There’s a public meeting about Seattle’s waterfront tomorrow night:

October 27, 2011
5:00pm – 9:00pm
Bell Harbor Conference Center, Pier 66 – Elliott Hall
2211 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98121

Enjoy local food trucks and live music at 5:00 pm.

Design update presentation by James Corner at 6:30 pm, followed by interactive stations to share your ideas.


Everyone interested in transit should show up ready to discuss three critical ideas about the Waterfront , both with designers and with our elected representatives who give them their orders:

One, that transit on First Avenue is not close enough to serve the mile and a half of shoreline three steep blocks to its west.

Two, that on the new Waterfront itself, public transit vehicles are not obstructions to public enjoyment, but critical tools to ensure it.

And three, that productive industrial workers hosting interested visitors create great “hospitality.” Vancouver BC’s Denman Island’s industry is its greatest “draw”.

Transit modes? A working Waterfront needs the technology of street rail along with the pedicabs. As Dresden shows: street rail can operate across a lawn!

39 Replies to “Seattle Waterfront Meeting Tomorrow”

  1. Once again, a big thank you to the Seattle Art Museum for killing the Waterfront Streetcar. Nice one.

    1. When the Waterfront Sreetcar was shut down, I went to the Art Museum and asked an official what SAM’s plans were for the line. I was told that, from their point of view, King County Metro and the City of Seattle had promised them that they didn’t have to worry- that a plans for a new streetcar barn were underway.

      The rest is history. Whatever plans there were…fell through. Upon more inquiries, my county councilmember told me that Metro’s intention was to re-instate the line after the Waterfront project was complete. When exactly the decision was made to completely eliminate the line from the Waterfront, I’m not sure. The move certainly merited more public discussion.

      I’m not sensing evil conspiracies here. To me, this is an example of what happens when everybody assumes somebody else has got something covered. If I’m coming on as eccentrically impatient now, it’s not just a nostalgic grievance. It’s because I see something critically important being left out of an otherwise fine project- and with the limited resources I’ve got available, I may have to be the one to try to get the mistake corrected.

      I think the Seattle Art Museum can be faulted in one artistic respect: if the streetcar maintenance facility could have been incorporated into the design of the park, it could have been brilliant. But as the working part of the city’s transit system that’s needed here, the new line should share operations and maintenance with the rest of the new streetcar system.

      So for the future, I would look at SAM as a potential ally. I think they’d like to have good transit to bring people to the Sculpture Park.

      Mark Dublin

      1. A little more history: someone in my firm at the time was working on the building that would have been the new barn – it was built into a private developer’s mixed use building. I saw the plans, and they were most of the way completed. I believe the funding fell through for the project (was that during the financial collapse? I don’t remember), and with it the waterfront trolley.

  2. I’m not sure if the quotes mean you’re being sarcastic, or that they’re simply not literal and just have a welcoming effect.

    If the latter, I smell this post creating a firestorm of critical comments asking you to back it up.

    Don’t forget that not even transit on First Avenue is a guarantee, at least beyond the fake-ass 99.

    1. Thanks for insisting on clarity, Morgan. I certainly wasn’t trying to be sarcastic about Denman Island, one of my favorite places in Vancouver. I was using it as a positive example.

      My chief concern here is that the new Waterfront be a living, productive neighborhood, where a fair number of people can earn good wages in small industries and crafts. My worry is that we’ll get either a large, empty set of plazas as a private park for some expensive residences and hotels, or a district devoted to tourist entertainment alone.

      I’m very proud to have visitors come to Seattle. But I’d like to encourage the rest of the world to come see us at work earning a good living doing creative and productive things, not simply as servants. Nothing against that profession- it’s just not healthy for it to be the main one.

      My point about First Avenue is that present Waterfront plans call for replacing the Waterfront streetcar line with one on First- which even if it does get built, which is far from certain, would not be sufficient to serve the Waterfront. Interesting point about visitors and transit: LINK and our joint-use Tunnel draw very positive comments, with chief criticism being that newcomers have to find out about it by word-of-mouth.

      Would like to see transit agencies get together with airlines and see to it every ticket envelope to Seattle includes an ORCA card loaded with a day-pass and a comprehensive map and schedule packet. Excellent example of the kind of work I would like visitors to see our people doing.

      Mark Dublin

      1. “Interesting point about visitors and transit: LINK and our joint-use Tunnel draw very positive comments, with chief criticism being that newcomers have to find out about it by word-of-mouth.”

        I’m as serious as a heart attack when I say I lived for two years in Bellevue, spending at least 5 nights a month down in Pioneer Square and the same number of days in the city and I didn’t even know it existed until getting on this blog AFTER I moved away.

  3. Hi Guys,

    I live in Vancouver, just off Denman Street and I’d just like to point out to you that Denman Island is actually off of Vancouver Island (I know lots of name repetition in our neck of the woods) and not part of Metro Vancouver. It’s a good couple of hours of ferry and driving and more ferry to get there.

    Website is here:

    I’m thinking you’re actually meaning Granville Island in False Creek?

    1. A great many thanks for catching that one! You’re absolutely right. Tell me this, though: Am i on-base at all about the scene on Granville Island?

      Very sincerely,

      Mark Dublin

      1. In my opinion you’re more or less on target in what you’re aiming for. There is to the best of my knowledge one genuine Industrial operation left on the Island (which is technically a peninsula) in the form of a cement company called Ocean Construction. But it is the former industrial buildings that give the area so much of its character and the wide range of uses, from Emily Carr University, to the hotel, the market, the artists studios, restaurants, etc…. Certainly it represents some of what you’re aiming for, although if I’m gathering correctly you hope to maintain a larger industrial presence than what may be found on Granville.

        Fun fact: Granville Island’s rehabilitation was heavily supported by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which is a Crown Corporation and is the country’s main mortgage insurer. It also manages housing policy and a variety of mortgage and housing related issues. CMHC manages Granville Island (which is financially self sustaining now) in conjunction with city policy for False Creek.

  4. You could also add Istanbul as an example of making it work: It has a historic streetcar that runs in the middle of an extremely popular pedestrian street (ending in Taksim Square):

    I’m sure that travel time would be increased if you put it right in the middle of everything, but getting streetcars close to people does make the space seem more active and alive, and it can be done safely.

    1. Zagreb, at Jelacic Square is another good example. Streetcars are the major form of transit in that city, with 15 seperate lines. And they all converge in a pedestrian area near the train station.

  5. There’ll be no streetcar on the waterfront. No money. Sorry, but you can’t have every toy in the store, kids.

    1. Thanks for one more opportunity to clarify. One of the main shortcomings of the former Waterfront Streetcar line was that it wasn’t really set up to handle capacity needed for future operations. Melbourne cars needed a two-man crew just to use both doors.

      Still and all, it was by no means a toy. It provided necessary transportation, much of it along a reserved right-of-way, between the entire central waterfront and both Pioneer Square and the International District- including both Tunnel and Amtrak stations.

      I’m trying to stress that what the new Waterfront needs is a modern low-floor system compatible with the rest of Seattle’s transit network.

      Now about “toys”: current Waterfront plans include both an automobile street on Alaskan Way and some seriously increased capacity on both Elliott and Western Avenues. Eventual fate of any automobile thoroughfare in a crowded urban area is a parking lot where you have to keep your motor running- and maybe a display lot for expensive cars as they stand still.

      If you define vehicles that don’t actually move anybody as “toys”- be sure you include them all.

      Incidentally, my name is Mark. If your name is really “Stay”, glad to talk with you. If not- real names tend to lend credibility, warranted or not. I doubt you have to be personally afraid for any opinion expressed in this blog.

      Mark Dublin

    2. The original waterfront streetcar was built at a time when the city and region were far less affluent than today. Lack of money is not the issue.

    3. Seems that the arguments against the Waterfront Streetcar are all about space on the waterfront. Not money.

  6. Update on tonight’s Waterfront meeting:

    I sent a copy of this posting to the committee listed under the “Contact” tab of the website, and received reply with this clarification:

    “Note that the focus of tomorrow’s event will primarily be on the experience of enjoying the waterfront and the various activities that are possible in the design. We will also introduce habitat and public art components. We will not be presenting anything new on the mobility and access part of the Framework Plan or other street design/transportation topics. We will be back in February/March with more on those.”

    I responded to the committee with my belief that both the major utilities and the project design turn out best the earlier things like transportation begin to be designed into the project. Also my personal recollection that one of the experiences I most enjoyed on the Waterfront was accessing it by streetcar, and that the car line added to every other experience available there.

    Really encourage everybody to attend the event there tonight. Check it out on the website. Planning on dinner with one food vendor advertised. This really is an exciting project, and that over the coming years there’ll be many chances for interested people to take part in its creation.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Experiences”. Ask San Francisco what their top tourist experience is. Then ask them what another major tourist experience right next to it is. (Cable cars. Streetcars.)

      These people are not thinking. Perhaps they should ask some of the people who rode the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar, such as you, whether it was an experience of enjoying the waterfront. A place with a transportation “experience” is more likely to succeed than one without; it’s all too easy to end up with a sterile “experience” drenched in asphalt.

      1. Also remember National Geographic selected the Benson line as the best streetcar ride in the entire world. That is worth something right there.
        But then again I guess tourism really isn’t that important, after all the state closed its tourism office.

    1. The Seattle Waterfront Streetcar

      by George Benson

      The Streetcar’s first full year of operation in 1983 registered its best ridership to date with 277,801 fares. Novelty and a strong tourism season played an obvious role in this initial success. Ridership declined to 232,000 fares over the next three years, rose to 242,000 fare in 1987, and then declined anew to 201,000 fares in 1989. Allowing for the system’s shutdown for a full quarter during its extension, this ridership level was maintained during 1990. Total ridership in 1991 registered a further drop to 174,000 fares, but the system operated for only six months due to storm sewer work along the waterfront. Thus, the extension appears to be reviving ridership to earlier levels.

      Farebox revenue In 1991 totaled $129,600 against operating costs of $862,000. The revenue shortfall is made up from a variety of sources, including advertising sales and an UMTA operating grant of $200,000 per year. It should be noted that the Streetcars’ operating costs are partially offset by elimination of conventional coach service along the Central Waterfront.

    2. The ridership numbers for the Waterfront Streetcar for it’s last few years were in the 400,000-450,000 per year range.

  7. I wish I could attend this meeting. Mark, are you going to this meeting? Maybe you could talk some sense into the City.

  8. It isn’t only Dresden where light-rail operates in a grassed-over ROW.

    But in lawyer-filled America, you can’t do this because some idiot will decide to take a nap or play soccer on the lawn and get run over.

    1. Why should streetcars be held to a higher standard than cars? They operate with pedestrians at Pike Place.

      This wouldn’t be a 200mph maglev tearing through the waterfront. This would be slow and friendly.

  9. Based on what I’ve seen in various places- Portland MAX going through the Saturday street market by the fountain is closest example- streetcars are friendlier to crowds than buses. Not sure exactly why- maybe because tracks and overhead wire provide strong visual cue as to exactly the amount of space they take up. Any ideas from Turkish or Yugoslav experience>

    The old Turkish streetcar was a beauty, but I’d feel more comfortable with a set of modern controls and some shields over wheels and coupler. I think I recall that the Waterfront streetcar struck and killed a cab driver walking too close to the tracks. I know LINK has hit one pedestrian, a girl who literally walked into the side of the train with her thumbs on the texting keys and the plugs in her ears. I think she survived. Of the two suicides I know of, one was a second attempt.

    About passenger counts and revenue on the old Waterfront line: not only was line probably not run to max efficiency, but based on the scale of future plans we’re being shown, whole idea is that there’ll be a lot more people along the route, a lot more of the time.

    Remember also that George Benson got the cars for, I think, five thousand dollars each.

    Mark Dublin

    1. re: streetcars vs. buses in crowds. I’d say you’re right with the tracks/wires comment. People know you can’t avoid them, so they avoid you.

      One interesting factor: streetcars in both cities move slow, but faster than cars at Pike Place. People tend to step out of the way of the streetcars, but into the way of the cars. Are they just expressing their long-pent-up frustration for lack of power over cars? Kind of like if an 8-yr old is told he’s in charge of his big sister? Or is there something else going on there? Maybe it’s just the trolley bell (I don’t think I’ve ever heard cars try to honk at pedestrians there).

    2. Mark, the one summary I found of the meeting revealed chatter about a funicular. I can’t imagine a single funicular beginning to take the place of a north/south streetcar line, but I’m curious if you heard anything about that.

      1. At last night’s meeting a funicular- advise everybody to look up term on wikipedia- was one of four possible choices for mechanically negotiating the steep climb between Union and First and the Waterfront.

        My own take on last night’s meeting is that the entire project bears some serious public scrutiny, with present address to public transit being symptomatic of a good deal else.

        But gotta say, fact that a large scale model with possible uses represented by upright plastic tags saying “running”, “walking”, “viewing” etc. featured three tags for “driving”, three for “parking” and none for “transit riding” indicates some skewed priorities for city planning in the 21st century.

        Much more later.

        Mark Dublin

      2. North-south transit is a separate issue from east-west access. We need both. They’re considering a covered escalator or funicular on Union Street. From the pictures, I guess I’d like an escalator better because you wouldn’t have to wait for it and get on it and off it.

  10. I went to the meeting. In response to a streetcar/transit question, the speaker said transit is an important component but they’re still studying the options on transportation (transit & cars). They’ll have a transportation update in February or March. He said the main problem with a streetcar is the amount of space it would take up, which would limit what else could be done. (He’s must be thinking about a separate ROW rather than an in-street streetcar.) He personally thinks First Avenue is a better location for a streetcar, and lighter-weight transit on the waterfront.

    The presentation as a whole focused on potential design concepts for the ten “sections” of the waterfront from Jackson Street to Pier 70. They’re full of ideas for people-gathering spaces, not sterile “open space” or dead sculptures, although there would be pockets of forest and native plants. Several spaces would potentially be available for concerts. You could have an entire Bumbershoot down there if they’re all built as such (except for the largest stages, but hey they could be in the stadiums).
    One idea that has worked elsewhere is temporary containers for artists, like shipping containers. They would be able to customize the container and work on a project inside, and if it ends up promising it might lead to a larger art piece for the waterfront.

    They’re thinking about stair steps down to the water in several places, with canoe rentals. Pike Place would have a zigzag ramp down, something like the Sculpture Park. Along the ramp is space for another Market building. They’re thinking about “wrapping” a set of buildings with a linear exhibit (something TBD, such as historical), and a linear exhibit-space for the Aquarium. They’re considering a swimming pool with a retractable roof for winter, and nearby hot tubs. They’re also toying with a roller-skating rink with food carts and concessions around it: they built this under the High Line and it’s been very popular.

    It sounds like Alaskan Way would be moved eastward, under the viaduct or the lane east of it. A bicycle path would run next to the road, while the promenade would remain where it is. In between would be various spaces, structures, mini-forests, and gardens. They want to enhance the native bird and sea life with the forests and seawall, to strengthen the ecosystem between them. The Seawall project (a separate Seattle project) may replace the diagonal seawall underwater with a stair-like arrangement. That would give salmon a shallow highway safe from predators when they migrate from the Duwamish. Other kinds of sea life prefer different levels in the stair, and they would interact with each other (i.e., eat each other), and the seagulls would buzz them too.

    1. Thanks for filling me in on response to the streetcar question. A relative of mine came by my seat and had to leave in a hurry to catch LINK at University St. Station, and since I badly wanted to discuss the presentation with him- he’s an accomplished sculptor- I had to leave before things were really over.

      I’ve personally spoken with Dr. Corner and several other staff about the transit problem, and been told pretty much the same as you heard. I have a hard time accepting the idea that there was room for the streetcar with a considerable length of reserved right of way with the Viaduct standing, but there won’t be room when it’s gone.

      I note also there seems to be room at the south end for an enhancement of the Elliott-Western connector system. It’s also hard to get past the fact that on the white scale model city with the colored plastic tags denoting possible activities, there were three for “Driving”, three for “Parking” and none for “Transit Riding”, streetcar or otherwise.

      Also, considering the amount of both lateral and vertical distance separating Alaskan Way from First Avenue, I think it’s a stretch to say that First will work for Waterfront transit. I look at the transit mode for First as a separate issue. Good first step might be to restore the bus trolleywire between Downtown and Broad Street.

      My sense of the Waterfront project is that it will take some sustained and well-informed political effort, starting immediately, to make sure that area gets the transit it needs. Without it, in the phrase I hate: “Not Gonna Happen.”


      1. . I have a hard time accepting the idea that there was room for the streetcar with a considerable length of reserved right of way with the Viaduct standing, but there won’t be room when it’s gone.

        It’s too bad that there were only two of use that wanted to rebuild a single level viaduct with the same capacity as the Deeply Borrowed Tunnel. I’m not sure which I hate most about the tunnel design; the creation of a huge arterial that kills off the waterfront or the huge debt which kills off the States ability to fund other things (or jacks up taxes)… I guess the taxes, I can write of the Seattle waterfront; that’s just one less reason to ever what to go DT which is OK because there are plenty of other places and not nearly enough time to visit them all.

      2. The Benson streetcar was single track, and that limited its frequency to 20 minutes. We shouldn’t design such limitations into it. A streetcar would be great, but a trolleybus would be almost as good and it wouldn’t require separate ROW, just transit priority. And a trolleybus could connect to Seattle Center at the north end rather than terminating in a park.

      3. I would be fine with an in-lane streetcar with signal priority, and I would be fine with an ETB line as well. I am *not* fine with nothing, and I think that’s a huge mistake.

        And I share Mark’s concern that yet another Seattle process is focusing too much energy around cars. Freight throughput I get – Alaskan Way is still the default freight route through town. But if we focus on cars on the waterfront we’re doomed.

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