Photo by Atomic Taco

As we’ve alluded to plenty of times already, private money is playing a big role in ensuring the continual operation of the South Lake Union Streetcar.  A variety of neighborhood employers have now agreed to pitch in $204,000 to extend three-car operation (leaving a fourth as a spare) through mid-2014, which maintains peak headways at 10 minutes:

  • Group Health–$7,500
  • Amazon.com  $166,500
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—$20,000
  • UW Medicine $10,000

On top of the funding for streetcar operations, Amazon is also paying for a sizable public benefits package that includes extending the extra service for 10 years, along with a number of other improvements to compensate for alleyway vacation as part of the Denny redevelopment.

According to the Mayor’s office, streetcar ridership has also exceeded projections, with over 2,900 average weekday boardings in September, 40% higher than the original forecast.

122 Replies to “Public-Private Partnering on the SLU Streetcar”

  1. I’m going to grouse as someone who works around in South Lake Union. The trolley is still not really useful even at the new frequencies. 90% of the time I can walk faster than it and consequently I do. Moreover anecdotally its fairly empty whenever I pass it at either lunch time or the evening commute. I wish I had average bus route ridership data at hand to compare with it.

    By contrast the commuter buses I use to get to the area are always completely packed with people usually standing in the aisles. I’d trade increased service here for extra service on the 71/76 in a heartbeat.
    Ben

  2. 10 min is great, but I think something like the streetcar needs 5 min or less headways to really be useful, because it is such a short route.

    I know someone would need to pay for it, but a man can dream.

    1. This is why I am not a fan of building more streetcrawlers stuck in general-purpose traffic. The poor utility of the SLU streetcar was part of why the car tab didn’t pass last year.

      1. Poor utility? Higher than expected ridership and private businesses paying for service. How often does that ever happen?

      2. Brent means “usefulness for getting around in comparison to other available options like walking”.

        Both of your rejoinders are utterly irrelevant to his point.

      3. As far as I’m concerned, the street car program proves what a gigantic waste LINK is!

        Not only does the street car not need tunnels and can go uphill, but after two decades and 10 billion spent we could have by now had a street car on every major neighborhood arterial in the Salish Sea.

        Yes, even one running by my (highly dense) garden apartment complex here in the agri-urb of Kent East Hill!

      4. See, Zed? If Bailo thinks this is the wave of the future, it might be time to question your own assumptions.

      5. 2,900 people a day (and growing) utilize it. You have to bend the definition of utility backwards on itself to try and argue it has poor utility.

        People are lazy and don’t like buses. So saying you can walk faster than the SLUT or that buses are just the same is pissing into the wind. People like the Streetcar and companies like to pay for it.

        Deal.

      6. It can’t go uphill more than a gentle grade.

        Talk to the City of Kent and your neighbors if you want a streetcar in Kent. It’s possible. A neighborhood benefit district or business district could raise money to increase the frequency on the 169 (and/or 168 or 180) while you discuss streetcar routes. The fundamental problem is that 104th goes north-south parallel to Kent Station rather than being on a direct line to it, so I’m not sure what the route should be. I also don’t know if a streetcar could find a way up East Hill. But a trolleybus could!

      7. Actually, Seattleite, 1450 actual human beings use it, round trip. Or perhaps more, because so one-way riders will find it easier just to walk in the other directions.

        That’s a ridership equivalent to 0.24% of the population of Seattle proper. Heck, it’s equivalent to less than 10% of the population of Amazon employees!

        We’re supposed to be impressed with this?

        Deal.

        A single word has never been better able to capture Seattle’s embrace of its own stupidity.

      8. Well d.p., there are at least 1450 people who think your opinion of the SLUT is utterly irrelevant.

        “That’s a ridership equivalent to 0.24% of the population of Seattle proper.”

        Throwing out ridiculous statistics like that doesn’t make your opinion any stronger. That’s a Norman-like use of numbers.

      9. Neither an irrelevant statistic nor an irrelevant opinion.

        It means that there are 607,210 Seattleites who think the SLUT can go to hell.

      10. means that there are 607,210 Seattleites who think the SLUT can go to hell.

        No it doesn’t. 1st fallacy is to assume it’s the same lunchbox crowd the rides it every day. Second is to assume that everyone that doesn’t currently ride it thinks it can go to hell. I’ll bet Jeff Bezos isn’t one of the daily riders but is willing to put up a large chunk of change to expand it. If you poll the staff of the Wooden Boat Center and MOHAI they’ll be all for it even if they don’t personally ride it every day. Ditto for all the restaurants along South Lake Union.

        That said, it can really only be considered a luxury at this point since it’s costing about $2 a pop to transport people 1/2 mile with some panache. The lack of connectivity to, well… just about everything makes it much more of a toy than the monorail.

      11. No, Zed, because every bus line in this city isn’t a high-profile flop, a beacon of uselessness.

        FWIW, I basically agree with Bernie (and Sherwin, in prior posts) that the SLUT isn’t the worst thing in the world, that there are many who see it as a useful development expediter in the unique circumstances that SLU represent, and that thanks to corporate sponsorship, it hasn’t been nearly the money pit it could have been.

        But to the extent that its “success” — a couple thousand people, woo! — is emboldening the streetcar fetishists to fill the rest of this city with useless transit, I find SLUT-ballyhooing to be galling.

      12. d.p., I have never set foot on the SLUT. Not once. But even though I’m counted in your 607,210, I don’t think it can go to hell. People are riding it who would never ever think about setting foot on a bus or walking more than a block from their car. It’s standing room only at rush hour. For a miniature starter line, it is one hell of a success.

        Now we just need some dedicated ROW and TSP, and we might have something to be proud of.

        Regarding Eastlake, no, it’s not a destination. It’s an origin. Eastlake is lined with apartments filled with people who pack the already overloaded buses on that corridor.

      13. To date, I have ridden the SLUT exactly once. And that one time, I rode it only because I was walking out of the Whole Foods and happened to see it coming. And because the route is so pathetically short, I had to transfer to the #70 bus to finish my trip.

      14. Regarding Eastlake, no, it’s not a destination. It’s an origin.

        It’s really not even that.

        Eastlake has a population of less than 5,000. Yes, that’s it. The neighborhood is nine blocks long and five blocks wide at its widest. The central avenue contains a smattering of mid-rise structures among its older one-story restaurants and convenience stores. The adjacent streets are a mix of low-rise multi-family and plenty of remaining single-family.

        It’s cute. I like it. But it’s hardly an “origin” of any note in a big city. I can point you to any number of 5-block segments of, say, Greenwood, with far greater populations flanking them.

        …who pack the already overloaded buses on that corridor.

        At rush hour, and no time else. More evidence of just how much of a monolithic bedroom community Eastlake really is. Why would you build an entire rail line that will barely be used except 2 hours a day?

      15. @Mike Orr

        RE: Grade

        Wrong. According to my research and confirmed by posts here, the streetcar is quite capable of going up 8% grades and more.

        Kent East Hill is a mere 6% grade…at least on the winding Canyon Drive.

      16. Let me say that I am not arguing that the Eastlake extension is the best proposal out there right now. To give you an idea of where I place it on my priority list, I’d put Madison BRT (all the way to 23rd), the downtown streetcar connector, and the Aloha extension above it. I’m simply arguing that it is a valid and worthwhile project that is in our long term best interest.

        Eastlake has a population of less than 5,000. Yes, that’s it. … The adjacent streets are a mix of low-rise multi-family and plenty of remaining single-family.

        Belltown it is not, but it’s still, in it’s current state a pretty decent walkshed for a couple of residential stations. There are enough multifamily buildings tucked into the hillside there to keep the line busy. And as I found when I was doing delivery work, a ton of those single family houses (particularly on the uphill side) are actually multiplexes.

        It’s both zoned for growth (mostly FAR 2.0, 40′ + 5′ bonus) and a designated growth area (Eastlake residential urban village). And it’s in a location easy to cheaply connect to existing rails (unlike greenwood). It’s simply low hanging fruit.

        Why would you build an entire rail line that will barely be used except 2 hours a day?

        Well, we’re only really talking about half a rail line. Half of it already exists. It’s an extension.

        And regarding the peak-only thing, keep in mind as heavily used as the 70-series is at rush hour, it still has zero stops between Garfield in Eastlake and 9th downtown. I think the SLUT’s routing from Fairview south has more all-day potential than the current express buses to downtown. It will still be a bedroom community, but it will be a bedroom community with connections to SLU and U District retail. The CD is a bedroom community with a couple of commercial strips, and they pack the 48. (I know the CD is big, but the 48’s walkshed is not, and quite a bit of it is single family).

      17. Thereof,

        Thank you for your reasonable and engaged comment. While I disagree with some of your presumptions and conclusions, I’m glad that you are engaging the merits and demerits of Eastlake with a critical eye, and not just testing this city’s limited tolerance for “Build rail! Woo!” the way that most of the pro-Eastlake criers have been on this thread.

        (The grand irony here is that I, myself, have a pronounced rail bias! So really, the line has to be complete nonsense for me be so bluntly opposed to it.)

        I’m with you on a high-functioning Madison corridor being the top priority.

        You lose me at the “downtown connector”. It makes me cringe to realize just how duplicative that proposal is of our existing subway tunnel, and how only the overbuilt hassle of the DTSS, our history of laborious transfers, and a desire to find a backdoor to making the streetcar Ballard’s one-and-only rail option are driving the desire for this line.

        As for Eastlake, none of your counterarguments can overcome the fact that this is a small community without much room or potential to grow, and that usage of any “extended” line is going to be uni-directional for just a couple of hours a day.

        The 70-series expresses do not stop at all in Eastlake, so their crowdedness is immaterial to any assessment of Eastlake demand. They are serving only areas which Link will take over completely.

        But you aren’t wrong to say that Eastlake has a walkshed that a couple of stops of good transit can easily serve. And the 66 already does so best, with stop spacing wide enough to be fast yet close enough to be walkable in 5-7 minutes from ever square inch of the neighborhood. The 66 is also faster than any streetcar would ever be, and significantly faster than the 70 or the 70-series locals.

        If you wish to serve Eastlake well, the 66 is what you want to be focusing on. Not a streetcar that crawls at its southern end. Not the 70 that stops every block and then curlicues at its northern end. The 66 is your ideal for Eastlake, and it already exists — no expensive “extensions” required.

        (FYI, the evening 70-series locals are slow as molasses because they too stop every block in Eastlake. But only 1 or 2 people ever get on or off at those stops, which only reinforces how scant Eastlake’s actual demand is outside of the peaks.)

        The CD is a bedroom community with a couple of commercial strips, and they pack the 48.

        The C.D. has, depending on how you define its boundaries, 30,000 – 50,000 people in it. And if you want to go north or south from the C.D., the 48 is likely your best option, and you’re likely to walk to 23rd to catch it since all of the connecting east-west routes are fatally unreliable. The 48’s walkshed is therefore huge.

        You really can’t compare any section of contiguous populated city to a little landing strip like Eastlake and have Eastlake come out favorably. There’s almost no way to frame the very expensive 3 miles of track-laying for the “half a rail line” through Eastlake that doesn’t wind up making it look silly.

        That’s not me being cynical. It’s simply the truth.

      18. FWIW, I agree the streetcar proposals are all weak. The downtown extension duplicates the 3rd Avenue transit mall. The Eastlake extension is already overserviced (7x local) and express-serviced (North Link). The Westlake extension can’t replace the 40 unless it’s extended to 85th and/or Northgate. There are too many streetcar routes that are too short to replace a bus route, leading to duplicate overlapping coverage. E.g., the First Hill streetcar can’t replace the 9 or 14 (Broadway to RV, or 5th to 31st).

        The saving grace of the Eastlake extension is that it can replace the 70. A similar thing could happen in Ballard if the 40 is truncated at Market or Fremont, and/or if the Northgate extension is transferred to the D. There could be an argument for overlapping the 40 and the streetcar between Ballard and Fremont, since one would serve Fremont from the north and the other from the south, and the overlap is short.

        The main argument for these extensions is that they leverage existing streetcar routes and thus increase “the network”. This is a good thing even if the routing is weaker than optimal. It’s not like Seattle is the only city with less-than-optimal rail routing. There’s also the fact that the politicians are ready to do this. Opposing these routes will not necessarily lead to better streetcars or subways elsewhere. It could lead to nothing.

      19. “The saving grace of the Eastlake extension is that it can replace the 70. A similar thing could happen in Ballard”

        However, the differences between northeast Seattle and northwest Seattle are significant. The northeast has a huge demand to the U-district, and significant destinations north of it (Children’s, Lake City). All these can justify a forced transfer in the U-district. I.e., the 30, 44, and 70 terminate there. (Their predecessors were all through-routed to downtown.) But northwest Seattle is not a mirror image. Ballard is a lesser destination, and the coastline precludes any significant destinations north of it. So a person at Market Street has less reason to go north, and a person at 85th or 100th has less reason to stop in Ballard instead of downtown. These both argue against universal forced transfers in Ballard. That hinders the ability to truncate the 40, and thus to replace it with a streetcar unless the streetcar went all the way to 85th or 100th (or Northgate).

    2. I can think of so many better ways to use limited transit dollars than to pour frequency in a snail-paced 1-mile-long streetcar route in order to make it time-competitive with walking.

      One obvious example of a better use of funds would be for additional trips on the D-line.

      1. Maybe Ballard businesses can sponsor extra D-Line trips. How about those companies that keep suing to block the Burke-Gilman “missing link”? They seem to have extra money to throw around trying to influence transportation policy! Or are they all in Real Ballard ™ and thus not served by the D Line? Maybe Mars Hill Church or one of the “gentlemen’s clubs” or one of the pot dispensaries would sponsor a station…

        I must admit at this point that I’ve never actually been to Ballard. Though I’m a great admirer of Ballardine cuisine and culture, I’m not allowed in since I cannot grow a suitably manly beard. Maybe if I wore a fake beard I could ride the Fake Rapid Transit on 15th through Fake Ballard. One time I tried not shaving for a while and riding my bike in, but was run off the road by a Prius around 8th and quickly turned tail.

      2. Any place else, and I think the illogic of this argument would stand out.

        There is nothing inherent in street cars that determine their speed, is there? A bus on the same route would go as slow, correct?

        And a streetcar on a segregated route would go just as fast as a “subway”, right?

      3. “Maybe Ballard businesses can sponsor extra D-Line trips.”

        I doubt it. First of all, as long as Ballard businesses feel they are getting all the customers they need just from people walking and driving, they have no need to spend any money subsidizing transit.

        Then, there’s the problem that the D-line is more about people who live in Ballard going to downtown than people who don’t live in Ballard visiting Ballard. As it is, the D-line serves very few residential neighborhoods other than Ballard itself. People in lower Queen Anne aren’t going to bus to a cafe in Ballard when they can walk to one just as good closer to home. So that leaves the Crown Hill/Carkeek park area as the only place people might actually use the D-line bus to reach Ballard – a tiny fraction of the overall population.

        The SLUT is a bit different here. Because our transit network is so downtown-centric, Amazon has thousands of employees for which their only sane transit route to work is to take some sort of bus (or train) downtown, then ride the streetcar (or walk) for the last mile. Because having the streetcar running frequently has a direct impact on Amazon’s employees satisfaction, Amazon is willing to spend actual money subsidizing the route. (At least during the peak – they don’t care about other times when the percentage of riders who are Amazon employees going to or from work is a lot less). It’s sort of like Microsoft sponsoring the connector service, except that improved headways on the streetcar is a lot cheaper than busing people directly to work from every possible neighborhood.

  3. Are there statistics available on the streetcar’s performance, including purchased-transportation-cost-per-rider?

    1. A spokesperson for SDOT claims they have automated passenger counting equipment installed and they derive ticket purchases from the vending machine data. In the past there has been some grossly inflated ridership numbers because it relied on streetcar operators to fill out a survey. Those surveys are still part of the equation. So, kinda, sorta, maybe?

  4. Are they getting any real fare box recovery from the Streetcar? Since there are still no Orca readers and I imagine given the ridership base most people will have Orca cards, it seems they would not be getting many real paying riders.

    As a corollary, are they taken rider information from tickets bought or entry sensors on the streetcars?

    1. Well a lot of the riders have Orca cards, but I know that Amazon gives everyone a pass. So even if there were readers, there would be no revenue.

    2. There is indirect fare revenue. Metro estimates ORCA trips, and pays SDOT a lump sum based on that estimate. If you hop on the SLU streetcar without buying a ticket (and that’s what most do), Metro will assume you have an ORCA. So, SLU’s popularity and utility is inflated. I hope service planners keep this in mind.

      1. Why would SDOT be receiving anything when Metro operates the streetcar?

        Metro operates the streetcar using city funds. There’s normal accounting going on here, Seattle still has an account that takes in fare revenue both from the collections on the line and from the pugetpass fare-splitting. That it pays all of that money back out to Metro for operations is beside the point.

  5. Transit signal priority – if they do this for the SLUS, good ridership numbers get better.

    Also – why can’t I pay with my Orca card? Or can I? Where do I tap in? What are those yellow boxes? I’m SO CONFUSED.

    (No, I’m not, but it is very,very confusing that the yellow ticket validators – the same color as many stationary Orca readers) on-board aren’t actually Orca readers. It is also confusing as to who needs to pay a cash fare if they already have a fully-funded Orca in hand.)

    1. Bingo. There’s nothing wrong with the streetcar that Link-like signal priority and the already-planned extensions can’t fix.

      1. The “already-planned” extensions fail the sniff test even with improved signal priority.

        Again, 95% of this city never goes to Eastlake. I mean, like, ever.

        They’ll laugh in your face if you ask them to fund someone else’s shiny transit, something for which they can simply never see themselves having any use.

        Meanwhile, most people will at some point go to Ballard, Capitol Hill, Wallingford or adjacent, Chinatown, the airport, even Northgate. That puts those places — and points between — on their radar, and justifies infrastructural expenses in their minds. They’ll vote for something they could see themselves wanting to use.

        Of course, they won’t see themselves traveling long distances at a streetcar crawl. So that effectively wipes the “Ballard streetcar” off the electorate-support map too.

      2. The Eastlake extension isn’t planned yet. By “planned extensions” I was talking about the downtown extension, which will take a lot of those people off the south portion of the 70 and move them to the streetcar.

      3. Also, streetcars don’t have to crawl. The surface portion of Link and a million streetcars in Europe demonstrate that. We just don’t have the political will to fund or implement truly aggressive signal priority, except that somehow it snuck into Link.

      4. Oh, right, the connector.

        The mile-long boondoggle that:
        1. won’t be nearly frequent enough to justify using for intra-downtown or even downtown-SLU trips;
        2. would be wholly unnecessary if the subway tunnel directly below it worked;
        3. will not have any signal priority; and
        4. will be used to justify a Ballard Streetcar extension as our “best option” going forward.

        Can people on STB please take a vacation from supporting asinine transit projects? I’m tired of feeling so negative all the time just for pointing out the painfully obvious.

      5. “95% of this city never goes to Eastlake. I mean, like, ever.”

        80% of the city never goes to Ballard, except maybe a once every 5 year visit to the Locks. And that’s true for any neighborhood, although the U-district will have more people that go there occasionally. That’s why transit routes need to be focused not just on how many people live in the neighborhood, but how many visitors come to the neighborhood. And likewise, when evaluating two routes, one on a commercial street vs one on a residential street (especially single-family), the one on the commercial street is more important because it serves not only residents but people going to those businesses. And thirdly, when evaluating two neighborhoods you have to ask, how much do its businesses and institutions draw people from outside the neighborhood? Uptown, a lot. Columbia City, not so much. Beacon Hill, even less. These are the things I think about when I evaluate transit lines or stations, and it may be why I come up with significantly different answers than you.

      6. Give it a rest dp, your arguments against the SLUSC are hollow. What this system has shown so far is that streetcars in Seattle can be highly successful and that people (and businesses) love them and are willing to support them. This is what should be “obvious” to you.

        And all this is with a very short starter system. Just wait until the First Hill SC gets completed and the two systems get connected via the 4th/5th couplet. Things will really take off then.

        We will certainly be seeing more of these systems, if for no other reason than that this is a democracy and people are willing to vote for them.

        And who cares if 98% of Seattlites don’t ride the SC? 98% of Seattleites don’t take SR520 either, and we are spending billions on that. It’s a false argument with no validity in fact.

      7. It’s funny that we come to such different conclusions, when I basically agree with your evaluation criteria in full.

        95% of this city does not think of Eastlake as a destination, really. It’s not even on their radar.

        But I dare you to find me the “80%” of our population that truly considers Ballard fringe, inessential, a place they don’t go and wouldn’t care to go. It is one of the city’s dozen or so defining places.

        The seemingly limitless demand for new “destination” food and drink, and the complaints from residents and non-residents alike about the compounding difficulty of finding parking would tend to refute your conclusion.

        (FYI: Beacon Hill happens to be vital to Seattle’s Filipino community; I actually think you might be surprised by the level of destination activity that happens there. It’s not huge, but it’s something.)

      8. [Last comment was a reply to Mike.]

        Lazarus [who jumped in between]: Even the streetcar fetishists own inflated numbers are piddling in the grand scheme of this city’s mobility needs. Those who think the calligraphic-U-shaped “connected” line you speak of will “really take off” are a pathetic minority — I suppose the same minority who would waste 45 minutes of their life taking such a ridiculous route.

        Brent made the point that aversion to streetcar fetishism, and the (incorrect) impression that the mayor’s last car-tab referendum was all about streetcars, is basically what doomed the initiative. I think he is 100% correct in his assessment.

      9. D.p.

        What an incredibly ignorant comment. The vehicle license fee was not “all about streetcars.” Only 9% went to streetcar engineering. 50% was for making buses run faster, which you’d think you’d support.

        But of course there’s no transit initiative you haven’t found a way to hate. It’s never “it has some problems but it’s a step forward.” Anything but Boston T lines radiating out from Ballard is obviously designed by morons and deserves nothing but ridicule.

      10. I was talking about people who actually go to Ballard on a regular or even once-a-month basis. Everybody agrees Ballard is a defining neighborhood, and well worth visiting. I said yesterday that a downtown-Ballard-45th corridor has the second highest potential in the city. But that doesn’t mean that most people go to Ballard, or that they’re affected by its substandard bus service.

        15th vs 24th has reasonable arguments both ways. But we need to choose one as the primary and stick to it. Metro (and the monorail!) chose 15th, so I’m inclined to defer to that. As for 8th, it’s one of those mostly-single-family residential areas, with only the smallest token of businesses at 45th. So if 8th needs to be sacrificed to strengthen 15th, Greenwood, and Aurora, I say do it. Or start talking about how to densify 8th to justify its bus service. I have been suspicious about Greenwood Avenue too, but I’ve become convinced it has enough multifamily/commercial use and “neighborhood energy” to justify a parallel frequent route seven blocks from Aurora. It’s a funny situation, but it’s not Greenwood’s fault that Aurora is an automobile-oriented highway with not much “neighborhood energy” around it.

      11. Somewhere, there is a forum where there is actual discussion of the issues going on. As opposed to discussion of totally irrelevant made-up statistics.

        Are we really proposing here that no transit system be built unless a majority of the area’s population actually goes there on a daily basis? Really?

        The whole problem with politics today is that we can’t have something unless a majority or 2/3 of the people actually use the thing on a regular basis. But that could NEVER apply to any particular bus route. (Whatever happened to “majority rules” or “planning a system so that it benefits most everyone”?)

        Sorry, spouting the fact that 98% of Seatleites will never ride a particular route is not transit planning — nor does it count as a legitimate argument for anything. It just reflects the unreal arguments made as far as the political process goes lately. The worst thing is that I spent even a minute wondering if that really was a valid point to consider in this debate.

      12. Cascadia,

        I never suggested that every single transit route in existence should (or could) survive some supermajority consensus process.

        The fact remains, though, that we have demonstrated a limited capacity for building major capital infrastructure. It would be incredibly foolish — it would expend tremendous opportunity cost — to make a priority out of building a fringe line to a tiny, non-destination, low-total-population neighborhood. A line which, after all is said and done, will remain stuck in traffic more even than the buses it replaces.

        If you were looking for a textbook boondoggle to turn off the majority of the population from rail future rail plans, you couldn’t invent something better than the Eastlake Streetcar.

        Those who claim otherwise are mode fetishists and pound-foolish.

      13. And Mike,

        But that doesn’t mean that most people go to Ballard, or that they’re affected by its substandard bus service.

        Well, they just drive when they come here. Which they do in droves. So if they had had any inclination whatsoever to arrive via public transit, their decision to avoid doing so was indeed affected by the substandard bus service.

        Also, while I’m not sure how your second spiel was relevant to my prior point, I think you should know that you just argued for axing the 7.

        Really, that’s what you did. Because it’s just so close to Link, and “we need to choose one as the primary and stick to it”. Plus, Rainier does travel through an awful lot of single-family…

      14. Martin, I was thinking about that sort of attitude this morning on my (mostly full of standees from Othello through Pioneer Square) Link trip from Othello to University Street to go to work. d.p. is a prime example, but he’s not the only one; there are others too. Indiscriminate complaint coupled with belittling of all realistic solutions just really doesn’t help focus the discussion in productive ways at all.

        To use Link as an example, it’s never “Link needs infill stations at Graham Street and Allentown” or “We need to extend Link to neighborhoods ST is forgetting about.” It’s “Link doesn’t go anywhere anyone wants to go, and never will,” which is completely ludicrous to anyone who actually rides it, or who ever visits central Capitol Hill, the U-District, or Northgate.

      15. Wow, Martin. Thanks for insulting my intelligence without even bothering to read my comment correctly.

        I said that the voters had a mistaken impression that the proposition was streetcar-focused. Mistaken! But that was their impression.

        Every anti-proposition argument you encountered online or in print — including in the voters’ pamphlet — made great hay of that mayor’s McShwinn, McStreetcar, warrier-against-cars image. It didn’t seem to matter that this is/was grossly inaccurate; it is the primary reason the proposition failed to convince.

        Anyway, I’m sorry that I find it impossible to let insane proposals and gross fallacies of transit geometry stand unchallenged. I wasn’t in the room when RapidRide and the First Hill Streetcar got planned — and look at those incompetent, wasteful piles of crap.

        There’s quite a difference between demanding “T lines radiating out from Ballard” and demanding that we hold Seattle transit agencies to a standard of transit that is actually usable. A transit advocacy blog that “advocates” for anything less is worthless.

      16. “to make a priority out of building a fringe line to a tiny, non-destination, low-total-population neighborhood.”

        Good thing then that Eastlake wouldn’t be the destination for the line.

      17. What’s the “destination”?

        SLU, which already has its rail? Roosevelt and the U-District, which will have a real subway soon?

        So the line is all about ferrying the 4,900 residents of tiny Eastlake to those other places? (And shuttling a couple of lazy U-Districters 8 or 9 blocks?)

        You’ve already admitted there will be zero bi-directional demand. Do you even realize how slim the uni-directional purpose is?

        In what portion of your tiny mind does this make sense?

      18. Sorry, Lazarus.

        Martin kicked off my bad mood when he inserted a belated reply calling me “ignorant” for having said precisely what he said (that the impression that Prop 1 was all about streetcars was mistaken).

        I don’t take kindly to being attacked and insulted for the opposite of what I actually said!

      19. Wow, lost almost my entire comment, let’s try again.
        What should be relevant in this debate is not what whether any individual person “thinks” an Eastlake streetcar line would be useful, but rather that actual studies conducted by transit planners say that a streetcar is in fact the best mode for the corridor. The Seattle Transit Master Plan (page 34) recommends a streetcar along Eastlake as one of the highest priorities, and explains that it chose this because of the high capacity needs along the corridor. Although it is small in area it is very dense and rapidly growing, and has very high rates of transit use. And the streetcar is not just for them – it would be extremely useful to the many people going between the U District and SLU every day, a number increasing even further with the growth of UW’s campus in SLU.
        The bigger issue, though, is that transportation investments shouldn’t be restricted to the percentage of the population who would use them. They are part of a network, every part of which supports the rest. The Eastlake streetcar extension will only be truly useful in concert with a Downtown connector, and the Fremont-Ballard line will complement both of these segments. In addition to the streetcar proposals, they are trying to overhaul and massively improve the bus system as well, all tied together by the Link Light Rail spine.
        While only a small percentage of the city will use each individual line, practically everyone will use the system of which they are a part.

      20. I’m sorry, but the TMP’s calculations are ridiculous.

        The neighborhood (<5,000 currently) won't grow by more than a couple thousand even if half of the low-rise gets torn out and replaced tomorrow.

        The absurd number of boardings in the TMP include all present and future SLUT ridership, as well as thousands of northern U-Districters who will supposedly use the line as a Link feeder, despite the infrequency and the crappy transfer connection.

        No one will use it to get between SLU and the U-District, because it will be caught in traffic and Link will eat its dust — even with the backtracking.

        And even if you believe the numbers… they’re still kind of pathetic. 24,000 (that’s 12,000 actual round trips) is our “highest priority”!?

        (That the Ballard-Fremont Streetcar line shows similarly pathetic numbers only reinforces how inadequate a streetcar with crappy speed, frequency, and connectivity to other high-speed transit is for longer-distance routes.)

        The Eastlake Corridor is recommended as a “highest priority” because those who prepared the study went in looking for ways to declare it so. The Streetcar Network proponents got exactly the results they paid for!

      21. Part of the driver here is low-hanging fruit. The downtown streetcar links two existing lines. The Eastlake streetcar extends an existing one, as does the Westlake streetcar. This makes them lower cost than starting from scratch, and also increases ridership on the existing lines. There will be some increase in costs if the SLU segment is upgraded, but supposedly less than if they were building it from scratch.

      22. Exactly. The SLUT is stupid and wasteful, but at least corporate subsidies ensured it wasn’t entirely our money and waste.

        But the mere existence of this silly little “starter line” now has everyone falling over themselves to extend it in useless and counterproductive ways.

        Throwing good money after bad, illustrated.

      23. Glad you put that on the record, d.p.. The comments on STB being so important to the functioning of the universe.

      24. “95% of this city does not think of Eastlake as a destination, really. It’s not even on their radar.”

        And you can bet the merchants in Seattle would love to keep it that way, having no large scale, enclosed indoor mall and food court of their own.

      25. d.p.

        I apologize for missing the word “incorrect” this morning. On that we agree.

        Your definition of “usable” evidently excludes anything built since 1980. You’ve had nothing but bad things to say about Link, which in my opinion is very usable, even if it’s not the Paris Metro. But there’s never any gray area for you; it’s never “this is good but could be improved.” It’s all irretrievably bad design by Seattle mental defectives. The flip side of Seattle exceptionalism.

      26. There is an indoor food court downtown. :) The third floor of Westlake Center. And Pacific Place and Westlake Center are “malls”, even if the department stores are across the street from them rather than inside them. And the DSTT mezzanine acts as a mall connector.

      27. Martin,

        Of course I think Link is in improvement over what we had before! As someone with a habit of flying in late in the evening, I would be insane to think otherwise. And I’m pretty sure I had never set foot in Columbia City before the train arrived; prior transit service was simply to laborious to justify the trip if coming from anywhere north of downtown.

        And although I regret that Link’s suburban/commuter bias is building a line with severely limited intra-city functionality, I have no illusions that certain trips to and from the U-District and (one particular part of) Capitol Hill will improve immeasurably once our first real subway segment opens!

        But sadly, Link’s drawbacks are hardly a case of Seattle exceptionalism. Modern rail investments from Denver to Dallas to Minneapolis — and definitely don’t forget BART — have made all of the same mistakes that we are: commuter rails masquerading as subways, in all cases their usage is pathetic when in light of the distances they span, they are gargantuan money pits, and they have done virtually nothing to reverse the auto-centricity of their regions.

        The only difference is that Denver, Minneapolis, and the Bay Area’s mistakes have already been made. We are still making ours. I remain quite surprised that a region that takes itself for educated and analytic would take such umbrage to my calling out the really bad precedents we insist on following.

        (BTW, we’re not the only budding streetcar-revival fetishists in the western world either. But we may be on the vanguard of trying to solve intra-city mobility, in a city with severe traffic woes, with multiple lines of vehicles caught in traffic. I don’t think its a particularly attractive vanguard on which to be.)

        Really, it all comes down to whether, when all is said and done, a rational actor would get out of their car and use primarily transit to get around. In your heart of hearts, do you really think anything on our transit smörgåsbord offers that?

      28. d.p. — so push for exclusive ROW rather than shared lanes.

        It’s going to be easier to get that with streetcars than with buses alone. If there’s a streetcar proposal up and running, push to exclude cars from the streetcar lanes (“Streetcar/Bus Only” perhaps).

        Basic political tactics.

      29. d.p.: I would say the Hiawatha Line actually has started to reverse the auto-centricity of the Twin Cities region. It already accounts for 12% of the metro area’s public transit ridership, while costing much less to operate than the buses. (Bus ridership in the Twin Cities is *poor*, and I can understand why, having tried to use one once. LRT ridership is *good*, to the point where they lengthened the platforms and the trains.) Reaching the Mall of America *mattered*.

        The upcoming Central Corridor (St. Paul to Minneapolis) should have equally salutary effects. (The third line they’re proposing, to the western suburbs…. it won’t. Oh well.) The key here is that these are naturally appropriate routes (much like U of Washington to downtown), with large pre-existing ridership; the second key was that they managed to avoid extensive tunnelling (though they did tunnel under the airport); the third key is that there actually is reasonable stop spacing.

        They made a mistake in constructing the half-assed Northstar route. (I think the full St. Cloud – Minneapolis route would have done quite decently, but the “do it the way George W Bush’s FTA likes it” route is an absurdity — going only half the way to St Cloud and skipping the *three* most useful station locations on the way.)

        Now, as I obliquely mentioned, they’re *about* to make another mistake. The next LRT route will be a poor choice.

        The next LRT route in the Twin Cities *should* be the Midtown Greenway (just north of Lake Street, replacing the #21 bus). Or perhaps the St. Paul – Mall of America route (replacing the #54 bus), or maybe a Nicollet route (replacing the #18 bus) or a Hennepin route (replacing the #6 bus) or even a route replacing the #19 bus (in northwest Minneapolis).

        These are all on the frequent-service map and have high demand. As were the #55 (before becoming the Hiawatha Line) and the #16 (about to become the Central Corridor/Green Line).

        Instead, Metro Transit is building a line out to the southwestern suburbs. And carefully locating it bracketed by railways and expressways to reduce station catchement areas. Hmm. It’ll underperform terribly. However, since it’s their *third* line, through-routed and sharing infrastructure with a very successful line and a second which will be very successful, they’ll get away with it and have a chance to recover and build in the right place next time. It would have been a horrendous problem if this had been their first line.

      30. I’ve only been in the Twin Cities on a couple of occasions, but all of your exposition seems to reflect both what I’ve read and observed.

        The current Hiawatha route is basically useless to a non-commuter or anyone not headed directly downtown, to the airport, the (ugh!) mall, and perhaps the VA. You’re right that at least the station spacing averages a mile or less, with no gaps of over 1.1 miles — the very, very upper end of reasonable — so those who happen to be within walking distance of the out-of-the-way corridor can at least be assured to be able to use the thing. But those people are criminally few.

        Just look at the ridership: 32,000. After eight years in existence. If that’s 12% of the metro area’s transit usage, then we’re talking about something that hasn’t made a dent in the area’s autocentricity. Heck, that’s half the ridership of Denver’s system, the gold standard of much-gloated-over-transit-that-people-rarely-use.

        (I’ve also read all extensively about the Southwest Corridor’s Midtown-screwing, and mentioned it in a post just a few days ago.)

        so push for exclusive ROW rather than shared lanes.

        Exclusive ROW is an absolute no-go for the Seattle Streetcar proposal, at least anywhere it matters. The Ballard proposal — the only line that would be attempting to serve a real mass-transit purpose — would be forced to choose between a pricey new bridge that would miss central Fremont, or slogging over the Fremont Bridge and all the way through that neighborhood in mixed traffic. You and I both know the latter (cheaper) option will prevail. What does ROW elsewhere matter when your worst bottleneck is where have none?

        Eastlake Ave, meanwhile, is a two-lane street in its entire. A streetcar line there would be in mixed traffic end to end! That line gets dumber with every new fact you learn about it, doesn’t it?

        The current segment, which both “extensions” wish to claim as an asset, enters downtown at an oblique angle, meeting cross traffic at twice as many intersections as any street that follows the regular grid. ROW and signal priority are a permanent no-go on this segment as well.

        This streetcar proposal is truly beyond salvage.

  6. I’ll try to make this sound a little more positive:

    It would be interesting if these generous employers asked their employees which pedestrian-improvement, bike infrastructure, and transit options they would like to see subsidized. I bet the streetcrawler would do poorly in such a survey.

      1. That is classic “Brent-speak”. On some blogs he suggests people avoid insults. On others, he hurls them. Lost my respect for his opinions eons ago.

    1. I vaguely remember crunching the numbers a few years agoand concluded that for the capitol costs we paid to fund the SLUT, we could have built a cycle track on the land currently occupied by the train tracks and had enough money left over to buy every person who lives or works in SLU a new bicycle.

      Granted, the population has grown significantly in that area since then, so I’m not sure if the new bicycle for every person in the area would still hold, but it’s still something to think about.

  7. The SLUT: the city’s most efficient self-sustaining gentrification machine.

    Oh, wait, you can actually ride the thing?

    1. Sorry, that’s a lot more snarky than I intended it to be. I actually like the streetcar a lot. But damn the neighborhood’s getting more and more bland and corporate.

      1. Yeah, it’s not like the redevelopment in SLU caused any loss. What was there before was mostly abandoned warehouses with some in-use warehouses, along with the Blethen family bunker.

        Bland, corporate, but in use by lots of people is a big improvement.

      2. David, it’s easy to write off an entire neighborhood. Tell that to the people who lived there.

      3. What people who lived there? There was essentially no housing in the part of SLU that was redeveloped.

        Before Paul Allen came along, it was almost all light industrial, mostly not in use.

      4. Where were you seeing torn-down houses? Certainly not along 9th, Westlake, or Fairview. Are you thinking of some neighborhood other than the one we’re discussing here?

      5. There’s a row of houses and one apartment building on Republican at Fairview that will be torn down very soon.

      6. Perspective alert. South Lake Union was in zoning limbo for decades. The advent of Aurora, I-5, and the Mercer Mess tore up the neighborhood moreso than most others. The existing inhabitants were warehouse-y businesses. The area was left to stagnate and decay for decades in zoning limbo. Paul Allen saw an opportunity, bought up land, and proposed various things some of which were realized and others weren’t. But what Allentown replaced is decaying warehouses. The better-preserved east end of SLU (between Fairview and I-5) has long been different, both better-preserved and not as much affected by Allentown.

      7. Cascade is what you are talking about Mike, and I see it being destroyed by Vulcan. There’s almost nothing left from 10 years ago except the landmarks. No one even knows the name of the neighborhood anymore.

      8. Cascade was destroyed after WWII with the construction of I-5. The remaining housing was a vestige of what was there before the war, and there certainly wasn’t a functioning neighborhood after I-5. Sometimes it’s just better to redevelop.

        In any case, I thought this discussion was about the area around the streetcar, not several blocks east.

      9. These new names get thrown about with no precise boundaries. To me SLU is Cascade, like SODO is the Industrial District and the International District is Chinatown. I’m still trying to figure out how the Denny Regrade led to the Denny Triangle.

      10. It would have been nice if at least a handful of facades had been preserved, as they did for the building that houses Brave Horse Tavern. Would love to see development incentives along those lines.

      11. It would be unfair of me to complain about Seattle NIMBYs that want everything to look exactly like they always remembered it, because really NIMBYs are like that everywhere, and they suck everywhere. I might be inclined to care a tiny bit about what passes for preservationism around here if there was any sense of proportion about what’s to be preserved. Instead, every random thing that gets torn down is some kind of tragedy, and something that’s been wrenched from the heart of the neighborhood. The people that owned the houses sold them, and that’s good enough for me.

        Sometimes new is bettah. Sometimes new… is… bettah.

  8. The SLUT makes a very good horizontal elevator as riders from N/E/S/W arrive on Ballard Link, descending the stairs from the elevated station above 9th/Denny. Time Slut to Link and now we’re talking real transit.

  9. “According to the Mayor’s office, streetcar ridership has also exceeded projections, with over 2,900 average weekday boardings in September, 40% higher than the original forecast.”

    Let me hazard a guess: The “original forecast” assumed people would have to actually pay a fare to ride the SLUT. The reality is that the SLUT is free to ride to virtually everyone who uses it. You think providing a ride for free versus making people pay for it might have some effect on ridership?

    Wonder what SLUT ridership would be if passengers were actually forced to pay the actual fare for each trip they took.

    2,900 trips per day on something that is free? Does this impress anyone?

    I rode it from Mercer to Denny at noon and back at 2:00 a couple of weeks ago, and there were about a dozen people on it at noon, and about half a dozen at 2. I didn’t see anyone pay.

    They can not possibly give the SLUT any signal priority at either Denny or Mercer, since those streets are completely congested during peak hours as it is.
    Giving that stupid little toy priority over commuters who are actually trying to get somewhere would be a disgrace. I doubt if Amazon would even be in favor of that, since a lot of their workers probably use either Mercer or Denny on a regular basis.

    1. 1. Most people who ride it probably have a pass, so they are completely indifferent to the fare.

      2. Most people are at work at 2:00pm, come back at 4:30 or 5:00.

      3. If traffic at Mercer and Denny is stopped due to congestion anyways, what difference does it make if the light turns for 15 seconds to let the streetcar through?

      1. LIke I said, the SLUT is free to ride. The original estimates probably assumed people would actually have to pay to ride it.

        So, basically, the SLUT is pretty much empty almost all day?

        It means longer backups on Mercer and Denny, obviously. And it destroys the synchronization of the lights along Mercer, if the light is supposed to be green, because the lights ahead of it are green, but the streetcar causes one intersection to be red for Mercer, stopping all traffic, and delaying that traffic so it has to stop at the next intersection, also. If this happens every 10 minutes at Terry and every 10 minutes at Westlake, you are talking about increasing backups by blocks.

    2. You know, 1st Ave W between Mercer and Western Ave W is empty 99% of the day. GUESS WE SHOULDN’T HAVE BUILT IT!

    3. Also, I’m a commuter that took the SLUT from Westlake and Mercer to PPS most days. Why should people going to Sammamish get priority over me? Or, lest obnoxiously, what determines what should get priority? Something that will take 15 sec to transport 60+ people? Or a line of SOVs that would take 1+min for the same throughput?

    4. Fuming in fumes isn’t good for your health… maybe try for a Bridging the Gap II “Empty Roads Strike Back” tax increase to help with the various road construction, maintenance, and scalability problems I hear Seattle drivers have to suffer through?

  10. The Seattle Monorail averages about 7,000 boardings per day. And everyone has to actually PAY to ride it! Adult fare is $2.25 each way. And you can’t ride it without paying. You have to pay. It’s not free. You must buy a fare. It’s not a free ride, like the SLUT. You actually have to pay.

    The Seattle Monorail is a public-private partnership that actually makes a profit of up to $750,000 per year. No subsidies needed. People actually pay to ride it! What a concept!

    Since the Seattle Monorail is such an obviously sucessful “transit system”, while the SLUT is an obvious joke, does the STB favor building more monorails around the city?

    1. $2.25, eh? So, if someone lives in the Uptown area, like close to the “Old-QFC Heights”… and works dopwntown at Nordstrom or the Medical Dental Building… and they are somehow able to use the monorail around “peak time”… then isn’t the monorail a cheaper transit solution for them than the routes #1, 2, 13, or D Line?? (Unless their employer pays for their Metro transit fees as a perk, of course.)

      1. What do you think ridership on the SLUT would be if it cost $2.25 per trip? No free transfers from buses. Just a flat $2.25 per trip for adults.

      2. I think the answer is obvious – Amazon employees would ride company shuttles. Nearly everyone else would either walk or take the regular bus. The SLUT would be used by people who were planning to walk, but, by luck, just happened to see it coming.

    2. If you can get 6500 out-of-town tourists a day to ride every normal bus or streetcar line, I’m sure our transit funding problems will be solved overnight.

      What a totally disingenuous argument.

      1. I can’t tell if you’re actually missing my point or just ignoring it so you can go after straw men instead. The point is that the Monorail is profitable because tons of tourists ride it, and that you can’t use that funding model for any other transit in the city.

  11. My boy loves it as a kinda carnival ride, so it must be worth it.

    Unfortunately we tend to drive to it to ride it, because actual transit improvements in our Lake City neighborhood, where actual people live and need to get places, has been completely neglected.

    Funding priorities shouldn’t be decided by developers or the wealth of those inhabiting the buildings. Poor folks need transit more than rich folks.

  12. I actually rode the SLUT on tuesday, around 4 pm. This was at the end of a long urban walk (from Wedgwood to the REI store), I was tired and didn’t feel like hiking the last mile to downtown. My SLUT experience was a good one – I didn’t have to wait long at all, and I was “whisked” slowly but smoothly to downtown. The SLUT was busy and most of the seats were filled. At least part of the day, the tram is quite well used.

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