Siemens Rapid Streetcar Vehicle, Budapest

[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:

  1. Using trolleys in the BRT options inflates capital costs but dramatically reduces GHG emissions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

51 Replies to “TMP HCT Analysis (I)”

  1. All I have to say is I hope that Seattle doesn’t want to add yet another mode that transit riders have to learn about. Worst case scenario we could have 8 different modes with different speeds/frequencies/stop spacings/span of service/cost:
    * Regular Metro busses
    * Metro-branded BRT (usu, no dedicated ROW)
    * Seattle-branded BRT (usu dedicated ROW)
    * South Lake Union / First Hill (aka slow, no dedicated ROW) Streetcar
    * Seattle “rapid” Street car (aka, faster streetcar)
    * Link Light rail (which is really real rail half the time and fast streetcar the other half the time)
    * Monorail

    Personally, I hope if they suggest BRT they make it consistent with RapidRide (even call it RapidRide G or whatever). If they suggest streetcar, they should change the existing streetcars to match the rapid streetcar in terms of performance, especially in ROW. Frankly, I have no idea why the SLUT doesn’t have dedicated ROW and signal priority. How hard could it be to paint “TRANSIT ONLY” on the street lanes where the streetcar is?

    1. A few notes. I don’t think you will see a Metro BRT vs a Seattle BRT. The service will be operated by Metro, SDOT would just help with the ROW and signals as they already have with the other RapidRide corridors in the city. I think that it is more likely that ST comes out with their own “BRT” than Seattle.

      Also the First Hill streetcar is being designed to a more “rapid” standard than the SLU streetcar, with longer station spacing. Although it does not have it’s own ROW because of the roadway configuration and TSP on Broadway it will be more rapid than current bus service is.

    2. “I hope that Seattle doesn’t want to add yet another mode that transit riders have to learn about” I can imagine the argument for branding or payment scheme, but not transit mode. One of the more transit-functional cities I’ve visited is Istanbul, and they have about every mode of transit you can imagine. It would be helpful if they branded them all the same and had the same payment system, but functionally they use the right tool for the right job. For example, it would be a shame if they replaced one of their funiculars with buses (not just because they’re fun, but because they’re grade-seperated, high-frequency, and connect a high-traffic streetcar station with a high-traffic pedestrian destination).

      1. They do have the same payment (As of last time I went there) It costs .75 YTL per ride on any system. Did that change?

      2. I don’t know. It was a few years ago and I wasn’t paying close attention. I remember paying seperately for a little nickel sized token to get up the funicular. The streetcar took a quarter sized token. I think the buses had a cashier seperate from the bus driver, and they took cash. The inter-city buses were all privately run and you bought tickets from a long line of storefronts. It’s possible that the metro, half-metro, and streetcar all took the same payment, and possibly the ferries as well.

      3. yeah, I thought all the rail transport at least took jetons (tokens) worth .75 YTL. Their system is really nice, though it doesn’t cover near enough of that city. (side note- I’m learning turkish and intend to live in Istanbul for parts of my life)

    3. I think “Link” had better be reserved for the mostly grade-separated lines, so that it connotes “subway” and “the most rapid way”. Hopefully Tacoma Link will be renamed Tacoma Streetcar at its next expansion.

      I think we can just call all the other rails “streetcars”, regardless of their different speeds. The station spacing will be shown on the map, and perhaps the widest types of grade differences can be too.

      It would be cool co call the rapid streetcars MAX, but that would be too many terms. I’m also not sure how Link’s MLK segment is different from MAX or the rapid streetcars, so there would be overlap there.

      I have no problem mixing diesel and trolley BRT under the name “RapidRide”. True exclusive-lane BRT or Swift is so far out in the future that we might as well just call them all “RapidRide” until then.

      1. Or if Central Link does ever reach Tacoma and Tacomans refuse to rename Tacoma Link, I suppose Tacomans can live with two different levels of service under the same name. It’s more important to get any kind of HCT into Tacoma’s neighborhoods than to quibble about what it’s called.

      2. “I have no problem mixing diesel and trolley BRT under the name “RapidRide”. True exclusive-lane BRT or Swift is so far out in the future that we might as well just call them all “RapidRide” until then.”

        I prefer to refer to BRT as express bus in the absence of any sort of ROW.

        Considering all the political dicking around and resistance to expanding public transportation capacity, I see exclusive lane service for buses as far out of sight period, much less far out into the future.

    1. If I remember right the proposed stop spacing is 1100′ for the proposed connection between FHSC and SLU via 4th/5th.

      1. I know a lot of people on this blog like the idea of the Central Streetcar running down 1st Ave, however I really believe we should tie the FHSC and SLUSC via north on 4th Ave and south on 5th Ave. It’s less distance and to me a “cleaner” connection. 4th and 5th (being one way streets) could accomodate streetcars rather than crowding 1st Ave.

      2. Blech. I think the previous TMP called for moving buses off of 5th since it has I-5 access. I’m not sure I like the idea of a streetcar couplet on 4th and 5th.

    2. This presentation from the Lake Oswego transit study (south of Portland) is a more detailed analysis that I would say in many ways is similar to what the city is looking at here. It has the same general trends that Martin outlined and for those that don’t know what a “rapid streetcar” is, it serves as a decent example.

      http://bit.ly/qKBuhg

  2. why does the First Avenue corridor go from the Seattle Center to Madison St? seems like it should go all the way to Pioneer Sq.

    1. Should really call at the stadia and end on the south at about Lander, near SbuxHQ and easy walking distance from SODO Link.

      1. Hmm, that would give Link an excuse to close the SODO station, which is the least-used station in the system.

      2. Depending on the time period you look at stadium station has lower boardings + alightings than SODO. I think both stations will see higher ridership once north link opens.

  3. For the sake of comparison with SLUT and TLink*, the national average operating cost for a streetcar system is around $140/vehicle hour (source: discussion with the engineer of record for the Portland Streetcar expansion completed in 2009).

    TLink: Actual 2010 cost was $386.58/vehicle hour, budgeted 2011 cost is $439.87/vehicle hour (source: S.T., “Proposed 2011 Budget”).

  4. Any chance they considered gondolas? They’re really a different animal that takes a different type of analysis (for example, geography’s no longer important but geometry is).

      1. That’s a shame, I’d hope that with our hills and the they would be at least considered.

      1. Some are, some aren’t. Also, parts of these corridors are much stronger than others. For instance, while there’s enough demand on Yestler/Jefferson to justify frequent service, there’s twice as much in the section from Harborview to downtown during the day. Ideally one could build a gondola down James to serve that part of the demand, so you have more even demand on the buses.

        I think the best bet for gondolas is from the Seattle Center to somewhere on Capitol Hill. Demand there is strong and traffic on Denny is going to suck indefinitely into the future. The Seattle Center has great bus service, plenty of surface parking that could be turned into a terminal, and already has large-scale buildings, so you’re not having to build it in a residential neighborhood. Plus it would cement the Seattle Center’s status as the hub of goofy transportation modes in the northwest.

      2. Bruce, I’ve always been much more concerned with the CH end than the LQA/SLU end. Thoughts on where you would scale CH and where you’d drop a CH station?

      3. Sadly I don’t. My inclination is to land near or on the Link station. There seems to be a willingness to have at least one highrise landmark at CHS, so it might be possible to scale a gondola terminal in with the neighborhood as part of that. I haven’t the faintest idea how to do that though, and it’s already late in the game to make a major change to the TOD plans at CHS. The time to make this case to the public, to the city, and ST was five years ago.

        It’s a shame, as I think that corridor is uniquely well suited to it. The demand’s there, the topography is compatible, and no good road options exist. Link and the streetcar will provide excellent connectivity to First Hill and the U-District, drawing in trips that currently use the slow 30/31 or have to slog through downtown on a trolleybus. I wish I had a better answer.

    1. Based on the findings of the final EIS for the tunnel, if WSDOT wants to proceed with the project, they’re going to have to spend a couple hundred million on traffic mitigation for downtown Seattle. Given their own self-imposed requirement of a shorter Green Lake – Duwamish River travel time, I don’t see them backing off from the tunnel.

      So, if our city government can do its job well, we should see some of that mitigation coming in the form of capital investment for transit – streetcar rails or new ROW for buses.

  5. There are some good ideas on the corridor map, and some of them reflect suggestions on this blog. (I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before.)

    #3: Beacon – 12th – 10th E

    #14 and #5: splitting the 48, and continuing via the 7 to Rainier Beach and RB station

    #10: potentially extending RapidRide D (Ballard) to Northgate

    #13: potentially extending the 43 to Children’s Hospital

    The most surprising thing is that all the U-district lines terminate at Campus Parkway rather than Brooklyn station three blocks away. I assume that’ll be fixed before it’s built.

      1. Which still doesn’t explain why those U-District corridors use Campus Parkway. (A later post in this series suggests 8 and 12 have been partially merged, which makes at least a little more sense.)

  6. I’m glad they’re focusing on Yestler + Jefferson rather than James + Jefferson for the Downtown-Harborview-First Hill corridor. Moving that trolley wire is eminently affordable with the CTAC money and would be a great improvement.

  7. A little off topic, but related to the photo of the Budapest tram. It’s nice to see those new trams in Budapest. I spent some time there in 1980 and 1982 during the Communist era and the streetcars at that time were pre-WW II models–painted that same yellow color, however. Also, the trolley buses didn’t have ropes on the poles. If the trolley poles de-wired, the driver had to climb up the back of the bus and maneuver the poles back onto the wires using a short gaffing stick.

    1. I’ve seen photos of the Budapest Siemens tram several times on local transit blogs. I was living in Budapest in ’95/’96 and loved taking the older version. I didn’t experience the poles falling down. That, however, is a regular occurrence with Translink trolleys in 2000’s Vancouver.
      The yellow Budapest tram looks particularly splendid alongside the Nyugati Palyudvar (Western Train Station) designed by Eiffel. Ahh…nostaligia…

  8. I still don’t like the idea of a local-only streetcar being added on 1st Ave. We’ve got lots of frequency on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, and could have various West Seattle routes serve lower Pioneer Square. We need to win the battle for 24/7 control of the ROW on Third Ave, for half the buses that go through downtown, before trying to get more ROW on 1st Ave just for one streetcar line.

    If the streetcar is part of a network, 1st Ave is too far from the middle of the downtown walkshed. If it is for tourism, then why not bring back the Benson?

    Could we take care of the simple fixes that will help half the bus fleet before blowing a big wad of money on downtown Seattle’s equivalent of the Vision Line?

    1. The question is how much electricity do a similar-capacity streetcar and trolley use, and how much pollution do they produce, as well as how much do they end up taking off the road (which could be a misleading measurement unless private-vehicle road capacity is simultaneously reduced).

      On top of that is consideration of how much danger the track design is to bikers, and whether the line can be installed center-running. If center-running is not a viable option, the utility of a streetcar diminishes, and the tracks become a bigger threat to bikers.

      Plus, there are considerations of duelling catenary.

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