fullcouncil20140630_2.8On Monday the Seattle Council first considered legislation that designates a “Preferred Alternative” for the Downtown Connector (also known as the First Avenue Streetcar) that would join the First Hill and South Lake Union Streetcar lines.

There was no drama on Monday. Councilmember Nick Licata requested a delay until the next Council meeting on July 21st, so that SDOT would have an opportunity to answer questions about some “issues” with the line. Mr. Licata expressed an interest in the comparison of alternate modes and what other projects might also be eligible for Federal Small Starts funding. Although in principle other modes could serve this corridor, given that two streetcar lines will already exist the transfer penalty is likely to be prohibitive.

The Council unanimously agreed to the delay, as SDOT would not apply for the Federal grant until early 2016. The grant may cover as much as $75m of the estimated $110m cost of the line. The legislation in no way funds construction of the line.

The preferred alternative (poorly xeroxed above) involves five new stops, and center-running, dedicated right of way with signal priority throughout the new segment. There will be two overlapping lines: Lake Union to King Street Station and Westlake to Capitol Hill. Each of these lines would have 10 minute headways every day through 7pm, and 15-20 minutes in the early morning and in the evening. Obviously, in the downtown core streetcars would come twice as often. The hours of operation would be Link-like, 5am-1am Monday-Saturday and 6am-11pm Sundays.

Frequent, all-day, high-capacity transit with priority, level boarding, drivers apart from passengers, and off-board payment is literally everything SDOT can do to make a transit line high-quality, short of grade-separating and boosting costs by an order of magnitude. Decisionmakers deserve our thanks for not finding excuses to shortchange transit, as they so often have in the past. With luck, the same principles can apply to the SLU, Jackson, and Broadway segments, where they are currently so lacking.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said SDOT expects the line to have 23,000-30,000 riders per day.

216 Replies to “Seattle Council Delays Streetcar Vote”

    1. Dedicated right-of-way with signal priority. This is the real thing. That should make it extremely popular if it is actually implemented. Especially if the buses still don’t have dedicated right-of-way or signal priority…

      1. With exclusive lanes, does anybody think this sort of configuration would work better instead of having the streetcar lanes sandwiched by general lane traffic?:

        Since the previous public meeting focused on exclusive vs non-exclusive, there was no real discussion about what different options are possible with exclusive. The above config might even allow both streetcar tracks to stay on one side of the medians in Pioneer Square, thus not requiring the loss of those trees.

      1. That’s a very informative presentation.

        I particularly noticed some stuff from the ridership projections on page 17. The expected ridership at the SLU stops is expected to more than double — which makes sense, given that the streetcar will now actually go from SLU to somewhere. The expected ridership on the new stops is expected to be over 10 times the ridership on the SLU or FH streetcars. This makes sense since, unlike the other two, this is actually a reasonable route.

  1. When you boil it down, all public transit ever is is a solution to a problem. But when I consider the thousands of public transit trips that are made each day between the Westlake area and Pioneer Square/International District, in the DSTT, and on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th ave., I have to ask, what is the problem the Downtown Connector is an answer to? It certainly isn’t that there is a lack of numerous and frequent public transit options connecting the two neighborhoods.

    1. Unless it will be a free/no-fare streetcar.
      I too do not see what this is going to provide except jobs for the planners and builders.

      1. I ran through some possible ways in which this could “solve the problem” of having all the buses kicked out of the tunnel below: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/07/02/seattle-council-delays-streetcar-vote/#comment-499472
        But if you read that comment, you can tell I’m not sold on that idea. It might make more sense to just get the right of way and hand it over to the buses.

        I agree with your point, fwiw — if this was free, it would add significant value (just as the “ride free” area made sense). If buses didn’t go through downtown, then having the streetcar be free would work really well. You would have much faster boarding and exiting, which means forcing folks to transfer wouldn’t be a big deal.

      2. fwiw, you are correct. This project is transit overkill. It’s duplication of service. It’s evidence of Seattle being a spendthrift with the taxpayer’s money. It’s evidence that the DSM 5 should should be amended to include rail fetishism as a psychological disorder. In a word: It is completely unnecessary! People need a way to get from Westlake to Jackson street, and vice versa? It’s called Link, and about a kajillion Metro and ST bus routes that travel through the tunnel and on surface streets.

      3. It makes the two streetcar lines marginally better by facilitating more trip pairs. It gives a one-seat steel-wheel experience between SLU and the Sounder station. However, the two original streetcar lines are weak (slow, indirect, could’ve been trolleybuses), and this combination is still not very strong (marginally useful, but not a heavily-needed gap). We can’t undo the investments in the first two lines, but we could divert this money to something stronger like the Madison BRT line. On the other hand, if the streetcar lines are here to stay and the council won’t divert the money to better transit corridors, then we might as well improve these streetcar lines. It would raise the frequency on both lines, which would make them more useful.

      4. Realize this line will only take $35 million of local money. There aren’t many good transit investments for that money that can yield the same benefit.

        This line won’t just slightly increase ridership on the South Lake Union and First Hill lines but dramatically increase it.

        Furthermore even if the other two lines didn’t exist this line would be worth building. It connects the Ferry Terminal to King Street Station, the Pike Place Market, and Westlake (and vice versa). It provides a second exclusive transit corridor through the downtown core (6 minutes Westlake to King Street). It would draw 10k new riders not just to the streetcar but to the transit system as a whole.

      5. Oh and the vote the council is delaying doesn’t commit any local money, it just keeps the process moving forward which is especially important for getting Federal funds.

      6. 20-minute frequency as early as 7 PM (cringe). I hope they at least run extra trains after Mariners’ games or trying to take this home from one of them is going to be next to impossible.

    2. Well, it does a couple of things much better than any other transit. It serves Pioneer Square and the Market in a much more legible way than the DSTT. It keeps tourists from having to deal with the never-going-to-improve wasteland of 3rd and Yesler. If the Pine alignment is chosen it and the Monorail will serve 95% of tourist needs. It will be very good for the downtown economy. And it looks like it, unlike buses, will convince the city to get us more dedicated ROW through downtown.

      It also is about the best possible way to salvage our investment in the first two lines. Both of them get much more useful as a result of this.

      But are those benefits worth the cost? There, I’m skeptical. As Greg says, we could have had Madison BRT for this money.

      1. As I mentioned above, there are several streetcar features (true level boarding, separated driving compartments, full off-board payment) that, for reasons that escape me, are de facto impossible to implement together on a bus.

      2. And, as previously discussed in a previous post, it would be kinda nice if at least one or two trolley bus routes could be diverted into this dedicated corridor as well.

        As far as serving 95% of the tourist needs, some of this will happen with this line, but the entire waterfront is still without transit. This gets a line that is a bit closer, but the heavy traffic on Alaskan Way plus limited access up the hill between 1st and Alaskan is still an obstacle.

      3. Madison BRT would only cost $35 million in local money?

        Realize this is a vote to keep the process moving not to commit funding. At this point there is no “either/or” decision to make vs other projects.

  2. Exclusive ROW makes this a not completely worthless endeavor.

    It’d be nice if they could squeeze a cycle track in with it, but I’d much rather have exclusive ROW.

    1. I agree. A combination of cycle track and street car (or cycle track and bus) make for a great combination. It is a big counter intuitive, since buses and bikes don’t always mix well. But for downtown, where collisions are often the result of confusion (which streets are one way) or last minute decisions (parking spaces found, turns suddenly available) I trust the bus drivers a lot more than I trust the car driver. Furthermore, if the street is mostly, if not exclusively for buses/streetcars and bikes, then barriers can be put in place, protecting both bikers and pedestrians.

      1. The streetcar drivers can certainly be trusted not to swerve in front of bikes. :-)

      2. As long as there is somewhere to bike on 1st that’s not streetcar tracks (even if it’s a lane shared with cars) AND the cycletrack gets built on 2nd, I think that’s sufficient. There just needs to be very clear markings to get notice cyclists who don’t realize that tracks are a hazard to steer well clear of them.

    2. We don’t need a cycletrack on every street. My understanding is there will be a cycletrack somewhere around 2nd, 4th or 5th Avenue. 2nd is clearly close enough to 1st. 5th is a bit more problematic because of the steep hill between 5th and 1st in places. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there must be a cycletrack on 1st.

      1. 2nd is where Murray promised it would be built, regardless of whether it is an optimal street for it or not. Considering we’re still waiting for the Missing Link and the Westlake Cycle Track to even have whispers of going into a construction phase, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. “23,000-30,000 rides per day.” How did SDOT arrive at this ridership level?

    1. It is explained right in the planning documents. It is the same methodology used for other transit lines. Contact the City of Seattle for more information.

    2. I am highly skeptical of this number. Link today averages 23,000-30,000 rides per day, but with trains that are larger and more frequent than the proposed streetcar line. And Link also serves trips that could not be served just as fast by walking.

      It also bares remembering that for trips as short as the streetcar is planned for, the standard fare of $2.50 per person per trip is astonishingly expensive. A group of 3 could actually pile into a taxi for essentially the same price.

      1. The methodology used to generate the numbers was the standard methodology used for projecting ridership of transit projects. See the plan documents for more information.

        Second the streetcar would be faster than walking unless you can walk from 5th & Stewart to 1st & Jackson in 7.5 minutes.

      2. ASDF’s price-based skepticism is legitimate, and as-yet unexplored.

        Portland had to acknowledge the lethargy of its streetcars by setting the fare at 2/5 of bus fare. But we’re actually going to set it higher than an in-city Link trip!!

        I also have my doubts that 7.5 minutes is achievable, even with the 35%-100% signal priority at every intersection. It’s still going to stop five times, and it’s going to hit at least some lights. Fortunately, the streetcar seems to be permitting shorter dwells than Sound Transit’s enforced insanity. But then there are the right-angle turns — slow even with priority, and often needing a stop-and-a-horn-blast to get some car off the tracks.

        We’ll see about the run time. But the price remains very high for the trip you get, and the proposed level of “happenstance ridership” — 10x the SLUT, which doesn’t have a transit tunnel and a high-volume bus street two blocks over — seems more than a little wishful.

  4. The part of the streetcar that annoys me the most (today) is the poor connection to Link at Westlake. My commute for a long time took me to SLU, and it actually takes quite some time to get from the tunnel platforms to the streetcar platform (and visa versa).

    Therefore I am very encouraged by the option of a Pine/Pike alternative. In an ideal case the SB streetcar could stop where the 545 does, which is immediately next to stairs to the tunnel.

    Northbound is a little tricker — I would say the best connection is right on Pike left on 3rd with the stop at 3rd and Pine (right next to the entrance), then right on Stewart and left on Westlake.

    Ideally we could actually establish a contra-flow lane on 5th between Pike and Stewart. That way the streetcar could go Pike, 5th and the onto Stewart. The stop would be right at Nordstrom.

    1. The additional ridership potentially avaliable by going through pike/pine will be more than offset by the loss of ridership as it gets stuck in traffic here, and has to make additional right/left turns in traffic.

      1. What traffic? The whole point of exclusive lanes and TSP is that traffic will have only minimal impact. If we can get the contra-flow lane on 5th it’s not even a large number of turns.

        Besides I think a seamless connection between modes is very important for our allup network in the long run…

      2. You’re probably not going to get exclusive lanes through Pike/Pine for this. I am willing to accept evidence that I am wrong though.

        Also, it will cost more to avoid breaking the seals on the transit tunnel.

      3. You’re probably not going to get exclusive lanes through Pike/Pine for this

        You realize that exclusive lanes is exactly the preferred alternative that the Council would have considered on Monday?

      4. …with a cross-sectional plan that can only possibly apply to 1st north of Cherry, and zero explanation of how exclusivity or priority would be achieved on the remaining zig-zagalicious segments.

      5. The two alternatives are only one block apart so, as far as access is concerned, it really doesn’t make that much difference. Unless of course, the point of transit is no longer to entice people out of their cars, but to entice people off of their feet.

      6. @d.p.
        The cross sections for South of Cherry are in the document collection:

        Much more information is there including the methodology used to estimate ridership. Ridership projections for each station. The operational plan, etc.

        The short answer is the central connector will have aggressive signal priority and an exclusive lane between Occidental & Jackson and 5th & Stewart. The station at 1st & Cherry will require removal of 3 trees in the median. The plan recommends that options for increasing speed and reliability of the SLUT and the Jackson portion of the First Hill Streetcar be studied. Suggestions include exclusive lanes and more aggressive signal priority,

      7. @asdf
        A block or two can make a big difference in ridership when you get down to the exact details of station location.

        I’m reminded of the difference between the proposed North Link stations at 15th & 45th or 8th & 65th vs. the ones at Brooklyn & 43rd and 12th & 65th that are being built.

        That said I can live with the current alignment but I would be curious about the effects on cost and ridership of a Pike/Pine routing.

      8. Chris, in case you’ve missed my other replies to the long-form reports…

        I really am glad to see this. Honestly. If they can pull it off without destroying the tree median below Yesler* (or without revoking the exclusive lanes as a late-game concession), that will be a drastic improvement from my worst fears.

        I wish the greater speed and reliability could help me to see the route as worthwhile. But it still feels pretty redundant to me, end-to-end. And I’ve yet to see a justification of the route that doesn’t quickly revert to, “and hey, doesn’t everyone love seeing trains coming down the street!?”

        The route really needs to be justified in and of itself.

        *(That said, the southmost image I can find in the documents is of the Pioneer Square stop itself, between Cherry and Yesler. Can you point me to an image of between Yesler and Jackson? I honestly haven’t a clue how they expect the modern catenary to interact with the trees, and I really don’t want to see the tree median destroyed or the trains moved to mixed-traffic curb lanes.)

      9. @Martin H. Duke
        Let me clarify. I am not talking about the 1st ave segment, I know that is getting exclusive lanes. I was referring specifically to the connection between 1st and Westlake using Pike/Pine instead of the Olive/Stuart pairing.

        The Pike/Pine connection involves more 90 degree turns, would sit through more lights, and is significantly less likely to get exclusive lanes.

        Even the Olive/Stuart portion will not have fully exclusive lanes. Also please note that a Pike/Pine connection splits the Pike Place market station from a bi-directional platform to a single directional platform, making it more confusing to use.

        I agree that we should try tp get better connections to the McGraw square station, but a zig-zag routing through Pike and Pine to reach westlake is not the way to do it.

  5. In isolation, this project has the potential to make the other streetcar lines finally worth their salt. Both the First Hill and SLU lines have 10-15 minute headways and no exclusive ROW, poster children for high cost/low results streetcar projects.

    However, the 1st Ave line potentially offers much more useful 5 minute headways AND exclusive ROW. The burning question to me, though, is how the hell you conceive an operations plan to achieve those 5 minute headways on the shared corridor when both ends are mixed-traffic nightmares. If we build this out with exclusive ROW only to have bunching on 1st Ave because of box-blocking cars on Broadway or Mercer, it’ll be a damn shame. My hope is that we build it, built it well, and then have the political will necessary to retrofit the other lines to actually run well.

    1. I think this points out why it probably makes more sense to just give exclusive right of way over to buses. If the buses get stuck at another spot, at least they got there a little bit faster. Besides, you can always re-route the buses. The South Lake Union streetcar was not worth it. The First Hill line probably won’t be worth it. But now, this streetcar might be worth it? Maybe, but why take the chance when we know that every little improvement to bus service is worth it.

      As I said below (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/07/02/seattle-council-delays-streetcar-vote/#comment-499472) if this is part of some grand plan to get the buses (or most of the buses) off of downtown, then I’m all ears. But until then, I’ll assume that this, like the other streetcars, just isn’t worth it.

      1. * For some reason I do not fully understand, it is usually much harder to get exclusive right-of-way for buses than it is for streetcars. But good luck getting more bus lanes.
        * Streetcars have higher capacity than buses.
        * Streetcars have better ride quality than buses.
        * Streetcars and trolleybuses are more fuel-efficient and last longer than diesel/LNG buses.

        That’s all I can say in favor of streetcars. When you look at this particular project, it probably is worth it — exclusive ROW, after all.

    2. I think it would work best if this “central segment” branches into two lines — north to either SLU or through Belltown to Seattle Center, and south/east to either Capitol Hill or 23rd/Jackson. That is what the network map from 2008 shows. At that point, it begins to create opportunities to replace some bus routes.

  6. I think this delay makes sense, because I think Seattle should think about their long term vision for transit through downtown. I personally don’t know what they have in mind. The big change will occur when they kick the buses out of the tunnel. What next?

    Are the buses supposed to go through downtown on the surface? If so, won’t the streetcar be redundant? It might even get in the way. Are we going to get exclusive lanes for a streetcar, along with exclusive lanes for the buses? That would be nice, but tougher to get.

    Maybe the buses don’t go through downtown, but turn around. Or, at the very least, very few buses go through downtown. This means that the light rail and the streetcar serve the downtown area. It does mean more transfers, but could also mean a lot more frequent and more reliable bus service. What would be needed to do that? Do we need more transit centers?

    Or maybe the streetcar isn’t worth the money. Spend it on getting that same right of way for those buses. Now the buses traveling on the surface isn’t such a big deal. Take the extra money saved and make other improvements for the buses (not only downtown, but in other areas of the city).

    Or spend the money on something really valuable, like a gondola from Capitol Hill to the Cascade neighborhood (or a little further into South Lake Union). That isn’t that expensive, but gets you grade separation. Gondolas compliment light rail really well, and aren’t that expensive ((I think it would cost about as much as the streetcar).

    1. Seattle already has thought about its long term transit vision through downtown. That was done during the Transit Master Plan process, which identified the Center City Connector as a top priority. There’s no need for a delay or to rethink this. We already did that work, just a couple of years ago.

    2. The streetcars were the former mayor’s priority and campaign promise. The Transit Master Plan has several other urgent needs which could productively be addressed first and then come back to the CCC.

      However, we should leverage the momentum for exclusive-lane while we have it, and solidify it in a preferred alternative.

      Part of me wonders whether a better “city center connector” would be a 3rd Avenue bus mall from International District station to 1st N & Mercer Street. I’ve started taking tunnel buses to Costco as a mentioned a couple days ago, and noticed that the SODO busway makes an “extended DSTT” to Spokane Street. That’s actually a worthwhile asset, and a 3rd Ave bus mall would be the same kind of thing only going north. (I’m not necessarily saying kick all non-turning cars off 3rd, but just do “something” to improve bus thoroughput and stations.)

    3. I doubt $35 million of local money would buy the same improvements for buses through downtown. I also doubt there would be anywhere near the same level of funding available.

      The ridership projections are at the number of passengers per mile that buses really start to have problems and rail makes sense for capacity reasons.

      From what I understand Murray does support the center city connector as do a number of downtown business interests.

      Finally with the exception of Sawant, this is the exact same council that approved the TMP.

      1. You say $35 million, but the thing costs $110. It is not a given that the feds will pick up the rest, nor is it a given that the feds wouldn’t chip in for a similar project. But regardless, simply build a similar lane (as bus only) and don’t lay the rail. That right there has to be cheaper. Now have the buses (and there a lot of them) just use it.

        Capacity is an issue. I completely agree. That is the one time when streetcars make sense. I just don’t see that as an issue now, even though most of the buses go really, really slowly on the surface. Faster travel means more throughput means more capacity.

        As I said elsewhere, I am all for this if it improves bus service. It can, but only if it is done right and buses can turn around on the edges of downtown. But I fear it will do the opposite. We will still have lots of buses that go through downtown, and they will go really slowly.

      2. Yeah, but…. if your fears happen, then what’ll happen is everyone will jump off the buses at the edge of downtown and change to the (faster, exclusive-ROW) streetcar. At which point people will start talking seriously about turning the buses around on the edge of downtown.

      3. If my fears happen, people will just give up on transit, as so many already have. “I can get into town OK, but then the bus get’s really, really slow. It take me forever to get to work. I know I can transfer to Link, or the streetcar, but when you factor in the waiting time, and the time spent walking to the station, it is almost as bad. So, to hell with it — it doesn’t cost that much to drive …”

      4. @Ross,
        Thie central connector has a higher rating than any other possible competing project for Small Starts grants. In fact it may be the highest rating for a small starts project ever.

        While Federal pip funds aren’t guaranteed until a FFGA is signed this project is about as close as you can get for the stage it is at.

        I feel it is unlikely any possible alternative would offer the same bang for buck or leverage both existing investments (the other two streetcar lines) as well. Besides those projects would mostly have to start at square one whereas this project could open in 2018 if the city keeps moving forward.

        As for what this project does for buses is it relieves some of the crowding on downtown routes, especially during peak. Furthermore it speeds up buses along Stewart and Olive between 2nd and 5th (a major transit choke point BTW).

      5. @Chris — I guess we will just have to disagree on this one. I think a lane given to buses (instead of this streetcar) could benefit more transit riders for the same amount of money. It wouldn’t bother me much if buses won’t go through downtown, but I imagine they will (I have yet to here otherwise).

  7. Could Licata’s “issues” with the line possibly relate to SDOT’s failure to explain how exclusive ROW is remotely feasible through Pioneer Square (without destroying the tree cover and pissing off every property owner in the area)? Or how signal priority is ever going to work on the Stewart segment, where the avenues are presently advantaged 8:1?

    “Between stops (typical)” doesn’t exactly cut it as a workable and undilutable design plan.

    Also, our other streetcar “investments” are dropping to 20-minute headways now? How very “implies permanence” of them.

    1. I think most people would agree that the South Lake Union streetcar is a failure. I think most people predict the same with the First Hill streetcar. So, why, after failing twice, are we about to build another one?

      If we are willing to “take a chance” with a streetcar, why not build a gondola from Capitol to South Lake Union? It costs about the same. It could fail, but as we’ve seen with the streetcars, so could they. This seems highly unlikely since it would link together a very dense neighborhood (and a Link station) with another dense neighborhood that also happens to have oodles of office space. It links them with headways measured in seconds, not minutes. It would provide fast, convenient service for a connection that lacks any reasonable alternative.

      The South Lake Union Streetcar has been a bust because a lot of people just walk. Or they hop on a bus. As has been pointed out by Sam and others,there are plenty of buses and a very fast light rail line for downtown travel. Walking (or biking) isn’t that hard either. But with Capitol Hill to South Lake Union, the connection is terrible. Buses simply don’t move. Walking is often faster, but if you are trying to get, from, say Broadway and Harrison to Fairview and Harrison, you have to walk an extra 6 blocks because “you can’t get there from here”. Plus, there is a huge hill in the way. This makes walking, let alone biking, really hard.

      Because of the headways and neighborhoods involved, a gondola doesn’t need to be right by a station. This gives us great flexibility in building it. We can simply find the cheapest way to get across I-5 and put it there. Even if it fails as a transportation option (and I don’t see how it would) it would still have some success as a tourist attraction. The monorail is one of the few transportation options that pays for itself, and a gondola over one of the prettiest cities in the country sounds a lot more fun.

      1. “The South Lake Union Streetcar has been a bust because a lot of people just walk. Or they hop on a bus.”

        It’s not a failure, it’s just not an optimal transit line. The streetcar is still well used, and it’s considered worthwhile enough in its area that local businesses are paying for extra runs. They wouldn’t do that if it were a failure; instead they’d keep their wallets closed and pressure the city to suspend the streetcars.

      2. Agree, SU line is not a failure. Like any other transit line it just needs connections which are coming. And I can’t image Amazon and others would be contributing to it if it was that bad.

      3. There are nearly as many cars2go parked at Amazon right now as there are passengers who ride the SLUT to get there.

      4. A failure for the amount of money spent. It is reasonably popular, but there are plenty of buses that are more popular. Streetcars have their place, but I really have a hard time finding a place like that in Seattle. They make sense only when:

        1) You have very high volumes of people along a corridor.
        2) You can’t serve those people with buses.

        In other words, it makes sense for a streetcar to replace a bus line because of volume. What bus line does this, or any other streetcar in Seattle replace? The answer is it doesn’t, which makes it a waste of time and money.

        For example, if the 44 wasn’t so terribly slow, then maybe it would make sense there. Eventually you get to the point where the buses are too crowded. You can try and add frequency, but eventually the buses just back up.

        The volumes for the SLUS could have easily been handled by buses. Likewise with the First Hill line. This is probably the only one where it might make sense. But guess what? There are lots and lots of buses that want to get through downtown. Are those buses supposed to just dump people off and then riders switch to the light rail or this streetcar? If so, then fine — you better do a lot of work to make it work right, though. You can’t just get within a couple blocks of a slow moving streetcar and call it a day. The streetcar has to be extremely frequent and fast to make up for the transfer. I just don’t see it with this one.

        If a rider isn’t supposed to transfer, then this will make things worse for the bus rider. The buses will get stuck in traffic that will be worse (the cars that used to drive in that lane will go somewhere). Meanwhile, politically, it becomes tougher to carve out another lane just for buses. For financial reasons, it makes it harder to spend money on other things that could save time for the bus rider. I just don’t see this as being a good step in the right direction for the city (unless, as I said, they are bold enough to suggest everyone transfer at the edges of downtown).

        As to the local businesses, of course they support this. It is better than nothing. Ask them if they support Metro. Ask them if they support Sound Transit. Ask them if they support new buses, with dedicated lanes through South Lake Union. Chances are, they will (unless they are really stupid). Seriously, if you asked the local businesses right now, if they support the 70 and are willing to pay for it, I think you would get overwhelming support.

      5. Ross,
        Can a gondola be built for just $35 million in local money?

        The ridership projections show a level of ridership that would be hard to serve with buses.

        Where are the good transit connections from the Ferry Terminal to Westlake, King Street, the Pike Place Market?

      6. You say $35 million, but the thing costs $110 million. It is not a given that the feds will pick up the rest, nor is it a given that the feds wouldn’t chip in for a similar project. I believe a gondola like the one I suggested could be built for less than $110 million, but I’m not an expert (maybe someone else can chime in).

        As for the connections, buses can (and do) serve that, and much more. Capacity isn’t the biggest problem we have downtown, speed is. They go together; faster buses mean more buses which means more capacity.

        If the council wants to play it safe, then by all means, go ahead and build a lane for buses. Everyone wins. If the council wants to take a bit more of a risk, then build a gondola. I really don’t think that is very risky, but since few American cities have done it, there is some risk. But I think the riskiest thing to do is build this. Done wrong, and you have spent a bunch more money and buses are as slow as ever (or slower). Let’s not fool ourselves, the vast majority of transit riders will take buses for the foreseeable future. Light rail, for example, will make significant improvements in the bus service. It makes things like this: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2013/08/19/your-bus-much-more-often-no-more-money-really/ way more likely and better. So if we build something and it turns out that bus riders are worse off, we have not only wasted money, but gone backwards.

        The unfortunate thing is that fearful politicians feel the opposite way. The safest thing to do from a political standpoint is to go ahead and add more surface rail. The riskiest thing to do from a political standpoint would be to support a gondola, even though it makes tremendous sense from a cost/benefit standpoint (for that one area).

      7. RossB,

        Well there are two separate questions: is it worth it at $35m, and is it worth it at $110m?

        Your critique seems to go well beyond the standard “streetcars are terrible because they’re stuck in traffic” to the more general “why run a train when I can just put a cheaper bus in dedicated ROW?,” which amounts to a generalized attack on rail. I think the fact that the trips we’re trying to serve are already partially on a streetcar is pretty decisive. But in general, you will get more riders with a streetcar than with a bus, and the quality of the transit exceeds what ever actually happens with a bus. That’s not always a decisive consideration, but given everything else applicable to this case I think it is.

        What I’m definitely not interested in doing is rejecting quality transit now for vague promises that the money will be used for hypothetical good transit later. Even Madison BRT, though a good project in the TMP, is far less engineered and hasn’t been through the NIMBY ringer yet.

      8. Admittedly, there is probably nothing that could be manipulated in this proposal that would convince me that the line is useful. The one-seat rides that it hypothetically facilitates remain so roundabout that even if the trolley zipped along with nary an obstruction on its entire journey, most trips you could take with it would still be slower than choices that exist today.

        That said…

        My characterization of the line as an insufferable faddish boondoggle would soften quite a bit, if SDOT were willing and able to release a detailed plan detailing:

        how exclusive ROW is to be maintained from end to end, especially through Pioneer Square (the “typical” cross-section is not cutting it);
        how much priority is to be dialed in along the east-west segments,addressing the need to maintain heavy bus flow on 3rd at one end and 4th South at the other, and explicitly calling out SDOT’s past instinct to prioritize auto LOS over any pedestrian or transit needs (see: 2nd and 4th downtown, Elliott and RapidRide, Mercer and the existing streetcar);
        a strategy for maintaining genuine, enduser-experienced 5-7 minute headways along the overlapped segment;
        an travel-time estimate for the route in question, and a binding pledge to tweak the design and the signal timing until that promise is met.

        The vague and (fittingly) degraded photocopy above does not fill me with hope that SDOT will rise to the challenge of creating usable (if not necessarily useful) transit on this line. It still looks like “symbolic transit” to me. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.

      9. It’s a failure only if you accept that it was ever intended to be a stand-alone line and not what it actually was—a small pilot to get the city experience in planning and building streetcar routes; to demonstrate how much more cheaply and quickly streetcar lines can be built compared to light rail; and to eventually serve as a key segment (Hutch, Lake Union Park/MOHAI, Amazon/UW/SLU) in a network. It’s blown ridership estimates out of the water and has businesses ponying up to pay for extra trips.

      10. The average trip still has ridership in the single digits, and is slower than walking if you intend to travel less than 2/3 of the route.

        Oh, what very low bars we have for our ridership success stories.

      11. @Martin — I’m not anti-streetcar. Far from it. But I do think streetcars have a very limited world where they make sense. This may be that world. It is certainly closer to that world than any streetcar we have built prior to this.

        More than anything though, I’m concerned about how this will effect the buses. I can look to just about every idea we have floated, and think “OK, that will help with the buses”. Every Ballard to downtown line, whether it be through the UW or Queen Anne, helps the bus situation. Likewise, even though I think some of the streetcars have been a waste of money, at least they have lightened the load on buses (I assume the 70 runs less often because the SLUS takes up the slack). But with this line, for political and practical reasons, it might actually hurt bus service. Practical because absent changes, it forces more (car) traffic onto the bus lines. Political because it both lessens the chance of us getting a transit only surface street and because it lessens the available money to spend making smaller changes that can make a big difference. Keep in mind, that while one, just one, line is partially served by a streetcar, there are dozens and dozens of lines that are served by bus and spend plenty of time downtown. Off the top of my head I’m thinking Magnolia, Ballard, Queen Anne (upper and lower), Belltown, Westlake, Eastlake, and everything on Aurora ((including the so called RapidRide — Fremont, Phinney, Greenwood, Bitterlake). Those are just the areas west of I-5 and north of there. I’m sure I left out some in there as well.

        Done right, this could be a game changer. It could, at best, replace hours and hours of time spent by buses slogging through downtown. Done worst, however, it means the opposite — we wouldn’t deal with the problem. That is why I really want us to look at the big picture, which for me means how does this effect the buses.

        As to a streetcar, by its very nature, attracting more riders than a bus, I wonder where those riders came from. I really doubt those riders drove, which means, of course, they walked. If the point of a transit system is to provide service so grand, so lovely, that it naturally attracts those that otherwise would walk, then I’m back to proposing a gondola. Really. Put a dead fish in every cable car that goes from Capitol Hill to South Lake Union and thousands of riders will hold their nose and ride it. Remove the fish and thousands more will ride it, just for giggles.

      12. “My characterization of the line as an insufferable faddish boondoggle would soften quite a bit, if SDOT were willing and able to release a detailed plan…”

        You mean like this? http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/ccc/SEATTLE%20CCC%20LPA%20Rpt%20DRAFT%205-23-2014.pdf

        And this?

        And this?

        You’re reading brief posts/articles on a political development yesterday and assuming they exhaustively and comprehensively discuss the entire project. Expected travel time is 7.4 minutes (although one chart says 6.1). There’s a cross-section of a pioneer square station on page 57 (6-7) of the second document. Stewart immediately follows. There’s even an entire section titled “Bus Travel Time and Reliability Impacts” and an accompanying appendix.

        Those documents don’t answer all of your questions, because some of the questions are so detailed they won’t be addressed until engineering and environmental review—review that can’t happen until council approves the LPA.

      13. Also, d.p., Figure G-4 in the appendices give an intersection-by-intersection breakdown of signal priority.

      14. @Ross,
        The ‘new riders’ I believe are new transit riders not just people already using another mode. They are people who don’t take transit because the last mile of their trip is too difficult or not served at all.

        If some of those new riders are currently walking what of it? Why should I be expected to walk between the Ferry Terminal and Westlake or Pioneer Square and Westlake? Especially if I have packages, it is raining, and I have children in tow.

      15. Yes, like those.

        To late to scan them all, but if the project managers seriously believe they can convert the center lanes of 1st to exclusivity without tearing a single tree from the median between Yesler and Jackson (and only a couple trees in Pioneer Square proper), are willing to cut cross-street cycles by 30 seconds each along Stewart (plus total preemption across 2nd and 1st), and will stop at nothing to achieve 7.5 minutes run time across the entire project… then that’s definitely something!

        Still not an especially useful route — much less a vital one — but if they achieve all of the above, then it will be of significantly more occasional-short-hop value than it would have been if Portland built it.

      16. @Chris — Getting from Pioneer Square, Westlake, Ferry Terminal, etc. is easy. Just get on a bus, or in the case of the first two, a train. This really doesn’t add service, it just changes it. As I said before, I’m all for that. But the best part about this is that it is fast, not that it is a train. There is no reason that buses couldn’t operate with that sort of speed as well.

        I want to be clear here. I like rail, and I very much want rail to replace buses. I am absolutely thrilled that we are finally building light rail where we should have started it: From the UW to Downtown. Pretty soon, riders will be able to get from the UW to downtown in a train. Those riders used to take the bus. But the best part is that we can then truncate a bunch of bus routes. Buses won’t go downtown from the U-District. They won’t be bogged down in traffic. They won’t arrive in the U-District 15 minutes late. They will, instead, serve their north end neighborhoods with more frequent, more reliable service. This will be a very good thing and will lead to an increase in overall ridership even for those that don’t ride the train.

        In this case, though, I don’t see it. I’m just not sure that it is long enough, fast enough or frequent enough to replace bus service. This means that buses will continue to slog through downtown. Not the 7x (of course) those are the ones that are being severely truncated (thankfully). But buses from Ballard, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Fremont, Belltown, West Seattle, etc. will continue to just slog through the city. Tell me I’m wrong, and I’m on board, enthusiastically. Tell me I’m worried about nothing, and that Seattle and Metro will soon compliment this service by adding another bus lane through downtown so that the slogging buses I mentioned will get through faster. But like I said, I fear the opposite. This might make it politically more difficult for us to make the buses better.

        I sometimes wonder if people forget that the transit tunnel was once called a bus tunnel. Long before it was shared with the train, it served buses. It made an enormous difference for riders. It has saved more riders more time (and given them more reliability) than any other system we have built. From a cost/benefit standpoint, it is way better than anything we have ever conceived. Now, imagine if instead of building a bus tunnel, we built a light rail tunnel that ended at both sides of downtown. As it exited the tunnel, it continued, on the surface, to South Lake Union on one side and looped around to First Hill on the other. As fun as it would be to ride that little train, overall ridership would be down. Buses like the 41 wouldn’t be able to run as often, which would send people to their cars. I fear that we are building a version of that right here. Rail is great when it compliments or replaces buses. In this case I’m not sure it does either.

      1. I really don’t understand Licata and other progressives like him objections to rail. It is like they feel transit should only serve the transit dependent and the transit dependent should have to suffer with slow shitty bus service.

      2. It’s John Fox ideology over again.

        To summarize: rail attracts more people, some of whom are rich, to the city, and if we attract more people housing demand goes up. But we can’t build more housing supply because some existing housing might be replaced, displacing a few residents. Therefore the only thing we can do is try our best to make sure demand stays down. The way to do that is to avoid making anything that new residents might find remotely attractive.

        Licata wasn’t like that when he started on the council, but he’s gone completely over to that side in recent years.

    2. No, d.p.

      Regardless of whether you’re raising valid points, Licata is just doing his usual faux-populist grandstanding that this town somehow falls for over and over again.

  8. I think even streetcar fans will admit this is just a case of piecemeal alignments being jerry-rigged together to form one giant, circuitous … wait … I have to go now. Sorry.

    1. A “jury-rig” is the temporary rigging on a sailing ship that has lost its rigging in a storm or battle. Because a the jury-rig was cobbled together out the remains or the damaged rigging, a jury-rigged ship would look like a shambles and that meaning carries on today even to describe situations that are not temporary. Certainly the Seattle streetcar plans could be described as “jury-rigged”.

      Something that is “jerry-built” is something built badly out of cheap, shoddy materials. The streetcar plans could probably be described as “jerry-built” because they are constructed with cheap, shoddy ideas, but the streetcars and tracks themselves are probably not jerry-built.

      A “jerrycan” is a fuel container used by the Germans in WWI or WWII (I forget). “Gerry” was slang for “German” (pronounced “Jerry”), so their fuel containers were logically called “jerrycans”. The German fuel can was far superior to the British can, so jerrycans were useful items to pick up from the battlefield. The standard fuel can design seen today is the same design just made with red plastic.

      All of which is to say that there is no such thing as “jerry-rigged”.

    2. Well the SLUT and the First Hill line are here to stay, why shouldn’t we connect them together and try to maximize their transit benefit. Especially with a connector that provides many benefits on its own and requires so little in the way of local money to build.

      1. Are they? How?

        Just ask KCM how easy it is to eliminate streetcar service it doesn’t want. They did it with the Waterfront line.

      2. While I’m pissed about the loss of the Waterfront Streetcar I don’t see the same fate befalling the SLUT or the First Hill Streetcar. For one thing both lines are owned by the City and not KCM (though the city could sell them like it did the Waterfront Line). For another presumably Sound Transit would object to shutting down the First Hill line and certain business interests wouldn’t be to happy with shutting down the SLUT.

  9. I sometimes wonder if SDOT destroyed the interest in building more streetcar lines by using the First Hill project as an excuse for exclusive bicycle tracks and sticking the streetcars in traffic. At least this project has the exclusivity given to transit.

    1. No, there remains interest and support in streetcar lines. The issue is that even the best streetcar line doesn’t match grade separated rail, like a subway, in terms of meeting our most important transit needs, like connecting Ballard to downtown (and UW) or West Seattle to downtown. The Center City Connector is a great project and will be hugely valuable to downtown mobility. But streetcars aren’t the answer for the larger neighborhood to neighborhood connections, and that’s the primary reason why there isn’t as much shouting to make them happen.

      1. You could achieve the same mobility, at much less cost, by simply allowing buses to use a similarly designed street (dedicated right of way with signal priority). That would also make mobility a lot better for the rest of the city. It would do all that for a lot less money.

      2. Well, not quite; you’d have lower capacity. In practice, you’re unlikely to have an undistracted driver or true level-boarding with a bus. Furthermore, rail bias is likely to provide higher ridership; that’s certainly the evidence from the Waterfront Streetcar/Route 99 conversion. Add it the likely plus-up from the feds and the cost per rider comparison is not clear.

        And of course, in this case the adjacent streetcar lines already exist, meaning using a non-streetcar mode would require a transfer.

      3. BTW do note where trams are most prevalent overseas, in the central city. Note what this line serves, the central city.

        If 3rd can be made transit only 24/7 between Stewart and Jackson with real signal priory for only $35 million in local funds then I say do it. However short of that this is a very worthwhile project for the amount of local money involved.

      4. Only in very small cities “overseas” do trams attempt any sort of heavy-lifting capacity, or come with an expectation of usage for distances over a mile or so.

        Seattle-sized cities have spent decades getting the trams grade-separated in the city centers (if not supplanting them with rapid transit altogether). Shorter-use trams that remain on the surface, if any, are a whole let better integrated with other transit modes than this thing is.

      5. The 120,000 daily riders on Stassbourg’s new tram lines might beg to differ, but they have segregated street running and are able to maintain an average speed competitive with driving.

      6. What did I just say?

        Strasbourg: urbanized area barely 3.5 miles across; entire metro area contains barely 750,000.

        Small city. NOT RELEVANT.

      7. Hmm this line is 1.2 miles long, seems about right.

        BTW there are a lot of cities larger than Seattle with center city trams, several of which are indeed used frequently for journeys over 1 mile.

      8. This line doesn’t exactly connect to a mass transit system. Doesn’t come often enough (even with the overlap) for most last-mile hops. Isn’t fast enough (even with treatments) for shorter hops.

        It bears zero resemblance to how one might connect to a vestigial tram for part of a multi-modal trip in, say, Prague. And those would never get built today anyway!

        As for “larger cities with center city trams” — ones that continue to serve primary core purposes in the modern era — name ’em!

        (And don’t name Paris, or any place where the “trams” run at what we would call light-rail standards: wide boulevards, cross streets are few and far between).

        As I wrote last night, it does seem that this particular SDOT team, at least, is serious about speed and priority treatments. Which I will admit makes this plan far less egregious!

        But I still can’t figure out for the life of me what the point of this line could be. We don’t need capacity along 1st; the walkable 1st-only segment has zero demonstrated transit demand today. As a one-seat ride between existing streetcars, this still goes far enough out of the way to be slower than today’s options. And no one headed from a bus or Link to Pike Place or the ferry terminal is going to change modes just to save two very short blocks.

        Even at its design best, this still screams “streetcars because we like streetcars!” Your prolific defenses of it — with specious comparisons to vestigial networks — tend to scream the same.

      9. @Martin — You are right about true level-boarding, although I would imagine that could be solved with ramps at the bus stop (but I’m no expert). I don’t know how much rail bias there is, but I’m really not worried the folks who are unwilling to take a bus, but willing to take a train. I don’t see how that fits into the question of mobility.

        As to a transfer, you are absolutely right. For those who want to take a train on either end, this would mean a transfer. But fast buses on either end mean no transfer as well. For example, what about people from Belltown? Add this lane, and now a bus coming from Ballard, Magnolia or Queen Anne can use this lane to provide much faster service for a Belltown rider. There are simply more riders on buses going through downtown than there will be on this streetcar if it is built.

        I really think we are building this out of order. The first thing we should do is add the dedicated right of way with signal priority. Do it for the entire general area. Study how to make the buses travel faster. Then, if there is simply too much demand for the buses, build the streetcar. That is essentially what we did with the transit tunnel, and it was a wise move.

        If we think we can just skip having buses go through downtown, I’m all for that. But we need to have that discussion and figure out how to make it happen. This could very well be part of it; but absent removing buses (and I don’t think this would remove a single one) I just don’t see how this helps.

      10. “it does seem that this particular SDOT team, at least, is serious about speed and priority treatments”

        That’s because the majority of public comments were for exclusive lane. The same thing happened a the Ballard-downtown study: the vast majority of comments were for grade-separated rail. Those are two cases where supporters of higher-speed transit moved the bar, and convinced people it’s worth the investment and (on 1st Avenue) the lane-and-parking displacement for cars. So we’re starting to turn things in a better direction. It may also help if the transportation department and city council in Seattle (and Bellevue) are starting to go in that direction too. Change happens piecemeal, line by line and neighborhood by neighborhood, sometimes going forward and sometimes not, but eventually it can reach a critical mass and change direction across most projects.

  10. This project would be more interesting if there was some direct connectivity closer to the Ferry terminal. Maybe it will by the time the Waterfront plans are finished.

    1. The station is right next to the skybridge most walk-on passengers use to get to and from the terminal. While not as great a a stop right in front of the terminal it is pretty good.

      1. It could be better if the WSF has specific “passenger ferry connecting trams” waiting at the terminal (on a tail track) for people coming to and from the ferries. That’s what Kitsap Transit does on the other side with its buses.

      2. Chris,

        I would say that for most riders its actually better. The skybridge is at the same level as the boarding bridges and crosses active now and to be more active later Alaskan Way and Western Avenue. It’s about a four minute walk from the boarding bridge to First Avenue. If the streetcar zig-zagged over to the east side of Alaskan Way, say, in order to serve the terminal (more) directly, the walk from the boarding bridges to the platform would be just about exactly half a long as now, thus saving two minutes, but the vehicle would be considerably slower because of the four extra right turns.

        Also, stairs down to ground level and a long zig-zag ramp would be required to get down from the skybridge to ground level, either of which would add a minimum of twenty seconds. So, from a total travel time perspective I think it would be about a wash and inconvenience a lot of people.

  11. “There will be two overlapping lines: Lake Union to King Street Station and Westlake to Capitol Hill.”

    I will just point out here that there will be NO stop at King Street Station. The closest stop will be two block away from King Street Station. Two blocks for you young people may seem like nothing, but the prospect of schlepping a bag two blocks in the rain will drive the older people to take taxis to the train station.

    They *could* put a stop on Jackson Street right in front of King Street Station, and put a canopy over the walkway from curb to station, but No.

    1. Ya, the integration aspects of the First Hill SC and the Center City Connector are woefully inadequate. The FHSC doesn’t have a station directly adjacent to either King Street Station OR Link’s ID Station, and neither the FHSC nor the CCC will have a station immediately adjacent to the ferry terminal.

      In a well designed transit world you would expect some integration — you know, if you have a lot of car-less riders arriving at the Ferry Terminal, or at KSC/ID Station, then wouldn’t you want to have a SC station there too?? Sort of make the transfer as convenient as possible??

      1. The connection from either Occidental & Jackson or 5th & Jackson isn’t to either King Street or the ID station isn’t that horrible, especially in light of some of the transfer hikes required elsewhere downtown or in the U-District.

        Similarly there will be a stop right next to the end of the pedestrian bridge between 1st and the Ferry Terminal. Most of the walk-on passengers use this bridge to access the terminal.

      2. “isn’t that horrible” is hardly the standard we should be designing to given that this is a new system.

      3. I have no idea why the Jackson St. streetcar has such appalling stop locations. It really should be fixed to stop in front of either King St station or International District station.

      4. Nathanael,
        Although they look like regular streets, the area around Union Station (Int’l District Station for Link), and King St. Station is all elevated roadway.

        I was told once, by some planner for some upgrade in that area, that everyone was afraid to make major changes to the structures, since they had to bring that whole street grid up to modern earthquake standards.

        Has anyone asked any of the project engineers why the stations sites were chosen, (lest we make any ill-informed assumptions, repeating them until they become gospel truth).

      5. I don’t believe that the area in front of Union Station on Jackson is elevated, so they certainly could have put a SC station there to at least integrate with Link. Instead they put it across the street.

        The street areas on 4th Ave and on the 2nd Ave Extension are elevated, but they already “touched” that when they embedded the tracks in the roadway, so it is a bit hard to understand why they couldn’t put a station there too.

        But a lot of this was set under the McGinn administration, so I suspect we might never really know what really went into the placement decisions.

      1. Interesting, the link works okay on my computer, wonder if it’s a device issue. Yours works, too.

  12. I think some people here are overthinking this. Basic, non-technical points in favor of this:

    – The city is about to set aside exclusive lanes for transit downtown to implement a project already studied and identified in the TMP.
    – The project has a high likelihood of being mostly paid for by a federal grant.
    – It will leverage our earlier investments to make them exponentially more effective and useful. (Even if you don’t think First Hill and SLU Streetcars were wise investments, you can’t go back in time and unspend the money.)
    – The result will be a rail line connecting downtown with its closest neighborhoods that will carry 25K passengers a day. The cost will be less than $300 million, counting First Hill ($135 million) and SLU ($55 million). If we were looking at this on a Sound Transit corridor study, most people here would want this to be built.

    About the estimated ridership: If you want to go from SLU to Pioneer Square for dinner, you’re not going to take the streetcar now. But you probably will take it once this is built. Maybe you could work in SLU and live in Pioneer Square more easily after this is built. You’d take this to go from Pike Place Market to the ID. Sure, there are buses on 3rd. There is light rail in the tunnel. But this will be more convenient for the 1st Ave. corridor and downtown trips from South Lake Union, the upper ID and Yesler Terrace. Redundancy in transit is not a bad thing. I can easily see how this new city rail line will get 25K passengers a day or more.

    Here’s something I haven’t heard anybody bring up in conjunction with the streetcar. Once buses get booted from the DSTT in 2019, will every bus in that tunnel continue to go through downtown on 3rd Avenue? It seems to be we could use some additional N-S surface capacity. Maybe there’s also a way to let a limited number of buses to use the exclusive streetcar right of way on 1st Avenue if the need arises.

    1. “Once buses get booted from the DSTT in 2019, will every bus in that tunnel continue to go through downtown on 3rd Avenue?”

      Metro hasn’t said, but it has a long tradition of putting them on 3rd, 2nd/4th, or less commonly 4th/5th.

      1. I just strongly suspect that not every bus that currently goes N-S through downtown will do so after 2019. We’re going to want the extra capacity provided by the Center City Connector.

      2. 550 (all-day): Surface for four years (2019-2023), then delete.

        216/218/219 (peak-only AM NB, PM SB): Surface for four years, then truncate at Mercer Island.

        71/72/73/74 (all-day): Possibly deleted in 2016. Possibly surface for two years (2019-2021) with reduced runs, then deleted. Reorganized in proposed 2015 cuts.

        41 (all-day): Surface for two years, then deleted.

        101 (all-day): Surface indefinitely.

        106 (all-day): Surface indefinitely. Moved to surface anyway in proposed 2015 cuts.

        150 (all-day): Surface indefinitely.

        255 (all-day): Surface indefinitely.

        The 550 and the Eastgate/issaquah peak expresses will be on the surface for four years (2019-2023). Then the 550 will disappear and the peak expresses will be truncated at Mercer Island.

    2. >> Here’s something I haven’t heard anybody bring up in conjunction with the streetcar. Once buses get booted from the DSTT in 2019, will every bus in that tunnel continue to go through downtown on 3rd Avenue?

      Maybe you didn’t read my comment before you posted yours:


      This is, in a nutshell, is the key. If buses run on the surface through downtown, then this is redundant. Bus travel is made worse because of added traffic and because it is even less likely (politically) that they will get their own lane. For financial reasons, other improvements to bus service are less likely as well.

      If buses are supposed to turn around, then this streetcar makes sense. The big advantage of a streetcar (really, the only advantage) is that it can handle lots of people. But if you do that, this better be really fast, and really frequent. How frequent can this be while maintaining signal priority? If the answer is five minutes, then this won’t do. Bus riders will demand that there bus continue through downtown, and we have achieved very little. You also better make the transfer trivial. It is not enough to tell people that they need to walk a couple blocks, or again, they would rather have the old system.

      This is why it is silly to study this in the abstract. How this interacts with buses is crucial. Give the buses a similar fast lane through downtown and you achieve pretty much the same thing. The folks on the edges (South Lake Union) might not have such a nice ride (they would have to transfer, as they do today) but at least things move faster once they do. Meanwhile, people from other, similar neighborhoods (e. g. Belltown) would get a much faster ride through downtown.

      Really, I could go either way with this. If this is done right (and doing it right means addressing everything I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago) then I’m all for it. But if you can’t do that, then I think it makes way more sense to spend the money to make sure buses can go through downtown really fast. That would serve far more people for a lot less money.

      1. Ross,
        But would $35 million in local money ensure buses went through downtown really fast?

      2. Chris,
        Yes, absolutely. Build the line. Rip out the steel and sell it. Use the money to make the line even longer (extend it into Belltown). Now run buses on it.

        Seriously though, if you can create a dedicated lane in downtown with signal priority, then the lane can serve buses just as well as it could serve a streetcar. Better, actually, since you have a lot more flexibility.

      3. @Mars — Because most people ride buses. Again, if this means that buses can be made faster, more frequent and more reliable by transferring those riders to this line, then great. Seriously, I’m all for it and think it is a bargain. But if it means that buses still slog through downtown, and slog worse than ever, and we do nothing because we spent all the money on this streetcar, and we only get one dedicated street downtown for transit, then this will be a huge mistake. The South Lake Union streetcar was a waste of money, this could be worse.

        Just as an example,consider the RapidRIde E. It gets bogged down trying to go through downtown. This means it is neither fast (overall) nor reliable. Since it isn’t reliable, it can’t be frequent. It could probably have two minute headways if it only served Aurora, but there is no way you can get that consistency through downtown, absent some major changes. This would be that major change. You also have the RapidRide C and D as well as every other bus that goes downtown. That is way more than this streetcar will ever serve. Convince me that this will be better for buses and I’m on board; but otherwise, I’m skeptical.

      4. Is the goal here to improve service for the people who already use transit, or is the goal to improve the array of available transit services so that people who currently drive cars choose to use mass transit options instead?

        Improving service for people who already use transit is a nice thing to do but I am much more interested in projects which move Seattle toward being a city in which one can comfortably get around on an everyday basis without needing to use a personal car. We can pour billions into buses, and all we’ll have is a nicer bus system; if we build trains, we can get offer transit to people who aren’t going to ride the bus.

      5. Ross,

        You are overlooking the difficulty that this line can never replace the buses about which you’re talking. They serve Third Avenue or Second/Fourth and are oriented to the large office buildings on those streets and Fifth. This is a “downtown circulator” which is by design a bit peripheral, because that’s where people live!.

        It will not reach its full potential until an extensions north along First Avenue to Lower Queen Anne and south on First South to Lander are added, but when they are it will be a fine amenity for people living nearby and working downtown.

        I realize that getting around the athletic stadiums will require some careful thought (and probably a diversion a half block to the west) but there is tremendous potential for residential redevelopment along First south to around Lander. Views baby, views! (Yes, through the cranes…)

      6. This is not about people living downtown. Downtown streetcar proposals never are.

        The number of people who live in the CBD will always be infinitesimal compared to the numbers who work there or who come in for other reasons. Not to mention the numbers who live in places with desperate and non-redundant transit needs.

        Red herring rationale.

      7. @d.p.
        Between Pike and Yesler 3rd is uphill both ways in the snow.

        This project will add 10k new transit riders many of whom don’t currently use transit due to the lack of last mile connections or the hassle of such connections.

        The CBD and Pioneer Square already have more residents than you might think and the current residential density is fairly high. The entire core of the city including the CBD is planned to take a large portion of the residential growth in the city in the next 15-20 years (to say nothing of the job growth).

      8. 10k new transit riders

        I’ll believe that when I see it.

        You’re still wrong on signal timing. For example, there’s no possible reason for Seneca/Spring/Madison to be staggered such that no vehicle can possibly cross all three in a single go. And yet that’s the way it currently is.

      9. d.p.

        First Hill, and prospectively Belltown and First South between the stadiums and Lander. I realize that there aren’t that many folks between Stewart and Jackson, though there are a lot of new residences west of First along there. But if you include SLU and the Jackson to Yesler corridor there is lots of opportunity for residential development.

  13. “…center-running, dedicated right of way with signal priority”?

    That’s wonderful. Hooray!

  14. One thing to watch in this delay is, if the council slows it down again July 21st, is it putting an equal amount of funding into other transit needs, or is it effectively deferring any transit improvements? There’s an argument to be made for buses over rail, or neighborhood needs over another downtown line, but then you have to actually put the money into neighborhood bus lines, not just do nothing.

    1. I agree.

      But as I mentioned elsewhere, the key is how this interacts with buses, especially as we add more buses to the surface. If this can replace parts of the bus routes (and allow buses to turn around at the edges of downtown) then this would be money well spent. But to do that, this better be fast, frequent, and the transfer better be easy. Do that, and the bus routes can be more frequent, and more reliable. Don’t do that, and I would much rather have the buses use that same lane. In many ways, arguing for that might be the easy thing (“Dear Councilmember, Please build the lane for a downtown streetcar, but don’t lay the rail, just let buses use it instead”).

      1. Other than the 99 this isn’t going to replace any bus routes, though who knows what Metro will decide to do in terms of restructuring once this is built (especially with the buses coming out of the DSTT).

        In addition to the new riders this line will attract it also will draw riders from current bus lines, many of which are overcrowded according to Metro’s own data.

      2. i’ve seen street-car systems co-exist with bus systems in many cities so i’m not sure why your making such a negative deal about it. if i’m a tourist and i see a street-car coming by and also hypothetically a bus comes by as well I’m going to choose the street-car over the bus everytime. I spent this last year in Portland and found the street-cars very accessible, frequent and functional. They were also well used during the in-between commute period from 9:00-3:00 whereas LR peaked during commute times. Businesses and tourist want this type of transportation and not buses.

      3. The Portland lines run at 18 minutes much of the time. It must have been a very nice day, and you may not have been in any particular rush, for the wait and the absurdly low speed not to have impressed themselves upon you.

      4. Frequency is a bit better on the Portland streetcar now that they have a few more cars. Also, I think some sections of the east side loop (which doesn’t loop yet) may have been a bit better planned than the central city line.

      5. Nope. Still plenty of 20-minute service or worse: http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/node/3

        And the “Lloyd Jumble” sure as muck isn’t any better planned. I know they saw that as a development sales pitch, but did they really need for every rider to take the open-house tour of every clucking street?

      6. I don’t understand the obsession with tourists. Are we supposed to ignore our God awful transportation system because we are worried tourists will be confused? This city has a lot to worry about, but attracting tourism isn’t one of them. Let’s see, we have a very nice summer climate, legal weed, a Space Needle, cruise ships, Pike Place Market, and dozens of great brewpubs. We really shouldn’t spend a dime on anything to attract tourists — they will come here anyway.

      7. First of all, tourists are legitimate users of transit, and it would be bad if guidebooks started recommending that tourists not use transit because “the buses are too confusing,” which could result in more cars on the road. More importantly, however, the legibility of a system to a tourist is a good proxy for how new/inexperienced transit riders are likely to see transit. For example, let’s say that a person who has not memorized every bus line in Seattle is attempting to get from Belltown to King Street Station. Sure, there are lots of buses making that trip, but how is that rider supposed to know NOT to get on the C line, 2, 3, 4, 27, or 120 since those routes unexpectedly turn off 3rd Ave?*

        While as Jarrett Walker notes, branding efforts can definitely make buses more legible (the downtown route map is a good start even though the huge mass of lines on 3rd is still rather confusing) and I definitely support efforts to demystify the bus system through better maps and signage, legibility is a definite advantage for a downtown streetcar. Of course, buses need to be made faster as well, but investing in a legible transit system to connect downtown destinations frequently and quickly is worthwhile–although it may not be the highest priority, due to our bizarre political system it is probably most likely to be built.

        *Perhaps an even more egregious example of this is in the U-District. Sometimes I wonder if someone who was just trying to get to Montlake Fwy Station has ever boarded an innocuous 586 at one of the 15th/Pacific stops, only to find that the bus didn’t stop at Montlake and the next stop was Tacoma Dome (!). That bus really needs a huge red sign near the front door to remind people that it does not stop at Montlake, as I would imagine that it would be rather easy to accidentally board that bus and find yourself uselessly wasting over 2 hours.

      8. @Josh — Good point. I’m all for less confusing transit. I’m not sure if a streetcar is necessary for that though. It’s main strength is that there is only one. If this is built and you had no idea where it went, you would be really confused as the streetcar suddenly turned northeast, towards South Lake Union, instead of continuing to Belltown. But since there is only one line, everyone probably knows what it does. But given that, I don’t think we should keep our light rail system super simple so that it is easier to understand. Plenty of people take really complicated subways all over the world, and a lot of those people are tourists.

        It seems to me that good signage can solve most of these problems.

    2. This vote calls for no money to be spent, there is no money that will be saved by punting this project. However delaying the decision does put the ability to get Federal grants in jeopardy.

      1. With you in support of this project, but in fairness proceeding does cost millions in environmental and engineering costs that would be lost if the city scrapes the route.

  15. Is there any chance of adding an extension to the SLUT as part of this project?

    It would be nice for some if the line to the carbarn was extended up the hill a little ways to have a platform closer to where the express buses going to and coming from the north stop.

    1. I would prefer to emphasize getting better priority treatments in SLU and FH, to make sure the headways are stable and boost speeds.

      1. That needs to be done no matter if this new line gets built or not.

      2. Martin, If you look at Appendix J in the CCC report, it appears significant improvements will be made to the SLU line as part of this project. Some improvements to FH as well.

  16. I’ve been told there are some plans to use the old Benson streetcars on the new line. Can somebody confirm this for me?

    1. Its unclear as to where the Benson cars will end up, but first ave is one of the options being considered. Other options include running the cars on the waterfront again (less likely to happen) or to simply sell the cars to another city.

      1. What is not true? Have they confirmed that they are definitely going to put the cars on 1st now?

      2. Well if you look at the document above, it clearly says the mode is “modern streetcar”. Furthermore, this is operationally linked with SLU and First Hill, which are also modern streetcars.

      3. I am talking about the studies done previously on running the old Waterfront car along these lines occasionally like they do in other cities. Its not the best idea but I know the cars were tossed back and forth between the 1st ave and waterfront project, each project claiming that the other was going to revive the cars at some point. These would be in addition to the new cars purchased to run on the line (which would actually fill all of the existing capacity at the two streetcar barns).

        As far as I am aware no official decision was made in reference as to where (if at all) to use the Benson cars.

        I personally suspect the city would rather sell them, but they won’t come out and say it.

        I would recommend we just pick another place around town that needs some tourism and install some cheap rails to run it on. It seems like it would be a better idea.

      4. The waterfront plan accommodates four transit alternatives on Alaskan Way: vintage streetcar (Benson), modern streetcar, electric bus (non-trolley), electric minibus. But the waterfront consultants prefer that any streetcar be on 1st Avenue rather than Alaskan. I have not heard of Benson streetcars on the FH-1st-SLU system. It would require dual-level platforms, multi voltage, inconsistent speeds (messing up headways), etc.

        If there’s a streetcar on 1st, I can’t see another streetcar on Alaskan Way. So no Benson streetcars there.

      5. @Mike Orr
        I have been to a few of the 1st ave streetcar open houses, and they did indeed discuss this. At the time theu told me that they would consider modifying the old cars to have wheelchair lifts.

        They also gave me the impression that they were not keen on the idea.

        I personally think putting the old cars somewhere else makes more sense. They should run on their own line really. A single line made cheaply with wooden ties and high platforms that suit them. Hopefully done fairly cheaply and to boost tourism in a place that needs it.

  17. d.p. Portland’s streetcars are all running at 14 min intervals during most of day. Most buses run at about 15 mins so not sure what your point is.

    1. Sorry, I think weekday mornings, the very early evening, and literally any fucking moment of the weekend probably count as part of the period of expected transportation availability. And they run at 17-22 minutes at all of those times.

      The Portland streetcar is for going very short distances, and notoriously slowly. Even 14-minute waits renders it basically “not transit”.

      (Of course, the asinine routing of the loop line also helps to render it “not transit”.)

      1. A streetcar has to run at least every 10 minutes to be of much use. 14 minute peak frequency is pretty lame, they should run every 5 minutes during the middle of the day.

      2. But buses running at 15 min wkday/ 18 min wkend are considered “transit”? I’m not sure of your distinction. Portland streetcars were plenty full when I was riding and appeared to be serving the community well. If my only choice was to ride a bus
        to Nob Hill I would have rather had my car. Streetcars made the transition from LR palatable enough to leave my car at home and not worry about parking. Sure I wish there were more connections but Portland is still implementing much of their line and filling out connections.

      3. Check your bias, then.

        The bus to 23rd @ Nob Hill gets there about twice as fast as the streetcar does, and runs at least as often.

        Portland’s gridded transit in general has taken a frequency hit since 2008, and no, lines worse than 15 minutes (which does not describe the Nob Hill bus, BTW) are not good transit on any kind of urban line. (15 even is questionable when transfers are anticipated.)

        But a need for very high frequencies is inversely proportional to expected travel distances, because longer-distance trips tend to require more time allocation and be less spontaneous anyway.

        That 2x faster bus to Nob Hill? It also travels much further, serving the whole rest of NW Portland. The frequency and speed match the minimum expectations of spontaneity for that distance. But the streetcar barely goes more than a mile — at a total crawl — and makes you wait 14-22 minutes for the privilege. That is absurdity!

        As Jarrett Walker has said, the Portland Streetcar is an “happenstance train”: you can’t rely on it speeding your journey in any way, but you’ll hop on if you happen to see it coming. Well, it passes enough walkers to render it crowded (not too difficult — it is tiny, and only comes every 14-22 minutes!). But that doesn’t mean it’s providing any particular value, even to those on it, who had about a 50% expectation that they’d wind up walking the whole way and were forced to budget enough time to do so.

      4. My bias is that streetcars are much more comfortable than buses and easier to board. I think that is why I noticed many seniors on the streetcars. I know as I get older this convenience becomes more and more important. And i’m talking in general, ie, according to metro website buses on average run 15 min intervals in downtown Portland…Nob Hill apparently is a bad example as you pointed out. And you’re right, walking to the next stop while waiting for a streetcar occurred for me often, but I recall my days as a student in Seattle and I always found myself walking to the next bus stop as well, so not sure of the difference here either. I also should point out that rail is subsidized 50cents less per ride on rail than bus.

      5. Well, that’s because Seattle has an awful bus system. Something that parallel investments in streetcars of dubious routing value doesn’t tend to fix.

        Again, 15 minute buses aren’t great, but Portland is a sprawling city, so being able to travel moderate-to-significant urban distances on a comprehensive system of gridded 15-minute buses (as was the case before 2008 cuts) makes it no slouch in the total mobility department.

        The Portland streetcar goes only a couple of places. Those places are extremely close in, yet it goes there poorly anyway. Add in the “walk-along” phenomenon and you’ve achieved essentially no value.

        (And if your aim is merely to cross downtown portland, you’ll find that buses+MAX trains come about every five seconds on the (relatively) quick north-south transit mall; headways on the individual lines become irrelevant.)

        Streetcar rides may be slightly smoother (if new), but there’s no reason boarding should be any easier for the elderly than on a low-floor bus. Wheelchair patrons have to deal with ramps or bridge-plates either way. (Strap-down is already antiquated and needs to die on American buses.)

        As for the subsidies… I will bet you TriMet’s entire annual budget that core bus lines like the 15-Belmont/NW23rd cost less to run than the streetcar. It’s only the less used “coverage” bus network that drags down the network average, and makes it seem like the streetcar is marginally efficient.

        Tacoma Link and the SLUT continue to a significantly higher cost-per-rider than equivalent bus services, despite their limited scope.

      6. Actually Seattle has a highly regarded bus system and outperforms Portland’s by a significant margin. And streetcars are not meant for long distances and long commutes, but need to be strategically located and used between high density areas. (the US has been building out a road network for 100’s years but I don’t see us doing the same for rail) Below Ben P. made some good points about streetcar advantages. I took the 4 and 74 from St John’s to Interstate, the Yellow line to town and then streetcar to Nob Hill. The only part I truly hated was the crowded, unpredictable scheduled rides on the 4 and 75. The mob boarding at one entrance was awful. 10-20 minute late buses in the freezing temps was miserable. It was very unpleasant with the way people were crowded and the seats are configured. It was a miserable experience. No such issues with streetcar. Sure there are less subsidized bus routes than others but as long as streetcars are only put in strategic places from urban area to other urban area they will never be heavily subsidized. And it is a lot easier to add streetcars once dedicated track is laid. To add more 4s and 75s on Lombard is insanity!

      7. Indeed, Portland’s bus system is underfunded and financially degraded.

        Seattle’s is poorly structured and lacks both ease of use and proper allocations of service.

        Seattle’s performs (slightly) better, mostly for reasons that relate to Seattle being a more populous and (marginally) less sprawling city. But they both perform pretty badly, thanks to poor understandings of how useful transit service is aligned.

        Expensive distractions with zero mobility purpose cannot fix that.

        Please explain to me how waiting a really long time in freezing temperatures for a streetcar is somehow preferable.

      8. To add more 4s and 75s on Lombard is insanity!

        You say the ones that exist are late and overcrowded. More frequent bus service smooths out demand spikes. There won’t be a streetcar to St. John’s in a million years.
        How is it “insane” to fix a demand problem with additional supply?

        You’re are literally arguing that people just shouldn’t go where there aren’t trains. Regardless of how slow, infrequent, or crappy the trains are in the places they exist. That is insane!

      9. It’s not just insane. It’s flagrant, and easily recognizable, bias.

        It should be illegal to argue policy based on that level of irrationality.

  18. RossB: Excuse me for using tourist in my example. I’ve always been a tourist when I’ve used streetcars so that is what came to mind. If it makes you feel better there were also students, seniors and professionals on the streetcars in Portland. The streetcars in Seattle will make stops near hospitals, colleges and senior residencies so please don’t get too freaked-out!

    1. No worries, I’m not too freaked out. As I said to Josh (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/07/02/seattle-council-delays-streetcar-vote/#comment-499869 ) there is a good argument to be made that transit popular with tourists tends to be easier to understand, and easier to understand transit is always a good thing (side note: I grew up here and I’ve gotten on my share of buses that weren’t headed where I thought they were). There is also an argument for attracting tourists because it is good for business. I have no problem with that, I just don’t think that it is a very compelling argument for this city, at this time, with all of its transportation needs (and a booming economy). Besides, if we are going to use that card, then let’s build a gondola from Capitol Hill to South Lake Union (and the Seattle Center). Great for tourists and commuters.

  19. I think this is a great thing.

    Favorable points already mentioned.
    -level boarding and pre-board payment
    -leveraging previous investments
    -higher capacity than buses, currently packed
    -opportunity to not run many bus lines through downtown

    Some have said this rout would duplicate the Link stops in the bus tunnel. If anything it would compliment it. The tunnel is under 3rd while the street car would be on 1rst. The elevation difference in those two blocks is not insignificant. Furthermore, the stops are offset from each other, Link stop on pine, street car stop on pike, etc. This combination with good headways is precisely what makes this a good replacement for the downtown segments of many bus routs.

    Their are some additional points in favor of the line which I don’t think I saw in this quite long thread.
    -tracks avoid the extreme road wear of buses
    -electric power avoids the air pollution in the crowded downtown area
    -people and businesses love street cars

    If we don’t replace the downtown section of many of the bus routs, we’ll anyways need to invest large sums of money to dig a new bus tunnel to replace the current one being taken by Link. I think this is the more business and ped friendly option.

    1. If this helps replace bus routes that currently go through downtown, I’m all for it. But it isn’t clear to me that it will. Buses go through downtown because riders don’t want to transfer, not because we need to serve riders who want to get from one end of downtown to the other. If riders are expected to get off the bus and transfer to this, then I would be thrilled with this. But I think we should study the whole subject of how to improve bus service through downtown. Basically I think we have a couple choices:

      1) Add dedicated right of way with signal priority for buses in various part of downtown so they can get through it faster.
      2) Get people off the buses and onto the trains (this one and the light rail).

      Or maybe a combination of both. I think the subject should be studied in more detail. More than anything, that is what bothers me about this — there seems to be very little consideration for what this will do to the most important, most used part of our transit system: buses.

      1. With all due respect, you seem to have a myopic view of what public transit serves You best, i.e., the buses bound towards destinations outside of downtown.

        This line serves a completely different purpose than the buses. It’s an in town circulator, and serves the multitude of trip pairs between the fastest growing areas of the city both in terms of residential, employment, entertainment and shopping. This in city circulation is critical to removing cars from downtown and enabling fully urban living in Yesler and SLU’s developing residential areas.

        Without this linkage between the SLU and Firsthill lines, the streetcar may remain the novelty transport that is the impression of some commenters here. With the CCC, this becomes truly backbone in city circulation among a real diversity of destinations, and will be useful and popular.

        Some negative observations are very well taken, though. The stop placement at ID and Westlake should be reconsidered or improved for interconnections to light rail and Sounder/Amtrak at King St. Station.

        The foregoing is my opinion of course, you may continue to disagree to your heart’s content.

      2. Like Ross, I just continue not to “see” it.

        It’s two blocks over from the city’s central bus spine, where buses have an almost ∞ frequency. And for a really fast crossing of downtown, it will only get easier in the post-mixed-operations era to hop down into our shiny subway and go a mile in about 3 minutes, sub-par platform access notwithstanding.

        There will be no frequency improvement heading up Jackson or Westlake, so riders of the former are still better off catching one of the many buses that go that way, and riders of the latter will remain better off walking.

        Even at its best, I just don’t see the CCC becoming a “backbone” of anything. It can’t even be an effective “circulator”, if getting in and out of the center city remains such a nightmare that reasonable choose to drive in as often as not.

      3. d.p., one thing you and RossB are missing is that no one wants to use either 3rd or the DSTT to get to Pioneer Square. That could be fixed with an un-Seattle-like campaign to clean up the area around 3rd and Yesler for good, but right now it is horribly uninviting for locals and a no go zone for tourists.

        Heck, I’d take the CCC rather than the DSTT if I wasn’t in a hurry, and my office is directly over a DSTT station. In that area of town 1st is just a far more pleasant place.

        Does that mean the CCC is the best use of funds? Of course not. Does that mean it will get more ridership than you think? Definitely.

      4. You might be right on this one, David.

        In which case… YEESH!

        So we’ll chase the False Progressivism of handing over all our public spaces to the mentally ill and the chronic inebriates (rather than providing adequate preventative services or medically-staffed drunk tanks, which wind up saving money in addition to improving civic well-being) with the False Progressivism of streetcars that make people feel like their city is So Very Greened Up (even as they continue to drive for 93% of all trips).

        This may be the most falsely progressive city in the world.

      5. Ross,

        You can’t have effective signal priority on Third Avenue because there are too many buses using it. The lights would have to stay green north-south nearly all the time for it to work.

      6. The signals are so badly timed that buses can leave right when they get a green, and then hit two or three separate reds before their next stop. Belltown is even worse for this than downtown.

        There could absolutely be “pulses” designed to keep a group of blocks green long enough for buses to make it stop-to-stop in a single go. This really is not hard.

      7. d.p.

        Blocks of lights do work for trains, because they come infrequently enough to allow the cross-traffic enough time to cross, but they don’t work for buses because they come all the time. And Third Avenue has seven streets at which buses turn on or off, which messes up the timing, especially when the cross-walks block turns.

        Then there’s the issue that Third Avenue is two way; one can’t “time” streets in both directions successfully for more than a couple of blocks.

        The Portland Mall works quite well for the trains; only rarely do they have to stop. Buses which have light loads and no lifts do well also. But Fifth and Sixth are one-way and the cross-streets except for three specific couplets can have fairly long waits since they’re lightly used. In Seattle the east-west streets are nearly all important arterials which require at least half the cycle.

        This is not to say that the city could not find some intersections of Third Avenue which could and should be re-timed to give the buses smoother operation. It is to say that if it were easy they would already have done it. After all, Third Avenue has been bus priority for something like fifteen years.

      8. So far as Belltown is concerned, you are absolutely correct. Other than Virginia/Lenora and Battery/Wall the cross traffic is miniscule.

      9. “they would already have done it or Metro would have paid them to do it“.

      10. I continue to disagree. University, Marion, and Cherry are all fairly lightly used where they cross 3rd. Columbia and Seneca will cease to be car funnels when the viaduct closes. And most of the extreme backups on I-5 access streets prevent traffic from climbing across 3rd even when the lights are green; often it is 4th that is holding traffic back.

        Because, again, SDOT has advantaged cars on 2nd and 4th at about 8:1 over their cross streets, mostly at the expense of pedestrians. It is only this same autocentricity that makes SDOT think lights must turn green every 30-40 seconds when crossing the bus corridor.

        You’re right that on a bi-directional corridor, you can only “time” streets in both directions for a couple of blocks. But our bus stops are separated into clusters roughly 3 or 4 blocks in length. Group those. Yes, you can.

        …they would already have done it or Metro would have paid them to do it“.

        Not really. Until recently, Metro didn’t even pretend to give a damn about speed or efficiency or not wasting resources idling. They still can’t seem to get their act together on the ORCA front, nor about service rationalization, nor to discourage their drivers from recounting the entire history of the universe when newbies make the mistake of asking a simple question.

        There’s no reason to presume that because it hasn’t occurred to Metro to fix an efficiency killer on its most resource-intensive mile, that such a fix is somehow impossible.

    2. I think David Lawson has said the number of buses going through downtown can be shrunk considerably with consolidation. I’m not quite convinced of that but there is this idea floating around.

      But the streetcars are not relevant to the issue because their routes are too short to replace the 7, 14, 36, 49, 26, 28, or 70. And for the mass of other routes like the D, 2, 120, and 159 they go in completely the wrong direction.

      1. Current buses on 3rd Ave (off-peak) and the tunnel (off-peak), per hour, each way:

        RR C/D (4), RR E (4), 1/14 (2), 2/13 (4), 3/4 (8), 5/21 (4), 7 (6), 16 (3), 24/124 (2), 25 (1), 26/28/131/132 (4), 27/33 (2), 36 (6), 40 (4), 41 (4), 66 (2), 70 (4), 71/72/73 (8), 101 (2), 106 (2), 150 (4), 255 (4) — Total: 84

        Buses on 3rd Ave (no buses in the tunnel) in my upcoming, heavily revised 2014 FNP (off-peak), per hour, each way (and assuming no changes to suburban service):

        1/4/14 (4), 3/13/70 (10), 5 (4), 6 [RR E] (6), 15 [RR D] (6), 16/54 [RR C] (6), 20 [120] (6), 21/24 (4), 23 [132]/40 (4), 28/38 [124] (4), 101 (2), 150 (4), 255 (4) — Total: 64

        This is only four more buses per hour than operate on the surface today, and quite a lot less than today’s combined total.

        Link, leveraged fully, really will allow us to get a lot of buses out of downtown without making people go through the artifice of transferring to a streetcar at the edge of downtown. For a variety of operational reasons I’m not in favor of edge-of-downtown transfers, and I don’t think they’re usually necessary. Turning back buses in the middle of downtown, on the other hand… that can save some money.

    1. At a minimum they would need doors on the opposite side of the bus to drop passengers off on the center lane platforms. Ideally they would have doors on both sides so they could drop passengers off on the side of the street outside of the streetcar corridor.

      1. Or, since these are traffic-separated lanes, you could reverse their direction so the center platforms are to the buses’ right. It would have some difficulties, but it’d be simpler than replacing the bus fleet.

      2. Or they could just not stop at the streetcar stops, particularly if they’re using the ROW for a short distance. See this post.

    2. Why does it have to be a center island station/stop? Why not right side islands with center running lanes so that both buses and streetcars can share the same stops on dedicated center lanes? Its a configuration like in SF and Toronto with their legacy streetcar lines many of which have become dedicated lanes.

  20. Summary comment, before this thread makes me lose my head:

    I am glad — truly — that this project is being addressed with speed and reliability in mind.

    If only speed and reliability could make the chosen routing useful.

    If only SDOT cared about speed and reliability when signal-timing 3rd Avenue, or Pine at Boren, or when making “RapidRide” lines wait at 3-minute red lights! They could save tens of thousands of people minutes on their life every single day, improving total mobility and the lives of the citizenry exponentially more than having the option to zag two blocks over to 1st ever will.

    Again, this project has just gotten significantly less pathetic. But the preponderance of the 150 comments above still do little but repeat variations of “streetcars draw tourists and rich people” and “I like trains, trains are cool”, along with assorted defenses of rail even where it is of unusably poor quality. The arguments are irrational at best and inaccurate projection at worst.

    Someone needs to make a slam-dunk case for this route — and for the higher-than-Link ridership estimates on this route — through parts of downtown that currently survive with no direct transit line at all.

    No more “because it’s a train”.

    1. I am less interested in the train irself and more interested in the popularity of exclusive lanes. I am hoping this translates into more popularity for reliability boosting investments like this and hope its spreads to other parts of the city.

      Maybe next we can talk about revisiting the rapid rides and give them the infrastructure investments they really need to make them reliable.

      1. The “RapidRide”-branded Metro routes will never be real BRT, any more than this Downtown Dinky will ever be a core component of our transportation network.

        But it would cost next-to-nothing to fix signal timings and priority, and to add in a few key queue jumps. RapidRide D could save about 5 minutes at Leary, Dravus, Elliott, and Denny by doing just that.

        “Real BRT” (not as a Metro-driven project) would do wonders on Madison, or with exclusive new ramps to access the West Seattle Bridge. That, of course, gets more expensive. But no more expensive than this trolley to nowhere.

      2. “But it would cost next-to-nothing to fix signal timings and priority, and to add in a few key queue jumps.

        Flesh it out, quantify the argument with some data so it doesn’t sound like a bus-fetishist rant. If it means taking lanes from cars, I’m on board with that.

        ““Real BRT” (not as a Metro-driven project) would do wonders on Madison, or with exclusive new ramps to access the West Seattle Bridge. That, of course, gets more expensive.”

        How much more expensive?

        You can’t make the argument for it if you don’t back it with the numbers. I’m sure WSDOT has the figures for what they spent on the I-90 HOV ramps at Airport Way in Seattle that could be used as an analog.

      3. “Bus fetishist”? Don’t make me laugh, Jim. I’m no bus fetishist, especially after living though years of Seattle’s bus-network-done-horribly-wrong.

        But you, noted objectivity-deficient rail enthusiast Jim Cusick, continue to be a back-bending argumentative absurdist, and a common-sense denialist.

        Painting a southbound bus jump at the foot of the Ballard Bridge. Explicitly allowing buses in the right lane at Dravus so they don’t get stuck behind left turners. Shortening the left turn at Elliott/Mercer by about 3 minutes (rather than obsessing over single-occupancy level-of-service). Lanes all the way down Mercer.

        All of that costs about $0, and accomplishes a hell of a lot.

        What in the actual fuck does, say, the FHSC accomplish, zig-zagging all over the place for $135 million?

        What real problem is solved with a downtown streetcar where precisely no one is lacking transit today?

        You can’t even pretend to care about solving real problems with your street-level toy trains, can you?

      4. You might call me a “mobility fetishist”, by the way.

        I like to get places. Across urban environments. Without having to drive.

        The most enjoyable trip the one that gets you where you’re going the quickest. I don’t give a damn how pretty the vehicle is or how much wi-fi it has.

      5. Hey, I’m actually trying to help.

        To get something changed, you have to present the argument FOR your point of view, and show you actually researched enough to have a viable plan.

        Too many of your posts are data deficient.

      6. “All of that costs about $0, and accomplishes a hell of a lot.”

        That is a rant. That is not research.

        “Painting a southbound bus jump at the foot of the Ballard Bridge. Explicitly allowing buses in the right lane at Dravus so they don’t get stuck behind left turners. Shortening the left turn at Elliott/Mercer by about 3 minutes (rather than obsessing over single-occupancy level-of-service). Lanes all the way down Mercer. “

        So what are YOU doing to change the SOV-LOS mindset? Who do you talk to? What presentations have you made, and to whom?

        Do you even talk to the general public about transit options?

      7. No, Jim, it’s obviously a matter of paramount interest and importance to me, but I never discuss it except semi-anonymously on the internet.

        [rolls eyes]

        Paint and signal adjustments are practically free. You’re really attempting to dispute this?

      8. I would also point out that for about 3 years, while any number of rail-to-sprawl [ad hom] bombarded the public discourse with wet dreams about subways to Georgetown and Woodinville and Lakewood, I spent countless hours diligently laying out a positivist argument for an east-west Ballard-UW subway as the most useful and cost-effective urban rapid transit investment this town could possibly undertake.

        …And that the case I was endlessly shouted down for making has been proven fundamentally correct.

      9. d.p.,

        Personally, the study results have largely convinced me that Ballard/UW should likely be the highest priority, although there are specific circumstances I might end up favoring Ballard/Downtown instead.

        Nevertheless, I fail to understand why you continue to think that Woodinville and Lakewood and even Georgetown are in any way in conflict with your desired line. I say this as the three examples you provide aren’t particularly compelling to me.

        Furthermore, it’s intellectually dishonest to claim that the study results “prove” anything when you express vague, overwhelming skepticism about the study methodology in every other context, even for the Ballard-UW alternatives you don’t particularly like. Although the study results are by necessity fairly coarse and it’s worth considering the cost and ridership numbers in absolute terms, I believe for comparison purposes they’re reasonably accurate.

        All that said, ST Link studies are getting pretty far off-topic for this thread.

      10. It’s certainly fair to criticize any argumentative hyperbole in which I might engage (or my off-topicness). However, I was accused of being unwilling or unable to construct a positivist argument for transit investments. Which is simply false. My willingness to criticize any more faith-based projects (which amount to most of Seattle’s transit discourse and transit undertakings) does not contradict this.

        Regarding methodological skepticism: As a general rule, both ST and SDOT transit-project studies seem to achieve trustworthy estimates in the cost department. They mostly seem reasonable at estimating trip times too, which is why the C1 surface zig-zag’s 11-minute lowball stuck out as such an outlier-error.

        I do routinely question these studies’ ridership figures, including on otherwise good projects. The version of A3 with ultra-wide spacing and no stop at Fremont/Aurora/Phinney strikes me as suspect; I doubt a line so incomplete could do its passenger-drawing job correctly.

        That said, even if the methodologies were beyond repair across all studies, the reports help to make clear east-west and north-south ridership would be within each others’ margins of error, but that costs would not. There’s my vindication.

    2. d.p.,

      There’s really little that can be done about Third Avenue in terms of infrastructure. Signal priority can’t work when there are dozens of buses per hour using a given street: the bus street would have to have a green signal nearly all the time because the buses simply don’t stay “platooned”. Sure, they try, but change fumblers and tie-downs destroy reliability. You’ve said so yourself.

      So Third Avenue would block the cross-streets badly enough that they would block Second and Fourth in turn. That’s gridlock, so the buses just have to wait sometimes.

      The way to fix Third Avenue is as David Lawson says: get serious about diversions to Link. Spend twenty or thirty million to improve bus access to Fourth Avenue at Spokane and switch people from West Seattle and White Center to the train for the run into downtown. Truncate the 7 just south of Columbia City and have replacement service south of there terminate at Mount Baker. Yes, this would be “overlap” for the two miles between Orcas and Mt Baker, but the area is booming!

      Once Brooklyn and Roosevelt are open, do the same for northeast and north central Seattle: no one-bus rides south of the Ship Canal for anyone north of Green Lake between Greenwood and Roosevelt (except the RapidRide on Aurora) and anywhere north of 47th for those to the east of Roosevelt.

      That’s a lot of buses removed from Third Avenue, leaving it for the trolleys serving the close in areas without interference with the longer distance buses.

      1. I don’t disagree on leveraging Link investments once they are extensive enough to provide real diversionary value.

        But you’re wrong on the signal timing. There are are few places between Union and Cherry, and between Virginia and Cedar, where the lights are so poorly timed that it’s a vanishingly rare for any bus to make it stop-to-stop without stopping once or more in between.

        It’s not because group-timing is impossible. It’s because SDOT hasn’t bothered to futz with it in decades of growth.

        Many of those non-highway-accessing cross streets have surprisingly little traffic, even at rush hour. Why is it that the auto sewers of 2nd and 4th are allowed screw over pedestrians by holding their greens for 2.5 minutes at a time, but for some reason all of cross streets need 1:1 priority with 3rd?

        It has nothing to do with “impossible”.

      2. What downtown Seattle really needs (and major arterials outside of downtown) is adaptive signaling. Unfortunately we’re still a long way from there as the cost of implementation has never really been in SDOTs budget.

        I’d really love to see a cost estimate for this, the cost of running a network drop to every signal box, upgrading the control circuits, central server gear, software, programming, an operations center, and staffing for peaks and special events.

  21. Gotta say I’m quite surprised by some of the negativity here. When the TMP identified a center city circulator as a priority the skepticism—mine included—was that the city would never have the intestinal fortitude to dedicate a lane, grant signal priority (let alone preemption), or provide frequent enough service or good connections to the existing lines.

    And here we have five-minute service, a dedicated lane, and both signal priority and preemption. The project significantly increases the utility of our existing streetcar investments, pays for significant improvements to those existing lines, and provides hop-on, hop-off frequency along a dense corridor of residential, retail, and office spaces—not to mention major cultural attractions. It significantly speeds up the existing SLUS, then extends a one-seat ride from Hutch/Lake Union Park/SLU to Pioneer Square and the stadiums on dedicated ROW. 25,000 riders, 10,000 new riders, all for $35 million in local funds.

    1. Those of us who find the proposal redundant to its core cannot help but doubt the ridership figures (both the new riders and those who might be expected to divert from a straighter trip to a more zig-zaggy one).

      The priority-treatment promises are highly encouraging, as I’ve said. But if the line turns out to be fundamentally redundant, then it sort of doesn’t matter how fast the train moves, you know?

      I’m also still a bit worried that the Pioneer Square segment (in particular) won’t happen quite as promised. But that’s less of my concern than the sense that there’s a significant opportunity cost to devoting so much energy here.

      1. I guess I just don’t see how it’s redundant. The line directly connects dense, central, fast-growing destinations that neither buses nor Link directly connect, while significantly increasing the utility of our existing streetcar investments in a way that neither buses nor Link ever could.

        I’m certainly open to considering an analysis of ridership estimates—they’re obviously not always perfect—but no one here has really presented anything substantial.

        I suppose I also politely disagree with your characterization of the opportunity cost here.

  22. d.p. is fundamentally correct: the CCC is redundant and duplicative and we should be skeptical about its ridership forecast. The FTA model is a new one; NN explained that at the Pike Place open house.

    the key riders are new riders. riders attracted from existing service are not very important. (reminds us of the milk shake line of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will be Blood).

    Timing is an issue. there is no hurry. In 2015, the new low floor electric trolleybus fleet will be implemented. they will be faster and more convenient. In 2016, U Link will open. Link and the new ETB are game changers. Link will have six-minute headway and great speed and capacity. it is used for circulation trips today; it will be much better in 2016. Should SDOT tear up 1st Avenue before Bertha (SR-99 deep bore) is complete? 1st Avenue is a parking lot today, full of traffic. Transit priority should wait for the Seneca and Columbia ramps to come down.

    The objective of the CCC is to connect the two short, slow, and costly streetcars; but, the network already connects them. Trust the grid. Link will connect to both end of the FH line and the south end of the SLU line. Direct trips between SLU and South Jackson Street are provided by routes 70, 26-28, and 40. Direct trips between Little Saigon and downtown are already provided by routes 7, 14, and 36, with more frequency than the FH line will provide. on First Hill and Capitol Hill, riders intended for downtown will have much better options on Link or the radial ETB routes than the indirect FH line via 14th Avenue South. Why use a very costly mode for circulation trips when it can be provided by existing service? Please be skeptical of loopy route designs.

    The CCC will require new service subsidy. Seattle is about to be in the service subsidy business. why spend their scarce funds in downtown Seattle that has abundant service already? what of the law of diminishing marginal utility? what about district elections?

    If Seattle wants frequent and fast service on 1st Avenue, they could provide priority and shift frequent ETB routes to 1st from 3rd. those hours are on the street already. additional trips could be added to 3rd Avenue. Seattle could treat ETB as they would treat streetcars: in-lane stops, TSP, faster fare collection. but that should await Bertha as well.

    The CCC will require at least $111m in FTA and local funds. FTA funds are not free. both the local and FTA funds have opportunity cost. SDOT could apply for small starts grants for the Eastlake or Madison or Delridge (in the 2009 deep bore agreement) lines. FTA funds could help with the 23rd Avenue overhead, the Yesler Way overhead, South Henderson overhead.

    If we are concerned about climate change, we should spend funds converting diesel routes to electric modes, not adding a fourth redundant one atop Link and two ETB corridors in downtown Seattle.

    yes, both the SLU and FH lines were half-baked and would be better with the CCC, but the key issue is the opportunity cost of the local and FTA funds. what else could be done with them and how much benefit would those alternative projects yield? that is the question for Seattle. they should take some time and consider that. the menu of projects in the TMP is long and costly and the budget constraint real. yes, Drago, Nickels, and McGinn loved streetcars. but the planning cannot afford to be mono modal as the CCC study became.

  23. On the service redundancy issue, some have argued here that the 3d avenue bus corridor serves the purpose of in city circulation. Unfortunately, it does not. The buses on 3d avenue serve the purpose of suburb to downtown trips, not in city circulation.

    An anecdotal case in point: I live in Belltown. On a recent weekend, I was headed to a Mariner game. One might figure an in city circulation type trip like this would be well served by either of the rapid ride bus lines (either D or E to Ballard/West Seattle) on 3d avenue [one might even have thought this was a design purpose for the routes], so I headed to nearest rapid ride stop on 3d ave and checked OneRideAway for next arrival time: about 3-4 minutes. After waiting six minutes, the RapidRide from Ballard arrived. It’d apparently been delayed due to lack of priority signaling or for those with impaired mobility to load/unload farther up line. After waiting a moment to see that anyone was exiting, I boarded at front and scanned my ORCA at the reader, whereupon a wheelchair rider decided to disembark. So I went back out the front exit and circled to the middle entry to re-enter while the wheelchair rider completed his exit.

    When the bus eventually was ready to get under way again, the driver played an automated announcement on the PA system informing that this was not the RapidRide route to West Seattle, and any such riders should exit and wait for that other RapidRide. As I had my headphones on, the driver played this message again three more times over the next two stops while I ignored the message. My destination was the stadium district, in city, not West Seattle.

    We did eventually arrive at last stop of the route in Pioneer Square. It’s not exactly an inviting area, so I can see the driver’s skepticism that it would be a desirable in city destination.

    A couple lessons from this experience: all buses, even the RapidRide ones take much too long to load/unload the mobility impaired riders to serve the purpose of in city circulator. The extra minute this takes is expected and routine for a longer suburb/outer neighborhood to downtown trip. But for in city circulator, it is really very useful to have the level floor boarding advantage of a streetcar.

    Second, Metro and even the drivers do not view bus service – not even the RapidRide – as intended to service in city circulation trips. The driver in this anecdote apparently could not conceive providing a north downtown to south downtown ride, and assumed I could only rationally be a downtown-to-West Seattle rider from where I boarded.

    Considering the tens of thousands of residents already living along the SLU and FIrst Hill street car routes, plus the multitude of hotels and new residential units being built along this route. The CCC will easily achieve the ridership estimates in the study, if given the signal priority/exclusive lanes etc of the proposal. Plus, with the new residential and hotel developments already planned in this corridor, the CCC should outdo in its first five years the double digit growth rates that Link achieved in its first 5 years.

    For those already looking to district-based politicking, consider that center city, SLU, first hill and capitol hill will also have their districts, and have high and growing residential populations rivaling outlying single family residence areas. Thus, the council should also look to serve in city circulation as much as downtown-to-outlying trip needs.

  24. Seattle routes are assigned to 3rd Avenue; suburban routes are assigned to 2nd and 4th avenues. trip planning advice, Belltown to stadii: take first bus at curb southbound; alight near Westlake or USS transit tunnel stations and go to southbound platform; take first trip going southbound; alight from Link or routes 101, 102, 106, or 150 along the SODO busway and walk west; alight from inbound terminating or I-90 routes at IDS and walk southwest. minimize your wait; maximize use of exclusive right of way. both the E and the D-C lines were sub optimal for your trip.

  25. addendum: of course, if routes 124, 131, or 132 appeared first, one would not have to transfer to the DSTT services as they reach the stadii; they provide six trips per hour.

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