Terse cynical version of story:
Breaking: Study finds that buses are cheaper to run on the waterfront than streetcars. Metro not asked whether bus route 99 was a hit, or whether electric buses would be quickly value engineered into regular diesels.
Slightly longer and less biased version:
Waterfront Seattle, Parametrix, and LTK Engineering Services have produced a set of documents that provide a detailed analysis of what it would take to reinstate the Benson Waterfront Trolley as well as a complete comparison of two classic trolley options, a modern streetcar option, and two bus options.
The first document provides quite a bit of detail about the state of the Benson line vehicles, and considers two options to bring these vehicles back into operation. The base case simply restores the electrical systems, adds doors to one side, reconfigures the seats, and generally prepares the vehicles for a total cost of $1.36M. The alternate case adds several features including upgrading the electrical systems to work with our modern streetcar system voltage, and adds wheelchair lifts and automatic doors for a total of $14.6M. This would potentially allow Seattle to tie in the waterfront line to our modern streetcar line.
The second document is a comprehensive comparison of the systems we could build with both options listed above, as well as a modern streetcar line and two electric bus options. Although there is no direct recommendation of a system, the two bus options are highly rated on cost, safety/ADA, and effects on the environment. It should be noted that these are by nature quite subjective ratings, and some might question dropping the modern streetcar option to a lower safety/ADA rating than buses because of median platform loading (yet not mentioning the need for wheelchair lifts on the minibus option in this section), or why all three streetcar options rate low in “effects on the environment” due to potential for wheel noise compared to vehicles that would at least occasionally be replaced with diesel buses if not permanently. But considering subjective ratings are unavoidable, this report does quite a good job looking at all options in detail. We can debate the details (feel free to in the comments section), but this gives Seattle a great starting point to begin the conversation. Speaking of conversations, Waterfront Seattle will be presenting these reports today at 5:30 at the Convention Center.
76 Replies to “Draft Waterfront Streetcar Study Released”
The bus options as presented here are a bit silly, in my opinion. If we’re going to have buses, there’s no reason to have a line separate from the rest of the bus system. I’d suggest a line (which is in my in-progress restructure proposal) that connects the waterfront with the International District and beyond on the south end, and with Seattle Center on the other.
I also would like to see any streetcar connect with the FHSC (and the downtown connector, if built). I am not a fan of using the historic streetcars. They may be cute, but they’re unsafe and not ADA accessible.
They would be ADA accessible under both options.
My bad. You’re right.
It’s still worth noting that the ADA accessibility would be a kludge, requiring either a conductor for each car or a slow loading process by the operator, and that the car bodies are narrow enough that circulation with wheelchair passengers aboard can be a real problem.
And I found the report extremely optimistic on the performance characteristics, especially braking, exhibited by the old cars. Subjectively, stopping in the wet is a very scary experience.
I believe the old WFS line was ADA accessable since it was all high level platforms and properly-graded ramps leading to the platforms.
Any reason to believe they’re unsafe?
As the report admits, brakes and crash resistance are decidedly inferior to modern rolling stock. And I think the report actually understates the differences between the old brakes and modern streetcar brakes. Stopping is scary, particularly downhill or in the wet.
Figures. They have been trying to kill the streetcar since the day it was born. This jury rigged survey is just another arrow. I really do not under the hostility toward a historic streetcar line- or indeed any streetcar line down the waterfront. To me its a no brainer, historic streetcar lines and tourist areas have gone hand in hand for decades, its proven to work, it helps draw people to the attraction ( almost every tourist mag and brochure about seattle produced from the 80s to just recently had a picture of the streetcar- why would they do it if it didnt help bring in people? ), and it also moves them around the attraction- very useful in a 3 mile stretch that links the Market, Sculpture Garden the Clink, Pioneer Square, and all the shops and attractions of the waterfront itself. Buses, as was proven by the 99 do not cut it
I have to agree, a modern streetcar makes a lot of sense for a waterfront stretch expected to draw lots of tourists. I can imagine that a higher operating cost of a streetcar could easily be offset by external economic gains of moving more tourists around between businesses. That really is the whole point to a transit system like this.
The failure of the 99 says nothing about whether a bus that was actually useful would work. It ran only every half hour, only at certain times of day, and in an illegible loop that only had one direction on the waterfront.
A bus that ran every 10 or 15 minutes in both directions would bring very different results.
I’m not hostile to the idea of a streetcar (although I think there are better uses for the money), but I am hostile to the idea of the historical streetcars. They are awful vehicles and being picturesque is not enough to make up for it.
Exactly. Not all bus routes are the same. And a trolleybus would have some of the benefits of a streetcar. (Although I imagine the opposition to “ugly” trolley wires would be even more acute on the waterfront than other places.)
Wires will also be an issue with the historic trolley options. However the modern streetcars can run off-wire for a while. If connected with the rest of the system I could imagine running this whole line wire-free. It isn’t very long.
Though, to most, a trolley bus is still a bus. A streetcar, especially a historic streetcar, has tons of sex appeal.
I can’t figure why you’re hostile to historic streetcars. They’re cheaper to operate, cheaper to maintain, easier to maintain, cheaper to build, they’re a tourist attraction, and people generally like them*. Look at the success of the historic F Line in San Francisco. Even San Diego has a historic PCC they toot around (it’s really cool and they’re refurbing more). Portland has a small fleet of historic vehicles too. New Orleans relies 100% on historic trolleys. They’re not sleek or modern, but they’re also not costing $3.5M per vehicle.
*There a good chapter in “Moving Minds” devoted to discussing historic and modern streetcars, and the case for historic is rather good. Especially cost-wise.
I’m hostile to them because I think they are uncomfortable, unsafe, slow in service, and not truly accessible (even with kludges to meet ADA requirements). They did their job when they were the best technology available. Now we can do much, much better.
David L. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you obviously have not spent a lot of time with the W2 cars.
They are slow? They accelerated like a bat outta hell when the operators wanted to, and definitely did. They did 30-35mph between Bell Street/Pier 66 and Vine street quite often.
It is a rail vehicle, they are much safer than a bus will be. End of story. I’ve been involved in a accident on one of those vs. a semi at 15mph. The streetcar was back in service later that week after minor repairs were made to it.
They were slow in service due to how Metro ran them. Nothing more, nothing less. Running every 20 minutes is not ideal for any service. They can easily run 4 streetcars very 12 minutes, like they commonly did during major events *Hemp Fest, 4th of Julvars, etc*, however, because the 6th streetcar is not in service, they commonly only ran with just the 3 during peak hours, 2 during regular hours.
They were very much accessible/ADA compliant and used very often. All of the streetcars had 2 areas for wheelchairs, both at the doors on the land side of the vehicle. If they had any “downfall” it would be the small ramp going up to the platform, that’s all.
Can we really do better? Not using a modern vehicle, no, not one bit. There is no sex appeal, no allure, no thrill. The F line doesn’t even have ADA compliant cars and clearly states that.
We are looking at this too much as a transportation tool rather than what it should be; a tourist line. There is no reason why we couldn’t run more frequent or less frequent or purchase additional cars since Melbourne is selling some of the older W-4 vehicles.
The smoke screen that people like to say that they are unsafe, slow, etc, blame it on Metro for that, but in terms of speed, they most certainly aren’t and I for one, feel MUCH safer and protected in a W-2 than I do in a Skoda/Inekon vehicle…
For what it’s worth, one advantage of a bus for tourists is that the bus could be routed up Broad Street at the north end of the waterfront, to a terminal on one side or the other of the Seattle Center. I think you would get quite a few riders on a Waterfront-Space Needle stretch during the tourist season. The crowd might look something like the Pioneer Square-Market crowd you saw on the old 1st Avenue iteration of the 15/18, which could actually fill 10-minute buses at some times of day in the summer. (Moving those lines to 3rd was good for locals in most respects, but made tourist mobility a bit harder.)
Though I am not entirely opposed to the bus idea, I just hate the thought of ripping up otherwise useful rail corridors. Ballard is full of old rail corridors that they paved over for wider roads (often visible in the differing types of pavement in the old back streets).
In some areas they have had to widen the sidewalks to prevent cars from going so fast down these streets (as wide as they are) that they become a hazard to pedestrians.
Though most of these old corridors would not actually be that useful today (and could have been hazardous to bicyclists), I can’t help but feel like we are going backwards on intercity mobility every time we give up rail corridors for more pavement.
Ok, but why would a tourist want to ride some city bus? The problem with a bus, compared to a streetcar, is they’re nearly invisible to those who are not from the city. Streetcar tracks and stations are real easy to spot. People like that; unfamiliar tourists especially.
Also, tourists already two modes of transportation that does that: the monorail and RapidRide.
The monorail leaves from 5th. By the time you walk up there from the waterfront you might as well have walked to Seattle Center. RapidRide leaves from 3rd, still far away.
Tourists will take city buses if they are legible and frequent, and go where the tourists want to go. If they are easy to use, they show up in tourist guidebooks and locals talk about them. As I mentioned, a majority of the summertime downtown traffic on the old, frequent, straight 1st Avenue lines was tourists.
Maybe a streetcar is still better, but people are assuming the very worst case about the bus options. The 99 is so bad that I can see why they’re doing it, but it can be better.
The thing a lot of people don’t seem to get, including apparently Metro itself, is that the waterfront streetcar was never primarily about transportation, but was a tourist attraction in itself. A bus is completely pointless for this purpose.
If we want to build a tourist attraction, let a private company do it.
If we want to publicly fund a train or bus, it should actually be useful transportation.
Charles, they’ve already ripped out much of the waterfront streetcar track.
Tourists prefer streetcars to buses. By an *enormous* margin. Just as a point of interest.
Bus options — bleah. I don’t even believe the claims that they’d be cheaper. I bet they haven’t looked at Total Cost of Ownership over the lifetime of service. Buses wear out a lot faster.
Did you know the 99 is running on weekends and off-peak times during the summer? Metro left it off the service changes page. It’s a secret.
I like even the “cheap” option of minor restorations to the cars better then the bus idea.
Most of the people in this city (not just tourists) do not want to use buses on the waterfront, but I recall seeing people lining up for those street cars quite a lot when they were still running.
With all of the money they are spending on redeveloping the rest of the waterfront, it seems just stupid to cut corners on the street car by making the bus replacement permanent.
When has Metro ever run the 99 at 20-minute frequency like the streetcar was? That was infrequent enough to deter some riders (like me), but 30- or 60-minute frequency makes it even less of a viable option if you don’t have the schedule memorized.
Maybe they’re just trying to discourage people who don’t have cars from going down there.
Even when the WFSC was less than 20 minutes, it was still a lot more popular, and easy to use than its modern replacement.
Not that the Benson cars are a good idea, but I’m disappointed the report didn’t even mention the San Francisco solution.
Providing ramps? That was the Seattle solution as well, and is included in both historic trolley options.
No, that’s a high-platform station. The San Francisco station is a low-platform station with an ADA ramp.
The document assumes either we have high-platform stations, like the existing ones, that are incompatible with modern low-floor streetcars, or we have low-platform stations with slow, high-maintenance lifts.
I’ve seen the San Francisco system in action – it’s an extra stop, but the wheelchair passenger boards easily using a collapsible ramp deployed by the operator without the 90-second BEEP-BEEP-BEEP procedure seen every day on 3rd Avenue.
I like it. Thanks.
I’m not personally insisting that we include the Benson Cars specifically, but I think it would be a good idea to at least color the modern replacement cars (if we go with that option) in the style of the old cars to keep some of the “feel” of the old system around.
Ripping out the old rail to put new cars does feel a bit wasteful to me though… (at least we can keep the right of way in that case though).
WFSC was 100% high level platforms with ramps leading to the platform. it met all ADA requirements of the time.
and lets not forget that the Waterfront Streetcar ran at a profit. Reactivating the historic cars makes sense and would be the best for the waterfront. As for safety, SF seems to handle it just fine on their vintage lines
People say this all the time, but it’s not true. The waterfront streetcar never ran at a profit.
While there are definitely challenges to restoring the historic streetcars to service, the report does seem to try and make it sound as arduous as possible. The historic option is certainly more expensive, but none of the needed modifications listed are impossible, and it would appear that there’s plenty of experience in doing so.
At a minimum, prior ridership trends suggest that a streetcar of either historic or modern form is needed on the Waterfront, especially with the DBT diverting so much demand to the area. Not providing good transit there makes no sense – and that includes using toy-sized busses.
One possibility that does come to mind is to use a modern streetcar system, but keep one of the historic cars as part of the MHEVA fleet. Modifications to run it on a 750-volt system would be needed, but as a historic streetcar only used in limited service, the ADA provisions might be legally ignored.
I’m down with keeping one historic streetcar as a novelty and tourist attraction, and maybe even using it in service with a fleet otherwise made up of modern cars. I don’t think they are good enough to serve an actual, functional transit line by themselves.
Yeah I like that idea… you could limit the run to the time tourists are likely to ride it.. and for weekends when locals might like to give it a go.
You could also run real cars from downtown on the line in between the tourist cars.
We will have to rip out the old rails to run new cars on this line though, right? Granted that would be less expensive then buying up a new corridor or ripping up existing roadway, but it does seem like a bit of a waste to me.
Just by reading this blog, I’m guessing half the commenters don’t remember riding the thing in service, except maybe for the final run.
Most of my memories of it were on crush loaded cars, especially when the ferry came in full of people heading to points along the waterfront. Even at times when the frequency was not great people waited for the line and used it. One of the real reasons metro did not like it was that it needed a 2 man crew to operate, which made it expensive to run.
It did have shortcomings, even though it was 100% ADA accessible, with high level platforms the fact the doors were only on one side, and the fact that the majority of it was single track did pose some operational problems. If the line is rebuilt, and it hope it is with vintage cars, doors would have to be rebuilt into both sides and the center reconfigured for ADA. Not impossible. The other shortcoming was that due to the scheduling (related to the passing sidings) headways were not very frequent. They had enough equipment for the service they provided, but if the line were properly rebuilt, they would need a few more cars. They do have one un rebuilt car (the “sheep car”), and they might be able to find one or two more W2s floating around the US. Its possible though they may have to source some W2s or more modern SW/W5 types from Melbourne to augment the fleet. They are not much different in appearance (they have a full width front cab). The other points are trivial, wheel profile and minor voltage differences that can be easily overcame with some time and effort if someone wants to spend that. The streetcar used to define the Seattle waterfront, in fact you still see its image on some Seattle souvenirs. Its time to bring it back to the waterfront where it belongs!
What I knew about Seattle transit before I moved here:
The city had a monorail system.
There was a free bus from the airport to downtown.
They had a beautiful old streetcar system on the waterfront.
“At a minimum, prior ridership trends suggest that a streetcar of either historic or modern form is needed on the Waterfront, ”
When the people commissioning a study are trying to sandbag the better option, they usually ignore rail bias.
In this particular case, the rail bias is well documented, and the tremendous drop in ridership when the streetcars were replaced by buses on an identical schedule is well-documented.
The links (to 1st & 2nd Documents) do not seem to work. Is this just keeping information proprietal? The design for Alaskan Way is nonsense, but Seattle’s over-educated progressive-types can’t understand or won’t give credence to the basic problem of managing traffic through the central waterfront corridor with 13-stoplights and no means of separating thru-traffic from motorists trying to park. Both streetcars and buses will further constrict the chaotic traffic bottleneck that Alaskan Way is expected to become according to malevolent conservatives that run Washington State Department(s) of Highway Robbery.
Both links work fine for me.
It would be a terrible idea to make Alaskan into a fast highway. The replacement for the Viaduct is the tunnel, and if people want to avoid the toll they’ll have to slow down to safe speeds for city streets.
It would seem that this discussion needs to be though of in the context of what the waterfront and Alaskan Way will look like after the viaduct is removed and not as it is today. The Benson streetcars ran on today’s waterfront in thier own right of way. This is not possible in the future as in order to do it you would need to sacrifice open space, ped/cycle track or street space. All of these needs are at a premium in the future water front design. I suggest that all who comment on this article attend today’s waterfront meeting or read the meetings material online when it is available. Plain and simple, we do not have enough room on the future waterfront for all of everyone’s needs. I for one would like us to focus our efforts on future grade separated transit (2nd ave transit tunnel) and not on these minor items that will not significantly change Seattle’s transit plan.
We need some form of transit on the waterfront more effective than the 99. It’s one of the most underserved destinations in Seattle by pretty much any metric. So something has to happen. Even if there is no streetcar, we need an actual, usable bus route down there. The question is just whether a streetcar is a better use of transit dollars than other potential projects. (My feeling is no, but it’s not a brain-dead question.)
Your version of the future waterfront presupposes that we need that much car space (and perhaps thanks to the deeply boring tunnel we do) but also ignores (as did Corner) the question: how do we expect people to move along our north-south oriented, linear waterfront without transit?
Personally I’m a Benson car supporter and want to see them come back to the waterfront. Even if we choose not to put streetcar service back once all the construction ends, we absolutely need something – I’d rather see ETBs than diesel, but *something* – on that corridor.
Pretending ‘there isn’t enough space for transit’ is the same thinking that says ‘everything will get something but no one will get everything’, which leads us to what is in my opinion a logical fallacy of believing that all users are equal. That kind of thinking believes that allocating room for cars is a smart investment for a long-term asset, and I don’t think that’s true. It’s also (in this case) built on the assumption that the ‘Waterfront Seattle’ plan, which has yet to come to any public vote, is the best use for the waterfront post-construction and seawall replacement. I’m not sure the majority of Seattle voters would agree with that assessment.
The future Alaskan way as it’s shown by waterfrontseattle.org will be gridlocked for several hours a day. We need grade separated transit. Period.
What we really need is a waterfront gondola running above Alaskan way from the sculpture park to at least Yesler. It’s cheap, grade separated, tourist friendly and would have amazing views.
What basis do you have for thinking there will be “gridlock several hours per day?” That conclusion is contrary to the experience of every other project like this that has been done.
A more likely outcome is that it will be busy, a bit slow, and occasionally backed up at the height of rush hour… just like any other city street.
The downside of a gondola is that people might expect it to be an eyesore — so propose it now when you can tell everyone what an improvement it will be over the viaduct. The upside is high frequencies make it the best option for short trips and it doesn’t need to end on the waterfront — follow the Viaduct corridor to Belltown or Broad to the Seattle Center.
For years, I really have been getting the feeling that Seattle is looking for every excuse it can find to justify getting rid of the historic streetcars and I don’t have the foggiest idea as to why. Do people here just dislike history? Are we afraid of it? What is the big deal? Those things were loved by tourists and locals alike. Shoot, one of the deciding factors of keeping the electric trolley buses was because we liked them. I can’t figure out a reason why we’d need to connect it to the modern streetcar system. Why not just restore the line that used to exist? Tourists love it. Locals seemed to like them too. They’re an attraction in themselves (I wouldn’t call a modern streetcar an attraction). If we improved service, it could be another component of our transit system.
There are cities all over the world that are operate historic vehicles as a primary transit system, or are in the process of returning historic vehicles as a cost-effective way to bring in rail transit. It looks here that the most costly feature will be a car barn at $15M and another $10M for stations and track. Judging by the report, everything needed for the vehicles is already in the storage shed. So $25M tops for another streetcar line from IDS to the Waterfront? Doesn’t sound so bad considering it’s ridership was 300k to 400k annually. Right now, we’re spending some $200M+ on our current streetcar lines without blinking an eye. Another $75 to 100M+ is being proposed for Aloha and the Central, then we’re even accelerating a study for another streetcar line to the UW.
As for ADA accessibility, the WFS was ADA accessible. Even the diagram of the streetcar shows a wheelchair area and the stations had ADA ramps. The study seems to completely ignore the high level idea as the line will need to be built for the eventual conversion to low-floor vehicles. (The Central Connector is supposed to take care of the integration between the First Hill and S.L.U.T, not the Waterfront.) Why not just rebuild high level stations and say “this is our F-Market Line”?
I personally have no problem with restoring the old line as it was. There are a number of people who seem to disagree from a safety/system integration perspective though. Odd, it seemed to be safe enough to use less then a decade ago…
I don’t really understand why rebuilding the waterfront requires that we redesign the old trolley line (or to dismantle it completely).
Why can’t we make a small investment to put it back into service while we contemplate a replacement (if we even need to replace it)?
Odd, it seemed to be safe enough to use less then a decade ago…
I thought the old cars were unsafe then and I think they’re unsafe now.
I don’t really understand why rebuilding the waterfront requires that we redesign the old trolley line (or to dismantle it completely).
I don’t think any of the plans for the waterfront have room for the tracks and stations exactly where they are south of Lenora… though it appears they’d keep the single-tracked, out-of-street tracks north of Lenora? I’m not all that clear on the waterfront plans, I guess.
@Al They apparently plan on double tracking the line, running it in the center lanes. One of the negatives listed for all streetcar options is utility relocation. Which seems to be a double-counted negative. The real negative in utility relocation is the cost (which is already counting against streetcar options). The actual relocation is a benefit, as it’s a chance to replace wire and pipe on another project’s dime.
@Matt G: It looks like they’re center-running south of Pine, where the new Alaskan Way roadway will actually be along the waterfront. Once that roadway heads inland (apparently up toward Battery Street on the existing viaduct alignment for some reason) the transit routes all leave it and head down the northern part of Alaskan Way, which apparently is staying mostly as it is — the roadway isn’t being expanded, for instance, and it looks like the streetcar tracks are being kept east of the roadway. So in the document even the modern streetcar system has limited frequency due to single-tracking there. The document says they’d add some passing track and that the frequency limitations could be overcome by double-tracking there, though I’m not sure exactly where.
I don’t have the foggiest idea as to why. Do people here just dislike history? Are we afraid of it? What is the big deal?
To repeat myself: they’re cute, and they’re a nice tourist attraction, but they’re crappy transit.
First, there are the issues with old cars I discussed above. Slow (in service), noisy, cramped, time-consuming kludges for ADA access, pretty much no crash resistance or passenger protection, and brakes that are more of a nice thought than an actual method of stopping.
Second, precisely because they can’t integrate with the rest of the system (and partly because of the waterfront topology), they can only connect the waterfront with itself and with Pioneer Square. A modern streetcar could add downtown, the International District, and the CD to that, which would add way more two-seat-ride possibilities. A bus could add considerably more destinations yet. (For instance, my restructure proposal has the waterfront line connecting to the east of Seattle Center, the International District, and some additional areas to the south of the eastern ID courtesy of a through-route.) The utility of the old WFSC was pretty much zero for locals. It was a tourist attraction, and that was it.
People have a vision of a tourist attraction. I’d rather see functional transit on the waterfront, which is currently very hard to access by transit.
“The utility of the old WFSC was pretty much zero for locals.”
I must be a zero since I used the waterfront streetcar primarily for going to and from meetings.
buses, benson or other, its doesnt matter. if it doesn’t have its own right of way its sitting in gridlock on alaskan way…
High-level platforms aren’t kludges for ADA accessibility! LA’s entire light rail network is high-level platforms. It offers the same level boarding as Link, LA Metro, or every other subway system in the world. IMO, the deployable ramp on the existing streetcar is more of a kludge. Why not just add level boarding to the modern streetcar as well? Nobody has done that despite the vehicle is always the same distance from the curb vertically and horizontally.
Why does it need to integrate into the rest of the system? We’re building a modern system to already do that. And for 2-seat possibilities, with the original waterfront streetcar, you can go from, say, the Ferry Terminal to Tacoma, Issaquah, Everett, Bellevue, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and nearly everywhere in Seattle. Not to mention Portland, Spokane, Chicago, Los Angeles, via King Street Station. Oh and SeaTac Airport via Link (well, that didn’t exist at the time but it does now). Perhaps you don’t remember, but the terminus is across the street from International District Tunnel Station, not in Pioneer Square. Anyways, once the streetcar line on Waterfront gets north past Columbia, there’s no way any vehicle, modern or historic, can make the hill climb; it’s far too steep. If anything, we need a funicular between Pike Place and the waterfront.
In relation to the Transit Master Plan, the 1st Ave Central Connector has a ton of stops to act as a “waterfront circulator” (see page 3-29). More stops on the “transit” streetcar means slower service. If we had a historic waterfront streetcar picking up the slack, the Central Connector, if on 1st, could have significantly fewer stops resulting in faster, more reliable service.
I’ll say this again because it bears repeating, to a tourist, a city bus is just a city bus, no matter what sort of fancy frock it’s wearing or the millions of connections it has. People unfamiliar with cities like the permanence of rail because it can’t go anywhere unexpected or pass though any place unknown. You see the rails, you see the easy-to-read map, and you know one is coming soon because it’s a rail system. This puts people at ease. The Route 99 was a great example. Better connections and went more places, but it had 60% of the ridership, higher operating costs, and it was free. People obviously didn’t mind paying to ride around in a slow, rattly, “unsafe”, noisy, cramped historic car. I sure don’t, nor did 380k others.
How are they bad transit? Cities all over the world still use historic vehicle. Some even use these exact same vehicles with little or no modification. They’re still safer than being in a car, on a bike, or walking around. As far as I can determine for safety, there has been one fatality (a ped walking in front of the streetcar) and 21 people taken to the hospital when an inexperienced operator didn’t know how to stop at the IDS terminus. https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2011/12/07/waterfront-streetcar-data/ And according to STB, the WFS was cheaper to operate than the bus. Also, if we want to make it a real form of transit, we can. We can give it 10 minute headways. We can put in off-board payment. We can add signal priority. We can give it semi-exclusive ROW (it originally had semi-exclusive right-of-way along the waterfront). We have the technology! No sense in putting back in a system that doesn’t have feature any of that. Especially with all the new room afforded by the viaduct closure. There isn’t a single reasonable reason why it cannot be both a tourist attraction and a real form of public transportation. Many other places have done this; we’re not reinventing the wheel (though Seattle sure likes to). To me, it makes less sense to put back in a bus that gets stuck in traffic rather than a streetcar with semi-exclusive ROW.
It’s odd you’re upset that the waterfront, a major tourist destination, has such poor transit, but you’re against one of the best transit modes we could place on the waterfront. Why not install something that could have the functionality of a transit system and bring in tourist dollars? San Francisco sure gambled and won when faced with the exact same issue.
We don’t agree on whether the compromises old cars require are acceptable. That’s fine. But just a couple points in response:
High-level platforms aren’t kludges for ADA accessibility! LA’s entire light rail network is high-level platforms.
High-level platforms the size of the old streetcar platforms can’t hold many people. Large high-level platforms take up a staggering amount of space because they can’t integrate with the sidewalk.
And for 2-seat possibilities, with the original waterfront streetcar, you can go from, say, the Ferry Terminal to Tacoma, Issaquah, Everett, Bellevue, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and nearly everywhere in Seattle.
That’s only true if you consider climbing from Alaskan Way to 3rd or 4th to be a valid transfer. That’s a major climb.
Anyways, once the streetcar line on Waterfront gets north past Columbia, there’s no way any vehicle, modern or historic, can make the hill climb; it’s far too steep. If anything, we need a funicular between Pike Place and the waterfront.
That’s the single strongest argument for a bus. A bus can climb Broad Street just fine.
Perhaps you don’t remember, but the terminus is across the street from International District Tunnel Station, not in Pioneer Square.
The problem is that now the FHSC takes up that real estate… the same FHSC line that the waterfront rolling stock can’t integrate with. The reports show the “new” vintage line ending in Pioneer Square, with either of two four-block walks to reach other transit connections.
Also, if we want to make it a real form of transit, we can.
You can throw all the technology at it you want, but with the old cars it can’t be fast or comfortable. The only reason the old cars were relatively safe is that in service they essentially never exceeded 20 mph. Stopping in them is scary.
San Francisco sure gambled and won when faced with the exact same issue.
If you think the F-Market is a “win,” then no wonder you like the idea of the historic streetcars here. It’s slow, cramped, noisy, and only good for tourists.
As I continue to read your posts, you seem to be hell bent on YOUR agenda, which is sad. Nothing wrong with that, but it is sad to see that you are simply writing them off because YOU dislike them.
See what I wrote up above, already debunked all of your perceptions though. In short, they stopped just fine, they ran great, fast, and reliable, and had no issues with stopping. (I rode on it several times in rain, snow, ice, etc, and it kept its schedule far better than anything else.
Well put Brian.Unfortunately I’ve come to the point where I think the best think to do with these vehicles is to sell them to St. Louis. They “get it” and will put these vintage streetcars back in the public eye. The powers that be in Seattle seem blind to anything on the WF than a 4-6 lane surface street.
The historic streetcars may be crappy transit, but they’re better transit than a slow, stinking, unreliable diesel bus any day. So what does that make Seattle’s extensive system of diesel buses? Worse than crappy?
The historic streetcars would be a fine addition to a waterfront which was trying to attract tourists. However, since the current waterfront plan is a combination of four lanes of fast cars with windswept plazas, no tourists will go there anyway. Someone involved in the Waterfront plans should have looked at cities where people actually visit the waterfront.
I agree with Nathanael; which has to be a first. The anti streetcar “not invented here” mentality of these high priced consultants is mind boggling. Of course, most consultants that manage to stay in business quickly get a read of what those paying the tab want and skew any and all data to support the desired conclusion. There’s any number of cities that will pay top dollar for what we’re paying to store “out of sight, out of mind”. Maybe the Sculpture Park can be turned into free parking so they can free up more lanes on Alaskan Way :=
“For years, I really have been getting the feeling that Seattle is looking for every excuse it can find to justify getting rid of the historic streetcars and I don’t have the foggiest idea as to why. Do people here just dislike history? Are we afraid of it? What is the big deal? ”
I have no idea. I suggest that you look into individual names and personalities in the city government and the city “nonprofit world”. If I were to guess, I would guess that someone had an ax to grind against Mr. Benson, someone who is still out there in Seattle politics.
Nah, it’s simply that the powers that be want to maximize vehicle lanes along the waterfront because the Deep Debt Tunnel bypasses the WF entirely. And what kind of place would it be if you didn’t maximize the automobile access. It might become so clogged with pedestrians and tourists that nobody will go there anymore; like Pike Place Market!
You know you could upgrade that 1930 Duesenberg Model J with a minivan body and a modern V6 and it would be almost as good as a new car! If these geniuses had done a study of Pike Place Market they would have come up with a cost analyst of what it would take to turn it into a modern super market? What a bunch of macaroons; Tourism Matters. Oh yeah, I forgot about the mist machine. That’s totally got it covered.
Open house report.
The proposal has dedicated transit lanes from Yesler to Columbia, and more transit lanes on Columbia to 3rd Avenue. That would give RapidRide C full transit lanes through the area. North of Columbia, buses would use two of four general-purpose lanes. North of Pike Street, the road splits, with through traffic connecting to an extension of Elliott/Western Avenues, and a small street branching off along the waterfront.
I asked about traffic jams impeding buses in the non-dedicated section. The answer I got was that the area is metered at both ends, by traffic signals south of King Street and north of Pike Street. That will supposedly keep the waterfront area from backing up. He also said it’s four lanes connecting to four lanes, so there’s no funneling effect. Their models just don’t show choking traffic. The highest traffic is south of Columbia Street where the transit lanes will be. I’m still not 100% convinced traffic won’t exceed expections when people evade tolls, but at least the worst part has transit lanes.
They said any of the five transit options are feasable: basic vintage streetcar, enhanced vintage streetcar, modern streetcar, minibus, or bus. Train tracks would be in the inner car lanes with center stations. Bus routes would be in the outer car lanes, and stop in-lane. Both bus versions would be electric, presumably the plug-in kind because I didn’t see any trolley wires. I’m not sure if minibuses are smaller than Metro’s smallest one-door bus. Streetcars would be 15-minute frequency, minibuses 10-minute.
They say the highest traffic volumes will be between King and Yesler, second-highest from Yesler to Columbia, and lower from Columbia to Pike (where the study area ends). The five transit options are basic vintage streetcar, enhanced vintage streetcar, modern streetcar, electric minibus, and electric bus. The electric buses look like plug-in rather than trolleys.
Yes, the report specifies battery-electric buses with charging stations for both the minibus and regular bus options.
Thanks for the report
Bleh. There’s nothing wrong per se with battery-electric, but it’s more expensive upfront, has a shorter lifespan, and is less efficient than overhead electric.
The Benson cars are historic, alright–historic to Melbourne, Australia. Running a few years as a waterfront novelty doesn’t make them historic to Seattle. When they were running on the Seattle waterfront, they still had the original Melbourne advertisements and signage. They were fun to ride when there was no other rail in the city, but now we have, IMHO, better options in the modern streetcar network being fleshed out. The Melbourne cars were clunky, jerky and simply not comfortable. And, if I understand correctly, the modern cars can constitute a continuation of the First Hill line, whereas the Benson cars can’t.
I like and liked the streetcars. I think there are perfect on the waterfront. I hope they come back. It is a shame to waste this resource. A tourist will take a streetcar, they probably won’t take a bus.
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