This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Human Transit makes an interesting argument in regards to trolley buses:

Trolleybuses attract a particular kind of polarized NIMBYism: Replace them with regular buses, and neighbors scream becuase of the noise. Extend them, however, and different neighbors scream because you’re hanging wires on their street. So trolleybus lines have a tendency to not change or grow. They can become museum-pieces of network design — historic but not always making much sense for the city as it is today.

Essentially, it’s a case of status quo bias. Neighborhoods who have no trolley wire and noisy buses prefer it that way, while neighborhoods with trolley wire and quiet buses prefer it that way.

It’s a good point, but it’s also worth pointing out that Metro has successfully added overhead wire in recent history. While many of the wires were removed in the 1960s, several lines have been restored since then.

Image above of the Rapid Trolley Network, studied by Metro but never implemented.

6 Replies to “Trolley Expansion”

  1. A hopeful piece of that story is that one obstacle to extending the trolley buses according to Fikse is “the Mayor’s fondness for expensive streetcars.” Of course we now have a new mayor that isn’t nearly as fond of streetcars.

  2. I simply don’t buy this bit about “people hate the overhead wire”. I’m sure you can always find someone to hate the wire, but that’s a far cry from actually establishing that everybody hates the wire.

    In the 60s Seattle decided the wires should be put underground (not the bus wires, silly, the electricity to houses). This was going to be great, so scenic, and low-maintenance too. I lived on Westlake N when they undergrounded the wiring. Guess what- the wire wasn’t the ugly part! Then, for the next four or five years, every time it rained heavily, the underground vaults kicked out.

    And it turned out almost nobody in Seattle wanted to join an LID and pay to have the wires undergrounded in their neighborhood. So most of Seattle already has a fairly generous amount of wire spiderwebbed through it. I don’t think most people would notice if you added overhead wire for buses, and, guess what?, even today it still wouldn’t be the ugly part of the cityscape.

    It also might help if it were explained more often that “this is how we keep the buses rolling even when oil prices triple” and “studies have proven that the diesel exhaust is way worse for your health than we thought”. Both of which happen to be true.

  3. There actually are a lot of people who think that overhead wires are necessarily extremely ugly. There was something on the STB a while back that showed an editorial cartoon from the nineties that portrayed Link on MLK as having a thick mesh of overhead wires. In DC there is a law that there can’t be any trolleywires in the historic city, and although many want to get rid of that to allow for streetcars, there is a lot of opposition to allowing wires. It’s a completely irrational dislike for the most part, but a lot of people have it.

  4. Well, that’s what I’m pointing out- an editorial cartoon (let me guess, from the anti-transit Times?) is not a “lot of people”, thank heavens. And Washington DC also limits building heights to three stories in most of the city- does that mean that lots of people want to limit building heights to three stories and we should too? No, it means DC is a historical city and the national capital, with some different rules to reflect those facts.

    Most of the people in Seattle have chosen not to remove the wire from their view, and the day it becomes cheaper to hang wire than buy diesel fuel, they’re going to want to know why that wire wasn’t hung yesterday.

  5. Oran Viriyincy does the research on this stuff, and here’s what he has to say about the failed 1983 effort to expand the network:

    “Routes 11 and 27 were dropped from the final EIS due to strong opposition from neighborhood groups concerned with ‘visual pollution’.”

    Enough people don’t like the wire that Bombardier is developing catenary-free trams.

    Many people don’t like the wire. Sorry, but it’s true.

    That said, I absolutely agree that once diesel becomes expensive, they’re going to complain that the government didn’t have a plan in place. It’s as American as apple pie: ignore the problem until it becomes a crisis, and then throw money at it and pray that you can go back to doing exactly what you were doing before.

  6. The question I would have, concerning the real information, is, what are the factors that would lead these neighborhoods to reject the overhead wiring?

    I could easily see that a neighborhood that otherwise had underground wiring would not be interested in adding overhead. I can easily imagine a tightly-wound neighborhood rejecting almost everything. I notice that one of these routes runs to Madison Park and the other has running on Lake Washington Blvd. These are both areas I can imagine (although I haven’t been there recently) to have significant underground wiring and concerns about views.

    Although, quite honestly, I would not give Madison Park a free pass on this one. Because they don’t want to look at overhead, people living along Madison from 23rd to 30th have to listen to and breathe diesel buses struggling up the hill? Something wrong with that idea.

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