Seattle Waterfront Streetcar (Oran)

I’d normally vote “Yes” on the Deep Bore Tunnel for two simple reasons: the funnel shape of Seattle and the shortage of through transportation corridors. But on election day, I’ll certainly vote “No”, and get active on a voter initiative to amend the state constitution, for two more reasons.

One, I will no longer accept any state transportation project through my city without a major transit component specifically designed into it. And two, our constitution’s present definition of “highway uses” is fifty years out of date. Our dependence on automobiles is now our chief obstacle to personal freedom. Our fathers’ highway system- and their State of Washington-don’t’ work for us anymore.

Meantime, the entire politics of the DBT has one glaring omission: a serious effort to give public transit the place in the Waterfront project it desperately needs and hasn’t got. More after the jump.

What Waterfront Surface Transit Means (by author)

Unless project design chief Dr. James Corner has changed his mind since we spoke after the last Waterfront presentation in April, project thinking considers small vans and pedicabs all the public transit the Waterfront needs. The existing fortune in track, catenary, stations and exclusive right-of-way already sitting idle for six years? Sorry. New Waterfront won’t have room for it.

Both Dr. Corner and the SDOT I-5/Surface/Transit Hybrid Scenario agree the new Waterfront has room for six lanes of general traffic. And both agree that First Avenue is close enough for passengers riding the length of the project shoreline. With all due respect, it would make more sense to say the same about the project’s every restroom.

Of course small festive vehicles should be welcome. The “tuk-tuks” of Asia would be great- fitted with electric motors. But park of this park just will not work without a full-sized, and fully-reserved transit corridor running parallel to the shore. Rubber tires and steel wheels both work, though in my observation streetcars are more “crowd-friendly” than buses. The best example I’ve seen carries both, and so can ours.

The late City Councilman George Benson wouldn’t consider sentimentality or nostalgia sound consideration for transit planning. Neither do I. The task is to incorporate the Benson Line’s considerable existing Waterfront capital into a unified citywide streetcar system, including the current South Lake Union Streetcar, the new lines on First Avenue and First Hill, and whatever street rail follows.

San Francisco’s waterfront and Seattle’s have more differences than the shape of their shorelines. But “Muni’s” approach to transit itself has valuable lessons for Seattle right now, owing chiefly to the 70 years of street rail experience that we lost and they kept.

Market St. SF Today, First Ave. Seattle Tomorrow (by the author)

For instance: Fitted with trolley poles, like our own Melbourne cars, streetcars have no trouble sharing a positive wire and “special work” with trolleybuses. What works for miles on Market Street between the
Embarcadero and the Castro District should also work for First Avenue, Jackson Street, and Broadway in Seattle. Possibly using overhead already in place.

And: The 20 historic streetcars of the “F-Line” are more than pretty antiques. Fully integrated into the Muni streetcar system, they often carry 20,000 fare-paying passengers a day. More important, every one of these cars is a rolling display of passenger-carrying knowledge that modern designers seem to have forgotten.

Financing? Go online to The Market Street Railway-one of the best websites going, with the line’s whole history and much else. Briefly, in 1983, a group of classic transit enthusiasts and activists formed a private auxiliary organization to work with Muni to bring street rail back to Market Street afterthe major lettered carlines were put to light-rail metro in the same tunnel as BART, one story up.

The current Metro Employees’ Historic Vehicle Association could easily do the same. The first contributor might be the Seattle Art Museum, whose Sculpture Garden would benefit greatly from restored streetcar service. A turntable at the Garden footbridge could both permit single-ended vehicles and become a legitimate artwork for the park.

At last April’s Waterfront event, Dr. Corner presented a compelling image: a ring of dynamic activity centered around Elliott Bay. I see a bracelet in steel rail and copper trolleywire, sparks and all- withmoving beads in the colors of a dozen transit liveries, connecting everything vital along the project’s whole length.

Concentrate on this, and all Waterfront politics will gain much positive energy.

78 Replies to “More than a Monument is Missing”

  1. Great article Mark. I agree, this will tie the waterfront project together and drive up the public use that was a key theme in the Corner presentation. How can we not do this? Keep the fire burning and let us know how we can get behind and support this initiative.

    1. Regarding the waterfront streetcar line.
      Late last year the Boards of the PFD (SAFECO Field), the PSA (then Qwest Field), the Mariners and First & Goal sponsored a study on the re-activation of the Waterfront Streetcar line. The work was done by URS, the designer of the SLU and First Hill lines. We did so because we wanted to make sure that consideration was given to the need to connect the ferry terminal to the existing and planned transportation modes in the area as well as the sports and exhibition venues.No useful transit service was, or is, available for this purpose. The Waterfront Streetcar line would do so.

      1. Continuing my comments – a thumb got overactive.
        We believed that the proposed First Hill line with a maintenence base in the Charles Street yard afforded a means of accomplishing our goal if we could convince the City to co-locate a facility to maintain the vintage Melbourne cars. The study is complete and some of the bloggers have read it as evidenced by joshuadt’s reference to the cost of re-activation.
        I have discussed the report with several members of the City Council, businessmen in Pioneer Square and along the waterfront, the POS, members of the Seattle Planning Commisiion and many people interested in the waterfront park. Everyone is supportive EXCEPT James Corner and some folks at SDOT who believe that the N/S transportation needs of the waterfront park can be met with a streetcar line on 1st Ave. Nothing can be further from reality when one considers the elevation difference between the waterfront and 1st Ave.
        We had hoped that the Waterfront line could be re-activated between the time the First Hill line is finished in 2013 and when the viaduct comes down in 2016 or 2017. Unforunately, planing for the seawall replacement and the tunnel’s south portal has proceded with the assumption that the rails can be removed to accomodate the construction activity.
        We’re left with the hope that common sense will prevail and Corner will recognize that the new park will require a ‘people friendly’ mode of transportation to accomodate the ‘get-on-get-off’ needs of park visitors.

      2. Tom,
        Have you spoken with the Mayor’s office? How about the DSA?

        Also what does Mr. Corner have against streetcars? Does he really think the city will fund tuk-tuks or pedicabs?

      3. is it too late to change those plans? One would think that with that invasive of construction going on the waterfront that the merchants down there would want something like the streetcar running to keep the tourests flowing through their busineses. its amazing that such an act can be allowed to happen and no one says a thing this day in age when the city is activly persuing other streetcar lines in town.

      4. Tom, so what can we be doing to help with this project? Is there any particular course of action you need help with, or anyone in particular who might benefit from hearing some more voices? I’m happy to help if someone can point me in the right direction. Thanks

  2. George Benson used to be a regular at our Saturday luncheons in the U-Dist some years ago (All Aboard WA).
    Now that all his fine work has been left to rot on a political siding, I have to shake my fist at those ‘leaders’ that let it happen. I guess they were all worn out trying to find room in our city for football and baseball stadiums, or fretting over how the AWV or 520 do-overs could be large enough to be worthy of their ‘world class’ seal of approval.
    But, trying to find a spot for a tiny metal bldg, to house a couple of streetcars was just a bridge too far.
    I guess they were all resting on the 7th day.

    1. I agree with this. It is ridiculous that they shut the WFSC down in exchange for a sculpture park (with some really bad art I might add). It was a crime.

      Personally I think the chances of getting the WFSC restored (and of getting more transit) are greater if we work collaboratively with the DBT folks, but that just doesn’t seem to be the “Seattle Way.”

    2. When I suggested erecting the building on temporary foundations next to the viaduct until a permanent site could be built, then adding a stub track across Main to Jackson, they scoffed, saying it would be in the way of demolition due to start anytime now.
      How many years ago?
      Nice things about metal buildings : 4 bolts per col. and there ready to move.
      Gee, I wonder what happened to it? Maybe match-marked and sitting in a warehouse.

      1. For all of you who know people on these projects…DO NOT GIVE UP.

        Also, there are people on the city council (a majority in fact) that support streetcars. What did I hear? It would take maybe $1-2m to get the WFSC running again: 1) A short track from the 5th/Jackson terminus across the street to the new FHSC tracks. 2) Storing the vintage trolley’s at the Charles Street base with the new streetcars. 3) New station at the Sculpture Park paid for by the SAM.

        What were and what are these people thinking when they couldn’t find a place to house a new streetcar barn? This line carried almost 500,000 people in it’s last year and would probably carry much more now. Imagine if it was extended a mile north to Amgen and the cruise ships?

        This line MUST be a part of the new waterfront and this group has to be part of realizing that goal accomplished.


        An unlikely source has been thinking about it. Hopefully they can find the funds to re-activate the line, which if it came back it would be very difficult to get rid of again. A couple of issues, first off you’d have to rewire the cars for 700 nomial vdc, although the mehva trolleys, were origonally 600, and got retrofitted with special resistors to allow them to run on 700 vdc overhead, and the rail profile may be diffrent inbetween the two lines, although i dont think thats too much of a show stopper. The WFSC could easily use the positive wire from the ETB system to allow the cars to access the carhouse. Seattleites its time to correct ron sim’s criminal act!

      3. That’s great news, [Z]. “In the short‐term, these physical improvements could take up to one year to complete. These could be
        timed to coincide with the completion of the First Hill Streetcar, planned for October 2013.” “None of the five cars exhibited any conditions that would prevent them from returning to service
        immediately.” If they accomplish this, I’ll have to become a sports fan to support them (and ride the streetcar to games from my work, of course).

      4. “Waterfront Streetcar could be reactivated for a cost in the range of $10.3 million to $12.7 million” including south terminus, new maintenance facility, and ADA and voltage system adjustments.

      5. My read was that additional ADA work would need to address issues at the stations but that’s pretty trivial compared to a $10-13 million dollar budget. The big ticket item is the MF is not included.

  3. Voting “No” on Ref 1 does nothing to advance the cause of transit. In fact, it does essentially nothing in relation to anything. It’s a meaningless vote.

    1. It’s a very strong signal to the government that the public doesn’t want this boondoggle and it opens the door for serious legal action to commence. The very fact that you would argue “that it doesn’t matter” shows that it must matter.

    2. Only someone afraid of the outcome would say it is a meaningless vote. It gets the opinion of the people clearly on the record. It shows the public understands the project is wasteful and does not improve mobility and lacks support.

    3. I completely disagree. There are two scenarios after a no vote.

      1. The tunnel actually dies and surface/transit is actually given a second look at.
      2. Politicians move forward with the tunnel, but modify the tunnel to address the two major reject campaign points, transit and tolling.

      In either case transit gets a substantial boost.

    4. I’ve heard the current polling is running something like 65/35 in favor of rejecting Ref 1. That is a pretty strong signal to government leaders even if the vote is considered “symbolic”.

      Remember several members of the city council are up for re-election in November. What do you think the odds that they will try to get on the other side of the tunnel issue if Ref. 1 wins, particularly if it is by a large margin?

      Beyond that there are two other factors to consider:
      1. The state leadership wants to put a transportation measure on the November 2012 ballot. This measure won’t pass without support from Seattle voters. To continue with “full speed ahead” on the Tunnel would put passage of this measure at risk.
      2. Even assuming the 2012 transportation measure passes there are far more projects around the state than there is money to spend. Many in the legislature will be looking to take money away from the DBT and put it toward other projects. Past that it is looking quite likely there will be less Federal transportation money in the future including money for highways. At a state level money to maintain I-5 and I-90 is far more important than dealing with the AWV replacement.

      As to why this means there might be more money for transit:
      1. Surface/Transit/I-5 becomes the only real AWV option simply on a cost basis.
      2. More transit will need to be a component of the 2012 transportation package to ensure it gets enough votes in Seattle. Particularly if WSDOT continues to push the tunnel or tries to build an elevated highway in its place.

    5. It’s important to get public opinion on record. Do a majority of Seattlites want the tunnel or not? Some activists say yes, others say no, but only an official vote (or perhaps a comprehensive poll) would say for sure. I voted against a tunnel because of its expense, and I wish the Legislature would recognize that rather than saying “no really means yes”. If this tunnel were less expensive than the other one, maybe I’d vote for it, but it’s more expensive. Sometimes you have to say things a couple times before they get the message, like when people voted three times to take the sales tax off food after the Legislature kept reinstating it.

      1. It’s not going to be a balanced vote.

        Let’s Move Forward had large size full-glossy flyers in every Seattle mailbox on the day ballots arrived. This flyer repeated the false transit-funding claim, quite loudly, and was quite heavily focused on the tunnel’s benefit to pedestrians, and transit.

        Protect Seattle Now had no mailing at all.

        Apart from the small handful of people who have been following the post-EIS commentary at STB and the Stranger (not exactly an influential demographic), that flyer and the Seattle Times’ endorsement will make up the extent of the discussion for the most part.

        Most people will be unmoved from their intial positions. Some will now believe that they are voting for transit.

  4. Mr. Corner (is he really a Phd?) is proposing a connection between Steinbrueck Park and the aquarium that will span the street corridor giving pedestrians a grade separated connection between the waterfront and Pike Place Market. This bridge couldn’t be a better opportunity for a new trolley barn, where there currently is a parking lot.
    The omission of the trolley is a huge one and again points out that the city is not supporting an opportunity for transit in the midst of significant infrastructural change which will not come along again for a long time.

  5. There’s three separate issues here that I agree and disagree with in part:

    1. The DBT’s lack of transit funding is a travesty, and the current car-dependence entrenched in the state constitution is a threat to our future. I agree entirely.

    2. With only minor refurbishment and some low-cost platform changes (like the wheelchair ramps SF Muni uses) the Melbourne cars can be fully integrated into the rest of the streetcar network, and much of this work could be done and funded by volunteer organizations. I agree entirely.

    3. The waterfront alignment itself. I have to disagree here, I don’t think much of reviving this alignment.

    There will not be much capital left invested in the waterfront streetcar once WSDOT has knocked down the viaduct. The track has been paved over in numerous places in the I.D. and the tracks, caternary and stations from Main to Pike will be bulldozed as part of the viaduct demolition. The Broad St station went away with the barn. There ain’t gonna be much left. Moreover, the alignment itself suffers from a number of problems: its walkshed isn’t great, and it doesn’t really connect ridership centers in the way that a streetcar on Eastlake or the 4th/5th couplet would.

    I think it’s much more sensible to concentrate on projects that are more cost effective, like the 4th/5th couplet, and include some money in whatever revenue package that’s used to build those projects to build ADA ramps and make whatever OCS changes are needed to run the Benson cars on those alignments, while partnering with a new private foundation that would work on restoring and maintaining the Benson cars, and, in the long term, perhaps acquiring more historic stock.

    1. As a person who walks the Waterfront from Broad to the ferry terminal twice a day, I really wish we had some better sort of transportation. It really is rediculous. The 99 bus runs every 30 min. You could walk the length of the waterfront instead of wait for that bus. Plus the new route that loops back down 1st ave is horrible in rush hour. The bus is never on time, and completely unreliable. It really bugs me that we have an existing designated ROW on the waterfront that is completely unused.

      I understand that when they built the sculpture park, it was figured that the AWV would be comming down soon which will stop WFT operations. But now that the project has been delayed so much its been 6 years and nothing has happened. The viaduct wont even be touched till 2016 by the current plan. That totals in 11 years of waiting. I belived even now with the viaduct the waterfront would attract more people if there was an easy way to get around. For a city trying hard to revitalize its waterfront i canot belive they dont think transit should be part of that.

    2. First picture is best answer as to whether present alignment connected with the rest of the system. Car 482 is stopped at Main and Occidental, smack in the middle of Pioneer Square, two blocks from Qwest Field.

      In three minutes, it will stop right across Jackson Street from the Jackson and Fifth trolleybus stop- and also elevators, escalators, and stairs to platforms both directions for Tunnel to Westlake and LINK to Rainier Valley and Sea-Tac.

      Jackhammer can take care of pavement across tracks at First and Main. On Waterfront, tracks can be re-laid and catenary re-strung after viaduct is down. But preserving the easement is most important.

      A permanent, inviolable right of way for transit- that’s what’s missing from the project, and absolutely has to be restored.


    3. I agree that it’s going to require a private largely volunteer organization to ever see the Melbourne cars active again in Seattle. Has MEHVA expressed any interest in taking this on? It’s not a trivial proposition and would likely require corporate sponsorship (PACCAR?). Remember these cars were taken out of service and sold because maintaining them had just become too dang expensive. And that was with a transit agency that had decades of experience with them, a ton of spare parts and all of the facilities to do the work. Modifying them isn’t just a trip to Radio Shack and bolting on a few parts. Everything will have to be custom designed and hand fabricated at a cost of tens perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. Look at the difficulties SF is having and again they’ve had experience with retrofits. Remember too that the primary reason transit vehicles are retired from service is structural integrity of the frame. These are wood frames approaching the century mark. Leaving them in “just a metal shed” would pretty much be the kiss of death.

      1. While the Melbourne cars are cool and all i dont really care if they get used again. I just want to see somthing running on the dedicated ROW that is sitting idle on the waterfront and has been for 6 years. Remove the rails and pave it for all i care. It would make a great bus route and bypass all the traffic. ROW is usually the hardest thing to get downtown in any city. and here we have land in a corridor where people live (lower belltown could easily walk there) that connects to a transit center (international district) and we have done nothing with it for 6 years. And have no plans for the next 5-10 years.

        Belltown is one of the most dense neighborhoods in seattle and apart from some buses on 3rd we have little transit options. The only future transit plan to belltown is the 1st ave streecar. And a streetcar running down 1st will be delayed by traffic for large portions of the day. Not a problem when you have dedicated ROW like on the waterfront.

      2. “the dedicated ROW that is sitting idle on the waterfront” is single-track. That limits the frequency of any streetcars. If they add a second track, maybe that would be OK. If they figured out some way to speed up the Benson streetcar, which was slower than a trolleybus.

      3. [Mike] See [Brian]’s comments below. Really the only thing limiting speed is pedestrian use around the track.

        Single track is better than nothing, for now. When the waterfront is rebuilt after the seawall and tunnel/viaduct/surface/nothing, we should really fight for double track.

      4. I don’t disagree that the Melbourne cars will likely need a complete re-build before they see regular service again. However that is pretty much par for the course with historic stock. Still a company like Gomaco has a fair bit of experience in restoring historic cars, especially Melbourne W class trams.

        I think it would be worth spending the money to restore and extend the Waterfront Streetcar and to operate it as a heritage line including the expense of acquiring and restoring heritage rolling stock. Given the cost of modern trams the price difference between restoring & maintaining old trams vs. buying new ones may be a bit of a wash anyway. As for the overall project capital and operating costs restoring the Waterfront Streetcar is less of a boondoggle than many other schemes used to revitalize a neighborhood or attract tourists. Tourism is a huge industry in Seattle, it is worth promoting it.

      5. +1, Chris. Tourism is a huge business, and 500K passengers/year on the old line is nothing to sneeze at.

  6. Building a maintenance building for the waterfront street car is one of the most cost efficient things we could do. When the tunnel vote goes down in flames there will be at least another 6 years of debate. During that time the WFST could be up and running and moving all those paying cruise ship riders into the International District and Pioneer Sq. It’d be a huge economic gain for the city.

    1. Hate to break it to you be the WFS never did better than 15% farebox recovery. It would be at the expense of real transit service hours elsewhere that County tax payers would be paying to haul tourists around. Neato yes, economic gain, no.

      1. It had better farebox recovery than any other downtown route, because it wasn’t included in the RFZ. The current route 99 has 0% farebox recovery. Plus a lot of the operation and maintenance was done by volunteers.

      2. Farebox recovery on the streetcars was decent, yes, but operation & maintenance costs on the streetcars was also high vs. the Gilligs.

        I remember a Metro statement from back when the streetcar stopped running. They said that by switching to buses, they’d be able to improve headways, extend the line a few blocks, not charge fares, and still come out ahead financially. Of course, I’m sure ridership plummeted.

        Cost is part of the reason W-class Melbourne streetcars have been mostly decommissioned around the world. At this point, they’re only in use on a handful of “tourist” routes in Dallas, Memphis, San Francisco and Melbourne. Even in those systems where they still run, they’ve been widely replaced with more modern vehicles (like 1970’s era Z-class Melbourne trams) on the workhorse routes.

        I’m all for bringing back a streetcar on or near the waterfront (as far as I’m concerned, anywhere from 1st ave to the water will do), but without some sort of ongoing grant from an independent agency to cover the extra costs of using the historical equipment (MOHAI?), more modern equipment should be used.

        Historical preservation is not part of Metro’s mission, and to use Metro funds for a historical project in downtown Seattle is politically unwise.

      3. Even with the expense, running historic streetcars can make sense when compared to other economic development and tourism promotion schemes. Perhaps fund it with a LID or something like the $2/night room tax the hotel industry is pushing for tourism promotion.

        Besides depending on the extent of refurbishment/restoration running historic cars wouldn’t necessarily be any more than replica gear or modern 10T cars.

        One issue is many older cars are designed for two-person operation. There are ways around that though. As long as the driver can operate all doors remotely and you have POP one person operation can work.

        On the other hand having conductors on tourist lines is nice as they can act as tour guides, tourism ambassadors, etc. But in that case it is probably best if they are volunteers, paid for out of other funds (such as tourism promotion), or funded privately (say by the MID or the DSA).

      4. I don’t remember them releasing any specifics on the maintenance costs of the old streetcars. Judging by other early 20th century machinery, I’d assume it probably has a few dozen suspension joints and bearings that are supposed to be greased daily (if not more often). Not particularly difficult, but that could add up to maybe an hour of labor per day per vehicle, before you even get into the major service intervals.

        As best as I remember from riding them, they were made for 1-man operation, so that’s not an issue. The operator stepped away from the controls at stops to man the farebox and hand out transfers. All boarding was usually done at the “front” door.

        It might be possible to preserve the bodies and frames, and install cheaper-to-maintain axles and propulsion. The bodies are known to be very dependable and stout (which is how they came to be still in use worldwide at 80 years of age). I know that Savanna, GA’s DOT recently purchased a W5 and put a complete series-hybrid diesel powertrain on it, so there’s a precedent for modernizing them.

      5. Aren’t the cars Metro owns the much older W2 models? The things are made out of wood. Ever been around a wooden boat or even tried to maintain an antique car? Again, Melbourne pulled these out of service decades ago even though the people there loved them for nostalgic reasons and they were, #1 already had the shop and experience to maintain them and #2 were sitting on a pile of spare parts.

      6. I’m pretty sure the Metropolitan-Vickers running gear on the W2 trams is pretty solid. Gomaco used Melbourne trucks and traction motors on their first few replicas until they switched to using gear from Milan Peter Witt cars.

        According to the study the stadium PDA did the W2 cars Metro has don’t need anything other than cleaning and lubrication to be put back into service. They’d also need voltage conversion if they were to share any OCS with the First Hill line.

        At some point I assume the cars would need to be reconditioned/rebuilt. Perhaps once the W2 trams are back on the rails we could buy a reconditioned Milan Peter Witt car or two from Gomaco and cycle the Melbourne cars out for reconditioning. For that matter given that Metro has 5 W2 trams and only needs 3 for regular operation we could send the cars out for reconditioning without buying any new equipment.

      7. All the W-series cars have the same type of wooden bodies, including the W5’s and W6’s that are still in use here and there. Our W2’s were always kept well maintained and fully operational, right up until the day they were mothballed. By all reports they are still ready for revenue service today, including the wooden bodies.

  7. You can’t amend the Washington Constitution by initiative. Any amendment must be proposed by the Legislature (with two-thirds support in each house, a pretty high bar) and approved by the people.

    1. Indeed. There’s very little progressive that could take place by a statewide initiative – the kind of money that puts those on the ballot can’t really come from activists.

  8. Tuk-tuks and Pedicabs are not and never will be ADA compliant.

    The Waterfront Street Car is. or was. I don’t have standing, but I sure hope someone dependent on a wheelchair does sue the city, the county, the state and SAM/Mimi Gates.

  9. Some thanks due here. First, to Oran for probably one of best existing pictures of both look and value of the George Benson line.

    Also to J.R. for correction on initiative process. And considering past couple of decades, to both Washington’s founding generation and the Creator for saving our Constitution from it. One really good example of Intelligent Design.

    So will have to do this the republican way, referring not to the party but the form of government: citizens organizing statewide to pressure our legislators to make the constitution list transit as a highway use.

    More or less the same way current definition got in there- when you think about it, kind of a minor detail for a major document. And probably done by a fairly small group of people, albeit rich and powerful ones.

    Typo about “Park of this park” really is flashback to ancestral memory. “Heart Of My Heart” was ‘way before “Shebop-shebop”. But never can tell. After hip-hop fades- next thing could be Barbershop Revival!

    Mark Dublin

  10. Here are few fun facts about those PCC’s vs the Skoda/OIW streetcars…

    Seating – 52-60 seats typical PCC; 28-32 seats typical 10T Skoda/OIW. Standing room is about equal…

    Cost: roughly $200,000 – $500,000 cheaper than new equipment, including refurbishment costs. Historic equipment attracts more riders.

    Turning Radius: PCC’s were designed to navigate dense urban areas and have a far sharper turning radius than the 10T’s

    Max Speed: PCC 50mph; 10T 45mph

    Overhead: PCC’s can use existing trolley OCS. Modern Streetcars can use the same but in limited mixed use with trolley buses.

    Even purchased new (yes, PCC’s are still around and built new) the cost is still cheaper than the Skoda/OIW models and can be built to match the era the buyer wishes.

    1. Wow I didn’t realize how well PCC-based cars compared to 10T cars. Not low-floor but there are ways of dealing with it. Also interesting the Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line in Boston still runs 1940’s vintage PCC cars in daily revenue service. Who is still making new PCC variants? Not that there aren’t lots of nice vintage cars of both the original PCC design and various European body variants out there.

      The W2 trams as we used to run on the Waterfront streetcar line aren’t PCC cars though. Still I suspect they could be fully refurbished/rebuilt into good working order having maintenance costs similar to new-build cars far cheaper than new 10T cars would cost.

      1. Alstom makes PCCs in Eastern Europe, where they are popular, especially in Poland. They probably could be convinced to make them for Seattle.

      2. The only thing that’s “high-speed” about the Mattapan line is the name. That line should have been put out of its misery decades ago; just about every Red Line expansion plan involves extending the Ashmont line to Mattapan. I’m not sure it’s something we want to be emulating in any way.

      3. Aleks,
        Given all of the other demands on MBTA budget extending the Red line out to Mattapan is unlikely to happen any tine soon.

        I was simply commenting that there were PCC cars still in daily revenue service on a line that isn’t run as a heritage or tourist service.

      4. Ashmont-Mattapan was “High-Speed” when compared to the plodding along of regular street-running, which most of the Boston Elevated Railway’s streetcar operations were at the time of the line’s construction.

        Also, at the time, streetcars continued to other points from both Ashmont and Mattapan using street running; today’s line was part of a larger system:

        (Trivia: Not far up Blue Hill Ave. from the Mattapan station was the barbershop owned by Max Nimoy, Leonard’s father)

        Yes,the Red Line ought to be extended, but energies and funding have been focused elsewhere, such as the branch to first Quincy and later Braintree. Remember that this is, IIRC, the only transit line in the USA that bisects a cemetery which is one reason it never was upgraded to HRT. A more recently-created obstruction will be the environmental concerns posed by building a wider ROW along the Neponset River-shed.

        And the region is still reeling financially from the bloated costs of the Big Dig:

        …not that Seattle would ever embark on such a foolish venture.

      5. Chris and Erik,

        My point wasn’t to get into a debate about Boston-area transit priorities; it’s an interesting topic, but not particularly relevant to this blog. :) Rather, I just wanted to remark that, even if we could find a modern manufacturer/refurbisher of PCCs, Boston’s line is *not* something we want to emulate here in Seattle.

      6. And the region is still reeling financially from the bloated costs of the Big Dig:

        Heh. As I’m sure you know, aside from the car-centric replacement of the Central Artery, the Big Dig also came with a laundry list of transit projects, including the Silver Line BRT, the North-South Rail Link (connecting Boston’s two commuter rail systems and Amtrak stations), the Red/Blue connector, restoring E Line service to the Arborway, and extending the Green Line from Lechmere to Melrose.

        Aside from the Silver Line tunnel, Boston did not break ground on any of this dedicated infrastructure until after the Big Dig was completed, 10 years late and $10 bn over budget. The North-South Rail Link and Arborway extension have been dropped; the Red/Blue connector is dying; and the Green Line extension is decades late.

        Even if we add transit funding to the DBT, I can’t help but think that we’re going to have the exact same problem.

    2. Thats if you can find usable PCC bodies. there are still a few around but i have heard of a couple of stash’s getting scrapped in recent years. Although brussells just retired some cars, but their disposition is unknown. Russan T3 types can be readily found, however no one has brought one over to the US yet. Indeed, modern propsulsion packages can be rebuilt into the cars when they are moderized and rebuilt for US service. All of thats available off the shelf. The Skoda 10T/Inkeon/OIW cars actually use very similar if not same propulsion packages as the rebuilt T3s.

  11. The current (unsused) waterfront streetcar line could very easily connect with the new First Hill streetcar line – especially since the new streetcar is going to use some of the same right of way.

    It seems like a no-brainer to extend the First Hill streetcar line through Pioneer Square all the way to Pier 70, and I don’t understand why the city is so dead set against doing this.

    1. Nor do I.. it makes perfect sense to do it. The only modifications needed would be the current platforms. It would be very easy and cheap to do it. I have a feeling there is something more political to it than we have heard of or seen.

      1. Very true. I’d love to know who and why they don’t want a streetcar on the waterfront. That also is the only real way to explain the complete bungling of replacing the old waterfront streetcar maintenance barn. Someone wanted the line dead and losing the maintenance barn was just a good excuse.

  12. I would love to see a Seattle Transit Museum be created somewhere along the Waterfront that would be responsible for the maintenance and operations of the Waterfront Streetcar, somewhat like San Francisco. Perhaps they could charge a lot for single tickets but then let people with passes ride it for free, like the San Francisco cable cars, to let tourists pay for them but still make the streetcars available to the general public. Not to mention a Seattle Transit Museum would be great to showcase our pretty rich transit history.

    1. Great idea. How about build something on Pier 62 or 63? It’s just empty space right now. Just run tracks across the street.

  13. If anyone has missed it, check out [Z]’s link near the top of the comments. That deserves it’s own post.

  14. “Our dependence on automobiles is now our chief obstacle to personal freedom”


    A similar thought comes to mind while I’m biking home and see the rat’s nest of traffic on 405 almost every night – “How’s that freedom of the open road thing going?”.

    I have the freedom to bike since I live 4 miles from work and know how to ply the wilds of Bellevue’s car-dependent street system. Most others don’t. By fighting for bike and transit options, we’re giving people more choices – not taking away “freedom”.

  15. Conversely, I think the rest of this region and the whole state and any interstate trucking and drivers should be able to tax downtown Seattle for its “bottleneck” effect.

    Essentially, if “Seattle” wasn’t in the way, I could travel freely on a nice wide I-5 from Renton to Lynnwood at the same speeds north and south of Seattle. But because Seattle has decided to be a giant obstruction to free travel, it should be paying very, very high costs to each and every person forced to suffer the ogre known as….Seattle.

    1. Yes, imagine the joys of traveling from Renton to Lynnwood and how much fun that would be.

    2. When Dwight Eisenhower- he was an officer then, not a general yet- helped conceive the interstate highway system shortly after the First World War, I’m not sure he intended for either interstate trucking or the highway system to go through any cities at all.

      Let alone facilitate the creation of living patterns that in addition to restricting our personal freedom also simultaneously destroy our farmland, pollute our air, and above all, render us mortally vulnerable to the politics of countries far outside our sphere of influence.

      So I think the answer is to return the Interstates to their original intent. Have them bypass every city of any size, with freight transfer stations on the outskirts. Convert urban stretches to transit rights-of-way. Now that these highways have reached the end of their design life, it might be cheaper to rebuild them as railways and busways that actually move people than to keep them as roads that don’t.

      Mark Dublin

      1. WWII actually, and yes. Reading about the invasion of D-Day into France, I think Ike and his fellow soldiers saw a nation that was instantly overrun by German tanks that could cross the farmland and dominate a nation of people with no recourse to fight back.

        The Interstate Highways were conceived as military roads (this is why the height of all overpasses are set by the size of military trucks) and near the old cities they became a means for people to exit urban decay and relocate into clean new suburbs with low crime and good schools.

        Your history may a bit mixed up as by 1900 America was still 50/50 percent rural urban, but that number swiftly changed to 10/90 sometime in the 20th century. Hence, it is not Interstates that affected Americans as an oddity, but the cramped conditions of urban living. Interstates let at least some people escape the blight of cities and move back to something approaching the healthy rural and country living they prefer.

      2. I honestly think there is a possibility that in my lifetime I will see I-5 in Seattle go away, at least as we know it.

      3. I-5 would almost be useful as a high speed rail alignment. A bit wider than necessary, and too crooked…

      4. I read that Eisenhower’s DOT lied to him. Eisenhower insisted that the freeways go around cities rather than through them, as in Vancouver and England, which have wide boulevards going out to the freeways. But the DOT was filled with Robert Moses types who wanted the freeways to go directly to downtown. So they told Eisenhower they wouldn’t go through cities but then did it anyway.

  16. So glad this post happened. I really think waterfront transit needs to be a bigger part of the discussion. I’d understand if it was ultimately rejected, but it deserves a fare shake in the process.

    Big thanks to Z for linking that study, I had no idea it existed! Great to see that other prominent downtown groups are looking into the options.

  17. They did tax downtown, and everybody else. They used the money to pay for I-405.

    Remember, that was the ‘business bypass’ route.

    I suppose we could start taxing Bellevue.

  18. They’d probably be high-speed enough for most trips. Take the two center lanes, and use tilting trains. You’ll probably have to slow down to freeway speeds at any curves, but you could make that up at the straight sections.

    My father-in-law is in concrete and always thought it would be a good idea to just put elevated tracks at the median of any freeway. It would be much more expensive and would be limited to lighter trains, but you could easily straighten out curves.

  19. Thanks to all who responded to my comments yesterday.
    No, Chris, I haven’t talked to the Mayor’s office. I don’t have access there and in my experience a cold call would not be useful. Besides, the folks at SDOT have their minds made up and would so adivise the Mayor DSA is on my list of future contacts as are more council members.
    Brian – (and everyone) the planners for the proposed WF park need to hear from as many folks as possible about the need for a reliable N/S people mover along the WF. To my knowledge, althogh the planners have invited public comment, they have not addressed the WF streetcar’s attraction. Over 400K passengers per year and this before we had 10 or a dozen cruise ships using the port each week in the summer. Corner says there is not room for the streetcar but he is finding room for bikes, joggers and several traffic lanes (and trees, of course) I have pointed out that if the WF park is approved, the public will expect immediate results. The “folds” and other proposed improvements wil take years to fund and consturct but the WF streetcar could be operatational in a few months following demolition of the viaduct. If the line is part of the park plan, it’s re-activation could be pointed to as an ‘early win’ for the park. Beleive me, after several decades of managing big visible public projects, I’m quite confident that
    the pubic will expect to see something happen quickly.
    But, I’m preaching to the choir. It will take an organized effort from transit experts, as many of you are, and other interested folks – like me – to bring the matter to the public’s attention and get the planners focused on the right solution.I’ll help that effort in any way I can.
    Thanks, too, to Z and Matt for your comments.

    1. Tom,
      Thanks for your reply. I do think getting this in front of key people at DSA is important. They have a lot of pull and are actively monitoring the waterfront plans. I also wonder if this is something the cruise lines would be interested in supporting.

      The key to getting the line back will be to get influential people, businesses, and/or organizations excited about having a streetcar be part of the new waterfront. Even better if one or more can be convinced to put something on the table to make it happen. For example support for a LID to fund the line, or money to cover some of the capital or operating costs.

      Also important will be having ready answers to most of the objections to bringing the line back, particularly anything Corner or SDOT staff have to say.

      In particular I don’t get the “there isn’t room” argument. The ROW is huge. Especially on the section between Yestler and Pine.

      1. The waterfront business community is another key player here. I know those folks understand north/south transit access on the waterfront.

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