SDOT, Nelson/Nygaard

It’s become clear from comments that there’s some confusion about what the streetcar and BRT modes in the TMP actually mean. It is not, in general, the service quality of the South Lake Union Streetcar. You have to dig into the pamphlets to which each post links to understand what treatments the streetcar (or BRT bus) would receive.

In the case of the 4th/5th couplet, there are two options. The best one, presented at right, has a dedicated transit lane in both directions. The other alternative would do so only on 5th.

For cost reasons, in that project we’re likely stuck with the current configuration through SLU, unless one of the other lines is built.

As for Ballard/Fremont, the plan envisions dedicated transit lanes in the Ballard/Leary couplet, on Westlake between Valley and Nickerson, and on one or both avenues downtown as above. Elsewhere, it would operate in mixed traffic, although it would get other priority treatments like queue jumps and signal priority.

26 Replies to “A Word on ROW”

  1. Looks like the current bike lane on fourth disappears in this plan. Has any thought been given to northbound cycling routes through downtown.

      1. Was that the right link? I only saw two refs to bikes, and only in the comments.

        I’ve got mixed feelings about the proliferation of rails on regular streets…

  2. From what I saw in the Nordic countries four years ago, streetcars in mixed traffic worked better than I expected. However, people there have had over a century to get used to street rail. I also suspect traffic laws make you liable for damage to public property if you get hit by one.

    For Seattle, especially in the time length it will take to build any of this plan, I think any CBD right of way should be fully reserved with signal pre-empt. Same with all of Westlake and Leary Way.

    Part of my own prejudice toward putting the South Lake Union line to 3rd through Downtown is that I think this avenue is long overdue to become transit-only. Streetcars Fifth to Pine to Third inbound, Virginia to Westlake outbound.

    Buses? Possible for trolleybuses to share positive wire with sreetcars, but on that score, whatever works best technically. Buses, whatever routes fit. Would be good if we ever could get a real dual-power bus to run Route 18 or 5 on wire and off.

    Given general pace of transitbuilding in Seattle- no reason to let future be limited permanently limited by past and present obstacles.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I see the 4th/5th couplet as expanding transit downtown. Why limit transit to one crowded street when you can use three?

      1. I agree. This way 3rd is mostly for people traveling to or from downtown, whereas 4th/5th will be mostly a downtown shuttle, with added riders heading for SLU or north.

      2. Seriously. The biggest impact from putting all those buses on 3rd is that the sidewalk is jam packed with people going nowhere and doing nothing. That makes for terrible ambience. Even if there were things to do, all the people would be blocking visibility and egress.

      3. I’d much rather have crowds at transit stops than nobody on the sidewalks. The crowds give it a friendly urban ambulance. When there are a lot of middle-class people waiting for the bus, it drowns out the ambience of the panhandlers and drug dealers.

      4. I agree. I was more concerned with traffic flow. Add seperate ROW for streetcars and we have fewer lanes for buses to pass each other.

    2. I’m pretty sure the construction methods used for the bus tunnel preclude placing streetcar tracks on top of it – which rules out 3rd for streetcar purposes. Someone with better knowledge than I needs to confirm this, however.

      1. The only possible problem would be over the University and Pioneer Square stations which are cut and cover. the tunnel itself is bored.

        I find it hard to believe that the roofs were not engineered to carry the load that streetcars would levy.

      2. If the cut & cover DSTT stations truly can’t have streetcars above, the reason is probably not the load, but electrical grounding concerns. I seem to recall that very strict rail grounding requirements delayed Link in the DSTT and were involved in the tear-up of the original tunnel rails.

        Alternately, you might not be able to cut deep enough into the road to lay rails without compromising its strength.

        I simply think 3rd Ave, even as bus-only, is too congested for peak-time streetcar use.

  3. Signal priority. Why not on buses, now? Since LINK is the only thing in the city of Seattle that has signal priority, I don’t get why a new streetcar would get it and say the 8 bus wouldn’t.

  4. What are the Mayor’s, Council’s, and DT Chamber’s likely hood of supporting transit only lanes on 4th and 5th?

  5. Great. So it gets dedicated lanes where they’re least needed, and gets stuck in mixed traffic at all the bottlenecks. What a brilliant plan!

    And how, exactly, does something get “queue jumps” when it’s sitting in a mixed queue?

    1. Isn’t the distinction that a queue jump doesn’t take up the whole block?

      If you build something that gets stuck at bottlenecks, you can sometimes get money to fix the bottlenecks individually. Though I’m not sure how those fixes would be implemented for streetcars — it seems like they’d often just move the bottleneck.

      All that said, trams in partially dedicated lanes seem to work in places like Helsinki. Maybe we can learn their best practices.

      1. I guess that makes some sense. And yes, partial ROW does a decent job in the streetcar-heavy European cities.


        The thing most of the Seattle streetcar network’s boosters (and coverage in The Stranger in particular) seem to neglect is that all of those streetcar-heavy European cities have spent decades building subways specifically to supplant the streetcars for long distances. Nobody travels 5 miles on a single streetcar in Europe anymore — the distances Seattle is trying to cover with that mode. The streetcars are for feeders and connections to fill gaps in coverage. About 1/3 of the passengers turn over at every stop. They’re just not used for long distances.

        It’s a really important “but.”

      2. “streetcar-heavy European cities have spent decades building subways specifically to supplant the streetcars for long distances.”

        Gosh, like Link.

        “Nobody travels 5 miles on a single streetcar in Europe anymore — the distances Seattle is trying to cover with that mode.”

        And people complain that Link is too grade-separated expensive and doesn’t have enough stops. But what the neighborhoods need is two different modes: a fast one for longer distances, and one stopping every 1/4 mile for shorter distances. Both with 15-minute minimum frequency. The streetcar/BRT proposal is the latter, not the former.

      3. My problem with it, Mike, is that’s being marketed as the former.

        Seattle can’t get it right if it just doesn’t get it!

      4. +1 @d.p.

        I think it’s important for any Seattle street car project, out of the gate, to design a dedicated ROW and only look at mixing traffic with signal priority where a dedicated ROW is not possible (like the FHSC).

        Because we simply wont know until a system is built how successful it will be and how citizen will actually use it, the only way we’re going to get our money out of it is to make it as efficient as possible.

        In the case of the Ballard/Fremont/SLU line, if we’re going to spend ~$325MM for a “mixed” system, why not spend $375MM for a “dedicated” system if the extra $50MM went to purchase property for a dedicated ROW?

        The last thing we want is to spend this money on nothing more effective than a bus. We’ll only get one shot at this in our lifetimes.

    2. Your comment makes no sense. They are specifically putting the streetcar in the outside lane to avoid all the cars turning to get on the highway. How would an exclusive ROW in the inside lane work, exactly?

  6. Sigh.
    Another post that reduces conditions inside the buses as merely a technocratic issue.

    What’s keeping folks off buses isn’t bus doors (confusing as they may be!), infrastructure, route tweaks, or headways. It’s the social and cultural conditions inside the buses- a topic this blog goesconspicuously out of its way to avoid.

    Ignore these all you want; it’s your blog. But don’t expect to have your technocratic arguments convince SOV drivers to see the light when they get harassed or worse when they try to ride the bus.

    1. Mike,

      I’ll give you a technocratic response:)

      The post-implementation RR A survey found interest in more security on the buses, but much more interest in security at bus stops. Waiting for the bus is where people are really scared to be.

      There are a couple obvious ways to reduce that scare factor:

      1. Reduce the number of stops, so that the likelihood of having Metro’s limited security force or SPD nearby, goes up. This can be accomplished by both stop consolidation and line consolidation.
      2. Reduce the waiting time. This can be accomplished by line consolidation and better frequency on those consolidated lines.

      To put it another way, killing the 42 isn’t just a money issue. It’s also a safety issue.

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