Photo by MSPdude

Since there’s a sizable contingent of readers interested in fighting over the Waterfront Streetcar, STB alum Brian Bundridge sends along information on how the waterfront streetcar turned into bus route 99, which I should caution isn’t quite directly comparable:

Waterfront Streetcar. From Metro’s reporting to the National Transit Database. 2005 expenses probably include line shutdown costs.

2002 2003 2004 2005
Passenger Trips 367,276 403,590 398,580 374,327
Operating Expense $1,373,224 $1,421,503 $1,426,751 $2,071,123

Route 99 Bus. Estimated from route performance data, extrapolated from Fall service data.

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Rides 255,372 data unavailable 245,728 203,395 251,825
Platform Hours 11,815 data unavailable 10,818 10,808 10,583
Operating Expense $1,060,160 data unavailable $1,063,544 $1,080,704 $1,070,523

Hello rail bias! Comparisons are somewhat imprecise, but the streetcar had a lower cost per rider ($3.60 vs. $4.47, excepting 2005), even before considering that it generated fare revenue (which the free bus did not). Bringing it back, of course, would require capital expenditure as well.

Thanks to Metro Data Analyst Katie Chalmers, who gathered the data for Brian. A larger excerpt of her comments are below the jump.

 The data are not calculated in the same way for the streetcar and Route 99, so you should use some caution if trying to compare between the two.  The comparison is probably reasonable, but in the case of the Route 99 you will see from my explanation below that the operating cost in the spreadsheet is just an estimate and not an actual cost.

The Waterfront Streetcar data is straightforward.  It comes from Metro’s reporting by mode to the National Transit Database.  Since the Waterfront Streetcar was the only service that Metro reported under the mode “Light Rail” (LR) during the years it was operating, it is easy to get historic data. In 2005 the streetcar did not operate the full year and the operating cost data is significantly higher than previous years.  It’s possible that some of the costs of closure of the line are included there, so if I were you I’d just use 2002-2004 as the final three “full” years of operation.  If you are interested in data prior to 2002, you can search the NTD reports online at:

Unfortunately with Route 99 it is a bit more complicated.  Metro does not track operating cost at the route level.  Instead, route 99 would be accounted for along with all other service that Metro reports as “Motorbus” (MB).  What I have provided for Route 99 are estimates of operating cost and ridership that were used in preparing Route Performance Reports from 2006 through 2010.  The Route Performance data is based on Fall service change information, so annual ridership and costs I have provided for Route 99 reflect the figures if Fall schedules and ridership levels were consistent for a year.

82 Replies to “Waterfront Streetcar Data”

  1. Do not forget when looking at costs that the George Benson Waterfront Street car was a two-person operation.

    And those Route 99 conductors did a lot to help visitors to Seattle!

  2. I’m sorry but route 99 is basically next to useless. If you want to see a shuttle service that more or less works, look at the frequent (15-20 minutes) service in the International Drive corridor of Orlando. They use those tacky nostalgic looking street car on wheels things but it works very well and makes being in Orlando without a car possible.

    The waterfront in summer is our International Drive. We should be making the experience for visitors to this city as excellent as possible. To me, it means 10 minute service along the waterfront to Pioneer Square. And perhaps its a service that should be offered by some entity other than Metro.

    1. Yes. For a city with as much tourism as we have, we sure treat our tourists like dirt. Arriving at the waterfront, you’re greeted with long-abandoned streetcar stations with temporary closure signs. Upon finding out the run-down bus that replaced this service comes – what, hourly? – you ask where you can catch a real bus. Oh, head up that big hill four blocks.

      1. In the interest of accuracy (not that I disagree about the incredible loss to one of the city’s best tourist assets), the 99 runs every 15-30 minutes depending on time of day, and one can use it to connect to “real buses” like the 16 and 66 right on Alaska; and just about every other major route near IDS.

    2. I’ve never been to Orlando, but…

      1) The last thing we need are those I-Ride vehicles on the waterfront. I don’t care if they give 5 minute frequencies.
      2) Whenever I’m in SF, there is a line to ride the cable car. People like historic things and will wait happily for it if it is suitably iconic. I think that limiting our scope to “moving people” misses an opportunity to add identity to waterfront and something memorable.
      3) I don’t see what the waterfront has to do with, from what I can tell, a mall of water parks, hotels, and chain restaurants/shops. Is that really a valid comparison?

      1. Seattle had cable cars and they ripped them out. There was an outcry at the time but the city fathers wanted them gone so out they went.

        The waterfront Street car tracks go right to our “world class” sculpture park. What an easy way to bring in the tourists you’d think? Stops by the cruise ship terminal, the aquarium, the ferry, goes to the ID and King & Union Street stations. All places that could easily extract tourist dollars at a low cost to us residents.

        That it’s not running for the lack of a maintenance shed is beyond reproach.

      2. Can’t run Streetcars too close to the Sculpture Park. It may upset the art.

        On a more serious note, build the Sounder station in that ugly area btwn the Sculpture Park’s retaining walls, and connect it to the streetcar!

      3. there has been talk of a broad street sounder station for a while. i’m all for it, but it sounded like there were logistical issues having to do with the downtown train tunnel and too few siding tracks up by the sculpture park that were going to prevent it from happening. which i think is a bunch of nonsense, really; enough dollars and one can achieve anything.

        sounder is one of the top underdeveloped and underused transit options that we have – with the right investments, it could be a tool that could literally connect the full 100-mile length of the metro area with reliable and timely service.

  3. Also, don’t forget that the George Benson Line has its own right-of-way the length of the Waterfront, and reserved lanes through Pioneer Square to International District Station. Meaning: don’t forget that, having to run city streets, Route 99 buses are stuck in traffic at the very time it’s most important for them to be moving.

    Another don’t forget: the streetcar provided two-way travel on the Waterfront for its whole length. Want to go north on the Waterfront from the Aquarium via transit? Take the elevator or climb the stairs to First Avenue. “Couplets” should at least have a short level walk.

    Two-man operation isn’t mandatory with the Melbourne cars. I think San Francisco Muni runs theirs with only the driver. We could devise a mechanism to let the driver open the rear door, and put fare collection to ORCA and fare inspectors. Worse problem would be modifying either cars or stops for efficient modern operations.

    The old streetcars are beautiful, and should definitely be used somewhere in the new streetcar network we’re building, but it’s not mandatory that they be on the Waterfront either, if modern cars would work better. For instance, the Waterfront would make a good extension for the First Hill line.

    So for starters, people referred to in the first sentence can start doing this: Bookmark the “” website, and start following the meeting calendar. The Design Oversight Committee meeting a week from tomorrow could be interesting, and the planned public event in March even more.

    These meetings don’t presently permit public comment, something else that needs changing, but right now attendance is comment enough, and you’ll learn a lot.

    And become a regular correspondent with Seattle City Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, and Sally Clark. Message: The old cars are beautiful and deserve to be kept, but the issue is that Waterfront designers are honestly convinced that there is no room in the project for a reserved corridor for public transit- although six lanes of general traffic are taken as a given.

    For the sake of both our transit system and the Watefront itself, correcting that misconception is worth a serious fight. If enough citizens show they’re prepared for one, it’s likely that the necessary cooperation will result instead.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Please keep posting the dates of these meetings, so that those of us who can only attend occasionally at least know they are happening.

      Indeed, I wish there were a calendar on this blog.

      I wanted to attend CTAC and various other meetings this past year, and most I never knew about it until this blog reported they had already happened.

      I hope to see some of you down at the County Council Chambers at 9:30 for the public hearing on the June 2012 Metro service revisions. Don’t make me have to be the lone voice for shutting down the 42.

      1. I second the calendar idea, or at least a clearing house of links for transit event calendars.

      2. Waterfront project website is There’s a tab for “Calendar”, and another for “Contact.” Seattle City Councilmembers, elected at large, are Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, and Sally Clark.

        I encourage everybody interested to send introductions to all these addresses, and indicate your interest. It’s especially crucial that people get involved who have a background in landscape architecture and park planning, as well as an interest in transit.

        This is not a “transit versus…” anything matter. It’s a matter of a major public utility being left out of a huge public project, to the severe detriment of the project itself. For the benefit of the project itself.

        Dr. James Corner, the chief designer, has a resume including chairmanship of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Landscape Architecture. The school is in Philadelphia, which has an excellent network of electric transit. His work includes the conversion of an old urban railroad viaduct into a one-of-a-king walking park.

        It’s not like someone like this to leave something like this out of a creation.

        I’m not big on hidden forces and conspiracies here. But I think that the design team has up to now heard insistent requests and demands from many other directions. Certainly from entities public and private making sure automobile traffic is not forgotten.

        It’s also not a matter of adding another amenity or recreational activity to a long list. Look up those renderings. There’s a good one on Crosscut. The massive structures envisioned require transit stations designed into their structures on the drawing board, where they’ll add most to the design and least to the cost.

        “Fight” is an ok metaphor for the energy needed here, but not really the spirit of what’s needed. Since the results will belong to all of us, so does the responsibility for shaping them. Don’t think of it as showing up for a fight- just showing up for work.

        Mark Dublin

    2. the only problem with using the old Melbourne cars is that they are all high-floor … that would require multi-level platforms at stops on the other lines which is a waste of space and an eyesore.

      Personally … I think we should sell them to a museum or other Vintage Trolley operator … and then extend the First Hill Streetcar to extend to the Sculpture Park or farther North with its own ROW along the waterfront

      1. Gordon,
        The Melbourne cars being high-floor isn’t necessarily an issue. Other cities have modified their vintage trolleys including Melbourne cars to be ADA compliant while still using low platforms.

        While a line using modern cars is better than no line, you have to admit it lacks a certain panache.

    3. Great idea Mark! Hey, Pike Place Market was saved back in 1971, why not the Waterfront Streetcar?

  4. International drive in Orlando is [a dump]. Picture the Las Vegas strip…without any casinos….just cheesey little nick nack stores and run down motels. Oh and the world’s biggest McD’s.

      1. Nice breakfast reading, Johnny, but raises a good point for discussion, both for Seattle and our whole country.

        Regarding public transit, rush hour on the Chicago “El” in the 1950’s carried standing loads of people getting off shift from various kinds of manual work in 90 degree plus heat. Trains weren’t air conditioned ’til the sixties.

        But comparing the city and country, then and now, could we say that among the governing class at least, a lot of our trouble results from a polite aversion to the smell of one’s own sweat?

        Just a thought.

        Mark Dublin

  5. How about a comparison of Waterfront Streetcar vs Route 99 Bus fatalities and accidents? Oh, maybe that’s another reason why they’ll never bring the Waterfront Streetcar back.

    1. I don’t remember the waterfront being terribly unsafe. A few cars turned in front of it, but I don’t remember a string of recurring fatalities. Do you have any data on that?

      1. I do recall one fatality where a cab driver walked in front of a streetcar while talking to his buddies close to the track. I also remember a very minor collision with a delivery truck that swung eastward with the roadway at Myrtle Edwards Park, directly in front of the streetcar.

        Central LINK to my knowledge has had two pedestrian fatalities, both of them suicides, and one of those on second try. Other pedestrians, including one blinded by texting and deafened by headphones, have literally walked into moving trains and been injured. Any other vehicle probably would have killed them, including a motorcycle.

        Comment would be good here from someone who drove the George Benson Line.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The Waterfront Streetcar wasn’t terribly unsafe. There was only one fatality in 1983 that Mark referred to. another pedestrian got hit and injured walking in front of the streetcar. The wine truck driving around the railroad gate at Broad street sent a few people to the hospital, including the motorman, and sliding down the hill into the barrier at 5th and Jackson also sent people to the hospital. One of the issues was training: Outside of the regular motormen, some of the drivers came from the bus driver extra board, would get trained on the streetcar, and then wouldn’t get assigned to drive the streetcar for months after that. Most of the accidents, minor as most of them were, involved these operators. With an exclusive rail section now, I don’t think that issue would continue to be an issue.

      1. The accident in 2000 resulted in 21 people taken to the hospital, but not 21 injuries. It also was not a case of the streetcar “losing” it’s brakes, but rather an inexperienced extra board operator trying to stop the streetcar on wet track(going downhill to 5th and Jackson)while the controller was still in several points of power. As a result of that accident, a different kind of bumper (rubber)was installed at 5th and Jackson, and a speed limit of 8 kph going down the hill was instituted.
        I still maintain that there was nothing inherently unsafe about the streetcars.

  6. The George Benson line abandonment led to my first question to the current streetcar fad, and has never been answered. Will the city abandon the current streetcar lines whenever they become inconvenient? Seattle had an early streetcar line a century ago. Abandoned, maybe for good reason but abandoned. The GB line of course, and there was discussion of abandoning the current fleet of electric trolleys, and thank goodness Metro abandoned that notion.

    Seattle (and other govs) do have this habit of short term thinking at the expense of decades long planning.

    1. God I hope they abandon the SLU Trolley. There’s nothing it does that a bus route can’t do better, cheaper, and faster. Also if that looks like a stupid route to you, well, now you know why I hope they abandon it.

      1. The streetcar is:
        -More quiet
        -Lasts longer
        -Cheaper to operate
        -A lot better looking
        -Creates a sense of permanence which encourages growth and development
        -Provides a tie-in for the future Streetcar extensions
        -Encourages transit growth and brings in new riders
        -Makes people happier b/c they’re not on some damn bus (at least true for me)

        The route may be stupid, but private companies surrounding the line seem to disagree
        And they covered half of the $54 million to build the thing.

      2. I ride the streetcar every day.
        It isn’t Link, but it is much better than the bus.

        Main problem these days is it is full from 5-6pm, even with the increased frequency.

        I’ll agree that the route stops one block too soon to get to the tunnel, but that could be fixed in the future.

      3. A bus *could* do better than the SLUT, but it won’t.

        A bus isn’t going to get a dedicated lane that the city refuses to grant to the SLUT.

        A bus isn’t going to get signal priority that the city refuses to grant to the SLUT.

        The SLUT *could* run with more frequency if only the city council would grant it a dedicated lane and signal priority. The businesses along the line would probably find a few amenable ears at City Hall if they got behind asking for these. Indeed, I think the only opposition they’d face is John Fox.

      4. There is little that the SLUT does that my legs can’t do. With the average wait time for a car, (7.5 minutes) and not jaywalking the stupid lights that have no traffic I can still beat it walking.

        I agree that people who need ADA help, are benefited by this line, but for the rest of us, it’s faster to walk, and healthier.

        If the street car had signal priority, and a long total distance, say the UW, it would be hard to beat walking. A bicycle could do it because of station dwell times. Then it might be useful. But as a bicyclist I no longer ride Westlake due to those tire eating tracks.

      5. Oh, on covering 1/2 the cost, it was one person who had that vote. Paul Allen. A taxing improvement district grants one vote per property. Since Paul owned 51% of the land in the district, and he wanted a street car, he got one. Hardly a democracy.

        I’m not blaming him for wanting something to service his buildings. I’m blaming him for lack of foresight and understanding of the need of a dedicated right-of-way. If I were him, I’d have asked for the Monorail to loop around the area instead of being an over and back route.

  7. Frankly, I don’t understand why there was either the streetcar or route 99. Fundamentally, I doesn’t make sense to put a route where half of its walkshed is in the ocean. First street as a vastly superior corridor. Service on First can easily serve the waterfront. South of Pike it’s only 1/8th of a mile from First, and north of Pike it’s still only a 1/6th of a mile. Sure there are some elevation changes but there are a series of elevators and stairs that people can easily use. Most importantly, 1st street can be used as the backbone of a streetcar network downtown, whereas that would never make sense for the waterfront streetcar. Instead of wasting money on a imperially poorer corridor we should invest where we’ll get the most return. I say kill both the streetcar AND route 99!

    1. Walkshed and on/off data are great for transit blogs and college classes, but be careful of overweighting their importance. I went through that phase in my younger days.

    2. Well, same could be said for the MUNI F-Market & Warves in San Francisco. The route is slow, part of the walkshed is the ocean, the corridor doesn’t make a lot of sense, half of the line is above two subways, yet it is absurdly successful. Tourists love the historicness, it brings in boat loads of cash, and it provides another layer of flexibility for commuters and people living in the city. The Waterfront Streetcar Line (WSL) didn’t make a lot of sense, but it still had 400,000 riders/year. That’s almost as good as the SLUT AND the WSL had crappier service.

      I argue we build both 1st AND reopen the WSL. A 1st Ave line wouldn’t easily serve anything north of Union (like the cruise ship terminal, several big condos, and the Sculpture Park) despite having the creepy elevators and the tourists can utilize and enjoy the WSL more than a 1st Ave Line. The 1st Ave could become our “MUNI Metro” while the WSL becomes our F-Market & Wharves. Link that with Link and we’re rockin’!

      Poo poo planning around tourists as much as you want, but the green they bring is far from brown.

    3. Spoken like someone who has never faced the steep climb up from the waterfront at the end of a long day.

  8. I’m surprised that 99 bus gets that many riders. I’m embarrassed every time I see it roll by painted that way.

  9. When Nickels and the Council caved in to SAM with only a ‘lip service plan’ to bring the cars back, is the day I quit going to the water front as a tourist. TOTAL SELL-OUT.
    A couple of ‘folded pedestrian parks’ won’t bring me back Mr. Corner.
    Developers 9, Citizens 0.

  10. Huh? The streetcar has been gone for years, so I’m not understanding the arguments here. Are they planning on bringing it back, or is the thread just arguing the merits of rail vs. bus?

    The city caved into SAM and their BS pet project, so to answer an earlier question by another poster, yes the city will kill it any time they feel like its warranted. The statement about crappy platforms for the 99 is all to true, the city really made it look bad. As a tourist, why even try to take Metro? They suck, and aren’t getting any better in terms of helping us look like a real operation to outsiders who want to visit.

    1. The stadiums have studied bringing it back.

      Let’s run the numbers. $13M to bring it back, assuming 400k riders. Using a 10 year payback, that’s $3.26 per ride, or a total of $6.86 per ride adding operations. We could probably get businesses to chip in a few dollars per ride, just for the tourism this would generate. Charge $4 a ride (how much did they used to charge? SF’s cable cars are $5 each way), and this will be revenue-neutral (or actually revenue-positive, if you compare it to what we’re doing now).

      Sure, we’ll have to rebuild it when the waterfront is rebuilt, but that’s not a serious cost – they have to rebuild something there anyway, why not tracks?

      1. Matt, I’m not against rail, in fact the opposite is true. My only point was that this seems like a case of way-to-late, or something like that. I’m aware of some of the studies, I’m just not sure this will get anywhere.

        And if they do get somewhere, and decide to bring the tracks back, they need to make sure they can handle freight, if that crazy tunnel underneath downtown caves in the whole rail portion of Seattle is in trouble big time.

      2. If/When those tunnels cave in, street car tracks will be the least of our concerns. An earthquake strong enough to break the tunnels, will break the water mains. Fires will start, and there won’t be enough water pressure to put them out. The only good thing is that we’ll get to rebuild the city again. (And I’m not wishing for this future.)

  11. The Waterfront is a bad place for transit except as a tourist ride, and a bus is not a tourist attraction. Even with the old time trolley it barely attracted 1000 people a day. Bringing it back is not a good idea. We should put money into improving connections to a streetcar on First Avenue. You could even encourage waterfront pedicabs to pick people up on First and loop down along Alaskan Way.

    1. why?

      the line connected IDS/King St. Station with
      Belltown (residential)
      Victoria Clipper (ferry)
      Pier 70 (restaurants / offices)
      Port of Seattle (offices)
      Elliot Way (offices)
      Edgewater (hotel)
      Hilton (hotel)
      Cruise Ship Terminal (cruise ships / restaurants)
      Aquarium / Pike Market
      Coleman Dock (ferry terminal)
      Touris Piers (sightseeing cruises / touristy stuff)
      Pioneer Square (businesses et al)

      Rebuilding it will connect all of that and more from the Sculpture Park and other things to both Central Link and East Link … which would allow for easier connections from the ferries to the airport and other important places around Seattle

      Currently people have to now walk to 3rd ave to get to transportation. When I lived in Belltown I commuted to work at Amazon using the streetcar every day … was much nicer than taking the 36 … and there were always people (commuters and tourists) on board.

      Furthermore … there is no real reason why the line couldn’t be extended to Interbay to serve various market segments (residential / tourist / business)

      1. Don’t forget that there are three colleges on the streetcar route (Art Institute of Seattle, Argosy University, and The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology). None of them huge, but they aren’t tourists. And then there’s RealNetworks and some other tech companies. Thinking that the line would only serve tourists is very short-sighted.

      2. Don’t forget the Port of Seattle Offices. And when they finish the bicycle & pedestrian overpass, you could walk to F5.

      3. Who cares if it only serves tourists? I don’t get this idea that we can only build something that we DIRECTLY benefit from. You don’t think the area benefits from tourists? I bet those 400,000 people bought things when they were on the waterfront. They might have taken a cruise, eaten at the crabpot, rode the carrousel etc.. I’d like to see ticket averages to people going to the waterfront. I haven’t ever spent less than $20 per person going there and I’m not a tourist. If tourists spent $30 ea then sales tax plus fares would pay 100% of the operating costs of the streetcar.

    2. also … it greatly benefited every event held at Myrtle Edwards park (Hempfest, 4th of Julivars, etc …)

  12. The Waterfront design people hate the the idea of the streetcar returning… well maybe that is too strong a word but they really resent it for some reason, and have no plans to include it. If we want to get the waterfront streetcar back, this is an attitude we have to change, so yet another front for us to fight on.

    1. Since it’s “OUR” waterfront, they should be receptive to our ideas about it. IIRC, isn’t the design firm from NYC?

      1. The commercial cited “San Antonio, where they know what picante sauce should taste like.” In reality, it was bottled in El Paso (or maybe at the maquiladoras across the river in Ciudad Juarez).

        El Paso and San Antonio are several hundred miles apart.

        I would never suggest duplicating El Paso’s waterfront: an open-sewer river shared by two countries that both ignore the anti-pollution Treaty de la Paz. Most of the river is lined by a barb-wire fence for the length of this super-sprawl city. “Coyotes” are the biggest cottage industry along the river.

        Oh, and there is a freeway along the river almost the entire length of the city, serving as a further deterrent to would-be immigrants. It suffers from low use due to the half rideshed.

        Ciudad Juarez is twice the population of El Paso, in half the area. Their TOD, though, consists of lots of cardboard, wooden, and concrete shacks — which climb a mountain range and reach all the way down to La Agua Negra — and very little transit.

        A developer tried to create beachfront property in the desert east of town, and stocked it with freshwater trout. The salinity of the water killed all the trout within hours. The lake dried up in a couple months. The development, Mountain Shadow Lake, kept its name.

        Just for historical reference, El Paso actually used to be Murchisonville. Ciudad Juarez used to be El Paso del Norte, until it was renamed in honor or El General Benito Juarez, who commanded the fleeing Mexicano army and made its last stand at El Paso del Norte, where, with the help of some gringos (or at least the legends on this side of the border go), resoundingly defeated the advancing but supply-exhausted army of Emperor Maximillian.

        And now you know the rest of the story.

      2. Thanks for the El Paso history. Looking across that river made me realize that I was incredibly lucky not to have been born there.

  13. Stephen, the reason Seattle put so much work and money into the Waterfront Streetcar was that in the coldest economic terms, the line enabled residents, visitors, and businesspeople to take full advantage of a valuable asset which nature and plate tectonics gave us for nothing: a beautiful bay backed by spectacular mountains two blocks from the Central Business District. Read the real estate pages and notice how many zeros the two words “view property” put behind the comma.

    And then go to and Crosscut online, to see some architectural renderings of the massive construction planned for the Waterfront of the future. We’re looking at something intended to attract a very large number of people on an ordinary day, and Green River Gorge crowds as often as possible.

    Considering certain increases in ferry traffic as the Kitsap suburbanizes, even the saltwater side of the walkshed will be bringing in a lot of people. If, as I suspect officials already know, the loss of the Viaduct will necessitate a large expansion of the “car-shed” in the area- something that’s worth a very strong transit address to counter.

    So go ahead and argue that a skyscraper doesn’t need elevators if it’s got stairways, or that it doesn’t need sanitary plumbing if the windows open. The reasons that kept the Waterfront Streetcar running for 23 years are going to be back cubed in about ten more. Designing effective transit into the project from the get-go will be a lot cheaper than trying to add it later when there’s no choice about it.

    Re: other comments: Don’t blame Seattle Art Museum. Both KC Metro and the City promised them a car barn would be found elsewhere. I think that in future political action here, we’ll have an ally with SAM, which really will benefit from good Waterfront transit. And discouragement just isn’t warranted.

    The voting public of Seattle has never yet had the chance to weigh in on this aspect of the Waterfront Project, and very little on any other aspect. But- it’s like Bob Dylan noticed the times were doing. For STB readers, this is a lifetime chance to get involved in one of Seattle’s first great transit projects circa 2015. Mission is to prevent the Waterfront rebuild from being the last of its kind circa 1955.

    Don’t go away. This is gonna be good.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I do blame SAM. I ride by that POS of an excuse for an art park every day. They had a choice, and willingly chose to exercise an option that included poor transportation and a money-losing venture which doesn’t even look half-decent. Plus the traffic patterns designed into the west end where it meets the sidewalk is atrocious. I’m waiting for the day when someone gets hit by another cyclist right at that one corner where the lawn, path and cement all meet in one.

      I have directly supported artists in the past, to the extent of sending them abroad to study, but this is pure wasteful spending of money, to placate some certain interests. I won’t support SAM, and when my relatives and friends come to town I let them know exactly what we got from SAM regarding the waterfront. They aren’t getting any of my money these days…..

      1. Anthony, you’ve got at least one professional artist I really respect for an ally. As an amateur, I agree with my friend that a real artist would have incorporated the carbarn into the bridge structure- Lord knows there’s enough concrete for a hardened missile silo- resulting in a dynamically monumental work that would’ve put its creator alongside Antonio Gaudi.

        Fact he didn’t do it is perfect punishment for the desecration. Because other good information says it’s perfectly possible to put a retained cut into the grassy lawn embankment on the water side of the structure, and run the streetcar right by it, headed for Amgen, Magnolia, and points north. Some other artist will get the credit for correcting the first artist’s work, which in the art world, which for the kind of artists who hate streetcars is fate worse than death.

        Speaking of which, Antonio Gaudi, the amazing Catalonian architect and sculptor (look him up online) was unfortunately killed by a streetcar. However, the bumpers of a LINK train or other state-of-the-art railcar would probably just have pushed him aside.

        So let’s look at this whole thing as an artistic work in progress. If you’ve really got money to put behind Waterfront street rail- make Seattle Art Museum an offer: make your next donation conditional on putting at least a station in the lawn side of the bridge. Make that work your first donation and you can be immortalized too.

        However, also remember Antonio Gaudi and every time you see grooved rail with wire over it, look both ways.

        Mark Dublin

      2. I blame, not SAM, but Mimi Gates. She was the force behind the Sculpture Park, and rumor has it, did not want the street car there. Norm Rice cut the deal and that was that.

    2. Mark, you made some great points about what we can do (attend the Waterfront design meetings) as well as keep in contact with certain Seattle city council members. This does work…I’ve been prodding them on a plastic bag ban for years and it’s finally coming true (whether or not I had any influence, I at least made a point of making my opinion known).

      That said, I believe I read on an earlier post that it would cost about $10m (possibly Oran or Sherwin’s numbers) to get the WFSC up and running again. Here we have the construction of the FHSC beginning in the next month as well as all these waterfront design meetings going on. This isn’t a better time to continue a relevant conversation on bringing it back.

      At the intersection of 5th Ave and Jackson, the FHSC and the WFSC track way will come mere feet from each other. Connecting the two lines shouldn’t be an issue. This way the Waterfront trolleys can be stored where they are stored currently there at the Dearborn and 7th location and even possibly share the trolley barn with the new First Hill trams.

      For the money to get the Benson line up and running again, do we still have the $10m commitment from the Port of Seattle? So we also have the commitment from the SAM of building an additional station below the Sculpture Barn? I think it’s time to make due on those promises. In addition, it’s time to think about expanding the line (as has been discussed so many times), down to Myrtle Edwards Park, Amgen and Pier 91. Even thinking about the future…a Sounder station in Belltown that would connect to the WFSC as well as a future Ballard (subway/light rail/streetcar) line near the (new) WFSC terminus up there by Amgen/Pier 91.

      You know guys, this is possible…we can bring this back. Building the FHSC could not only net the 2.2 mile FH line, but bring back the 2.0 mile WF line…including the SLUSC, that’s 5.5 miles of streetcar lines. Connecting the SLU and FH lines would give us another 1.2 miles bringing the total to roughly 6.7 miles. THAT would be a transportation system to be proud of here in Seattle for once. Pretty much each line hits a major area around the city core and connect to each other. Brining back the Benson line is such a no-brainer that I can’t believe no politican has stepped up to the plate to help bring it back. If Seattle wants to be a transit city like Portland, it better keep what we have and expand on it and not let things die like the Waterfront Streetcar.

  14. Alaskan Way needs FREQUENT TRANSIT to get from the Aquarium to Pier 70, the ferry terminal, the cruise ship terminal, and Pioneer Square. Nobody is going to walk up to First Avenue, take a bus, and walk back down to Alaskan Way. An hourly or half-hourly bus is inadequate for people’s expectations of what an outing to the waterfront should be like.

    TOURISTS are especially heavy on the waterfront, and we want their tourist dollars. Tourists do not know that the elevators exist or where they are. Only some of the elevators go top-to-bottom. Others (the ones most visible from a distance) go only part of the way, and you still have to walk up a hill or stairs on the other side.

    The Benson streetcar was slower than a trolleybus, and it was single-track so the frequency was limited to 20 minutes. That’s not the first-class transit service the waterfront deserves, or what people expect at a major tourist attraction. Especially a linear attraction that’s more than a mile from end to end.

    It’s silly to boycott SAM forever because you’re offended at the removal of the train barn. It’s even more silly to avoid going to the waterfront because of it. SAM says it was promised that Metro/Seattle would take care of relocating the train barn, and I believe it. Even if you don’t, I don’t see why people can’t evaluate the Sculpture Park on its artistic merits than on a grudge about the train barn. The Sculpture Park is cool in my book, and I’m glad to have some outdoor art and a canopy over the BNSF tracks. I don’t care whether the waterfront gets a trolleybus, a streetcar, or a dumb diesel bus, as long as it’s frequent and goes as fast as the cars.

    1. “Alaskan Way needs FREQUENT TRANSIT to get from the Aquarium to Pier 70, the ferry terminal, the cruise ship terminal, and Pioneer Square. Nobody is going to walk up to First Avenue, take a bus, and walk back down to Alaskan Way. An hourly or half-hourly bus is inadequate for people’s expectations of what an outing to the waterfront should be like.”

      Quoted for truth.

      “The Benson streetcar was slower than a trolleybus, and it was single-track so the frequency was limited to 20 minutes. That’s not the first-class transit service the waterfront deserves, or what people expect at a major tourist attraction. Especially a linear attraction that’s more than a mile from end to end.”

      And this as well.

    2. “How were your trips to San Francisco and Chicago?”

      “Excellent! Every tourist attraction is accessible by bus, and I never had to wait more than 20 minutes. And visiting people’s houses was a breeze, with MUNI and BART and the El, and 24-hour buses going every direction.”

      “How was your trip to Seattle?”

      “You won’t believe it, but there’s barely any transit on the waterfront. A 20-minute streetcar was downgraded to a 30-minute bus, which is now a 60-minute one-way bus. I could hardly take transit from the cruise-ship terminal. Some neighborhood centers have full-time 15-minute transit, but in others it drops to 30 minutes pretty quickly. Alki was just barely accessible, Golden Gardens has practically no bus service, and Seward Park has an infrequent direct bus or a long hilly walk from the 7 or Link.”

  15. I’m tempted to advocate for a waterfront gondola. You’d get an amazing frequency, an amazing view, and hills wouldn’t be a problem. Start at King St. Station, have a station at Pioneer Square, the ferry building, the aquarium, hop up to Pike Market, down to the top of Bell Harbor, stop at Myrtle Edwards, and hop over to the Seattle Center.

    The total run would be just over 2 miles, and would be amazingly fast. Since many of the stations could be built into the waterfront project, this might not be much more than rebuilding the Benson line.

    I love the streetcar, but this would be a better technical solution. The one real benefit over a gondola would be the ability to make more stops. But 7 stops over 2 miles – that’s a reasonable stop spacing.

    1. Ooh, and this would also give you a great aerial view of the sculpture park. And you could continue it in the future (or right away!) over Denny or John to SLU then Capital Hill. It would solve like a dozen transit problems in one fell swoop.

  16. A general rule of thumb I use to form an opinion about whether a bus route should exist is to compare the cost of operating the bus with what the cost would be if everyone on the bus took a taxi instead. Operating costs of $4.25 per person to operate the bus, according to Martin’s numbers and Seattle taxi rates are $2.50 + 25 cents per 1/10 mile. The entire route 99 is only about a mile end-to-end (about $6 by taxi). However, given that many people using it aren’t traveling the entire end-to-end route and that many tourists are in small groups, rather than alone (up to 4 people can ride for the price of 1), I’d guess the total cost of everyone who rides the bus taking a cab would be only slightly higher than the $4.25 operating cost per passenger we’re paying. When you factor in that a lot o of the riders would opt to just walk instead, the cost becomes far smaller than that.

    If businesses along the waterfront are willing to pay for it themselves, or enough of it for fares to make up the difference, I’m all for it. But I don’t think a waterfront streetcar route is worthy of Metro spending money on it, when there’s lots of other bus routes that are overcrowded and underfunded that could really use the money instead.

  17. Thanks, Michael, Mike, and Matt. And everybody else.

    Serious discussion on future Waterfront transit should start with visit to tenth floor of the Seattle Public Library downtown. Ask the reference librarian for:

    Waterfront Streetcar Extension Study
    City of Seattle Department of Transportation (SEATRAN)
    February 1998
    Primary Author: Hiro Takahashi,Project Engineer
    SEADOC T8.9

    Too bad you can’t check it out, but it’s a good read, proving that not only was the streetcar intended to be there for awhile, but that there were serious plans for extending it and tying it into the rest of the transit system.

    Some interesting pre-AutoCAD illustrations show several alternatives for a ride from Myrtle Edwards Park to South Lake Union, via Seattle Center. One of them would have used the flyover that’ll soon carry pedestrians across the BN tracks. Another one has a subway.

    It’s definitely right that the future Waterfront will need a higher-caliber transitway than the present single-track setup. Luckily the removal of the Viaduct should make two-track room available. San Francisco Embarcadero has diesel buses use one or two streetcar stops at Ghirardelli Square, and whole trackway could handle buses too. Problem for trolleybuses, aside from wire questions, is power across the BN tracks.

    At Waterfront sessions so far, the strangest argument against the streetcar is that the planned facilities and activities won’t leave room for something the Viaduct accommodated for 23 years.

    If this was Houston Transit, somebody would get called out to the Aquarium for a duel with tape measures at high noon. Seattle? Probably laser range-finders or portable GPS units. However, I wonder who-all would rather be buzzard-food than admit how much general traffic a Viaduct-free Waterfront will have to deal with.

    Along the Waterfront itself, pillars for gondolas could be a problem re: space and soils. But Seattle Center to Myrtle Edwards via Kinnear Park might work.

    Mark Dublin

  18. So, does this mean that since we have the route 99 strange looking buses that we’re never going to have the street cars back again?

    1. Most likely – this IS Seattle after all.
      I’m told the “strange looking buses” have all been returned to normal KCM liveries

    2. Depends completely on how many people not only want streetcars, but let their city council representative know their wishes. Especially Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, and Sally Clark.

      Tell them your feelings about transit, and while you’re at it, remind them that “The Seattle Way” customarily includes public comment at public meetings.

      And also start showing up at both City Council and Central Waterfront Committee meetings, whether you’re allowed to speak or not. The trouble right now is not that the streetcars are down, but that people in key positions honestly think nobody wants them back.

      This one’s up to the public. If events are left to their present course, we’ll be lucky to get the buses.

      Mark Dublin

  19. Just think how long they could keep running the 99 route if they hadn’t blown those millions on the public toilets that they then closed and sold for a loss! Is there no end to the idiotic, shortsighted, wastefulness of Seattle and King County?

    1. If they had kept the Interurban running, and modernized it with new faster cars and tracks, it would be even better. Then we’d have something like Metra running all day, and growth would have stayed on the Interurban corridor rather than to Federal Way and the like.

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