by MARK DUBLIN
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 And two, our constitution’s present definition of “highway uses” is fifty years out of date.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.
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.
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.