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.