[UPDATE on streetcar operating costs, see below.]
Seattle’s Transit Master Plan process selected 15 corridors for investment throughout the city, as well as a separate focus on circulation in the center city. It also designated four of these corridors through the highest-demand areas as good candidates for high capacity transit (HCT). The modal analysis for those corridors will be transmitted to the council today.
Those corridors are Ballard/Fremont/Downtown, Eastlake Ave, Madison St from the ferry dock to 23rd Ave, and 1st Ave from Seattle Center to Pioneer Square. It also breaks out the cost of just connecting the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars via 4th and 5th. In each corridor, Nelson/Nygaard looked at up to three options:
- A “rapid streetcar” with higher-capacity vehicles, significant dedicated right-of-way, priority treatments and so on. Think “Portland MAX” more than “South Lake Union.” Madison St. did not get this option, as the grades coming out of downtown preclude it.
- A BRT option with exactly the same treatments as the rail option (right down to the trolley wire), but with buses and asphalt instead of streetcars and rails.
- “Enhanced bus,” which is pretty much what it sounds like.
Nelson/Nygaard computed a host of ridership, efficiency, and greenhouse-gas metrics for each mode in each corridor, and the results are in some very pretty graphs that I’ll post next week. They’re worth taking some time to actually digest and understand before making knee-jerk reactions, and you’ll get a chance to that in upcoming posts. A whole bunch more below the jump.
It’s important to note that, like its counterpart bicycle and pedestrian master plans, the transit master plan will contain far more projects than the city can afford under its current funding authority. The dee-luxe rail-everywhere version of the plan would cost about $700m in total. Meanwhile the $100 vehicle license fee is likely to commit only about $10m per year to big transit projects, and has to cover them all over the city. So there’s a lot of work to do, and the ability to fund some of the big-ticket items in the plan is going to depend on aggressive pursuit of federal and private dollars.
There will be a whole series of posts, stretching into next week, about each of these corridors. However, my reading of the conclusions is:
- The “sweet spot” in terms of lowest total cost per net rider is the BRT option in most cases.
- “Enhanced bus” is by far the cheapest option to build and the most expensive (per rider) to operate.
- If you want to maximize the number of people on transit in these corridors, build rail.
- To maximize total greenhouse gas savings, build rail.
There are a few assumptions here that are important to those conclusions:
- Using trolleys in the BRT options inflates capital costs but dramatically reduces GHG emissions.
- All capital costs are distributed over 30 years, which is a convenient multiple for equipment replacement rates. Obviously, the longer time horizon you use, the better the high-capital options (rail) will look.
- For lack of a better option, Nelson/Nygaard used the Seattle Streetcar’s current operating cost of $220/hr, which suffers relative to its peers due to lack of economies of scale. Nelson/Nygaard used a streetcar operating cost of $187/hour, which is in line with other North American systems but well below the Seattle Streetcar’s operating costs of $220/hour, which do not benefit from economies of scale.