Licata
Councilmember Licata

I’m watching the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee meeting on the Seattle Channel right now. This morning, they’re setting up the city half of the agreement to accelerate the First Hill Streetcar. The City of Seattle will do an environmental assessment next, followed by Sound Transit signing off on providing the city funding. Sound Transit already gave Joni Earl, their CEO, the right to sign off, so it shouldn’t even require another Sound Transit board vote.

This is one of only a handful of times I’ve watched City Council talk about transportation, but I’m struck by one thing here: Licata does not like this streetcar. He’s interrupted a number of times asking about how the City can get out of the agreement, whether Sound Transit can get out of the agreement, and whether we can run a trolley bus instead. He was reminded, of course, that the ST2 vote says streetcar. The money can’t be used for a trolleybus.

Essentially, Sound Transit will start providing money in payments to the city sometime in 2011, such that the streetcar could be running as early as late 2013. Sound Transit has funding to operate the streetcar in perpetuity, despite the City being the actual operator. The agreement today will provide that funding for the city through 2023.

There were some small changes made to the agreement today that would give the City Council more of a role – basically, make their role here identical to their role in the South Lake Union line.

The transportation committee passed the agreement, 4-0. It still has to go to the full Council, and it may also need to go back to the Sound Transit board to approve changes the Council made.

150 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Funding Agreement”

  1. will the first hill streetcar be more like tacoma link than the south lake union streetcar as far operation and dedicated lanes/traffic priority?

    1. It will probably be branded as a Seattle Streetcar, like the SLUT. Too bad because I like the look of Tacoma Link!

    2. FH Streetcar will have the look and feel of SLU streetcar. It’s now a City project, to design and build, just like SLU.

      Sad thing tho is the need to build a second streetcar barn. Better to build a mile of the First Ave. streetcar, from Jackson to Pine St., to allow the FH line to tie into the SLU line, so we can have one streetcar fleet instead of two.

      1. I agree, but that barn seems awful small… they’d need to expand. It would be great if they “Linked” (get it?).

      2. Too bad they aren’t planning to use Kinkisharyo cars, then the First Hill streetcar could have the look and feel of Link. ;-)

      3. Too bad they aren’t using cars with the same voltage (they aren’t, right), because it would open the door for some mixed operations in future alignments.

      4. We don’t really want mixed Link/streetcar operations. You’d suddenly be constrained by your vehicle design – you’d have to build either nonstandard LR vehicles or nonstandard streetcars to meet the same platform heights and vehicle widths for level boarding. There are other issues, too – speeds are very different.

      5. You could, though, run streetcars on some Link tracks without running Links on streetcar tracks. That would be easier, and cheaper, and it’s done in some places (like Karlsruhe, Germany).

      6. You could, but only in the places where Link will always be limited in headway – basically, in the Rainier Valley. And if we wanted to run a streetcar there, I think we’d want it on Rainier Ave instead of more service on MLK.

      7. Yeah. The only thing I guess I’m really saying is that we have a light rail system that is on the verge of completely ruling, and a streetcar system that other than that SLU Line is still in planning. So let’s get special streetcars and levae Link alone. I’m thinking less in terms of MLK and the existing Link lines and more in terms of waaay down the road. It seems streetcars on the same voltage could make things like shared maintenance facilities, tracks that cross each other, etc. much easier.

      8. Well there is always the idea of building future streetcar lines (and at some point rebuilding the SLUT) to handle LRVs like the Kikisharyo cars. This gives some interesting possibilities as both networks are built out, especially if the City of Seattle ends up with some MAX style light rail.

      9. One of the genius things about the DSTT right now is transferring from rail to bus on the same platform; obviously that will go away there. But having something that cool after 2016 would be amazing.

      10. Let’s hope they build a real streetcar base somewhere near the KC Metro bases (if there is any property left down there south of Dearborn).

      11. Correct, the SLU barn is undersized to provide ample service for both the SLUT and FHSC. I believe it has space for 5 trains, and the SLUT currently has three. Any substantial lengthening of the SLUT would require more trains and use up the remaining capacity. It’s therefore pretty likely that a new maintenance facility will be needed with the FHSC. Hopefully a barn with ample capacity (or at least a design and ample space to allow it to grow) can be located in the ID that could serve as a maintenance facility for the Central SC, WFSC and/or a Jackson SC.

    3. I love the concept designs for cars in the Streetcar network report. They’re colored with silhouette of neighborhood attractions in a darker shade. They had concepts with things like the Space Needle, the Public Market sign, the Chinatown gate, and Garfield High School for the Central Line. They didn’t draw up any for the First Hill line but it’d be cool if they did.

  2. [Councilman Licata] was reminded, of course, that the ST2 vote says streetcar. The money can’t be used for a trolleybus.

    I don’t believe that is true. It says on the ST2 planning page, “These documents were created for planning purposes and to generate cost estimates.” If you believe the money can only be used for a streetcar then you must also believe it that the route along the Jackson Street / Broadway Avenue corridor between the International District and Broadway/John is also set in stone. But since there are no cost estimates yet for ROW acquisition, vehicles or even EIS and PE the only thing that the $120M funding has been promised for is a Link connector to Capital Hill via First Hill by 2023. While the intent is currently to study a streetcar nothing can be decided until preliminary engineering is completed to a point that cost estimates can be prepared. Trolley service, if the City and Metro make a commitment to replacing the ETB fleet, would certainly be a viable interim step that could be put in place quickly and used to evaluate routes. A hybrid ETB and streetcar sytem on First Hill / Capital Hill might prove to be the best way to connect the neighborhoods to Link.

      1. If the neighborhoods wanted a bus, there would be one already.

        And if Seattle wanted a Ballard to West Seattle Monorail, there would be one already.

        And if the nation wanted universal healthcare, we would have it already.

        And if the world wanted international peace, it would exist already.

        Perhaps it’s more complicated than that.

      2. Seattle doesn’t want a monrail — we voted 2 to 1 against building it, remember?

        ST2 said “streetcar” and the people approved it. I don’t believe it can be changed to just a trolley bus. Licata needs to get out of the way.

      3. Trying to eke out a win against non-buses again, I see.

        No, the Monorail barely won the first time and barely won the next and the next before finally getting shot down.

        In the other cases, it’s stalwarts standing against a public desire in order to get their way. “No, this streetcarpeace thing isn’t a done deal, even if everyone wants it! It’s more complicated than that!”

      4. Jeff, it’s amazing how so many people who work for Metro come out to defend buses against all else. Your mode bias is horrible, it really prevents you from being constructive.

      5. “If the neighborhoods wanted a bus, there would be one already.”

        You got the 3,4,12 and 13. And they are packed because most use these buses to travel beyond 1st Hill. There is a real benefit to having short, closed loop service.

        On a somewhat-related note: I wish buses which traveled up steep hills didn’t have parallel to the aisle seats.

      6. The neighborhood has been asking for transit service on 12th for years, AJ. I’ve been to Metro public comment meetings on unrelated service changes where folks who actually live in the neighborhood asked for that service. It’s not a religious mode issue for a lot of folks – they just want something that runs closer to where they live and work and shop.

      7. AJ,

        The neighborhood wants improved transit service. They have been asking for it for decades and they have been denied. They want this streetcar not because it’s a streetcar, but because it is $120 million worth of transit for their neighborhood. They were never offered the choice between $120 million worth of streetcar and $120 million worth of trolly bus. Sound transit never seriously considered any alternative to the Broadway-Boran-Jackson streetcar. They simply assumed that this was the best solution and now everyone is talking about it as if we seriously thought through a whole bunch of ideas and went through a collaborative outreach process and came up with this, the single best idea that could possibly exist. It did not happen that way. I have no objection to building a streetcar or a whole network. I only object to assuming that the first idea anyone ever came up with is the only idea and I object to spending $120 million without thinking comprehensively about how to spend it well.

      8. This is just silly. ST did not randomly decide to include some neighborhood transit in their plans, like giving the change in your pocket to a panhandler. The First Hill Streetcar is to connect the station to major employers, most of whom are on or very close to Broadway.

        As for the idea that they’re spending $120 million on “the first idea that anyone ever came up with”- baloney.

      1. And I’ll give you the same answer:

        In general terms when the route will have ridership that comes close to numbers that would equal the seating capacity of a bus. And that demand needs to be relatively constant over it’s hours of operation. There are certain places where a streetcar makes sense and a bus doesn’t. The Waterfront Streetcar is a prime example. Replacing the Seattle Monorail with a bus wouldn’t fly either but that doesn’t mean we should replace other bus routes with a monorail. A monorail or a streetcar might be the ideal form of transit in some situations.

      2. Well, they ran buses out MLK Way S for years and you never saw the kind of development and potential ridership that has been developing around the LINK line. I’m not so sure that waiting for ridership to hit a critical mass on the bus is a good criteria for where to build a streetcar.

        As for the idea that “demand needs to be relatively constant” over hours of operation, there’s hardly a streetcar line in the country that didn’t have ridership peaks. This sounds to me more like a rule from Calvinball than a page from the transit planner’s handbook.

      3. It’s not the peaks so much that are a problem. A streetcar may be ideally suited to handle an increase during rush hour by adding car without the need of hiring an additional driver (off board payment would be key). It’s long periods of little or no demand that kill a streetcars effectiveness. They cost more per hour to operate and have a much higher level of capital investment. They are cost effective only if on average they are replacing more than the capacity of a bus.

      4. Don’t they cost less per hour to operate than a diesel bus, but more than an electric trolley?

        With the high residential density on First Hill, I’ve got to assume it would have fairly even demand anyway.

      5. Don’t they cost less per hour to operate than a diesel bus, but more than an electric trolley?

        Absolutely not. Roll out ST’s projected cost over service hours and it’s ~$190/hr. Diesel buses are closer to $100-120/hr (Costs on SLUT have been somewhere in between and difficult to really pull out since the funding has been such a hot potato.) You only see a savings if you’re able to replace the number of required buses and thereby reduce labor costs. And that’s on going cost. It doesn’t account for the initial capital expenditure. As far as the operating expenses of an electric trolley I’m not sure we really know. Recent numbers from Metro seem to be bias toward elimination of the ETB fleet. If you operated diesel buses of the same vintage as the ETBs on the same routes the ETBs serve I have a hunch the trolleys would be the price performance leader.

      6. Ah, that’s right, the real numbers are either not available or useless (like, based on bad data like the audit) for ETBs. However, if I remember correctly if you look at the inputs required by the vehicles themselves it was ETB < modern streetcar < diesel. But, they all require bases, and maintenance, etc. so it really is apples to oranges. Or, if you prefer, a case of investing in what we have (diesel and ETBs) instead of what we could have (a streetcar system).

      7. this is why streetcars aren’t just about ridership, they are about economic development, thus making the investment worth it.

      8. Bernie, those costs include a barn. With further expansion in the future, streetcars cost less to operate.

      9. OK, didn’t see it before (hard to search comments here). But… by those measures doesn’t a First Hill Streetcar (not to mention Eastlake or Central) make perfect sense?

      10. The ST projected ridership for the First Hill SC sure don’t inspire me. They’re down around the levels of SLU for a line that cost 2-3X as much to build and even more to operate. People have pointed out there may be reasons those numbers are low because of Federal requirements that need to be met. I tend to think the numbers would be higher and should be higher even using the Federally mandated methods if the route is chosen wisely. For a $120-130M in capital costs and over $5M a year for operations I find it hard to justify without a minimum initial first year ridership of ~5,000 per day. If Harborview sees the need to continue running shuttles and a significant amount of savings can’t be found from reduced Metro hours then I don’t think the route was chosen wisely. Besides serving the hospitals another key factor is speed. The cost savings from reduced labor hours don’t materialize if a streetcar is stuck in traffic. These two things are why I like the idea of a Broadway/12th couplet. I think it serves more area and will be fighting less congestion than the impact of two way operation on a street like Broadway. It also mitigates some of the grade issues and, I believe, makes it easier to lobby for dedicated ROW on parts of the line. The disadvantages of a couplet, longer walk one direction or longer transit time are largely mitigated in this instance by having Link stations at each end of the line.

        The SDOT numbers for the 1st Ave line look good. But if ST numbers are deflated by having to stick to federal standards where do the SDOT numbers come from? I’m deeply suspicious of their report just from an accounting perspective. They assign increased ridership (twice) to SLU based on synergy. They consider 1st Hill to be “pure profit” because operations and capital costs come from ST, etc. I also don’t see how the line can run in that corridor (1st Ave) now, let alone when viaduct traffic is diverted to surface streets. Other folks on this blog have proposed 3rd and 5th Ave alignments instead. Both of these serve greater density. Personally I like the idea of 3rd because I think it would be easier to make this transit only ROW and reduce congestion by decreasing the number of buses required. But I think there’s a need to do a much more in depth study that considers various routing rather than locking in on one that hasn’t even seen any preliminary engineering.

        Personally I don’t think Eastlake makes any sense. There’s nothing like the cluster of hospitals and residential development between SLU and the U-district like there is on the 1st Hill line. With Link getting to Montlake in 2016 and the U-district shortly there after high capacity connections to these two hubs seem much more of a priority since Link and the existing streetcar would be about as fast. I also have doubts about the University Bridge. All of the drawbridges along the ship canal are nearing end of life. Fremont gets stuck in hot weather. Bridge openings will cause “stacking”, the bane of streetcars, and throw the route off for hours.

      11. They’ve left the University Bridge closed in hot weather sometimes, too. I disagree about Eastlake, though. It’s not as dense as First Hill, but there is plenty of room for another stop at Zymo/Hutch north, and Eastlake Ave is almost entirely 3-5 stories all the way from Fairview to the bridge now–if that’s not a European high street I don’t know what is. But of course it’s pretty much beside the point right now because there’s no funding.

      12. Bernie, the SLU streetcar and First Hill streetcar are about the same cost. You’ve got a lot of your numbers wrong.

      13. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Health Sciences Express service. These are vans the University runs for students, and that includes medical residents and probably some doctors, who do clinicals at the teaching hospitals and attend classes, or do other work, at the University. The purpose of this is to provide door-to-door service for people who are trying to cram 14 hours of work into a 12-hour day. The vans are run by the University and another reason they do this is to reduce parking and time issues at the Health Sciences Complex on campus.

        There also seems to be little awareness of the unusually successful consortium the University has created of teaching hospitals and clinics in the Seattle area. In the city limits you have Childrens, University, Swedish, Virginia Mason, Harborview, and the VA, all affiliated with and linked to the University of Washington. Some of the best people in the world in every specialty are found in this system, which also provides wide-area medical care (with airlifts) for Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and sometimes Oregon.

        In the discussions of the First Hill line I’ve read, there has been very much an air of “haberdasher, hospital, what’s the difference?”, and even some feeling that developing haberdashers on 12th would be preferable to serving existing hospitals, “which already have buses”. Why, of course, thats exactly what a family who have come from Alaska for heart surgery at Swedish, or from Montana for a family member in Harborview, would need.

        /sarcasm. The big picture is made up of real details. It only looks pointilist from a distance.

      14. You left out Wyoming and the Hutch/SCCA. Northwest Hospital (near Northgate) also recently merged into UW Medicine or something like that. :)

        Another important point is that while hospital systems compete for bread-and-butter standard care, the affiliation linkages provide training and residencies in specialties (the basic experience you want your clinician to have), and clinical/translational research (new treatments in development).

      15. ah, Harborview runs another shuttle from Union Station to Harborview all day long. It’s to pick up and drop off commuters at the tunnel.

        That’s the shuttle that the first hill street car should replace if it is designed right. Not the UW-Harborview bus.

      16. Bernie, the SLU streetcar and First Hill streetcar are about the same cost. You’ve got a lot of your numbers wrong.

        SLU was ~$50 million (1/2 coming from private funding). ST has the cost for the base First Hill streetcar at $119-137 million. Operating cost for SLU are hard to pin down. It was estimated at $2M/year but in budget reports I’ve only ever seen $1.2M accounted for. But then the percentage of who’s been paying what has been changing so you’d have to know who was paying what percentage for how much of the year. I still don’t understand how SLU and First Hill streetcar are about the same cost?

      17. Good question! Is a LID “private” funding? Private land owners are opting to kick in, in this case primarily Vulcan, 1/2 the construction costs so it does mean the public sector (i.e. the City of Seattle) only had to come up with $25 million. On the other hand it is a property tax. So in that sense it’s no more private funding than say a school levy.

        But the original question still remains. $50M is more than double the lowest projected cost for the 1st Hill streetcar; ditto for the operating cost. So I’m confused what number I have wrong and how these two are the same cost?

    1. From what I can make of all this, it appears voters were promised a streetcar if ST2 were passed, and Bernie is suggesting that a sharp lawyer might be able to cancel that promise. Which appears to be what Licata was doing- trying to pick away at what voters passed- first, no streetcar, then, diesel bus instead of electric, then, well maybe we don’t need a bus after all, etc etc.

      And the people who do this thing are always pretending to have something better to offer. “Why would you want that old-fashioned streetcar when you could have a shiny new diesel bus?”

      At some point people should just stop and go off and oppose the next streetcar line. The stars lined up and the streetcar people won one. Let it go. One Trident sub wastes enough money each year to build a dozen streetcar lines. Who nows, it might even turn out to be a good thing to build a streetcar line. It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened.

      1. Licata is not at all trying to “pick away at what voters passed”. Licata believes that a bus-based solution would serve the neighborhood and commuters better than a streetcar. If anything he is trying to get more for the voters than what ST was willing to give them. Now some people may disagree with Nick, but he is not trying to screw first hill; he just has a different opinion about what people want, and his opinion is not unfounded. There are people in these neighborhoods that honestly think a bus would serve their needs better. Not everyone in this city is a rail-o-phile.

      2. Who cares what Licata thinks about it anyways? He has absolutely zero power to change Sound Transit’s plans. A streetcar is part of the package that voters agreed to, not a bus. Would you be okay with Licata trying to substitute bus service for light rail after people had voted for light rail? You can’t claim that the voters were ignorant of the details of what they were voting on so it’s okay to change it after the fact. “The voters didn’t mean to vote for Gore, so we’ll just give the presidency to Bush.”

    2. The $120m was based on an a study that determined that streetcar was better than a bus upgrade to replace the lost First Hill Station and then 5% drawings of the Boren to Broadway alone alignment. It cannot be used for enhanced bus service.

      1. Yes, that “study” considered the Broadway-Boran streetcar compared to a bus running along the same route and then a third bus route that ran through downtown and traveled up Madison to first hill then north on Broadway. Never did they consider simply improving service on the east-west connections between first hill and downtown. Never did they consider dedicated rights of way on James, Seneca, Madison, etc. Never did they consider a circulator. Never did they consider ETBs. They looked only at the ridership for the routes in question rather than at the whole system comprehensively. They did not consider the economic development or the neighborhood plans. To suggest that this “study” somehow proves that this particular alignment is a good idea is wrong.

    3. Licata knows damn well what the intentions of the vote was.

      Anything other than Seattle getting a rail based street car is a blatantly disrespect of the will of the voters.

      They definitely don’t want that sorry excuse for a waterfront streetcar with rubber tires and a diesel engine running up and down First Hill.

      1. A streetcar running in regular traffic will “crawl” to the same extent as a bus. Actually, it will be worse, because it can’t switch lanes to get around a stalled car or an accident.

      2. No, my point is actually that the ETBs climb steep hills better than diesels. The streetcars of course can’t even do the grade of some hills (like up Queen Anne).

      3. Cam,

        80% of the people I talk to who live on Capitol Hill and voted yes for ST2 don’t even know that a capitol hill-first hill-ID streetcar was in the package. Do you honestly think the people of Fremont, Ballard, Queen Anne, West Seattle who all voted overwhelmingly for ST2 even care what they put on First Hill? How about the people in Pierce county? Do you think their vote was swayed by the fact that there was a streetcar for first hill instead of improved bus service?

        I’m pretty sure that the intentions of this vote were to build 50 miles worth of regional light rail from Lynnwood to Federal Way and east to Redmond. The particular alignment and mode of improvements to transit in central seattle were of minimal concern to the average voter.

        The question is, what is the best solution for the neighborhoods in central Seattle, including First Hill? That is what a comprehensive public outreach process is about discovering rather than assuming that the first idea anyone ever came up with is the best one.

      4. …And four out of five dentists recommend Trident. Hey, that’s 80% too… coincidence?

        Any issue that I have with your numbers and assigning a singular “intention” to the votes of a few hundred thousand individuals aside, I agree that there needs to be some outreach and study of the FHSC and determining the best solution for central Seattle. What was the process that ST used to reach the initial alignment anyway?

    1. It’s a commitment that was made when ST decided to delete the First Hill Link stop. The SC is meant to replace the First Hill stop by connecting to Link at the North and South ends of the SC line.

      1. Let’s be clear, this “commitment” was between ST and the north king subarea, as part of subarea equity. ST doesn’t “owe” First Hill anything; it’s not like First Hill “agreed” to give up “their” light rail station in exchange for a streetcar. ST decided to cancel the first hill light rail station. First Hill is going to get improved transit service because the City of Seattle wants First Hill to get improved transit service. If the City thinks that can be done in a better way through buses, that is both their right and their responsibility.

    2. You’ve got two different “we” there. Sound Transit committed to building a first hill connection long before the city started getting interested in streetcars.

  3. So in other words, Licata doesn’t pay attention to even the BIG details of something he doesn’t like?

    Good to know, going into the election.

      1. Pretty damn funny. Only in Seattle would someone like Nick Licata be branded right wing. As soon as he questions the cost/benefit ratio to the City of taking over and accelerating the First Hill Streetcar project from one that is funded with ST money he becomes public enemy number one. Here’s a quote from his campaign website:

        Supported proposed First Hill/Capitol Hill Streetcar line funded by Sound Transit 2 ballot measure, because it meets the standard of cost-effectiveness, and improves overall transit service

        Clearly, anyone that is concerned with cost-effectiveness and improving transit instead of development must be a right wing nut.

      2. And it’s not just the First Hill SC that makes people here not like him… He tends to have very negative opinions of rail transit and sustainable development in general.

      3. Licata is historically progressive, but it’s a type of baby-boomer NIMBY progressiveness that can sometimes seem out of place in 2000s Seattle, I think. I definitely have mixed feelings about the guy — he was the most helpful to us when we needed City Council help for an issue about 10 years ago, and definitely gave the impression that he cared about the problem we were having more than any of the other Councilmen did. But at the same time, my impression has tended to be that he is against things that would encourage transit-oriented development, and this is a problem for me.

      4. Licata’s latest Youtube video features his friend Matt Fox on guitar – one of the most notorious NIMBY’s around – former staff to super-NIMBY Charlie Chong.

        Matt Fox has been fighting density in the U District, of all places. These people are whacko….

      5. “Supported proposed First Hill/Capitol Hill Streetcar line funded by Sound Transit 2 ballot measure, because it meets the standard of cost-effectiveness, and improves overall transit service”

        Good one Bernie. You forgot to add the part about the 10 years of work Licata did to de-fund ST alltogether.

      6. Not my words, copied directly from the Licata campaign site. There are plenty of instances where ST has been unresponsive. In fact prior to 2001 they were an out of control money pit. More recent is the berm in Tacoma. 10 years of fighting the berm over the gulch and they finally admit that bridging is no more expensive. My politics are far apart from Licata’s but I do admire someone that is willing to fight for fiscal restraint and doing things right rather than blindly follow an organization or a solution without justification.

      7. There hasn’t been ten years of fighting over the berm in Tacoma, it’s only been a few months. Where do you come up with this stuff?

      8. Plans for the Dome section began in 1999, not a few months ago and there has been resitance to ST plans from the beginning. It’s only been the last few months that it’s gotten traction here. The TNT archives would be a good place to look for “this stuff”.

      9. Bernie, there hasn’t been this particular complaint about the plan. It’s only been the last few months you can find these comments. Look through the public outreach from beforehand (it’s all online), you can’t find comments against any “berm” until just a couple of months ago.

        You’re confusing the issue, though. Licata can’t get over things that happened in 2000 with Sound Transit, despite the fact that they’ve long improved.

      10. Different berm. The berm that’s currently being discussed in Tacoma wasn’t an issue until the design for the D-to-M street tracks came out in 2008 with an elevated alignment over Pacific Avenue as requested by the City of Tacoma.

      11. “As soon as he questions the cost/benefit ratio to the City of taking over and accelerating the First Hill Streetcar project from one that is funded with ST money he becomes public enemy number one”

        I get your devil’s advocate schtick, Bernie. But this refrain is getting tired.

        Licata isn’t a right wing nut – he’s a populist nut who oftentimes sides with right wing populists. Such as was the case with the gaggle of conservatives active in the anti-light rail movement for the first half of this decade.

  4. The new FH Streetcar has a cost estimate of $130, though the city believes it can build it for far less. That said, if ST built the FH Link Station, we’d be looking at a nearly $400M+ tab. Yes, the station would serve many thousands more commuters, however, the risks of building this type of deep bore station suggests the cost would probably go higher.

    The FH Streetcar will serve Chinatown, Little Saigon, First Hill (all the hospitals and Seattle U) and terminate at Capitol Hill. This means that (unlike the SLU), this streetcar will begin in a highly developed area, go through a lesser developed area that has promise (Boren/Yesler Terrace) and terminate on Broadway in Cap Hill (the most dense area in Seattle). This will resemble the Portland Streetcar’s original route. Ridership should be much higher than estimates claim.

    I do agree that we need to somehow tie these two lines together, whether via a Central Streetcar or another line. I also am a firm believer that the Waterfront Streetcar needs to come back post Viaduct.

    1. I think the main point of this streetcar is not to connect first hill to downtown but rather to connect commuters from the north and south to the major employment center that is first hill. Commuters from north Seattle would leave Link at the capitol hill station and have a short ride to the hospitals. Likewise, commuters from the south could take the streetcar from either king street station or the international district Link station to first hill.

      People trying to get to first hill from downtown? Walking, driving, or taking a bus would be faster than a roundabout ride on a streetcar through the international district (or a two-seat ride on link and streetcar). So this falls short of what a 1st hill link station would have done.

      I really think that the SLUT-1st avenue streetcar connection is more important (due to its directness) than a 1st avenue-first hill streetcar connection.

      1. Because of the gradient, a SLUT-First Hill connection would pretty much go up Pike to B’way. Think about how you would get to Swedish from Lake Union if it were snowing and you didn’t have chains.

      2. Right up until 1940. Too bad a modern version wasn’t around during the snowpocalypse – maybe some of us could have made our way of of the ‘hood on public transit!

      3. Someone needs to invent a modern San Francisco-style cable car. Not a funicular. I don’t think such a thing exists – does it?

      4. How about a loop around… SLU to Lakeview Blvd. and the north end of Broadway? That alignment is something for waaaay in the future, like when funding becomes available for such a low priority or when erosion has finally taken its toll on the steepness of Capitol Hill. But I like things that are connected in circles.

      5. Well one of the streetcar routes analyzed in the city’s streetcar report but thrown out early on because of the steep gradients was Seattle Center-SLU-Capitol Hill route like the 8.

      6. The SLU Streetcar already goes up Harrison to its base on Fairview. If they ever found a way to fund an I-5 lid they should connect the circle there. It’s definitely quite a hill at that point, though.

      7. Squints said:

        “I think the main point of this streetcar is not to connect first hill to downtown but rather to connect commuters from the north and south to the major employment center that is first hill.”

        This is exactly what is wrong with the FH streetcar, it is trying to focus only on a single target demographic: regional hospital commuters. In case no one here noticed, Link actually has three stops in downtown seattle between capitol hill and the ID, improving east-west connections from these downtown stations to first hill would serve commuters just as well (they just stay on link for one or two more very closely spaced stops), then take a much shorter connection up the hill that drops them off at the doorstep of their destination rather than a half-mile walk like the current alignment requires for anyone bound for virginia mason or swedish’s cherry hill campus. Simultaneously, these same east west connections would better connect first hill to downtown, thus serving the residents as well as the commuters and it would help out the central district which has long been neglected. This sort of solution was never considered because, for some reason, it was assumed that any solution that we considered HAD to start at the capitol hill station and end at the ID station. No one ever though about an east-west solution.

        BTW, the commute that makes the most sense for a young able-bodied person to access first hill is to get off downtown and walk up the hill, but this route doesn’t make sense for someone with more compromised physical ability. That hill is very steep, thus a transit solution is needed.

      8. I think you just nailed what’s wrong with most of our transportation issues. Two problems though: regional commuters are the bread and butter for fare recovery, and as far as I know there’s no mechanism for figuring out what residents would use.

      9. BINGO! It makes absolutely no sense to plan the FHSC route from perspective that prioritizes commuters. A streetcar from the CH station or the ID station will never be as fast as connections from downtown stations, except if there were a dedicated ROW and a limited or express routing. The FHSC might provide a more agreeable experience to commuters, but if it is planned just from a commuter perspective, we will have lost a rare opportunity to improve connections between four neighborhoods, provide transit investment in under-served neighborhoods, build a higher ridership line and provide a catalyst or steering mechanism for future redevelopment.

  5. Are there any details on where the O&M facility (barn, yard, whatever you want to call it) for the First Hill Streetcar will be located?

    If it’s going to be in the ID, they’d better make it a pretty large facility so they can accommodate streetcars for the waterfront (either Benson or modern cars).

      1. The driver there would be land cost, and with an in-city need, you often find the available parcel makes the call. I find it hard to believe that eminent domain will play much role in building a carbarn.

      2. Assuming the city doesn’t try to lowball its offer many landowners will be willing to sell for a fair price. Especially if the land is currently used for a parking lot or has a run-down warehouse on it. In addition the city, county, or Sound Transit may already own a suitable parcel.

    1. I agree and I have said this a zillion times! The ID, especially in Japatown (north of Jackson) and Little Saigon (east of I-5), have plenty of vacant land RIPE for development. Since the huge Goodwill Center at the corner of Dearborn and Rainier has been nixed for now and the price of land is the lowest it will be for many more decades, they should be able to find a piece of land for the new barn.

      This new barn could be big enough to house at least 15-20 streetcars, the WF streetcars and add senior and low income housing on top of it all. I have many Asian friends with parents who would love to live in this area. That’s why all the apartments are being redone in the Chinatown part of of ID. Most these places are full. The city could get a parcel of land for a low price and make it a win-win situation. I mean, they’re tying the olf WF line to the new FH line as well. Unlike a few on here, I do believe the WF line will run again and this is a way for it to be done.

      Is anyone listening in the city? Grace, Ethan? Or maybe the next mayor?

      1. Anybody know about the funding for the WFSC barn? Was there money appropriated for it and if so was it reallocated elsewhere? It sure would be nice if we could plan for a centralized facility serving the FHSC, WFSC, Central SC and a proposed line out Jackson… especially if the burden of the capital costs could be spread between projects.

    1. The comparison to tacoma link is irrelevant. Of course Tacoma Link had better ridership than the bus lines it replaced; the marginal difference in the quality of the user experience was enormous. That is not the case with a first-hill bound commuter. The first hill connector is about serving the very last 1/2 mile of a 10+ mile commute. 95% of that commute is on an extremely high quality light rail system. Whether the last 5% takes place on a streetcar or bus makes little marginal difference. Tacoma link is also attracting a lot of casual riders, i.e. NOT commuters. Streetcars are great for tourists, shopping and recreational trips and for economic development, but if you are trying to fill in the last half mile of a 10+ mile commute, a bus will do just as well.

  6. Nick is a great guy and has done many good things on the council. But if urban design and transit are your issues, he is simply horrible.

    –Favored a retrofit of the viaduct
    –Worked with wingnuts to try to kill Sound Transit
    –Has opposed almost every ST plan for Seattle
    –Cozies up to anti-density folks like Matt Fox

    Nick just doesn’t get transit and never will. And only in Seattle would we still be talking about a transportation solution for Seattle that is fully funded by Sound Transit, already approved by voters, and has the potential to stimulate economic development and density that will help fund city services.

    If you are a transit voter, vote for Jessie.

  7. Ben,
    The Vulcan/Nickels/Drago pursuit of streetcars preceeded ST2 by several years. I suspect they fell into desire of the Portland streetcar.

    The cost is taken care of by ST2 funds. There remain technical issues to be resolved by SDOT and Metro. During the committee meeting you listened to, Martha Lester, Council central staff, mentioned feasibility as the key issue.

    Seattle should want the most First Hill transit mobility they can get for the ST2 funds. Transit funds are quite scarce. ST owes Seattle that for dropping the First Hill station from ST1.

    Yes, the voters approved ST2. But it does not follow that that large majority supported all elements equally. The voters faced an all of nothing choice given them by the ST Board. We may have wanted Link extended to Northgate so much that we would accept the rest of the plan, even if flawed.

    The deletion of the First Hill station was not the only change in Sounnd Move. Significant changes can be made by a two-thirds vote of the ST Board. Here is a partial list of significant changes between 1996 and today: the South 200th Street, First Hill, and NE 45th Street Link stations were dropped; some bus routes were revised or dropped; north Sounder provides only one-way rather than two-way service; the center roadway of I-90 was not made into a two-way busway (instead, after years of negotiation, R8A was recommended by a revised MOU, and now ST and WSDOT are negotiating the funding of its third phase); a center access ramp on I-405 was found infeasible and the funds were reprogrammed to the Totem Lake Transit Center, the NE 128th Street center access, NE 85th Street improvements, and a new Kirkland TC.

    The SDOT-Metro analysis may reveal that the First Hill streetcar is infesible, that is, that correcting the technical challenges takes more effort and funds than are available for the limited return. As other posters have stated, streetcars cannnot climb the grades of Madison Street, James Street, or Yesler Way. the electric trolleybus can do so. The First Hill streetcar is tentatively slated to use the South Jackson Street, 12th Avenue South, Boren Avenue, and Broadway corridor. This takes riders going between Pioneer Square or IDS and First Hill out of direction through the saddle point of 12th and Jackson. A more direct path would be up Yesler Way. Consider the interaction of the streetcar with the electric trolleybus network. 5th Avenue South and South Jackson Street is a key access point to and from the base. Consider 12th and Jackson: what impact would sqeezing in a streetcar with tracks and overhead have on the trolleybus operation in that busy intersection?

    SDOT published a consultant report outlining the issues:
    http://www.seattlestreetcar.org/about/docs/StreetcarNetworkAppendixD.pdf

    Some of the streetcar issues have been in the public eye. Cyclists did not like the tracks on the outside of the roadway. In the first half of the 20th Century, most Seattle streetcars were in the center of the roadways. SDOT and Metro will have to decide whether the streetcar will share overhead and stops with the trolleybuses or have separate stops or overhead or both. All choices have difficulties.

    it does seem a bit silly to have two short discrete streetcar lines each with its own operating base. Yes, Nickels/Drago expressed the desire for the Central Line on 1st Avenue that would allow the two lines to connect, but that funding went into the deep bore.

    the eight AWV replacement options all included the First Hill streetcar, so its ridership was measured. the eight scenarios also included some promising trolleybus options that came to light on Crosscut. Some included new overhead on Yesler Way. That could be a congestion free path past I-5 congestion that would provide faster and more frequent service than the ST2 streetcar.

    if Seattle wants the most First Hill transit mobility for their ST2 funds, they will conduct an objective analysis. if the streetcar is not feasible enough, they could ask the ST Board for an amendment to use the funds for another First Hill transit investment.

    1. Jack, First Hill was ST1, the agreement for the project stemmed from that vote, it just had to be funded for ST2.

      The ST Board probably doesn’t have the authority to change the funds to another transit investment. The vote says streetcar because a comparative study was undertaken prior to the vote to determine mode.

      The fact that you simply ignore that there’s already analysis done basically just shows your anti-rail bias.

      1. Have you actually read the study, Ben, or are you just displaying your dogmatic devotion to everything ST does? The study did not consider any serious alternatives to the current proposal and it did not investigate any of the feasibility issues eddiew just described. The study did not even consider the Jackson-Boran-Madison-Broadway alignment that the First Hill Improvement Association has been pushing since the beginning. Make no mistake, First Hill wants to get outside the ST box just as much as other people do.

        ST and Seattle absolutely have the authority to replace the First Hill streetcar with a better solution if a better solution is found. Finding a better solution would involve thinking comprehensively, which is not something that transportation agencies, of any kind, are particularly good at.

    2. All Excellent point to consider Eddiew! Better mobility to FH seems to be the goal, and reading the report completed in 2007 between trolleybus and streetcar isn’t very decisive for one over the other, IMHO. It would seem doing the best thing is more important than just assuming all streetcar, regardless of cost, is superior to any bus line.
      The 3/4 lumber up James to Harborview every few minutes from Pioneer Sqr Stn, but it’s vastly faster than getting there on the proposed streetcar line from IDS.
      It seems that any thoughtful comments on STB anymore that ‘dares to question any rail line’ is met with personal attacks by the remaining two dominant bloggers.

      1. Sometimes doing the best thing is to do what you said you would do. SDOT said they would build the First Hill Streetcar and be responsible for cost overruns. Now they should go ahead and build it.

        I am not fooled for a minute by the idea that “doing the best thing” means doing the cheapest thing, and providing the least amount of service you can get away with. American cities tried that in the 50s and 60s and the result was disastrous. It’s no coincidence that Detroit was always in the forefront of the “BRT” movement and lies in ruins today.

        The 3 and 4 don’t go near Pioneer Square, and they don’t go near Swedish or Virginia Mason or the Polyclinic either. Fail.

      2. And the 3 and the 4 are incredibly slow. I go to Garfield, and it can frequently take a half hour to get downtown after school on those.

      3. You all need to get outside the box that tells you that any single line is the best way to do this. Of course the 3/4 don’t serve Virginia Mason, Swedish or the Polyclinic, but the 2 does. No one considered upgrading both the 3/4 AND the 2, which could easily be done for what they are planning on spending on the streetcar (some reconfigurations to disconnect these from the queen anne legs may be in order).

        Oh, and BTW, by “improve” I mean 3-4 minute headways, layovers at the link stations so that the bus is sitting there when people pop up from underground, ETB the whole way, substantially improved interiors to make the buses comfortable and classy, extending the free ride area to include first hill or using off-vehice fare payment, not stopping every block, but instead stopping right at the doorsteps of the hospitals, and, most importantly, dedicated ROW so that they can speed up the hill.

        All that can be done for what they are spending on the streetcar and it would serve First Hill much better than the Broadway alignment which First Hill doesn’t even want. ST, being as religiously pro-rail-in-all-circumstances as some of the Bloggers here, basically shoved this streetcar down First Hill’s throat, despite the fact that it doesn’t go where people want to go.

      4. Sir, I ride the 3/4 every day. I take it at all times of the day. You, sir, are no line 3/4.

        But seriously, in terms of community preference, the streetcar is the best way to go. First Hill, 12th Ave and Capitol Hill are all fighting over getting it. They never fought over buses. Heck, the same businesses fighting for a Streetcar balked at paying into BtG partnerships for more bus service from First Hill to Cap Hill. Put your ear to the proverbial rail and check out what actual residents and businesses are saying. ST’s own studies show it’s the preferred method.

        Adding a “but” to this adds nothing to the plan.

      5. In case the point was missed, the 3/4 does go immediately past Swedish on Jefferson St. The 2 and the 12 go past VM, again in less time than the proposed streetcar. Now, in addition to those routes, the 64, 211, 303, and 941 provide service from downtown (and points farther) pretty much to the front doors of the several hospitals (including, in some cases the Swedish campus at 15th/Jefferson). Service on the 2, 3/4, and 12 won’t be reduced after the streetcar comes into service because they serve so much more than the hospitals. Or, would it? The front-door service of th 64, 211, 303 and 941, surely would be cut. An improvement? I’m not a peak-time commuter to the hospitals, but it would be good to know what they think.

      6. I can see why you’re confused, but the Cherry Hill Swedish is not where the important stuff happens. Nor is the Cherry Hill Swedish the “Swedish Campus”. If you had ever seen the operating room suite, you would understand the core of this difference.

        It’s also plain you’ve never been to Bus Hell after getting off a day shift at VM, or trying to get there in time to start in the morning.

      7. Uh, seriously? 500-2000 riders on a bus versus 3500 on a streetcar seems pretty conclusive to me. Cost per rider is lower on the streetcar (and that’s without interlining with Central Streetcar later).

      8. Sorry I questioned you. I was just using an example of the 3/4 from Link/Pioneer Stn to the biggest Hospital. 6 minutes v. about 15 on the streetcar.
        The study you pointed out to me shows Trolley riderhip at 2000 v. 3000-3500 for an idendical streetcar route (Table 2). But you fail to mention the streetcar runs 4 more daily hours in the comparision, so I’m not sure if the cost/rider numbers are equally skewed. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, as I was supporting another inquiring mind. That’s all!

      9. No, Mike, sorry I’m being cranky.

        The cost/rider data says 3.5m versus 5m, so the hours aren’t a factor (that’s total per year).

      10. The operational costs for the streetcar are pegged at $5M and at $3.5 with comparable bus service (2005 dollars). Cost per rider is less with the streetcar. All things being equal you’d be spending $6M a year on buses to generate the same number of trips. Is it worth the extra cost of servicing an additional $100M in debt? Maybe.

      11. That’s one particular year of trips with one set of other investments. With Central Streetcar, ridership on the First Hill Streetcar would also increase, making that differential larger.

        In addition, as we keep pointing out, streetcar costs don’t increase as fast as bus costs, and streetcar ridership climbs higher than bus ridership. So your $6m/year is just for *one year*. You’ve got to pay attention to rate of change – the fact that you don’t is the big reason you’re always at odds with agencies’ choices.

      12. And supposing at least a 20 year lifespan on the initial vehicle purchase, you end up saving millions just in basic costs.

      13. The report breaks out vehicle costs. 17.6-20.3 for streetcars vs 5.6-6.4 million for buses. So at 20 years for a streetcar. That works out to just a shade under $1M per year for a 20 year lifecycle with a streetcar and only half that on a 12 year lifecycle for a bus. Best case on a per rider basis it’s a wash.

      14. So your $6m/year is just for *one year*. You’ve got to pay attention to rate of change –

        But if the comparison is with an electric trolley bus then future oil prices won’t be a factor. While the costs were put in 2005 dollars the ridership projections were already for 2030 so the increased ridership for a streetcar vs bus is already built in for the next two decades.

      15. Streetcars don’t last only 20 years – they can last 50+. Remember, some NYC subway cars were recently retired at 70 years.

        Increased ridership for streetcar vs bus in the estimates doesn’t account for new construction in the corridor.

      16. Read the footnote, Ben. The 500 new riders for the madison improvements (which is the only east west route considered and it is a poor one at that) is the marginal increase in ridership. The total ridership on that route would be 4,000, better than the streetcar.

        We have little evidence as to how much of the streetcar’s ridership would be cannibalizing existing bus routes and we have no way of knowing what portion of those streetcar riders are actually the target audience (first hill commuters).

  8. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with “pegged” operational costs. Diesel and electricity prices are unlikely to remain comparable, and there are maintenance efficiencies to building a streetcar network.

    1. I’m trying to find data on this from Sound Transit. Tacoma Link, for instance, hasn’t climbed in cost like ST Express has.

      1. That would be the same Tacoma Link route that immediately carried something like 5X as many passengers as a free bus circulator that ran the exact same route. And still does.

      2. It’s pretty hard to compare cost for Tacoma Link with ST Express. The operations budget for Tacoma Link has been virtually flat; $3,781,000 in 2004 and $3,816,000 in 2008. The budget for ST Express grew from $60 million in 2004 to $80,269,000 in 2008 (33% increase). But ridership was up from 26,000/day to 36,000/day (38%) due in large part to added service. Of more interest would be cost comparisons of service hours and passenger miles but I haven’t found either of those pieces of information. ST lists the cost of bus service at $1.12 per mile. The target for Link is 15 cents per passenger mile but that can’t apply to Tacoma Link or it would have delivered 25 million passenger miles with ridership of about a million a year on a line that’s just over a mile long.

        Number one cost for Tacoma Link of course was Saleries. $1.4M in 2008. Other big ticket items were, administration $569k (seems sort of top heavy), security forces $478k, Materials & Supplies $204k, Insurance $334k. Note, the budget totals ST gives includes contingency funds which was $181k for Tacoma Link. It doesn’t say what if any of those funds were used? Utilities, which I assume is the money paid to Tacoma City Light to run the trains is only $139k! Depreciation and amortization is a whooping $2,882,000. That’s roughly the cost of the system ($80M) spread over 30 years. Obviously the value of the ROW and much of the infrastructure will be worth substantially more than $0 in thirty years but costs of replacing worn out pieces will be a lot more than $80M so I’ll leave that to the accounting wonks.

      3. Actually, it’s very easy to compare cost. Bernie, operating cost per hour is broken out in Sound Transit budgets. Tacoma Link’s operating cost per hour has stayed flat, ST Express’ has climbed (with the exception of this year over the spike last year).

      4. The 2008 budget has lots of information like service hours in addition to the dollars spent. The 2007-2008 ridership report has lots of information including cost per boarding, revenue hours, etc. for both the Tacoma Link and ST Express service. What’s missing is hours and revenue miles for 2004. ST Express has expanded dramatically while Tacoma Link is the same (small shift in hours from weekend realocated to weekdays). The only metric I could find to compare 2004-2008 shows ST Express had a 38% increase in ridership with a 33% increase in cost. Tacoma Link had a 24% increase in ridership with only a 1% increase in cost. Those numbers don’t reflect the fact that ST Express had to increase service while up front capital costs have built in huge excess (wasted) capcity on Tacoma Link. Each trip today only averages 15 riders and has a capacity of 157.

        Tacoma Link has a cost per passenger mile of $2.60, ST Express is 28 cents and Sounder is 17 cents. The mile that Tacoma Link covers ferries people from downtown to free parking built at a cost to ST of $10k per stall. ST Express and Sounder ridership are sensitive to the cost of gas but Tacoma Link is free.

        If you take the cost of boarding times two (one trip each way) it works out to the same price as paying for downtown parking (~$7 / day). Ah, but there’s excess capacity and ridership is growing. Except ridership has plateaued and even standing room only with every car full the entire day cost per passenger mile still only drops to 25 cents. Actually not even that good since all of the costs would go up; the electricity is less than 4% of operational cost.

      5. This has got to be one of the “apples, oranges, and kumquats” explanations of all time. Apparently Bernie is comparing a very short rail line, a much longer rail line, and a bus.

        But wait, there’s more! The bus, as we all know, runs on roads that are free (apparently God put them there in an absent-minded moment). The longer rail line runs on leased rails. And the shorter rail line runs on rails and land it owns. This is starting to take on the aspects of some study in medieval land tenure, where everyone owns land in some form of tenantcy, leasehold, or feu.

        Ah, not to worry, though- just parse finely, cook for a while, and voila!, a head-to-head comparison of cost-per-passenger-mile! Throw the externalities in the hog trough, and serve with a goodly-sized salt cellar and the beverage of your choice. As with most things, if you drink enough, it will start to look pretty good.

      6. Please read my first response to Ben. I said:

        It’s pretty hard to compare cost for Tacoma Link with ST Express.

        Saying that costs have remained flat for Tacoma Link while escalating for ST Express is meaningless without “externalities”. Tacoma Link is an even more sorry excuse for making the case for streetcars than SLU.

  9. In regards to Boren Avenue.. I e-mailed United Streetcar’s Joycelyn Chavez regarding how steep the Streetcars can climb. I understand Boren is 8.3% or so? Does anyone know for sure?

    She states that their 10T’s are good for a maximum grade of 9%

  10. the discussion has continued.

    note that routes 7, 14, and 36 carry more than 8K transit riders per day on South Jackson Street. the key feasibiity issue will running a streetcar and the trolleybuses on the same corridor with the key intersections involved. the AWV scenarios included innovative concepts for First Hill service: routes 3 and 4 revised to use the new Yesler Way overhead, so they would serve the front door of Harborview and Yesler Terrace in addition to their current markets; and, a revised Route 49 extended to Pioneer Square via the new Yesler Way wire; it would serve the U District, north Capitol Hill, Broadway Link, SCCC, Swedish, Harborview, Yesler Terrace, and Sounder. the key advantages of the trolleybus: hill climbing, tighter headway, and directness of travel. The ST2 First Hill streetcar is planned with rather long headways and an indirect path to go through the topographical saddlepoint. shoud feasibility issues arise, the ST2 funds could be redeployed to great advantage. also note that the next fleet of trolleybus will probably have the attributes of the Vancouver fleet: low floor and off wire capability.

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