By Mike Bjork

SDOT is proposing that two lanes of Westlake be transit only. This would speed up not only the Streetcar, but also Route 40 and the soon to be decoupled Rapid Ride C. All the details are in The Seattle Times ($):

“These improvements, along with the streetcar, will mean a bus or a train will go by every three minutes,” Mayor Ed Murray said. “That’s like New York in Seattle.”

The Westlake proposal builds on principles that already succeed on Third Avenue, where buses run mostly free from car interference, said Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit, who will speak March 31 at the Seattle Central Library

Walker said the city has become a leader in North America, by designing streets to respect transit users. “This is really an important breakthrough, and it makes Seattle more like Paris,” he said.

“There is no room in Seattle for any more car traffic.”

Exclusive lanes, combined with the improved frequency Amazon is purchasing and the Center City Connector, would make the streetcar less like a typical Seattle bus and more like Portland’s MAX from Lake Union to Pioneer Square. Not too shabby.

130 Replies to “SDOT Proposes Westlake Ave Transit Lanes”

  1. Great idea, but the problems with the streetcar being stuck in traffic goes through Mercer…the northbound streetcar tracks aren’t all on Westlake so may not help as much as they think.

  2. Next most interesting question, to me, will be how they protect the northbound lane at Denny and Mercer. People aren’t going to stop wanting to turn right to the freeway, and it will require physical barriers to keep them out of the lanes there. At Denny, the Whole Foods block has no parking and no driveway, but I think there is at least one driveway on the block south of Mercer.

    1. At Denny, prohibit turns? At Mercer, the Seattle Times diagram would seem to suggest no change because the streetcar crosses northbound at Terry, not Westlake.

      I’m curious which direction and which commute time (morning or evening) was most congested in this area.

      1. Even though it’s streetcar only for the last half block, the street car is usually blocked by cars trying to make a last second merge (and occasionally a car that fails to see or ignores the streetcar only striping).

      2. I work in SLU and sometimes I do drive and drive north on Terry to mercer…there is a traffic cop at the intersection of republican and terry that SENDS us down the left lane to keep car moving…that just leads to the streetcar getting caught in that because people in the left lane are still trying to take a right onto mercer (illegally).

  3. Good point! I doubt SDOT will want to spend the dollars to put the northbound streetcar back on Westlake. But removing the stop signs on Terry Avenue would be an improvement. I have never understood the logic of forcing a streetcar to stop at multiple four-way stop signs.

  4. Could ST’s proposed new peak express route 591 (coming from Tacoma and entering downtown at the Seneca St exit), also use the northbound Westlake Ave transit lane?

    Is there a decent complementary path for the southbound 591 if it serves SLU?

    1. What is off topic? I see a lot of these [ot] comments in response to nothing on this blog. I haven’t managed to work out what they are about

      1. This one was something about tolling all streets in downtown. You have to set limits somewhere or you wind up with the chaos you see on a typical a Usenet newsgroup.

      2. Oh, so BigDonLives posted an off topic comment and the moderator (you in this case?) replaced the content of the comment with [off topic]? Makes sense.

      3. I have no authority at all here, which is good because I live too far away from Seattle to have much relevant to say. However, I take an early lunch because I get to work pretty early, and so I happened to see BigDonLives’ comment before they deleted it.

        It’s how it works.

  5. The frequency benefit is primarily southbound – northbound bus/streetcar stops are not shared north of Denny. This is admittedly a minor point, since few would want to board a NB streetcar beyond Denny anyways.

    As far as the Westlake–>Mercer right turn hogging the right lane, I have no idea how that traffic could be accomodated without blocking the bus lane if the bus lane is the right lane. However, is Westlake wide enough to fit 2 transit lanes + 2 general traffic lanes + 1 “NB right turn onto Mercer lane?” Although not ideal, with no bus stops in the preceding 2 blocks perhaps the transit lane could be the center of 3 NB lanes as Westlake approaches Mercer (thru traffic on the left, transit center, right-turn only on the right). The main downside would be a lot of lane weaving (left lane vehicles needing to merge 2 lanes right to turn onto Mercer for I-5) in a short distance. That might be too dangerous and could be even less efficient.

    Anyways, I’m not a traffic engineer. I’m sure someone smarter than me can figure it out.

    1. SDOT was previously looking at taking the left-turn pocket on NB Westlake @ Mercer for a #40 queue jump. Very few cars turn left there at Mercer. I assume that idea has been superseded by today’s announcements.

      Northbound, you totally could put a right-side bus lane in there, if it had a physical barrier separating it from traffic. You could then take the left turn pocket and make it through/left lane. You’d then have two northbound GP queuing lanes, and one transit lane, starting mid-block.

      1. If the bus lane gets its own queue jump signal then there should be no problem allowing cars to turn right from the second lane. Obviously, the bus light would be activated by the signaling systems on the bus and only go on when needed.

        Then, put a curb between the bus lane and the first general purpose car lane.

  6. I think that the problem isn’t just at westlake and Mercer – that right turn lane onto Mercer – on bad days – can back up almost to Denny. there is going to need to be a very big change to make this work. perhaps the buses going north need to follow the streetcar over to Terry (going north) and remove traffic completely from terry (cross streets still need access though).

  7. Here’s an idea I’ve seen before and I like:

    Make Westlake south of Denny transit and pedestrian only. Its a huge interference on the rest of the street grid.

    1. The streetscape isn’t especially appealing for pedestrian strolling/lingering, nor are its sidewalks crowded with through-walkers today, so such a plan can’t sell itself on those merits. (The backside of the Westin isn’t exactly Broadway.)

      Also, there won’t be quite enough transit to demand 4 transit-exclusive lanes, and since it would be nearly impossible to offer TSP at every one of those grid-interfering intersections, I fear the tendency would be to give the remaining “grid” the main priority and relegate the transit street to short green bursts.

      The point being that the half-mile of Westlake from Stewart to Denny is never going to be the fastest place on earth. But lane exclusivity can at least give it a fighting chance of not missing every single light cycle like it does today.

      1. It’s full of people going to/from the Amazon buildings during rush hour. And as more and more retail comes to that area it will keep being busy in off hours too. And in terms of how pleasant it is – quite a bit actually – better than parts of Belltown, for example.

      2. The sidewalks are never so packed with pedestrians as to be impassable. Nor are they ever a mixed mass of lingering and rushing. Not at the peak, and certainly not any other time.

        Lesson #1 of the Urban Renewal era: if your street isn’t positively teeming with pedestrians in the space already available to them, you will make it worse by devoting more space to them. You will actually make the street feel more dead.

      3. This lesson applies equally to urban parks and other legislated “open space”, and Seattle is clearly behind the learning curve there too.

      4. d.p. I completely disagree. During the times of Urban Renewal people were leaving cities due to the flight to the suburbs. Removing cars meant leaving the street completely empty.

        It’s very different now. Cities are growing faster than the suburbs now. If there was a fully pedestrian street in a central area it will get used quite well as long as no one group decides to take it over and make their own.

      5. I am sorry, but you are wrong.

        Pedestrianized areas have succeeded or failed around the world, regardless of flight patterns.

        The success of a pedestrianization scheme is entirely dependent on geometry and on already-demonstrated appeal. A wide, empty, eyeless street will always fail.

      6. if a street is packed with pedestrians you can pedestrianization it with no ill effect on street life as long as the reason for that pedestrian activity isn’t primarily due to bus lines running along the.street.

        This is why pedestrianizing Broadway in midtown Manhattan did no harm. The sidewalks were already packed with people for much of the day.

        On the othe hand a street with few pedestrians is a poor candidate for pedestrianization and will only make it less attractive.

        Westlake between Denny and Stewart is currently a poor candidate for pedestrianization as there is little foot traffic even during the busiest times of the day and little of the sort of thing pedestrians like to walk by. It is mostly parking lots and blank walls.

      7. To restate what both myself and Chris said more clearly, a place that already and organically functions as a focal point of pedestrian activity is the primary necessary criterion.

        The secondary necessary criterion is a street geometry that is proportionally suited to the aforementioned volume of pedestrian activity that exists, so as to emphasize the teeming pedestrian bustle rather than spreading it out and sapping all of its vigor.

        In practice, this means that skinny streets are also a necessary conditions (as seen in nearly every European example you can think of), unless your pedestrian volumes are simply gargantuan, i.e. the primary shopping street in your city that is also the primary walking route between multiple places and your city has an 80% transit modeshare so the vast majority of its populace is likely to travel to and through the area on foot (see: Buenos Aires, Shanghai), and even then the boulevards are never as massive building-to-building as Westlake, to say nothing of Westlake’s comparative aesthetic failures.

        An important third lesson, a corollary to the second, is that even if you seem to have the necessary conditions, do not overreach. Janette Sadik-Khan, smartly, did not “close Broadway to traffic”, as so often misreported. She merely closed the Broadway through lanes at Times and Herald Squares, where those lanes messily intersected with other avenues. Pedestrianizing those parts of Broadway was equivalent to significantly widening the sidewalks. But between those segments, where Broadway remains a separate street with less cumulative pedestrian pass-through and lingering, traffic lanes remain open.

        The few successful North American pedestrian experiments, mostly in (captive audience) college towns (Madison, Boulder, Burlington) have been equally cautious about avoiding overreach. Most are just a few blocks long, with a massively disproportionate share of those towns’ commercial activity right along them. Heck, Seattle’s pedestrianized Occidental Ave is a mere two blocks long, and only one of them is remotely enjoyable or successful, and then only on a few hours of a few days of the week. Even at those times, it tends to be more interesting and stimulating to be on 1st (with the traffic) than on Occidental.

        Further statistics and analysis:
        The latter’s author is someone who would clearly love to revive the concept, but even she clearly concludes that there is nothing you can do to force a pedestrian success where the conditions are simply wrong for it. Having a growing downtown (as Seattle does) and a populace that likes to believe “open space” is its own reward (Seattle again) will not miraculously overcome the need for geometric preconditions.

      8. Pike Place is an example of a street you could entirely pedestrianize with no harm. The sheer volume of pedestrians takes over the street for much of the day already Nearby Post Alley (at least the part in the market) is another successful example.

        There are perhaps a few other places in Seattle where you could close the entire street without creating the. Sort of mess that gives pedestrianization a bad name.

        For most streets even when full of people taking a lane or two from cars and giving it to pedestrians is likely a better idea in most cases,

      9. Precisely, Chris. And isn’t it telling that pedestrian life on Pike Place is so dominant… even though vehicles have never technically been banned?

        The places with the most lively urban je ne sais quoi tend to be the ones that feel the least regimented. The Market is of course protected and managed. But it has intentionally not been sanitized nor fiddled with at a molecular level.

        The jostling for space is a feature, not a bug.

      10. I actually like the pedestrianized portion of Occidental Ave. I think I’d rather walk there than on First Ave., although it is a bit lonely at times. Maybe it’s different on First Thursdays; I haven’t been for a while. And on Sounders game days, it gets a parade.

  8. It will be interesting to see if Metro will move the inbound portion of the 40 from 9th to Westlake to take advantage of these new transit lanes.

    1. The old 17 ran inbound on Westlake for many years.

      Westlake Avenue to Stewart to 3rd, due to the light timing, is substantially slower than Bell to 3rd.

      This has been done before, solutions have been proposed, and the solution – move the bus to Bell.

      1. I disagree. In my 8 years in Seattle, living on Nickerson and then in Ballard, I have made more use of the 17/40 than almost any other bus line. I have ridden this bus through no fewer than fifteen different revisions, long-term reroutes, short-term reroutes, and reroutes off of the reroutes. I remember when Westlake North had almost no traffic on it, and between Mercer and Denny, none whatsoever crossing it. I remember when 9th North had no traffic signals whatsoever.

        Prior to SLU redevelopment traffic, the straight-shot 17 was absolutely quicker than the light-signal fighting, woonerf-invading Bell Street route we have today. Outbound, on Virginia as opposed to Blanchard, was slightly better as well.

        In fact, it wasn’t until the installation of the streetcar and its adjacent plaza that the half-block of Stewart approaching 5th started regularly jamming enough to give the 17 grief. That is when the gamut of revisions began.

        These transit lanes would restore the 40 to the way things were before the traffic nightmare began. There is no perfect way into downtown from this direction, but this one will become the least-worst. And that’s in addition to the benefit of a more direct and more legible frequent transit corridor into SLU when combined with the C Line and the dinky.

      2. My history with the 17 is longer than yours, d.p., but this isn’t a measuring contest.

        The 17 slog down 9th to Westlake (can’t go that way any more, the West Elm store took over that part of the street), was very slow. Westlake Avenue lights, inbound, are timed for the cross streets, which meant if you had to make a stop, you were perpetually sitting at red lights. I endured that for many years … it was awful. The Service Development department determined that the Bell/Blanchard couplet was indeed faster (based on real time information from the 26/28), and eventually, partially because of construction, the 17 (and then the 40) was shifted to this pattern.

        It was better.

        Until the woonerf went in.

        That thing is a disaster. Along with closing the block of Westlake and forcing an additional right and left turn to go from Westlake to 5th Ave, these two pro-public space developments have severely hindered circulation *by all modes* in the downtown core.

        Ugh. It probably is faster to suffer through the ill timed lights and the very difficult right turn onto Stewart from Westlake these days rather than try to drive through the woonerf.

      3. Pretty much agree. I said “least-worst”, which is not the same as “best”.

        I would add, though, that the veeeerrrryyy llloooonnnggg ssiiigggnnnaalllsss you sometimes encounter on Bell, even before you get to the woonerf, make it kind of a wash with the slower-but-shorter Westlake straight shot. And that the anti-timed signals on 3rd between between Blanchard and Stewart, no picnic on any route, seem extra excruciating if you have just fought your way across the Mercer Mess and the Bell Blockage.

        It can also be lovely not to have to deal with the Virginia stop whatsoever.

      4. Also note that when the 17 ran on Dexter – pre Sept 1998, the inbound routing was Dexter to 7th Ave, and 7th Avenue all the way to Stewart.

        7th Avenue has been virtually untouched by development and road diets …. Maybe Bell to 7th to Stewart could be a reasonable inbound path for the 40.

      5. I agree the couplet of Stewart and Virginia wouldn’t be ideal.
        That turn from southbound Westlake to westbound Stewart would take forever, followed by a very slow slog over to 3rd.

        Now this might be a stupid suggestion… but why not use Lenora and Blanchard as the couplet?

        I don’t have a lot of experience driving on Lenora, but it seems better than the awful Bell “woonerf” and the chronically congested Stewart.

        If using Lenora isn’t possible, maybe a queue jump signal could be installed at Stewart & 3rd to allow the 40 to turn left from the rush hour only bus lane onto 3rd and allow the 2nd Ave buses to cross into the center lane to make the left turn onto 2nd.

    2. This would be a great idea! It would allow the upgrading of the 9th Ave bike lanes to protected bike lanes. Especially important since Westlake is essentially a death trap for people biking now, and 9th Ave is the primary N-S planned route in this area.

      1. Assuming a physical barrier exists between the car lane and the transit lane, bikers would be able to take the car lane without having to deal with streetcar tracks (or drivers passing them on the right). While not great, it’s still a big improvement over what we have today. Of course, if the transit lane is separated only by paint, drivers would still use the transit lane to pass bikers on the right – even if it’s technically illegal, everyone would do it anyway. In that case, Westlake remains pretty much the same death trap it is now.

    3. @d.p.

      If these lanes go through, I might actually consider riding the 40 downtown from Ballard during rush hour instead of walking to the D line. I am looking forward to this.

      1. The Elliott/Mercer light and LQA detour are such disasters that I stay on the 40 already today. I’ve tested the switch. The D is almost never faster even if the transfer costs 0 minutes. It is sometimes slower by 5 minutes or more!

        In the afternoon counter-peak, where the 40 used to be excruciating, it has been noticeably better since the 9th/Westlake/Valley/Mercer work was completed enough to allow separating the through lanes from the left-turners. Queen Anne and Denny remains a moderately deep circle of hell. So it’s pretty much a wash at that time too.

  9. Just observation, but seems to me southbound track (headed downtown) on Westlake stays relatively clear through pm rush. Motor traffic takes left lane, for turn up Denny to Freeway.

    Headed for the lake, serious blockage in front of Whole Foods, where Westlake Traffic turns right up Denny directly at the car stop. Might need signal to alernately hold train and turning traffic. With no traffic at all thin the streetcar lane.

    Very good news. But also indicate that similar road-re-streetcar diet for Broadway not far off. On tightest blocks, near Swedish, answer not hard: hold car traffic behind signal ’til streetcar clears the block.

    Worldwide theme of success for street rail: The city owns the streets, and decides what goes on them and when, and where.


  10. This is good news. I’m really happy about this and was excited to see this in the paper this morning. I think bus lanes in the area are long overdue — I hope this happens a lot more in the city.

    As to whether this “would make the streetcar less like a typical Seattle bus”, I think that misses the point. We wish the streetcar was a typical Seattle bus. A typical Seattle bus carries way more people than a streetcar. Did you read the article, the numbers are actually going down? Less than 2,500 last year, and they expect fewer this year.

    I think it is time we treat these streetcars like typical bus routes, and not like high capacity trains. Because they aren’t. Each streetcar has less capacity than a regular bus. Meanwhile, the novelty of them has obviously worn off — if streetcars are supposed to be attractive in and of themselves, how come this one has so few riders? There is simply no advantage to streetcars, whether we give them dedicated lanes or not.

    As part of the discussion, I suggest we simply number the streetcars and treat them like buses. That will make the discussion much easier. I suggest 00, based on its performance. So basically, this means that the city will provide an extra lane, to help speed up the 40, the Rapid Ride C, and the 00. Great news indeed.

    1. If the C Line has to go to Eastlake to lay over, how much longer would it take to go all the way to the U-District? If it did that, would there be need of route 70? (I realize red-painted buses with the correct floor pattern are a constraint.)

      1. If you extend the C past SLU to the U-District, you throw away all the benefits you’d gain from breaking the D through-route.

    2. The simple answer is to couple two together and run them as a train. Yes, that means that another three parking spaces at each platform will have to be “sacrificed”, but there is a HUGE excess of off-street parking the neighborhood, and darn few “destination” businesses on Westlake. By the time that Amazon and all of the new high-rise residential buildings are completed, those few random specialty retail businesses which depend on people driving to them will all have moved away.

      The streetcars in San Francisco — and make no mistake, except for the new T-Third line, that is exactly what they are — were built quite a bit narrower than LRV’s because they must fit in car-sized lanes several places in all the routes. They run ganged as two car trains all the time, except on the J because the streets are too close together in Upper Noe.

      These “LRV’s” which are really streetcars with a tunnel downtown have a simple rule governing fare collection. If one doesn’t have a pass one has to board the front car out in the Avenues. This frees space in the rear car for regular riders. With off-board fare collection, Seattle could be even easier.

      Yes, some parking spaces will have to be sacrificed to make the platforms longer, but SDOT is going to have to lengthen them anyway to accommodate 60′ articulateds. So just go to 80′ and run two car streetcar trains.

      1. What are you on about this time, Anan?

        SF MUNI, like the MBTA, for many years “enjoyed” the results of having been guinea pigs for Boeing’s Standard “LRV” program. In addition to being rolled out onto the country’s two largest retronymed “light rail that happened to predate the term” semi-subways, MUNI later sold overstock to Manchester, England for use on its fully high-floor “light rail”.

        Later, thanks in part to low-bid-law shenanigans, MUNI and the MBTA were both suckered into acquiring equally error-prone vehicles from the AnsaldoBreda “LRV” collection. At least these vehicles are, in both cases, more capacious than their predecessors.

        A quick Google search suggests that the vehicle standard in both Boston and San Francisco is 10 inches wider than Seattle’s Link cars.

      2. But all that is a bit beside the point, because our failing rail-for-the-sake-of-rail experiment is not experiencing a capacity crunch. As the article makes clear, ridership has been terrible… and dropping. Even the “full” rush hour cars aren’t holding all that many people, and no one has ever been left behind.

        Because SLU access for many commuters is a “last mile” problem, the frequency-based capacity proposed under this plan, in addition to the speed improvement, will be the experiential sea change that will encourage a higher modeshare to the area. When you speak of “coupling streetcars” — infrequent streetcars — you endorse the precise opposite of the most helpful improvement on offer here!

      3. d.p.

        Whoa up. Of course SLU and Central Connector streetcars shouldn’t be coupled until volume requires it. But Ross was complaining that they have less capacity than a standard bus, and if you only count seats in a single car, he’s absolutely right. But they can be trained. That’s what I was writing about.

        I am surprised but must admit that the Breda’s are wider than the KS cars. Not by ten inches, but yes by four. The Breda’s are quoted at 9 feet even and the KS cars at 8.7 feet (8 feet 8 inches). Both widths apparently round to 2.7 meters, because that’s what Wikipedia says they are in metric.

        And just for the record, PCC cars could be narrow as 100 or as wide as 108 inches, or nine full feet, the same width as the Bredas and wider apparently than the KS cars. And Siemens MAX Type 4 cars are 8.7 feet wide, the same as the KS cars. Since San Francisco has some double ended cars in the current “heritage” fleet they’re running 9 foot wide PCC’s as well.

        So, yes, the Breda’s are wider, but they’re still “streetcars”, not really LRV’s. They’re high-floor but stop anywhere there’s a sign on a post, they can make the insane corners at 9th and Irving and 9th and Judah. No true LRV with a central idler section could do so. They wander around Oceanside on streets not only shared with cars, but exactly two driving lanes wide. They’re streetcars.

      4. You’re right that Wikipedia says “8.7 feet”; I was looking at the wrong paragraph. I’d like to find a source that wasn’t merely copy-pasted from some railfan blog; a source that doesn’t bother to give a specific number of inches of centimeters is neither authoritative nor trustworthy.

        Boeing LRVs were 8’10.25″, which just means they bulged slightly less than the Bredas.

        Anyway, you appear still be belaboring two points, one irrelevant and one inaccurate:

        1. the Breda’s are wider, but they’re still “streetcars”, not really LRVs.

        Bull. You’re making a service observation and arbitrarily ascribing it to the vehicle type. In a country where many light rail lines built recently have asinine downtown surface routings with tight curves, there is really no legitimate distinction to be made in the vehicle, except for carrying capacity. Even routing choice barely qualifies as a distinction, since the range in what is marketed as “light rail” is so broad, and so many routing choices are still being made so poorly.

        The vast majority of light rail vehicles in the world are just off-the-shelf designs mildly custom-configured for the places they intend to go. LRV-class vehicles that happen to run on some former streetcar trackage do not magically regress because Anandakos imagines design distinctions where none exist. This holds true even if the vehicles are poorly made.

        2. of course SLU and Central Connector streetcars shouldn’t be coupled until volume requires it… But they can be trained.

        My understanding is that our dinky purchases cannot be trained. So there goes that imagined advantage!

      5. d.p.

        Do you really believe that an existing fleet of what, eight or ten cars, will determine how the system is used in the future? It’s my understanding that the reason the Inekon’s have the couplers housed is to avoid pedestrian injuries. That’s a good thing in the clear absence of the need to train, but they certainly can be trained. They can also have additional mid-sections added to them. There are versions running in Europe with five segments.

      6. Also

        Because these vehicles could negotiate curves with centerline radii as
        small as 35 feet [10.7 meters] [emphasis added], the amount of real estate needed for a turning loop was relatively small, usually only a single urban building lot. Transit companies typically found that the expense of buying properties and building loops was small compared to the savings associated with not having to maintain duplicate sets of control equipment in “double-end” trolley cars.

        Current designs of high-capacity light rail vehicles have much larger minimum radius limitations and the amount of real estate that is required to construct a turning loop is much greater.

        — from Track Design Handbook for Light Rail Transit, Second Edition [2012] from the Transit Cooperative Research Program of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science.


        (Boston’s Type 8 LRVs are a notable exception; clearance limitations
        in the Green Line tunnels substantially restricted the truck center distance so that the low-floor portion of each car is only about 60% of the overall length.)”

        Neither the Siemens cars Portland and most sunbelt systems use nor the Kinki Sharyo cars Seattle and a couple of other cities use could negotiate the curves at Ninth Avenue on the N Judah. Not to mention the terminal loop at Great Highway and Judah.

        In fact, the Breda’s had to be specially modified in order to do so.

        They are streetcars. They just happen to be very whiffy ones. And yes, they break down far too often. They’re the Fiat of rail vehicles. Need we say more?

      7. 1. As Glenn explains below, these dinky things that we have already bought and that comprise the basis of our dinky system cannot couple in regular service. Between that and a total rebuild of every platform and much of the existing fixed infrastructure, you’re looking at a huge expense in order to get capacity higher than that of a single bus. All for no better reason than “Anandakos doesn’t want to ride a bus.”

        2. You will not see these cars replaced with an expandable fleet as the “network” grows, because our network is not growing. The “streetcars everywhere from scratch” movement has mercifully run its course. Sorry, idiots who wanted to ride to the U-District five times slower than necessary in a clunky metal box!

        3. Just so we’re clear, the Anandakos definition of a “streetcar” is: any midrange vehicle that has is built on the same production line as “light rail”, holds just as many people as “light rail”, can run just as quickly on exclusive track as any other “light rail”, but happens also to be able to take a tight turn on a very old piece of track if necessary.

        Glenn explained below that many arbitrary distinctions between these two “modes” turn out to be quite arbitrary-bordering-on-fictional when viewed with scrutiny. I think you’ve proved his point; your distinction is nonsense.

      8. d.p. Is absolutely correct. The Inekon cars used in Seattle aren’t designed to run in multiple unit trains. I’m sure if someone wanted to throw money at them Skoda, Inekon, or OIW would be more than willing to sell cars set up to be coupled into trains.

        But why would you? Arguably Alstom, Bombardier, CAF, Kinki Sharyo, and Siemens have much better solutions with coupling ability proven in daily operation.

        As d.p. and Glenn point out the world’s streetcar/tram/LRV makers have a parts box they use to customize each order to a particular customer’s requirements. Some customers have very similar requirements so some configurations end up being fairly standard. The lines between a streetcar, a tram, a LRV, and even a light duty railcar are all pretty blurry these days.

        Curve radius, track gauge, loading gauge, car length, top speed, and platform height are all just specifications for a customer to put in an RFP. Manufacturers bid or don’t as they so choose.

        FWIW Kinki Shayro was able to build cars for the tight curves of Boston’s Green Line. Atlanta chose a version of the Siemens S70 (used in Portland, Houston, and many other US light rail systems) for its new mixed traffic streetcar.

        In any case so far the SLUT hasn’t needed cars larger than the Inekon Trio. The First Hill streetcar hasn’t opened yet and the Central City Connector is still in the planning stages so it is unknown if passenger loads will exceed the capabilities of the Inkeon cars. In theory Seattle could replace the Inekon cars with a higher capacity car or one capable of coupling. Due to the short platforms on our current two lines it is unclear how much larger new cars could be before larger platforms would be required. Coupled operation would certainly require longer platforms than the current ones.

        In any case I wouldn’t dismiss the utility of surface rail out of hand. However it needs to have exclusive lanes and signal priority. It should only be built in corridors where likely ridership exceeds the capacity of buses. Surface rail can also make sense as the outer end of a grade separated light rail line such as extending up 15th NW or 24th NW in Ballard.

      9. Quite agree. In a world of limited resources, there is no reason to categorically rule out median rail where it might be appropriate, nor to set up a false dichotomy between perfect driverless subways and the same old crappy unimproved bus routes.

        But Anan’s attempt to double down on the adaptable awesomeness of street rails everywhere, on the basis of some ancient San Francisco street trackage miles away from the high-volume choke points of that city and system, is the sort of destructive foaming that can yield terrible transit when foisted on credulous political types looking to “green” on the cheap.

      10. Here, the foistee was Skoda, I believe.

        They conned a few transit agencies in the USA into purchasing what is really a very outdated design of car. There is a lot about the details of these cars that just isn’t cut out for modern operation. The sanders are gravity operated, and are made from this wild hand assembled welded together tangle. It’s really astounding. That’s just one piece of the entire car but is an example of how labor intensive these cars are to build compared to a modern car, which has a sander that you buy off the shelf from a company in Ohio, is air operated, and leaves a nice trace of sand that the car can use to grip the rails.

        Knowing how outdated this car design is, they were able to con a few cities in the USA into buying this design, since the city governments knew nothing of actual transit car construction.

        These were the last of that car design Skoda or Inekon built. Today, thanks to the money gained by selling their outdated design abroad, they have vastly updated tram designs.

        Sure, they could certainly built some of their old designs again if they needed to, but the reality is nobody is buying this design today.

        Today, at the very least, agencies want 100% low floor and doors that are many and wide so as to make the station stops as brief as possible. The 70% low floor available in the design was great when it was first introduced, but everyone has moved on from that to 100% low floor now for lower speed lines.

        The day is rapidly approaching when that will happen with the current fleet of light rail cars. Alstom already makes a 100% low floor 65 mph car and is delivering it to Ottawa. Everyone else will want to keep up, and some day soon, anything less than 100% low floor, even in higher speed light rail cars, will be passé.

      11. Well, good then. I have tried to treat you as a long-distance friend because most of what you say is excellent, even when I disagree with you. But you are a serial abuser. Get some help.

      12. I’m just frustrated. I routinely find myself spending 70 minutes on a bus to make a simple cross-town trip between two non-remote parts of town — and I’m talking on regular days, not just Salmontruckpocalypse — and then I come here and it’s all pontificating about how streetcars are the bombdiggety if we just look at them cross-eyed. And then stuff about how subways should go non-stop for 8 miles and only be built if they can have 8x the necessary capacity, even if that means we build them to the wrong places or wind up with nothing at all.

        And then I get accused of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

        Stuff either works to improve mobility or doesn’t. Don’t waste our time and energy and limited resources on faith-based transit theories that will make no difference to the everyday experience of getting around!

        Back on topic: Here’s an in-depth essay on why the Strasbourg “trams” (actually light rail) are wholly irrelevant to your larger and sprawlier and simply-nothing-like-Strasbourg American city:

    3. Well, the streetcar does have a number. It’s technically KC Metro Route 98, as seen on its paper schedules and online. I imagine the First Hill Streetcar will be numbered 96 or something in the 90s other than 99.

    4. Checking Wikipedia SLU type Skoda cars and 60′ New Flyer artics carry about same number of passengers- streetcars with slight advantage.

      But at least two differences:

      1. Streetcars can be easily coupled, and buses not at all. Meaning that lane-length of two buses increases with speed, while train speed does not.

      2. Especially in city traffic, while standing load is less pleasant the lower the speed on both, lateral motion makes crush standing load on bus a lot worse.

      Easy experiment to replicate any rush hour: SLU trolley and Route 40 through South Lake Union. Check ’em out.

      Also: South Lake Union Trolley has always presumed an ever-expanding South Lake Union neighborhood- much of which still has construction cranes still attached to it.

      A neighborhood which will undoubtedly extend north along both Eastlake and Westlake- buildings, streetcars, and all, past the Western one hopefully into Ballard.

      Remember that “Alki” was originally first thing settlers said to comfort their wives who were sobbing unconsolably at the miserable sopping wet pile of shacks as their ship dropped anchor. “Don’t worry: ‘New York Alki!'”

      Too bad four-car Skoda consists to Ballard will be carrying crush loads from First and Jackson to Ballard long before Seattle gets its first decent corn beef sandwich at 3AM.

      As Yogi Berra would have aid: “Alki same as ‘In ya dreams!'”


      1. Meh.

        My understanding is that our streetcars cannot be coupled.

        And if you want to make a Metro bus more comfortable for standing, you can do so easily by taking out some seats so that genuine standing room for the first time exists. Which would, incidentally, make give the bus higher capacity than the smaller streetcar.

      2. There are couplings on the cars. They are folded up so they are not easy to access.

        However, the way I understand it, the cars in both Seattle and Portland were equipped with “dummy” couplers. They are only useful for pulling one car with another car in emergency use, and there is minimal to no multiple unit controls installed.

        However, if the SLU line ever gets to the point where the cars are overcrowded, it’s time to just dig a big hole in the street, connect the SLU line to the tunnel, jack hammer a few inches off the platforms, and start running the KinkiSharyo cars on the SLU line.

        There is nothing unique between light rail cars and streetcars. In the rest of the world there is no distinction, as they are pretty much interchangeable. They run in the street when they absolutely have to, but otherwise are given exclusive right of way where they can move along pretty nicely. The only reason some cities have to have tiny cars like the ones that are used on the SLU line is some cities have tiny clearance legacy lines through tiny 14th century streets that nobody would dare touch with a wrecking ball due to UNESCO World Heritage status. SLU is now working on its 4th generation of wrecking ball. Atlanta’s “streetcar” uses off the shelf Siemens S70 cars that would be considered “light rail” in other cities. TriMet’s MAX cars go just fine through the columns on the Steel Bridge that were originally set for tiny narrow gauge streetcars from 1910, and consume a single lane of traffic on the transit mall and in downtown streets.

        The stuff we call “light rail cars” is, elsewhere in the world, used on streetcar (“tram” everywhere else) lines just fine. This is what they were designed to do.

        It’s vastly cheaper to use an off the shelf car design that is in use everywhere else in the city and move a few items of street furniture out of the way than try to continue to deal with two completely separate car design standards. Nobody outside North America would be hoodwinked into trying to deal with multiple different car design standards on two completely new lines. It leads to far too much operational inflexibility.

      3. Glenn,

        All of what you are saying is definitely true, and I know about the history of Light Rail Vehicles. Modern LRV’s evolved from European trams; the Duwag U-1 was the first “LRV” that looked like a modern subway car. But the sorts of cars like the KS and Siemens vehicles used on Link and MAX simply cannot negotiate standard street corners. Look at how MAX makes the turns on and off First Avenue to and from the Morrison/Yamhill couplet. The trains barely miss the bar at First and Yamhill and only because the line swings almost to what would be the south sidewalk. The turn from First onto Morrison would be impossible were it not for the left hand running and the construction of an offset roadway under the Morrison bridge approach. The N-Judah turns from the lane directly adjacent to parked cars on Ninth to the lane directly adjacent to parked cars on Irving or Judah when it turns right off of Ninth Avenue.

        Now Siemens and Kinki Sharyo most likely do make “tram” style LRV’s that can make the turns, but they’re probably geared for 50 klicks tops.

        And anyway SoundTransit is not going to allow SDOT street rail into its newly exclusive tunnel.

        But there’s no doubt that Ninth Avenue offers a fantastic opportunity to use CPS as a Link station. Then have one at Denny and Westlake, Mercer and Westlake somewhere along the lake where Dexter is close to Westlake, Fremont and on to Ballard. It would be the E option writ large and it would have to be underground all the way to well north of Valley, but it would at a stroke solve the South Lake Union access problem.

      4. The Alstom “streetcar” (or “light rail car” depending on who you ask) they are building for Ottawa is 100% low floor and geared for a maximum speed of 65 mph, or faster than ST is willing to run the KinkiSharyo cars. Yet, at 100% low floor it is closer to what most places have for streetcars.

        The cars on the SLU line are geared for a maximum speed of 45 mph, because even streetcars need to be able to run at near light rail speeds when they have their own right of way.

        Each system in Europe developed its own operating characteristics over time. Thus, stuff like the Siemens or Alstom or Bombardier products that are called “streetcar” or “light rail” are highly customizable for the characteristics of each system. You need a very narrow car for operating on the 900mm gauge tram line in Lisbon? Install a few different modules on an existing floor plan and you have something that will work.

        If you wanted Siemens to produce a car that could go around very narrow curves, they most certainly could have produced one. However, you also neither want to block intersections longer than necessary nor dawdle around curves and delay riders even more than is necessary. Also, the sharper the curve the more the wear and tear on the wheels and the more noise it makes on the curve. So, why not make a curve as broad as possible? Furthermore, if you don’t have to ask for a modification to go around very sharp curves then why do so?

        But, so that you know that MAX cars are capable of sharp curves when necessary:

      5. The sharpest curve in your picture is the northbound exit toward Gresham. If you blow that up to the maximum before it goes StreetView, I would say that the center of the circle is a couple of feet left of the light pole just north of the pile of what looks like ties. Do you agree? From there to the center line of the track is just about 70 feet.

        Now, yes, that’s a tight turn. But the terminal loop at Great Highway and Judah is that “as small as 35 ft [10.7 meters]” specified for the PCC cars. The turns off Ninth are about 42 feet using the same admittedly somewhat crude estimations. If you look at the track structure (which was rebuilt when the Boeing LRV’s were obtained), you’ll see that at both corners the “outside” track (the one turning onto Ninth Avenue) goes straight longer and then actually turns more tightly. This is because of the way the articulated cars “jut out” in the middle rather than the way the PCC cars did so at the ends.

        I don’t know this to be true, but it might be that the reconfiguration would make it impossible for PCC cars to meet on the turn now.

        But sure, this is a relatively unimportant distinction, except that the Breda’s were in part chosen because they had an option to be trucked in such a way that they could make the turns required by the existing trackage. Woe betide San Francisco as a result. Soon they will be receiving new LRV’s made by Siemens to replace the Breda’s. Obviously Siemens must have an option for tighter turns than required by the new Light Rail systems built since Edmonton showed the way.

        The bottom line is that almost everybody here thinks that “streetcars” are a horrible thing, but San Francisco and Boston show clearly that people ride them in droves when they are given a little bit of priority and serve neighborhoods sufficiently dense that their advantages of volume come into use.

        Portland’s choice of the Inekon’s has probably given streetcars a bad rep. They’re noisy, don’t accelerate all that quickly, and don’t hold many people because they’re so narrow. Had Portland gone with one of the larger “tram”-style cars available the image of “modern streetcars” might have been different.

        And let’s look at the politics of it. The streetcar was proposed as a means by which to support the development of the north end of the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union. It has not done a good job of it, mostly because it hasn’t yet been given exclusive lanes and the terminal is just far enough from many useful destinations in the “commercial core” to be irritating. Once people are already walking they are tempted to keep at it.

        And I understand that the city is about to “compound the felony” by using Stewart to make the connection to the Central Connector rather than Pine. But there is more happening in the Denny Triangle and SLU than employment. There are also many residential buildings under construction, and the residents of them will appreciate being able to jump on the car and head over to the First Avenue food and entertainment area quickly, without having to worry about parking. The streetcar probably won’t ever be a big commuter carrier, simply because it’s that irritating block and a half from Westlake Station, but it is very likely to be crowded, like Portland’s between PCC and the north end of the Pearl District, with residents traveling about downtown.

      6. Ha! I was starting to suspect this was the absurd point at which you were straining!

        Take the two very busiest light rail systems in the country (two of the busiest pieces of transit in the country, period). Look at them totally cockeyed while twisting yourself into a rhetorical pretzel just so that you can declare them “streetcars”. Ergo, streetcars are totes awesome and we should all build a ton more of them!!!

        That is fucking ludicrous!

        And all because riding on rails is more important to you than any other metric — frequency, reliability, individual vehicle capacity — of transit success.

      7. Listen, dude, there’s a reason Boston has less than half a mile remaining of street-running rail transit left, and that the least-optimized of the median-running lines earn the lion’s share of customer frustration.

        “Streetcars” are substandard transit, and the one light rail in the country with a quarter-million daily ridership is the one that has zero interest in that regressive vestigial shit, no matter how cockeyed your definitions.

      8. The curve at the southwest corner of the main backshop is quite sharp. It should be in the center of the photo when you click on the link. There is a broad radius spiral at each end of the curve, but then there is a segment of the curve that is very sharp out of the switch and going north along the southwest shop road.

      9. I’ve attempted to overlay them and measure them with my fingers as much as possible, and I still can’t tell exactly. However, as best as I can tell there is nothing on the SLU line that is really that far out of league as the sharpest curves on MAX.

        There are some pretty sharp curves on the yard ladders on Link too. It’s hard to tell which is the tightest radius
        but they certainly appear to be in the same league as the curves on the SLU line, and in fact appear to be somewhat broader than the tightest stuff in the yard tracks at Link.

        The west side shop track might be a little too tight
        but it is hard to tell. Notice that they didn’t go a complete 90 degrees on it right away, but instead did it not quite 90 degrees and then did a gradual spiral (the name of the transition curve where the radius is variable), so from the looks of that I’m not sure that even the Inekon cars can go around such a sharp 90 degree curve, since they didn’t make that one a complete 90 degree curve.

      10. “the city is about to “compound the felony” by using Stewart to make the connection to the Central Connector rather than Pine”

        I don’t know about that, but one of the alternatives last year was eastbound on Pike, and while I like putting streetcars where the pedestrians are, I didn’t feel there was enough space, especially with the bicycle lane on Pike now. I don’t remember what I said about Pine but it may have had some routing issues too.

  11. Forgive my ignorance but would this change support some of the proposed Alternative ! service changes recently proposed by Metro? Some of the buses coming in from NE Seattle were going to be run through SLU. If they are shifting Westlake to a transit orientation, it seems that Westlake would be a natural alignment for these routes through SLU.

    1. That’s a good point. If I remember correctly, all those buses are planned to take Fairview to Boren (except the 311, which takes Mercer east-west.) Westlake doesn’t put those buses in a natural orientation to continue to First Hill. I have no idea how traffic is on Fairview, though, so I don’t know how significant this is.

    2. Great question!

      Proposed route 64X and proposed route 66X are designed as SLU/First Hill Expresses. They travel on I-5, Mercer, Fairview, and Boren. Westlake would take them too far away from First Hill to serve that purpose.

      Proposed route 70 would provide frequent local all-day service on Eastlake and Fairview. It could conceivable take Westlake, but it probably would need a better east-west path than Mercer. Significant walkshed in SLU would also be lost.

      Proposed route 311 is looooonnng. Once it reaches UW, and gets on I-5, it heads down to serve Mercer St. It looks like the proverbial sacrificial lamb. If I were trying to get from UW to Mercer, I would just take the train, and then a local north-south route, and probably get there faster than getting stuck on I-5, and then getting stuck on Mercer.

  12. This is undoubtedly an improvement, but imagine if this had been part of the plan from the very beginning, before we had several years of a streetcar that sits in traffic and slowly goes nowhere useful, thereby reinforcing bad narratives of flashy new transit projects.

    I’m a transit zealot, but I’ve still yet to see a good explanation for the value of streetcars (compared to your typical bus or BRT) aside from “corporate interests chipped in money for it” and “it’s swanky and new, so upper class white people that are afraid of the bus will use it” – neither of which are a solid foundation for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on immovable steel rails in our streets. You could spend less money for a solution that serves just as many people by simply designating a network of transit-only lanes and investing in RapidRide-ish buses that are just as sleek and modern as a street car, but have the added ability to merge into another lane and get around the police vehicle that parked in the way.

    1. The figures from the story are $56 million to build the line, with $28 million pitched in by the local businesses. One transit critic in the story mentions $4.2 million of bailouts since then.

      It hasn’t performed well, yet, despite there being so much unmet demand for transit through SLU, but neither has it been the giant financial black hole some have imagined it to be.

      I will also beg to differ on the capacity complaints. It is designed to have a lot more standing passengers than a bus. Yes, having fewer seats gives the optical illusion of being able to hold fewer riders, and its standing capacity rarely comes into play. Hopefully, we will get to see that standing capacity in action next year, thanks to this plan.

      1. While I agree that it is often under utilized, it does get pretty packed at rush hours. Also, for the first time today I had someone checking for my paid fare…that has never happened before…I would say this whole thing was not set up to succeed but not only for the reason mentioned above…by far the biggest problem though, is that most of the time I can walk faster than the streetcar – even when there ISN’T traffic…so transit only lanes my be the only way to speed it up and get more riders.

      2. Out of curiosity, how do you define “packed” (i.e. comfort zone of standees and number of riders on board)?

      3. It has more standing passengers because it has fewer seats. We could do the same thing with out buses, and fit more people (both sitting and standing) than these streetcars. Toronto’s streetcars are bigger, but ours are no bigger (inside) than one of our big buses. (

        Really, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — that these streetcars can do better than our buses.. Meanwhile there are lots of things (avoid traffic, a turning car, construction, etc.) that our buses can do that these streetcars can’t.

        Tell me that that there is a trade-off with Toronto streetcars and our buses and you have an interesting discussion. But these aren’t Toronto’s streetcars. These streetcars are simply inferior in every way to our buses. Except, of course, for the reasons mentioned (the charm of streetcars) that are obviously failing horribly. We have 2,500 riders a day, and shrinking fast. The charm has worn off, and we aren’t getting it back. We have white elephants on our hands — please,please don’t let them breed.

      4. …Meaning that they take a few feet of hypothetical vehicle capacity and hand them over to a duplicate driver’s cab.

        Seems a silly thing to do on a vehicle barely 66 feet long, does it not?

      5. The capacity of streetcars does not have to suck. It is just the vehicles Sound Transit, Portland, and Seattle have chosen suck. The right streetcar can carry more people than a bus. A decent streetcar can accelerate faster than an overweight cyclist going up the Counterbalance and go faster than a brisk walk at top speed.

      6. @Chris — Good point about the bidirectional nature of streetcars. That gives them one advantage. I’m sure there is some line somewhere (a subway operating down a steep canyon) where that advantage is huge, but I can’t see it being that big of a deal here.

        As far as old style charm, I think the Waterfront Streetcar was an attempt at that. It made some sense, because it went through Pioneer Square, the International District and the waterfront. These our older parts of Seattle, and more inclined to grab tourists. Of course, it missed the biggest tourist spot, which is Pike Place Market. Anyway, if memory serves it never lived up to the hype. Riding an old style streetcar in a relatively new city is kind of weird. A bit of Disneyland inside a city. It is especially inappropriate for South Lake Union (which is ridiculously new) as well as much of downtown and Broadway. In other words, if you replaced our streetcars with “genuine antique” streetcars, I don’t think you would see much of a blip in ridership. I get the “party bus” type appeal. I get that riding a streetcar is just a shade less intimidating than riding a bus. But there are alternatives, which explains why these streetcars don’t do that well. Folks would rather take a ride on the Ducks (the amphibious vehicle) than a streetcar. I certainly would. It is hokey, but the folks who ride it know it is hokey — that’s half the fun (complete with a hokey guide). There are also beer tours, which you will see many locals take (some of these are simply vans, while others are pedaling contraptions). Tourists and locals love this stuff — for good reason. Not only is it an interesting way to see the city, but you get to talk to brewers and drink good beer. What’s not to like?

        Cable cars in San Fransisco are appealing because they are such an iconic part of that city — not unlike the Space Needle. We really can’t say that with these streetcars, no matter how old they are.

      7. Oh, and just to review here. Our streetcars don’t have more capacity than our buses. There one little advantage is that they can operate bidirectionally. Tens of millions of dollars to avoid turning around. Great.

        But some folks say they could be connected to one another (“train” used as verb). Right, and that would cost more money. We would also have to change the stops, which would cost more money. We will probably never get to that level of ridership because no other city has gotten to that level of ridership. Toronto sticks with their streetcars because they already have them. But no one else has built a surface line, put in short streetcars, ran them every five minutes, then said “Hey, these are crush loaded — let’s rebuild the stops and connect them together”. Like folks said, when that happens you start digging tunnels and put them underground.

      8. Ross,

        I think at least some cities have lengthened platforms for surface light rail lines without putting them underground.

        For that matter you don’t have to look to hard to find crush loaded surface rail. Though to be fair those systems are generally already operating with the largest cars and longest trains they can get away with. Also those systems generally have most of the track in exclusive ROW.

        It is certainly true no ‘modern’ streetcar line has the kind of loads that would strain buses. With the possible exception of F-Market no heritage line does either. (To be fair most of the service on F-Market is provided by PCC cars which have decent capacity for their size, can be coupled, and compare favorably to modern rail vehicles on speed, noise and ride smoothness.)

        I certainly wouldn’t advocate replacing he rolling stock on the SLUT , FHSC, or CCC with vintage equipment for anything other than special excursion rides.

        Bringing vintage streetcars back to the Waterfront is a whole different kettle of fish. For what such a thing is the funding should come from money for parks and tourism promotion (including private sources) rather than transportation.

      9. Ross and Chris: I disagree completely that “no other city has gotten to that level of ridership”.

        Actually if you look at some of the ridership statistics out there, there are some surface lines that are pretty impressive in terms of ridership.

        I was going through the numbers some time back. If I remember right, it was the tram/streetcar line in Strasbourg, France that has something like 120,000 riders per day, on a line similar to the Portland Streetcar in terms of it being short distance, surface through the streets, and through the core of the downtown area only.

        However, the big difference on the line that I looked at is they had mostly dedicated lanes or private right of way and entirely signal preemption. It means they (whichever system it was I was looking at) are able to average somewhere around 16 mph, which is very competitive with driving in downtown areas. They also use 100% low floor cars with wide and many doors, so that boarding and detraining at stations is more like a subway.

        THAT is what a true modern streetcar / tram line is like. In the USA the concept of the “modern streetcar” is a streetcar that looks like a light rail car. In places in Europe that are experiencing a resurgence of tram lines, “modern streetcar” is far more about track and route planning, signals, platform placement, and boarding speed.

        As a comparison, the Portland Streetcar in its current form averages about 6 mph. I do definitely remember that: their system, operating at street level, was between 2.5 to 3 times faster than Portland Streetcar from one end of the line to the other.

        Heritage equipment along the waterfront? Sure! However, please take a careful look at the old Benson Waterfront line. The platforms were at floor height of the cars so there were no stairs. The track was mostly on private right of way along the street rather than actually in the street. 5 blocks of 1.6 miles was actually in the street.

        In other words, the Waterfront Streetcar had more “modern streetcar” features than the South Lake Union line or First Hill line does.

        The ridership wasn’t good, but there are a number of reasons for that. However, they really didn’t do too much to try to make it a useful part of the transportation network. It really didn’t connect to anything at the north end, for example, and the frequency was terrible for no particularly good reason.

        Today, the Class W Trams in Melbourne (the same cars used on the Waterfront line) have strict safety limitations and are not allowed to go above 40 km/h (25 miles per hour). This is faster than the SLU cars ever operate. A single car should have been able to do 4 round trips an hour including reasonable operator breaks at each end. (One round trip every 12 minutes, plus 12 minutes break or makeup time every hour). One round trip every hour and a half for a route only 1.6 miles long means the cars were spending far more time standing still than actually moving. The five cars should have been able to produce a pretty nice north-south transit connection linking the ferry terminal with major transit routes.

        Sure, the Class W cars that are already in Seattle are old, but using them on such a line again would be cheaper than buying new cars. It would probably be a good idea to replace the wiring in the cars with current standards, but this should be something along the lines of $15,000 worth of material and maybe another $15,000 in labor. The reason Melbourne limits them to 25 mph is due to some brake failures, and so it would be a good idea to try to figure out what caused that and how to restore the brakes to proper operation. The brakes on this type of car are pretty simple assemblies so it is likely something along the lines of fatigued metal parts in the brake linkage. This is the type of thing that, once the critical piece is determined, could likely be made in a decent sheet metal shop for about $40 as none of the parts on these cars is typically that complicated.

        The Inekon / Skoda cars are a much different matter. Those cars do have some fairly high tech components. I had to work with a few of the assemblies on one of the cars some years back, and NONE of the components had USA representation from the manufacturers.

        One advantage with stone age technology (or, at least, steampunk age technology) is that you don’t necessarily need access to the original parts. It’s the type of stuff that a well equipped shop complex could make themselves on their own milling machines. Today, you don’t need your own fabrication shops as you just e-mail the drawing of the part to someone on the outside with shop equipment, they upload the drawing to the laser cutter or milling machine, and a day or two later you have a replacement.

      10. The Strasbourg Tramway, and every similar project of recent vintage intended to perform the heavy mobility lifting across France’s smaller cities, are light rail lines by any semblance of an apples-to-apples comparison.

        They are designed to connect clear across the urbanized area — precisely none is a useless “downtown circulator to nowhere” as you claim.

        The only reason they aren’t 15-mile highway-huggers like MAX is that cities like Strasbourg remain compact by both history and meticulous land management. That’s why just a few surface lines, made relatively fast, can accomplish so much for so many.

        And again, these are small cities (Strasbourg = 750,000 for the entire metro area). That’s why they aren’t in need of grade separations to make traveling edge-to-edge competitive on transit.

        Anyway, not “modern streetcars” by any proposed American application of the form. Because France wouldn’t waste money and energy doing anything that pointless.

      11. Exactly!

        True modern streetcar lines don’t run in the street, or at the very least use an absolute minimum amount of in-street running. That’s the whole basis of the modern streetcar movement outside the USA.

        The actual “modern streetcar” styling is just cosmetics mostly, with some nice electronics added. As I noted above, the Seattle Waterfront line had more in common with true modern streetcar operations as practiced in Europe (lots of private right of way, floor level boarding) than the SLU line does.

        Sure, if you want to call what they are doing in Europe light rail that’s fine with me. Europe calls them tram lines either way. The fact is, if you want a successful “modern streetcar” line that is the type of model to follow and the results can be pretty spectacular when that model is followed, because it produces far superior transit.

      12. It can only produce “superior” transit where applied appropriately. This cannot be stressed enough!

        If you are a city of millions, the Strasbourg model can’t accomplish your heavy lifting. If you are a city that sprawls widely, it can’t go everywhere and it wouldn’t be fast enough if it did.

        Even Portland — hardly a megalopolis — is actually both too populous and too sprawling to function on the Strasbourg model, which is why MAX fails so egregiously for cross-city trip and for reaching the majority of urbanized destinations.

        The entirety of Strasbourg would fit between Washington Park and Mt. Tabor. Seriously, think about the implications of that!

        I promise you, Strasbourg is not easily transposable. Not to any significantly larger European city, and certainly not to most American ones.

        Now read this. Read every word:

      13. The whole of the Strasbourg model isn’t transportable, but one lesson from it certainly is: you will certainly never produce high ridership transit routes by operating at walking speed. It doesn’t matter what city you are in to apply that.

        I agree that it isn’t possible to expect the 120,000 or so daily riders that Strasbourg gets when applying their type of line to an American city. However, their average operating speed compared to Portland Streetcar or SLUT certainly is something that should open a few eyes. It shows the difference between best practices for a street level line where effort was actually put into making a line that is meeting the needs of the population, and….. well, what we’ve got in the northwest.

        However, you have to start somewhere.

        If the quality of a transit line is high, then people want to live near the line for the sake of convenience. Ultimately, this will increase the density along the line so long as zoning doesn’t get in the way.

        On the other hand, if the quality of transit is terrible, it doesn’t matter how much density it has along it because it still doesn’t serve the transportation needs. People will drive anyway.

        You may never get there, but you certainly won’t ever get there at 5 mph in city streets – which of course you already know. I’m only using Strasbourg as an example of the current best methods used in Europe for “streetcars”, and how vastly different those methods are from what was done with “modern streetcars” here.

      14. It’s a shame that “don’t be willfully slow or infrequent or terrible” is a lesson that should need to be spelled out, but yes, of course, that one is extractable from any city with competent execution, and is universalizable.

        Though, crucially, that lesson applies to any surface transit, including the sole mode capable of scaling in spread-out cities that are never going to build the innumerable miles of street rails proportional to the coverage achieved with just a few lines in super-compact Strasbourg. That scalable surface mode, of course, is the lowly bus.

        Your second point is vaguely correct, in a hard-to-separate-chicken-from-egg kind of way. More attractive transit attracts more riders, therefore builds comfort with the idea of transit as primary mode, therefore shifts the urban design paradigm away from auto-centric forms and toward human-centric forms. That these processes reinforce one another is the whole premise of a blog like STB.

        What transit cannot do is seed wholesale reinventions in the absence of numerous other factors. You might have noticed that Ballard is far and away the fastest growing and most dramatically densifying of all Seattle neighborhoods, despite the notoriously terrible access to pretty much everywhere. This is because it is an appealing corner of the city in its own right. The Rainier Beach station area, meanwhile, was just found “unready” for a concerted growth effort by an independent study that (per Mike Orr) expected to recommend the opposite.

        Great transit is a boon to great urbanity. But it isn’t the cause.

      15. It shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is. We’ve got people here in Portland declaring the Portland Streetcar a great success, at 5,000 riders a day.

        We may not be Strasbourg, but there is an awful lot along that line. NW Portland has had crowded transit lines for decades, and now there’s residential towers as part of the Pearl District redevelopment. The OHSU / South Waterfront development is pretty dense too. In between is downtown Portland.

        There is enough along our line that it should be getting far more riders than it is. Therefore I like to hold up Strasbourg as an example of success because their numbers show what success looks like. If we say it can never happen here and say what we have is a success, then we’ve redefined what success is.

  13. Yes, giving the streetcar dedicated lanes does make it a bit more like current operations of a European tram, which is what it is supposed to emulate.

    Making it actually go someplace would kind of help too. My own thought would be to spend a bit of money and continue the line up the hill from the carbarn / shops a few blocks to connect to the express bus stops near I-5. This really isn’t that far so it really shouldn’t cost billions and billions to accomplish. Maybe it would add a bit to the utility or maybe not.

  14. I’m all for speeding mass transit into and out of our geographical choke-points.

    However, one of the problems with this and many other SDOT so-called improvements is they create additional general traffic congestion.

    We already have less than 30% of downtown workers commuting by SOV. Great. The number is higher around the periphery (SLU, Uptown, etc) but still pretty good. However, by creating gridlock much of the day through bus lanes and sometimes, road diets, it is very difficult for the commercial traffic in the city that gets around in vehicles to stay mobile.

    These are your delivery trucks, school buses, charter buses, service trucks, etc. Before I left the region (temporarily), I worked in one of the above sectors. It was becoming increasingly difficult for us to do some of our basic runs (for instance, SLU to the Waterfront), due to the increased restrictions on traffic.

    I understand we are trying to move transit along to make it more attractive for those to use it to get themselves around the city. But at the same time we are slowing down the SOVs (who I have very little sympathy for), we are making it extremely difficult for commerce to occur within the city.

    Since seemingly most of the posters here work in the tech sector, they may not understand what it is like to have a business that depends on moving capital assets and services through the urban core. I have some understanding of that perspective, and right now, it stinks. Turning the SLUT lanes in streetcar only will continue to exacerbate the problem, as this corridor is one of the few that runs from downtown out to Ballard/Fremont.

    1. I don’t think delivery trucks are having that much of a problem. They manage ok in NYC, so how could Seattle possibly be worse? Delivery trucks have no problem blocking 3rd avenue for several minutes while backing into Macy’s. I think most deliveries are done at off-peak hours anyway.

      1. Really?

        I have industry experience. Heck, I was a manager at a large private transportation company before I left for graduate school. Our trip times, during peak, through the downtown core became much worse.

        Everyone is still getting through, eventually, but it makes the travel times much longer, reducing efficiency and driving up costs for everyone.

        Reducing lane capacity to favor transit, while admirable, and actually appropriate in many locations (Pike St, for instance), is not a one size fits all solution. Given the hour glass shape of the city and the incredible demands on our roadways in SLU (not necessarily because of SLU, just because there aren’t many ways to get around Queen Anne on surface streets), reducing throughput on Westlake seems ill-conceived.

    2. This is very much the point of this change. Currently there is far too much SOV use to SLU because the transit options are weak. This is a first step towards rectifying that.

      If SLU had DT levels of SOV use, it would clear a lot of space for commerce vehicles.

      1. Problem with SLU is the garages. For as long as the roads are faster, door to door, those private garages are likely to fill up, at some price. Oddly, I suspect that the short- to medium-term effect of these changes will be to depress the price of parking in SLU.

      2. I don’t buy that the transit options are weak.

        We have three parallel routes, all running at 15 minutes or greater service, operating north south through the area, connecting to downtown.

        In addition the SLUT.

        What will take it take for the transit options to *not be weak?*

        Do we need more specialized one-seat ride routes like the 309?

        This blog, rightfully so, as been against one-seat rides for the sake of avoiding a transfer, as long as easy connections are available.

        Easy connections are available. One of the reasons the SLUTs ridership stinks is because there are so many buses running through that area.

        The 70 has gone from a weaker than what you would expect performer to absolutely stuffed, in both directions, over a very long peak period. Maybe some of those people are riders who chose the 70 over the SLUT.

        Certainly they weren’t riding *at all* when the SLUT first opened.

      3. Poorly coordinated 15-minute options to reach a place so close to downtown, while requiring a transfer for most users, is quite “weak” when making a rational mode choice for a routine journey, and is “extremely weak” in comparison to any well-transited urban peer.

      4. Anecdotally (but I asked a lot of people), when I worked at Amazon, the people who had straight shots into SLU on the 8/26/28/40/70 or even the 5/16 rode transit. It was people coming in from the suburbs and poorly-connected places like Magnolia who filled up the garages.

      5. Also anecdotally, the people I talked to just walked from downtown. I know I would. It is maybe ten to fifteen minutes from Westlake (where a lot of buses end). I also knew folks that would just grab the first bus (but ignore the streetcar). I think as traffic gets worse and worse, I think you will see more of that. Compared to much of the city, South Lake Union is not that bad for transit (it is much better than say, Fremont). It is only frustrating because it deserves better — it is essentially part of downtown, and folks shouldn’t have to walk fifteen minutes, or ride ten minutes (when you include the transfer) just to get from downtown.

        But there are people who drive even though they obviously have better options via a bus. This is obvious when you see the high number of people who park in the center of downtown. Maybe they need their car after work, or maybe they just like driving.

      6. It’s weak because, as d.p., Bruce and RossB all mention unless you’re starting from a point on a line that already goes to or near where you’re trying to get to in SLU, it takes forever. From 125th and Lake City Way (the major transit point in NE Seattle) to, say, Westlake and Harrison, unless you’re able to catch a 309 at rush hour it’s anywhere between 50 min and 1 hour+ to get there by transit–and that’s only with a single transfer. Rare indeed is the day where that trip would take anywhere near that long to drive–so guess what people will do? (Hell, it’s 45 minutes by bus from Madison Valley, which at least the proposed new 8 will solve somewhat.)

        If you’re closer to downtown, or like me enjoy walking, then you will just walk from downtown like Ross mentions. However, the vast majority of people do not want to walk every single day, particularly in the inclement weather we occasionally get in these parts.

  15. Let me bring a SOV driver’s perspective into this: I’m cautiously optimistic about this change. I drive through this corridor every weekday on my way to Fremont/Ballard after dropping my wife off downtown. Therefore, I am driving an SOV northbound in the mornings and southbound in the evenings straight through the middle of this corridor.

    Many have mentioned that the southbound traffic doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, and I would agree with this. The only southbound issue tends to be afternoons at the corner of Westlake and Valley, where southbound cars are attempting to take a left onto Valley and get into the left turn lane on the next block to get onto eastbound Mercer. This causes a backup that often carries back to the Westlake/9th intersection and beyond. These two left turn areas cause occasional cars entering the intersections before there is an opening, blocking the tracks as well as crossing traffic. I really think that this problem can only be affected if this revision is carried another block or two further north to help control cars blocking these two intersections. The revision at the corner of 9th and Westlake seems to me to have made things worse.

    Northbound mornings, traffic on Westlake seems to be pretty smooth. I don’t see this change making much of a difference to either buses or the street cars during this period.

    The issues really seem to be afternoons at the northbound block of Westlake between Denny and Blanchard/9th. And this issue seems to me to be primarily caused by the completely overloaded I-5 entrance ramp at Howell/Yale, which is being fed by demand from both the Olive/Howell corridor, as well as the Denny corridor. Sticking with the area near the whole foods, you have traffic from northbound Westlake and Blanchard, southbound from Westlake and northbound from 9th all attempting to join eastbound Denny at this corner. The street on this block is also (as far as I can tell) the narrowest section of the entire corridor. So you are talking about taking a block that is already well beyond it’s carrying capacity and cutting it down further by only leaving a single lane of general traffic in each direction.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but my instincts tell me that if you want transit to move smoothly through that block, it might make more sense to just close it off to general traffic entirely. And that would suck for my personal commute. Another option might be to stick with the current plan but also making Blanchard between 8th and Westlake into a transit only block.

    And my other big concern with this corridor is bikes. The issue here is that it doesn’t seem that cyclists have a section of this corridor that they are comfortable riding in. Some seem to be afraid of the tracks, and therefore ride in the second lane, others are comfortable near the tracks, and others stay off the road entirely and ride on the sidewalks. I feel like some sort of solution needs to be added to this project to give a better comfort level for cyclist. A dedicated two-way bike lane (similar to the new one on 2nd) would be nice, but I don’t know where you would put it. If you put it on the east side, you’ll have conflicts with right turning cars, and if you put it on the west side it doesn’t provide a clean transition to the bike paths that start at the lake. I also don’t know what you’d have to do to avoid conflicts with people waiting at the street car stops.

    1. The 26, 28, and 40 all have huge problems southbound at Valley and Mercer in the afternoon. Many of the issue seem caused by SOVs making turns or blocking intersections.

      As for the Yale/Howell on ramp I think the solution here is to either close the ramp or force cars to queue for the ramp in such a ways as to minimize the impacts to other traffic. Say by forcing queuing on Howell instead of Yale.

      1. The lack of southbound issues I was referring to was strictly ones on Mercer proper. But, yes, like I said, the problems southbound problems are at Valley and Mercer, and it is even worse on both 9th and Dexter. Hence why I suggest that ending this lane revision program at Valley doesn’t solve the problem. Getting the southbound 40 move over to a dedicated lane at Westlake instead of having to cross Mercer on 9th would help a lot. It’d also be great for the 26 and 28 to be able to join Westlake at Aloha. Unfortunately, both of these options require buses cutting across traffic, and both of these moves are made much more difficult by the (in my opinion) very poorly redesigned 9th/Westlake intersection.

        I don’t think closing an on-ramp would be a solution. The traffic would just divert to Mercer or Spring, jamming up those areas even more. So you’d have even more delays on the cross streets of Mercer, and 5th (which feeds into both the Howell/Yale and Spring ramps)… well 5th can’t get much worse than it already is.

        And if you just close Yale, I hope you have a different route for all the buses on Howell. Because it’ll turn Howell’s cross-streets (Boren, Minor, etc) into the same mess we have on Mercer.

        But to bring things back to Westlake proper, I just hope that they are aggressive with the changes at at Denny/Blanchard and I hope they expand the scope of the project a bit on the north end (both of these will likely be at the expense of my own personal commute). Because otherwise I don’t see transit really gaining a whole lot from this change.

        Like I said: cautiously optimistic.

      2. SDOT needs to re-examine the signaling for both 9th and Westlake at Mercer. All the signage points you to I-5 by staying on 9th Southbound and making the left to Mercer there. But the signal timing actually favors left turns from Westlake. For instance…Heavy raffic heading East on Mercer gets a red light at Westlake and Ninth almost at the same time. Eastbound Mercer traffic completely fills the space between Westlake and ninth. Then Ninth and Westlake get greens S, but since there is no space for left turning 9th Ave traffic to stack, nothing can move. Meanwhile Mercer is completely clear from Westlake all the way to Fairview. Even though the 40 is not turning at Mercer, it gets jammed up by all the Southbound Westlake/9th ave traffic trying to make the left turn to Mercer.

      3. I was thinking about this while I was stuck in the horrible traffic yesterday afternoon. And I’ve come up with an idea that could help solve most of the issues of the southbound 26, 28 and 40 crossing Mercer.

        Lets start by taking the southbound stoplight on Westlake where it turns into 9th, and move it about 25 yards north so that Aloha becomes part of that intersection. Then lets make eastbound Aloha into transit only between Westlake and 8th (or maybe even as far as Dexter, but I don’t think that would be necessary). Then remove all of the parking on the west side of Westlake between 9th and Valley, and make the outside lanes of Westlake in both directions into transit only lanes. Then the light at the Westlake/9th/Aloha intersection would be setup with a dedicated separate signal for buses so that they can cut straight across 9th between Aloha and Westlake.

        In this plan, the southbound 40 would “turn” off of Westlake onto 8th where Westlake takes the jog to the east. It would then take a left onto Aloha, cross 9th with the dedicated signal, and continue onto dedicated lanes for the remainder of Westlake. The northbound 40 would be unchanged from the current route, except for having a dedicated signal at 9th/Westlake.

        This change would require the 26 and 28 to abandon Dexter south of Aloha, becoming part of the new “Westlake Transit Corridor”. The southbound 26 and 28 would take a left off of Dexter onto Aloha, and continue onto Westlake, just like the southbound 40. The northbound 26 and 28 would use Westlake just like the current 40, but at the Westlake/9th intersection, they would use the decicated signal to cut across to Aloha, then take a right from there onto Dexter.

  16. I would venture (without doing the math) that we’d save operating costs on the SLUT and improve traffic by removing the rails arnd returning this to busses and vehicles.

    I”m likely half wrong on this…but I’ll bet on the $$ side we clearly would save a lot of money by killing this money losing service

    1. Could also be a quote from a million comments about parts of the Interstate Highway system ten years or so after opening day.

      Since grooved rail in pavement can easily last fifty years and still be renovated, it really isn’t necessary to pave other the tracks or do anything else with them. Judging by other historic districts worldwide, old tracks, especially in brick streets, make great floors for venues, like Crash of 2008 themes.

      But I think if you sat down at a conference table with the business interests presently underway in South Lake Union, with in offices with vistas of the lake as far as the Fremont and University Bridges, they would show you convincing figures as to why removing the streetcars would not pencil out.

      Starting with what Seattle would lose if they pulled up stakes to move to places whose grooved rail has streetcars on it. Just a guess.


    2. I agree. The streetcars carry around 2,000 people a day, and that number is going down. If this was a bus route, it would have been on the chopping block (or at least a major re-route). When you consider what it cost originally, this is outrageous. When you consider that the city (and Sound Transit) is extending it, this is insane.

  17. Question for commercial drivers above: do buses stuck in car traffic stink any less than car traffic without buses?

    Because you know as well as I do that what uncontrolled private cars do is stuff every scrap of pavement far past the point where they can’t move, and sit there blowing their horns.

    New York- and every other US city, whatever Indian word is for “‘way past Alki ’til a giant wolf eats the universe.” Incidentally, thousands of historic prints from both sides of 1900 prove that for equal blockage horses actually did stink worse than cars.

    However, one very satisfying advantage actual teamsters had was that horsewhips generally cleared lanes and parking spaces better than horns. Check your RCW: some things get overlooked. Assault and battery not needed- whacked BMW fender hurts a lot worse!

    Streetcar motormen also had controllers whose impact patterns medical examiners always considered evidence of justifiable homicide. Anyhow, think commercial drivers of all kinds will find it easier to negotiate with transit than with private motoring interests.


  18. A streetcar have its own lane? What a great idea! Can we rewind the clock a few years and swap out the bicycle track for a streetcar-only lane on Broadway (since it was transit money that built the project in the first place)?

    1. My understanding is that the location of existing underground utilities would have precluded installation of streetcar tracks on the east side of Broadway, barring some extremely costly utility relocation. Once you factor in that design constraint with tracks on Broadway, there’s not much more you can do with that part of the ROW than make a protected bikeway.

  19. I’m late to the party, but why not run the 40 both directions down 9th? Change the right lane at Mercer to right turn only and make the now left turn only lane into a through/left (it’s used as an unofficial through lane currently, not many people turn left). Sure it’s off Westlake, but it’s only a two block walk from most of Amazon and the time savings would likely be more than the extra block walk.

    For the streetcar, make its lane streetcar/bike only on Westlake, although that won’t do much for it, unless the Terry portion is streetcar only also.

  20. Seems like a big help to the Denny Westlake situation would be 4-way pedestrian scrambles at Denny and and Blanchard/Ninth. So much delay is caused there by vehicles waiting for pedestrians traffic which has grown tremendously in they last few years. Allowing vehicular traffic right and left turns without having to yield to pedestrians would make a huge diff. IMO. It would also help to synch up the lights at at the two intersections and maybe to add a green left arrow to turn to Denny from northbound westlake.

    1. Okay, cool, you’ve just made it take 3 minutes to walk across the intersection in any direction. So I’ll just continue jaywalking with directional traffic, thanks.

      If they’re serious about this lane, then all northbound turns from Westlake onto Mercer simply need to be banned. Denny is full. Find a different route.

      1. I’m talking about Denny..not Mercer. I don’t really believe a left arrow at Denny is a great idea, but the problem there is getting all the freaking cars out of the way so the streetcar and buses can get through, and when the right lane is clogged from right turning traffic waiting for pedestrians and the left lane can’t move because someone is waiting for oncoming traffic to turn left nothing moves. Banning left turns there makes sense, but banning right turns at both Denny and Mercer seems extremely unlikely and necessary. Scrambles are not a big deal and have precedent all over the world, and I would be surprised if that light cycle is 3 minutes in either direction.

        So your solution for this issue is to ban all turns for northbound Westlake at Denny and Mercer. Meaning all the traffic going from SLU or the Denny Triangle to I-5 or Cap Hill can’t use Mercer or Denny. What route do you suggest people take, particularly from the Denny Triangle?

      2. Unless the pedestrian critical mass is so overwhelming as to demand a scramble — and to ensure that scramble receives a significant portion of the cycle — scrambles are in fact terrible for pedestrians.

        Why? Because instead of having “right to go” in at least one direction at any given time, you are suddenly barred from moving anywhere for 90% of the cycle. Do you think SDOT is about to shorten the cars’ green time in either direction? It’s a recipe for making every pedestrian wait longer even for a uni-directional crossing than you would wait today to cross in both directions.

        Literally every successful scramble you can picture is in a place with 10x the foot traffic as Westlake and Denny, and a scramble so dominant in the cycle that you rarely wait a minute for it to come around. Based on today’s timings, your scramble would stop everyone in their tracks for 2 minutes or more.

        Again just ban the right turn (north to east), not the leftbound (south to east). Northbound drivers have plenty of other options that today they’re simple too lazy to choose. Capital Hill via Olive or the non-crowded direction of Boren. I-5 via anyfuckingwhere other than Denny. Denny itself, if absolutely necessary, via Virginia.

        We need not plan everything around the people who insist on driving but are too lazy to figure out how to self-disperse around the extensive Denny Triangle grid! Half of Seattle’s traffic problem would disappear if people would learn not to drive on autopilot.

  21. As a daily commuter on the full route of the streetcar I’ll echo what a few others mention here. The streetcar generally has no issues traffic on Westlake (I cannot think of any experiences where heavy traffic on Westlake slowed down the streetcar). There is, however, usually issues trying to get across Mercer. But that is a relatively minor issue next to the slowdown on Fairview.

    Fully half of the time it takes the streetcar to go from the FHCRC stop to Westlake, if not more, can be eaten up on the 300 or so yards it spends on Fairview Avenue. It can get so bad that almost daily the three streetcars can be seen stuck in the traffic on Fairview at once.

    If two of the streetcars are bunched on the other end of the line and I have just missed the third, I can easily walk the quarter mile to the lake Union Park station and beat the streetcar with plenty of time to spare.

    If anywhere along the line needs dedicated lanes it is along Fairview, hands down.

    1. I agree, Fairview/Valley is a killer.
      Usually I can walk from Yale/Fairview to the next stop at MOHAI and STILL have to wait 10 minutes for the trolley to catch up. It’s really, really bad.
      If I see the 70 coming I’ll get on that as it’s faster.

      The problem at Fairview/Valley is the drivers lining up in the left lane (the trolley lane) to get into the left lane at Mercer to access I-5. Trolley has to inch forward as drivers inch forward. SDOT recently put hatch markings across tracks in that intersection since drivers weren’t waiting behind the “stop line.” Drivers are now ignoring the hatch markings and still block the trolley.

      The block doesn’t only happen from the traffic backup, but the drivers parked across the tracks, so they can block the trolley from either direction. I watch this happen every single day I go through there on the pedestrian light. It’s an abysmal situation, only a cop sitting there giving tickets like candy every single day would solve this problem. Maybe. Because the line up would still exist.

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