Open House Crowd
Open House Crowd

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:

The exclusive ROW options would function more like an “express” and feature half as many stops as the mixed-traffic options.

Connector Alignments

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]

1st Ave Exclusive ROW Routing

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.

90 Replies to “Center City Connector: Streetcar Moves Forward”

  1. The willingness to consider exclusive ROW on 1st is new and exciting. Maybe that spirit can extend to the SLU and FH segments it’s connecting.

  2. Exclusive ROW is key here. Folks should push hard for it. And Martin is right that it could lead the way to either exclusive ROW, or at least some signal priority, on the other two streetcar lines.

    As to the Ballard route, I keep hoping that will be an extension of the Sound Transit system and tied into Link rather than using the SLU type streetcars. The higher capacity of the Link vehicles is the key there.

  3. Wait, The City of Seattle bought a set of trains that don’t work well in a city with hills? Are you joking?

    In building out a streetcar system, you would think planners would think ahead of just the project in front of them and realize that a train that doesn’t work on hills in Seattle is about as effective as an automatic cleaning toilet in Pioneer Square. :)

    1. They would work on hills, they just wouldn’t work going downhill without a wire overhead.

      1. I didn’t quite understand this from the summary. Is the First Hill Streetcar going to pretty much coast down Jackson using just gravity or will it have some kind of battery backup system? Why can’t it use wires going downhill?

      2. It doesn’t coast downhill. It uses regenerative braking to charge a battery (or super-capacitor?) system.

      3. And the reason it doesn’t use wires for a while going downhill is to avoid extra complexity with wires crossing the existing trolleybus wires over the street.

      4. RapidRider …

        Only a small segment of the southbound track will not have OCS as to avoid the problems dealing with complicated ETB OCS junctions … like less than a mile of the whole 5 mile route. There the trams will use batteries to move/power systems.

        Last I heard the 4th tram for the SLUT will be built to these same requirements and the folks at the open house said last night that if/when this new connector is built the existing 3 trams would either be sold to Tacoma or another system like Portland that has similar equipment and new ones ordered.

        Of course they might also just rewire the ETB OCS and wire the whole FHS route which would negate the problem.

    2. That cuts both ways. There could easily be backlash against spending extra money on a streetcar feature that ‘might’ be needed sometime in the future. Heck, given various purchasing rules (lowest bidder, meeting project requirements), it might not have even been legal to buy a streetcar that can run without an overhead wire.

      1. Exactly. The SLU streetcar was built before any other streetcars or Link (save the Benson streetcar), so it didn’t have the political momentum that they have now that existing systems are running and successful. Paul Allen had to push hard to get it approved, and raise money from private businesses to complete the construction cost. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. At the time, they didn’t know if it would politically feasable to ever extend it, and they envisioned extending it to flat U-District and Ballard, not to hilly Capitol Hill in a funny Jackson detour. That’s also the reason for the bicycle-crashing track design, which is the kind of mistake that happens in initial lines.

      2. And of course they couldn’t spend what it took to make the rails bike safe.

  4. In a world of endless money, this would be a good project. It has the potential to be a boon for tourist mobility (as it goes everywhere most tourists want to go except the Space Needle), and a transit link on 1st is sorely missed since the 15 and friends moved to 3rd.

    But in an era of limited funds we should be catering to locals, not tourists, and this project won’t be very helpful to locals. The money should be going to a project like Madison BRT first.

    1. “But in an era of limited funds we should be catering to locals, not tourists” First, I disagree that this won’t be helpful to locals. I’m strongly looking forward to a streetcar system and would have used this daily.

      But please don’t write off the tourists. Tourism is a major fuel for our economy. I’m constantly surprised at how little effort our city puts into drawing tourists, considering how much they spend here.

      1. The question is why locals would ride a 1st Ave streetcar rather than using the DSTT. The DSTT is illegible and difficult for tourists to access (particularly at Pioneer Square) but locals all know it’s there. I suppose dedicated ROW, if by some miracle that survives the howls of protest from 1st Ave merchants and actually happens, might make the streetcar just fast enough to justify using it in preference to the DSTT when you are relatively far from a DSTT stop, or if you’re going to SLU or Little Saigon and would have to transfer from the DSTT.

      2. I don’t think people realize just how big tourism is to our economy. That said I don’t think the agency tasked with county wide transit should be running the waterfront streetcar. The City of Seattle and or the Port of Seattle should step up and make this happen by funding an organization dedicated to it’s operation.

      3. I completely agree. I’d love to see SDOT develop into a transit agency. Of course there are a lot of political and tax authority issues in the way.

      4. @David There are plenty of needs this streetcar would serve that the tunnel misses. My old daily commute from downtown up Jackson, for one. Heading from SLU to the ferries for another. There are ways of making these trips now, but they involve very slow buses* and transfers.

        * I found I could walk the 2+ miles about as fast as the bus would take me, even if there were a bus waiting for me at the stop. It was never faster to walk to the tunnel, take it to the ID, and transfer to a bus.

      5. I’d love to see SDOT develop into a transit agency

        My point is that the Benson Line needs to be operated as an agency with more autonomy than is possible as part of a huge bureaucracy tasked with everything under the sun except operating a rolling museum who’s purpose is to enhance the waterfront experience. Surely if the Port can buy an abandon RR that runs nowhere close to the docks or the airport just to facilitate a bike trail it can kick in some funds for something actually along the waterfront. And I think support from the Seattle Department of Economic Development would also be appropriate. Let SDOT worry about fixing potholes and preventing our bridges from falling down.

      6. They way they built the DSTT is a pain in the ass to use unless you’re going long distances. To walk two blocks, go down several flights of stairs, wait 6 minutes then reverse the process makes no sense if you’re going from Westlake to Pioneer square. Either walk it, take a bus that just pulled up or this street car. Even if the street car took an extra 5 minutes it would be faster than going down into the way too deep tunnel to catch a train.

      7. “The question is why locals would ride a 1st Ave streetcar rather than using the DSTT.”

        Because they’re going from Little Saigon to 1st Avenue, which is a two-seat ride, not very close, and possibly a hill if you’re using the DSTT. Because they’re going to tourist destinations like a museum exhibit, which locals do, a lot of them. We need to address the needs of tourists, local tourists, neighborhood residents, and employees together wholistically, not say it’s “just a tourist line” and can’t be anything more. It can be more if you expand your horizons, and that’s key to making it a more transit-using and frequent-transit area.

      8. @David as a tourist let me tell you its exactly the opposite: the DSTT is easy. Even with East Link there will only be two lines with well marked stations that are easy to find. The SLU streetcar and even the monorail are easy because of the fixed route and you can expect pretty frequent service.

        Busses are completely unusable. Just by their nature there are a going to be a lot more bus lines, but add that there are two different systems that don’t offer a clue why their different or how they work. Where you can expect reasonably frequent service on rail, you never know when a bus is going to come. Tourists aren’t in all that different of a situation than a local who seldom uses transit.

      9. That’s not actually true. The tunnel is a pain, but it’s not an extra-5-minutes pain.

        Anyway, building a who extra slowpoke rail system because you botched your overbuilt subway system is the very definition of “throwing good money after bad”.

      10. “They way they built the DSTT is a pain in the ass to use unless you’re going long distances.”

        The DSTT is clearly not designed for going one or two stations. Major destinations like the library are 2-3 blocks from a station, and if you have to walk 2 blocks on the other end (Westlake), so you might as well walk the whole way or take a 3rd Avenue bus. But the DSTT does not need to serve this market. There are ready alternatives for a short downtown hop, but there are no alternatives for getting to Northgate or Renton quickly, or even getting from Westlake to Intl Dist quickly. (All the peak-expresses should be kicked out of the tunnel, and all-day routes to other parts of Seattle should be put into it, but that’s another issue.)

    2. As a frequent Seattle visitor and being someone who doesn’t drive, transit is a big factor in where I go. There are a lot of major cities that don’t even have a rail line connecting their airport to the city itself, this is an opportunity to strengthen a competitive edge Seattle has right now.

      Here in San Francisco a lot of locals write off the F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line seeing it as a tourist attraction like the cable cars, but west of downtown and during commute hours most of the ridership is locals. Tourists that make up most of the ridership east of downtown and throughout the day which supports high-frequency service all day long that we locals get to take advantage of.

      Someday tourists may be the tipping point that justifies an extension from Downtown to Queen Anne that also supports Seattle Center along the way.

      1. Exactly. Many people judge cities by whether it has rail to the airport. That shows the city is serious about transit, at least to some extent. I was shocked that Raleigh, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City didn’t even have a bus to the airport: the only choice was shuttles or taxis. I had a layover in Charlotte and thought I might go downtown for a bit, and I arrived in Raleigh and needed to get to Duke. The information agent (I don’t remember which city) said there were buses in the city but not to the airport. I thought, “At least that’s useful for residents, but it’s a really incomplete system. It forces people to use more gas and to pay several times what they otherwise would, which goes right into the taxi/shuttle companies’ pockets.”

        Denver surprised me for a different reason: the airport bus is $13 (or was ca. 2002). That’s a way premium fare, but it is understandable for that service. (There is nothing for miles around the airport, so no neighborhood trips like around SeaTac, or transfers to places like Kent.)

      2. (Just to nitpick, there’s now a bus straight from Raleigh to the airport, continuing on to the terminal where you can transfer to Durham or Chapel Hill. So, things are a bit better.)

      3. Oh, and I stayed at Fisherman’s Wharf 1 1/2 years ago and had a 9-5 conference downtown. I tried all commuting modes: the F-streetcar, the 8 bus, the 30 trolleybus, the Powell-Mason cable car, and the Van Ness BRT. All of them took the same amount of time: 20 minutes. (Except the #30 trolleybus got extremely overcrowded northbound at 5pm, and took three minutes to load passengers at every stop, in spite of the 5-minute frequency.) The F streetcar was a little boring where the middle part of the Embarcadero has few pedestrians, but its exclusive streetcar lanes made up for it.

        Also, it really depends which vehicle you get. The 1950s San Francisco streetcar is twice as fast as the older streetcars (the 1880s wooden Milan and the 1940s Philadelphia, if I remember right). The 1950s vehicle is the only one running late evening so it seems to be the baseline service. That vehicle was just as fast and smooth as the modern Seattle and Portland streetcars, so no complaints there. It really shows how the streetcar companies could have made monumental improvements by now if we hadn’t killed the streetcar industry in the US.

      4. Oh God. Don’t take CATS (Route 8, IIRC) from Charlotte/Douglas to Uptown Charlotte. That’s a risky move, since it zigzags through a VERY rough part of the Queen City. CDOT had been talking about higher capacity transit to the airport, but plans were scaled back.

        Mike, you aren’t related to Jerry Orr, manager of Charlotte/Douglas Airport are you?

      5. @Mike you nailed a lot of the problems with the north-east San Francisco. Van Ness does not have BRT now, but the project has been approved, funded and in the detailed design phase. We have a new subway line running the same corridor as the 30 and five other lines which you saw simply cannot handle the capacity.

        And it funny you should mention the Embarcadero because we had our own double-decked elevated freeway until the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Almost everything along the along the waterfront – other than the Fisherman’s Wharf area – has been developed in only the last 15 years since the boulevard replaced the freeway.

        That dead spot you noticed along the Embarcadero is now home to a very popular kids science museum and facilities for the America’s Cup yacht race that afterwards will be a new cruise ship terminal. There’s still some gaps, but they are getting filled; like a new basketball arena for the Golden State Warriors is now planned for a new pier just a few blocks from the Giants ballpark.

        Tearing down the freeway and opening up the waterfront was magic for San Franisco.

      6. “Van Ness does not have BRT now, but the project has been approved, funded and in the detailed design phase.”

        It looked to me like exclusive transit lanes in the middle of the street, and that combined with a frequent route I took to be BRT. It’s significantly better than most of the RapidRide routes in Seattle. What will the BRT be like, if it’s more than that?

        When I rode the Van Ness buses earlier in the 80s and 90s, they used the side lanes and were slow.. That’s why I noticed the contrast.

  5. A streetcar through Downtown Seattle seems like a huge waste of money. Downtown Seattle already has the most transit options of anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. If people need to get from the south-end of Downtown to the north-end of Downtown they could 1) Take the light rail in a dedicated right-of-way tunnel 2) Take a bus in the tunnel if it happens to come before the light rail 3) Hop on the next bus that happens to arrive on 3rd Ave. Is this not already enough? This doesn’t even consider another healthy option: walking! Come on people its 1 mile!

    Why are we spending millions on a transit project that is one-mile long when there are so many better things to do with that money?

    1. This plus, any transit that routes through downtown tends to get delayed pretty bad, even in the tunnels. The streetcars would be of much greater use if the went to downtown rather than through.

      1. Connecting the SLUT and FHSC into a single line vastly increases the usefulness of each. Right now, the streetcar in SLU is at a major disadvantage compared to buses if you are heading to the south end of downtown. Streetcar & walk 10 blocks? Or take a 40 all the way there?

        You could argue that adding the streetcar transit mode in Seattle was a mistake; but now that it is here, we should work to make it useful for mobility and efficient to operate.

      2. Oh, I agree that the streetcars need to penetrate a good majority (if not all) of downtown, otherwise they lose a lot of functionality, aka the RapidRide C/D, and you either have to transfer or walk a good distance, either, which like you said, isn’t too appealing.

        What I don’t think they should do is link the two lines. Even if it means overlap or extra cars, so be it, to keep the outgoing lines on time, it’s a small price to pay.

    2. Because it’s downtown, and the south half of downtown is a steep hill. People expect close stop spacing and parallel routes every couple blocks in large downtowns. Again, San Francisco has parallel bus/rail routes every few blocks downtown, and nobody thinks 2/3 of them should be deleted. (1) The presence of frequent ubiquitous service generates maximum ridership to an extent Pugetopolis has never seen, and contributes to the city’s well-functioning and economy because people can get to where they want to go with the maximum convenience. Yes, we don’t want to overserve downtown while entire quarters of the city are crying out for higher-than-suburban service, but you can’t make that a rigid sequential demand. “No A until B is completely addressed.” You just have to keep going on B, not neglect it completely.

      (1) This is not an argument against moving the 2 to Madison. Frequent, evenly-spaced service on one street rather than two infrequent lines on adjacent streets is an important goal too.

  6. We already have extremely tourist-friendly streetcars in storage, and 1st Ave should be encouraged to embrace its destiny as high-density pedestrian/transit (and maybe bike) corridor. Certainly there are a lot of options to weigh, and I understand this would axe the idea of a unified U-shaped streetcar that doesn’t terminate, but I can’t help but think this is the ideal solution.

    1. they are nice, but they are antiques with the wrong voltage and are high-floor which means raised platforms need to be built and they cannot intermingle with modern streetcars.

      1. The voltages CAN be changed over. It is mostly getting the political backing to get the Waterfront Streetcar back in service. A lot of people don’t like walking up and down the hill between Alaskan Way and 1st Avenue and this is where the Waterfront Streetcar trolleys make sense putting them back into service.

        Remember, there are 5 usable vehicles and one shell that can be made operational again, allowing for 10 minute headways on the waterfront as well. It is a matter if we can push to get it back into service or not and market it as a different style of service.

        I don’t understand why we are so against our history here.

      2. I’d like to see the waterfront streetcars return to the waterfront. Pioneer Square to the Space needle would be a great tourist run for them if they could climb the hill. The tourists could take the monorail back to Westlake and the 1st hill streetcar back to Pioneer Square. Add a funicular from Pike Place to the waterfront and you have the tourists covered.

      3. Returning the Benson streetcars to the waterfront is a separate issue from downtown circulation. Just like nobody near the ferry terminal is going to go up to 1st Avenue and back down to the Bell Street pier, nobody on 1st Avenue is going to go down to the waterfront and back up to another part of 1st Avenue. A few people will, but the hill is enough of an obstacle that many people won’t do it, and will instead walk cursing that Seattle is stupid for not having a 1st Avenue circulator like San Francisco would.

  7. I’m sorry but “10-minute headways” and “exclusive right-of-way” do not belong together. There is no way you are going to take parking or lanes of traffic away on 1st with headways like that. If we do a street car we need to focus on signal priority and speeding up boarding/de-boarding and that’s it. The real priority needs to be a real grade separated transit system serving the west side of the city from crown hill to white center.

    1. If we put in a Jackson-Westlake streetcar with 10-15 minute headways now, then later we can increase it to 5-10 minute headways. And we can add a Jackson-Seattle Center line that will double the frequency in the shared segment. Presto, 3-5 minute frequency.

      1. Yeah! Just like the 10-minute all-day frequencies we now have on RapidRide, which have gradually transformed it into an excellent trunk service after its inauspicious debut!

        (Mike, that stuff doesn’t happen in Seattle. If you plan for an inferior service, it’s going to remain an inferior service.)

      2. Stop dismissing possibilities prematurely. If you try for something, you might get it. If you don’t try for it, you definitely won’t get it. Transit service will improve when the agencies have money for expansion. Metro is better than it was in 2000, even more better than it was in 1990, and night-and-day better than it was in 1980. The deficiencies in RapidRide D and the hourly evening 40 are due to lack of money, pure and simple. You may see ways to economize by deleting the 61 and truncating the 27; I may see ways to economize by deleting the 26 and 28; but these are marginal judgement calls that aren’t enough to gain the service hours we really need citywide. The 61 is clearly on life support and just needs a budget cut to push it over the edge. You could get your 32nd Avenue neighbors to tell Metro they wouldn’t mind shifting the 61’s hours to the 40; that would convince Metro more than anything else would.

      3. I used to think that a growing taxpaying population would naturally, over time, lead to more money for transit, and hence, better quality transit. The problem is that this assumption only works when the growth is channeled into urban areas. If cities adopt anti-growth policies that effectively freeze the city’s population at its current level, then all the human population growth is going to be greenfield development in ever expanding suburbs, where there are no NIMBY’s around to tell them no.

        When this happens, the total revenue the transit agency receives will increase, and the total number of service hours they operate will likely increase also. The problem is that if the new service hours follows the taxpaying population, instead of going towards increased frequency in the built-up part of the city, it has to go instead towards ever-increasing coverage and lifeline service further and further into suburban sprawl, to areas that previously did not have transit service and did not need transit service because they were nothing but acres of trees.

        Bottom line – if we want more frequent service, while holding tax rates steady, and don’t want the political uproar of making suburbanites pay for a service with their taxes that they will barely use, the only option is to increase density here at home, so we have more people from Seattle contributing to Metro’s tax base. Transit quality and growth go hand on hand.

  8. First off I still don’t know why the option of turning 5th into a two way street and nixxing the couplet idea hasn’t been looked at. Second, I agree with Graham that what would primarily be aimed at tourists (local or visiting) along the waterfront should include the promised return of the Benson trolleys. The idea of having the lines connected provides operational advantages perhaps more than user features but if the savings can be used to increase frequency then it’s a win for users. The issue of needing off wire capability and the inherent decrease in reliability should be enough to squash any thought of through routing. You still have a big operational savings though in combined maintenance facilities and you just make sure all spares and new purchases are off wire capable. This isn’t a route you’d take end to end anyway; you’d use Link or a bus and take the streetcar the other direction.

    1. A streetcar on 5th wouldn’t go anywhere that anyone wants to go at any time outside the 9-5 workday. The only things along 5th south of Westlake and north of the ID are corporate and government offices.

      1. And the 5th Ave Theater, Fairmont Olympic, Hilton Seattle, plus the WAC is on 6th and several other hotels are within a block of 5th. And many of those government offices, like the Assessors Office, Seattle Utilities and the Passport Agency are place the public accesses. Given that SLU is the epicenter of development now and the corner of 5th and Columbia has two huge complexes in the works I think it’s going to be much more in demand than 1st which still has a seedy stigma attached to it. As we saw with the faux Waterfront Street Car, 1st is a long way from the waterfront.

      2. As it happens, I spent most of this morning downtown, doing several different things. I started my day walking up and down 5th. It was empty. No one was there except the occasional library patron or homeless person. Then I had to go to the Market to get some stuff. 1st was crazy, overflowing with tourists, as full as 5th was empty.

    2. The display boards said they excluded a waterfront line from the study because (1) it doesn’t meet some of the project’s goals, and (2) the waterfront line is being considered separately in the waterfront study. We could end up with both.

      By the way, there’s a waterfront street-and-transit update June 26th at the Convention Center, 5:30 – 7:30pm, 800 Convention Place room 3A.

    3. 5th & Columbia? Perhaps more mixed-use than the 9-5 wasteland between Seneca and Yesler? One thing that really strikes me with Madison BRT is that Madison Street would be so much more lively if it had some evening destinations and non-office destinations and housing, and the same goes for the rest of the office-tower ghetto. I despaired because it’s unlikely that any of the Madison office towers will be rebuilt or reconfigured in the next thirty years, but if they would please add some more variety in new buildings it would start to turn the place around.

  9. Exclusive right-of-way on First Ave sounds great and makes this project much more interesting. One can look ahead a couple decades and see First Ave becoming the Broadway of downtown.

  10. To mkae this THE choice for “choice riders” it needs to run every 5-7 minutes, at lest until about 7:00 PM.

    1. Both for ridership and to justify taking the ROW. Imagine not seeing a vehicle down an empty lane for 10+ minutes downtown.

      If we can double vehicle speeds with the ROW, then we get double the frequency for free (streetcars run the route twice in the same amount of time). Or we can be cheap and run the same frequency and claim operations savings by only having to run half the streetcars. Let’s take the first option, not the second.

      1. Not quite, load unload time is a significant portion of the platform hours. You also get into bunching situations much more readily the more frequent you make the service. 10 minute headways becomes two trams every 20 minutes which is what happens virtually every day on the 255 both directions and vehicles that rely on an OCS are even more prone to this.

      2. But bunching is almost completely caused by traffic, or in the case of buses by slow loading (especially using the lift a few times). Streetcars load quickly.

      3. That’s not what I see on the 255. NB a big issue is being held 6 minutes in the bus tunnel for the stupid trains; you know the one that runs so frequently you don’t need a schedule. While traffic can be bad on 520 it’s just as bad for both buses. The bunching comes from demand being driven by people getting off work on the hour or the half hour. So, in my case the bus that arrives between 7-10 minutes past 5 O’clock loads about a half dozen people. If I catch the next bus which arrives 17-20 after the hour there’s only me and maybe one other person and the bus makes half the number of stops on it’s way into downtown. Just between Totem Lake and Kirkland TC it makes up 2 minutes. Bunching occurs because it’s a positive feed back loop. The closer the two buses get the greater the likelihood nobody is using the second bus. Once they are less than 2 minutes apart they’ll be nose to tail in just a couple of stops.

      4. Again, these are bus-specific issues. Streetcars have a large number of doors and level boarding. A full car and a near empty car should take about the same amount of time at each stop, but a packed bus is painfully slow at loading and unloading.

      5. “NB a big issue is being held 6 minutes in the bus tunnel for the stupid trains”

        In many cases trains are being held because of a bus’s wheelchair lift. Second, “signal priority for trains” was a major goal for Link and one of its promised benefits. The problem is that Link is not built out far enough that you can take it to the north side and east side, which by the way will obviate those buses. The problem with the DSTT is a collision of goals, but long-term goals that increase the overall transit level of the city have to trump short-term goals (keeping the tunnel buses moving).

      6. Link is not built out far enough that you can take it to the north side and east side, which by the way will obviate those buses.

        Force people from Totem Lake and DT Kirkland (255/540) into a transfer at BTC ? I don’t think so. It’s bad enough that U Link will likely add travel time and a transfer to the 255. East Link was doomed by the decision to follow 520 from Redmond to 405 and then jump ship to cross the lake via I-90. Anybody trying to get to the airport will feel like a ping pong ball, south to 90, north into downtown, backtrack east to RV and finally across I-5 for the third time to debark only a 1/4 mile farther from the terminal than the direct bus route.

      7. I’m sorry about Kirkland but ST2’s budget can’t address every corridor in the metro area. It addresses the highest-ridership corridors, which is the natural first step. I’m sorry that the 255 is destined to get stuck in downtown surface traffic. Nobody has suggested deleting the 255 or 540, and deleting the 545 is just a speculation not a given.

  11. If two dedicated lanes (not dedicated to transit in general but specifically for the streetcar) with signal priority is what comes out of the process, this might be an acceptable substitute for a second transit tunnel. But then, would it be compatible with light rail technology if it becomes the downtown path of a Ballard/West Seattle light rail line?

  12. I don’t know why people are saying this will only serve tourists. I know a couple dozen people (including my wife and I) who live and or work downtown who would use this almost daily.

    1. Actually … the 4th/5th couplet would really only serve weekday commuters and almost nobody else.

      First ave would be used all the time by workers, residents and tourists alike since that is where most of the attractions are.

      1st Ave also works well for future lines North to lower Queen Anne (moving Rapid Ride to Elliot where it belongs) and south to the Stadiums (they already want this)

  13. There’s a piece of news in the first graphic I was unaware of. Under Waterfront Streetcar there’s the note “Study underway in Waterfront Project”. The Waterfront group is running a study for the Benson streetcar? I was afraid they’d abandoned it completely.

    1. See above. The Waterfront committee has been “considering” a streetcar, somewhat skeptically. But the feedback in the last public meetings was overwhelmingly for a streetcar, and especially the Benson streetcars. I mean overwhelmingly. People put dots on their priorities (transit items, walking items, business/building items, park items, etc), and the streetcar items got half the total dots and comments, and at least half of those were for the vintage streetcars.

  14. Outside of Pioneer Square, it’s a steep ass hill from 1st to anything east of 1st. If your destination is south of Union, it’d probably shorter to walk from the stop on 1st up to your destination, though if your destination is on 4th or 5th it’d probably be easier to walk from McGraw Square.

    Seems to me like 1st could be better served by option C–a streetcar that does a loop between Jackson and Uptown.

  15. I like the idea mentioned above where you have exclusive ROW on first and run two lines, One line from Fred Hutch to 5th/Jackson, and one line from Broadway/Denny to Westlake. If both lines are 10 min headways then you have 5 min headways in the downtown core, perfect for tourists and residents alike. And enough headway to justify the dedicated ROW. The only issue will be the turnarounds, but i think they can be worked out.

  16. IMHO this is what they need to do.

    1. Make First Ave one-way Northbound … Second ave works great Southbound.
    2. Turn the SB lanes on First into Streetcar only lanes like this photo:

    Note: This would keep parking on both sides of First Ave as well as retain the two vehicle lanes. The folks at SDOT that I showed the photo to were intrigued by the potential.

    3. Plan/Design the connector line so that it can be extended North to Lower Queen Anne/Seattle Center and South to the Stadiums
    4. Move Rapid Ride onto Elliot -> Denny like the 15X/18X and out of LQA

    This would allow for the following potential routes:

    SLU – LQA
    SLU – Pioneer Sq. – First/Capitol Hill
    SLU – Stadiums
    LQA – Pioneer Sq. – First/Capitol Hill
    LQA – Stadiums

    Add to this the potential for a Rainier Ave line that connects to First Hill line on Jackson and you have a network of streetcars

    Furthermore (and this would mean losing the old Melbourne streetcars) connect the First Hill Line to a new Waterfront line that uses the low-floor trams. Of course they could also restore the track that they have removed and reuse the old waterfront infrastructure but it would negate the benefits of through routing.

    1. This city needs more one-way streets. I know this is not really on topic, but I’ve had it up to here with these “two-way” streets that can actually only accomodate cars going in one direction.

      1. I would love to see Pike and Pine continue as a one way couplet all the way to Madison street. That would greatly improve traffic flow to capitol hill.

      2. I’m fine with one-way for cars, as long as the street is two-way for bikes. A contra-flow bike lane takes up very little space compared to a car lane, and makes navigating around the city on a bike much easier. It also makes life easier for pedestrians, as bikers who want to ride in the direction opposite traffic aren’t forced to use the sidewalk.

  17. Are the 10/15 minute headways a financial constraint or an operational one? Because for this to be worth it, and especially to justify taking a whole lane on 1st, we absolutely need 5-7 minute headways. If it’s purely a matter of the operating budget, I wonder if SDOT could leverage private investment and sponsorships to pay for the extra vehicles and labor needed to make decent frequency happen.

    1. My understanding is that it’s just what’s being studied. The SDOT folks there didn’t seem to think there would be much problem in going below 10 minutes, especially in exclusive ROW (where you need fewer trains to meet the same headway requirements).

    2. 15 minute headways at all times except peak is a complete joke. Both in the tunnel and out of the tunnel, buses already operate at combined headways of as little as 2-3 minutes most of the day. (It’s what you get when you have so many bus routes converging downtown).

      So, if I am downtown and need to go to the other end of downtown, why should I wait up to 15 minutes for a streetcar, while 3-4 buses pass me by going to the exact same place? Especially if the streetcar is going to get stuck in exactly the same traffic as the buses?

      And if you’re only going a few blocks, walking is likely to be as fast or faster than any bus or streetcar will ever be.

  18. Is there any plan to reduce the number of buses going through downtown when the streetcar is operational? I could see a streetcar being a worthwhile investment if it meant that all the buses could drop off their passengers at the edge of downtown and turn around rather than crawling through downtown before beginning a different route. That would be a way to use the high capacity of a streetcar in the core area, while allocating scarce bus service hours elsewhere.

    Of course, the only way anyone would tolerate a forced transfer at the edge of downtown is if the streetcar came every 2-3 minutes, rather than every 10-15.

    1. No. This is meant to expand transit capacity. There are no “downtown-only” buses to eliminate. Every bus goes to a neighborhood that needs it, with a few notorious exceptions. 1st Avenue lost its frequent transit when the 15 and 18 (now D and 40) were yanked to 3rd. That was due to persistent congestion in Pioneer Square and added congestion with the Viaduct project. Exclusive lanes would minimize that congestion. A 1st/Jackson/Broadway line can’t eliminate any bus routes (except the token 99 loop) because the bus routes go far beyond the streetcar’s termini or turns: 7, 14, 36, 9, D, 40, 70. Forcing people to transfer at the edge of downtown won’t fly because that was rejected with the DSTT (originally proposed as a trolley shuttle with large transit centers at both ends, but suburbanites screamed at transferring).

      The 4th/5th proposal is weak because it will give too many choices to those willing to use 3rd-4th-5th interchangeably while under-serving 1st. It won’t cause a rash of empty buses and trains on 3rd, but it’s still somewhat redundant. (The study does not see it that way. It’s not evaluating 3rd as in the same corridor as 4th/5th, but buried in the analyses are hints of it, and the study staff are aware of the problem.)

      In the long term, Ballard and U-District extensions could truncate the 40 and replace the 70. A Rainier-to-Mt-Baker extension could replace part of the 7, and a Jackson-to-23rd extension could supplement the 14. (Replacing the 14 is difficult because of the 31st Ave S tail, which can’t easily be absorbed into another route.)

      1. It’s quite possible to reduce the number of buses through downtown while retaining service to every neighborhood that needs it. It’s a question of political will. Once U-Link is open, without significant impact on people’s travel times (and with the proper restructurings), you could eliminate the downtown portions of the 7, 11, 26, 36, 43, 49, and 66. That’s a lot of buses off of 3rd Avenue.

  19. I was surprised that exclusive ROW was being considered, and that 1st Avenue ranked so highly. I think 1st Avenue Exclusive is much better than the 4th/5th options. The 4th/5th options will be partly redundant with the DSTT and 3rd Avenue buses, while 1st Avenue has a lack of transit alternatives. 1st Avenue also has more tourist destinations and neighborhood residents, creating all-day demand, while 4th/5th will be more peak-hour ridership.

    Second, 1st Avenue can be through-routed with Jackson/Capitol Hill. David L said that 4th/5th could be through-routed too, but that was not my impression. The alternatives showed a 1st/Jackson/Broadway line but not a 4th-5th/Jackson/Broadway line (just a transfer). I may be mistaken but that’s what I saw. A 1st-Jackson-Broadway “U” would make more sense than a 5th/Jackson/Broadway U. The 5th U is so narrow it looks silly, while the 1st U is so wide it creates new transit markets that have never been addressed before. Namely Little Saigon to Pike Place and Pill Hill to (future) Belltown. You may scoff at those or say they’re too low-ridership or grid-incorrect to be justified but the one-seat rides will be attractive. And unlike the 4S, these one-seat rides won’t steal scarce hours from more urgent routes. Through-routing is cheaper operationally, and requires fewer vehicles, although they cautioned that it can decrease reliability because delays are magnified across the whole line..

    Third, the Belltown/Seattle Center extension is an important opportunity. They’ll “study” it in the next phase. It will not be chosen for this route, but we can take the study results and argue for an additional Seattle Center/Jackson/(Broadway?) line. That would also double the frequency in the shared segment, bringing the effective frequency up to 5-10 minutes even if there’s no frequency upgrade on an individual line.

    The main thing I’m concerned about is that Mixed Traffic got a “Best” rating on one chart, while another chart that compared 1st Exclusive, 1st Mixed, 4th/5th Exclusive, 4th/5th Mixed across two dozen criteria found an equal number of “Bests” and “Fair/Poor” between the Mixed Traffic and Exclusive alternatives. 1st Avenue Exclusive takes the prize for speed/usability/operating cost, while 1st Avenue Mixed has the lowest capital costs. (I counted the street-parking and car-capacity criteria, but I don’t care about those so I didn’t analyze them.) The only way I can see Mixed Traffic getting an overall “Best” is if capital costs get a special heavy weight. That’s the classic mistake that is widely repeated, including in the first two streetcar lines and Link. Capital costs are much less important than the transformative potential of a higher-quality system. In twenty or thirty years people won’t care about the capital costs but they’ll be so glad it exists and keeps giving, and they’ll wonder how they’d survive without it. (This applies more to Link than to the mediocre streetcar alignments, obviously, but still.)

    In other details, “Exclusive lane” means possibly shared with buses but not with cars. The exclusive stop spacing is 1/3 fewer stations, not 1/2 fewer stations. For instance, on the 1st Avenue map, the exclusive scenario has only 2 fewer stops than the Mixed scenario. (One around Cherry, the other around 2rd & Stewart.) Madison-Spring stations are present in all scenarios, which is good because Madison and the Library were left out of the DSTT stations, and it would make a great transfer point for Madison BRT.

    The cycle track will not necessarily be on the same streets as the streetcar. The cycle track is pretty much set for 4th/5th regardless of the streetcar, and 1st is not being considered for a cycle track. This can be confusing on the maps. It’s not a joint streetcar/cycletrack proposal; it’s just showing how a streetcar lane could be side-by-side with a bicycle lane, a bus (BAT) lane, a shared bus/car lane, and a car lane, all on the same street.

  20. I’m not sure what criteria they used in their scoring, but it’s unfortunate that 3rd Avenue didn’t score well enough to warrant further study. Seems like turning 3rd into a full time transit mall for the length of downtown (at least between the endpoints of the connector) would have a lot of value, plus 3rd is more or less equidistant between 1st and the 4th/5th couplet that are being studied.

    I know 3rd is already heavy with bus traffic, but I’d rather have the connector running in bus traffic (with drivers who have ostensibly been trained to deal with multi-modal transit) than in mixed traffic where everyone is primarily looking out for their own interests. Seriously, at the proposed headways, how much conflict is there going to be?

    Doing 3rd would probably mean no exclusive right of way, but I think that’s less needed in a transit mall setup. Plus, what are the odds that, when it’s all said and done, the connector is going to get exclusive right of way on 1st or 4th/5th? I’d be encouraged if there were any significant examples of the powers that be not rolling over and acquiescing on the first sign of complaint from the business community, but they don’t exist. We’ll go through all the motions of studying exclusive right of way but at the end of the day they’ll be some reason given why it’s not feasible. Hell, they should save the time and money associated with the study and just ask the Downtown Business Association what alignment and stops they want.

  21. Yay for exclusive right of way. That changes no-good services into darn-good services. If they run frequently enough, anyway.

    Agreed with the idea of terminating some downtown buses at “one end” of downtown if the streetcar gets running frequently enough.

  22. So let’s talk about this “buses terminating at the edge of downtown”. Which routes would it be? Where would they terminate? Would it be close-in routes like the 7 and 14, only suburban routes, or suburban and north/west Seattle routes? The downtown spine would have to run every minute or two in order for this to work, and a wall of buses at rush hour. We already have something like this on 3rd Avenue. I can’t see the streetcar having this frequency. Theoretically it could, but none of the politicians or transit agencies have contemplated such a system. As I said, this was the original proposal for the DSTT, which was rejected. It is similar to Denver’s central route, which goes through downtown to an underground transit center. But what advantage would this have over the current quasi transit mall on 3rd?

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