One of my favorite ways to evaluate a new product or service is with Clay Christensen’s “Job to be done” framework. I won’t bore you with the details, but the idea is that people don’t compare feature lists when evaluating a product. They have a job to do, and they hire the best product or service to do it. The trick for the product designer is to figure out what the job is to be done. Put another way, people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.
The job to be done was on my mind as I attended last night’s open house for the Center City Connector. The CCC was one of the corridors identified in the Transit Master Plan as a potential high-capacity corridor. When I attended the last open house, the mode choice was still technically up in the air (though never in much doubt). Yesterday, the Mayor made it official: the CCC will be a streetcar. Not only that, but connecting the First Hill and South Lake Union streetcar lines into a single, U-shaped line is now an explicit goal of the project. Specifically, the purpose of the project is “to improve north-south transit mobility through downtown and to connect the SLU Streetcar and FH Streetcar.”
That makes sense and all, but connecting lines is primarily an operations goal, not an end-user goal (though it has certain end-user benefits). I am on the corner of Westlake and Harrison in the year 2016. It’s noon on a Tuesday. I need to get to 3rd and Marion. That’s the job to be done. What service will I hire to get me there? I have many options: car, cab, Car2Go, my two feet, Puget Sound Bikeshare, a Metro bus, and the Streetcar. The choice will come down to an array of factors: how much I’m willing to spend, how much time I have, when the next streetcar is coming, whether I know where the nearest bus stop is, etc. For a streetcar to be competitive in this mix of options, it has to be obvious, which a streetcar – thanks to its nice stations, tracks, and clanging bell – usually is. But it also has to be frequent and reasonably fast.
A full report on the state of the project after the jump…
With the explicit goal of connecting South Lake Union and First Hill in place, the possibility of routing the connector up to Seattle Center / Uptown is looking increasingly unlikely (though it will be studied). 3rd Avenue and Alaskan Way alignments have been ruled out. Four options are being evaluated in Tier 1 for connecting the Southern terminus of the SLU line at Westlake with the Western terminus of the FH line at King Street Station:
- 1st Avenue, in mixed traffic or exclusive right-of-way
- 4th/5th Avenue couplet, in mixed traffic of exclusive right-of way
The exclusive ROW options would function more like an “express” and feature half as many stops as the mixed-traffic options.
Based on the available documents, 1st Avenue on exclusive ROW has the mojo, both on the merits and in terms of public support. While it serves slightly fewer jobs than 4th/5th, it serves more residents. Furthermore, the narrow ROW on 5th Avenue makes an exclusive option tricky and doesn’t save much time versus a 1st Avenue alignment. And, as one SDOT rep put it to me, keep in mind that in a few years the Viaduct will come down, adding more jobs and housing along the waterfront and shifting Downtown’s center of gravity Westward. The 1st Ave alignment also has fewer impacts on buses and bikes. It also has the lowest operating costs (but the highest capital costs).
In terms of headways, the current study assumes 10-minute headways at peak, 15-minutes off-peak. I think this is a miss. If this is truly to be a connector linking relatively close-by neighborhoods, all-day access needs to be frequent: 10-minute headways at minimum all day long.
Otherwise the service becomes all but useless at midday. * [6/11/13 see update below]
Several options are being studied for routing. One option has a line running from SLU to Pioneer Square and terminating, while other options involve through-routing a single streetcar all the way from Fred Hutch to Broadway. If the latter option is selected, new streetcars would have to be purchased, since the SLU models don’t run off-wire, which is required for going downhill on Jackson St. SDOT seems confident they can find another, flatter city to buy the SLU cars off of us.
Finally, I should mention that project leaders are coordinating with Sound Transit’s HCT study to Ballard. For example, if an exclusive ROW option is selected, the station platforms should be long enough to handle a rapid streetcar coming in from Ballard.
Studies will proceed over the summer, with an option selected in September and a financing plan presented to the Mayor by February of next year.
Update: added better images from SDOT.
Update #2: full set of docs from the meeting are now online.
Update #3: SDOT clarified that “peak” is defined as Mon – Fri, 8am – 8 pm, and Sat, 10am – 8pm. So midday headways would still be 10 minutes.