[UPDATE: Cost estimate corrected.]

STB takes a strongly pro-streetcar stance, but personally I’ve never been all that excited about them. They have a lot of the same problems as buses, are more expensive, and I’ve preferred to invest my enthusiasm in truly rapid transit.

However, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that every mode has its place, and the place for streetcars is short-haul, high-volume trips where the speed doesn’t matter that much and the capacity does. Some advance material from the Seattle Transit Master Plan advisory process has convinced me that the Seattle Streetcar Network deserves a lot more support than it’s getting. More after the jump.

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The map above shows existing population and job density in Seattle. Dark green, dark brown, and dark red areas are the densest ones. The proposed network blankets the contiguous areas of the highest density, leaving only isolated islands at Lake City, West Seattle, and future Link station areas.

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This chart shows expected population growth through 2030, in absolute rather than relative terms. Darkest green is biggest growth. The employment growth map is similar.

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This map has dark brown lines where the urban village transit network (buses) is at 110% of capacity or greater, as of 2007.

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Lastly, this chart uses the Seattle Travel Demand Model* to estimate total trips between each neighborhood on the map. The map shows the top 100 source-destination pairs of all non-work trips, any mode.

The reaction of someone dug in against streetcars is going to be to cast doubt on the data, and if you’re convinced the fix is in I’m not going to turn you in this space. Similarly, none of this is convincing if one just doesn’t want to spend money on transit or thinks buses are super-awesome. But if like me you’re been sort of lukewarm about streetcars, what stands out is that the network would serve the areas that are densest, growing fastest, and with huge short-haul flows, yet close enough together that the speed advantages of true light rail would be minor.

Moreover, a streetcar is pretty easy to brand separately from the bus. Metro may have success with RapidRide, but to date its higher quality service has been hopelessly buried in an incomprehensible mess of peak-only and low-frequency routes. Even if there’s more success in separating bus brands, that’ll be great for people who are at least sort of paying attention, but for the vast majority of people who aren’t, it’s likely that rail will always equal “frequent and easy”, while buses won’t.

Finishing the network at the top of this post has midpoint cost estimate of $545m 345m. While big, it has the virtue of not sucking all of the oxygen out of the rest of the next transportation package. Full scale light rail from West Seattle to Ballard is not coming on the city’s dime, but building this out would serve most of the neighborhoods the Mayor mentioned as a candidate. How desirable of a ride it would be for longer trips is a function of how willing you are to spend money and deny access to cars to secure its own right of way.

* I’ve been briefed on this model, but even if I could explain it adequately it’s way too complicated to get into here. From what I understand, it’s a variant on a PSRC travel demand model, partially validated against real data, and works best the less granular the predictions are. It’s not perfect but I’m more inclined to trust it than whatever anecdote you’d like to share.

144 Replies to “Streetcars and the Transit Master Plan”

  1. The most important factors of course aren’t whether your vehicle is a bus or a streetcar, it’s speed and capacity. Speed for short trips doesn’t mean maximum speed, it’s mostly how quickly you can load and unload (a function of size and number of doors and whether there are low floors) and whether you have path separation. Streetcars almost always have the advantage on doorsc floor height, and capacity and therefore win for city use. That said, there are some electric trolley bus designs that come close, and I could be convinced either way.

    But either way let’s not forget about path separation. Transit will always be slower than cars if we make them wait in traffic.

    1. One cannot overstate the importance of frequency for these high-capacity, short-to-medium-haul trips. For journeys of a mile or two, 15 minutes just won’t cut it. Even 10 minutes isn’t all that helpful, barely cutting your trip in half (versus walking) at the average wait time.

      Portland’s streetcar (15-minute headways) is kind of a joke, unless you’re headed pretty much to its northwest or southeast extremes, or unless it happens to come while you were already walking along its route.

      Ditto for the SLU route — Brian Campbell below must have some pretty flexible lunch hours. And that the First Hill route could ever be considered to mitigate the deleted Link station is depressing, adding as it does an up-to-15-minute transfer penalty (before even taking into account its street-running and route flaws).

      1. Re: lunch. Next Bus works brilliantly for the streetcar. You can see real-time vehicle locations on the streetcar website. Makes lunch trips and whatnot a breeze.

      2. It’s not a matter of knowing when the streetcar is arriving. It’s a matter of not having to wait fifteen freaking minutes.

        I think this town is allergic to headways.

      3. Totally have to agree here. I can walk that street car trip much faster than wait the avg 7.5 minutes for the car, then ride and stop until I get where I want to. First walking allows me the diagonal path. Second, I don’t wait for crosswalk lights on un-occupied streets.

        The old waterfront street car was “fun” as in an amusement ride, and thus I didn’t mind the wait, same as when I’m at a theme park. And it attracted tourist dollars. The SLU is a total waste of money and the tracks are a menace to bicyclists.

      4. You’re right [d.p.]. I should have listed frequency first. Of course there’s no inherent difference between buses and streetcars with regard to frequency. But double the speed, and you double the frequency (and capacity!) without adding any cost.

      5. Matt: While those streetcars in northern and eastern Europe get most of their usage from last-mile journey, the individual routes tend to be quite long (they just pass many destinations and transfer points along the way). Headways, reliability, and capacity are thus maintained not by frequent turn-backs, but by having a whole lot of vehicles out there on the routes at once.

        Good luck getting that on any half-way American streetcar project.

        Gary: Right on the SLU streetcar’s relative efficacy. Wrong on bicyclists. (Amsterdam. Q.E.D.)

        Jason: To restate what Kyle said, but slightly more diplomatically, bus-trackers might be great for timing the start of your lunch hour, but thanks to the long headway, you’d be hard-pressed to get back in precisely 60 minutes if your lunch “hour” had to be taken literally. OneBusAway has been amazing for starting my journeys off right, but it can’t fix the nightmare transfers along the way.

      6. Well the Central Streetcar is supposed to be 6 minute headways on First, 12 on Jackson. Ballard 10 minutes all day, 15 at night. First Hill, 12 minutes; and Eastlake, 10 minutes.

      7. Guys, You aren’t even barking up the wrong tree, you ain’t in the right forest.

        I was only explaining that if you use NextBus it doesn’t exactly require a life of leisure (as d.p. implied) to grab lunch using the streetcar. Yes, certainly far easier if you’re rocking a white collar gig that doesn’t care when you take your lunch or if you’re back in the office in 63 minutes instead of 60. Doable for many.

        But I didn’t, haven’t, and would never argue against more frequent SLUS service.

      8. I stand by my statement that >10 is unacceptable, especially since “at night” in Seattle starts at 6:00, rather than the 9:00 or even 10:30 it means in many places. And even 10 isn’t good enough for those truly high-volume and <2-mile segments.

        12 minutes for 1st Hill? Daytime too? That's an embarrassment; if you're really crunched for time, you'd be better off walking from Capitol Hill Station.

        But at least they're offering 6-minute headways on the one line that will be a pointless traffic clusterdoodle.

      9. On the Portland Streetcar I can testify that it needs shorter headways. I actually waited for a streetcar, saw that it was PACKED, started walking, and still beat it to the next stop on foot.

        PS need about 5 minute headways, if they can do that then it will become a viable thing. For now, however, it isn’t worth it.

      10. The SLU street car tracks are a bicycling menace because they are on the right side of the street. A passing car will force a bicycle rider to move right into those tracks, the opening is large enough to grab the wheel and toss the rider. We’ve already seen a number of bad accidents here.

        Amsterdam doesn’t do it this way. You can watch the videos but in general bicyclists don’t ride parallel to the tracks except on their own cycle tracks.

      11. All these routes are inner-city areas that should have 5-minute frequency. But we can’t get to utopia in a single step. 10-15 minutes is OK initially as long as it’s expandable and the city has a plan for expanding it.

      12. Europe is full of streetcars and bicyclists, and there is no prevailing alignment. (I pithily spotlighted Amsterdam for its widespread bicycling culture. Also, people have complained that the tracks are dangerous to cross as well, which has nothing to do with alignment and is just silly.)

        We only have one line at present, so there are a plethora of parallel routes for those who don’t feel capable of holding their ground (between the rails) when cars try to shove them aside. Where a route lacks a reasonable alternative (Westlake, Eastlake), there might be merit to demand a center alignment.

  2. I’m fortunate to live and work near the end of the current South Lake Union line, and I’ve noticed that both myself and my coworkers make a lot more trips downtown than we used to. Not that I have anything against the bus, but catching one of the 70’s to go downtown just doesn’t deliver the same panache that the streetcars do. Put it this way, whereas formerly we’d pretty much never go downtown for lunch, now it’s probably at least a once a week outing.

    Anyhow, I’m all for more streetcars, and I’d like them installed yesterday if at all possible.

    1. Why should taxpayers pay for “panache”, and so that a few workers go downtown for lunch more often? There are restaurants right by Lake Union, and between Lake Union and downtown. Why would taxpayers care if you eat lunch by Lake Union or downtown?

      1. Certainly those businesses downtown like to have more people coming through…

        As far as the panache thing, if it takes the streetcar to get people to use transit and park their cars, it is worth it.

        Near as I can tell, in the real world those same people that want transit options are in fact taxpayers…

      2. And the businesses on Lake Union like less people coming through, because those people are going downtown, instead?

        How is it worth $50 million per mile for panache?

        In the real world, taxpayers want roads that aren’t crumbling, good schools, enough police, etc. I believe most taxpayers feel that pretty much everything tax dollars are spent on is more important than “panache.”

      3. If it were a matter of choosing between panache and good schools, sure I’d go for schools. However, our tax dollars go to a huge range of things. For example if it came down to a vote I might choose streetcars over expensive road projects, just as area voters chose to defeat Roads and Transit but pass ST2 alone just a year later (though I think Roads and Transit actually got a majority in Seattle proper).

      4. Norman,

        Love how you always speak up on behalf of taxpayers as if no one who supports rail pays taxes, and as if taxpayers in this city don’t continually vote to pay for more rail and don’t continually elect politicians who support rail.

        I’m afraid you’re painfully out of touch with the values of Seattle taxpayers. Who cares what you “believe” we want—you’re dead wrong: the way we vote plainly shows that when it comes to transportation issues we have far more in common with Brian Campbell and the larger STB community than we do with you. Put another way and to answer your question: taxpayers should pay for rail because we’ve said time and again that we want to pay for rail (and its attendant panache). That simple.

        Also: The businesses along the route footed half the bill for the SLUS. We taxpayers were only on the hook for a little more than $25 million, not the $50 million you keep erroneously mentioning.

  3. Does the “Urban Village Transit” map include express service? In other words, does the brown line in Eastlake indicate lots of people taking the 7xX busses between DT and UW or is it just local? This matters because Link will handle all that express traffic in a few years, but it won’t handle local.

    That map also suggests more ETB service is warranted on First Hill. We’ll never be able to put streetcars there because of the steep grades.

    I wonder how much the Central streetcar would do to help Lower Queen Anne. If it’s on 1st its walkshed is a bit different to the 1-4 on 3rd Ave.

  4. I live in north Ballard and find the local 17 and 18 routes to downtown interminably long and drawn out. (Though I have to say that the four stop recently cancelled on 24th Avenue NW are a big help in moving along the 18.) There is currently minimal public transportation between Ballard and Fremont. I think the Ballard line thus has a valid raison d’etre in its own right. Can’t wait!

    1. Yes, I think the Ballard line has much better justification as way to go Ballard-Fremont, or Fremont-SLU, then from Ballard to downtown.

      Unless you give it fully dedicated ROW.

      1. Still, as you say, the streetcar proposal would “serve most of the neighborhoods the Mayor mentioned as a candidate.” The proposal also hilariously claims a 16-minute travel time from Ballard to Westlake.

        I think my fear that these places will never see real rapid transit — once “served” by the streetcar — is legitimate.

      2. I think your fear that there will never be real rapid transit there — if “never” means “in the next 40 years” — is justified whether or not a streetcar is built.

        However, if this thing is built and you join us in the fight to dedicate some ROW for it, perhaps we can get an option that really is “rapid”.

      3. We don’t want a dedicated streetcar to Fremont. We want high-capacity transit connection to the region’s network.

        The perfect may be the enemy of the good, but just because something can be built doesn’t mean it should.

      4. I can’t imagine the Westlake or Leary segments getting build without dedicated ROW. Jackson could be a fight, but the space exists. I’m not sure how likely success would be on Eastlake. The 1st Ave Streetcar, centerpiece of the map, is doomed to be traffic-bound.

        But I’m most worried about streetlight bottlenecks — each route has its share — and drawbridges. Major intersections are the most likely to have long, meticulously programmed and transit-hostile cycles; will SDOT really allow any signal priority? The maritime crossings, meanwhile, are completely out of the control of transit planners.

        I don’t know if that 16-minute Ballard-to-Westlake “estimate” is false advertising or just wishful thinking. I’m inclined to think the latter, since the route planners obviously have yet to do their due diligence. (For example, they suggest routing the streetcar under the Ballard bridge on NW 46th St, which they claim is 1 block south of Leary when it is actually 2 blocks. But their map indeed shows it 1 block south of Leary, on Ballard Way, and crashing into the bridge approach.)

        But I think we could get dedicated ROW, some signal priority, put the stops too far apart, and still never get under 20 minutes. RapidRide, meanwhile, is looking like 25-30 most of the day. And neither has sufficient frequency. If that’s all this city’s going to get in the next 40 years, what is there even to fight for?

      5. Fully dedicated ROW -> new bridge or tunnel, right?

        That’s not a streetcar project any more. I’d rather build the best streetcar we can now, and then throw money at a DT-QA-Ballard subway/LR line in 20 years.

      6. I question [d.p.]’s assumption that maritime crossings are that large of a scheduling issue, at least in the short term. Currently if you’re on a sailboat and you sound a horn for a bridge to open, the operator opens it when s/he’s good and ready. I doubt it’s usually more than a 5 minute cycle to open and close a drawbridge, and if we can provide the operators with real-time location data of streetcars they should be able to prioritize this for the streetcars. Yes, it’ll slow them down occasionally – especially in the future when we have higher frequency – but boats don’t come often enough for this to matter that much.

      7. Two more points (1) Seattle’s bridges don’t open at peak times, when you have the shortest headways and (2) I know the Montlake bridge has scheduled openings on the half-hour at certain times of day in lieu of opening on request. I wonder if it’s possible to negotiate that with the Feds for the Fremont and Ballard bridges?

      8. Bruce: The two bridges near UW are restricted in their openings during peak times. The Ballard and Fremont bridges categorically are not. I’ve sat on buses for 20 minutes just trying to merge after a rush-hour bridge opening. (Speaking of which, RapidRide has no plan to give the Ballard line merger priority in such situations, as far as I know.)

        Matt: I’ve always been under the impression that commercial maritime flow trumps all else under U.S. law. That’s why railway bridges over waterways big and small default to the “up” position — despite the obvious danger, and even on the ACELA corridor. My best guess is that Puget Sound-to-Lake Union waterway is categorized as commercial and is thus ineligible for the rush-hour restrictions that the Montlake Cut has.

        Either way, I’ve never seen the Fremont or Ballard bridge operators make a boat wait. Horn honks; lights turn red. Even if the operator can clearly see buses approaching. Why do you foresee this changing?

      9. I can’t quite figure out what you’re talking about when you say you’d have to take the entire Avenue. Here’s what I’m proposing:

        Take all the parking on 1st from Denny to Yestler in both directions. Leave the lane lines as they are, but lay tracks in the curb lanes. Those lanes will be for streetcars only, plus the 10/12 where they swing through downtown. All the other bus service will be routed down 3rd (as Metro is doing this Feb.) The streetcar will have signal priority similar to the SLUT plus “No right turn” signs that turn on when it approaches an intersection. Do something similar with the couplet on QA/1st Ave W between Mercer and Denny. I don’t know enough about the rest of the proposed route to make concrete suggestions.

        I think this streetcar would provide local service in DT, Belltown and LQA much better than the existing ETB routes, which could then be reorganized to serve First Hill and the CD better.

        It would, however, upset a LOT of downtown businesses and drive the “OMG there’s a war on cars” people crazy. It would be necessary to prove the streetcar concept elsewhere before attempting it here.

        Try riding a 15/18 between 10 PM and 1 AM any Friday or Saturday night, and then come tell me how great an idea that streetcar is!

        I have done so on a number of occasions; moreover I live and work on 1st. I think this streetcar would be a grand idea. Again, you’ll have to explain what you’re talking about.

      10. [d.p.] Looks like trains are allowed priority when they’re close to the bridge.

        Ah, and specifically for the Ballard Bridge: “The draws need not be opened for a period of up to 10 minutes after receiving an opening request, if needed to pass accumulated vehicular traffic. However, the draws shall open without delay, when requested by vessels engaged in towing operations.”

        “The draws need not open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, except all Federal holidays but Columbus Day for any vessel of less than 1000 tons, unless the vessel has in tow a vessel of 1000 gross tons or over.”

        Same or similar for the other bridges.

      11. Interesting! Though I’ve certainly never seen the bridge operator use that 10-minute discretion. But hopefully you’re right that with a streetcar that could change.

        Also, there seems to be no shortage of vessels over 1000 tons demanding passage during rush hour.

        As for the “block method” note: That seems to be a functional explanation of how train-signalling works, rather than a formal statement of priority. Along our coasts, the default position for drawbridges, when no train has signaled its proximity, is up. Which has always seemed dangerous to me.

      12. Oh, and I believe the rail bridges default to “up” because they’re unmanned. It’s easy to put a sensor on the tracks and have them come down when a train is close, then up when a train leaves. Boats then just have to watch out for the signal that a train is coming.

      13. Bruce, the problems are worse in Belltown than through the CBD. Still, I’m not sure how you can ever have taken the 15/18 and not know what I’m talking about.

        The bus always needs 2 free lanes to pull out of stops (especially southbound). If anyone is waiting to turn left, the bus is blocked. If anyone is waiting to turn right, and there is any oncoming traffic, the bus is blocked. The lanes are too thin for our current vehicles, never mind for streetcar segregation.

        And then there are the weekend bar-hoppers, with their taxis and limos and double-parking and line-ups into private lots blocking the northbound direction in its entirety. An outbound bus can take 10 minutes just crawling from Stewart to Bell!

        I see that you would remove all parking from First, end-to-end. Even if that were to happen (it won’t in a million years), it would put a premium on off-street lots, thereby discouraging what would actually be desirable infill development. And make no mistake: those lot entrances will block the streetcar, any way you slice it.

      14. Perhaps I don’t party hard enough and late enough, but no, I’ve never experienced that on the 15.

        It doesn’t really matter though. AFAICT you have exactly one good point, namely that businesses on 1st Ave would s— a brick. As I said, the streetcar concept would have to prove itself in other places in the city before it could be seriously mooted downtown. On all the useful alignments, you’re going to lose basically the same amount of parking overall, it’s just a question of which street(s) you lose it on.

        You talk about (alleged) difficulties of busses pulling out of stops. A streetcar in a dedicated lane does not suffer from this problem. Idiots parking across tracks are a problem for any streetcar system anywhere. Towing companies will, I’m sure, be just as happy to tow Range Rovers from Belltown as any other car from anywhere else.

        Your parking argument is specious, too. It only holds any water if the streetcar raises private lot rates without improving their value for other purposes. We should expect the streetcar to raise property values in general due to the utility it provides the nearby businesses and residents. We should have data in hand to back this up when we propose it. And if it’s not the case, we’re doing something wrong.

      15. 1. Yes, buses have a hard time pulling out of stops everywhere. My point in describing the need to wait for 2 empty lanes on 1st was to illustrate that the lanes are thinner than most.

        2. Without removing all parking, you literally have no argument. Even if parking disappears, there are only two lanes in each direction once streetcar’s ROW is calculated, and there will be calls for the streetcar to run in mixed traffic. If parking remains, there will literally only be one travel lane in each direction wide enough for streetcar usage.

        3. Belltown’s (many) off-street lots will not disappear overnight. As long as it remains a locus of nightlife, your removal of street parking will make off-street lots that much more profitable. The off-street lots will block your preferred curbside streetcar ROW.

        4. I never said people would park on the tracks, and I never intentionally avoided invoking the anti-transit “buses go around obstructions trope.” I’m not anti-rail. I’m just anti-stupid. And expecting the taxis and limos and drunken high-heeled drop-offs and private-lot line-ups and other “temporary” stoppages to disappear just because you’ve laid down rails is stupid.

        5. I hate repeating myself. “Try riding a 15/18 between 10 PM and 1 AM any Friday or Saturday night, and then come tell me how great an idea that streetcar is!” (First you claimed you had, now you’ve admitted you haven’t.)

      16. Still unconvinced by any of your arguments, d.p., but to repeat myself one last time, I have indeed ridden the 15 at the times you describe, I do not remember any particular problems in Belltown, and I think the streetcar there is a great idea (and you’ve yet to suggest a better alignment.)

        If idiots stopping on the tracks are a concern, put a brightly-painted 12″ barrier at the edge of the streetcar lane, with breaks for parking lot access. When the streetcar goes in, put plenty of parking cops and real cops out there to cite people who try anything clever. Most people aren’t that stupid. They’ll quickly learn to drive around the corner and do drop-offs there.

      17. But as I said in my last post (not quite as clearly as I would’ve liked)… even if parking is removed, the whole street will only support 2 “normal width” lanes in each direction (as it currently does during the tow-zone afternoon rush hour). You will see calls for mixed traffic usage. There’s pretty much no way you’re going to get the dedicated ROW on 1st that underpins your entire support of the route.

        My feeling is that any downtown-to-LQA streetcar is pretty pointless, even as a stopgap until a real subway is built. The city would be better off striking a deal with the Seattle Center Monorail to let monthly pass-holders use it for free and to give ORCA e-purse users a transfer discount (which wouldn’t cut into their tourist revenues in the slightest.)

        But if you’ve got to have a streetcar, 2nd and 4th are unidirectional and just bursting with excess capacity.

      18. I think a DT-BT-LQA streetcar would be extremely useful, both with and without a proper subway to LQA. If you look at the performance reports, Route 1 and the northern segments of 2,3,4 are some of the highest-performing in the system. Some of that traffic is to Upper Queen Anne but by no means all, and you can’t run articulated busses on routes 1-4 due to the tightness of the streets at the ends of those routes. The ETBs that run those routes are routinely standing room only.

        An ideal transit system (in my view) would have a subway from Westlake (and points south) to 1st & Mercer (then on to Ballard), a streetcar 1st & Mercer to downtown, and ETBs running as circulators from 1st & Mercer to the current endpoints of routes 1-4.

        The monorail is totally irrelevant to any of this.

      19. If you want to talk drawbridges, I’m your guy. First of all, railroad bridges aren’t unmanned. They’re crewed 24 hours a day by BNSF personnel. The default position isn’t necessarily up either. The Duwamish River rail bridge defaults to the up position, because when lowered it only clears the water by ten feet or so, but BNSF Bridge #4, the one outside the locks, usually gets left wherever happens to be convenient. BNSF bridge #37, a swing bridge on the Snohomish in Everett also usually gets left in it’s last position.

        Marine traffic has the right of way, however with the railroad we usually try and work together and do whatever makes the most sense, rather than just pull rank. As for the road bridges, in this area that’d be Montlake, University, Fremont, Ballard, Spokane St, 1st Ave South, and the currently indisposed Southpark Bridge, well marine traffic has priority over road traffic there too, with a few limited exceptions. The city has restrictions in place during rush hour, but they can’t just impose them on their own. They’ve got to be approved by the Coast Guard, which is about as difficult as it sounds.

        That said, I can take a boat of over 1000 gross tons through that bridge all day long if I so chose, and there’s really nothing anyone can say about it. I don’t even need a good reason, if I felt like it I could just go back and forth all day for laughs. In practice though we don’t do things like that because we’re working, not playing around.

        As for the time it takes to get those bridges opened and closed, that can vary quite a bit. If everyone’s on their game and I’ve got the tow moving at a good clip, it can be as little as five minutes. On the other hand I’ve had the Fremont Bridge open for closer to 40 minutes quite a few times.

        Here’s an interesting fact, Fremont being lower than any of the other bridges, is I believe the most frequently opened drawbridge in the nation. I think they average something upwards of 30 openings a day.
        Anyway, unless you want to either go underneath the ship canal or over it with about 150′ of clearance drawbridges are just going to be a fact of life one has to deal with.

      20. Actually, having gone for a nice rainy walk down 1st Ave, and looked at some of the suggested station layouts, I recant everything I said about wanting a dedicated ROW for a 1st Ave streetcar. I’d be happy to run it in traffic with signal priority. Most of the stops I’d make by taking a few parking spaces and building out from the curb. there’s a handful of blocks where this wouldn’t work, and there I’d take the parking, but they’re a minority.

        To be useful, a 1st Ave streetcar wouldn’t need to be significantly faster than average traffic, it would just need to maintain approximate headways and have a higher capacity than a bus.

        And that’s all I have to say about that.

      21. Well I happened to get off an 18 in Belltown this evening, and I noted that the vehicle is indeed as wide as the lane markings of a single southbound Belltown lane as it currently exists.

        The Škodas are wide than a Metro bus, right?

        If so, then you can’t have any parking whatsoever and still have two travel lanes. So say goodbye to either of your schemes.

      22. While Westlake between Mercer and Fremont has the ROW to give a streetcar exclusive lanes I’m not 100% sure it would be necessary given how traffic flows through this area. I think dedicated transit ROW would make a bigger difference on Leary. In either case it is an easy thing to do and won’t face much opposition.

        For Mercer to Fremont Dexter might be a better corridor, but has several disadvantages including narrower ROW, hills, and lots of bike traffic.

        As for downtown, it strikes me some sort of couplet on 1st & 2nd or 4th & 5th might be the best way to go. It would allow for a transit lane through some of the worst bottlenecks in Pioneer Square/Downtown/Belltown.

      23. I don’t see the drawbridge issue as a huge one for expanding the streetcar network. Its true that bridge openings delay traffic and transit, but it isn’t as if the bridges are opening constantly. Compared to all of the other delays for transit, bridge openings are fairly minor.

      24. “An extra 5.2″ to squeeze a Hummer by.”

        Interesting and surprising. I also wanted to say that I realized, belatedly, that if you removed all of the parking from just one side of the street, you would be left with four travel lanes of reasonable width.

        “Compared to all of the other delays for transit, bridge openings are fairly minor.”

        Chris, the Fremont Bridge is pretty quick, but goes up dozens of times a day, as noted. The higher Ballard Bridge goes up less often, but since it’s bascules are larger, it takes a lot longer. And being a major thoroughfare, it can take 10 minutes or more for traffic to flow properly again.

        So, admittedly, this is much more worrisome for RapidRide than for the streetcar. But in both cases, it’s all about how you handle transit priority immediately after the bridge has been up — it needs to be addressed somehow.

        “The monorail is totally irrelevant to any of this.”

        I disagree completely. The monorail runs an all-day, two-way service between essentially the same endpoints as the massively over-capacity ETB routes you wish the streetcar to supplant.

        The monorail is under capacity, yet as its distance never quite justifies an additional fare, it is useless to all but tourists and occasional special event riders. And it is 45 times faster than the proposed streetcar. Why shouldn’t there be a way, for a nominal fee, to give ORCA users (i.e. regular transit riders) access to it as a part of the transportation network? It would be infinitely cheaper than laying new tracks in traffic lanes.

      25. “I think my fear that these places will never see real rapid transit — once “served” by the streetcar — is legitimate.”

        Depends on how popular the streetcar is. If the streetcar to those places is PACKED, running every two minutes with long trains and still PACKED — then you may just get yourself a four-track subway. The only way NYC got four-track subways is because they already had two-track els which were packed; the only way they got those is that they already had streetcar lines which were packed….

      26. That was 107 years ago, Nathanael, and private investment.

        Our regional politics are such that you’ll inevitably hear, “but you’ve already got a fixed rail line, and we ‘need’ to ‘reach’ Bothell” or godknowswhere…

      27. You want newer examples? In London they’re four-tracking hundred-year-old viaducts, despite having to demolish historic buildings to do so, and they’re digging entire new railway tunnels — because of sheer overcrowding. Even in New York they’re finally building the Second Avenue Subway because they are physically unable to fit any more people on the Lexington Avenue Line.

        Do I suspect that you won’t manage to pack your streetcars to the point where they’re routinely violating the fire code for occupancy while running every two minutes? Why, yes, I suspect you won’t manage to do that, in which case I understand your desire to get something better right away. But I still contend that if a line really, really gets packed, you *will* get more built on that route.

        To put it in a sillier way, I doubt you could get 100% of the population of Ballard to use a streetcar four times a day, but if you do, success breeds its own rewards.

    2. The 1st Ave Streetcar, centerpiece of the map, is doomed to be traffic-bound.

      Not if you make a dedicated streetcar/bus lane and have good signal priority. It’s not going to be rapid transit but that’s not the point. If you want rapid transit in DT, you need to tunnel.

      Major intersections are the most likely to have long, meticulously programmed and transit-hostile cycles; will SDOT really allow any signal priority?

      This will be Seattle’s money, so the city has a very powerful incentive to make it work, unlike SLUT which was a local project that the city went along with because Vulcan was waving wads of money at them. Requiring signal priority could also be baked into the ballot measure.

      The maritime crossings, meanwhile, are completely out of the control of transit planners.

      The only way to fix that is with a tunnel and that’s just not in the cards inside of a decade.

      … since the route planners obviously have yet to do their due diligence.

      I agree the “Streetcar Feasibility Study” is pretty hand-wavey. That doesn’t alter the fact that Fremont-Ballard, Fremont/DT, U-Dist/Downtown, and QA/DT/Central are potentially excellent corridors for a high-capacity local service.

      If that’s all this city’s going to get in the next 40 years, what is there even to fight for?

      I do wish you’d lay off the melodrama. If you must have all these things right now, you need to move to another city. We can only build transit infrastructure so fast.

      1. Re: 1st Ave Streetcar: “Not if you make a dedicated streetcar/bus lane and have good signal priority.”

        The current lanes on 1st are so skinny that the buses don’t fit completely in them. 2 lanes need to be clear to pull out of bus stops, and cars turning right or left can block the bus at nearly any intersection. Sometimes they can’t proceed unless there are clear lanes in the opposing direction as well! During the afternoon rush, when southbound parking is illegal south of Virginia, the result is two normal lanes, not three.

        So dedicated ROW on 1st would literally mean “the entire street.” And signal priority, without dedicated ROW, would still guarantee a frequently blocked path.

        Try riding a 15/18 between 10 PM and 1 AM any Friday or Saturday night, and then come tell me how great an idea that streetcar is!

        “Requiring signal priority could also be baked into the ballot measure.”

        That would be fine and dandy if it could be guaranteed (which is not, of course, the track record our transit-oriented ballot measures have). But in recent memory, every time SDOT touches an intersection, things get worse for transit.

  5. 1. I used to think like you about streetcars, Martin, but what I observed firsthand in Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki changed my mind. What happens is that when a city gets serious about street rail, the fact that streetcars can’t get around obstacles becomes a mandate to clear the tracks, by law, technology and habit.

    2. Any regular passenger on both modes can also testify that a standing load aboard a streetcar is a lot more comfortable place to be than the same load on a trolleybus, no matter how technically advanced and skillfully driven.

    3. The late Seattle City Councilman George Benson was a friend of mine, and by present evidence, irreplaceable. No streetcar map of Seattle is going to be complete until the Waterfront line he left the city as his legacy is restored and incorporated into a modern system. And the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture garden will continue to be an ugly and unfitting presence on its site until George’s monument is restored as an integral part of it.

    Mark Dublin

    1. #3 sounds like pathos to me. Perhaps I just don’t get it because I’m a fresh transplant, but the Waterfront line is the last streetcar line I’d (re)build. We should focus on moving people, not building monuments.

      1. One thing it has is it’s cost. My understanding is that all it needs is a new barn. I’ve read somewhere that it even be possible to use the First Hill Streetcar’s barn.

      2. Granted it is rather cheaper than most of the other proposals but it needs more than just a new barn. It’s been paved over in numerous places south of Washington.

      3. There are two spots that got a load of asphalt dumped on the tracks. It’s minimal cost to jackhammer that cr*p out off the track.

        The thing is the waterfront street car did move people, tourists and locals. If the city had extended it toward Ballard or the International district it would easily justify the expense of the tracks.

      4. Oh yeah, it could share the barn, but the current in the wire is different than that of the proposed Capital Hill line. My understanding is that a converter is possible.

      5. Pathos: “quality that arouses pity or sorrow,” 1660s, from Gk. pathos “suffering, feeling, emotion,” lit. “what befalls one”-Online Etymology Dictionary

        I think you’re right, Bruce. If you had been here to see the Waterfront Streetcar Line built, and seen the number of people it carried, and how much they enjoyed having it, you’d react to the loss of it not with sorrow, but with fury.

        And if you’d known George Benson as an official and as a person, you would have appreciated the piece of working electric rail he left us, as a perfect monument to his public life, and as a valuable part of any streetcar system Seattle builds for its future. George was never looking for a statue.

        In technical matters like transit, emotions have to be tempered with knowledge and judgment. But in public life, if you can’t appreciate the human consequences of your decisions, then the pitiful results of your actions, and the suffering they cause, will be your well-deserved monument.

        Mark Dublin

      6. I wouldn’t call prioritizing an Eastlake or Fremont streetcar over the Benson line a “pitiful” result, and I’m afraid describing the loss of a streetcar (vs a free bus) as “suffering” demeans the word.

    2. The streetcar networks of Scandinavia and of numerous Eastern Bloc cities continue to work because of their combined extent and frequency, which permit a great deal of trip flexibility and an expectation of reliability that overcome the vehicles’ speed limitations and earn them a high mode-share. In the bigger cities, they tend to well-integrated with rapid transit systems, so they do very little long-hauling themselves.

      Extensive + frequent + well-integrated with completementary modes = worth the investment

      Extensive + infrequent + limited transfer potential = not worth the investment

    3. I concur Mark!

      The George Benson Waterfront Streetcar needs to be part of this map. I think George would not mind if it didn’t operate full time with the Melbourne cars at all, so toss that barrier to restoring service. Extend it through Interbay, and have it share a terminal in Ballard with the Westlake/Fremont line.

      The Waterfront line was well ridden, especially at rush hour and after Kingdome events when parking along the north waterfront was free and plentiful. Ridership would have been higher if the opportunity to double-track more of the line had been taken in the mid-1990’s when the line was upgraded to concrete-ties.

      The Melbourne W2’s can easily operate with step boxes on all the lines, and though they will not be ADA compliant (but there’s a way to do it, see the F-line in San Francisco) they’d be a fun “Sunday outing” just like the MEHVA excursions are today. Or sell the Melbourne cars to San Francisco who would gladly operate them on their future E-Line along Embarcadero to the Giants’ baseball stadium.

    4. While rebuilding the seawall and the waterfront, they’ll be entirely ripping up that whole street and redoing it, so how much extra would it cost to lay a track in each direction there? I know, it wouldn’t be a barn, but at least it would leave it open for the future when they can get money for a barn. I think it would be awesome to have a historic streetcar barn integrated into a Pacific Northwest Transportation Museum along the Waterfront.
      While I do think that the Waterfront Streetcar needs to be replaced, it’s ridiculous to say that the Olympic Sculpture Park is “ugly and unfitting.” It’s become a great attraction for tourists and a great amenity for that neighborhood.

  6. The Benson Streetcar carried 200,000 a year and that was 20 years before the waterfront redeveloped. It is a sin to see it rusting away under the excuse that we are waiting to finish the Viaduct. 4.1 million walk on at the WSF. ALmost a million transits between the two cruise ship piers. The summer alone would cover pay its own way IF IT WAS EXTENDED on Seattle Park and Port lands to Pier 91. The Cruise ships alone with crew, staff and tourists might bring 220,000 riders a year.

    How much would it cost to run the extra two miles on mostly flat land that we already own?

    The Olympic Sculpture Park initial design had TWO stops… one at each end of the park. Amgen pays big money to run a shuttle to its campus for lack of good transit. The Barn could be under the Magnolia bridge. Run it all the wayfrom Pier 91 to Pioneer Square. Sever it when Viaduct tunneling cuts it. Run it from the WSF North to 91. Reconnect once you can, then loop it to the ID, down to Edgar street and run it over to our billion dollars of infrastructure.

    We OWN the right of way. We spent 20 years to get it. We own the cars, now rusting in a warehouse. IF the city cannot figure this one out, they do not deserve to run streetcars. IF they don’t WANT to run it as a historic Green Tourist run, then allow it to be leased to a private firm, like we do with the monorail. I have heard it claimed that The Monorail is the only transit company in the USA that turns a profit. The Benson Trolley is ripe for this

    Amgen, the Port, and the cruise companies might all pitch in. I have written the city and county councils for the last three years… and all I hear is wait till after the viaduct.

    Pier 91 still has 7 more years of its ten year lease to cruise. Amgen might expand the hires at that campus if you can get to it without having to DRIVE. A green solution to reduce traffic on Elliott and the waterfront, and we OWN the infrastructure. Why has this NOT been done, and why is it NOT in this plan?

    1. Oh, and the barn was a TEMPORARY STRUCTURE for the entire duration of its previous life. One could build the same very simply around Pier 86, or under the Magnolia Bridge, or NORTH of the bridge in several exsisting structures.

      Once reconnected to Pioneer Square, how about housing in off airport way where metro keeps all the overhead trollys? Maybe they could share technicians, and barn space…. just a practical thought…

      1. Couldn’t we simply connect the old Waterfront tracks and the new First Hill tracks at 5th and Jackson? I mean, what are we talking about? 30 feet of track? Then the old streetcars could use the same barn as the new streetcars (at least temporarily).

        I agree though that to make the Waterfront front a truly viable system that it needs to be extended down to Pier 91 with stations at the Sculpture Park, Myrtle Edwards Park, Amgen and Pier 91. What an amazing streetcar line this would be.

    2. 200,000 riders per year on the waterfront streetcar is about 550 riders per day. What is the point?

      1. Norman,

        The point is those are from 20 years ago, before there was Bell Harbor, Before the Waterfront Marriott, before 5,000 livable units of condos and apartments within a 5 block walk of the line, before the cruise ship Piers with 223 sailings to Alaska every summer and 950,000 cruise transits (with more than half at Pier 91 and crews aboard those megaships of upwards of 800 – All of whom now cab or drive to get into town along Elliot and 15th vs. jumping a trolley).

        Oh, then there is Amgen with 600 plus working daily year round, and all the offices at south Elliott like Holland America, F5, and others… Plus tourism to the Sculpture Park, a major destination.

        Do you like having spent twenty years of taxes on litigation, and purchase of track, equipment and all that so it can be stored and NOT USED? The Benson Trolley was featured in many tourism videos, and was an attraction in itself, let along the clean, green service it provided.

        I strongly belive we could track to Pier 91 and build a car barn for far less than any other of the lines proposed, and maybe even pay it’s own way mostly with VISTOR Dollars rather than local dollars…

      2. Point is you must break a few eggs (spend a few dollars) to get an omelette (a decent streetcar line)

      3. Why are you giving 20-year-old figures? What is the most recent ridership on the waterfront streetcar? It was still operating only 5 years ago, or so, wasn’t it (until the sculpture park construction started).

        The point is that the waterfront streetcar was nothing more than a tourist ride.

      4. Lots of panache…it oozed panache. It would provide great panache/dollar if we brought it back!

      5. The reason for using 20 year old figures is the line was replaced with a bus. The Equipment makes a difference… just ask any bus based tour company if Ducks make a difference… or Double Deckers. A historic trolley draws differently than a bus.

        The Monorail currently claims to be the only transportation line making money… more than 46 million have ridden it, yet there are 12 metro lines than cover similar turf.

        Paint the “trolleybus” anything you want. It still is a bus, similar to many others along that same route. Even if free.

        And for the $$ spent to run a free service since dumping the line, they probably could have extended the tracks to Pier 91…

      6. “The point is that the waterfront streetcar was nothing more than a tourist ride.”

        And yet, you are wrong. Those of us who work/ed on or near the waterfront used it frequently.

        (I would have used it even more if it ran more frequently, and I hope that it will be brought back AND double-tracked.)

        Besides, though I don’t agree it was only a tourist ride, so what if it was? Soak some dollars out of those tourists! The streetcar was an attraction that drew people both to the waterfront, and a bit to Pioneer Square. No one goes down there to ride a shuttle bus, but tourists might make a point of going there to ride the picturesque historic trolley. (We didn’t have to tell them it had only been here for a couple of decades.) When they are down there getting on and off the trolley, they were actually going into shops for souvenirs and bites to eat. All of which is good for the city’s tax base.

      7. The last few full years the Waterfront Streetcar ran saw ridership between 400-500 thousand per year. I think ridership was 250,000 in it’s first year, before the tracks were extended to 5th and Jackson. I worked on the line and was responsible for tabulating and forwarding on the ridership numbers.

  7. As a resident of Lake City, the silence regarding transit, with our crush levels on buses and dense neighborhood getting ever more dense, is incomprehensible.

    At least West Seattle gets lip-service and promises of rapid-rides and maybe rail some day.

    Lake City doesn’t even get a hint of upgrades to hang our our slim hopes on.

    1. Once North Link opens you’ll have a two-seat fast ride to DT via Link, and presumably the Metro service hours currently used driving busses on the freeway will be reallocated to more local service for north Seattle east of I-5.

      We can’t build grade-separated rapid transit everywhere, but you’re getting the next-best thing.

      1. That will be degraded service from what we now. It takes as long to get northgate by bus as it does to get downtown.

        The 522 isn’t too bad, just crowded and sits in traffic.

      2. How and why is bus service to Northgate as slow as all the way downtown? You’ll almost certainly get more busses and more direct routing to Northgate?

        If you’re pining for one-seat rail ride to DT, you’re doing so in vain.

      3. Have you ever tried going East-West in Seattle?

        It just takes a long time. 17 minutes to Northgate, the schedule sites optimistically on the 41.

        18 minutes to 6th and Union.

        Just the way it is.

        I’m not looking for grade separation. Pop a spur from the Roosevelt Station up onto the middle of Lake City around 80th and run it at-grade all the way to Lake City. Maybe elevated for 10 blocks from 120th to 130th or so, then back to at-grade down the middle of the road all the way to Woodinville. Cheap, relative to what the rich part of the city gets, except the tunnel out of Roosevelt and the 10 blocks of elevated.

      4. Wait… what?

        You have all-day 18 minute service… now?

        Ballard’s uni-directional, rush-hour-only express buses rarely get under 20 minutes. The rest of the day we suffer 30-40 minute slogs. And your trip is twice as far!

        Considering that you clearly benefit from the limited-purpose Sound Transit highway network — which I pay into but never use — it might be time for you to stop whining now.

        When North Link opens, you will still have your highway service to downtown, and you will also have a more frequent 41 + Link to a handful of other destinations. Sadly, by Seattle standards, you will have substantially better options than most.

      5. “Pop a spur from the Roosevelt Station up onto the middle of Lake City around 80th and run it at-grade all the way to Lake City. Maybe elevated for 10 blocks from 120th to 130th or so, then back to at-grade down the middle of the road all the way to Woodinville.”

        I’d go for that. (Grew up on NE 110th.) I wish it would happen in my lifetime, but I am skeptical.

    2. Wait… what?

      You have all-day 18 minute service… now?

      Ballard’s uni-directional, rush-hour-only express buses rarely get under 20 minutes. The rest of the day we suffer 30-40 minute slogs. And your trip is twice as far!

      Considering that you clearly benefit from the limited-purpose Sound Transit highway network — which I pay into but never use — it might be time for you to stop whining now.

    3. I’m pretty sure they had something in ST2 about BRT going up Lake City Way from Roosevelt Station. That’ll be great, because then you’ll have a quick ride down to the light rail station, from which you’ll be able to get to Downtown, the U District, and Capitol Hill very frequently. Long-term, we should be looking at a light rail line up that way. I’m talking 40-year plan. But until then Lake City does deserve really good bus service, especially as it continues to densify.

  8. The streetcars are fine so long as they have more of a guaranteed pathway without hinderance by stoplights they can’t trigger to run in their favor.

    The SLU will really come into its own when the final stretch to the park where Mercer crosses it, is completed in 2013.

    As for the other lines, they seem fine to me – all modes have their place in Seattle and yes, it would be very nice to get the old waterfront line back.

  9. Stupid question–one of the issues with Metro is that everything is aimed at getting you in and out of downtown, mainly. What about setting up a dedicated streetcar, or even a rapid bus line (every 5-10 minutes during the day) that runs in ever widening loops? Loops like–these are ballpark routes, just for the idea–

    Circuit one:
    1st > Denny > 5th > Stadiums > 1st
    Call it the downtown/Belltown/SLU loop.

    Circuit two:
    1st > Denny > John > 15th > Swedish > Harborview > Stadiums > 1st
    Broadway/Hospital loop, the Hill, the Hospitals.

    Circuit three:
    Market/Ballard to downtown Fremont to Wallingford to the UW.

    That sort of thing–each covering the core of several high traffic neighborhoods, and stick them on very regular runs.

    If they have good enough ridership, use that test as a basis for switching them to streetcar?

    1. The point of streetcars is that they can move more people (in local service) than a bus line can, and they will attract more ridership than busses at the same price. We already know the corridors identified in the streetcar plan could support such a service.

      Nothing about the circuits you describe really tests anything new; they’re all corridors served by frequent existing service. And you couldn’t even build a streetcar up John, it’s way too steep.

      The discussion here is how we might build and pay for these projects, and, in the case of the Fremont line, whether it’s worth building at all, because in the long run we’ll need to build a true light rail line to Ballard anyway.

  10. As someone who has been likewise unexcited by their lack of “rapidness,” this does make me think more, Martin. Nice job!

    I still would like to see the Blue Line moved to some street OTHER than 1st Ave, though. Perhaps as part of the new waterfront on a new Western Ave?

    1. Why other than 1st Ave? If you’re going to spend the money to build a streetcar, it should be high profile with the best walkshed. 3rd is full of busses, so your only choices are 2nd, 4th and 5th. A couplet on 2nd & 4th is quite a wide split – inconvenient for out-and-back trips.

      Western Ave in particular is a terrible choice. It’s little-used, somewhat steep, invisible from 1st Ave, not very visible from the Waterfront and has a crappy walkshed near the Market, which is where is has the highest potential to pick up tourists and other choice ridership. It would be difficult to extend to Queen Anne because it would be stuck at the bottom of a bank. Finally, it would be too close to the Benson line to allow them to coexist.

      I’d rather we build nothing, or just refurbish the old Benson line, rather than use Western.

      1. I like the idea of a restored Waterfront Streetcar, and having the modern streetcars go through Downtown on a 4th-5th couplet, running in the bus lane on 4th and possibly a new transit lane on 5th. While 1st Ave is a good street for a streetcar in the long run, at this point it’s not politically palatable, and anyways it has a ton of traffic, while 4th has a bus lane to skip that traffic and 5th could have one. That should be sufficient for getting the First Hill, Jackson, Eastlake, and Ballard-Fremont lines through Downtown, then when we feel up to it we can build the 1st Ave line to get people from Lower Queen Anne and Belltown through Downtown.

      2. I’d be fine with going east as well… @Bruce, I have a problem with 1st Ave because of the congestion there. I acknowledge that much of that might obviously disappear once the Viaduct is gone. For now, though, the only way I see to put a streetcar there without adding to traffic is to remove the parking lanes, and I don’t imagine that goes over well with businesses.

    2. As a Belltown resident living on 4th, I have to say I FULLY endorse a 2nd/4th or a 4th/5th couplet :-D I would literally use that every day.

      Not only is is more convenient for me personally, but from my observations, all of these streets are underutilized compared to 1st and could easily lose a lane. All 3 of them have more parcels open for development as compared to 1st. Would also dovetail nicely with a re-opened waterfront streetcar.

      1. My only gripe about a 4th/5th couplet it that it makes a SLUT extension to 1st more expensive, and I think that extension would be nice.

        I think this weekend I’m going to walk around town to check out some of the alignments I’m less familiar with.

      2. I know it’s not a short-term issue, but I’m curious whether a 2nd Ave streetcar would have any adverse impacts on the tunnel that may eventually need to get built underneath 2nd Ave for future Link expansion. Obviously, it would completely preclude cut-and-cover, but I could imagine that the streetcars would simply weigh too much even for deep-boring, pre-reinforcement.

      3. The DSTT passes 4′ below the heavy rail tunnel and if that’s not a problem, it’s hard to imagine some puny streetcar causing issues.

      4. Even cut-and-cover tunnels are strongly reinforced to withstand heavy truck traffic that far outweighs any streetcar.

      5. I’m more worried about the impact during construction. It would suck to build streetcar tracks just to rip them up, you know? (And to not have the streetcar for a few years during construction…)

  11. I’ve been barking up the “bring back the WFSC” tree for years now, but I think I am acting alone, and I feel that it’s a lost cause. Someone should start a facebook group or something like that, IMO.

      1. Still, I think the effort is futile, and the only way we’ll get it back is through force (can you say “GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY?”). (Get it, Waterfront–Gunboat?)

      2. So, what can be done? There is serial catowner’s blog (I host it on my server). There is already a Facebook group. These are good to have, but it’s not enough. What can be done, seriously?

      3. I’m not convinced it should be a higher priority than the lines discussed in this post, no matter how much of a travesty the original removal was.

        If you do want to get it on the radar, comment on it in the Transit Master Plan.

    1. Yeah, I know, me too.
      Sadly, we are only in line to get more buses. “Rapid Ride” will be “great!” Only until you hit the usual bridge bottlenecks. And we in West Seattle are guaranteed that the new bus system will only be slower by about 10 minutes all-in-all (not including event day traffic situations).

      Too bad that the Alaskan viaduct work and waterfront reconfigurations do not contain rail options. Only a few bus priority exits.

      1. Rapid Ride will hopefully establish the ridership and corridor for eventual conversion to a rail solution. But I don’t see a streetcar going on the Bridge, so what do we do between Alaskan Way and Chelan, and about a bridge crossing that opens?

  12. Does anyone know what the deadline for the city to pony up the extra money for the Aloha extension is?

    1. What do you mean? I haven’t heard anything about a deadline… The Aloha Extension will get completely designed along with the rest of the First Hill Streetcar, then it’ll be built when they can get money from the Federal Government or a ballot measure or something.

      1. I thought it would cost more if it were done later. I’m pretty sure the contract ST is bidding out for FHSC has an option in it to build to Aloha, if the city comes up with the extra cash. But presumably there has to be a time-limit on that.

  13. I honestly don’t get the Downtown-Fremont-Ballard line, especially if it follows Westlake as designed instead of Dexter. Where’s the Beef?

    Dexter bisects the area of greatest density, while the Westlake option is separated from the people it would seek to serve by a bluff and a very busy street. That’s especially true if it uses the existing freight track as one direction and builds the other direction also to the east side of Westlake.

    While there is definitely a cluster of development in “downtown” Fremont, there’s not all that much housing. There are still small single family houses a half a block up 35th from Fremont. If this were an “urban center” they’d have been trashed ten years ago and replaced by midrise condos taking advantage of the hillside. Yes. some of that’s happening, but not a convincing amount.

    Once west of about Phinney there’s no “there” there along Leary all the way to 15th. There might be someday, but even should the carline trigger development Leary is the best east-west arterial between the U-district and Ballard so obstructing two lanes with a car line should be done only with the greatest of thought.

    The only way to make a First Avenue routing work will be to take half the street for the streetcars and buses and make the other half one way northbound with Western one way southbound from Lenora to Yesler.

    1. There’s a freight track on Westlake?

      I think the idea with the Fremont line is that it will (a) stimulate ridership between Fremont and Downtown (and Link) by being faster and more frequent than the 17 (b) improve the Fremont-Ballard corridor by creating an alternative to the 44+46. There’s only one station on Westlake (at Galer St) so they’re obviously not going for the Westlake walkshed. And FWIW, the lower part of Fremont shows up as a very dense employment area on the maps up there.

      And I’ve spent all evening thinking about the 1st Ave line, and walking along much of its potential alignment. Most of the time, traffic flows pretty well on 1st. At rush hour it sucks, but a streetcar in traffic is no worse than a bus in traffic (in terms of speed), and it can carry more people.

      The DT-BT-LQA corridor performs very well, on- and off-peak; it’s not a line whose existence is justified by commuter traffic. I don’t think it needs ROW, because unlike the Fremont line, its purpose is not to move people (fairly) quickly between urban villages; rather it’s a local service that competes modally with walking and bussing. I think it would be fine in traffic. Finally, a highly visible line on 1st would pick up lots of casual tourist traffic, much more so than the busses on 3rd.

      1. Sorry, former freight track, the right of way for which is mostly intact through the parking lots. The rails are gone.

      2. Well, there’s probably too much parking dependent on the ROW really to remove it.

        Even more reason to use Dexter. You’re never going to get two lanes out of Westlake.

        Streetcars need reserved right of way to work well. They can’t go around a disabled vehicle or a rude truck.

      3. former freight track, the right of way for which is mostly intact through the parking lots.

        This raises an interesting question. There is a lot of old freight track ROW around. In Woodinville/Bothell there are/were lines that fed the only feed mill and what used to be VMC (Vending Machine Corp), then Z-Brick and is now (no rail line) a spa outlet. In Bell-Red the lines are/were quite extensive. I’d like to know how much was ROW and how much was truely private property.

      4. “there’s probably too much parking dependent on the ROW really to remove it.”

        I don’t think so. The parking lot is three miles long, with two rows if I remember right. Most of the waterfront is scattered maritime shops and boat docks. If you count the number of boats and figure there may be up to ten customers in a building at a time, it seems like there’s plenty of parking.

    2. Leary is the best east-west arterial between the U-district and Ballard

      Hmm? Between Fremont and Ballard, sure, but what about 45th/Market? Or what do you mean by ‘best’?

  14. The graphs presented do nothing to justify streetcars to me. I ride the bus to UW every day, and lack of bus capacity is a major problem. The brown line up 25th Ave. NE from UW to NE 75th St. is mine, but the same applies to other UW routes. Every day the aisles are packed like sardines, and when they are that packed not only is the ride very unpleasant but it’s much slower because passengers can’t get to the exits at their stops. About three times a week people are turned away because the bus is so full of standees the driver wouldn’t be able to see the mirrors. Now in response to that, we could put more buses on those runs, or we could spend 100 X as much putting in streetcars. There isn’t actually 100 X as much money available, so most places where the buses are overcrowded wouldn’t get any relief at all.

    Streetcars are like a family that can’t afford potatoes and rice eating at Thirteen Coins. They get one good meal and then starve for the next couple of months.

    1. You’re looking only at first costs. First costs are small compared to operation costs. For every additional bus they give you (assuming you can fight the 20/40/40 sillyness and actually get new service), you’re paying I’d guess $400k a year in wages, benefits, management, bus maintenance, and fuel. To double capacity that’s several million a year. It doesn’t take many years of “several million” to make buses more expensive than streetcars. That’s also why Metro doesn’t talk about the cost of buses nearly as much as they talk about “service hours”.

      And that’s just looking at the cost issue. Politically, there is no way we’re getting more bus service for the next few years, and realistically we won’t get much at all in the next decade or two (thanks mostly to Eyman and the like – no new taxes means no new government service). Even if King County could increase taxes, they’re starving at all levels and buses aren’t at the top of their list. But Seattle has some taxing authority left, and a will to improve our transit systems.

      1. Of course all that being said, you’ll get Link soon, and a wonderfully short ride downtown (what is it, like 8 minutes? [JEALOUS])

      2. According to the manufacturer, the SLUT trams top out at about 199 people. I don’t know what the crush load on a 40′ or 60′ bus is but I’m sure it’s less than that. Plus if you consider the wider doors and offboard payment that would go with a streetcar, you can get much more bang for the same Metro service hour. If I lived on Eastlake, I’d want it.

      3. The streetcar has a higher crush load capacity (almost equivalent to a larger Link car) because most of it is standing room, which is totally acceptable for the short trips it is intended to serve.

    2. At some point, you just add to traffic with too many buses. Or you can’t maintain frequencies, and they bunch up too often.

      Either you “upgrade” to rail to increase your carrying capacities, or you need dedicated transit lanes.

  15. So it looks like streetcars have some significant hill climbing abilities. Why is that and yet the LINK has to have expensive tunnels to keep it at grade? And why didn’t we just choose streetcars?

    [Also, re: population “growth”. Dream on. Call me when those condos in Bellevue are all rented out. ]

  16. Remember that trolleybuses have most of the advantages of streetcars. The only practical advantages of streetcars seems to be that they may use less energy gliding on the rail, and you don’t have to replace the rail as often as resurfacing asphalt. The aesthetic differences can be taken care of with better-looking trolleybuses, bus bulbs (bringing the sidewalk out to the travel lane at stops), and a different paint scheme for streetcar lanes.

    So we shouldn’t get into a zero-sum game of replacing trolley routes with streetcars. That’s a lot of money for little benefit. The real benefit is replacing diesel bus routes. Both streetcars and trolleybuses can run on renewable non-petroleum energy, and the rail or wire makes a nominal commitment to frequency and long-termness.

    #70 is already a trolleybus route and can be extended to 65th. Ballard-Westlake-downtown would be suitable for a trolleybus. The main problem on 1st and Jackson is congestion, and mitigating that is the same with either a trolleybus or streetcar. Of course, the soon-to-be-built First Hill streetcar gives a reason for a second streetcar route on Jackson, but not for 1st.

    Also, I’m afraid that a streetcar line on 1st would be less productive than one on 5th (or anywhere from 2nd to 5th). Those streets are more central, with walksheds on both sides. 1st Ave is more of a one-sided walkshed due to the steep hillside on the west, and it’s a longer walk for potential riders going to 4th or 5th who would be more likely to take a streetcar if it were closer.

    1. As discussed above:

      SLUT crush load: 150-200
      60′ bus crush load: <90

      Wider doors which are more centrally placed for loading and unloading. All the other advantages — signal priority, a certain amount of dedicated lane, off board payment, high(er) profile etc. — you could in principle do to some extent with ETBs, but we're much more likely to get them as part of a streetcar package.

      I'm also the biggest ETB cheerleader in the world. I would like to continue and expand the ETB network, because they do have lots of the good attributes of streetcars. But streetcars are better transit than ETBs in the handful of very high capacity, short haul corridors that we're talking about here, and ripping out the ETB wire on Eastlake in favor of a streetcar is NOT a loss for electric traction.

      Having gone out and walked around downtown this morning, I'm much more favorable to a 4th/5th couplet than I was. I still think 2nd/4th would be stupid. In any case, I think the E

    2. To quantify this, lets look at crush load capacities of the streetcar vs busses:

      Day service:

      Streetcar @ 10 min: 200*6 = 1200 rides/hr, all electric
      ETB 70 @ 10 min + 66 @ 30 minutes: 90*8 = 720 rides/hr, of which 540 are electric

      Evening service:

      Streetcar @ 15 min: 200*4 = 800 rides/hr, all electric
      71 @ 30 min + 73 @ 60 min + 72 @ 60 min + 66 @ 60 min: 90*5 = 450 rides/hr, all diesel

      1. I don’t find this analysis convincing.

        Physically the trolley and buses are approximately the same length. I assume that both could be flexibly configured viz. a viz. the amount of seats versus standing room.

        Given the length of this route why wouldn’t the trolley end up being configured more like the buses or alternatively if we optimize for standing passengers why couldn’t we just have buses running with the same seat configuration as the current trolley?

        Unless there’s some structural issue I’m not seeing my assumption is that they both have the same potential capacity.


      2. The SLUT trolleys are 6′ longer and, whilst I don’t know what the measurements of useful square footage in the interior are, you can tell by standing in one that there’s more useful space. Even if you ripped out half the seats in a D60LF, I doubt you could get as many people in it.

        Other advantages of a streetcar that you can’t duplicate on a bus include four door step-free loading, with the middle two being very wide. Even with off-board payment, 200 people on a bus would be hopelessly inefficient to load and unload. The ride is much smoother so standing does not require the poise and athleticism that doing so on the bus sometimes requires.

        This is a local route, few people will be going the entire length and most will be going less than half. It shouldn’t be more than 20 mins from Westlake to the U-District; 10 minutes standing at peak time is reasonable for most people. Those wishing to go express from DT to the U-District will be served by Link.

        I spent the day walking the proposed streetcar routes (Eastlake and Westlake) and I’m totally sold on the idea. We just have to figure out how to pay for it (as usual).

    3. I disagree that trolleybuses capture the advantages discussed in the post. In fact, I’m not sure how you can conclude otherwise.

      1. To me, the main benefit of ETBs are zero emissions and noise, and their low initial price point compared to rail. These are benefits that are easily sold to lay people, as opposed to branding, to which many voters will say “why do we need to ‘brand’ public transit?”

        None of this detracts from my complete agreement that streetcars are the best solution, and more than worth the cost, in the corridors outlined in the Streetcar Network plan.

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