SDOT / Nelson/Nygaard

There are many metrics that Nelson/Nygaard used to evaluate each mode in Seattle’s future High Capacity Transit corridors. Unfortunately, the one I really wanted to see wasn’t included: Annualized Net Cost per New Rider. Let’s break that down.

The cost is annualized because it breaks down the upfront capital cost over a 30-year period to combine it with operating cost; net because it subtracts savings from bus operations made redundant; and “new riders” because it only counts the trips added to the system. It captures what the city would have to outlay to put another fanny in the seats every day. And as luck would have it, one can compute ANC/NR it using the metrics that the consultant provided.

This metric doesn’t capture everything that matters; it’s subject to the assumptions that went into the inputs. Moreover, it ignores trip length, greenhouse gas emissions, rider speed and comfort, what you can get people to vote for, and what capital costs the federal government or private investors might defray. Nevertheless, the winner by this metric is the “CC2” South Lake Union-Downtown streetcar, which connects the SLU and First Hill streetcars. Its ANC/NR comes in at $1.71, 47 cents below its nearest competitor.

The 1.1 mile Corridor_CC2 would run in a couplet down 4th and 5th Avenues. The streetcar would run every 10 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes evenings, and carry about 11,500 people a day in 2030. Most riders throughout the day in 2030 would be standing. At $74m, it’s also one of the cheapest capital projects on the menu; it’s also a down payment on longer potential lines up Eastlake or to Ballard.

Due to the unique nature of this project, there were no analogous bus projects for this corridor. Bus service would remain unchanged.

112 Replies to “TMP HCT Analysis (II): The Efficiency Winner”

      1. Not without adding significantly to the cost of the project. You’d have to rethink much of downtown’s traffic and transit flow and spend millions to add new signs, signals and repaint all the roads.

      2. Yes, but the overall cost of the project is $74 million, so spending several million adding signs and modifying signals and repainting wouldn’t cost that much compared to the overall project. Overall, I think that evaluating that cost would be absolutely worthwhile. The overall impact to traffic probably wouldn’t be that big if you limited the impact (just adding one lane of the other direction on fifth, for example).

      3. This is great, I love it! Portland does this with their streetcar and works just fine.

      4. Yes, you could spend a bunch of money to make it 2-way, but…why? Couplets work very well as long as the blocks are pretty close together, as they are downtown. The grade between 4th and 5th is kind of steep in places, but nothing that’s going to act as too much of a penalty. It’s not worth going to any big trouble to make it 2-way.

      5. With Zef. What’s gained? Couplets on adjacent streets on flat terrain work well.

      6. I disagree. Portland is a nightmare. It’s faster to walk across downtown than take the LRT. I’ve done it. Haven’t competed with the streetcar. Portland is a total fail.

      7. And yet both have high ridership–seems like for plenty of people it is better than walking.

      8. “I disagree. Portland is a nightmare. It’s faster to walk across downtown than take the LRT. I’ve done it. Haven’t competed with the streetcar. Portland is a total fail.”

        I agree with this. When I’m downtown Portland and I’m not at Union Station the most common thing coming out of my mouth is “Where the H*ll is my train?”. You get off it in one spot then you go to get back on it to go somewhere else and it’s two blocks one direction or two blocks the other direction. I’ve spent more time wandering around downtown looking for my train than had I just walked across the bridge to the Rose Quarter.

        In addition because of how the trains work you don’t go somewhere the same way you come back. From Legacy Emmanuel it would take me 13 minutes to get to Union Station but 45 to get back. That’s a huge difference!

        I’ll say it again, convenience and consistency builds ridership. Don’t make me look for two stops near my destination. Yes, it can work but it’s not ideal. Run both SB and NB trains down the same street and people will always know where to get it. By doing so you remove a couple of barriers for people using transit.

      1. I’d guess not, because this route is as idiotic as on 1st Ave. The simplest, least expensive, most productive extension is from Westlake to a 1st Ave terminus or turnaround near Pike Place Market. The demand from there destination is huge and the route crosses other N/S transit corridors. Assume this couplet is more political than sensible. City Hall and the Big Business sector employees deserve their own exclusive service. It’s like charging to ride Link in the DSTT while buses there are free. IOW, low-income riders are kept separate from the elite. Seattle Sucks.

  1. This is the most direct way to connect the streetcar lines. The 1st ave line should connect downtown and uptown as envisioned in the original streetcar plan. This couplet is a great idea that will liven up an area that is a little bleak at the moment (too many govt buildings). It also provides a nice parallel to the 3rd ave bus mall.

    1. “It also provides a nice parallel to the 3rd ave bus mall.”

      Close, parallel transit lines are a BAD thing. In this case, the badness is outweighed by the goodness of connecting the SLUT and FHSC.

      1. By the time you get up around Madison St on 5th Ave, there is quite a steep hill between 3rd and 5th, so that’s another good reason for 5th.

      2. I think you’re wrong, Bruce. The 3rd Ave Bus Mall is primarily there for people entering or exiting downtown, but it gets clogged with people using the buses just to get from one end of downtown to the other. This is part of the reason Metro is resistant to get rid of the ride free area. The streetcar would be so short that it would primarily act as a downtown circulator. So in this case 2 parallel transit routes are good because they serve entirely different markets.

    2. With a streetcar line and a Rapid Ride corridor in operation, the west side of the Seattle Center will have abundant capacity to downtown Seattle. It also looks like South Lake Union will also have good, frequent service to downtown if CC 2 is built. But what about the east side of the Seattle Center? Could a connection be built between the Seattle Center/EMP/Gates Campus and the existing South Lake Union Streetcar via Thomas or Harrison streets?

      1. A Harrison Streetcar is on the Uptown neighborhood wishlist, but no serious study that I know of. Bus service on Harrison is more likely but still a long way off.

      2. I wish the city would use some of this tab money to ORCA-ify the Monorail. I never ride it except with friends doing the touristy stuff, but I would use it occasionally and I suspect quite a few people in LQA would use it a lot more.

      3. Would also be nice for them to add the long talked about station in Belltown at Bell. I doubt it will ever happen, but if they do that and make it ORCA capable, I will ride the Monorail all the time.

      4. I actually think if a streetcar connected Uptown and downtown, the RapidRide Line should skip Uptown and take the express bus routing.

      5. @zefwagner: RapidRide shouldn’t just skip places! Rapid transit is not just for connecting downtown with other places, it’s for connecting all the places that lie directly along its route. Uptown is developing density and mixed-use; that translates to all-day, all-direction demand, which is what rapid transit is for.

        Skipping inner neighborhoods to get downtown faster is what commuter routes are for.

      6. Al, you are correct in principle.

        But Denny @ Queen Anne Ave is Uptown. There is nowhere in LQA/Uptown that isn’t a reasonable 7 or 8- minute walk from there. If the weather is particularly atrocious (and other high capacity improvements ever manage to work as advertised) you could choose to make a painless 1 or 2-stop transfer.

        As much as Uptowners want RapidRide to serve them, they seem the least willing to make compromises that would keep RapidRide rapid in their midst. Mercer Place is not getting a bus jump, and signal priority at that “highway-ized” (for Elliott) intersection is far from assured. West Mercer Street is getting zero dedicated lanes, and the stop at West 3rd is currently slated to remain a pull-out (no curb bulb) with no off-board payment.

        There’s a fine line between “connecting all the places that lie directly along [a] route” and “forcing a laborious detour, wasting every through-riders 7 or 8 minutes to save a handful having to walk the same.”

        The latter is what we have here.

      7. “RapidRide shouldn’t just skip places!”

        Yes but there should also be an all-day limited-stop bus from Ballard to downtown and upper Aurora to downtown. Currently the 15X and 18X are useless if you’re going the reverse-commute direction or are travelling outside peak hours. Why should most passengers have to slog through Uptown when most passengers aren’t going there? The Magnolia buses serve the south side of Seattle Center and then go directly to Elliott; why can’t the Ballard buses do the same?

        But I’ve given up on this because the current routing is so entrenched.

        If Link runs on Aurora from 130th to 205th, that’ll be at least help upper Aurora, even if 80th to 130th is left out.

      8. You can say RapidRide shouldn’t skip places, but it also should have a relatively direct route with few stops–that’s part of what makes it rapid. The jog over to Queen Anne/Mercer is a lengthy jog out of the way. That makes sense for a local bus service like the 15 or 18 that is trying to reach as many places as possible, but not for express routes or rapid transit. I would feel differently if Mercer West was going to have dedicated bus lanes or there weren’t so many turns to get from Uptown to 3rd, but there it is. I think the 18 should remain in service as is and I think an eventual streetcar should connect the heart of Uptown with 1st Ave.

      9. “Yes, it’s called the Monorail.”

        sigh, the monorail. The monorail would be a regular part of my transit journey if I didn’t have to pay again to get on it. I say add ORCA readers and keep the people collecting tickets from tourists. It already breaks even or makes money so adding ORCA would only make it more profitable.

    3. There’s very little left to redevelop on Fifth and Fourth avenues; they are what they are, government buildings (and office buildings) and all. Those avenues are already well-served by existing bus service. I would expect your “cost per new rider” would be even less by tweaking existing service and carrying those new riders on buses.

      Putting this line on First Avenue would serve an underserved corridor as well as Pioneer Square. The Fourth/Fifth corridor really misses Pioneer Square. It would tie the two streetcar routes together and permit through-routed streetcar service from south Lake Union to Broadway.

      And it would provide the first (and probably most expensive) trackage for later connection to Uptown, on the west side of Seattle Center.

      1. One link that is currently missing is a fast and frequent connection between King Street Station and the employment areas in the South Lake Union area. The CC2 streetcar would be the answer to that problem.

      2. You’re definitely wrong about 5th avenue. Yes, much of it is taken up by government buildings, but there are also a lot of low-density crumbling buildings ripe for redevelopment. This also might revitalize Rainier Square mall, which I often forget even exists due to its bad location and lack of good retail destinations.

        1st could use a streetcar or better bus service, but we should avoid having the streetcar make more huge detours. The First Hill Streetcar’s jog over to 14th already gives it a circuitous routing, so it would be nice to avoid more turns in the connection. Transit suffers every time it zigzags back and forth. In an attempt to increase access, travel times increase to the point where it makes more sense to drive or even walk.

      3. You can’t put a two-way streetcar on First Avenue. It simply can’t have its own lanes in that narrow roadway; so it won’t move. Trucks turning and cars parking and huge flows of pedestrians crossing will destroy any hope of reliability. I think the city planners realize that.

    4. I think you’re wrong, Bruce. The 3rd Ave Bus Mall is primarily there for people entering or exiting downtown, but it gets clogged with people using the buses just to get from one end of downtown to the other. This is part of the reason Metro is resistant to get rid of the ride free area. The streetcar would be so short that it would primarily act as a downtown circulator. So in this case 2 parallel transit routes are good because they serve entirely different markets.

  2. This seems like a great solution to link the two streetcar lines together. What is the likely hood and timeline to get this done?

    1. Just gotta pay for it :) Potential use for some of the Seattle car-tab revenue, if that passes in November.

    1. No. I’d need to know the number of new riders and operating savings from replaced bus routes (which requires making some assumptions).

      I certainly don’t have that info handy, if it exists at all.

  3. This seems redundant to me (speaking as a user of the SLUT). Currently when I want to go the ID, I can take the SLUT to westlake, pop into the bus tunnel and walk out 5 minutes later at King Street Station. This connection is highly unlikely to be much better. In the long run going through downtown via street car to get up to first hill also seems really roundabout. I’d much rather see scarce transit dollars spent on adding a new connection rather than duplicating the same route.

    1. So you’re more interested in neighborhood equity than the most cost-effective use of dollars to gain riders?

      1. I’m getting more distrustful of this idea and its justifications with each successive thought.

        7000+ new riders on this thing? From where? That seems about as pulled-from-thin-air specious as that claim(page 17) that a Ballard-Fremont-Westlake streetcar would run 16 minutes end-to-end.

        Ben is right: north-south through downtown is already amply served. It’s not served efficiently or reliably — you never know whether your bus will happen to be the one that misses every light and takes on 3 wheelchairs — but that’s mostly a symptom of everything else that’s wrong with Metro’s bus fleet, thousand-route overlaps, and inconsistent operations rather than a matter of capacity.

        If the tunnel ever cleans up its act, eliminating on-board payment, putting passive-restraint systems on all tunnel routes, or just kicking buses out entirely (which could easily happen before this streetcar sees the light of day), it will exceed this proposal by every metric, even if transferring at both ends (SLU-Little Saigon).

        Which makes this look more like another iteration of the “one-seat ride” planning bias than anything worthwhile.

        North-south through downtown already exists. In fact, the tunnel back-ups and those times you miss a light on 3rd because the bus driver fears “blocking the box” suggest a north-south redundancy (you’d never need all those vehicles if we operated trunk-and-feeder). It’s east-west that’s the nightmare. Think how much streamlining could happen on a two-way Madison corridor for the cost of this 4th/5th digression?

      2. D.P.
        N/S through Downtown is precicely the sort of situation where a streetcar can make more sense than buses. The loads are high enough that the capaciy advantage comes into play. Level boarding is much easier with rail. A streetcar is more likely to be able to get a transit-only lane and signal priority than buses alone.

        Beyond that connecting the two streetcar lines provides operating efficency and is much more affordable than the Ballard or Eastlake lines.

        Mind you I feel the Aloha extension is a much higher priority as should be live looping the E/W ETB routes, giving them signal priority, and moving the ETB routes from James to Yesler.

      3. Chris,

        That argument crumbles to dust when you realize you’re dealing with a vehicle that for the forseeable future will never come more frequently than 10 minutes and will drop to 15 minutes immediately after rush hour.

        That’s about the same as walking the “service gap,” or a worst-case-scenario 3rd Ave bus back-up or tunnel wait.

        Ever use the Portland Streetcar between Clay and Burnside? I didn’t think so.

    2. It would provide a lot better connection if you happen to be going to somewhere right on 5th Ave, such as City Hall or the Seattle Municipal Tower.

      And of course part of the reason to connect the two streetcar lines would be the unrelated advantage of greater flexibility in vehicle maintenance and scheduling, which one of those economies of scale issues that make the current streetcar so expensive per hour right now:

      1. Assuming those questions were all aimed at me.

        1) If I wanted to go from the SLU to Little Saigon I’d transfer to the streetcar in the ID. Yes extra transfers but I bet still faster.

        2) I’m not interested in neighborhood equity per se. but in avoiding redundancy in the network.

        3) The existing network has pretty good access to City Hall or the Municipal tower via the Pioneer Square exist from the tunnel. Again the time it takes to walk the block from the tunnel is more than made up by the speed and frequency of the bus/trains inside it.

        While I think connecting the systems could be interesting it just doesn’t seem to offer many end user improvements over the existing network beyond a single trip. You might transfer less but the overall speed would not probably increase for a hypothetical trip like South Lake Union park to Little Saigon since you’d be on the street the entire time rather than in a separated ROW.

        Again as an end user, given this money I’d rate other improvements in transit access for SLU higher.


    3. Keep in mind that when Link takes over the tunnel completely, you will no longer be able to get a free ride from westlake to the ID (unless we adopt a free rail zone and get rid of the free bus zone like Portland has, which I think we should). Also there is a pretty big connection penalty involved in walking from the streetcar plaza to Westlake station, going down to the platform, and back up at ID station, when you could just stay on the streetcar instead.

      1. The downtown association pays for the free ride zone. They think it enhances the core retail sector for people who work there. I tend to agree that unless you get a monthly pass, I probably wouldn’t just hop a bus to ride around the core to shop at lunch time.

      2. They may pay for it, but Metro gets a really bad deal from it and the only reason they keep it is because otherwise boarding downtown would take too long. That is the real reason we have it. I think we should move to a full fare inspection system with orca readers on all doors and ticket machines in the buses and on certain platforms, but maybe that’s a fantasy.

    4. I’m wondering why we’re focusing so much on adding a surface train that gets stuck in traffic when we already have a train underground. Maybe we should be focusing on why we make hurkin gigantic stations that take 10 minutes to transfer to from the street and find a way to make that more efficient. Pull the SLUT right up to the east side of 5th and Pine, move the monorail to the east side of 5th and Pine (With a catwalk to Westlake Center) and have an escalator that connects the Monorail, to the SLUT to the Link station platform. You could go between all three in a matter of one minute. Do the same on the other end by wrapping the 1st hill street car around at 5th and Main and drop it down in the hole where the Sounder parks. Then put a tunnel between the Sounder/FHSC platform and the Link. Now you don’t need a street car on the surface. Then time Link, FHSC, the SLUT and the Monorail so they come at similar intervals.

      Or we could leave them all really inefficient and create yet another train down a crowded street.

  4. I agree with Ben. I would rather see rapid transit added to areas that are in desperate need of it. Downtown has tons of transit as is, but that does little good if it takes an hour to get from Ballard/Fremont to downtown as it sometimes does during peak hours. It’s time to grow the network and not concentrate investments in the same place.

    1. Nothing remotely close to the grade-separated transit that you would need to fix that is affordable on the city’s dime. Ballard is already slated to get improved service through RapidRide with signal priority and other minor improvements. That’s about the best that can be done without unaffordable grade-separation.

      1. True enough, and I do recognize the value of connecting the streetcar system. It’s just frustrating that the 200,000 or so Seattle residents north of the canal are going to have to wait many years for what should have been built 20 years ago.

      2. Actually Ben C – that should read “…Seattle residents north of the canal are going to have to wait many years for what should not have been removed 70 years ago.”

    2. I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, downtown has multiple transit options to choose from, while Ballard and 45th and 23rd have nothing but buses that get stuck in traffic. On the other hand, connecting the SLU and First Hill streetcars makes sense, as it turns two semi-useful lines into one more-useful line, and is a step in turning downtown transit around. All the steps have a cumulative effect.

      But this is also why I’m reluctant to put a streetcar on Eastlake. Downtown-UW already has several transit options including coming light rail, and Eastlake has the most frequent local buses of almost anywhere in the city (15 min minimum 5am-2am plus night owl). It would be a shame to add yet another way to get from downtown to UW until other parts of the city are addressed.

      1. I agree, the Fremont-Ballard line is much bigger priority. Express buses will still be the fastest way from Ballard, but they are pretty much at capacity and the streetcar would provide all the connections in between. Plus it would follow a route that no buses currently serve.

      2. +1 We’ve been waiting a long time for better transit service to return to the north end, and it’ll be another 10 years or more before light rail opens up north of UW–and Link does practically nothing to help people on the west side of town.

    3. There’s nothing mutually exclusive in this project–it could at least in theory be part of a larger streetcar expansion to Ballard.

    4. I agree. The Denny corridor really needs some help. Instead of connecting the streetcar network in the ID, why not connect them near the Capitol Hill Link station?

      Understandably, this is a dense area that is very hilly and a streetcar line on Denny would be an interesting engineering feet. Some of the line would have to be elevated or tunneled.

      BUT HAVE YOU DRIVEN ON DENNY LATELY? Money would be well spent in this corridor.

      1. I’m sure a streetcar on Denny is impossible. But if we pretended it could enter a tunnel at Westlake or Stewart, it would have to go under the I-5 foundation, and then it would meet the Capitol Hill Link station at the platform level and you’d have to go up to get to the surface. This fantastcally expensive route would require a significant redesign of the Capitol Hill station, and even more expensive if Capitol Hill station is finished by that time.

        Trolleybuses can climb hills easily. That’s the easiest thing that can improve Denny Way.

  5. Does the net cost estimate include any operational efficiencies from connecting the streetcar lines (consolidating maintenance bases, etc.)?

    1. They’re already adding another base down in the Little Saigon area, which would be needed anyway since the SLU one is not big enough. The combined capacity, however, might mean that later extensions north could be accommodated without needing a new base.

  6. Any effort to connect the South Lake Union line with a future fully-integrated streetcar system is good. However, however well Third Avenue is working as a bus corridor, as Downtown Seattle’s central two-way street, its general atmosphere is bleak and empty, even at rush hour.

    Compared to San Francisco’s Market Street- which carries major diesel and trolleybus routes in addition to the F-Line historic streetcars and the two-storey subway for Muni subway-surface light rail lines and BART- Third looks like something out of a distressed minor city in the Midwest.

    This could be a separate question from South Lake Union line routing. But considering its location and importance, Third needs whatever transit can do to give it a street life and some people.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I don’t think lack of transit is 3rd Avenue’s problem. In fact, I think 3rd’s problem might be too much transit. We’ve invested too much into turning 3rd Avenue into a giant transfer station. There’s really no street activation.

      3rd between Virginia and University wouldn’t be able to sustain the crowds of proper street activation and its current role as the nexus of all transportation from and to everywhere.

    2. So does 3rd have too much transit or two little? What else makes it different from Market Street?

      1. Compared to 3rd, Market Street has much, much wider sidewalks, more restricted car traffic, island transit stops, tons more bustling storefronts, better bicycle infrastrcuture, lots of smaller, pedestrian friendly streets feeding it, a number of vibrant activity nodes, and it runs diagonally across much of the entire city (all the way to the Castro). That street also has a general “je no se qua” that makes it one of the most vibrant, bustling streets in the country, IMO.

        While many improvements can be made to 3rd, I don’t think it will ever be Market Street – it’s just not in the cards.

      2. I think you mean je ne sais quoi. But you’re spot on. Put it like this: if we had made 1st Ave our busway rather than 3rd, it would have looked more like Market St perhaps.

      3. Yeah – spelling in French has never been my forte! Good call on 1st – I think it would look a lot more like Market Street, but still not that close.

      4. Well, and Market Street is where the downtown and SOMA street grids come together which gives is a unique feel with streets sort of heading in every direction.

      5. It’s an ugly streetscape, that’s all there is to it. Take a look at the main bus malls in Vancouver and Portland. They are both very well-designed, with wide sidewalks, interesting artwork, big shelters, planters, etc. Vancouver even has designated busking zones! It’s all in the design. 3rd is just not a place anyone would really want to hang out at, unless you love McDonald’s and/or enjoy being a gangster.

  7. Not sure I like the location shown for the new northbound “Westlake Hub” stop, on 4th Ave north of Stewart St. Seems too far off the center of activity, I’d rather see it on right on Westlake Park or by the Westlake Center (south of Olive St).

    1. Westlake and Pine for sure. No compromise on that – must be at the very heart of the retail core.

  8. What is the argument for a 4th/5th couplet over 1st ave? More direction connection so lower capitol costs? Less congestion (5th can be an absolute parking lot)?

    Because 3rd ave has so much bus service and the tunnel is faster than 3rd ave buses and has very frequent service I would think the biggest difference between the alignments is how it functions for riders that board the SLU or FHS outside of downtown. In that context I could see an argument more for 1st than 4th/5th because it penetrates further into downtown rather than sticking to the up hill part of it.

    1. To me it just seems to be another zigzag that makes the service less useful to anyone going through. Too much public transit zigs and zags and wanders in a quest for more riders, only to lose other riders who no longer see it as a useful service. People like driving because they can take the most direct route, and transit often seems silly because it wanders around.

      That said, 1st definitely needs a frequent circulator, especially if the 15 and 18 are not coming back to 1st. I would say ideally we would build both the 4th/5th line and the 1st-Belltown-Uptown line, but if only one is in the cards I could see the argument for having the connector jog over to 1st. Let’s shoot for both though, at this point.

    2. It’s important folks remember this is not an either/or scenario. First and Fourth/Fifth are separate markets. You could easily do both.

    3. Most people heading to downtown are either transferring or walking one or more blocks to their destination. The chance that everybody from Ballard is going to 3rd Ave, everybody from Magnolia is going to 2nd Ave, and everybody from Redmond is going to 5th Ave is nil. They’re on that bus because it’s the only bus from their neighborhood, not because they’re going to that specific street.

      So most people who are on the streetcar passing Westlake or Intl Dist are not going specifically to 1st or 5th Avenues; they’re just generally going north-south. Some will transfer; others are going to appointments anywhere from the waterfront to 9th. The shortest distance between Westlake and Intl Dist is 5th, and that happens to be within 5 blocks of all of 1st to 9th.

      In contrast, with a 1st Avenue routing, the streetcar has to detour five blocks at both ends. It’ll get stuck in Pioneer Square/ballgame/ferry traffic, which is much less of an issue at 5th. The only people who will benefit are those going to specifically west of 3rd between Jackson and Stewart. The largest cohort of people going to Pike Place Market or the waterfront are tourists, but most tourists will be coming from elsewhere, not specifically from SLU, Jackson, and Broadway.

      So for all these reasons, 5th seems more useful than 1st. That does not preclude a second line from Jackson to 1st to Seattle Center.

  9. …it’s also a down payment on longer potential lines up Eastlake or to Ballard.

    Sorry. Seems like a down payment on grossly inferior Ballard service to me.

    Sure, it’s indirect. Sure, it’s the slow boat down Westlake. But now it ambles through downtown too! It’s “direct rail service.” It’s Sorta Good Enough™.*

    (*With apologies to Metro for borrowing their prevailing service ideology.)

    1. Ballard needs grade-separated light rail to downtown. It also needs a connection to Fremont.

      I don’t think the streetcar plan has any bearing on Ballard-Downtown service.

      1. That’s because you’re not a politician.

        Once any “direct, one-seat, routed-through-downtown rail service” exists (no matter how geographically indirect or slow), that will be all she wrote. Mark my words.

      2. The TMP really emphasizes “rapid” streetcars over SLUS/FH- “circulator” streetcars throughout, and I’m pretty sure it does consider a rapid streetcar for the Ballard-to-downtown corridor. Of course, rapid streetcar is pretty much the same thing as lighter light rail.

      3. The problem is that “rapid streetcars” — like lousy light rail — become okay with a little bottleneck here and little bottleneck there, until the bottle is nothing but necks. Permanently.

        The current SLU streetcar is slow, especially on the last 1/2-mile south of Denny, and the Ballard-Fremont proposal uses it. So there goes your “rapid” designation right there!

        Remember that the “last mile into downtown” problem is one of Seattle transit’s most persistent, and the main reason for our 4x, 6x, sometimes 8x slower-than-driving “downtown transfer penalty.” So willfully bottlenecking along that last mile does nothing to ease our woes!

      4. I wonder if they could do some transit priority signalling on the Westlake portion to speed up the existing line. The crazy street grid is one problem, but traffic is pretty light on a lot of it.

      5. If Ballard ends up with the 17X, 18X, RapidRide, and a Rapid Streetcar via Fremont, that’s a lot of service and will probably satisfy demand for the near future. Sometime in the next decade there will hopefully be an ST3 vote that would include full-on light rail. The light rail line would replace RapidRide, and the 17x and 18x could be turned into feeder lines. The streetcar line would really be a separate project that is more about connecting Ballard and Fremont with South Lake Union than about getting from Ballard to downtown proper.

      6. The peak expresses aren’t widely useful services and therefore don’t even deserve entry into a list of available options.

        RapidRide, though a sham, is likely to replace the 18 local.
        Any Ballard-Fremont streetcar is likely to replace the 17 local.

        As I said, mark my words, once any form of fixed rail exists, a real, worthwhile rail line will be off the proverbial table, and Ballard transit will suck forever.

      7. RapidRide is going to replace the 15X, and possibly the 15 if there’s going to be no shadow service. The 18 will be replaced by an extended 48, and the 18X will just go away.

  10. We already have tons of buses and trains going from one end of downtown to the other, so adding yet another line doing the same thing doesn’t seem that useful. If I wanted a ride from Westlake to the International District, I’d go in the tunnel and take the existing light rail, not ride a streetcar that’s likely to get stuck in traffic.

    While, money aside, transit downtown is certainly not worse with it than without it, I’d rather see the money spent elsewhere, like paying for traffic signal priority on the most crowded existing bus routes and adding bus-and-right-turn-only lanes on bottlenecks such as Steward Street just before Denny Way.

    I’m also not crazy about the impact these tracks are going to have on cycling. I guess this will turn in a bikes-ride-on-the-left-while-cars-pass-on-the-right situation similar to what we have today on Westlake.

    1. “If I wanted a ride from Westlake to the International District, I’d go in the tunnel and take the existing light rail”

      If you’re shopping at Westlake and then taking a Sounder train, that makes sense. But if you’re on Jackson going to SLU, you don’t want to transfer twice in the space of a mile. Or even if you’re at SLU going to the library, the transfer penalty seems out of proportion to the short distance. If two streetcars terminate within a mile of each other, logic suggests connecting them into one route so that it can be more useful than the two separate routes are.

    2. The tunnel is not very good as a downtown shuttle because it takes forever to get down into it and back up. The whole design of the tunnel with the big mezzanines is not optimized for quick descent or ascent. Link also costs money even for short trips.

      1. Thank You! My point exactly. So we have a horribly expensive tunnel done wrong so now we want to add more trains on the surface to avoid it. I think we need to fix it. I’ve never felt like I was going out of the way in Prague or Budapest descending to their metro lines but the escalators go from entrance to the platform directly. With our stations you go down some stairs or an elevator, get lost wandering around, finally find where the transit is, go down the wrong side because the signage is bad, go back up, cross to the right side then wander the platform looking for the right bus. grr.. You could spend all day down there trying to make your connection. Let’s just admit it, we don’t know how to design stations.

      2. What horribly expensive tunnel done wrong? The DSTT does a fine job of making it faster to traverse downtown than on the surface. The capital cost was twenty years ago, nobody cares about it now, they’re just glad the DSTT exists. Shrinking the mezzanines would not add capacity to the roadway. I wish the DSTT had gone north to Seattle Center rather than east to Convention Place, but that was not the priorities then. I wish Convention Place had been designed better, so that all southbound buses stopped at the same platform rather than on three seprate platforms, and all northbound buses stopped at the southern platform rather than some looping around and stopping at the side. But the station is still there and it works; I use it several times a week. So what if the stations are designed in a grand Moscow style rather than a minimal New York style?

  11. I would have serious concerns about any shared-ROW rail system on 4th or 5th. While it is technically possible to really haul ass down 4th or 5th, you typically have to change lanes several times between Olive and Yesler. Through traffic has to dodge stopped traffic in alternating right turn / left turn queues.

    Any rail in the couplet would have to be in the center lane to be practical. But center lane rails require the streetcar to make lane changes at every downtown stop. I don’t see that working.

    1. Just realised that if SDOT had the lanes themselves shift right and left where turn-only lanes end, the problem could be solved. It would require mid-intersection or near-intersection weaves, not exactly considered a best practice, but looking around the city it seems SDOT has no qualms about doing it.

  12. Ah, this is EXACTLY the couplet extension to the SLU streetcar that I’ve been advocating for as the next SC extension to be built (after the First Hill line). This is nice to see as it makes so much more sense then putting something on 1st Ave.

    And there are multiple options for the turn-a-round in the ID. Hopefully they can coordinate with 1st Hill designers for some sort of a combined turn-a-round using common tracks.

    1. So why is 5th Ave a one way? It would seem to make sense from a traffic standpoint to continue to alternate with odd numbered Avenues being two way and even numbers as one ways alternating directions. There is no paired north bound corridor to 5th as 6th splits north/south in the middle of downtown. I think just on 5th would be better (one way issues aside) since it extends the high capacity transit coverage by meeting up with Link at each end of DT. Being on 4th has no advantage over just staying on your bus/train. Especially for people that might use the streetcar to walk up to destinations east of I-5.

      Are there savings in consolidating the route on 5th? I’m thinking less in electrical costs and stations (especially if center running). Construction should cost less since your not moving as many utilities and don’t impact two streets which means it should take considerably less time as I doubt SDOT would allow two major arterials to be torn up at the same time. How would this compare to the costs of restriping and adding new traffic signs/signals? Does the study peg a number for operational savings in connecting the two lines and can the current MF be sold off to offset the cost of construction?

      It might make signal priority easier and it’s easier to understand; especially for out of towners. Also 4th is already packed with transit and will be even more so when buses get booted upstairs.

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