[Update, 4:45pm: Mayor Murray has responded with a statement: “I share the public’s frustration that the First Hill streetcar has yet to enter service. We continue to focus on fixing the problems this administration inherited. SDOT renegotiated the penalties for late delivery to make the delays more painful for the manufacturer, which now owes the City nearly $800,000 for failure to meet deadlines. This delay is unacceptable. If these higher penalties are not successful in motivating the contractor to complete its work, we will be forced to consider other alternatives.”]
Confirming rumors we’d been hearing recently, King 5 and Capitol Hill Seattle reported yesterday that that the First Hill Streetcar still has no estimated opening date, and that the line may not launch until 2016, nearly two years late. It is now a very real possibility that ULink may open first.
In addition to previous problems like failed fire tests and extreme procurement delays, SDOT Director Kubly told the Transportation Committee yesterday in a report that new problems abound: software glitches, propulsion problems, water damage in 6 out of 7 inverters, and unfinished items like wayfinding graphics and the customer information system. Apparently one of the inverters has been shipped back to Switzerland for maintenance. Inekon is paying hefty fines of $750,000 for their share of the delays, but it should be noted that this is 0.5% of the project budget, or roughly the amount King County Metro spends every 5 hours.
This streetcar project can now fairly be described as a disaster in conception, planning, and project management. Even if the bulk of the blame should be shouldered by Czech company Inekon, it is difficult to point to many decisions made along the way that will lead to the purported intent of transit: superior mobility outcomes. In the end, we will have spent $132m to build a mixed-traffic line with independent power, proprietary battery technology, purpose-built cars, circuitous routing, inadequate frequency, an average 7 mph speed, and an unfixable right-of-way design that permanently precludes transit priority. The ghost of Rube Goldberg is amused.
To be fair, the streetcar will do some good things. It will mitigate some of the overly radial focus of the bus network, enabling crosstown trips long underserved on Routes 9 and 60. It will permanently connect the new Yesler Terrace to the International District for the first time. And it will likely be a hit with Sounder riders headed for Harborview or Swedish who currently suffer a 3-seat ride and a crush loaded 3 & 4 on James Street.
But by most metrics, the line will perform poorly and will be unlikely to improve. Short of tearing up tracks, rechannelizing the roadway, reinstalling the tracks, removing parking, restricting turns, and/or banning cars on Broadway, we’re largely stuck with what we’ve built. Thankfully we’re poised not to make the same mistake with the Center City Connector, with dedicated right of way virtually guaranteed. But the integrated lines will still suffer from their weakest link, with trains on First Avenue delayed on account of peak hour cars queuing on First Hill. This entire experience inspires everything but confidence.
124 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Delayed Indefinitely”
The FHSC was a much better idea before they put a cycle track on the same street, making it nearly impossible to get dedicated ROW later.
The FHSC was never a good idea. The only good idea was to build a First Hill light rail station.
I’d counter that while the cycletrack could have been better, either built Dexter style on Broadway or on 12th instead, the real culprit is parking. They retained a ton of it, and the resulting space is too narrow to be repurposed for much of anything. Also, next time you’re in the area check out the wasted median ROW in places like Broadway between Union and Madison. Several feet striped for nothing at all.
Well if SDOT can rescue this by removing parking, then the long-term situation for this project is not as bad as I thought.
removing parking won’t rescue the streetcar from traffic. The rails weave back and forth through the street, away from and towards the curb.
There is no way to give them dedicated lanes without ripping up the rails and redoing it.
What Charles said. The parking space is woven in along the corridor in a way that makes it unusable for anything else. You can’t put cars or transit in ~8′ of ROW.
So we should just let people on bikes get hurt on Broadway from the tracks, like they do on Westlake? And before you say “parallel route”, I’m going to say “destinations on Broadway”.
It should have been center running, and without parking. Bicycles either share lanes with cars or we should have built a broadway without parking and with a cycle track instead.
Something had to give, you couldn’t have a cycle track, exclusive lanes AND parking. If we had designed to make it so bikes never needed to cross the tracks it would have been reasonably safe, with or without a cycle track.
Even the cycle track could have worked with exclusive transit if we hadn’t insisted on putting transit last behind both cars and bicycles.
Unless we get our priorities straight in this town, we will continue to waste our investments like this.
Having fallen off my bike due to the streetcar tracks on Broadway in 2013, I’m really happy that they put in that slick cycle track. As for the street car routing, it could definitely have been better.
What about the way MUNI streetcar/lightrail does it with boarding anywhere there’s a stop, no stations? Looks like it’d save a fortune on big stations. But broadway is a lot more busy than the neighborhoods that the MUNI trams run through…
I don’t think you can do what Muni does on a new system. It’s not ADA compliant. They got grandfathered in.
Toronto is trying to do it with their 100% low-floor, ramp-equipped streetcars but their accessibility laws are different to ours.
Streetcars should nearly *always* be center running.
The only reasonable alternative is to have both tracks on one side of the road with extra room for platforms — basically a completely separate right-of-way.
Oran: Ontario’s disability access laws are actually very similar to US disability access laws. There is a specific rule in the ADA guidelines regarding “streetcars which board from the sidewalk”. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to design that properly with center-running streetcars, though — because the *sidewalk* needs to be wheelchair-accessible. So you need a road wide enough to put in a “median sidewalk.
The big issue that I have with the bicycle track is that the track was partly funded with ST2 money. We gave up scarce transit capitol money for a parallel cycle track that slows down any future streetcar (because of the resulting shared lanes with cars) as well as competes with a proposed short-distance transit service to take away riders.
Is some reimbursement to ST in order yet?
Another issue is the apparent misdirection of the project by City elected leaders and staff. The project concepts were strong-armed without enough constructive feedback. It certainly appears that the City leaders and staff were operating with their head in the clouds, blown by the winds of bicyclists, and not critically considering basic issues of mixed-flow transit operations and streetcar technologies.
Are there political figures and/or staff members that deserves some public criticism, or do we have to keep playing “nice”?
If you view the cycletrack as a bicycle amenity, then yes, it’s lame that transit money funded it.
If you view the cycletrack as a responsible safety solution to putting in rail tracks, then no, reimbursement is not required. It’s part of the same project.
Imagine if, when building I-5, we’d actually (in the same project) funded and built lids and pedestrian overpasses. Those aren’t fancy pedestrian amenities; they’re part of taking what was once a walkable location, and dividing it in two with a 65mph highway. Instead, we’re scrounging for ped money to complete one of many needed bridges over I-5. The same stuff shouldn’t happen when we install transit.
Are you sure this bicycle track is a “safer” solution? I’ve rarely seen it used. Bicyclists that use it are prone to ignore the signals, especially when coasting from downhill to then go uphill. When streetcars start running, it will create driver blind spots so turning drivers will in some cases not be able to see cyclists in the cycle track. Broadway is much hillier than 12th Avenue, which appears to be the preferred north-south bicycle route because it’s much flatter.
I’d also note that the cycle track is parallel to the FHSC and not “crossing” it. Your example is not very relevant. Improvements on crossing Broadway are certainly an appropriate contribution to the construction cost; a parallel route is less so.
Yes, the protected cycle lanes are widely used. And streetcars are a bit of a safety hazards for bikes because their wheels can get caught in the tracks: I remember a news story about a man that got hurt from the streetcar’s egresses.
Yes, the cycle track is so much safer than riding in the street with rail tracks and cars that it isn’t even comparable.
Watch the video of someone crashing on SLU rail tracks here:
Now imagine he had a bunch of impatient drivers behind him that are trying to pass him with 1′ of clearance. Everything’s going fine, then all of the sudden he’s on the ground, and the driver behind him doesn’t have the chance to stop in time.
The cycle track has yet to be fully opened between pine and olive/John. When the chs construction is done and the path goes all the way through, I anticipate that the track will be more heavily used.
I’m curious if there is the same level of bitching from the cycling community about street rail tracks in other North American cities? It may be because I don’t live there but I don’t recall ever seeing cyclists calling the tracks in the streets of San Francisco, Portland, or Toronto “death traps” the way they do here.
Furthermore there are cities in Europe with a far higher percentage of people.who cycle on a regular basis and much more extensive tram systems than anything in the U.S. And again the two seem to get along fine.
While I’ve wiped out on the railroad tracks a few times including the infamous “missing link” section or the Burke-Gillman I’ve never really had a problem with the streetcar tracks for the SLUT, FHSC, or the waterfront trolley. Perhaps because I tend to be a slow rider, run fat tires on my bike, and am a fairly skilled rider.
You can just google “streetcar tracks bike hazard ” for lots of issues. Of course, the main issue is putting tracks where people ride.
Whoops, the comment system stripped out some tags. In that google search, include the name of your favorite streetcar city.
I never said cyclists didn’t have accidents in other cities with rail in the streets just that I hadn’t heard the level of outrage over street rail that I’ve seen here.
That said I only sort of follow local cycling discussions in Portland, SF, and DC so it is entirely possible the cycling communities there have been as loud and active against the hazards of street rail and I’ve just missed it.
Most Dutch cities have extensive tram networks and unimaginable-to-most-Americans cycling traffic. And, no, the locals do not complain much about the death trap of streetcar tracks.
Maybe that’s because the land is flat so more bikes have fat tires.
But probably it’s because the needs of citizens riding bikes or walking are equal to (or greater then) those driving cars when infrastructure is planned. So their representatives have been able to ensure those rails sit in center lanes and are rarely encountered while cycling except at intersections where the (ubiquitous) protected cycletracks cross them perpendicularly.
The Streetcar is also likely to be hit with people coming from the North via Link to the SU/Swedish area. Getting off at CHS and a couple of streetcar stops is vastly superior to other transit alternatives.
This is a key rider benefit of the streetcar. Unfortunately, in the eagerness to build the Aloha extension, we’re eliminating the natural attractiveness that the FHSC will offer — a waiting vehicle for persons who walk out the Capitol Hill station! And for what? A four-block extension into a commercial district already so close to the light rail station that if the streetcar isn’t in view, Link riders will simply choose to walk to Capitol Hill station because the distance is so short. For the want of the Aloha extension, we’re giving up one of the most apparent benefits of the FHSC in the first place!
Maybe if it’s coming right away. If it were more than 5 minutes away, waiting would be counterproductive. It’s only a 10-12 minute walk.
I go to Seattle U, and sometimes take the 578 home. I’m not sure I’d ever use the FHSC for that, since I can make the walk in 15 mins. Also, FHSC would take me to S. Jackson street, which is the worst place to get on the 578 because it’s the last stop before the freeway (it’s most full at that stop. I’ve even been passed up by full buses at that stop). That eastward deviation to 14th Ave in the central district is also counter-productive to that end. My frustration with this project is just that this company somehow didn’t foresee any of these challenges at all that would delay the opening by nearly 2 years (and counting).
Original planned opening date: spring 2014.
Not everyone is in a hurry or have good, fast walking legs.
Even if you’re not in a hurry, you still get colder and wetter standing around waiting for the streetcar than just hoofing it.
I remember hearing somewhere that the center placement of the tracks was due to underground utilities that would have to be (very expensively) relocated in order to lay tracks along the curb. I’m having trouble finding the source for this – can anybody confirm?
“First, Rail Transit Manager for SDOT Ethan Melone said that the cycle track actually pays for itself, since there are utilities under the proposed track that would have to be moved otherwise.”
We could still have benefitted from that part of the road not being excavated without making the cars and streetcar share lanes.
Streetcars are not required to run in any particular part of the street, there are any number of ways we could have rechanneled the street.
With all of the mistakes cities keep making with streetcars and all of the bad press the FHSC is generating, one has to wonder if the CCC is even going to happen.
Um, Portland is extremely successful. The decisions on the First Hill Streetcar is purely SDOT inability to deliver.
If they went with wire both directions, as they should have in the first place, it would have already been running.
They also should have went with different vehicles if they wanted wireless technology that already is proven (Siemens) however SDOT wanted to keep the system (cars) the same. That is why this is a failure. The refusal to think out of the box is why rail fails here.
I was referring to other cities. Ever heard of DC’s problem filled streetcar line?
Its also extremely late.
The Portland streetcar is marginally better than walking. I wouldn’t call that extremely successful.
The Portland Streetcar gets about 13,000 riders on the line a day, which sounds like a lot but consider how many transit lines feed the thing, and consider the density of the Pearl District, South Waterfront, and Lloyd Center area.
Furthermore, consider that when a typical French city builds one of these, the idea is to reduce auto congestion. Look at a typical street scene in Grenoble:
and compare that to the traffic hell of northwest 23rd in Portland.
Yeah, what Brad said. Since when is a form of urban transit with 15+ minute frequencies at best and 6-7 MPH “successful”? How can “competitive with walking only if your timing is good” ever be considered a standard for success?
Even without this SNAFU I have a hard time thinking that the costs involved with developing a new power system and then maintaining it/replacing batteries is really going to be cheaper in the long run than more complicated wire work to go on-wire the whole way.
Yep. Pennywise, pound foolish.
Perhaps only streetcars work for South Lake Union… which the streetcar program there works.
Ever tried to take it during rush hour? It’s often faster to walk.
The signal-priority is by no means absolute, and one poorly parked car can take the entire line down.
I admit not during afternoon rush hours on my trips to Seattle.
It’s only faster to walk if your timing is right. I raced it daily for a year. Sometimes I’d beat it but most of the time I lost. If I wasn’t trying to get exercise I would have boarded every time.
Banning cars from Broadway doesn’t strike me as the worst idea.
Maybe make an exception for delivery trucks. Make a bunch of those Parking Day projects permanent, add some Bell St.-like landscaping, tables chairs… Maybe this is a crazy idea, and maybe it’s not, but we don’t have enough leaders or advocates willing to propose outside the box, big, crazy things.
At any rate, it would help the reliability of buses, the FHSC (particularly if the Brodway extension is built), the future CCC, and make things safer for people riding bikes.
Agreed – but rebuilding a road so that you have to ban cars to make it functional, is still not something to be proud of.
Bold! I like it. It’s not like driving along Broadway is fast anyway, so it probably wouldn’t even hurt car travel times. Main hit would probably be cabs/UberX/Lyft.
Is Xi Jinping still in town?
We could still place an order for one of China’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell trolleys!
China has created the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell trolley
Sure if that meant Boeing jobs stayed here in return….
Boeing to sell 300 jets to China firms, set up China plant
Sorry John. Electricity is the way to go. Especially in the northwest with cheap electricity.
Scathing, Zach. Scathing.
And there’s this:
How does this happen? Obviously software bugs are unforeseen circumstances, but something like wayfinding graphics should be on the critical path, and it’s not like these are dependent on having running vehicles.
I’m curious to how the water damage occurred? Did they transfer the inverters across the Atlantic on raft boats? Or did somebody leave them exposed during a rain storm? What’s up with this?
SDOT’s Marybeth Turner responded via email about the inverter issue:
Pardon my curiosity, but what is the schedule for the start of service?
One clarification. While the SDOT director’s report was prepared for the committee Tuesday, Kubly didn’t attend the session due to priorities around President Xi’s visit.
The report document is here (PDF)
Hm, that doc has on the bottom that the streetcar will open in the fall.
“ First Hill Streetcar start of service: Fall (event)”
Fall, yes, but what fall? 2015? 2016? 2017? …. This whole debacle can be tied to several issues like over engineered design (the battery/power thing), refusal to consider long range effects, etc. Placement of stations is even questionable (distance from last station to King Street Station…doesn’t anyone who might want to take the streetcar also want Amtrak or Sounder?
I am struggling with figuring out why I should continue to support SDOT — if they can’t do a simple thing like get a bloody street car running why should we trust them with another $90MM + for as yet to be decided projects.
Move Seattle doesn’t fund streetcars.
Licata’s proposal to explicitly disallow Move Seattle funds to be used on streetcars was shot down. Instead, this is what has ended up in the legislation:
“Section 8. Use of Funds. Any proposal to use Levy Proceeds to build or operate
20 streetcars must be accompanied by a narrative presented to the appropriate Council committee
21 evaluating the proposal’s geographic value, productivity, and effect relative to race and social
22 justice implications. The narrative shall describe findings from applying the Racial Equity
23 Toolkit (or the successor thereto).”
So Move Seattle *could* be used to fund streetcars, as long as SDOT provides City Council’s transportation committee (or equivalent) with a detailed explanation. I notice that there’s no mechanism described for Council to actually veto using levy funds on a streetcar..
Thanks Justin. Fixed.
I was in Brest France last month and was shocked to see their relatively new tram system has exclusive right of way on their major downtown commercial street. https://www.google.com/search?q=brest+france+tram&espv=2&biw=1576&bih=1023&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0CDkQsARqFQoTCK3w0cvojcgCFUpwPgodohcEoQ&dpr=1
It seems to be working but the streetscape feels empty and dormant when shops are closed in the mornings and evenings.
It is an efficient way to get around, ironically even to the outer auto dominated newer suburbs. the north line terminates at a row of auto dealers and an a giant Ikea store.
Good article on French trams here — https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/france-commits-to-tramways-a-possible-model-for-the-future-of-urban-rail
Just imagine trying to carry all those boxes of flat-pack furniture on the tram!
Ever hear of “delivery”?
No one ever said that growth didn’t come with growing pains. Just gives us more to learn from for the Center City line.
Well, the problem is that Seattle didn’t learn from any other cities. There was way too much reinventing-the-wheel, which created problems which didn’t need to be problems. Several of them have been listed in other comments.
This is embarrassing.
SDOT should be ashamed. They should have done a much better job of managing this project – and, yes, managing subcontractors and overall design is SDOT’s job. They dropped the ball.
For example, exactly why is it that SDOT required the FHSC to have off-wire capability? Ya, I know, trolley bus wires cross FHSC wires at several spots, but all our new trolley buses will have off-wire capability. And trolley buses with off-wire capability is an off-the-shelve design – not this mismanaged new SC design that SDOT stepped up to. Doing development and production at the same time is a recipe for disaster.
However, overall this will be a successful project once it gets into operation – we just need to get there! But until then, someone at SDOT should be canned.
The wire tangle isn’t a valid excuse, considering there are already places on earth where trolley buses and trams operate on the same street.
Most places that use off-wire capable trams have done so due to nearby places of historical or cultural significance where the wires would not be politically possible.
I love the timing. I’m looking forward to using both U-Link and FHSC the same day for the first time.
I used Tucson’s SC not too long ago and it was great to not need my car to traverse key points across the city. I think for every SC horror story there is at least 1 successful implementation of SCs. Once this thing gets up and running it will get ample usage, no questioning that. It’s too convenient to SU and Swedish not to get used, and Link will spur a tremendous amount of car-less traffic.
Agreed on the link question.
The streetcar itself… it remains to be seen what the ridership will be like. It may well exceed the SLU streetcar simply because it has a lot of popular destinations on it. The slowness and being stuck in traffic may hurt ridership a lot.
An exclusive lane streetcar running up and down broadway probably would have been very successful, I have little doubt about that. Especially if it had actually opened multiple years before Link.
“Short of tearing up tracks, rechannelizing the roadway, reinstalling the tracks, removing parking, restricting turns, and/or banning cars on Broadway, we’re largely stuck with what we’ve built.”
We could just tear up the tracks and not put them back. This project was flawed from the start and it is time to cut our losses. Those tracks on Jackson will kill cyclists and should never have been installed on a major bike route (with effectively no alternative) into town.
The line will serve a sliver of actual Seattle residents; I’m sure it will be nice for the tourists during the summer though. The costs outweigh the benefits.
The Jackson tracks are in the center and not where most cyclists ride (closer to the curb). The only part that effects cyclists is left turns across the tracks.
The part that is most dangerous for cyclists is riding westbound, where the tracks turn onto and off of Jackson at 14th. That is, this mess.
Follow the sharrows and you abandon your lane position, risking a driver behind you nosing into it, leaving you nowhere to go. Follow a straight-line path and you cross the tracks at a fairly shallow angle; if the ground is wet you have to be careful not to miscalculate this, and it’s not always easy to see in the dark or when you’re focused on traffic around you.
All the alternative routes are much less direct and more hilly — that’s just how the street network is. King might be an acceptable detour if there was a signal at Rainier — as it is the signal is at Weller, which imposes some really steep blocks.
Any cyclist coming from South of Jackson will need to turn left over the tracks on the way into downtown. Those who live just North of Jackson will have to take a left over the tracks on the way home from downtown. So almost every cyclist will need to take a left over the tracks.
Remind me why we need off-wire capabilities for a fixed-guideway vehicle?
Reminds me of the Brenda buses.
If memory serves, it had to do with the incredible maze of bus wires where Broadway meets Pike and Madison, respectively. Couldn’t support the wires at a different height going both ways, or something.
Yeah, I wasn’t clear – I meant that rhetorically. My point is that the wire conflicts are with buses, which are not on fixed guideways, and therefore have real benefits to being able to go off-wire. It seems obvious that you would try to engineer a solution for the buses rather than the streetcar.
It is worse than that — all our new trolley buses (and we are replacing the entire fleet) will have off-wire capability. Off-wire capability is not a new thing for trolley buses, most new fleets have such vehicles.
In order to avoided the “crossing wires” conflict only one of the modes needs off-wire capability. So SDOT could have solved this problem by having Metro buy off-wire capable trolley buses, which is what Metro did anyhow all on their own.
So we now have 2 modes with off-wire capability whereas we really only needed to have one of those modes with off-wire capability. And the new SC with off-wire capability that SDOT purchased is a fricking Frankentrolley.
All this was totally unnecessary…
Off-wire capabilities for our new trolleybuses are for emergencies and other temporary situations. As far as I know, drivers still have to get out and walk to the rear of the coach to rewire. Not something they can do 24/7/365
I was not aware that that was the case. After all, even our old tunnel buses had a form of automatic pole deployment. It was rudamentary, but it was there.
But in any case, with off-wire capability you wouldn’t really need to retract the poles. All you need is a stretch of non-conducting “wire” to guide the poles through the crossing and all will be good on the other side. Just design it so the geometries clear, and maybe add some power switching if you think it is needed.
But this wire crossing problem is not new and solutions have been around for what must be 100 years now. Why SDOT thought they needed to redesign the SC vehicles to solve it is beyond me.
Trolley buses also have the ability to have their wires wander over a lane away from where they are operating.
“The OESS was developed for the First Hill Streetcar to reduce overhead wire conflicts with the Metro trolley bus system. Several other cities plan to use battery drive to avoid overhead conflicts (such as bridge overpasses), save energy costs, or limit the visual impact of overhead contact systems. A similar system has been in use in Nice, France since 2007.”
Pennywise, pound foolish.
Shhhh. Every neighborhood will want to take advantage of the aesthetic improvement, leaving the trollies totally running on batteries.
SDOT could have wired most of the route except for the short sections where there was conflict with wire for the trolley buses. Making a tram run off wire for a blok or so is much less of a problem than making it do so for half the route.
“This streetcar project can now fairly be described as a disaster in conception, planning, and project management.”
You guys are adorable.
LOL, yeah I suppose it could always be worse. :)
Being the cynic that I am, I have been joking about U-Link opening before FHSC for months. I guess it’s not a joke anymore.
>>an average 7 mph speed<<
Is it really estimated to average only 7MPH? I could maybe see this at the peak of rush hour, but all the time?
It’s planned for 18 minutes to go 2.5 miles under the best conditions, which is 8.3 mph. Likely 30 minutes in peak traffic, which is 5mph. I chose 7 mph as an educated guess of average conditions, which assumes a 21 minute trip.
Muni is a top 5 US transit system and only averages 8 mph.
For any transit route to be any good at all, it MUST be fast and/or frequent. Toronto’s streetcars are very slow at times, but at least they are also very frequent. A transit route that is both slow and infrequent will always suck.
Muni is not top 5 – BART (heavy rail that travels much faster) is top 5.
Boy, I can’t wait to send SDOT another $300 a year. I just *know* they’ll spend it wisely…
I think SDOT’s record on non-streetcar projects has been stellar, FWIW. I’m happily voting yes on Move Seattle.
SDOT built the actual tracks pretty quickly. The mess up was on acquiring the cars (there aren’t a lot of choices here).
The bad design was a result of the community process where parking and bicycles came out as the top concerns. I suspect that if the designers were left to their own devices, they would have built this with exclusive lanes.
Its not like building streetcars is a new thing, after all. Successful systems exist all over the world and I would be amazed if they weren’t aware of the conditions of successful systems.
We need to push hard on future projects to make sure transit actually gets its own lanes.
Not sure I’d say stellar. BTG hasn’t delivered on many of its initial promises. Road pavement conditions are still terrible on many streets. Basic stuff like crosswalk striping is lacking in many areas (unless you have a colored crosswalk).
SDOT’s general fund allocation was $40.2MM in 2006. It is $40.5MM in 2015. As a % share of the budget, transportation funding is down. BTG allowed the Council to spend general fund money elsewhere instead of actually fully increasing the share of city funds spend on transportation.
It is no wonder the maintenance backlog never goes down.
I believe signal pre-emption would be more beneficial than exclusive streetcar lanes. On Broadway, the streetcars run in the only travel lane, so making that exclusive for SC means no other motor vehicles allowed, only bikes and peds in their own lanes/sidewalks.
The problem is that as a transit advocate you’re looking at what successful tram streets look like all over the world, and business owners are going to look at what successful commercial streets look like in America. These visions are going to conflict severely with eachother.
Successful trams throughout the world aren’t necessarily any faster than the FHSC is going to be in aggregate. They have the advantage of being located in cities where average trips are shorter, walking conditions are better, connecting transit is better, driving is slower/harder/more expensive, etc. I had to ride most of the length of a surface tram line in Nürnberg once, due to some unfortunate trip endpoints that didn’t quite align with faster trains. In terms of average speed and delay it was somewhere between the SLU Streetcar and San José’s light rail, i.e. basically like a local bus. That this did not preclude it being popular is a matter of land use and the surrounding transportation systems.
The average speed of some of the newly built tram lines in France are twice that of this line.
Certainly, that isn’t possible everywhere but when building a line from the ground up you have certain things you can do that you can’t do if you have a 100+ year old line.
Even cities with 100+ year old lines have a move towards light rail standards (private right of way or at least separated right of way, signal priority, etc.) because better line speed means better operating performance.
Sure, sometimes that isn’t possible, but that isn’t an excuse for best possible practice wherever possible.
“Stellar.” Give me a break. SDOT is also responsible for the sea wall project and that is….what? Almost 2 years behind schedule and 33% over budget? Sound familiar?
Oh, there are plenty of alternatives to the Inekon cars. Siemens and the Japanese manufacturers make “tram” style cars with very low floors and as many as five sections.
Indeed the Atlanta streetcar uses a short version of the same car Siemens sells to US light rail systems.
Zach do you even pay property taxes? Is your yes vote your endorsement for SF homeowners and how important they are to fund transit in Seattle?
Note that not just SF homeowners pay property taxes. Indeed I’d wager the total taxes collected from commercial, mixed use, and MF properties is far higher than that collected from SF properties. In addition any businesses will lbe paying B&O taxes and sales taxes too.
Excellent article, Zach. It reminds me of the 99 tunnel. A bad idea, poorly executed.
OK. Let’s look at the picture as if we’re SDOT in a revolutionary government that has just taken control of a city whose past regime left Seattle in ruins as its troops retreated.
First, we concentrate on everything whose damage was politically inflicted, and therefore curable by a simple change of policies. Chief among these is street parking. Which sooner than later would have had to be removed streetcar or not.
Second is getting automobile traffic out of the streetcars’ way. It seems to me that streetcar or not, Broadway’s lifetime as a trough transit corridor has been over for a long time. Where streetcars are going to bottleneck, have signals hold car traffic until transit gets through.
Or just limit motor traffic to ambulances, police cars, and fire engines. Allowing store deliveries midnight to dawn.
Another reasonable decision would be to either just keep the tracks and catenary in place until the local Broadway neighborhoods decide they’re ready and willing to let Broadway become a transit-only corridor.
Only positive technical lesson from the last ten years on the Benson line: rail and catenary can spend many years doing nothing and still be usable.
But meantime, good course of action would be to extend the carline straight up Jackson, and follow whatever corridor was run by the cable car line whose cable wheel decorates South Mezzanine Pioneer Square station. I think it went all the way down to Lake Washington.
If Inekon cars can’t climb the grade, Internet shows Stuttgart streetcars with both a ratchet mechanism for climbing and bike flatcars ahead of the front bumper.
Since I don’t pay taxes in the service area anymore, and also don’t know all the facts of who made what wrong decisions and why, I can only hope that anybody truly personally to blame for serious damage to transit’s operations and reputation loses their chance to repeat their performance in Seattle.
But good guide for fairness: What would happen to a first-line transit worker whose mistake caused the same amount of damage?
I work in the private sector, so I can’t speak for that. However, here in the private sector they would probably be promoted to Bank Vice President or some similar position that would allow their skills to cause maximum damage to worldwide economies.
Next time you visit us down here, and it happens to be a weekday and have an hour or so to spare, take TriMet #51 up the hill to Council Crest Park. The summit was once served by streetcar, and it is 1,070 feet above downtown Portland, and a bit over twice the height of your Queen Anne Hill. Except for several blocks by the Multnomah Athletic Club, much of that bus route was once the streetcar line. It’s no Queen Anne Avenue, but at the same time it also shows that streetcar lines don’t have to be pancake flat. Parts of it were once operated by cable car, but even 100 years ago it was found that good quality electric cars can handle some pretty steep hills. Modern traction control can work wonders, but I am not at all impressed by the Skoda / Inekon system that is used on Portland Streetcar – its gravity fed with no air assist to deliver the sand to the actual rail/wheel interface and there is no automation that selects wheel slip. They’re basically using sanding systems as they existed 100 years ago.
In any event. Council Crest will give you some idea of the grades that could be negotiated by 100 year old technology.
Ed Murray ≠ Harry Truman.
The Buck Stops…. Anywhere Else!
What a lame statement from the Mayor.
So how much does everyone here trust SDOT with another almost $1 billion in levy funds? I’m struggling with what to do because on the one hand, we really desperately need funding for structurally deficient bridges, roads with huge pot holes which eventually cost the city more in lawsuits if they don’t get repaired, and of course transit itself.
Let’s go over a few of the things they completely mishandled just in the past 2-3 years.
1) Mercer Street Signalling
2) 15th Ave BAT lane
3) Aurora BAT Lane (north of the zoo where no buses actually route)
4) 2nd Ave Bike Lane
5) 23rd Ave Corridor (over budget and equipment is being stolen)
6) Broadway Bike Lane
I’m struggling to think of anything that’s been a success in the recent past. I feel for Murray because I think he truly wants to do the right thing, but unfortunately SDOT is an agency that’s massively short staffed and full of incompetent loonies from what I’ve heard. At least they have a new director. Maybe he can start to clean house with the new levi?
Blame the mayor.
I’m ready to vote this mayor out… He’s been in office long enough to own this fiasco! Clearly he doesn’t have a handle or know how infrastructure is actually built.
Did I miss it? Not once in any of the myriad of comments have I seen the names of those responsible for dreaming up, promoting and force-funding this $130 million fiasco. The spectre of Richard Conlin, Jan Drago, Mikie McGinn, Grace Crunican, ad nasuem (literally) rises again. You notice none of them are still around to be held accountable.
Seattle — The city that can’t do anything right.
I’d like to know who made the following decisions:
(1) the appallingly bad station placement
(2) the crazy decision to make half the route “wire free”
(3) the decision to go with one of the less reliable ‘off-brand’ tram manufacturers
(4) the screwy 14th Avenue detour which makes that part of the route ineffective
(5) the mixed-traffic running
(6) the idiotic “almost curbside, but with parking on the other side” track location on Broadway
(7) Building this across a bunch of bridges which have to be replaced soon (without replacing them) on Jackson St.
If Seattle does get refunded, you might as well spend it on redoing those tracks, giving them their own dedicated lanes. There’s no point in waiting around for Goidot (I’m sorry, the streetcars) doing nothing when you have this opportunity to actually do something useful with the time. By the time those streetcars arrive, it will indeed be too late to mitigate the mistake (as it is with the SLUT). Swallow your lumps now, and get on with it.
SDOT could have saves a lot of money, and headache if they had considered a route 1 block off Broadway.
Either Harvard, or 10th Avenue-Nagel Place would be streets with far less traffic, and have less impact by eliminating traffic and parking on them.
Some neighbors would have to find parking a little farther away from their apartments, and Streetcar users would have to walk a block off Broadway to ride. But the advantages of being able to dedicate a corridor to the streetcar. being able to give priority traffic signal to streetcars would make the system reliable and would be competitive with most other options especially during heavy traffic.
It is not too late. If they are going to be pulling and replacing tracks anyway. they could just move the line over a block.
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