Occidental streetcar stop

Capitol Hill Seattle:

It may be time to add the First Hill Streetcar to the list of Seattle transit projects facing serious setbacks. After the Seattle Department of Transportation pushed back the launch date from fall 2014 to “early” 2015, CHS has learned that the SDOT now expects the Capitol Hill-to-Pioneer Square streetcar won’t be in service until at least August.

Inekon is apparently paying $25K $1K for every day of delay. At this rate, if the streetcar is delayed another 10 years or so, they’ll be picking up the tab for the whole line. Much more at the CHS link.

80 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Delayed Again”

  1. Minor correction: the CHS article states that Inekon paid $25K for the first day of delay and an additional $1K per day since.

  2. If the line is otherwise ready for service, then why not invite KinkiSharyo, Kawasaki, Brookville and Alstom to demonstrate their battery – overhead streetcars on it until the ordered cars arrive? All of those have similar cars in operation in other cities. The first car from Brookville should be available since they were supposed to be finished at the end of 2014, but the Dallas line construction is delayed.

  3. time to replace the street car ‘managers’ at the City with professionals who know what they are doing. this does not bode well for any other street car lines.

    1. It’s not the city’s fault; it’s the manufacturer’s. The city part of the project – rebuilding the street – has been complete for a long while. Of course, I hope the city will choose a different manufacturer on any other streetcar lines, unless this one demonstrates that it’s adequately reformed.

      1. It’s the city’s fault insofar as the city chose the bid and negotiated the contract with such a minor penalty for delay.

      2. That’s a valid point, if this’s considered a small penalty. I’ve no idea whether that’s the case, or how to calculate it – you can’t use the cost of replacement bus service, because most of that would be drivers, and the streetcar would equally need drivers.

    2. The infrastructure is 100% complete and ready for streetcars. Besides, this (like most projects) was designed and built by private professionals under contract with the City. The City simply cuts the check at the end of the day. There aren’t many manufs out there better and more proven than Inekon. There just happens to be a world-wide shortage of streetcar parts due to huge demand.

      1. not true – electric trolley buses (ETB) using Broadway to go into service were all rerouted through downtown because the overhead lines were de-energized. ETB routes 2,3,4,10,12,44 affected

    1. Still newsworthy though. The now 15 months of slippage on the project schedule hasn’t gotten as much press as it deserves, IMO, no matter one’s views on the utility of the project.

      1. The delivery trucks at the kidney centers notice. They don’t have to stop in front of, and block, streetcars yet. (Are there any plans to move the delivery zone at those kidney centers off of Broadway?)

    2. Agreed. I live on the route and will probably take it occasionally to 12th and Jackson to dinner, but it’s no great improvement in mobility.

      1. I’ll use it most in the 2 months between when it finally opens and the end of the baseball season, as a moderate improvement over taking the 49 downtown and switching to Link. But once ULink opens, I’ll probably not ride it that much until/if the Aloha extension is built, and only then as far as ~Madison.

    3. As a counterpoint, I’m looking forward to it. The streetcar will let me go from my house in the western CD to various spots on Broadway without doing the crazy transfer at 23rd and John-or-Madison and waiting on the perpetually-overcrowded 8, the ever-tardy 43, the not-very-often 11, or the seriously-once-an-hour-after-7pm 60. And I get a better selection of destinations than just Broadway/Pine (which, I could use the 2 to reach and it has the bonus of being an OK transfer).

      Instead, I take the 3 or 4 to the Broadway streetcar stop and have at it. This is less about the streetcar being a “good” thing than wondering, yet again, why it is that connectivity between these two adjacent neighborhoods being so poor.

      1. Well that’s nice, but are you telling me that a bus couldn’t do that? Really?

        That is the part of this that is ridiculous. I’m not a streetcar hater. I’ve ridden them in other cities. Cities that are much, much bigger than Seattle. Cities that have top notch subways. That is the difference.

        I get it. I understand the appeal of slow, surface transit. Sometimes you don’t want to go underground just to go a few blocks. You see the vehicle and just want to hop on it. It might move slower, but you don’t have to go down and back up again and besides, it is nice night and this will be fun.

        But a bus can do exactly that. In fact, we have these special buses that are all electric. We call them trolleys (another name for “streetcars”). The provide the same functionality, but at a much cheaper cost. Like all buses, once in a while, they get so full that riding them is a real pain. But the main reason they are so crowded is because there is no alternative. The buses are stuck in traffic, and we can’t afford to spend money to get them to move faster. If we could, then they wouldn’t be so crowded. Better yet, we could spend money on other forms of transit that actually avoid traffic (like grade separated rail, grade separated buses or gondolas). But no, we are spending our money on a train that won’t run that often, and if it is like the existing streetcar, won’t be even close to our most popular run, despite being essentially free (for anyone willing to flash an Orca card).

        At best, this is a new, half way decent bus line. Great. About time we started adding new lines. But this is ridiculously expensive for that.

      2. I agree, a bus (especially a trolley) can do it better or at least cheaper. But that’s not what is on the menu. Like it or loathe it, the FHSC is soon here and I’ll use it. This is another in a several-item list where I think a circulator would be nice to have, but we have a streetcar instead.

      3. RossB,

        I waver between indifference and enthusiasm for streetcars, although I’m never angry about transit being nicer than necessary. But I think I can capture the argument. A streetcar, unlike a bus line, will (in order of declining importance):

        – will prevent any conversations between riders and drivers, eliminating a key source of delay
        – allow easier boarding for wheeled passengers of all kinds
        – have 100% off board payment, that we cannot seem to achieve with a bus line, much to STB’s chagrin
        – will stand out from the spaghetti of bus routes and therefore be more legible
        – will virtually guarantee frequent, all-day service given the sunk capital cost
        – be an obvious focus point for future capital improvements
        – be a more comfortable ride.

        None of these things are slam dunks, and few of them are fundamental technological limitations of buses. But they are the choices that end users have in the real world given the abilities and inclinations of regional policymakers.

      4. – be an obvious focus point for future capital improvements

        I generally agree with all seven of your counterpoints in streetcars’ defense, but I should push back a little on this one. The Center City Connector (CCC) is more defensible IMO because it reduces car capacity and provides dedicated ROW, fundamentally remaking 1st Avenue into a more human place, even if the transit service it provides is redundant. And the SLU line can be retrofitted with transit or BAT lanes on Westlake and Terry, giving the CCC a fighting chance at achieving even-ish combined headways. But the First Hill Line is fatally flawed in that there is no capital investment that would make it more reliable. Broadway’s footprint was so overengineered that you can’t retrofit the street for exclusive lanes without either removing all turn lanes, re-laying the track, removing all parking, and/or removing the bikeway. So the First Hill line is mostly unimprovable, and its delays will reverberate as far as McGraw Square, partially squandering the (good) investment we’re making on 1st Avenue.

      5. There are some improvements, like signal priority, that don’t need tons of road space. But I agree it would have been better to put the cycle track elsewhere, and I think clear-thinking streetcar advocates would, too.

      6. will stand out from the spaghetti of bus routes and therefore be more legible

        This would be especially helpful, if the streetcar went anywhere useful in a direct or timely manner.

        Which it doesn’t.

        will virtually guarantee frequent, all-day service given the sunk capital cost

        12-15 minutes is a hell of a long wait for a transfer, when most trip pairs are expected to be 3/4 of a mile or less, and when the ride will be do brutally slow.

        Also, no Sunday evening service whatsoever.

        So yeah, fuck those assumptions!

      7. Above failures of markup aside, I find this infuriating. Martin, you’re smarter than that. But apparently you haven’t ever been to the Seattle Streetcar managers’ website or seen their Twitter feed.

        They don’t care about speed. They don’t care about directness. They don’t care about usefulness. They don’t care about frequency. And they don’t care about span.

        They are the living, breathing, hand-waving embodiment of all that gives lie to your arguments of inherent service superior following from “sunk capital costs”. Because they don’t care about transit!

      8. I’ve written previously why I’m disappointed with FHSC implementation. But I think the reasons I listed are the ones that drove the people who fought for a streetcar.

      9. Well, won’t those people have egg on their face!

        Let’s continue to thoughtlessly regurgitate all of those boilerplate arguments of inherent superiority, including those that the very line in question goes out of its way to prove bunk. It’s so much easier than trying to make people face the bullshit contained in their Pavlovian spew!

        And what makes you think those who “fought” for a streetcar on the basis of false logic aren’t the very same people expressing a total lack of interest in making the best use of its capitol costs?

      10. I don’t understand what the SDOT website has to do with the First Hill activists that drove adoption of the FHSC.

        You’ve called into question 2 of the 7 reasons someone might prefer a streetcar to a bus line, and by my reckoning among the least important ones. I said there would be good frequency and span, and they’re not enough for you, which I think I agree with. Further capital improvements are of course a prediction we’ll validate in the future. The other five, except perhaps legibility, are indisputable advantages given the actual implementation of bus lines in King County.

        I don’t think people who wanted good transit service on First Hill (i.e. “better than buses”, not “as good as Link”) will be disappointed. Whether that was worth the regional investment is a completely different question that reasonable people can disagree on. To me it depends on what the plausible alternative projects are, and I’m not sure what the answer is.

      11. …and by my reckoning among the least important ones.

        I would suggest that those who pushed for this project, who tried to claim it was to any degree a valid substitute for Link or preferable to bus-based investments like a Madison BRT, strongly privileged the “sunk cost” arguments.

        How many times did we hear that “rails mean permanence, investment in the neighborhood, intention to provide a core service, dedication to quality outcomes, and a psychological reassurance that your vehicle will be along soon”?

        Why do you think the press releases and the website boasted of 10-minute headways, with the frequency drops and span asterisks coming along years later? The streetcar was sold on the premise that these particular outcomes were both paramount and inherent. The lie here is total.

        I don’t think people who wanted good transit service on First Hill (i.e. “better than buses”, not “as good as Link”) will be disappointed.

        I don’t even think they’ll ride it. Seriously. Even at the 10-minute-service peaks.

        Why would a commuter from the north or south possibly switch to a thing that will add a guaranteed 12-20 minutes to their total trip time? Someone who works on First Hill remains infinitely better connected from downtown, despite the fractured and traffic-stuck terribleness of our current downtown-First Hill bus routes. And if Metro totally screws you, at least you can decide to hike the six blocks uphill — the walking distance from Capitol Hill is only somewhat flatter and quite a bit further.

        What’s so galling about this outcome is that north-south transit along the Broadway corridor really is in undersupply, and failing the pent-up demand that exists for Capitol Hill-First Hill-Little Saigon-Beacon Hill connectivity. But at no point has this really been the crux for streetcar-boosters. And so we get something far to slow, far too infrequent, and far to indirect to address the actual problems of the corridor!

        Further capital improvements are of course a prediction we’ll validate in the future.

        Zach was too gentle above. Take a walk up to the intersection of Broadway and Pine, and you will very quickly understand that the streetcar is unsalvageable. The traffic — which now routinely backs up for 2 blocks — must clear entirely before the streetcar can even reach the platform and open its doors. Therefore, any attempt at “signal priority” would require holding the light for minutes at a time: long enough for the traffic can clear, for the passenger stop to be made, and then for the streetcar to close its doors and lumber across.

        Doing that would, of course, screw over cross-traffic on Pine even more than the recent rearrangements have screwed it over today. And Pine remains the more important transit street.

        A faster streetcar via further capital investments is a pipe dream. This thing is d.o.a.

    4. If the streetcar route were really important to mobility, Metro or Sound Transit could have and would have implemented a temporary bus route to serve the streetcar route until the actual streetcars become available. Sound Transit, in fact, did just this by operating a TIBS->airport shuttle for 6 months until the airport station was ready to open for service.

      The fact that they haven’t done this for the streetcar route suggests that even they believe the streetcar to be basically useless.

      1. A Metro contact who shall remain anonymous does believe it’s useless, it shouldn’t have been built, and now that it is built it shouldn’t be extended (neither the Broadway extension nor the CCC), and laments on how its cost could have funded more trolleybus lines or frequency or more street improvements.

        The reason it was built is that First Hill didn’t believe a trolleybus route would be any better than the existing poor routes, so they wouldn’t accept anything but a streetcar as compensation for the loss of First Hill Link station. That is the public mentality we have to change if we want to stop more streetcars and move toward much better bus routes. In my mind, the advantage of a train is its fast speed, high frequencyand high capacity. If it’s crippled by being in-street or without signal priority, then most of those advantages go away, and we might as well just use a bus. We need more grade-separated trains, with MLK-style as the absolute minimum quality. We don’t need more in-street trains. I’ll support them if they’re coming anyway, but we need to focus on frequency and priority ROW first and mode second.

    5. not true – electric trolley buses (ETB) using Broadway to go into service were all rerouted through downtown because the overhead lines were de-energized. ETB routes 2,3,4,10,12,44 affected

  4. Just wanted to point out, just about ever problem the FHSC has ever faced is the result of modal choice; Streetcar. If it had been built as a BRT route,
    -The route would have been better (Because buses can negotiate grades much better than trains)
    -Construction costs and impact woud have been a fraction of what it turned out to be with rail
    -There would far less likely be such delay in vehicle delivery, and even if there was, the operation could be started using existing buses temporarily.
    -Much better operational integration with exiating buses: There are several locations where despite the overlap with buses, the streetcar has the platform in the center while the buses serve the curb, meaning there will be no benefit of added frequency for the bus riders. Likely wouldnt have been a problem with BRT.


    1. Looking at the map of the route it looks to me as though it needs doors on the left and right side. You’d need a special bus if that is the case.

    2. You may be right, but beating a dead horse.

      RE: construction cost. This thing cost a ton because it was a total curb-to-curb rebuild of 2 miles of street with mostly concrete roads and a lot of traffic control. Even trading rail fancy bus stops and trolley buses (grades likely require trolleys), this would have been a spendy project.

      RE: operations with existing buses. At 2 stop locations on Jackson (5th & 8th) would it be improved. Otherwise, the buses and streetcars share the same stops. The 5th & Jackson stop is notoriously congested and crowded, so separating them has benefits.

      Downside with BRT: future capacity and growth is fairly limited by 60′ buses. Operating costs for huge streetcar vehicles or trains is cheaper. And streetcars last longer than buses. And BRT tends to get really watered down in this country (including here). And future integration with City Center Connector and future Seattle Streetcar expansions.

      1. Your biggest point here is about BRT creep. We don’t need another “BRT” line that has few BRT features. I’m all for BRT when done right but Metro has absolutely not done it right.

      2. @Mitch. Yes, and now Seattle gets a chance to do rail wrong as well, by building a streetcar. It has very few of the advantages of light rail, and all of the disadvantages. The only advantage is capacity. When it runs every five minutes and is standing room only then I’ll be proven wrong, but my guess is we will never need the extra capacity that this choo-choo provides.

      3. . And BRT tends to get really watered down in this country (including here).

        Aside from being fully Proof-of-Payment, the FHSC is also really watered down. It has exactly zero exclusive right-of-way, and only has signal priority at a few intersections.

        And future integration with City Center Connector and future Seattle Streetcar expansions.

        This seems like a lousy way to plan a transit system. If a line only makes sense when paired with future, yet unbuilt, unfunded lines that are redundant with existing transit infrastructure, that’s a good sign that it’s a waste of money, or at least shouldn’t be an immediate priority.

      4. Size isn’t the primary cheap-out. Frequency is. Unless the frequency is timed to Link, it will get a lot less ridership than it could have. For what this line cost, having enough streetcars to pick up each load of passengers exiting Capitol Hill Station to get to their jobs along Broadway in Pill Hill would have made this useful transit.

        Instead, I bet we will end up having buses duplicate the line after all, to fill in for the FHSC’s lack of frequency.

    3. “BRT”? Really? Do we need to go all transit-geeky here? You WANT this route to stop early and often; there are a lot of old folks who can’t walk very far sprinkled all around it. It doesn’t need 1/4 mile stop spacing and whiffy signal priority. It’s a freaking urban circulator.

      Now, does it need to be a streetcar? No, probably not; a bus could do the job as long as you have a dedicated fleet that doesn’t have barf on the seats; the folks on First Hill are, after all, pretty darn affluent or they couldn’t live on First Hill. So I guess “BRT” would be a good thing to call it so you could have a separate bus fleet, but you really DO NOT WANT a fast bus whizzing down Broadway.

      1. The streetcar will marginally serve the medical district. It will be more useful for Seattle U students and staff, and employees of the various businesses along Broadway, as well as employees in Little Saigon who happen to live up the hill.

        Service to most of the medical buildings will continue to be buses, such as the 60, the free circulator (Yes, there is a free circulator between the medical buildings and downtown, that the die-hard defender of the 2 seems to not have discovered), and the various east-west (well, northeast-southwest) routes running almost every block in the First Hill grid.

        I kinda wish it were called the “Broadway Streetcar”, since that is what it really serves.

        Now, can we make Madison BRT a trunk line on Madison, or will it merely be one of several (parallel) buses serving First Hill? The concept of having four or more route numbers to choose from isn’t a big deal. Having them serve different stops on parallel streets, and leaving the cheap-phoners (like me) guessing which one to head to is a PITA. And that goes even more so for those less physically agile.

        One straight line to move them all.
        One set of stops where we can find them.
        One dedicated lane to speed them all.
        And in the darkness be there for us.
        (in less than a half hour or hour)

        If front-door service at Harborview is really that important, then having a van with a lift go back and forth between Harborview, the nearest Madison stop, the nearest FHSC stop, and/or Capitol Hill Station is an investment that should easily pencil out.

  5. Wow. These are getting to be Bertha scale delays.

    At what point is someone going to start talking about the sunk cost fallacy?

    1. The difference is, the Bertha delays are costing tons of money. the FHSC delays, through the saved operating coats and the collected fines are actually probably saving the city money. lol

    2. Just no where near Bertha severity or scariness.

      Probably not because we know the project is done and streetcar vehicles will be here eventually. We don’t know if Bertha will be able to complete the project without another costly or impossible repair.

      1. Does the “sunk cost fallacy” have to do with the long tubular construction project at Alaskan Way and Main Street?

      2. The sunk cost fallacy has nothing to do with how big or scary a project is.

        Well, not exactly. One of my many fears about the DBT is that it’ll continue to be doggedly pursued by politicians well after it’s clear to everyone it’s a terribly poor gamble to continue to attempt to complete it because our politicians don’t understand sunk costs. Mayor Murray’s recent statements make it pretty clear he doesn’t.

    3. Actually, since there’s no critical need for this streetcar line (unlike Link or ST Express or, with caveats, Sounder), and since we get a small refund every day it’s late, I don’t mind at all if it’s delayed for another year or two. Let Inkeon take its time, and perhaps fill other cities’ more critical orders first. :)

      1. I agree. The longer they take, the less expensive this thing is, which means it is a smaller waste of money. If only Bertha worked that way.

    4. “At what point is someone going to start talking about the sunk cost fallacy?”

      There are no buildings above the FHSC that are sinking (at least because of the streetcar).

  6. A year and a half late on the booby prize. I wonder if U Link with a First Hill station would have been finished by now!

    1. No because U-Link without a First Hill station is not finished yet. It would have been a longer line, with sharp turns and angles that may have caused engineering delays, and soils that may have been problematic, plus another station to build.

  7. I wonder how many in the “I’ve got my bicycle track funded out of a transit project” care much about the delay or the slowness of the streetcar once it finally arrives. It really amazes me that we’ve designed a rail line to be so slow in favor of that track — with transit money that could have been used better for transit!

  8. Hmm, I guess STB can save this headline and reuse it after the FHSC is actually in production.

    Sorry, cheap shot but couldn’t resist.

  9. I wonder how many of these delays are due to the choice of the hybrid propulsion system- rather than plain electric streetcars. I would also like to see a comparison between the street gradients in Seattle versus the places where hybrid cars have been tried.

    The inbound line is far from universally downgrade. And with windows that don’t open, electric power must constantly be used both to cool and ventilate the interior. I’m told that the missing wire would cost $2 million. Only a matter of time….

    Someone that knows, tell us: what does the First Hill Line have by way of cross-track enabling operations around a blockage? And also- let’s hear somebody tell us with a straight face that due to the missing southbound wire, we can’t use South Lake Union cars on First Hill.

    But I’d especially like to see some discussion comparing this country’s present streetcar manufacturing capacity with what it was seventy years ago. When we build machines like the PCC streetcars, which are still in service under Third World conditions.

    And finally: if there aren’t serious Federal research dollars pushing the hybrid program, I’ve seen too many streetcars and trolleybuses share positive wire in San Francisco to believe we can’t do the same here. If we’re not up to same overhead here as there, it’s a fast and economical flight for some personnel who’ve proved they can do build same here.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Trolley buses have a great deal of flexibility of where the wire gets put. Just make the wire wander to the side a bit.

      The problem with sharing a positive wire here is that the Seattle trolley buses are 600 volts, while the streetcars are nominal 750 volts. In reality, the rated voltage on the streetcars from the manufacturer is actually a range and is likely in the 575 to 800 volt range due to voltage variation along the wire, so technically they could probably share a positive that is 600 volts. Trying to convince the people who control this type of thing that it is possible to do is another, but the reality is that they should only have to move the location of the trolley bus wire over a bit. The flexibility that trolley buses have with the location of their overhead is really nice, and should be utilized here.

      1. Glenn,

        In San Francisco the Market Street cars actually use the hot wire of the trolley bus overhead. It’s not like they’re next to each other, just sharing the support wires. They actually share the hot.

        However, that can’t work with pantograph equipped streetcars; the Market cars have trolley poles.

      2. Sa Francisco has 600 volt cars, so they can do that.

        The reality is that both are nominal voltages, so it should be possible here.

        Overhead can be designed for both poles and pantographs. I’ve run into one or two systems that did it that way as they had both modern and historic car fleets. You need special frogs that probably aren’t worth the expense over just moving the trolley wire over a bit.

    2. Mark,

      They can share the overhead because they use trolley poles, rather than pantographs. Pans are too wide and would short the hot to the ground wire.

      1. Anandakos: any chance somebody makes a smaller pantograph than the ones for interurban speed, like the Kinki-Sharyo cars?

        Also: who says trolley-poles don’t work? I personally remember both the older interurban cars- incidentally, the interurbans essentially George Benson streetcars, except bigger, heavier, and a whole lot faster- and the Chicago and North Shore “Electroliners”.

        The Electroliners were made in the 1930’s by St. Louis Car Company, which also built world-leading PCC streetcars. These 4-section trainsets ran street track through Milwaukee, and went elevated around the downtown “Loop” in Chicago. In between, they ran 100 miles an hour through the Skokie Valley.

        One of the segments contained a restaurant car- in those days, any WWI vet could tell you all the bistros were in France. White table-cloths. Real coffee. Might be worth another try, like between Everett and Olympia.

        However, voltage difference could truly make wire-sharing impossible. Also, second wire absolutely necessary when-not if-streetcars from the South Lake Union line are needed do fill service on First Hill. Which they will be.

        Having watched pantograph streetcars and trolleybuses share same street on the Muni J-Church line, with trolley-wire swinging to the left for several blocks- I think Metro needs to have several miles of copper wire and a couple of million dollars in the bank to limit the amount of embarrassment they’re going to deserve.

        Mark Dublin

    3. The SLU cars can’t run on the FHSC right of way. As they don’t currently connect it isn’t a big deal.

      With the Central City Connector the lines will connect. Some of the operating proposals have interlining which will require replacement of the SLU cars.

      Since the SLU cars are fairly new we should have no problem selling them to Portland, Tucson, Atlanta, or DC.

      1. @Glenn: The difference is that the FHSC is designed to run off-wire on battery power in the (mostly) downhill direction and the SLUSC vehicles don’t have that capability.

        This was done to make the overhead wiring simpler and cheaper given the presence of many existing, incompatible trolleybus wires in the area. I am completely ignorant of the relative merits of poles and pantagraphs, why voltage differs between the systems, or any of the other arcana. (OK, to some people this stuff is decidedly not arcana, and that’s good, because electric transit is a very good thing to have around here — but most of the people that are really interested in the details of overhead wiring and electric transit operations surely don’t think those things should limit major transit network decisions in 2015 either! I mean, if I was really interested in that stuff I’d probably be yelling into the void about how Seattle needs to rationalize its infrastructure to empower us to build a great electric transit network!)

  10. This streetcar should have been built with a design like what is being proposed for Madison BRT… center running dedicated transit lanes with right side island boarding (to share with conventional buses sharing the route like this dual tram-bus transitway in Amsterdam https://vrijspraak.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/winterse-beelden-uit-amsterdam/amsterdam-bus-lane/). Thankfully that is the plan for Madison BRT so at least we may have learned something.

    I’m all for better bike infrastructure but on Broadway for a regional transit project, transit should have been the priority in the design for the corridor with dedicated lanes in limited street right of way space and bikes could have been on a parallel street for a neighborhood greenway. This FHSC should have been an example of the Rapid Streetcar concept, that is, largely small-scale light rail. Rapid Streetcar is how all streetcars should be built from now on here in Seattle and elsewhere in the US.

    And yes, they should have used off-the-shelf modern streetcars with a trolley pole swapping for the standard pantograph as almost the entire route was already under wire.

    The Capitol Hill Station streetcar stop at SCCC is getting ravaged by standard Capitol Hill vandalism and abuse waiting years for its first passenger.

    1. >> This streetcar should have been built with a design like what is being proposed for Madison BRT

      I agree. Or better yet, it should have simply been a BRT like the Madison BRT. Prove to me (and everyone else) that you really need the capacity of a train before you spend the money on one. Better yet, prove to me that you can’t spend money on improvements that would increase the speed of a bus, and thus reduce crowding. At some point, when we have a subway system like Toronto, and as many people as Toronto, then maybe it would make sense to add a streetcar. Until then, there are other things we can build that would be far more cost effective.

      1. This approach makes a lot of sense, Ross. It’s basically the same concept as the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. But as every arterial streetcar- and trolley bus line- should already have- complete lane-reservation and signal pre-empt too.

        But these things can, and definitely will be added- after enough passengers get tired of being stuck in traffic.


  11. The largest expense from the streetcars’ delayed delivery may be the headache for the service planners and the Sounding Board. Having to present a Plan A (after streetcar opens for service) and a Plan B (before it opens) is a mess.

    1. I’ve heard the delays are due to problems with the unique design of the braking system and ambitious expectations from inexperienced City staff

    1. It’s only packed during peak or special events, and IMO its use isn’t due to its inherent popularity but rather to the fact that neither Metro or Sound Transit have admitted that the job core goes north of Stewart St. The vast majority of transit commuters to SLU require a streetcar transfer to get the last mile to work, because only 3 routes serve the core of SLU (8, 40, 70) and 6 others skirt its periphery (E, 5, 16, 26, 28, 66) while literally over a hundred routes serve the traditional CBD. The SLUT isn’t a total disaster, granted, but it’s hard for me to get excited about mostly forced transfers in mixed traffic that are slower than walking.

      1. The 40 runs on the same street as the streetcar, and the 70 is two blocks away. They both cover the streetcar’s area and much further. Why do we need the streetcar again?

      2. Sending every commuter and regional route through surface street congestion that’s slower than walking (in places), all the way from SLU to the ID, would be worse than relying on forced transfers.

        What we really need to do is make the local routes faster, more reliable, and also frequent and legible. If existing local service, whose real focus is on farther-out neighborhoods, is short on capacity, or if its headways are unreliable (especially during peak hours) because of unfixable problems in farther-out neighborhoods, then maybe shorter, intra-downtown routes are part of the solution. The SLUSC is an incredibly poor implementation of that… and having tracks in the pavement doesn’t help it. One of the problems with the whole concept is that the reliability improves and capacity needs diminish off-peak, so the overlapping longer routes suffice, while still being necessary for service to farther out places (here “farther out places” are as close as, say, Fremont, Beacon Hill, or the Central District — the streetcar suburbs that the new streetcars do not deign to serve).

        To whatever degree this extra greater-downtown-only-during-peak service is needed, it’s hard to figure out how to conceive of it if not its own route. A short-turn 40 or 70, in SLU’s case, to guarantee reliable headways between SLU and downtown? There are lots of buses that go down Jackson or Dexter or Westlake and service on these corridors is a lot less incidental than it used to be! It’s even scheduled in a coordinated way (it wasn’t always) and we feel like we can count on that remaining the case because of land use (again, hasn’t always been the case)! But the routes as we know them aren’t really “about” these corridors — express variants skip the inner corridors, at restructure time we talk about sending other routes down them instead. Same thing will be true when Madison BRT happens. We’ll put in some bus stop infrastructure (as we did along Dexter) and figure there should be durable demand for frequent bus service there, and then figure out which routes’ tails to match it with. This is pretty much the story of the DSTT, too (hence its limited operating hours for so many years). The idea that solving the problems of these inner corridors requires a new route of some kind naturally comes from all this flux…

        And then the reality sets in that inner Seattle isn’t that dense, doesn’t stay up 24 hours, and the city as a whole has really big land use imbalances, so these new inner routes don’t have much reason to run past PM peak. A more frugal impulse would point to the various shuttles that run a bunch of odd places (mostly peak-hour). But we all know downtown-and-adjacent-areas-only bus routes have never really performed all that well under the harsh light of performance metrics, especially off-peak. Maybe the streetcar network hopes to stick around based on the sunk-cost fallacy, and by sticking around with a clear name and identity, spread the idea that downtown and adjacent areas have decent transit service all the time (even if this is actually true thanks to a completely different set of routes). And thus build the future we envision. You’d have to be crazy to plan that on purpose! And so we are crazy people out west…

      3. The 17 and 70 were not full when the SLUT opened. The 40 and 70 are probably full now due to the citywide problem of peak/midday overcrowding, but that’s not specific to SLU, and the SLUT may not be the ideal way to address it.

        The SLUT was created not due to actual crowding or capacity issues, but because Paul Allen wanted to jump-start streetcars in Seattle and wanted a line right in front of his properties. (Never mind that both the 40 and 70 are within three blocks.) And he and the businesses contributed to the construction cost and subsidize extra frequency. And of course Allen hoped that in the long term the areas’s ridership would be so high that a third transit line and a streetcar’s capacity would be necessary.

        If the streetcar weren’t there, or as further capacity needs arise, we may need to run short 40s or 70s between downtown and SLU. However, there are other ways to address that too. The C extension, whenever it’s funded, will bring a lot of capacity to the area. Other routes could be extended to SLU; possibly all routes from the south end. If SLU is becoming “part of downtown” which it certainly is, then it makes sense for almost all north-south routes to overlap between Mercer Street and Jackson Street. That would also help the city’s goal of eliminating layover spaces downtown and in Pioneer Square. There’s also the possibility of a Link station on the Ballard-downtown line, and theoretically on an east-west line (Denny Way or a couple blocks north).

      4. It’s not just crowding that shorter routes during peak hours solve. Consider the problems that the express variants of the 40, 70, 26, 7, etc. solve. They insulate riders toward the end of the line from speed and reliability issues on the inner portions. Of course reliability issues on the outer portions of the line can also affect the inner portions. The 40 faces variable traffic conditions in Northgate, Ballard, and Fremont before even facing the slog across Mercer. Even routes that don’t hit notorious congestion spots but are still pretty long, like the 131/132, can get bunched up around peak hours, leaving frequent corridors near downtown with service that’s effectively not frequent at all. The long local routes that serve our coverage needs off-peak don’t really serve key inner-city corridors any better than they serve outer neighborhoods during peak hours. That’s not why the streetcar was created, but it’s one reason short, redundant routes with limited span are not inherently bad ideas — a short 40/70/7/whatever is needed mostly during peak hours, just like the express variants are needed mostly during peak hours.

        It would be better to complement the existing local network, creating real frequency to and from common stops, instead of forcing riders to choose between catching buses in one place and streetcars in another. Better still would be getting out of traffic congestion — if not entirely, then at least partially.

    2. If the SLUT is “always” packed, then how come it carries single-digit numbers for 14 of its 16 service hours?

      (Oh, right, because railfans suck at math, language, and logic alike.)

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