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typical South Lake Union streetcar /trolley / tram
South Lake Union Streetcar by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

The Seattle Times (picked up nationally by Mass Transit Magazine newswire here) says that there is a plan brewing to give the South Lake Union Streetcar dedicated lanes. This is a result of decreasing ridership on the line that goes through the city’s fastest growing area.

If it happens, this might be a huge step forward towards making the new rage in streetcars more useful for people actually wanting to go places.

Or maybe not, depending on how it is implemented.

This change, along with signal pre-emption and a few other improvements would be a welcome change towards the operating methods used on the most popular tram lines in Europe.

Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a small company in Portland that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.

10 Replies to “South Lake Union Streetcar to get Dedicated Lanes?”

  1. In my own personal opinion, if a streetcar line is to going to act like a streetcar line from the 1890s, it should use cars from the 1890s, or replicas thereof. That way, at least there is some tourist appeal to the line. Modern streetcars operating in the old fashioned way appeal to neither modern transit riders (as they are too slow) nor tourists (as they are not especially unique).

    1. I agree. I think there is only one place where a streetcar (ideally an old version like you suggest) makes sense: Seattle Center. Putting transit through Seattle Center could make a lot of sense once we build out the street grid around Aurora (once the 99 project is done). For example, this could make a lot of sense:
      Of course this would be better as a bus route, but Seattle Center people might object with a bus route, but allow a streetcar (because of the tourist appeal). A frequent streetcar like this could be very popular, even without a single tourist.

      1. The waterfront line could have worked really well too, if it had connected at the north end with something. Now that there are two new pedestrian walkways over the BNSF main line, a slight northward extension could have linked the waterfront with transit at the north and south ends.

        But, even the waterfront line had dedicated right of way for much of its length.

    2. Vintage streetcars are slow, loud, and bumpy. The Benson streetcar was slow, as are San Francisco’s pre-WWII models. But San Francisco’s 1950s streetcar running on the same track is as fast and smooth and quiet as modern streetcars.

      1. But in spite of being loud slow and bumpy, vintage cars have a lot of charm that makes you ignore the downsides.

        Though the mostly separate ROW for the waterfront line made it a much faster prospect than the SLUT is.

      2. Charm is not a replacement for transportation; it’s a different thing. Transit has to compete with driving now. I’m not categorically opposed to a vintage waterfront streetcar, but we have to address our transportation needs first, especially if it’s coming out of limited transit funds.

    1. Um, because it is useless? OK, useless is a bit harsh. Because it is not as useful as a bus and because walking is often faster (for the short distance this serves). It’s main appeal is because it is “something different, something new”, and that has worn off (once you’ve done it, you can cross it off your list).

    2. One of the figures the Times reported was average daily ridership for the early part of 2015, which was less than the 2014 figure which had dropped from 2013. I don’t know if there’s any seasonality to the ridership, but it makes sense to me that ridership might be higher in the summertime when tourists are around, so I would expect the 2217 to rise as the year progresses. Whether all of 2015 represents a drop remains to be seen.

  2. This is a great Seattle Times article. The best part about this is that it will improve the bus routes as well. The focus shouldn’t be on the streetcar. Imagine the streetcar as bus number 00. The key here is that this will improve the reliability of several buses, including bus #00. As was made clear in the article, bus #00 is hardly a good bus — it doesn’t carry that many people. But with these changes, all the buses (including #00) will get higher ridership.

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