As longtime readers know, I was on the citizen advisory board for Seattle’s latest Transit Master Plan. I can hardly take the credit (or blame) for what it contains, but I was generally supportive of the plan’s emphasis on streetcar corridors. Streetcar skepticism is a completely coherent viewpoint for transit advocates to have, and I don’t consider myself a full-throated advocate for them, so I thought I’d explain some of my reasoning on this subject.

1. There’s a very real chance that Sound Transit isn’t able to make a big new investment in our working lifetimes, so we’d better have a backup plan. For a big new package to arise, the legislature, Sound Transit board, and voters all have to agree. The Board is probably on our side, but the legislature is almost always terrible, and the electorate is a wild card based on the conditions at that particular election.

This is not a message of despair. There is reason to worry and cause to have a backup plan, but also enough of a chance for success that working hard for it is worthwhile. Nevertheless, it’s a smaller effort to get Seattle leadership and voters on board, plus a solid grassroots push for priority treatments. It’s second best but I prefer it to the status quo.

2. From technical and financial standpoint, a Fremont/Ballard streetcar is a complement to Link through Interbay, not competition. A line that intersects Link in two places builds network effects with the rest of the rapid transit network, in the same way that an Eastlake streetcar complements North Link. The point of the streetcar is not to connect Ballard quickly with downtown, but to connect Fremont and South Lake Union quickly with each other and with the endpoints.

Financially, the streetcar is an order of magnitude cheaper than a subway. It’s not an either/or, it’s a rounding error for a grade-separated project.

3. Politically, it might be viewed as a replacement rather than a complement. I know of no way to guarantee the actions of the Sound Transit Board in 2016 or 2020, nor the effectiveness of various neighborhood actors. I do know that suburban leaders have been singularly focused on completing the Link regional spine, requiring a tax rate that will generate billions of dollars that must be spent in Seattle and Shoreline: far more money than the streetcar network could possibly absorb. All that said, I think it’s well worth the time of anyone concerned about this to let their representatives know that a streetcar, while welcome, is not an adequate replacement.

Any transit improvement in that area can be viewed as diminishing the impetus for grade separation. Should we really stop trying to improve RapidRide D?

4. The other risk is of halfhearted implementation, which worsens the cost/benefit analysis. Like any idea, the prospects are bad if you assume poor execution. The McGinn administration’s apparent lack of attention to this issue on First Hill is a serious cause for concern. To me, a MAX-like level of quality is a slam dunk; if I knew for sure a Fremont streetcar would provide little benefit over the 40, I’d vote against it. But once again, we can shape these events and there is no need for despair at this stage in the process.

5. It’s true that a BRT solution wins some of the gains at a lower cost, as the Transit Master Plan explained. I wouldn’t hesitate to support a BRT solution that survived the process, but am equally supportive of spending more to get a higher quality line. The streetcar provides stronger branding (and thus more riders), more capacity, a driver free of distraction from passengers, and a low likelihood of backsliding on qualities like off-board payment. I’m for building awesome transit in Seattle – not finding ways where we can cut corners on quality.

132 Replies to “Merits of a Fremont Streetcar”

  1. Excellent piece. Too many transit advocates either see absolutely no use for at-grade transit or want too much of it in places it needn’t be. Obviously we’d all love a SkyTrain- or Link-style connection through both Interbay and Westlake, but if we get something just short of that, that would be a lot better than now.

    1. I agree, excellent piece. And also with the notion that streetcar should be seen as a plan B, not a plan A. I would caution against thinking too small at this point. For sure, there is a lot of inertia arrayed against more rail in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. Big ideas are hard to accomplish, but not impossible. What we know is NW Seattle is a huge and robust transit market, which may at this point be big enough to support full scale Link light rail. Can’t wait to see what the #s show.

  2. What’s the estimated travel time here? Is this going to be faster than a bus? It’s really distressing that you wouldn’t include that information, or even mention the question, in a write-up on “the case for the streetcar” when the transit advocate’s main reason for skepticism is that non-grade separated streetcars in traffic-heavy urban environments tend to be at least as slow, if not slower, than buses. Is there any reason to believe this streetcar avoid this trap? (I know, I know: that’s not “the point”. But it’s pretty damn important for NW Seattle, and given the seemingly remote chances of getting anything grade separated, which almost certainly increase if this happens). If you want transit advocates to not treat this like a gimmick and a waste, please don’t ignore the most urgent, relevant concerns about this mode.

    As a 28 rider, it’s really quite depressing to thing that the best we can reasonably hope for in NW Seattle will almost certainly increase my travel times to downtown Seattle.

      1. Thanks; sorry I missed that link. What is the time savings if we don’t build the new bridge?

      2. According to the fact sheet BRT seems to produce the same time savings with a substantially lower upfront cost. Do you recall why more riders are expected on rail?

      3. KevinR: “Do you recall why more riders are expected on rail?”

        Just a guess here, but how about capacity and rail bias?

      4. I haven’t seen a document that breaks out the ridership gain from a new crossing, but Nelson/Nygaard thought it was not cost effective.

        The bump from rail ridership is based on historical trends of rail ridership vs. bus ridership. I believe it’s largely due to branding and some fringe benefits of the way trains operate.

    1. I too question if this would enhance the ride times. I did go and read the mentioned corridor planning guide and it claims 11 minutes. But, half the route would be downtown, like the existing SLU Streetcar, that thing is slower than mud during rush hour. There i no way to get out of downtown on a streetcar and have reasonable time performance IMHO. I read here last week, that the easiest gains for a streetcar are north of downtown, but these are not where the problems are.

      I like streetcars, but I do not think its worth the investment over the 26, 28, and 40… all of which are slow from Fremont to the downtown core.
      [ot]

      1. Downtown there would be dedicated transit lanes on 4th and 5th. I don’t know what “reasonable” is to you but it should be better that what you’ve experienced.

      2. As Bruce detailed recently, dedicated lanes PLUS signal priority (less than absolute, but aggressive by the standards of a gridded C.B.D. still leave MAX’s green/yellow line slogging across downtown Portland at less than 9 mph.

        The MAX red/blue lines zig-zag through the C.B.D. in separate lanes as well, but without signal priority. They travel at 6 mph or less.

        Any way you slice it, the Seattle trolley will lack exclusivity in SLU, and probably elsewhere. The plans all involve elaborate zig-zags in the vicinity of Westlake. And signal priority can never be aggressive because you’ve got so much cross-traffic (including transit) to worry about.

        We’re looking at the MAX red/blue here more than we’re looking at the green/yellow. (And both suck plenty hard when your destination isn’t downtown and you’re just slogging through to reach a transfer.)

      3. I agree that tunnel >> surface alignment. I don’t think anything I wrote is inconsistent with that.

      4. d.p.

        If Westlake becomes the route of rapid streetcars serving the east and west shores of Lake Union, it will need to be tunneled only from just north of Denny Way to Stewart. That’s the part where the signal pre-emption won’t work because Westlake diagonals across the street grid. South of Stewart the cars will be running on Fourth and Fifth and north of Denny they’ll be on Westlake which crosses only five much junior streets between there and the lakefront (obviously excluding Mercer in the “junior” category). It probably should underpass Mercer and Valley as well.

      5. Also, very few riders will be “passing through” downtown on the streetcars, unlike a significant minority of riders on the east-west Max.

        The Rapid Streetcars are not expected to turn onto the Jackson facility; they’ll likely be longer trams than the little stations on Jackson will handle. It looks like they’ll share ROW with the FHSC’s from somewhere in the north end, but not run through.

        If the Eastlake route is built (it’s hard to see how it can be fit into the much tighter environment east of the lake than the Ballard RS, but we can hope) it will be the natural access to the SLU lakefront from North Link.

      6. Nobody slogs through downtown Portland on the blue or red lines either. The time penalty is such that through-commuters simply drive, even if the red and blue lines would provide time-hobble door-to-door service.

        On the other hand, plenty have to suffer one half of the slog to reach a transfer, or to reach the point closest to their destination. The “rapid” streetcars would be just as laborious for anybody trying to reach Link, or a ferry, or Pioneer Square, or RapidRide, or…

        If you could bury the part below Denny, as Anadakos opines (or as San Francisco, Philly, and dozens of functioning pre-metros across Europe do), then we’d be talking about something completely different than what is actually on the table.

      7. …Which is not to say it isn’t a better idea than the one actually under discussion.

        I have said before, and still believe, that even a 1-block stub tunnel from Streetcar Plaza into the Westlake mezzanine — a Toronto-style connection — would be far more beneficial to South Lake Union than any Downtown Surface Connector will ever be. And such a minuscule tunnel would cost far less than the miles of surface slowness proposed.

      8. 9mph sounds slow, and it is. But subways aren’t exactly blazingly fast, either, at least not in urban areas with a lot of stops and possible overcrowding. For example, the 1 train in NYC from 96th to Chambers St is scheduled for about 15 mph, and it falls behind that frequently.

        Don’t get me wrong — more speed is good. If you’re going 6 miles, 15 mph = 24 minutes, where 9 mph = 40 minutes. But tunneling everywhere isn’t a panacea, either — from the ridership standpoint, getting the right corridor can be more important than getting a tunnel.

        All that said, the right corridor for high-speed transit to *Ballard* is Interbay.

      9. See Bruce’s post: https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/03/12/where-and-how-can-we-make-at-grade-transit-faster/

        Even with all of Metro’s glaring payment/operations flaws, the 40 already runs at 13-16 mph for much of its route, even at busy times of day. (As a regular rider, I can attest that it keeps the posted schedule, which contains enough padding that the bus often beats it.)

        The question you should be asking is not only “what is the AVERAGE speed of New York’s 1 subway from the Upper West Side to TriBeCa?”. The question is “how fast are the buses and cars above it moving at Columbus Circle, through Times Square, past Penn Station, in the Village, when crossing Canal?”. (The answer is “barely moving at all”.)

        A train that aims for pretty much what we’ve already got is a criminal waste of resources and of the limited public patience for transit projects that never seem to make it any easier to get around. Any way you slice it, that’s what this corridor promises.

      10. d.p.,

        So it’s your opinion that no improvement is worthwhile unless it’s a subway? That if the legislature doesn’t come through we just stick with the status quo?

      11. No, he’s questioning whether surface rail would actually be an improvement.

        Personally, I think it would be – but only a minimal improvement and thus probably not worth the money.

      12. Martin, I’m actually traveling this week, replying mostly from TSA lines and Amtrak seats and focusing on shortsharpshock retorts to the grossest illogic (“streetcars lure tourists”; “surface transit is better because subways platforms are inherently inconvenient and Seattle’s so darn pretty”) rather than responding directly to your itemized thought process.

        I do appreciate knowing your reasoning, even if I disagree with much of it. Since the moment I saw your post, I have intended to write a similar list to explain why it continues to frustrate me that the solution independently arrived at by many who actually live, use transit, and understand the topography and movement patterns north of the Ship Canal continues to be denied consideration on the basis of extremely specious political reasoning. When back in Seattle, I will e-mail you directly rather than relitigating the topic in public.

        Suffice to say, though, that

        There’s a very real chance that Sound Transit isn’t able to make a big new investment in our working lifetimes, so we’d better have a backup plan

        is why I have long advocated having a plan on the table that does a whole lot of rapid-transit-accessing good for a price tag that we could afford even if the regional megaproject goes down in flames. A billion and a half is not necessarily out of our go-it-alone reach. Five or six billion probably is. Why not have an effective plan on deck at that price, rather than shruggingly resorting to piddling streetcar extensions that total hundreds of millions anyway but do minimal good for anyone?

        I’m glad you recognize that mixed-traffic rail is not for long-distance travel. Most American politicians, and many of your pro-streetcar peers, recognize no such thing. Ben has written wistfully of East Berlin and Prague, ignoring that both cities have spent decades systematically de-emphasizing streetcars as the distance heavy lifters in their networks. No transit-experienced city our size on earth is investing in mixed-traffic corridors to the tune of building new ones six miles in length, much less running them on notoriously arduous downtown streets. Have you considered that they may know something that your TMP advisory board didn’t?

      13. $1.5 billion is four times the cost of the Fremont streetcar. The TMP specifically gave up on 45th as HCT corridor because you can’t really solve it without tunneling, and that was viewed as too expensive for city resources. In any case, it’s also an ST corridor.

        I would be ecstatic if we built the “purple line,” and I’m glad ST is studying it soon for ST3. Do you think the streetcar improves the case for it with respect to an Interbay line?

  3. I often see walkshed maps used to support or oppose an alignment. This map is small, but it seems like the streetcar would go up Westlake instead of Dexter. And now I notice that the ubiquitous walkshed map is absent for this proposal. Is that because it would show that for about half the route the alignment has a very poor walkshed?

    1. Are you talking about west Lake Union? That won’t have a great walkshed area, but there’s a lot of potential for density there. But it’s certainly not half the route.

      Or are you talking about water? Yep, little walkshed in water. A bit of swimshed though.

      1. A potential for density? The narrow corridor along Westlake from Denny Way to Fremont has almost no potential for density. It’s a no man’s land of a body of water on one side and a steep cliff on the other. And when I say half the route, I’m including Leary Way. Because of the canal, the walkshed for much of this streetcar alignment is poor. In the past, people have used walksheds to oppose an alignments, like the Vision Line. I’m holding people accountable to their past statements and own logic.

      2. Was there a discussion of the relative benefits of putting the streetcar on Westlake vs. Dexter?

      3. Running up Dexter will lead to the North Seattle cycling commuters screaming “OH NOZE! THEREZ TRACKSZ!”

      4. Dexter wasn’t consider because they’d get opposition from the bike lobby. Bicyclist use Dexter, not Westlake. Westlake is the path of least resistance. Most alignments in Seattle are political.

      5. little walkshed in water

        Not entirely true. Lake Union is full of liveaboards and houseboats. Not much opportunity for vertical density (except maybe an apodment in the crow’s nest) but liveaboards I’m guessing are a high percentage car free population. Of course the water/walkshed problem can be fixed with a rezone :=

      6. Most of the West Lake Union shore is already developed with office buildings and marine oriented businesses. I suppose that the MOB’s could be moved (but to where?) and apartments built right along the lakeshore in their places; there would be no views to block.

        But overall Sam is right about the walkshed and development potential; the significant cluster of mid-rises between Dexter and the cliff will be bypassed by a Westlake routing, as will the bigger buildings between Dexter and Aurora. It seems pretty obvious that Dexter has the greater potential for ridership and could probably support a second stop between Nickerson and Galer.

        Downpost there’s a proposal for a cycle track to the west of Westlake at the base of the cliff. That seems like an excellent idea for a Westlake alternative, though it does run into problems at the south end of the lake where the cliff disappears. At that point, however, the east side also widens and it’s likely that space could be found for the track over there. How to cross the street is of course the devil in those details.

      7. There’s a significant amount of area to the west of Westlake that’s been bulldozed and is ready for development. That said, I agree that Dexter would be better for walkshed.

        [ot]

      8. Is it true that Dexter isn’t being considered because of conflicts with the bike infrastrucutre on that route? Because it seems like we’d be missing a lot of density and potential riders by choosing Westlake over Dexter, and it’s not clear what the rationale should be. I don’t imagine the bicycle lobby is anywhere near as influential as Sam apparently thinks it is, but I wonder what the alternative explanation for this odd alignment choice would be.

      9. Westlake has a huge street ROW that is more than wide enough for the existing vehicle lanes, exclusive streetcar ROW, a cycle track on each side of the street and a wide sidewalk on each side.

        Any transit on Dexter would have to share a lane with cars.

      10. The fact of the matter is, if you want to get downtown anywhere from Dexter, hopping on a bike is always going to be faster than waiting up to 15 minutes for a streetcar to show up that, when it finally comes, is going to be no faster than a bike anyway.

        It is simply not fair to residents in the area (not just Dexter, but also Fremont and Phinney where cyclists are likely to be passing through Dexter) to tell them that they are now forced to spend extra time riding the streetcar because the tracks have made their bike route too dangerous.

  4. Another issues is that while BRT is cheaper on most measures, the total annual GhG emissions decrease is estimated to be more from a Streetcar–I don’t know the report’s methodology, but that’s an important point. If we’re going to invest in new capital projects for transit: those projects should have productivity and GhG reduction as the primary deciding factors. Higher productivity and less GhG emissions clearly make a streetcar the better option (still don’t know the methodology of the report when I say this). Also, another interesting stat is that none of these options can meet their projected peak demand. I believe you’d need grade separation and perhaps even heavy rail in order to get anywhere close to meeting the peak demand of any capital investment in transit.

    1. I’m skeptical a streetcar would reduce GhG emissions that much over a bus running on overhead electrical wires. Although it would be interesting to find out how they stack up against each other.

      1. The comparison in the study is with an electric trolleybus. It probably has a lot to do with the extra cars taken off the road.

  5. My largest fear of the streetcar focus is that the SLUS has already set the bar for quality really low, and the FHSC has not raised it. Expecting future streetcars to raise the quality bar feels like an exercise in waiting for RapidRide to get full ROW priority, 24/7 off-board payment at all stations, adequate frequency, next-bus-arrival signs at all stops, and priority at all traffic signals.

    I certainly am not thrilled by the idea of having two classes of streetcars: regular and “Rapid”. Who will believe that Rapid Streetcars will be an improvement over streetcrawlers any more than RapidRide was supposed to be an improvement over standard semi-milk runs?
    .

    If you want to get a ballot measure passed, recall the lesson of 2011 Seattle Prop 1. If you don’t throw in some bus service hours, and make the benefit diffuse enough so that every part of town gets something, some anti-transit/anti-any-growth-in-Seattle activists will jump on the opportunity and campaign against the measure as not doing anything for the overcrowded buses (as if they cared about bus riders). Let’s not play into that trap. Even the neighborhoods that are in line for rail investments should get some bus service hour subsidies in the meantime so they see an up-front benefit.

    Yes, capital investment should be the primary focus. But consider that the bus overcrowding is primarily a problem in the North Subarea. Indeed, we have a growing list or routes where ridership is bursting the bus at the seems. A little benefit diffusion will help win votes. “Reduce overcrowding on this bus. Vote for ST3!” In 2016, riders/voters will be chomping at the bit for immediate relief that can be rolled out in 2017. And then fund enough capital investment to take care of the overcrowding on a longer-term basis.

      1. Anything beyond a negligible amount that doesn’t affect capital spending, yes.

      2. ST1 and 2 passed with very little Seattle bus service. It certainly wasn’t oriented towards serving Seattle “neighborhoods.”

      3. ST1 and 2 passed with very little Seattle bus service. It certainly wasn’t oriented towards serving Seattle “neighborhoods.”

        There was plenty of Seattle bus service, but North King didn’t pay for any of it.

      4. Ahem, ST1 and ST2 do serve Seattle neighborhoods quite a lot, with better frequency/speed than those neighborhoods have had since at least the 1980s or whenever the frequencies were cut to 1980 levels. What they don’t do is meet all the neighborhoods’ needs. You can’t expect one system to do everything because some goals are contradictory; what helps one trip hinders another.

      5. With the sole exceptions of the 560 and 522, these freeway-bound routes were about pulling suburban commuters into and out of the downtown core and UW. It’s true that Seattle residents happen to live near freeways (or SR 522) and so benefited from it, or went downtown to take advantage of the reverse commute. But it clearly wasn’t about connecting neighborhoods in the classic sense.

  6. Ballard, Fremont, SLU and downtown are all fast-growing, pedestrian-oriented urban zones with solid employment and residential density and many transit connections. The popularity of route 40 indicates existing transit demand in this corridor. A well-planned streetcar connecting downtown, SLU, Fremont and Ballard seems like it would serve a sweet spot and serve much more than just commute trips. It would compliment an eventual Interbay route that could offer a reliably fast link to Ballard, just as as an upgraded corridor downtown-SLU-Eastlake-U District(-Roosevelt) would compliment Link.

    A ship canal crossing at 3rd would be great for peds/bikes but it seems like a big expense and a lot of infrastructure in order to bypass downtown Fremont, which is the major destination in the middle. The best service from downtown to Ballard requires exclusive ROW and either a subway or a high level bridge, which wouldn’t be at 3rd Ave. Unless the Fremont Bridge really can’t be made to work – and the Fremont Bridge has carried streetcars before – I’m skeptical that 3rd Ave. will pencil out. I do think it’s worth a good look though.

    Westlake seems like the obvious streetcar route from SLU to Fremont (vs Dexter), given its enormous ROW and lack of cross streets to contend with. A cycle track should be built as well, which should have been done before; Westlake is only flat route to Fremont and the choice today is a sidewalk with blind right angle turns, versus a giant parking lot, versus a fast-moving 4 lane road with no shoulder or bike lane. A mid-point station on Dexter might have a better walk shed than Westlake, but a pedestrian grade assist from any station would mitigate that (and offer local pedestrian benefits as well.)

    I’m not quite sure how you integrate such a streetcar line into the existing streetcar. I suspect we could have done a better job planning for eventual extensions of that. We seem to do a poor job thinking that far ahead in general. We certainly could have done a much better job accommodating bicycles on Westlake through SLU. It sure would be great to have a totally flat cycle track up Westlake from the Link station all the way to the Fremont Bridge, Ship Canal Trail and Burke-Gilman.

    1. >> Westlake seems like the obvious streetcar route from SLU to Fremont (vs Dexter), given its enormous ROW and lack of cross streets to contend with.

      I think it is a wash, but I could be wrong. Dexter has a bunch of cross streets, but there aren’t any lights on most of it (if I’m not mistaken). I don’t there are any lights on either road from close to the Fremont bridge until Aloha. Things get messy from there, and I’m not sure which street is better. There is probably a lot more pedestrian cross traffic on Dexter than Westlake, but that is just because there are a lot more people around there. At best, this argues for Dexter, at worse it is a wash.

      I still think the only fast way to get from Fremont to downtown is via Aurora. I would love it folks studied ways to leverage that.

      1. Ross,

        The Aurora Bridge structure was specifically NOT built to accommodate streetcars, so that’s out. And your suggestion that bus stops be built over 34th or 35th probably won’t work either because the sidewalks are quite narrow and are cantilevered out from the central bridge structure. You couldn’t belly them out much without terrific leveraged loads on the old concrete roadway base.

        Possibly the shafts could be built to support themselves and the platform (translation: big tall concrete boxes with a hat on top). The the bridge would then only provide an anchor at the top to stop sway. That would require some very careful engineering.

        Plus of course you’d be stopping the buses right in the middle of 50 mph traffic on the structure just before the “right turn only except transit” northbound that will be there once the Aurora BAT lanes are in place and just after the merge from the on-ramp southbound. Neither is safe.

        Now some escalators down the hill along Troll Place from the Bridgeway stops might work to link the Fremont-Stone Way activity center to people riding the Rapid Ride. But it’s not a useful replacement for a CBD-Fremont-Ballard line of any technology.

        P.S. Such an escalator would be very useful if my idea of the “under the Aurora” bridge is adopted. It would link the new rapid streetcar to the Rapid Ride and give people a nice assist up from 34th.

      2. Anandakos,

        Buses are as good as rail, for this purpose. The main goal is speed, as opposed to volume. Basically, you skip over some of the stops you might have if you were on the surface, but make up for it by creating a fast way to get to Fremont. It is my understanding that they are planning a BRT line here anyway, it is just that they want to skip Fremont.

        As far as location goes, I was thinking of adding a stop after the exit (heading northbound). The same would be true the other direction. Basically, it would be like the stop at 45th. This stop is after the exit (northbound) and before the on ramp southbound. Basically, it owns the lane just like the 45th street bus stop owns the lane. Merging isn’t a problem for the bus, as the only people who have to merge are the ones that are entering Aurora (and they have to merge with anyone in that lane). Worse case scenario it slows down Aurora for cars, but too bad, so sad (you shouldn’t be going 10 over the speed limit anyway).

        You would definitely have to add some concrete, and do some other (perhaps pricey) modifications. But I can’t imagine it would cost as much as adding a new bridge. I can’t imagine anything would be as fast as it unless you added a new bridge (and even that wouldn’t be as fast). For example, if I’m at a stop at Aloha and Aurora, and there are stops every half mile or so, I would be at the Fremont stop in less than five minutes. I could walk to the Adobe building (or many other places) in another five minutes. There is no way a low level bus or train would beat that speed.

        Since this is the faster way to Fremont (and spots north) it takes a lot of the volume out of the low level route. The 40 becomes an adequate bus, not for serving people who want to get from downtown to Fremont, but who want to get from Fremont to Ballard (or spots in between). It would also be able to pick up some of the spots that the Aurora BRT skips.

        What is your “Under the Aurora” bridge idea?

      3. Ross,

        What you’re proposing can easily be done today (well, with some caveats and a local bus). The Rapid Ride E line could have a stop just south of the short bridge over North 38th Street, but it’s not currently planned. For safety it would require rebuilding and widening the 38th Street Bridge; that certainly could be done with no engineering challenges, but it wouldn’t be free, and in all truth, it doesn’t really serve central Fremont.

        If you were going from Aurora and Aloha to the Adobe building you would probably like the service, but you’d have to take a bit of a hike to get to the bus. You’d need to walk north along Aurora to Galer. There will be no Rapid Ride stop south of there before Harrison once the tunnel construction is completed. The reason for the stop at Galer is that there is a pedestrian overpass there.

        However, today you could use the 5 or 16 to do essentially exactly the same trip, starting at Prospect and getting off on the stop after the bus exits Aurora and before the 5 turns onto 38th and Fremont Way or the 16 continues on Bridge Way. If you took the 5 you’d then cross Bridge Way (carefully; the cars zoom off Aurora) and walk on the east side walkway to stairs right at the landing of the Aurora Bridge. The 16 stops right along the walkway before it enters Bridge Way.

        The stairs take you down to 36th and you can continue straight ahead on Troll Avenue. It’s about five blocks total.

        Returning you’d walk up the stairs on the other side of Aurora from 36th and find yourself at a stop that is served by both the 5 and 16.

        However, one way or the other you’re going to have to walk to Galer. If you live to the west of Aurora or on the west side of the street, you’ll need to go there to get the northbound bus. If you live to the east or on the east side, you’ll need to get off at Galer and cross the overhead bridge.

        This is the reason that relatively few people board or alight along Aurora. The traffic is fast and are only four places to cross between the south end landing of the bridge and Denny Way. Now maybe when the four blocks between Denny and Harrison is rebuilt and the tunnel is completed, diverting most traffic off Aurora south of Broad, the neighborhood will fill up with new buildings. But for now Aurora is mostly only good for downtown or Denny Triangle or Seattle Center to North of the Ship Canal transit journeys.

        The “Under the Aurora Bridge” bridge is detailed below in a first level response.

      4. In my opinion, the Rapid Ride line should serve Fremont. The stop wouldn’t be that difficult. The harder part is getting to the stop. That is where an elevator or some such system would be really nice. Again, this is way cheaper than adding a bridge and probably cheaper than adding rail. The same is true for other parts of the system. You could add elevators or escalators to get people from Dexter to Aurora. The distance isn’t that great, it is only the hill that is the problem. The biggest benefit, though, would be for the folks trying to get from downtown to Fremont or from Fremont north. I could easily see how a bus coming from the north end of town would swing over to Aurora, to take advantage of the Rapid Ride system.

        Yes, you can take the 5, but you could say the same thing about other Rapid Ride systems. Few of them are truly unique routes. They are supposed to be enhanced routes, delivering faster and more frequent service. If they don’t, then the system is flawed, and should be fixed. If they do, then they should serve the more densely populated areas. There are way more people within a few blocks of that spot then there are for most of the other spots. Again, I could easily see how a Rapid Ride system could allow someone to get from downtown to Fremont in less than fifteen minutes. There is no way that a system that uses the surface streets can do that.

        It seems like we have a classic Northwest example of agencies not talking to each other, or thinking of the big picture (this is how we end up with two football stadiums and a baseball stadium). Rapid Ride doesn’t want to get involved with big ticket items (like escalators or other pedestrian improvements). The city is fixated on adding streetcars (with or without expensive new bridges).

      5. I appreciate that there are BRT advocates here (and why does it always take discussion of rail to bring them out, when we can’t find them when potential BRT plans are being demoted into RapidRide?)

        Just like I don’t have much faith we’ll have rapid streetcars instead of streetcrawlers until I see improvement on the SLUS and FHSC, I don’t believe BRT is actually on the table until the City and Metro work together to make the C/D and E lines into actual BRT. If we want to build support for future BRT lines, lets finish the job with our current pseudo-BRT lines. If that takes some line items in ST3, let’s make it so.

        Yes, for an expensive engineering fix, the E Line could serve Fremont. Can we get that on the table, and if it is expensive, into ST3?

      6. “The Aurora Bridge structure was specifically NOT built to accommodate streetcars, so that’s out.”

        Does that really mean that it *can’t* accomodate streetcars?

        I’ve just read through the details of light-rail retrofitting on three (3) bridges for the Central Corridor light rail in Minneapolis. Now, those bridges needed WORK.

        One of them was a “trucks prohibited” bridge, which gives you an idea of the structural improvements needed.

        Whereas one of them mostly required electrical insulation of the tracks from the bridge structure.

        The question is, what would the Aurora Bridge structure *actually need* in order to accomodate a streetcar? Does anyone here know?

      7. “But for now Aurora is mostly only good for downtown or Denny Triangle or Seattle Center to North of the Ship Canal transit journeys. ”

        Perfect light rail corridor. Largely grade-separated already.

        So, what are the technical obstacles? I can imagine that “Aurora LRT” would be pricey, but it seems cheaper than a subway… what does the technical picture actually look like?

        (I still have Minneapolis-St. Paul in mind here.)

  7. The bike infrastructure investment on dexter was completely moronic.

    Of course you should give the bikes the flat route.

    And of course you should run the streetcar where the multi-family housing and walkshed is.

    Just fix it. Put a cycle-track along the bluff, with few crossings, on the west side of westlake, and watch ridership triple.

    Put the streetcar up on dexter, and you will give a huge boost to boardings.

    Then put the link extension from Roosevelt station to UW Bothell, and everything is perfect. Sorry, couldn’t resist.;)

    1. The bike infrastructure “investment” on Dexter was nearly free because it was combined with other road work. The question wasn’t so much, “Where should we build a bike route?” as, “We’re rebuilding Dexter; how should we handle the interactions between existing bike and transit traffic?”

      Dexter’s design wouldn’t have to change that much to accommodate tracks with bikes. Cyclists that need to turn left and aren’t comfortable merging over the tracks can make hook turns and cross at 90 degrees.

      1. +1 – I don’t see any reason why the current Dexter alignment wouldn’t work for streetcars. You wouldn’t have a cycletrack – but what’s there now is already quite popular.

        The question of fixing the ‘trail’ on Westlake is a different one. Yes, the last implementation was poorly handled in many ways and is not a great cycling route. Fixing that doesn’t require a streetcar. I’d rather see if you’d get more riders on Dexter than on Westlake (and my gut as a 26/28/40 rider is you would).

      2. A trail on westlake doesn’t help people living on Dexter. It is not reasonable to expect them to lug their bikes up and down 100 feet of stairs, just to get to the trail.

  8. I think there is a strong case for this, as the area is booming and will continue to boom, thus making rail a better bet than a bus. But I am hesitant to get excited about this for the following reasons:

    1) Political – I am afraid that suggesting we can only afford a half ass solution will become a self fulfilling prophesy. If we assume that running a grade separated line from Ballard to the UW via Fremont is too expensive (especially if we build a line from Ballard to downtown via Interbay) then voters will agree. If we build this, they are more likely to say “Ballard and Fremont have enough, they don’t need more high speed rail”. Keep in mind, I like cheap solutions; I’m a big fan of elevated rail (when it is cheap) for that reason. It can move just as fast as underground, but without the expensive digging. But surface rail is good at moving lots of people, just not very fast.

    2) Geographic – Streetcars can revitalize an area (from what I’m told). This area doesn’t need revitalization. I spend a lot of time in this area. I work in Fremont, my son owns a brewpub in Fremont and I often walk to the top of Fremont Peak Park, where I can see Ballard and Fremont and everything in between. It is obvious looking at this area that Ballard and Fremont will eventually grow together in big and bold ways. A streetcar might speed it up a bit, but it will happen regardless of what they do. The biggest obstacle to growth right now is zoning and a lack of high speed transit, not a stylish and convenient (but still fairly slow) streetcar.

    3) This doesn’t take advantage of Aurora. Aurora is already built. It is the fastest way (by far) to get from that neighborhood to downtown. But Aurora doesn’t connect to Fremont very well. The additions to make it work would probably not be that expensive. I would imagine it would be cheaper than laying a bunch of rail; it would certainly be cheaper than building a new bridge. The first step is to carve out a bus stop on the edge of the bridge. I would think this would be fairly cheap. The next step is to find a way to get people up there. There are already stairs through part of this, so the cheapest way is to simply add accessibility ramps. But it might make sense to add an elevator or escalator to move people up and down the hill much faster. Maybe even a tram (that’s why they do studies).

    Establishing the spot under Aurora as the “stop” for rapid transit is not ideal, but not too far off. The other side of Fremont (to the east) is growing fairly fast right now. There are a lot of buildings on Stone Way (and there will be a bunch more pretty soon) and this stop would be fairly convenient for folks from that side of the bridge.

    Likewise, the other end of Aurora does not work that well for buses. Some work could be done (one might argue, should have been done, as part of the Mercer Mess work) to help speed that up.

    Just some thoughts on the thing. My main hesitation is political. On the other hand, I can see how this might, in the long run, end up pushing high speed rail in the area. If a streetcar does end up speeding up development in the area, then maybe it makes the case for high speed rail even stronger. In other words, if we see six story apartment and business buildings from 15th to Stone Way (along Leary, etc.) then maybe folks will see the need for high speed rail in the area.

  9. The utility of the streetcar option depends entirely on the number of stops and the speed of the vehicle. Part of the attractiveness of the South Lake Union streetcar is that the number of stops is limited. If the project sponsors here can agree to keep the corridor at less than 12 or 14 stops between Ballard and the International District and each of those stops have paid fare areas, it more likely will work great. If neighborhood politics kicks in with lots of “street transit” designs that end up requiring more stops, slower moving vehicles and thus lots more end-to-end time, it’s a more pleasant (ride quality) but not very useful project.

    1. Funny, I would cut the number of SLU streetcar stops in half, starting with the 7th and Thomas stations. But the bigger problem with the SLUT is that it stops almost every block at red lights. The signal priority isn’t working. Upgrading to a rapid streetcar shoudl mean — nd the TMP touches on this — relocating the SLU tracks to fix the dangerous track/bicycle conflict, and installing real signal priority. I’d like to see some stations closed too, but I know that will never happen. Why don’t we put the tracks in the middle of the street like most successful streetcars do?

      1. I’d agree, Mike. I guess I don’t ride it enough for the slow travel time to be aggravating to me. Plus, the end-to-end trip is not very long.

      2. As someone who rides the SLU streetcar several times a week, I have to say, it’s not the number of stops, but the red lights that kill the speed. Additionally, now that Amazon’s new building are going up, there is no way they will close the Westlake and Seventh stop.

        I do think that if this is what streetcars will be like in seattle though, we should invest NO more money in them. The streetcar is often passed by the 40, because at least the bus can change lanes…

      3. @Mike Orr FWIW, as part of it’s strategy for developing HCT in Corridor 11 (Loyal Heights-Ballard-Fremont-SLU-Downtown) the TMP does say:

        Strategy HCT 11.7: Increase station spacing on Westlake between Valley and Westlake Center and add traffic signal priority to reduce travel times.

        How politically realistic that is, I dunno. I’d feel better about spending hundreds of millions of dollars expanding the streetcar network if Metro and SDOT first brought the SLU and FH lines up to a truly “Rapid” level.

  10. Here’s my two cents on the whole streetcar idea:

    I would like to see grade-separated rapid transit expanded to as much of the city as possible as quickly as possible. Anything else is secondary. Obviously we can’t put Link everywhere right away, but when non-Link projects are necessary we should err on the side of doing them more cheaply and funneling the savings into accelerating Link construction.

    I have seen no data suggesting a streetcar running in traffic would be significantly faster than a bus running in traffic. Any major time savings over current bus service would have to be implemented through converting general-purpose lanes into transit only. This can be done just as well for buses.

    The fact sheet says a streetcar solution would get from one end of the route to the other in exactly the same amount of time as a BRT solution. It also says that BRT would be a minute faster for the average passenger when you take out-of-vehicle time into account (probably because the BRT route would run more frequently).

    BRT is cheaper than a streetcar. The fact sheet suggests that BRT would have $216 million less capital cost and $1 million per year lower operating cost than a streetcar. That money could (and should) be spent on Link instead.

    As I see it, the only “advantage” of a streetcar per the fact sheet is that more people are expected to ride it. Higher ridership is expected in spite of the fact that trips will be a minute slower than in a BRT system. By all objective measures, BRT gets riders to their destination faster and at a lower total cost than a streetcar. If the fact sheet is right and there are 5,000 people every day who would choose to take a streetcar instead of driving but would rather drive than ride a bus, I say let them drive.

    Let’s treat this line as what it is: a minor improvement that is intended to be “good enough” until we can afford to serve Fremont and SLU with a real Link line. If a streetcar doesn’t offer any objective time or money savings over BRT, do BRT instead and plow the savings into Link.

    1. I’ll support BRT if that’s what’s on the table, but there’s no likely structure that sets up a choice between “do BRT and plow the savings into Link” and “build a streetcar”. I certainly wouldn’t vote against a streetcar plan based on the hypothetical idea that the savings would be invested in something more useful.

      I’m not sure why you dismiss higher ridership as not worth considering. Furthermore, I think the political priority of speed enhancements is more likely to erode with a bus than with a train.

      1. there’s no likely structure that sets up a choice between “do BRT and plow the savings into Link” and “build a streetcar”.

        Shouldn’t there be? If the streetcar is to be built as part of the Sound Transit network, there is certainly a tradeoff between Link expenses and streetcar expenses. Sound Transit’s budget is not limitless.

        If it’s to be built separately from Sound Transit’s network out of the city budget or Metro budget, is there no possible way the city or Metro could decide to spend less on this project and send the savings to Sound Transit to put toward Seattle sub-area Link construction? If not, why? Supposing that there’s a political will within the city to raise $300 million for transit construction, the city should absolutely be able to put that money toward Link construction if it decides that’s a better use for that funding than a streetcar.

        I’m not sure why you dismiss higher ridership as not worth considering.

        The fact sheet estimates that BRT would solve that problem for 9,500 “net new riders” by making the route faster and more frequent. Great. The sheet estimates that there would be an additional 3,000 “net new riders” for a streetcar over BRT, running on the exact same route at the same speed. The only difference is rails vs. bus. I say that’s a dumb reason to choose one method of travel over another, and I don’t think it’s worthwhile to spend an extra $216 million up front and $1 million per year after that to serve 3,000 people who think they’re too cool to ride a bus.

      2. If it’s to be built separately from Sound Transit’s network out of the city budget or Metro budget, is there no possible way the city or Metro could decide to spend less on this project and send the savings to Sound Transit to put toward Seattle sub-area Link construction?

        The question is what $200m of incremental spending (the difference between rail and bus) will get you for Link construction. If the ST package is so precisely sized that a city contribution could get you an extra 1/3 mile of tunnel, or 6-12 months less time till opening, is that worth tossing the benefits of a high-capacity connection for Fremont and SLU?

        I don’t think it’s worthwhile to spend an extra $216 million up front and $1 million per year after that to serve 3,000 people who think they’re too cool to ride a bus.

        It’s not a question of “coolness”, it’s a question of legibility. People see a bus and they have no idea where it goes, if it’s fast, or how often it comes. Light rail and streetcar come with a different assumption. On top of that, I have much more confidence the streetcar will have full off-board payment and not force the driver to be ad-hoc trip planner for customers.

        It’s also a question of capacity. The study suggests that even the streetcar provides inadequate capacity for demand in this corridor. So why force people to drive because they can’t physically fit on the bus?

      3. Sorry, hasty post. I meant to say “The fact sheet estimates that BRT would add 9,500 ‘net new riders’ by making the route faster and more frequent.”

      4. It’s also a question of access. Rail provides a dramatically nicer experience when you’re pushing a stroller. Buses are a serious pain with a stroller. I’m not saying we should optimize around people with small children, but we sure wish we could take transit more right now. It’s not a matter of cool. I’m certainly not too cool to ride the bus when the kid isn’t along.

        I’m confident there are other classes of people that the streetcar would make transit possible for.

    2. Why is it so hard to accept the fact that people like trains better than buses? I see an amazing amount of pro-bus, anti-streetcar sentiment on this blog, and I don’t understand it. People like trains; if people want to ride trains, and are willing to pay for them, what’s the problem?

      1. I think pretty much everyone likes trains better than buses, all other things being equal. I’m not arguing that. The ride is smoother and the fixed rails add an expectation of long-term route stability that you don’t get with buses that can be moved elsewhere as political winds change.

        However, all other things are decidedly not equal. The city’s own fact sheet estimates that it would cost $111 million to cut 11 minutes off of the travel time from Ballard to downtown using buses. Achieving the same time savings with rail would cost $327 million.

        From a purely practical perspective, I think we can get the biggest bang for our buck in this corridor by doing BRT correctly. “Correctly” is a key term though. Our previous efforts at BRT have certainly fallen short of their maximum potential speed. Perhaps in the current political climate a streetcar on the RapidRide C/D corridor would have been able to achieve better signal priority and at least some exclusive right-of-way.

        Rail’s biggest practical benefit is that it has higher capacity. If you’re running buses along a route every three minutes and they’re all full, you probably have to bite the bullet and put in a streetcar. Until that happens, do BRT on this corridor and put the savings into further speed improvements on other corridors.

      2. Rail’s biggest practical benefit is that it has higher capacity.

        But this is one of the corridors where capacity is actually an issue!

      3. But this is one of the corridors where capacity is actually an issue!

        The graph on the fact sheet shows that BRT capacity would be sufficient to meet demand at 5-8 minute headways for all but one peak hour in the morning and two hours in the evening. Bump the headways up slightly in those hours to meet the demand. I don’t see how this would require much extra capital expense (just the cost of buying a few more buses) and your total operating cost would probably still be less than a streetcar.

        By the way, the estimates show that a streetcar would also fall short of demand in peak hours. This corridor needs Link. Spending more money on a streetcar in the interim won’t get Link to Fremont built any faster. In fact, I predict “but they already have a streetcar” being used in the future as a reason not to serve Fremont with a Link line until after all other dense-ish areas with no rail whatsoever have Link.

      4. That’s just the problem. You can’t have headways less than 5-8 minutes when running on the surface and maintain any sort of signal priority. Central Link is limited to 6 minutes (some say you can get it to 5) and that’s with nearly absolute signal priority and predictable schedules.

      5. If you can’t go below 5-8 minute headways and have decent signal priority, the Fremont streetcar is screwed almost as much as buses would be. The proposal calls for it to share Westlake with the SLU streetcar through SLU. If the Fremont streetcar has 8-minute peak headways as proposed and the SLU streetcar continues with 10-minute peak headways, you’re already down below the 5-minute threshold.

        Out of the whole route, this stretch is where I would argue signal priority is most needed. Westlake goes diagonally across the prevailing street grid south of SLU so it seems like there’s a stoplight every hundred feet. Of course the heavy traffic there also means it’s where exclusive right-of-way is most needed, but that doesn’t seem to be in the proposal.

        Like I said, this corridor needs Link. How can we get that to happen soonest? I sincerely believe investing in a streetcar will only delay the real rapid transit that is needed.

      6. “By the way, the estimates show that a streetcar would also fall short of demand in peak hours. This corridor needs Link. Spending more money on a streetcar in the interim won’t get Link to Fremont built any faster. In fact, I predict “but they already have a streetcar” being used in the future as a reason not to serve Fremont with a Link line until after all other dense-ish areas with no rail whatsoever have Link.”

        Bingo. The solution here is either the Ballard Spur or to run Link directly from Queen Anne to Fremont. That leaves only Fremont to SLU unserved, which hardly needs more than the current 40. Does Interbay really have so much growth potential as to justify running a completely separate streetcar line to Fremont, one that could politically jeopardize future real rail projects?

      7. I have a hard time imagining how to get Link-level service (mostly/all exclusive ROW, no drawbridges) from downtown to Ballard while also serving Fremont. Maybe there’s a creative solution, but the big gotcha is the ship canal, as it often is around these parts. You’re looking at a tunnel or a high level bridge and I don’t see where this can physically go to serve Fremont en route to Ballard. Trains cannot cross the Aurora Bridge in its current form. Subways can be built but they’re easier where you can bore in solid ground and I don’t see any spot in Fremont for a Capitol Hill Station-sized hole without taking out more than one key block of the commercial center or siting the station in a faraway locale. Either one is big money.

        Link to Ballard via Interbay does seem buildable and there’s more room for new development in Interbay than there is along Westlake. It probably requires a new tunnel approaching downtown and possibly through it. A tunnel or high level or even mid-level bridge across the ship canal might work. If we could get better bicycle connections to Ballard out of any of these projects that would be a welcome bonus.

        I welcome the creativity around modifications to the Aurora Bridge and have had some similar thoughts but that structure opened in 1932, wasn’t built for rail, and I doubt it could ever support a streetcar, let alone Link, even with major modifications, any of which would probably be hugely expensive due to the structure’s age and design, even ignoring its historical aspects. And though it isn’t a drawbridge, Aurora can get congested too, and doesn’t quite serve the heart of downtown Fremont, and getting from there to Ballard is no cakewalk either. Aurora isn’t a magic bullet here.

        We could certainly continue to depend on bus service to Fremont and save our pennies for Link to Ballard. Personally, I’d much rather relax on a slow streetcar than stand on a slow, crowded bus given the choice between those two and I know I’m not alone. Either way, Ballard-Interbay-Uptown-Belltown-Downtown is a different route from Ballard-Fremont-Westlake-SLU-Downtown at all but the endpoints. Similarly, Downtown-SLU-Eastlake-UDistrict is a different route from Downtown-Capitol Hill-UW Station-UDistrict at all but the endpoints.

        Streetcars and surface street buses have to contend with traffic signals and the drawbridge, but are the quickest to board as there is no station to enter or exit. That is worth something. The trip from UW to Capitol Hill will be a mere 3 minutes on Link but you will probably spend that long just getting to and from the platform. The surface also offers a more scenic trip than a tunnel and is dramatically more visible to the public. Those intangibles are not meaningless, even if they aren’t determining factors.

        I do believe a streetcar via Fremont would be very popular, other considerations aside. There’s lots of jobs and housing all along it, tourist attractions, nightlife, evening and weekend destinations in addition to commute trips. It connects some of Seattle’s most walkable districts which are today a bit too far for most folks to walk between.

      8. Eric,

        The streetcars could be three (or even four) section European trams, rather than the tiny Czech cars.

        Capacity problem solved.

        Yes, that means long stations, although with low-floor trams they don’t have to be too “grand”.

      9. Wow. You know we’ve fucked up our existing subway infrastructure pretty badly when people start preferring to be stuck in traffic because grade-separated transit seems prohibitively difficult to access.

      10. Subways can be built but they’re easier where you can bore in solid ground and I don’t see any spot in Fremont for a Capitol Hill Station-sized hole without taking out more than one key block of the commercial center or siting the station in a faraway locale. Either one is big money.

        Why would you need to level multiple blocks to put in an underground station in Fremont? If you can dig a tunnel for a few miles without demolishing every building above it, you can pick a spot in that tunnel and dig a station-sized box around it, also without demolishing every building above it. The only place in the station where you absolutely need to dig to daylight is the entrances where the escalators come out, and maybe another opening for ventilation.

        As I understand it, the main reason Capitol Hill needed to be such a big hole was to provide a way to set the TBMs off in two different directions at once and process all the dirt they removed. A tunnel under the ship canal for a Fremont line wouldn’t necessarily need to be as long as the one from downtown to UW, and the dirt could come out at the ends.

      11. “Trains cannot cross the Aurora Bridge in its current form.”

        And what prevents putting tracks on it? Details, please. Not vague handwaving. Trains couldn’t cross the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis in its then-current form either, and they’ll be crossing it in 2014.

        Now, if the Aurora Bridge required as much work as THAT (new piers) it likely wouldn’t be worth it. But I seriously doubt that.

        Are there truck restrictions on the Aurora Bridge? It’s possible that the bridge could impose limits on the length of trains. But short streetcars weigh less than full, heavy, trucks.

    3. >> If the fact sheet is right and there are 5,000 people every day who would choose to take a streetcar instead of driving but would rather drive than ride a bus, I say let them drive.

      I’m not sure if the 5,000 people drive instead of taking a train. A train attracts casual riders, which is one of its selling points. I rode the light rail for the hell of it. I’m sure a lot of tourists ride the train as well as casual riders, because they know where it goes (ironically, the more we build these things, the more confusing they will be, and the weaker this particular selling point will be — “Oops, this is the Westlake train, I thought it was the Eastlake train”). On the other hand, a bus rider is a commuter or someone who is a savvy transit rider. All this suggests that while a train may have higher ridership, much of that additional ridership will simply walk or avoid the trip altogether, rather than drive to that spot.

      1. And this is why you don’t let transitfanning blog readers take the lead on transit building.

        Transit isn’t a toy, and it isn’t a tourist attraction. It’s the thing that lets you get where you want or need to go. Means, not end.

        The Chihuly museum cost a fraction of this proposal. Bland and vacuous as it may be, that’s an actual tourist attraction. Aimed at tourists. Visited by tourists. Magnet to tourists. Tourists who will have no more interest in visiting the Frelard Fred Meyer on rails than they will on buses.

        The “rail = tourist $” argument is la

      2. No train riders are like my co-worker who stopped taking the bus from his Frelard home and started driving because he got sick of full 28s passing him in the rain on the way to and from work.

      3. I call bullshit.

        Frelard has 4x the service in the 40 era than it ever has before. And the 28 local has rarely ever been full at rush hour because the 28 express exists.

        Maybe he told you he was “passed up in the rain” just so you’d stop bugging him. The real reason he starts driving was because the transit was irritatingly slow, something this streetcar doesn’t fix.

    4. The question is what $200m of incremental spending (the difference between rail and bus) will get you for Link construction.

      Isn’t that close to the cost of constructing a couple underground Link stations? If an extra $200 million for Link buys an extra station (or two, or three), decreasing the distance between stops, and increasing the walkshed, that could be worth the trade.

      1. Well, the University Link project has a $1.9 billion budget for two underground stations and 3.15 miles of parallel bored tunnels. So $200 million would pay for over 10% of that project. $200 million would also only cover about 10% of the Northgate Link extension, which includes 4.3 miles of track, two underground stations, and an elevated station.

        More on the same order of magnitude is the South 200th St project, which builds 1.6 miles of elevated rails and one station for $383 million. Suppose the next big Link project in Seattle is Seattle Subway’s red line from downtown to Ballard via Interbay. An elevated routing may make sense to extend that line north from central Ballard, and $200 million could potentially pay for an additional half mile of elevated guideway with a station on the end. That ain’t nothing.

      2. I agree it isn’t nothing. But neither is a rapid connection between Ballard, Fremont, SLU, and downtown. I’m not dismissing the idea a minor Link extension is a better idea. But it’s not clear one way or the other.

      3. Any tunnel under the ship canal has to be very deep, as that tunnel has to be bored or mined with solid dirt between it and the bottom of the canal, and that basically means the depth of the UW station. Stations themselves can be mined but it’s time consuming and expensive and does generate a lot of spoils.

        Mining a station that deep near the ship canal through small openings under operating buildings is ambitious to say the least. These transit tunnels are also required to have vent shafts, maintenance access, emergency access and other features that make it difficult to minimize the surface impact of a tunnel station.

        That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, for a price, and I don’t want to prejudge any real study, but I’m frankly not optimistic on any sort of tunnel serving lower Fremont, mostly due to the difficulty of siting and constructing a Link-sized station anywhere near the constricted and bustling area by the canal.

      4. BTW, that was intended to appear as a reply to Eric’s question above, “Why would you need to level multiple blocks to put in an underground station in Fremont?”

      5. ST wouldn’t necessarily need to level multiple blocks in order to build a Fremont station. Stations can be built cut-and-cover under the street like the DSTT stations were. Depending on the exact station location there may be an opportunity like there was with the Brooklyn station to demolish some crappy single-story commercial structures surrounded by parking lots to build a station as well.

        Just because ST seems to prefer leveling several blocks in order to build underground stations doesn’t mean that is the only way to do so.

      6. The total cost of a station will depend on the route chosen, property acquisition costs, soil conditions, and probably a bunch of other factors.

        The January 2013 Link Progress Report (PDF) seems to put the cost of construction of Capitol Hill Station at about $105 million and UW station at about $144 million. Throw in property acquisition and design, and it’s probably fair to put the total cost of a single underground Link station in the neighborhood of $200 million.

  11. Build a mid-level bridge with a lift span but a considerably higher passage when closed right under to the Aurora Bridge on Troll Place, turning onto North 35th, and you’ve got a winner of a route.

    Try to use mixed traffic on the existing Fremont Bridge and you have a catastrophe.

    At some time in the future, the Aurora Avenue landing could have a full wye that branched east through Wallingford to the U-district, creating a streetcar loop around Lake Union with the Eastlake route and a Ballard-U rapid streetcar along the old 40 route.

    Of course, if ST is ever going to build the crosstown spur to Ballard from Link, such a rapid streetcar would not be useful; it wouldn’t pass through the activity center of Wallingford between Stone Way and Meridian. But ST shows no interest in such an east-west spur, at least not one which is tied into the Link main. If it did the Brooklyn Station design would be “stacked” so that a junction could be affected just north of the station. If there ever is an east-west link without such a junction, it would have to have a separate station and be essentially a three or four station shuttle. That’s much less useful than merging the line with the main to downtown Seattle.

    If headways through the DSTT are expected to be four minutes in 2030, such a Ballard branch could be every other train providing eight minute service U-district to Ballard and eight minute service to Northgate/Lynnwood. That seems more balanced than four minutes to Northgate and eight to Lynnwood. Such a schedule provides more additional service than the Northgate and Roosevelt stations will ever need.

    However, as mentioned, ST does not seem to be interested in engineering the station for the future, so a rapid streetcar is probably all U-Ballard will ever get. The Aurora Bridge landing would lay the groundwork for a very useful network while serving central Fremont efficiently and directly.

    An alternate bridge at Third NW, while having the undeniable advantage of serving Seattle Pacific University directly, misses central Fremont, which has much more activity than SPU. It would be somewhat cheaper because it would of necessity be lower and the channel is much narrower there. But because it would of necessity be lower, it will have to be opened as frequently as the Fremont Bridge, while a midlevel bridge under the Aurora span would suffer fewer interruptions.

    1. Great comment; I agree a mid-level bridge into Fremont is worth a look. 70 foot clearance with a drawspan (Fremont Bridge is 30, Aurora Bridge is 167!) might work; 70 feet is what we have on the I-90 East Channel bridge from Mercer Island. Landing a mid-level bridge on the Fremont side sounds tricky, and new bridges across the ship canal are both expensive and difficult to permit (we went partway through that process several times with SR 520), but those aren’t sufficient reasons to give up on it. It would only need to be two lanes wide and might not in the end be that much more expensive or disruptive than trying to retrofit the Fremont Bridge and its approaches.

      One or two block cut/cover tunnel sections are not out of the question on dry land either; they’re just somewhat expensive and challenging to construct.

      1. The Fremont Bridge needs to be replaced. 1) They have to leave it open on hot days because of the risk of it getting stuck due to expansion. 2) It’s expensive to operate and maintain since it’s such an antique. 3) Becaues of it’s low height even a 26′ sailboat with a low aspect mainsail (like a Thunderbird) requires it to be opened meaning any fixed rail or ETB transit would be hopelessly bunched pretty much 24/7. 4) The intersections on each side, especially the south side assure that even if the bridge never had to open traffic will be gridlocked virtually all day as Fremont, Ballard and SLU expand to many times the density of when this was originally conceived. Keep in mind the “bridge was built for the Lake Washington Ship Canal and opened along with the canal in 1917.

      2. Just the bridge opening is not enough to scuttle the route. Many times you take a bus across it and it’s down and you sail through. If it’s opening, you wait five minutes, big deal. The problem with Metro buses is not one single bridge, it’s the multiple slowdowns and delays along the entire route. Eliminate those and you have a winner, even if it has to stop for a bridge opening.

    2. Thanks Jonathan.

      That first paragraph is kind of garbled. I expect you got the gist of it, but just for clarity:

      Build a mid-level bridge with a lift span but a considerably higher passage when closed just to the east of the Aurora Bridge using the Troll Place right of way the lakefront and 35th street then turning onto North 35th, and you’ve got a winner of a route.

      And as a P.S., I do understand that it would mess with the aesthetics of a very beautiful bridge…..

      1. Bernie,

        The closeness of the intersections at either end mean that the Fremont Bridge will always have too many openings; the passage might be raised five or six feet, but not much more than that. Yes, you might also add a pair of lines to a new bridge, dedicated to transit presumably. But it would still be opening every twenty or thirty minutes on a beautiful summer day.

      2. Yes, I didn’t articulate very well but no matter what you do the current situation won’t work. Bottom line, the Freemont Bridge needs to go. A mid-level crossing (~70 ft) might work.

      3. A low bridge like the Fremont Bridge is great for local access, for pedestrians and cyclists. A low bridge is great for people coming from the low-lying BGT (which will become even more popular when the Missing Link is fixed) and the similarly low South Ship Canal Trail (which has become more popular since the Magnolia connection was finished, and if some of the planned connections in the BMP happen will become even more popular).

        Uses like transit, which don’t have a huge volume of vehicles, would work just fine on the Fremont Bridge if it wasn’t for the enormous private vehicle backups. So rather than getting rid of a bridge that could work for everyone but peak driving crowds, why not turn the curb lanes into transit lanes? Drivers can always use one of the higher bridges. Maybe build another one somewhere, maybe 3rd Ave W… it might be more direct for enough drivers and cyclists (particularly those starting at higher altitudes) to pull a significant number off of the Fremont Bridge.

        Also *dons flame suit* have scheduled openings for leisure craft, maybe once an hour at most. Seriously. There are large bodies of water on both sides of the bridge for those that just need to sail whenever they want. Working boats with a real need to cross at random times during the day can apply for a permit or something (and probably pay for it).

  12. We need to concentrate on improving transit service through downtown before we invest heavily in bringing it outward. We need a 1st/2nd ave transit tunnel to take riders from Aurora, Ballard and Fremont through downtown to W Seattle and the south. Too much focus on Ballard, w Seattle and not enough on improving transit through downtown…

    This whole street car thing doesn’t make sense at grade through downtown…

    1. Not going to happen. ST built Link because as the City grows it’s impossible to provide an adequate level of access for buses into DT. Doesn’t do any good if the buses can breeze through a 1.3 mile DT tunnel if they can’t get there from here. It would also be a billion dollar project that duplicates, perhaps detracts from the existing DSTT. Finally another bus tunnel would be all on Metro as it’s not a significant component of regional transit. Metro’s got their hands full just keeping the lights on and will never again devote that share of resources to what amounts to a Seattle only project.

    2. I’d agree Fil. I’m concerned that this study won’t even consider the possibility of using the DSTT to serve this corridor.

  13. We need to make it clear that grade-separated rail is the most important transportation issue in this corner of the city, that a streetcar can complement it but can’t substitute for it, and that travel time needs to be a consideration in how much money we put into a streetcar/trolley BRT/diesel BRT. In fact, we should start with travel time when measuring any new transit line, because most of our problems and corner-cutting are due to the fact that this was not a primary requirement. I’ve suggested ST should allow 10-15 minutes maximum from Westlake to Market Street for HCT, which we know is possible from the estimates for University Link/North Link.

    The streetcar I don’t have a hard time requirement for, but the 40 takes 31 minutes (Union-Market) and the SLUT takes 10 minutes (Westlake – Lake Union Park), so that suggests it’d be easy to achive 15 minutes to Fremont and 30 minutes to Ballard, and that aggressive surface improvements could shave 5 or 10 minutes off those. “10 minutes” seems to be the point at which people think a line is “substantially faster”. So since streetcar/BRT under the “Seattle way” has only a small chance of meeting this milestone, much less surpassing it, I’m more inclined to accept inexpensive solutions there.

    Jarrett Walker has a Socratic dialog on the importance of travel time. The more destinations you can get to in 15, 30, 60 minutes on transit, the more choice and freedom you have. But Ballard-Fremont and Fremont-downtown is (theoretically) within the 15-minute tier even with surface transit, so a subway doesn’t necessarily need to stop at Fremont, although of course it would make a significantly better transit network if it did.

    1. That Socratic dialog is spot on. I think it pretty effectively demolishes the idea that a transit agency should give any credit to an emotional preference for streetcars that are no faster than buses.

      Here’s a relevant section (emphasis mine):

      S. So let’s think about their customer. If you’re deciding whether to live in a transit-oriented place, you’re going to care about the transit, right? It has to be there. It has to be good, right?

      F. Right. That’s why transit effectively stimulates development.

      S. But what does that customer care about, really? The ability to get where they’re going, right, since that’s transit’s purpose?

      F. Of course.

      S. So even the development output of transit, as you’re describing it, is ultimately about travel time. How soon you get where you’re going – that’s travel time, right? That’s the thing about transit that would attract people.

      F. Well yes, but there are so many other emotional factors that affect people’s choices, right? People just like certain transit technologies, so they use them more.

      S. What, for example?

      F. Well, streetcars, you know, in mixed traffic. Such a huge political movement. No travel time benefits at all, really, but this huge emotional response. Developers just love them, because their customers do. We figure, by counting ridership, we properly include those factors.

      S. Suppose your Parks agency does some improvements to a park, builds some new attractions there, and as a result more people come. Does that mean it’s something you should have funded?

      F. Well, no, I mean, we’re a transportation agency.

      S. That’s right. In fact, I was reading your “Notice of Proposed Rule Making” in the time machine, and noticed it explicitly says that “mobility and accessibility are the primary benefits of transportation investments.

      F. That’s right.

      S. So if a project is not delivering those benefits, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide any benefits, right? It just means it doesn’t provide the benefits that your agency is responsible for delivering, so it’s not your job to fund it. It could still be funded by others, even other government agencies, the way a new statue in a park might be.

      F. Yes, this is the argument that we should value mixed-traffic streetcars exactly the way we value brick paving and planter boxes, as amenities whose purpose is to attract investment. It makes sense, but somehow, because streetcars move, and people can ride them, people insist that we fund them as transit services, even though there’s no mobility or access benefit compared to an “enhanced bus” option.

      Given that voters are unwilling to approve limitless transit budgets, we should ensure that the money that does come out of the transit budget is exclusively focused on getting people where they want to go as quickly as possible, not on intangible emotional attachment to particular types of vehicles.

      Want to “upgrade” to a more expensive form that might spur more development (even if it’s no faster)? Fine. Have developers pay for it out of a separate pot of money.

    2. Furthermore, if you really think that “quality of the ride” or “spurring development” is so important, I don’t this is such a great investment. To begin with, this area doesn’t need revitalization. Like Ballard (which has no streetcar) or Lower Queen Anne (which has no streetcar) or Capitol Hill (which — wait, sorry) the place is booming. Fremont is doing just fine, and the area between Fremont and Ballard is showing signs of a new boom (from both directions). Changing zoning laws would spur development a lot more than a streetcar.

      As far “quality of the ride” is concerned, I think this should be a consideration, but I’m not sure this is the best bang for the buck in that regard. We could have easily built much of the light rail above ground (elevated — not surface) and given the rider a lot more enjoyable experience (it is a bit crazy that the train dives underground during the prettiest part of the ride only to pop up at Northgate). But that wasn’t a priority, nor should it be. If it was just as cheap, or cheaper, than I would have argued for it. But it wasn’t, so they made the right decision.

      If we want to have a great “quality of ride” than we should get moving with the gondolas. Not only will they deliver things that other transportation options can’t (such as a way to get from point A to point B faster and cheaper than the alternatives) but they sound like a blast. This would result in less worries about fares. The (existing) monorail is pretty silly as far as transportation goes, but it makes money for the city because it is quite popular. I could easily see a gondola doing the same thing. A streetcar may be popular, but I can’t imagine that many people will ride it just for fun (or because it is more fun than a bus).

    3. “I think it pretty effectively demolishes the idea that a transit agency should give any credit to an emotional preference for streetcars that are no faster than buses.”

      It doesn’t demolish it, it just puts it in perspective. We need good travel time; that’s the factor that’s been ignored for the most part, and it has caused huge damage to our city’s functional well-being. But we also need environmental friendliness, long-term reliability, and pazzaz. The travel time argument is that we need to stop messing around and build grade-separated rail now and stop saying, “Oh, it will cost billions of dollars!” It will give back a hundredfold once it’s built, and people will be saying, “How could we ever live without it; it was an excellent deal; our city’s economy is the better because of it.” But when evaluating two proposals that don’t significantly increase travel time over existing buses, the question becomes, “Why spend so much more money when it’s not going to help travel time much?” But that doesn’t eliminate the other factors. A streetcar may still be worthwile for other reasons, but those merits have to stand on their own, and it must be recognized that those advantages are much lighter weight than a grade-separated rail that can compete with driving on freeways.

      I certainly wouldn’t stand in the way of a streetcar if the government/people want to build one. They will still serve to concentrate development and living rather than dispersing them, and that will have a long-term good effect. It’s the difference between streetcar suburbs and sprawl. The SLUT and FHS are ultimately good even if they’re not ideal. But if I can get two BRT trolley routes for one same-speed streetcar — and if we really do build both BRT trolley routes — that may be a good deal.

    4. “this area doesn’t need revitalization. Like Ballard (which has no streetcar) or Lower Queen Anne (which has no streetcar) or Capitol Hill (which — wait, sorry) the place is booming. Fremont is doing just fine”

      That’s looking at it the wrong way. The U-District and Capitol Hill are booming even more, yet they’re the ones that most need grade-separated transit. The reason is that they have the most ability to use it, and to reach the potential of a New York neighborhood or Chicago neighborhood. You need to build to those areas first, then to the secondmost transit-ready neighborhoods, then the third-most, etc. (DP will say, “See! That’s why we shouldn’t build to the suburbs first.” But to me that’s a secondary issue because both city transit and metropolitan transit are needed, it’s not either/or. The point is that some of the highest tiers get addressed in every expansion, so that we’re moving forward.)

      Sam likes to say that Ballard doesn’t need rail because it’s booming just fine, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. Part of the reason Ballard is booming is that people were expecting the monorail soon, and they’re still hoping for rapid transit soon. The longer that vision is postponed, the more Ballard will become big-garage and car dependent, as people lose faith in public transit. The reason new Ballard apartments have those big garages and people don’t use the front doors much, is that Ballard doesn’t have rapid transit now, and the longer it goes on without it the more those attitudes become entrenched. That’s why Chicago is walkable and has lots of carless residents, while Maple Leaf, north Greenwood, and Bellevue are not. If Seattle had kept its streetcars and gradually filled in rapid transit throughout the city, it would be more like San Francisco is.

      1. Er, by “north Greenwood” I mean 100th to 145th. I realize some people don’t call that Greenwood so I wanted to be clear where I was talking about. South of 95th Greenwood/Phinney is doing pretty well. (Even if it does need a more frequent 5, a faster 358, and rerouting the 40 to 85th.)

      2. Nobody who is being serious says that Ballard needs no fast and high-capacity transit because it’s booming.

        But it does not need “development tool” rail — which is how low-speed street-running crap is increasingly marketed. Which does no such thing in a vacuum anyway.

      3. Yeah, what d.p. said. I am certainly in favor of high speed rail to Ballard. In fact, I would build two lines, one heading east via Fremont to the UW, and one heading south, via Interbay to downtown. But all of that is a different story.

        What we are talking about is streetcars. As mentioned, one of the main advantages of streetcars (over BRT) is that they help boost development. My point is that the area in question doesn’t need the boost. Furthermore, you could use the money (the difference between BRT and streetcars) to pay for all sorts of things. Sidewalks, for example. North Greenwood has very little in the way of sidewalks. Adding sidewalks makes a neighborhood a lot more walkable.

        The same could be said for bridges. We will eventually get a bridge over I-5 at the Northgate station, but why wait? We could use it now (to connect the buildings on one side to the other). Unlike a streetcar, a pedestrian bridge can allow you to shift around bus service. No reason to have a bus that goes from the Northgate transit center to the NSCC if you can just walk over there. Like sidewalks and a pretty train, they make a place nicer. This increases density. Just today I walked with my wife over the Thomas Street bridge over Elliot Avenue. My wife was impressed. I have crossed it before and thought that living or working in the area would be really nice. There are big buildings on one side, and a nice park on the other, joined by a very nice bridge. The only drawback to the neighborhood is the lack of high speed transit. But a streetcar wouldn’t help in the least. A high speed transit station, on the other hand, would mean that the two story buildings up the hill would soon be demolished in favor of high rise apartments and condos.

      4. Mike,
        You clearly don’t know much about Maple Leaf, it is very much a walkable neighborhood with good transit access (66,67,68,73,77,373). You can pick worse in-city neighborhoods to be car-free in.

        RossB,
        One advantage rail has over BRT is capacity.

      5. “Well, now that Ballard has plenty of rail capacity, I don’t see any reason why we should continue to pursue any other projects to connect to that quadrant of the city!”

        – future politician, before driving to a constituent event in Ballard

      6. “We will eventually get a bridge over I-5 at the Northgate station, but why wait? We could use it now (to connect the buildings on one side to the other)”

        That’s a great idea! Are any mayoral candidates reading this? :) The I-5 bridge is not just worthwhile for Link, it would help reconnect the neighborhoods now and mitigate a longstanding problem. Just like reconnecting the streets in lower Queen Anne.

      7. “You clearly don’t know much about Maple Leaf, it is very much a walkable neighborhood with good transit access (66,67,68,73,77,373). You can pick worse in-city neighborhoods to be car-free in.”

        I don’t know a lot about Maple Leaf but when I’ve visited people on e.g., 75th, I’ve been glad I don’t live there. The 71/72/73 is frequent until 65th, and the 72/73 get downright sparse at 80th. The 65 and 68 are each half-hourly and I believe the only transit on their streets. The 77 is peak-only unidirectional so I don’t count it; it’s only useful for a very specific subset of trips. The 373 is a good attempt at a crosstrown route and I support calls to increase its span in exchange for 72 & 73 reconfigurations. The 66/67 travel on Roosevelt and 5th which I wouldn’t call “Maple Leaf”, but if you do then I would agree with you there; they’re an example of the kind of frequent transit we need more of.

        Transit that is half-hourly even mid-day and peak is not sufficient to get average people out of their cars. Most of Maple Leaf gives me the same feeling as Latona and 8th NW: not a place I’d want to live where the buses are half-hourly even at the best of times. Of course, I should note that I don’t have a car. If I did, then yes, it would be fine to live in those places, and take transit when it’s convenient and drive when it’s not.

  14. It is hard to figure out what kind of system makes sense unless we know when and where high speed rail will go. Consider two (fairly plausible) alternatives:

    1) Build a light rail tunnel from Ballard to UW via Fremont. This is fairly cheap (as tunnels go). The slight jog to pick up Fremont doesn’t cost too much. Other than a direct line between the two points, I think this is the cheapest grade separated route.

    2) Build light rail from Ballard to downtown via Interbay. It really doesn’t matter how much is elevated or underground (as long as crossing the ship canal isn’t an issue).

    For option number one, Fremont is served just fine. However, the folks who live or work between Fremont and Ballard, as well as the folks who live or work on east Queen Anne need some way to hook into the system. They need frequent service with minimal time spent getting on or off. It doesn’t have to be that fast. They could be fine with very frequent bus service, as long as fares are collected before they board.

    For option number two, everything changes. If Fremont is left out of the light rail picture, than it needs a fast way to get downtown or to Ballard. I would argue (and have argued above) that the fastest way is via Aurora. There would be some work done to add a stop north of the Bridge Way exit, along with escalators (or some other means) to get people up the hill quickly. Likewise, some work would probably have to be done downtown to make it easy and quick for the buses to get on or off Aurora. Spots in between could also be served in a similar manner (getting people up the hill and building good bus stops are the main challenges). The work would not be trivial. But this work would be justified as it would be the fastest way to get from downtown to Fremont or many places in between.

    1. I keep hearing about this Aurora option. If this was pursued, what happens when you get downtown? Surface street? Create a bus only lane? All roads lead to downtown and it need more grade separated options.

      1. I agree, that would definitely be part of the discussion. I haven’t though about it much, nor do I know if anyone has studied it. Looking at a map, it isn’t that far from the north end of the bus tunnel to the start of the Aurora Freeway. It would be expensive, but maybe you could add a station there, and then a tunnel to a ramp onto Aurora. If done well, I would think you get off the train (or another bus) and be on Aurora in a couple minutes. Five minutes later you would be in Fremont. This would be expensive, but I think it would deliver a pretty good compromise for the folks in Fremont if they don’t get a link rail station. It would be way faster than anything short of grade separated rail, but way cheaper than building a long underground line to the area. It might not be much more expensive than adding another bridge (which seems to be on the table).

  15. The Martin post makes several points.

    one, it is true, ST3 may be decades away. If so, how should Seattle spend limited transit funds to improve its mobility? Note that one-half the ST Board members must serve on the governing boards of the local transit agencies. They are all in fiscal crisis. Why should there be an ST2 before the local agecies are healthy? Transit mobility depends on good local transit. The best places to improve mobility are the metropolitan cities with good street and sidewalk grids: Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma. An ST3 that connects them with a BART-like Link does not seem like the highest priority mobility investment.

    While a Ballard-Fremont streetcar would be less costly than Link, that is faint praise. The budget question: is a streetcar cost-effective when compared with rapid trolleybus? The Seattle choices in the TMP are not between rapid streetcar and rapid trolleybus on a single corridor. instead, the choice is over the entire network; the SMP studied several HCT corridors, 15 bus corridors, and several more in the center city. the challenge is to maximize the transit mobility provided given constrained budgets and rights of way. Investing large amounts of scarce capital in a single corridor for a small marginal gain has high opportunity costs in foregone improvements to the other corridors. Transit mobility is provided by a network, not a single corridor. suppose the ratio in costs was five to one; Seattle could elevate one corridor to rapid streetcar or five to rapid trolleybus; what should they chose?

    The Ballard-Fremont corridor, along with the Roosevelt one, appears to have been selected to allow rapid streetcar to have a chance of selection. If either had been extended to Northgate, which would be the logical approach given limited service hours and network design considerations, they could not have been considered for streetcar for topographical reasons. for just as Madison Street is too steep for streetcars, so is the hill on 24th Avenue NW between NW 67th and 70th streets; in the first third of the 20th century, the Loyal street car turned on NW 67th Street and went north-south on 28th Avenue NW. Likewise, the Mapleleaf hill would prevent a Roosevelt line from reaching NTC. both would be very good rapid trolleybus corridors if extended to Northgate. these in-city lines woulld attract significant turn over of loads. the higher capacity of streetcar is not reqired. the relevant measure should be load and not rides per hour. the SMP corridor table shows the ETB headway at five minutes; but the ETB could run much tighter headway than that. See Eastlake, 1940-63, Route 99B in Vancouver today, and many other examples around the world.

    Route 40 could be advanced to be a great line with much less capital than required for a rapid streetcar, leaving funds for other corridors in the network. there are many corridors to improve and convert to electric traction power from diesel. Route 40 could be extended to First Hill via new Yesler Way overhead; it could be converted to ETB; it could have off board fare collection, TSP, use any priority measures provided a streetcar. and, it could extend to Northgate.

    the ship canal issue is an odd one. The Fremont Bridge carried the Interurban and other streetcars. Theo Chocolate is in a former streetcar barn. as the objective of transit is to extend the range of pedestrians and Fremont is the center of the universe and a pedestrian center, transit should serve it. any new bridge could serve other traffic and bikes, peds, and transit could have the existing one. Mayor Schell wondered about a streetcar on Dexter; it would be set up for a mid rise bridge. the bike infrastructure could be shifted to Westlake; it is flatter any way.

    the TMP streetcar map does not show a line on the south side of downtown. if we are to invest in another new mode, it ought to have lines on both sides of downtown so it can have the efficiencies of interlining. south-first Link is in its awkward phase (2009-2016) with trips only to and from the south. we should not pursue that inefficiency with streetcar. building yet another mode is very costly and comes at the opportunity cost of foregone improvement elsewhere.

    all the TMP investments should be done well. But how and what modes should be analyzed systematically on a network basis. the objective should be to maximize the ridership attracted citywide, not on a single corridor. how best to spend limited fiscal resources and rights of way. sometimes very intense treatments may be justified; other times, less intense treatments may be best. the $treetcar$ fulfill the desires of some, but appear to take too much from a limited pot of funds. Seattle should also want to build sidewalks and do pavement management. the same FTA fixed guideway pot that funds streetcars may also be used to fund trolleybus. we already have a 70 mile network and a base.

    1. The Fremont Bridge carried the Interurban and other streetcars.

      That was a hundred years ago. As much as I try to fight it, things change.

    2. Hi eddiew,

      You make two separate points:
      1) I totally disagree that ST3 should wait for the bus system to be fixed. One, light rail is largely our salvation from crappy long-haul bus service and allows the system to focus on shorter trips. Two, I would like to be able to get places quickly on transit in my lifetime, buses won’t do it, and we have to start now. I’d like to have both, but I’d rather have an extensive rail network and a smaller bus system than a bigger bus system and few rapid and frequent trains.
      2) I’m supportive of a BRT solution. I just disagree with the framework that there’s a single fixed pot of money, existing no matter what we do. A rapid streetcar may win votes that a bus wouldn’t, meaning it enlarges the pool of dollars by more than the difference in cost. And there are additional benefits to the rails that may not be quite worth the extra $200m but make the real gap in cost/benefit considerably smaller. But I don’t mean to slag on BRT; I’ll support either, and I hope you will too.

    3. “Why should there be an [ST3] before the local agecies are healthy? Transit mobility depends on good local transit.”

      We can’t wait forty years for local transit to come up to par before starting regional transit. The regional transit Link addresses (more frequent and seamless than ST Express, and directly to several Seattle neighborhoods both north and south of the Ship Canal) has been a hole in our transit network for decades. Having Central Link available in the U-District benefits both Ballard and Wallingford even if you have to take a bus to it, because not everybody is going to downtown. It doesn’t benefit them as much as if they were directly on lines, but it’s significantly better than the current situation with no Link north of Westlake. Yes, regional transit depends on local transit, and likewise local transit depends on walkability. But in a sitation like we have now, where all three have been neglected for decades, you can’t do them in serial, you need to do them at least partly in parallel.

      “Investing large amounts of scarce capital in a single corridor for a small marginal gain has high opportunity costs in foregone improvements to the other corridors”

      But we have to start with the goal, and this is where I most agree with DP. The goal is neighborhoods where it’s easy to walk to things and transit is convenient (frequent/fast), enough that a large percentage of people use it over driving. The best way I can articulate this is a New York or Chicago neighborhood. So when we evaluate your “single corridor” vs “other corridors”, we have to ask “How far do these choices get us toward the goal in their respective corridors?” and “Do they provide something that will be useful long-term or will they just have to be superceded later?” A true rapid-streetcar or rapid-trolleybus starts to address both. Merely extending the SLUT obviously doesn’t, but may be adequate for to/from Fremont. But if we kill the rapid-streetcar to spread its money to all the similar corridors, we end up with something cut-rate like RapidRide that doesn’t really address either issue.

      “The Ballard-Fremont corridor, along with the Roosevelt one, appears to have been selected to allow rapid streetcar to have a chance of selection. If either had been extended to Northgate,”

      That is contemplated for Eastlake. The TMP says to consider whether to terminate it at 45th, 65th, or Northgate. To me that means they either want it to go to Northgate or they think it might be justified. The statement tells the engineers/politicians to look further than just 45th.

      “the TMP streetcar map does not show a line on the south side of downtown.”

      I have seen a long-term map with a line on Jackson/Rainier to Mt Baker station. I don’t remember where but it was an official map, not a transit fan’s map.

      “Route 40 could be advanced to be a great line with much less capital than required for a rapid streetcar”

      Yes, and that’s what we’ll have to discuss when the study results come back, and it wouldn’t hurt to tell officials now to also consider this.

      However, don’t forget that heavy trolleybuses tear up roads, while rail doesn’t tear up steel tracks nearly as quickly.

      “how and what modes should be analyzed systematically on a network basis”

      Yes, this is important. That’s what the TMP is supposed to be.

  16. Building a new bridge at 3rd to cross the canal is insane. Either build a parallel narrow bridge, one at Evanston, or one at Phinney Ave. The Streetcar’s primary advantage is serving Fremont. Building west of it makes no sense, as Ballard is much better served by subway/link.

  17. Martin,
    1. In your life time, we should expect the ST2 projects to be complete. Link will have a wide extent with good frequency and reliability. If you want to travel between Everett and Lynnwood, between Tacoma and Seattle via Federal Way, or on I-90 east of Mercer Island, regional express bus routes will serve you well, especially if the state implements tolling. Sound Move has already provided center access ramps at Lynnwood, Eastgate, and Federal Way. The long haul bus service does not have to be crappy.
    2. Whatever the fiscal pot, Seattle will have choices about improving a very few corridors expensively with streetcar or improving more corridors with electric trolleybus. Seattle controls the right of way and can provide similar speed to either.

  18. There is no escaping this basic fact: a subway adds a traffic corridor to the city, a fast, exclusive one), streetcars essentially remove one. The tracks are also hard on bikes. The inflexible streetcars will not handle the volume of passengers that cars would. I know, a subway is much more expensive, but you do get what you pay for.

  19. Lord! Imagine a taxi driver that had to wait for three riders from Seattle to agree on how to get from Here to There.

    Simply put, to get transit out of auto traffic, separate transit lanes have to be constructed ASIDE, ABOVE, or BELOW the auto lanes.

    Apparently, Seattle cannot wrap its brain around the concept of exchanging one or two auto lanes for transit; ASIDE seems to be out of the question. ABOVE? BELOW? Although the Seattle voters elected to update and extend our 50-year-old monorail – the option most affordable and quickest to implement – the decision-makers, those with power and influence, suffer from “tunnel-vision” – as if it were possible to postpone Global Warming, while finding the many hundreds of millions of dollars to build subways.

    I recommend this: On major thoroughfares prioritize transit, pedestrian, and bicycles and carve out two transit-dedicated lanes. In the meantime, for cars and trucks, build tunnels, funded by auto- and/or gasoline-related fees.

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