trying to get additional transit taxing authority is something we ordinary citizens can begin working on today.

        The other bright spot is I suspect there will be more Federal grant money for transit capital projects, especially rail, in the future.

      6. Are you sure Ben? Why am I recalling that I’ve heard the money for transit service and the streetcar has already been pulled from the tunnel option?

        As far as it being redundant: a streetcar provides an option for short trips so they don’t have to go through the underground maze to reach the LR. Having a streetcar sit in a bit of traffic is most likely preferable for pedestrians walking along the street to jump on when it comes rather than having to get underground then wait for a train you aren’t even sure is coming soon. There is plenty of precedence for this. I am thinking SF’s F-line on Market street compared to the underground Metro (and even further underground and less frequent, BART) along the same alignment.

        Plus, I believe it was STB that mentioned a streetcar is more likely than a bus to one day get its own right-of-way after proving itself. Again, think SF market street as they are now (finally) reducing the ability of general traffic to use the street.

      7. The SF example is great. Streetcars and light rail serve different purposes and trips. Streetcars are definitely more convenient for pedestrians to use, at least for shorter, slower trips like Seattle Center-Chinatown, and the firm Seattle hired to make recommendations on creating a vibrant downtown (Gehl) found that 1st Ave. by far has the most walking. Next is Pike/Pine and 3rd. They champion a streetcar on 1st to promote more walking and vibrancy. Plus the Central streetcar is partially a replacement for the waterfront line, and remember the elevated AWV should be totally gone with an 80 foot wide programmed promenade replacing it by 2016 (under current plans). First Ave. is exactly where a streetcar line should go. Much of the ridership is tourists–think of all the destinations along or very near 1st: Sculpture Park, Pike Place, SAM/Harbor Steps, Pioneer Square. The streetcar won’t cross the Ship Canal or the Duwamish; it and a “green line” LRT under 2nd are complementary rather than duplicative.

        Lastly, our downtown is incredibly compressed between the water and I-5. For any north-south travel, you just have very few options to begin with. Until the glorious day when the highway is buried. ;)

      8. Yeah, the city is conceptually committed to paying $900+ million towards ancillary projects including the 1st Ave streetcar. But it doesn’t have two nickels to rub together by way of follow through. Until it has the dough-re-mi (or at minimum until city can articulate a reasonable plan for coming up with the scratch), I think it’s silly to consider any city project a real commitment.

    2. I think the central route is good regardless of whether a second light rail spine is built. It’s local access. A pedestrian accelerator. Light rail is more for commutes and traveling long distances. Not to mention we are talking totally different time frames. First we have to VOTE on ST3, and then BUILD it. If the 15 years of ST2 is any indication, its gonna be a loooooong time before we see a route there.

      By contrast, SLU was approved in 2005, and finished in 2007…. The central line would be open and running most likely before the viaduct replacement opens, and certainly before ST2 is finished.

      1. Thanks, these are great points. Calling it a pedestrian accelerator is a smart frame, I like it.

      2. 10 years, even 15 years is not a “totally different timeframe”. Transportation decisions are 100 year decisions. 10 years is the blink of an eye from a transportation infrastructure perspective. We can vote on ST3 any time we want to. In fact there’s nothing that would stop Seattle from issuing an LID or a transportation benefit district, or impact fees or general fund revenue, or any combination and hand the money to ST to build the Second Ave tunnel next week.

      3. Tony – the streetcar looks good on a 100 year timeframe. It wouldn’t be redundant with a 2nd Ave tunnel – it would complement it for shorter trips, and for trips to different places. The streetcar’s ends won’t go to the same places as the light rail’s ends.

      4. I agree that the streetcar may very well look good on a 100 year timeframe. I am not completely convinced it is not redundant, especially if 2nd Ave is chosen for light rail. However, I was responding to Keo’s point that we should build the streetcar because we can build it now and light rail will take a “long” time, and his comment that this difference meant that LR and SC represented two “totally different time frames”. This analysis is simply invalid and even contradicts the point you have repeatedly made that Streetcars outperform buses in the long run. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue that we should build streetcars instead of running buses because in the (very) long run they are more cost effective and then turn around and say we need to build a streetcar because it’s a good short term solution while we wait for light rail.

        The key question is: is the central streetcar redundant with light rail from ballard to west seattle. If it IS redundant, then we should NOT sink capital into it. We should use a low-capital, high-operating technology like buses as a short-term stopgap until we get the real solution built in 10 to 20 years. If the streetcar is not redundant and instead complementary, then and only then should we even consider building it now.

        Even if I grant that the line is not redundant (which I don’t), it still might be unwise from a political perspective. Surely we agree that a west side light rail line is higher priority even if they are both “good” ideas. The fear I and others are expressing is that the streetcar may make it both politically and economically more difficult to fund a west side light rail simply because it would be perceived to be redundant (political problem) and it will suck up resources that could have gone toward the west side light rail (economic problem).

        Finally, I am not convinced that the city has fully considered a wide enough spectrum of alternatives for this corridor nor have they thought through the issues around traffic congestion and dedicated right of way. The city has also not done enough comprehensive planning around the “ultimate” transit vision for the central city, i.e. how this line will integrate with the potentially dozens of other streetcar and light rail lines that will be built over the next 50 years. The fact that they are seriously considering as their “top priority” building a line that is clearly redundant with and could potentially compromise the construction of one of this city’s top transit priorities (rapid transit between Ballard and West Seattle) is proof that they are not thinking comprehensively.

    3. The Central Streetcar will serve a completely different purpose than light rail under 2nd. Light rail is a regional express service, while the streetcar is a local connector, stopping probably about twice as often as the light rail and probably having a lower fare.

      1. Not in this instance. West Side light rail is not part of the regional spine. It’s primary purpose is connecting Ballard and West Seattle to the central city, which are both local connections by almost all calculations. No doubt there is potentially a great deal of value in having some kind of local connector service, but the CS route is incomplete. It goes to the base of queen Anne, but not to the top. Thus, you still need buses to run down the same exact corridor to finish the “last mile” of the most productive local routes in the region. That is a waste of money. Plan a way to take the CS line to the top of Queen Anne and then eliminate all redundant bus service on the corridor, and then you have a wise investment, but without that last mile you have redundant service and wasted money.

      2. Most of the existing density in Queen Anne is along the lower end of the South slope down into the uptown area around the Seattle Center. The Central Streetcar line would take a lot of the load off of the buses going further up the hill and may allow express routing the 1, 2, 13, 15, and 18 through Belltown and Uptown.

      3. But these lines are not “overloaded”, they are in fact some of the few lines that are actually productive. Taking the “load” off these lines without actually eliminating them (which you can’t do unless you serve the top of Queen Anne hill) will simply leave you with two systems (bus and streetcar) both on the same corridor each carrying half the population of the corridor and thus each being under-used. If the buses coming off of queen anne were coming every 5 minutes and packed to the gills, then you would have a point, but they’re not.

        A streetcar on this corridor makes a lot of sense IF it can completely replace all bus service on Queen Anne, thus actually allowing us to eliminate those routes and save the money we are spending to operate them. As a higher quality transit service in a wealthy area, a streetcar system going up Queen Anne would almost certainly attract more ridership than the buses it replaced, but if it only goes to the bottom of the hill, it doesn’t replace those routes and you end up with redundant service and wasted resources.

        This is one of the key problems with the SLUT. The SLUT would be a perfect replacement of Route 70 if it actually replaced route 70, but instead the SLUT covers merely a small portion of route 70, resulting in redundant service and wasted resources.

      4. The 15 and 18 are overloaded before they get to Belltown. I’ve given up trying to get on them at peak time in the morning as they are full before my stop. It’s easier to walk a mile than wait.

      5. Well maybe the West Side light rail isn’t “regional” but it’s definitely not local, with stops just about once a mile or two. I still maintain that it serves a completely different purpose than the streetcar.
        You are right that it would be good to expand the streetcar to the top of Queen Anne but all lines have to start somewhere. Putting in the counterbalance to get it up the hill would cost a lot of money, so it will be good to have a starter line going to the base of Queen Anne Hill and then sometime in the future we can extend it to the top of the hill.

      6. There are two routes streetcars historicly used to get up the Queen Anne Hill from the South without the benefit of the counterbalance. One follows Olympic Pl. to Olympic Way to 10th Ave W. The other follows Taylor Ave N to 5th Ave N to N Boston St. One route is currently used by Metro route 1, the other by routes 3 & 4.

      7. alexjonlin,

        I agree that there may be some value in creating a starter line that might ultimately be expanded to serve the top of Queen Anne. This was the thinking behind the SLUT, everyone who supported the SLUT knew that the ultimate vision was to replace Route 70 by extending it north to the U-District and south to the ID, and once the starter line was built, it is a lot easier to say “let’s finish what we started” than it is to say “let’s do something entirely new”.

        That said, the strategy can backfire. One of the best arguments for streetcars is that they allow us to save money by eliminating the bus service that they replace. The whole streetcar vs bus argument implicitly assumes that they are substitutes for each other, which they should be if they are done right. A streetcar can pencil in a dense corridor if it replaces a bus line, but running both a streetcar AND a bus at the same time on the same corridor can never be cheaper than running just a bus on that corridor.

        The concern is that if you build a starter line that is, by itself a redundant failure, you risk a public backlash, in which the public perceives streetcars to be redundant and wasteful. Then, rather than supporting the expansion as originally hoped, the public opposes all streetcars in all circumstances and the whole cause is set back decades. Observe Mallhan’s current position on streetcars as an example.

  2. Great post, Ben. If you think about these lines in isolation, you miss out on the hugely important network effect of rail transit!

  3. I think we need to build a complete streetcar network. It’s not about whether we do it. It’s what lines do we prioritize given limited resources and political capital?

    First Hill is already approved as part of ST light rail, so there’s no sense in revisiting that if it’s even possible.

    So what’s next? I think a Central Streetcar on 1st is probably the highest priority. The other planned options are Fremont-Ballard and the U-Line (UW via Eastlake). The Central Streetcar line has the most ridership and most dense development for local rail service. It’s also key to helping out with former viaduct travel whether or not we get a tunnel or 100% surface option. With high ridership it will also probably be cheaper to run in the long-term. After the core service of Central-Downtown and its connection to SLU, extensions or connecting routes to that core make a lot of sense. I think the next stage would probably be UW/Eastlake, then Fremont/Ballard.

    Of potential lines not yet planned, my next priority would be local service extending further east or south from 23rd and Jackson (along MLK to Mount Baker station, maybe). A West Seattle streetcar would be hard to connect to the main system given that so much of it would go through relatively low-ridership areas. I think it would be better to have a disconnected line along California that will eventually connect to a Link station. A Madison line would also make sense, as would a northern route from Jackson on 23rd (possibly combined with the southern route on MLK). About the only (south of the Ship Canal) Seattle route that leaves out is something along the southern stretches of Rainier.

    We should continue to think big (even bigger when we can), but prioritize based on clear criteria like ridership and building a citywide system.

    1. They studied a Streetcar going along the Jackson alignment until Rainier, then going down Rainier to Mt Baker Station. This I think should be the next priority after the four lines that are part of the Network plan, and especially should be built once East Link is open so there is a connection between Rainier Station and Mt. Baker Station. I also think we should build a Madison Cable Car, from Colman Dock all the way to Madison Park. And don’t forget about restoring the Waterfront Streetcar!

    2. I question the notion that the First Ave St Car is really replaces many trips on the viaduct and belive me, I have as much as a hard-on for fixed rail transit as any reader on this blog.

      The vast bulk of the trips on the viaduct are from people traveling between downtown and the city’s western neighborhoods and the rest of the trips are through trips that originate and end outside of the city. Its neither used by cars or transit to travel from north downtown to south downtown and vice versa.

      In that sense, it doesn’t make sense to put the First Ave Street Car on the viaduct balance sheet. If the goal is to mitigate trips from the viaduct’s removal, we should invest these mitigation dollars to beef up transit between Ballard to downtown and/or West Seattle to downtown as these would actually offset trips on the viaduct.

      If you want to build a First Hill streetcar, fine. Make the case for it on its own merits. Its disingenuous to pretend that the First Hill street car will make up for trips on the viaduct.

      1. I agree that this won’t directly replace viaduct traffic. However, it will indirectly replace it by taking cars off the road downtown so that there is more space for the cars that currently use the viaduct.
        And I think you are confusing the First Ave and First Hill streetcars in the last paragraph there.

    3. For expansion of the 4 lines currently scoped I think the following ideas should be studied:
      * From Capitol Hill Station North on Broadway, 10th, and Harvard to the U line at Harvard and Eastlake. At the very least the line should go up Broadway to Aloha rather than turning around at Capitol Hill Station.
      * Fremont to Woodland Park Zoo. Ideally this should go all the way up Phinney/Greenwood to at least 85th, but should go at least as far as the Phinney Neighborhood Center rather than stopping at the South Entrance to the Zoo.
      * From Jackson down Rainier or 23rd to Mt. Baker station via Rainier Station.
      * From Jackson North on 23rd to UW Station.
      * From Campus Parkway to Pacific to UW Station.
      * From 50th down University Way and 15th NE to 65th past Roosevelt Station to Ravenna and East Green Lake.
      * North on 15th NW to 85th.
      * Up Queen Anne Hill via either Mercer to Taylor to 5th to Boston to Queen Anne Ave or Olympic Pl to Olympic Way to 10th Ave W. (the 3/4 routing or the 1 routing).

    4. I think the focus for mitigation should be to improve the transit connections from Ballard to Link light rail. Extension of the SLU streetcar to Ballard could accomplish this. The streetcar could use the right-of-way that the old streetcar lines did along Nickerson (separate right-of-way).

      For West Seattle residents, focus on enhancing the water taxi and improving the bus connections in West Seattle and make good pedestrian connections from Pier 50 (that is where the water taxi should stop) to Pioneer Square Station. Maybe the ferry terminal could be the terminal for the First Hill line.

      There really is no need for through service from Ballard to West Seattle. Sometimes I think the only reason we keep thinking in these terms is that Seattle Transit had this connection since the conversion of streetcars to trolley buses.

      1. There’s not really a need for through service from Ballard to West Seattle, but it wouldn’t make sense to run separate light rail lines from Ballard to Downtown and West Seattle to Downtown.

      2. Alex,
        I wasn’t suggesting anything like that. It was a mid-term suggestion that basically extends existing or funded streetcar lines (SLU to Ballard via the old streetcar right-of-way along Nickerson, Fremont, Leary Way).

        West Seattle would be served by shuttles to the Water Taxi in West Seattle (three routes) and an extension of the First Hill Streetcar to the ferry terminal. Move the water taxi to the underused passenger ferry terminal at Pier 50.

        As for some futuristic Link light rail line between Ballard and West Seattle – we’ll see.

      3. You’ve never lived in West Seattle, have you? Water Taxi is nice, but it is more expensive than the bus. The bus is nice, but it has a crappy frequency and makes a ton of stops. Politically, if you want to remove the viaduct and not replace it with anything, you need to give West Seattle residents an alternative.

        The problem is, West Seattle is hard to put a route through. You look at the topology of the area and where the ideal stops are and it is obvious you’d have to bore most of the route.

        Ideally you’d want to have a stop in North Admiral, the Junction, somewhere on Delridge, somewhere in White Center and then down to intersect the existing light rail.

        To hit North Admiral: Right around Holgate, go under the Duwamish, under Harbor Island and come up (or stay under) for a stop on Harbor Ave right next to Salty’s. From Salty’s, stay under through North Admiral and put in a Beacon Hill style stop. Run under Californa Ave and come up to a stop in the Junction.

        From the Junction, either go down California and put a stop at the Morgan Street Junction or angle your way over to Delridge and put a stop at 35th and Morgan.

        If you did 35th and Morgan, you could then put a stop in White Center at Delridge & Roxbury. If you did California & Morgan, you could put a stop at Westwood Village and then a white center stop somewhere around 16th ave & 102nd or 104th st. From there, you’d weazel your way down to 518 and intersect the current line.

        No matter how you dice it and no matter how much I support it, a line running through West Seattle would be an daunting engineering project. The entire line would have to be buried and most of it bored.

        The “cheater” route would be to just put a surface line down Delridge. In that case you’d just go under the Duwamish right next to the bridge and then hang a left and go right down Delridge -> 16th -> Ambaum the whole way. The thing is, that would just be a token line–it isn’t going to serve enough people unless you hit up California Ave at least a few times.

        You want a futurist rough though? Put a line under Puget Sound from Alki point to Bremerton via Bainbridge Island. Bam–you can remove most of the auto & passenger ferries.

      4. That much tunnelling would be incredibly expensive compared to ridership, and the water taxi is free if you have a pass, even if it’s just a $.25 pass. I still think there should be Link to West Seattle but I think it should go up along the West Seattle Bridge with a stop at Delridge, then go elevated along Fauntleroy until just before the Junction where you have a few block long tunnel, then come back out and be elevated along California to Fauntleroy, and after that stay elevated and wind down through Highland Park and White Center to Burien. Admiral Junction and Alki could be served by a cable car going to the Junction and to the Water Taxi dock. There could also be a Delridge Streetcar from the Delridge Light Rail station all the way down to White Center.

    5. Of the 4 routes City Council approved as our streetcar network, the Central line has the highest ridership. But financially, the UW extension has the potential to pay for itself by replacing the 70. You also have to consider that streetcars generate more ridership than buses, all else being equal. I’d rather take the SLUT than my usual 49 any day! When Tacoma Link replaced a free bus that ran the same route, ridership doubled. We’ve seen basically the reverse on the waterfront line where the free 99 replaced the free streetcar.

      With peak oil, diesel bus routes will get much more expensive to operate; so replacing them with something electric will be a necessary capital investment in the near future.

      We definitely need an east-west connection, and Madison seems like a strong candidate to me. It was a major streetcar route before 1940. West Seattle can’t be connected across the water by streetcar, I don’t think. But when you look long term at LRT feeder service, you can see much potential for lines intersecting with Link stations and running perpendicular to light rail. I can already see the Columbia City proposal for one across Edmunds St. and down Rainier. (St. Louis is working on a good example called the Loop Trolley)

  4. Where are the ridership estimates in the Seattle Streetcar’s Network Development Report? I see headings “Operations and Ridership” but it’s not in the chart. Also that PDF seems messed up–I can’t search it or cut and paste the text.

    I actually really like the McGinn report, it lays it out very clearly. He should fix the “streetcar options studied by Sound Transit” thing, though, and probably put in a “Further Reading” slide with links to the studies.

    1. The ridership numbers are on the maps (next to capital costs per mile, too). I also like the McGinn report – I’d just like their policy to match it.

  5. So let me get this straight…

    McGinn supports the First Hill Streetcar, but does not support the Viaduct tunnel, which will include money for the Central Streetcar? Mallahan does not support the ST-funded First Hill Streetcar, but does support the Viaduct tunnel, but will include money for the Central Streetcar?

    Wouldn’t that mean that the First Hill Streetcar will most likely get built no matter which “M” becomes mayor? Also if McGinn gets elected and doesn’t stop the Viadcut, the Central Streetcar will become reality? If Mallahan is elected, who won’t object to the Viaduct tunnel, the Central Streetcar will most likely be built as a result?

    Am I reading all this correctly? It’s going to be all or nothing, but looks like we may get everything?

    1. No, Mallahan opposes *both* streetcars. McGinn’s plan for the viaduct just would spend the transit mitigation money on buses instead of the Central Streetcar.

      Mallahan would fight the First Hill streetcar – and it’s likely he could block it if he wanted to.

      So no, it’s not all or nothing. McGinn is still better, but he needs pressure.

      1. So Ben, help me out here, does the money for the CS come from the state, or is it part of the as yet unfunded $930 million local obligation? McGinn’s key point is that he doesn’t want to spend $930 local dollars on this corridor. The way you write makes it sound like opposing the tunnel is turning away state money for a streetcar, but in other posts you have repeated pointed out that gas tax money can’t support transit. Please clarify.

      2. The official State tunnel and surface/transit plans have that money coming from the City. Mike McGinn says he can squeeze the whole project into $2.4 billion and get the State to simply shift their funds into this plan, costing the City nothing.

      3. Tony and Martin – all I’ve seen of Mike’s plan spends the same amount of city money, he just expects a different source for that money. I don’t think he’ll get that source, but that’s not the issue – he’s moving the same amount of money around.

  6. Wow ridership forecasts by ST for the First Hill Streetcar really are dismal. 3,000-3,500 per day and those are for 2030. It’s even worse when you realize that that is with 20 hour a day service. That means there will be more people riding the SLUT in 2012 than the First Hill streetcar in 2030!

    Bus improvements forecast 2,000 riders per day. Operating cost for the buses are $3.5M per year vs $5M for the streetcar so almost a wash per head but the bus improvements are a tenth of the $130M capital cost for the streetcar. Yes operating costs are on going but when you factor in the higher operational cost of the streetcar with the tremendous capital expenditure you fund 60 years of bus operation; far longer than the operational life of the equipment.

    It’s pretty clear they need to go back to the drawing board with this one. I noticed in the alignment they only directly serve one of the four hospitals. A lesson to be learned from SLU, if you’re not going to put down enough track to connect destinations that warrant the initial investment then it’s a waste.

    1. Bernie, the 2030 bus operating costs would likely be much higher than the 2030 streetcar operating costs. The cost of fuel is going up, the cost of electricity is flat here.

      1. Those estimates don’t account for new development, which is more likely to happen (or likely to be more dense) with a streetcar than with buses.

        Consider the yesler terrrace re-envisioning or TOD on 12th ave, etc.

      2. The current broadway or boran alignment have exactly ZERO ability to catalyze any new development along either of those alignments. First Hill is already built up and what little development capacity remains will be built up regardless of whether a streetcar is built there.

        Yesler Terrace is going to be rebuilt at exactly the same density regardless of the presence of a streetcar and 90% of the residents will ride transit or walk regardless of whether they are served by a streetcar or a bus.

        This is not the case with SLU or 12th Ave. Both those corridors have tremendous amounts of underdeveloped land and a streetcar could really make the difference there.

        Effective rail transit is not magic. It is science. It CAN be an incredibly powerful tool for catalyzing development and increasing ridership, but it must be implemented correctly in the corridors where it can really make a difference.

      3. Tony, have you even LOOKED at the Yesler Terrace plan? It’s far higher density!

        And Broadway? A place with 1 story buildings and surface parking through much of the corridor? Seriously.

        Your arguments might hold more water if you had your facts right.

      4. Ben, I think Tony’s point on Yesler Terrace was that a streetcar wouldn’t spur *new* density — the density is part of the plan already.

      5. Ben,

        I’m actually not an idiot. I live in capitol hill and I am deeply involved in neighborhood planning. I have a zoning map and buildable lands map of this neighborhood on my wall.

        All First Hill streetcar alignments being considered travel up Broadway north of Pine St. That part of Capitol Hill has some significant redevelopment potential, but Light Rail will be more than enough to push development on Capitol Hill to maximum capacity. The streetcar is icing.

        Yesler Terrace is going to be built regardless of whether we build a streetcar or what the alignment is. For the purpose of catalyzing future development, I consider the new, much denser Yesler Terrace to be existing development because decision has already been made, so as a planner, I’m moving on.

        There is no doubt that First Hill is very dense, far denser than either SLU or 12th. The point, as Steve was able to pick up, is that it’s already built so the streetcar will have virtually no MARGINAL benefit as a development catalyst on the particular stretch of Broadway between Yestler and Union (you know, the part that’s actually First Hill).

        I have never argued people won’t ride it. There IS density there and there will be new density on Capitol Hill, but Andrew was trying to overcome Bernie’s objection that the ridership projections were quite low by talking about all the NEW development that the Streetcar would spur. My point is that the Streetcar will have no marginal impact on development along the route currently being considered.

      6. I’m using the comparison of the numbers in the ST study which is for 2030 forcasts. Don’t know what assumptions they make if any for inflation or year of expenditure. Electricity isn’t going to stay flat because we’re not bringing any new hydro power on line. Electrical demand is likely to increase faster than oil (especially if oil prices skyrocket). But the cost of energy is a small component of the operating cost so the differential will most like stay about the same. I also didn’t account for the interest earned (or saved) by not making the huge capital expenditure up front. No matter how you do the math there’s no way to justify the expense if they can’t come up with ridership numbers better (much better) than current era SLUT figures.

      7. Bernie, you don’t get to make your own speculation and throw mine out the window. Electricity in Seattle *has* stayed flat – it hasn’t kept up with inflation.

        Hydro isn’t a matter of “building” more, really – first, we are, there are expansion plans for Grand Coulee, but second, replacing the existing turbines has been getting us better power output from existing dams for some time – and there’s a lot more work to be done. There’s no evidence that those improvements will suddenly stop.

        However, there *is* a trend upward in the cost of oil, even discounting the huge spike we had.

        The current SLUT figures are fine. Amazon and Gates Foundation aren’t finished, and a lot of the residential along the line has just opened (and isn’t full yet), with more to come. We still have to wait for these units to fill in, just like last time you brought this up…

        Even discounting all this fuel discussion – adding another streetcar to the line to operate more often wouldn’t increase operating costs nearly as much as adding another bus. Add two more, and I think your total bus operating costs would be higher even today. Sound Transit’s projecting *ridership* in 2030, but those are today’s operating costs, not 2030’s.

      8. Bernie, you are free to do as much speculation as you want. SoundTransit, and more importantly the voters, decided they like our speculation better and already funded the First Hill Streetcar!

      9. But they haven’t settled on a route. I find it hard to believe they can’t do better than empty streetcars in 20 years when you’re connecting downtown, Link, Sounder, four large medical centers and one of the highest transit ridership neighborhoods in the city.

      10. Joshuadf is right that 3,000-3,500 is not empty, but Bernie’s also got a point here — I’d expect more than 1,700 daily riders just from people working at the hospitals or Seattle U taking light rail to the ID (from the south) or Capitol Hill (from the north) and transferring… Do all those people have direct buses and/or free parking now?

      11. Bernie – those are very conservative estimates. They also assume the line opens in 2016, not in 2012, as the city is going for now.

      12. adding another streetcar to the line to operate more often wouldn’t increase operating costs nearly as much as adding another bus. Add two more, and I think your total bus operating costs would be higher even today

        Streetcars cost more per hour than even electric trolly buses so the more you add just to decrease headways the more it costs. Again, one of the reasons streetcars don’t do well unless there is a high ridership throughout the day. They’re easy to scale up but they don’t scale back. Add to that they cost more to buy and leaving expensive equipment idol is inefficient.

        The ridership numbers don’t even come close to needing additional streetcars; it’s grossly underutilized. But yes you’re right, if ridership exceeded that of full buses then streetcars can become more economical.

      13. joshuadf,

        The voters were never asked directly about the 1st hill streetcar. They were asked about building a regional light rail system from Linnwood to Federal Way and east to Redmond. People like me think the first hill streetcar is an unwise investment, but we still voted for ST2. Sound Transit never seriously considered any real alternatives to the First Hill streetcar. I’ve studied their report on the topic. [deleted, ad hominem]

      14. To whomever censored my comment:

        I don’t recall how I worded this, and I may have been a bit harsh, so I will try again. The central point is the same: the study that was conducted used a technique that is pervasive in the practice when someone is trying to manipulate the outcome to achieve their desired result. The technique is to put one’s preferred alternative up against straw men, and to intentionally leave out alternatives that might actually turn out to be better than the predetermined conclusion the author is trying to reach. Often this is done intentionally, but it may not have been in this case and I do not have sufficient evidence to prove sinister intent.

        It could also simply be that the authors unintentionally boxed themselves into considering only a limited set of alternatives or the alternatives could also have been dictated from above. Perhaps there was simply not enough money to seriously consider other alternatives or to properly scope the project. If this is the case, the responsibility moves up the chain, but the result is the same: only a limited set of alternatives were considered of which the current preferred alignment performed the best. My point is simply that we should consider a broader set of alternatives and think more comprehensively about the streetcar network before we make what could be a $130 million mistake.

    2. Bernie, this is not really surprising from you since you consistently oppose streetcars, but you’re missing a lot of pieces: streetcar operation costs will go down and ridership up as the First Hill Streetcar is connected to the ID/Central Line, and the line serves one of the densest residential areas of Seattle and two higher education campuses. There are a lot of variables to work out for the final alignment but there are more than just hospitals on First Hill. On top of all that we already voted to pay the capital costs!

      1. I don’t oppose streetcars. I oppose inefficient use of public funds. I still think a streetcar should be viable for First Hill but not if these ridership projects are accurate. And no the voters have never spoken on the First Hill SC. It was an afterthought when the Link alignment that had a station there was decided to be to risky. ST hasn’t even made a final decision. The report was generated to study the idea by taking it to 5% design completion. I can understand why Mayor Nickels would be a strong supporter. It takes North King subarea money and spends it entirely inside Seattle. Not only the capital costs but ongoing operations and maintenance. And it pretty much guarantees an immunity from any future service cuts. If you’re elected Mayor of Seattle then bring home the bacon. The Seattle Streetcar Report even considers the revenue from sponsorship and fares to be “pure profit” ($1.3M farebox revenue + $1.2M sponsorship – $4.5M operating cost = $2.5M/yr profit, FREE MONEY! Or as the report puts it, “relocated” money).

      1. It costs $2M a year more to operate than it brings in. Must be that “new math”. You are right that ST ridership numbers tend to be accurate. We don’t know about the numbers for the ridership in the Seattle report. They may be as fanciful as their accounting.

      2. No, the report says that it would bring in $2.5m more that it costs to operate. And by conservative I mean way lower than they turn out to be.

      3. Maybe we need Dave Ross to read the news real slow. What part of costs more to operate than brings in in revenue do you consider profit?

        Yes, the “report says”

        it would bring in $2.5m more that it costs to operate.

        It doesn’t add up!

        Seattle Public Schools are under attack. I guess that’s why so few can actually do math. What’s wrong with this equation?

        $1.3M farebox revenue + $1.2M sponsorship – $4.5M operating cost = $2.5M/yr profit

        Do they not cover the concept of absolute value in the Seattle School District? JHC

      4. Beautiful comment, Bernie, and that does not even consider the time value of money that is associated with the enormous capital cost. Take $120 million, buy zero-risk U.S. treasury bond with it and you generate $6 million per year in revenue FOREVER. The true opportunity cost of the streetcar is thus $10 million per year FOREVER. Diesel would have to get very, very, very expensive to make it more expensive to serve those passengers with Buses.

      5. You are missing the $2.9m in savings from route restructuring and multiple streetcar line efficiencies (assuming the network is built).

        There are opportunity costs both ways to any capital expenditure. You lose by waiting because of increased cost and lost benefit. It’s just silly to say the city should put all its money into treasuries instead of doing capital improvements.

      6. Tony’s investment strategy misses a salient point. Cities can collect revenues because they provide city services- like streetcars. If you just wanted to make money without providing any of those services, you would collect money from people by promising them a return on their investment- you know, like an investment brokerage.

        And we’ve all seen how well that turned out recently.

      7. Assuming the First Hill Streetcar line follows a 12th Ave alignment or a Broadway/12th Ave couplet what is the benefit to the city in spurring SLU type development along 12th or the South end of Broadway?

        I suspect by spurring private investment and increasing sales and property tax revenues the First Hill line will end up being a net plus to taxpayers.

        Also remember that even the First Hill line is likely to see some Federal Small Starts funds. This is partially why the ridership estimates are so low. Due to the FTA rules ST has to assume the current development trends in the corridor remain constant rather than assuming transit will spur increased development and investment.

        For example look at the ridership estimates for Othello Station. This is actually one of the busier Rainier Valley Stations but the ST estimates show it as having the second lowest ridership on the entire Central Link line. I doubt the New Holly development was factored into ST’s ridership estimates. I wouldn’t be surprised if Othello is already exceeding the foretasted ridership. The same thing with Stadium station which is far busier even when there isn’t a game than I would have expected. On the other hand I wouldn’t be surprised if both Rainier Beach and Sodo Stations aren’t seeing anywhere near their projected ridership. In Rainier Beach’s case this is likely due to the re-routes for feeder service having not really started.

        I suspect any First Hill streetcar will far exceed the paltry estimates ST is currently projecting. While I doubt it will see the 11,000 riders per day that were forecast for the deleted First Hill Link station I’m sure it would see more than the 10% that is currently forecast.

        BTW while I realize the First Hill station added a lot of cost and risk to U Link, I’m rather annoyed the FTA scoring criteria forced the deletion of such a high-traffic station serving such a dense neighborhood. It may still not have made sense to build the First Hill station from a cost or technical perspective, but the FTA funding criteria having a heavy bias toward new transit riders and travel time savings meant the station was dropped from the preferred alignment before those factors were fully fleshed out.

      8. Tony,

        For an economist your comment is remarkably ignorant of present value and inflation. Any bonded capital project costs some amount of money FOREVER.

        It’s ridiculous to think that $120m is going to be put in Treasury bonds and the proceeds used to fund transit. That’s so far from the way that government budget processes work that I wonder what planet you’re living on.

      9. Martin,

        Shortly after I made that comment, I realized I was oversimplifying opportunity cost and that I was not using accurate numbers for the real (inflation adjusted) rate of return of a risk-free investment. I don’t have the time to go grab the data on historical treasury bond yields and the consumer price index in order to make an estimate. I do apologize and advise anyone reading this not to take my numbers literally. I simply used an assumed real rate of return of 5% for the purpose of the illustration.

        Regarding the idea of actually putting the $120 million into Treasury bonds and using it to fund Transit: Of course we are not really going to do that. The point is that there is an opportunity cost of capital and that needs to be considered. The Treasury bond comparison is a standard textbook example used to help undergraduates understand the concept. Ben likes to pretend that the opportunity cost of capital is zero when he compares rail and bus-based solutions. I believe that is poor fiscal reasoning.

        That being said, it was 4:00 a.m. when I wrote that comment and I think I was a bit grouchy and had my back up over the irrational rail lust that tends to bubble up on this blog. I have myself been critical of using high discount rates in cost-benefit analysis of public projects, and I am also critical of the justifications used by many conservative think takes to artificially inflate the discount rate based on an excess burden argument, but then here I go throwing the opportunity cost of capital at you guys like a work for the reason foundation. How to properly weight the opportunity cost of capital is a topic of considerable debate, so for the purpose of this conversation, I concede the point about opportunity cost.


        You make an excellent point that if the streetcar spurs new development, that benefit must be considered as part of any cost-benefit analysis and could easily outweigh the opportunity cost of capital even with an inflated discount rate. However, 12th alone is a long shot, and if it runs along Broadway south of Union St, I doubt there will be much marginal impact on development (see my post above).

      10. SPU indicates a water line under 12th will limit streetcar operations to single direction unless the main is moved/replaced (which is pretty unlikely).

  7. So, Mallahan supports the tunnel, but probably won’t support the “Central Line”. McGinn opposes the tunnel, which presumably breaks the deal forged last year. Gregoire is determined not to have the Viaduct fall down on her watch, so you might expect a pretty strong push from the state DOT for “Option B”, whatever that might be.

    For the benefit of the youngsters, I should probably explain that neither McGinn nor Mallahan are going to build the Central Line unless forced to do so. Nickels had all the city agencies pulling together to produce a surface option that included a streetcar, but Nickels won’t be there.

    The Central Line apparently depends to some extent on an LID on First- IOW, a new tax for property owners there. Mallahan doesn’t want to do it, and there is some question about McGinn’s ability to do it, even if he wanted to, which apparently remains uncertain.

    A lot of confusion seems to exist around the idea that “The existing (tunnel) viaduct plan would fund the Central Streetcar”. In actuality, there is no funding there- that sentence should be understood as “Nickels committed to finding funding for surface option improvements if the state committed to a tunnel carrying half of the Viaduct traffic past the downtown core”. Even as a tunnel supporter, Mallahan has lots of wiggle room there, and McGinn wants to start over from scratch.

    This is a situation where, not only are you not out of the woods yet, you’re just entering the woods. Lots of room for still more stuff to go wrong.

    1. I’m assuming that the city can come up with the $930 million necessary for the street and transit improvements as their part of any viaduct plan. McGinn and Nickels both agree that they can find taxing authority for this. I think that including that in the discussion is a good way to end up in the woods, instead of discussing the difference between the candidates and actually improving our situation.

      1. Well, of course the candidates believe they can fund the surface improvements. Mallahan has to believe that to push the tunnel through (although he is very straightforward in discarding the largest single piece of surface improvements) and McGinn supporters seem to think that $4 billion will be available if the tunnel is defeated.

        And I suppose it might work to simply ‘whistle past the graveyard’ and hope that a surface improvement plan you like will emerge.

        But I’m pretty sure it won’t be the plan Nickels would have put through.

      2. Actually, those mitigation projects have to be funded to complete the EIS and get a record of decision, I believe.

      3. I think the operative phrase here would be “Some mitigation projects have to be funded…”

        And really, what would be the point of having elections if the new guy couldn’t change what the old guy was doing?

      4. What on earth makes you assume that the city can just come up with $930 million? If this city had the political will or the popular support to just “come up with” $930 million somehow, what on earth makes you think they would want to spend it on anything that helps downtown?

      5. If the city can’t come up with $930 million, neither McGinn nor Nickels’ plans will be funded. That’s pretty irrelevant to the discussion.

      6. That’s true.

        Per the $930 million, most of it will still have to be spent.

        $100 million for the Alaskan Way surface street and promenade.

        $255 million for the Central Seawall

        $250 million for utililty relocation. Standing under the viaduct you can see a lot of utility cables take this ROW.

        $190 million for city streets and transit pathways.

        $135 million for transit infrastructure and services.


        I imagine the First Ave streetcar is funded from the last two items.

      7. I was responding to Ben’s comment.

        The way this page is laid out it looks like I’m agreeing with Martin.

        I do not.

    1. I just came back from Dallas and will miss the Green Line opening (sigh). I only rode the Red Line. It’s mind-boggling that a region of sprawl inducing highways and Big Oil is so far ahead of us with light rail. They’ve used their vintage trolley to great effect, too, and even Dallas drivers have no problem with it in mixed traffic.

      1. Why should that be surprising? Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is over 6 million people and the Seattle metro area is just over 2 million. The city of Dallas it’s self has over twice the population of Seattle proper. “Sprawl” is what drives the need and creates the tax base to build light rail.

      2. Bernie, have you checked your census data lately? The City of Seattle has 600,000 people alone–and definitely not a third of the region’s population. The Seattle-Tacoma-Everett-Bremerton-Bellevue MSA numbers about 3.5 million people. Portland is around 2M.

      3. Yeah, pretty lately:

        Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, pretty close to 6M, if you want to be technical it’s closer to 7M:



        If you want to use these numbers which count Olympia, Bremerton, and Mount Vernon, the The Seattle-Tacoma-Everett-Bremerton-Bellevue MSA gets up to 4 million. Now start looking at how much of that is water. King County has a population of about 1.7Million. Define it how you like but Seattle is still WAY smaller than Dallas/Fort Worth. The actual city of Seattle population is closer to 5.5M than 6M.

      4. I’m not defining anything; I’m using Census Bureau definitions. The link you provide says our region’s population is 3.3M using a stricter MSA definition, a little over 4M for the whole CMSA. This is much closer to the 3.5M I said than the 2M you claimed. Seems to me my initial estimate was the more accurate one. As this blog reported 3 months ago (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2009/06/29/city-passes-60000/), the City of Seattle has 602,000 people. King County is over 1.9M. I think more than 100,000 people live in this region but outside Knig County.

        This region has more than enough population and sprawl to create the pressure and tax base for more transit. Indeed many cities like Vancouver, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Jose, and St. Louis are smaller yet are ahead (some way ahead) of us on transit. http://www.census.gov/popest/metro/CBSA-est2008-annual.html

        That Dallas is bigger than Seattle is indisputed and irrelevant.

      5. I was in north Dallas (Addison) at a conference in 2005 and 2006. There are six-lane boulevards every mile. I couldn’t see how they could ever fill up, but people said they did fill up during rush hour.

        The 1950s plans for Seattle also included six-lane boulevards every mile, but only one was built (15th Ave W).

  8. The only other streetcar that I’ve heard was studied by ST was the extension to Tacoma Link. And does that $130m currently assumed for the Central Streetcar include the CD part of it or just the First Ave part?

    1. $130M was the ST estimate for First Hill (at 5% design completion). The Seattle SC Network Report lists the average cost per mile of the Central Line at $42M. For four miles, that’s $168M (at 0% design completion).

  9. Sorry,I do not support the First Avenue Streetcar. There is too many cars and parking on that street to make it worthwile. Bring back the Waterfront Streetcar first (broken promises by both KC Metro and City of Seattle). The only reason why there is a First Hill Streetcar, is mitigation for NO First Hill LINK Station. Streetcar may make sense for broadway, and then put the electric trolley buses on 12th Ave instead. So, when there is a snow storm, 12th Avenue is a much gentle grade than Boren. Any new streetcars (including SLUT) should have their own operating funding source, unlike SLUT that stole 12,000 annual transit hours from SE Seattle. That is why SE Seattle riders is pretty furious with the “Paul Allen Toy Train”

    1. There is too many cars and parking on that street to make it worthwile.

      This is why we need the streetcar, so that less people will feel the need to drive around downtown.

      …unlike SLUT that stole 12,000 annual transit hours from SE Seattle. That is why SE Seattle riders is pretty furious with the “Paul Allen Toy Train”

      This is only a few runs per day that is way more than made up for by the fast and frequent Link along that corridor.

      1. As for SE Seattle. Those 12,000 service hours were supposed to be used to FEED into light rail. For example, Rt 39 only gets service every 45 minutes, not very suitable for shuttle service. Light rail does not make enough stops along ML King Way, and the Route 8 only operate every 30 minutes off peak, though there is service every 10-15 minutes weekday and saturday. If LINK made more stops on ML King Way (like Portland’s MAX does on Burnside), then they would been no need to have bus service on ML King Way, since most riders would been within walking distance (only 40% do today). The more frequent service (LINK) is good for those next to a station, but if not, with the limited shuttle service to some neighborhods, does not work as well.

        The Late George Benson would be rolling in his grave for not restoring the Waterfront Streetcar. The inferior substitute, the 99 bus does not work, even with free rides. The bus gets stuck in traffic and the WFSC at least have a dedicated ROW for fast running. The First Ave Streetcar does not have any dedicated ROW, and a trolley bus can do the same at much lower cost.

        Hey, I’m a transit advocate (I drive a metro bus for a living), but the streetcar (SLUT) soured that somewhat. Any new streetcar line should have a dedicated source of O&M, unless it directly replaces a bus line. SLUT does not do that (if SLUT was extended to University District via Eastlake, then it would replace the Route 70, then I’ll will be happy then).

      2. I think the service hours used by the SLUT are more than offset by the service hours Seattle is paying for with the bridging the gap levy.

        The 39 (or the 50 as it was going to be renumbered to under one of the Metro service proposals) suffers from two things. First ACRS pitching a fit over the 42 which was to supply service hours for improved service on the 39. Second the 39 has fairly low ridership which means there is less support for additional service along its route than there might otherwise be. The question is the low ridership due to the poor service or is it because people in the neighborhoods the 39 passes through just aren’t transit riders (or at least bus riders).

      3. The 39, at least the part that would feed the Link station, serves very affluent areas. You likely aren’t going to get much ridership in the middle of the day.

        You could have gotten better peak frequency on the 39, but Seward Park pitched a fit over getting rid of the 34X. So instead you have express buses downtown in the peak and crappy service to the station the rest of the time. (However, the 34X serves Mt. Baker, at a point where the time difference of transferring is a wash).

      4. If Link made more stops along MLK, no one ride it because it would be too slow. The stops are close enough together that there isn’t demand for a bus running every 10-15 min off-peak for people who can’t walk 1/2 mile.

    2. …define “worthwhile” if your “worthwhile” doesn’t mean the most cost effective route studied.

  10. I spoke with a link operator yesterday morning and ask if he knew the exact date when the airport station will open in December,he didn’t know the specifics on that date, but to my surprise he mention that Sound Transit is planning a big surprise for a grand opening in late October. Can someone confirm this? Btw, sorry to spill the beans if its true.

      1. In a news report I think on King 5 Mayor Nickels said they are trying to have it open before Christmas.

    1. I would love to see the ‘big surprise’. I have always had a feeling that they will open it before Christmas (possibly before Thanksgiving) because it is great PR. Why NOT have a rail connection to the airport terminal during the busiest travel time?

    2. Editors should consider deleting this if true and putting “spoiler” in its place… those of us who read it already will keep our mouths shut.

    3. I heard of this yesterday from Tri-Met. I looked at the guy pretty puzzled and he simply said “whoops”, guess the cat got out of the bag”

      1. Damn, that would be great if Airport link opened in October or November. A big PR win for Sound Transit too, especially since it will be open for the busiest travel season.

  11. On the first hill street car: Haborview runs a shuttle from the Union station to Harborview for the employees every 20 minutes all day log. (I think every 10 minutes at rush hour on both ends of the day)

    If there was a First hill street car, you could eliminate this service. That van is usually packed, and while not the only riders who would use the street car.

    1. Indeed. While that cost savings comes from a different tax base, it still saves taxpayers money.

    2. We don’t need to lose transit service. We need more. Is it the best use of money to build a streetcar to duplicate existing service? (And, the Harborview van takes significantly less time than the proposed First Hill streetcar which is not only slower, but would not provide service to the “front door”.)

  12. Bending over far enough, Seattlers? SDOT is sticking it to you again.

    From the Seattle Streetcar Network Development Report, “The entire route would feature ‘left lane/center platform’ configuration.” This means streetcar stations are planned to be in the middle of 1st Ave. SDOT knows this will never fly. They let the public believe they’re working out a plan, all the while knowing the plan will be rejected. Wham bam, thank you mam.

    It looks like the main problem is overhead wire conflicts between streetcar and trolleybus. Pantograph systems are not compatible with trolley pole systems. this is probably why the connection to the SLU Streetcar line is both directions on Stewart. Putting the streetcar line in the middle of 1st Ave allows for completely separate ‘additional’ overhead wire. And, SDOT will blame the design failure on bicyclists, NOT the conflict between trolleybuses and steetcars, NOT the idiotic idea of putting stations in the midddle of 1st Ave. A dedicated trolleybus line between King St Station and Queen Anne would be simpler as I’ve been saying since Summer 2001. New trolleybuses, low-floor. Oh wait, SDOT, not Metro, is planning to get rid of trolleybuses altogether. The plot sickens…

    1. The ‘left lane/center platform’ configuration moves the tracks away from the lane bicyclists typically use and away from the parking lane. The location of the tracks on the SLU Streetcar were criticized by cyclists because it was placed right in their lane, creating a dangerous condition if they tried to cross the tracks. That was a response to the results from SLU.

      “Pantograph systems are not compatible with trolley pole systems.”

      It’s not impossible. See where the 70 trolleybus wire intersects the SLU Streetcar at Stewart St, Virginia St, and at Valley/Fairview for a total of 3 times. And such intersections are common in Europe where trams and trolleybuses coexist.

      Center platforms a bad idea? It really depends but please explain why you think it’s a bad idea.

      It’s Metro who has to furnish the funds to maintain the overhead and to purchase new trolleybuses. The Metro audit suggested that replacing trolleybuses with diesel hybrids and scrapping the system will save Metro money. I disagree with that. If Metro decides to scrap the system then we’ll have diesels not streetcars.

  13. There is NEVER going to be a 2nd Ave subway for light rail. It makes no sense whatsoever. Just forget it.

      1. I would completely disagree with the second sentence, “It makes no sense whatsoever.”

        However, the pessimist in me tends to agree with the first sentence. People might think that’s too crazy. With any of the viaduct plans, could a semi-dedicated right of way for light rail fit onto the new Alaskan Way like along the Embarcadero in SF?

      2. People will think we were crazy to not build a 2nd Ave Subway earlier in ten years when gas is $6 a gallon. We need a new subway in Downtown to be able to handle a Ballard-West Seattle line (it wouldn’t make sense to put it on the Waterfront, no one would ride it if it would require a fifteen minute hike up the hillclimb to work every morning).

      3. A 2nd Ave subway, supposedly to handle an LRT line via Westlake to Ballard, is a less sensible option when the DSTT could ‘spur’ a subway line in the same direction.

        Oran. I know trolleybuses and streetcars can access the same overhead wire, like San Francisco Market Street. There, both use poles. The SLU streetcar uses pantograph. This is most likely why SDOT is trying to separate the the overhead wire on a 1st Ave route. Putting stations in the middle of 1st Ave will no doubt be received with incredulity and widespread opposition. It’s a non-starter. I don’t want to hear otherwise. SDOT is simply pulling a fast one and may be conspiring with Metro to uproot the trolleybuses.

        Market Street does have in-street streetcar stops, but the curb lane is more of an auxilliary lane for buses. Market Street still has two lanes (or is it 3 lanes?) in each direction for motor traffic, unlike Seattle’s 1st Ave.

        Definitely keep Seattle’s trolleybus system, make some improvements, and even expansion. Trolleybuses work best on hilly terrain. It doesn’t make sense to trade a large trolleybus system for a few streetcar lines. Like I said, the plot sickens…

        Put the Waterfront Streetcar line back in. Extend the SLU over to 1st or 2nd and loop back, NOT stop and reverse direction. I sent the Circulator Plan Wednesday.

      4. You misunderstood what I wrote, I meant crossing wires not sharing the same wires. The SLU streetcar pantograph cuts across the 70 trolley wire 3 times. It’s possible to mix pantographs and trolley poles. It’s possible to put the streetcar on the curb lane of 1st (but why would you?) and move the trolley wires as they don’t need to be directly under the trolleybus. More likely Metro will move the 10 and 12 trolleybus routes to 3rd and remove the 1st Ave wire if a streetcar does get built. That’s hardly a conspiracy to get rid of all trolleybuses. If you’re worried about the loss of trolleybuses, get Metro to commit to replacing the trolleycoaches with new low-floor models. Streetcars are not the main issue here.

        Right now the discussion of trolleybus/streetcar interoperability is focused on the First Hill streetcar where the line is actively used by the 49 and deadheading buses. They’ve considered using trains with poles instead of pantographs.

        The reason Ben and others propose a new downtown subway is because the DSTT will be at capacity when North Link and East Link are fully operational in 2023. The proposed operations plan will ultimately have trains running every 3.5 minutes. The current signalling system can handle 2.5 min headways. Interlining will limit the frequency and capacity on each line like BART.

      5. Art,

        Would you mind explaining why center platforms on 1st is a non-starter? Is it something about 1st? Or something about center platforms? Is the SLUT’s center platform on Fairview a disaster in some way?

  14. Oran. I wouldn’t put the streetcar line next to the curb on 1st Ave, if that’s what you’re saying. I’d put it in the lane next to parking as is done in Portland. This is a problem for a painted bicycle lane, though there’s still enough room (about 2′) between the track and a streetcar stop for bicyclists to use in a pinch. People will be repulsed by the idea of streetcar stops in the middle of 1st Ave.

    I would argue it still makes more sense to spur off the DSTT toward Ballard and run the Bellevue line that way. A monorail line would have less physical impact. The key to reducing traffic is balancing development between city center and outlying suburban cities and commercial centers. Do that and it’s not necessary to overbuild LRT capacity. BART (which I consider LRT. Don’t get me started) runs 10-car trainsets only during rush hours. In the reverse-commute direction and in both directions the rest of the time, even the 4-car trainsets are underutilized. This is what regional planning is all about and apparently, Sound Transit and PSRC do not understand.

    1. Art. Why would people be repulsed by the idea of streetcar stops in the middle of First Ave?
      And if you made East Link go off from the DSTT to Ballard, first of all you still wouldn’t have enough capacity to have any light rail to West Seattle, and second of all you would have only half of the trains going up on the extremely high ridership corridor to UW and Northgate.

    2. That’s not what I’m saying, Art. I meant what you said that’s done in Portland.

      “People will be repulsed by the idea of streetcar stops in the middle of 1st Ave.”

      I don’t know where you get that impression from, because they don’t do that in Portland? I think it would be welcomed, especially from bicyclists as they were the ones who demanded better placement of the tracks after what happened on the SLU line. People trying to parallel park wouldn’t have to worry about staying within the white line and they won’t block the streetcar while backing in to park.

      “spur off the DSTT toward Ballard and run the Bellevue line that way”

      Where does West Seattle go to?

      “The key to reducing traffic is balancing development between city center and outlying suburban cities and commercial centers.”

      West Seattle and Ballard are urban villages. Northgate and the University District are urban centers. Lynnwood has plans for downtown development following Bellevue’s lead, Federal Way, too. Burien is building up their tiny downtown. It’s already happening. We’re missing the high capacity transit. ST is going to connect all of them together with Link. Besides, it’s beyond ST’s authority to dictate land use policy, that’s up to the cities. And PSRC doesn’t have much teeth to begin with.

  15. Look, SDOT isn’t seriously considering left lane/center platform arrangement for 1st Ave. It’s a ruse. If anything, they’ll use predictable objections to center platforms to pull down trolleybus wires claiming they’ll build it in the curb lane, and then NOT build the streetcar line and blame bicyclers. Bicyclers in Portland get used to streetcar rail placement, no problem. Seattlers know better, except they don’t.

    As for light rail to Ballard, monorail is the better choice. The elevated view along Westlake would be tremendous. Descend to a ground-level station near SPU then tunnel under the canal to another ground-level station on the other side. Ascend, and from Ballard, eventually route it to a Northgate LRT station terminus. There’s no way a light rail will ever be built to Ballard nor West Seattle. There’s not enough ROW and the hillclimb to West Seattle is prohibitive.

    ST, just like SDOT, is leading you on. They want you to believe these light rail extensions are a good idea and will happen. Nonsense. Extend south to Federal Way, East through Bellevue, a spur to Southcenter. These should be priority over all others including the tunnel to UW where an expensive education is an oxymoron.

    1. “Look, SDOT isn’t seriously considering left lane/center platform arrangement for 1st Ave.”

      That’s pure speculation and I’m not saying that because I work at SDOT. There’s no evidence suggesting that intent.

      “There’s not enough ROW and the hillclimb to West Seattle is prohibitive.”

      That’s a challenge best left to the engineers to figure out. They designed and built the Beacon Hill Tunnel and they’re building the Capitol Hill tunnel right now (320 ft elevation difference over 1.8 miles). The elevations of Capitol Hill and West Seattle Junction are similar.

      “[South, East, Southcenter Link] should be priority over all others including the tunnel to UW where an expensive education is an oxymoron.”

      And forfeit $813 million in federal grant money by postponing the completion of the 1996 initial segment which received the highest New Starts rating from the FTA. Great idea! As if Sound Transit needs more fire from critics saying “Late and overbudget”!

      It’s crazy to not serve the largest transit destination outside of Downtown Seattle with Link. That will hurt ridership on your “priority lines”. You said you like to connect two large destinations with transit to balance all-day ridership. Well, U-Link is the one.

      And the money for U-Link cannot be used for East Link, South Link, or Southcenter anyway due to subarea equity rules. You also completely forgot about Lynnwood (Alderwood Mall) and South Snohomish County.

      1. Not to mention streetcars used to climb Avalon way and Alaska to the Junction. It is entirely possible Link could get to up to the Junction with an elevated or surface alignment.

      2. Eight years to bore the tunnel to Husky Stadium, maybe 3 more years to reach Northgate, the nearest adequate terminus. Capitol Hill and UW are already well-served with transit. I do not believe the study figures. There is less development potential and means to reduce rush hour freeway traffic congestion with the tunnel north than with the south and east extensions. Sub-area equity rules, schmub-area equity rules. I figure doing a BRT line north would suffice for the time being and could lead to the I-5 Express Lanes as the better route as was their original intent. Why? Because UW, is not central to the area. Transfers are necessary regardless.

        I’m not a big fan of tunnels and subways and support them only when unavoidable. Look at NY City – Great subway, lousy traffic. Same way with BART and lousy Bay Area freeway and street traffic. What’s wrong with this picture?

      3. Art, I really don’t get why you think U Link and North Link aren’t a good idea. The buses between downtown, Capitol Hill, and the U District are packed all day long. Similarly the 41 between Northgate and Downtown is at crush loads even with short headways during peak hours. Traffic congestion on these routes makes them less than reliable and leads to a lot of bunching. The service is already quite BRT like on the 71X/72X/73X/74X and 41 with not much more in the way of improvements that can be done.

        Even many rail critics feel Link between Downtown and Northgate (with stops at the UW) makes sense.

        I’m also curious why you think the projected ridership for U Link and North Link is so wildly off on the high side? If anything I suspect the figures are low compared to what the actual ridership will be. BTW I’m looking for something more than just “I don’t believe the study figures” here.

        Besides not building U Link and North Link risks losing all political support for Sound Transit (or any replacement regional transit) in Snohomish County.

        You can dismiss the sub-area equity rules all you want, but the simple fact is the law creating Sound Transit also mandates sub-area equity. It would be illegal for Sound Transit to just ignore those rules and they would risk a lawsuit at the very least. While it might be in theory possible to do away with sub-area equity in a legal way, I doubt it will happen due to the political cans of worms it would open up.

  16. How many years did SDOT let everyone believe a streetcar line through the middle of the proposed Wide Plaza next to the seawall was viable before they suddenly cancelled it, who knows why? The SLU needs a low-cost extension to 1st or 2nd to increase ridership. SDOT spent over a year planning a grandiose expansion, and as much money doing that as it would’ve cost laying that track. ST has one starter LRT line that needs extensions to function optimally. They’re having a tough time with the proposed extensions and have no business proposing any more. Opponents build their case against rail transit with this nonsense, this making far off promises to advocates and community organizations pretending future lines are possible when the existing ones don’t work as promised. Seattler’s know better, except they don’t.

    1. “a tough time with proposed extensions”? What are you talking about? The Airport extension is almost complete and may open ahead of schedule. U-Link is under construction and on schedule. ST has applied for Federal Stimulus money for extending from Airport Station to S. 200th.

      U-Link and North Link are going to have some of the highest initial ridership of any modern light rail lines in the country. I suppose you can claim that amounts to failure but I don’t think most people see it that way.

  17. Airport extension fine. It’s the others that are under pressure whether to begin construction or not. Applying for funds is not the same as having the funding system in place. It’s not a good idea to begin speculating about Ballard and West Seattle as future light rail routes. U-Link is NOT on schedule. It’s barely started. The ridership projections for U-Link and North Link are a total fabrication. The initial Link line is not producing expected ridership. That’s obvious and most people see it as a serious shortcoming, if not failure. For sure, it would’ve had a better start if Southcenter weren’t foolishly bypassed against the wishes of Tukwila City Council.

  18. “SEATTLERS”. The last time Seattlers deserved the futuristic moniker “Seattlites” was 1962. Since then, the good old boys that hang out at the Ranier Club have been resisting progress and civilized modernity. SEATTLERS ‘settle’ for living under the thumb of the Establishment which bases their power over others on institutionalized automobile dependency.

      1. Forget to admit reality today, Zed? How’s the traffic working out for ya? Why do Seattle’s powers-that-be press forward with questionable plans that continually result in worse traffic? I have long supported light rail, streetcar, better bus systems, and monorail more than you ever will, Zed. But building them inefficiently and super-expensively is a back-door way to insure their failure. Go pick on rail opponents who want none of it and who like you resort to little more than innocuous obstructionism. I can probably take more credit than you for the implementation of Link LRT and the SLU Streetcar line. Someday, you’ll thank me for my work. Til then, up yours Jack.

  19. Ben’s editorial says: “The existing (tunnel) viaduct plan would fund the Central Streetcar. So why, with pro-streetcar talk, does McGinn’s viaduct plan move that money to bus service? It’s not a cost savings, the same expenditure is still there – it’s just moved to buses.”

    This a joke or purposefully provocative, right? True that the viaduct plan calls for city to fund the streetcar development on 1st Street. But there’s no city funding backing that plan, and there’s no political will to seek new funding for capital, let alone to subsidize ongoing operations year after year after year.

    1. The political will is our job. ST2 passed with a huge percentage in Seattle, so I think there is pretty good understanding of the benefits of transit. “Mass Transit Now!” organized and got the vote out. After the election, we need a campaign to get the mayor and council to do the right things.

      serial catowner hit on this here

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