Mike Lindblom reports ($) that after a short delay the Seattle Council approved the Downtown Streetcar’s locally preferred alternative in an 8-1 vote, with only Nick Licata voting against. I summarized the salient points in coverage of the previous meeting. Now SDOT will pursue federal grants and leaders will attempt to identify a good funding source for the city’s contribution.

42 Replies to “Seattle Council Approves Streetcar Route”

    1. EXCLUSIVE LANES. Everyone remember, this is a vast improvement over the previous two streetcar projects, because EXCLUSIVE LANES.

      1. More like the F streetcar in San Francisco, or Tacoma Link. On MLK they closed all the minor intersections so the only traffic lights are at the arterials. You can’t do that downtown where every street has more cross traffic than the Rainier Valley arterials. Its presence — the size of the reserved roadway and stations — will be smaller than MLK because streetcars are small. There really is no existing equivalent in Seattle. I was going to say “like the SLU streetcar” but that’s not exclusive lane. Still, it shows the size of the line’s presence, much smaller than MLK.

  1. As I don’t feel like going behind the paywall, does anyone know Licata’s reason for the no vote?

    1. He doesn’t like rail. He prefers to use electric trolleybuses to connect two streetcar lines (because that obviously makes sense). He also sees this route as “economic development” which he does not think is as much of a priority. The worst part is that he falls into right-wing thinking on this, arguing that we have “limited dollars” and so we have to pick and choose what to do. Ah well. At least he was massively outvoted.

      1. But… we do have limited dollars. That’s why we don’t have every-five-minute buses through Magnolia: because, even though they could get some ridership, there’re better uses for that money elsewhere. Admittedly, that’s an extreme example, but it showcases the principle that funding is limited.

        This’s saying nothing about whether the downtown connector is a good use of money; I’m agnostic on it in general. But supporting it because of “spend ALL the money EVERYWHERE” is perhaps the single worst argument ever.

      2. I think, just possibly, you’ve read too much into Robert’s comment.

      3. Matt, why is he reading too much into Robert’s comment? It seems pretty clear that he is saying we shouldn’t have to pick and choose where to use our limited dollars — because that’s “right wing thinking.”

        Let’s not be fooled by such ad hominem arguments. I agree with William, we don’t have unlimited dollars to spend on public transportation, so we need to concentrate our limited funds where we can get the most bang per buck. From what I’ve read elsewhere, that seems to be what Licata is arguing too. You can agree or disagree with whether the First Avenue streetcar is a good cost-effective investment, but Licata’s underlying point is spot on.

      4. I’m not blown away by the streetcar, but the idea that there’s a fixed pot of money is really not true in this case. For whatever the reason, the feds like to fund streetcars. If we asked the feds to fund more service to Magnolia, they’d tell us to shove it. That’s kinda dumb, but that’s the world we live in. Might as well take the money that’s being offered.

      5. The thing is one can take arguing we have limited funds and claiming certain things are not a priority to the extreme and effectively argue against spending any money at all. When it comes to rail transit Licata does this. For example he has used the same arguments against U-Link feeling BRT was more cost effective..

        However unlike your average anti-rail type Licata does actually support transit funding, just not rail.

      6. The argument Licata makes is valid, that we have limited dollars and have to spend them in a targeted, judicious fashion.

        It’s just not a credible argument when it comes from Licata.

        Licata has never seen a rail project, ever, that he thought was worth the investment.

        He’s either a perennial concern-troll, or he has not spent enough time on our buses to realize how horrible of an alternative to rail they really are.

    1. From what we’ve seen so far, pretty high. If it doesn’t get federal funding, it probably won’t even happen.

      1. From what I’ve been told this line will likely be at the top of the list for small starts funding once the paperwork is submitted.

    2. Very good. Seattle knows all the ins and outs of the grant process, and always has all their ducks in a row in terms of the planning, accounting, and studies that the Feds want to see.

  2. Good news…looking forward to this getting spun up. What are we talking….a Jan, 2017 open? Complete WAG.

    1. We’ll know the opening date when we know the funding. There’s no proposal for funding yet. Even if the fes pay part of it they won’t pay all of it. If a package comes in the form of a referendum or ST3 or whatever else, I’ll be looking at whether it makes headway in the city’s overall transit needs, not just whether it funds this streetcar, and I’ll be especially making sure it doesn’t postpone those other needs again as if the streetcar will solve everything.

      1. $35 million or so isn’t a huge chunk of change for the City of Seattle. If the Council and Mayor get creative they can find the funds. Some ideas would be a LID, PSRC transportation grants, viaduct mitigation funds, councilmatic bonds, BtG funds, etc.

  3. Robert Cruickshank is of the political persuasion that whatever the Democratic powers that be, whether developers or unions, want to pocket, must be accepted. Any criticism of the blank checks he wants to pass out to the buddies of Democratic politicians, regardless of how wasteful or corrupt, you see, simply makes you a right wing shill. I say this as a strong Democrat who realizes a lot more transit ridership can be gained if the projects you construct have an old-fashioned characteristic: they’re “cost effective.” (sic)

    1. This project is cost effective. Particularly when you consider the very small amount of local money likely to be required.

  4. At what cost and effects to yet another long-time established electric bus route? The First Hill streetcar has been plagued with problems with the electrical lines and it’s not even running yet! Why don’t these agencies work together to create a seamless transit system? Improve the existing infrastructure. Build the streetcar on a different pathway. Give people more options and reasons to take transit.

    1. The central city connector does help make transit more seamless, gives people more options, and gives them more reason to take transit.

      There aren’t a lot of things the city can spend money on where the federal government is likely to pick up 2/3 of the cost.

      What “alternate pathways” would you suggest?

      1. How does it “make transit more seemless”?

        I think you’ve hit on why the blind endorsements of this project as either inevitable or necessary irk me so, and why even with (hopefully) solid lane and TSP planning, I find the comparison to European small-city core corridors so flawed.

        The flaw remains that by failing to run in a straight line, and lacking truly intuitive crossings and connections with other transit, it fails to offer any legible, “seemless” interconnectivity with other services or other parts of the urban environment.

        By that, I mean that there is virtually no chance of someone standing in front of a multi-modal network map, anywhere in the city, and thinking: “Okay, if I take this here, and then switch to the streetcar there, that’s the obvious fastest and easiest way to wind up over here.” That is the true meaning of “makes transit more seemless”. And there simply are no trips for which the Center City Streetcar finds itself a part of such visually logical trip planning.

        This remains a problem even in light of David L’s (probably correct) proposition that 3rd and Yesler’s wino mausoleum makes 1st a preferable travel corridor. This might convince some SLU through riders to trade speed for one-seat access. But it fails to overcome the unintuitiveness of switching to the streetcar from any other direction or in any other context.

        I don’t disagree that arguing any and all splurge projects can lead to absurd conclusions, and you’re right that Licata’s opposition to U-Link discredits him. But even if we only pay for 1/3 of this project, it still has to be effective to be “cost effective”.

        That it is not a project that favors “seemlessness”, despite the obligatory use of that words as a talking point, is probably why it will fail the “effectiveness” test.

  5. I think the reason Licata thinks the street cars is for development is because that’s how they’re typically sold. They’re no faster than buses, have about the same capacity and are much less flexible. But somehow the permanence of those rails gives developers confidence. Just look at the Pearl District!

    1. Actually they carry quite a bit more people, it’s easier to get a decent headway and they’re just much more comfortable. If I want to go to slu park from westlake I’m going to walk or ride the slut, not hop on the 40.

      1. Most will take the 40 since it’s much more frequent.

        That’s the killer with the streetcar.

  6. I just hope the council continues their momentum and plans for a connection on the north end to complete a loop, kinda like what Portland is doing. If the two lines could connect up some where around Roanoke street that would be awesome. Could gain a lot of travelers from eastlake and north capitol hill this way. The more urban neighborhoods that are tied into the system the greater the return on initial investments. Leave the buses and LR to bring people in and out of the city and let the streetcars move them around the urban core.

    1. The longer term streetcar vision is to extend the Eastlake (SLU) streetcar to the U-District or maybe even to Northgate. That would replace the 70, and and the Northgate extension could absorb some aspects of the 66, 67, 48, 72, and 73. Seattle’s Transit Master Plan also has a few other streetcar lines (e.g., Westlake, and north Rainier if I remember), but none in north Capitol Hill.

      For the First Hill streetcar, there’s no proposal to extend it further than Volunteer Park (Prospect Street I think). The general feeling is that segment doesn’t have enough ridership for it. Many of the 49’s current riders will switch to Link when UW and U-District stations open, and there aren’t many people getting on/off on 10th Ave E or Harvard Ave E. That area is outside the urban village so no upzones there.

      If the First Hill and SLU streetcars did meet at Roanoke, I think it would be more productive for both of them to continue to the U-District on a shared track, rather than looping back south of the Ship Canal.

      1. Doing so would really screw over people who want to bike along Eastlake. Building the streetcar there without also providing a bike lane that is not on the streetcar tracks would be very dangerous. If we were willing to get rid of parking on at least one side of the street, we could probably squeeze in a cycletrack, similar to Broadway. However, the pessimistic side of me assumes that the parking is sacrosanct (the spaces along Eastlake today actually do get used), which means that a viable bike route along Eastlake is conditional on the streetcar extension never getting built.

  7. So why not design these exclusive lanes so buses can also use them? Like center running lanes with right side island platforms, like SF Market Street?

    How does this work when connecting the two streetcar lines, being that one line is all overhead electric and the other partial overhead electric/battery? SLU Streetcars will never be able to through run all the way up Broadway, no?

    1. There is some discussion about selling the SLU cars to ST for the expanded system down there and ordering new capable cars.

      Pretty much in the dark about that part though.

  8. d.p. is correct again.

    Both the FTA funds and the local funds have opportunity cost. what other transit projects are not going to be provided because the CCC is? The CCC willl have both capital and operating cost. it will take millions in new service subsidy for five minute headway. and NN and SDOT estimate it at $200 per streetcar hour, when bus hours are about $150. Service is already abundant in the CBD; north-south service is clearly not the best place to invest new service hours in Seattle. perhaps district elections will help wake up the Council to that choice and distribution. CBD circulation service is about to get before the CCC with low floor ETB in 2015 and six-minute headway Link in 2016. we attract ridership with a network of service on all modes; the CCC is a costly distraction. the two existing streetcars are a sunk cost and the network already connects them. Link will connect the north and south ends of the First Hill lines; it will connect the south end of the SLU line with the south end of the FH line. It will make no new connection much better, especially if compared with improved ETB operation on 1st Avenue post Bertha, if that what Seattle wants.

    between SLU and South Jackson Street: routes 70, 40, and 26-28 with more trips.
    between Little Saigon and Westlake: routes 7, 14, and 36 with more trips
    between Capitol Hill and CBD: Link in 2016 with more trips and greater speed and reliability
    between First Hill and CBD: routes 2, 3, and 12.

    when Bertha finishes and if Seattle wants to make 1st Avenue work for transit, ETB routes could be shifted to it. 1st Avenue does not work well for transit now due to SDOT and WSDOT actions.

    the cost effective answer for Seattle is to treat its ETB as it would treat streetcars. Seattle could apply for different FTA grants: Madison, Eastlake, sidewalks, etc.

    the policy objective ought to be to maximize transit ridership or mobility and not to maximize streetcar miles. the loopy alignment should be offensive to STB readers.

    1. The numbers for cost per hour are phoney numbers. Streetcars are cheaper to operate per hour than diesel buses along the same route. If they’re getting different numbers, there’s something phoney in the computations.

      1. in Seattle, the streetcar is a boutique operation with proportionally more supervision and maintenance. electric trolleybus is the alternative, not diesel. but actually, the alternative is using the existing of service from all modes.

      2. Don’t bother introducing facts, Eddie.

        For Nathanael, “rail~volution” is a rail-ligion.

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