First Avenue Streetcar right-of-wayIn March, Seattle DOT’s Move Seattle plan included two streetcar lines. The Center City Connector (CCC) is a tram in dedicated right-of-way along First Avenue that would join the First Hill and South Lake Union Streetcars. It scores well on cost per rider metrics, partly because it’s quite short, at a cost of roughly $110m. Extending the First Hill Streetcar to Roy St., a $25m project, is a longstanding demand from nearly residents and businesses.

Alert readers noticed that the final $930m Move Seattle ballot measure announced earlier this month mentioned neither project in the promotional materials or the ordinance itself. I asked SDOT director Scott Kubly what this meant for the rail plans:

Both are priorities.  The Levy isn’t planned as a funding source for either project. Both are listed in the Move Seattle strategic vision.

As it turns out, both projects have reasonably solid funding plans that don’t depend on Move Seattle. For the CCC, Seattle applied for a 2016 $75m Small Starts Grant from USDOT. Sources at the city say they hope to fund the remaining $30m or so by bonding against on-street advertising revenue. Construction would begin in 2017 or 2018. If a $7m Local Improvement District (LID) materializes for the Roy Extension, it will start construction as soon as 2016.

This actually might help Move Seattle’s electoral prospects, given the faction in city politics that reacts severely to the slightest whiff of streetcar funding. Critics pilloried the failed 2011 vehicle license fee* for spending on streetcars, although  their share of the budget was a mere 9%. In June retiring Councilmember Nick Licata unsuccessfully tried to forbid any money from Move Seattle going to a streetcar, no matter how much conditions change. But even before his maneuvering, there was no streetcar funding in the program.

So will any part of Move Seattle ultimately fund one of these two projects? Realistically, SDOT has to deliver the signature projects in the measure before it thinks about using any savings or surplus on other stuff in the master plan. Most of the streetcar funding will come from other sources, and with good fortune it all will. In any case the gap would be a tiny percentage of the Move Seattle package. In the end, the projects actually on the ballot are so badly needed that it’s worth passing, no matter how you feel about streetcars, and whether or not Move Seattle becomes relevant to them.

* Sadly (?), links to these arguments are lost to bit rot.

61 Replies to “Streetcars not in Move Seattle, Still Priorities”

  1. We should stop saying the Broadway car is being extended to Aloha street. Its not.

    It would only be extended to Roy.

  2. With the Fist Hill Streetcar opening most likely not until 2016, I think keeping streetcar money out of Move Seattle is definitely a good political move, but some may not know that and vote no on the account of the abysmal progress on FHSC (who can blame them, really?). Here’s to hoping for a good outcome.

  3. Actually … I think road diets and bike lanes are a lot more toxic to some than streetcars ever were. Especially the bike lanes because they “steal parking spaces”

    1. The biggest arguments I hear against bike lanes is that they aren’t used very much and that they are a poor allocation of scarce street space. Many cyclists don’t like the design of the bike lanes, or simply prefer to ride with traffic for various reasons.

      1. For a good quantification of this “many”, look at how many people bike between the Fremont Bridge and downtown, and then compare how many take:

        – Dexter (up and down a modest hill, in a bike lane that’s fairly wide and reasonably well designed, at least until the questionable bit south of Mercer)
        – The Westlake parking lot sidewalks (flat, not much space, lousy sight lines, a few really sharp turns)
        – The Westlake parking lot aisle (flat, decent amount of space, OK sight lines, lots of drivers making difficult or unpredictable maneuvers)
        – Westlake in traffic

        I think last I heard, almost half the people go to Dexter, a similar number take either the sidewalk or parking lot to avoid the hill, and a tiny minority uses the traffic lanes on Westlake. The most reasonable interpretations:

        – The flatness of Westlake is generally preferable to the hilliness of Dexter
        – The road layout and traffic conditions on Dexter are generally preferable to those on any part of Westlake — otherwise the Dexter/Westlake balance would be tilted more toward Westlake because it’s flatter
        – For about half of the riders flatness overrides and they take Westlake; for about half of the riders the better road layout overrides and they take Dexter. Some riders actually prefer the sidewalk over Dexter’s bike lanes independent of grade, and some dogmatic vehicular cyclists prefer the traffic lanes independent of grade; some riders want more hills. But none of these things drive the majority of commute behavior.
        – Riding in traffic is extremely unpopular — even riding in the parking lot aisle is preferred over taking the lane on Westlake, though seeing the number of collisions that occur there, it’s probably no safer.

        The sort of riders that became dogmatic vehicular cyclists in past generations do not develop such views today because bike lane design is actually much better today.

      2. The great majority of those who want to ride bikes, will not ride next to traffic (I am in that group as well).

        The majority who want to ride will only do so if they are able to dos so on bike trails, or segregated cycletracks, or sidewalks (perfectly reasonable here in my low density suburb). Bike lanes will be avoided.

      3. FWIW the Westlake parking lot is not a bad place to ride, especially if you aren’t a particularly fast cyclist. On the other hand the Dexter bike lanes are some of the best in-street bike lanes in the city and make me wish the city would build more like them.

        That said, Seattle has its fair share of poorly thought out bike infrastructure. There are certainly places where I find in safer or more convenient to take a lame rather than stay in the designated bike lanes. Furthermore many bike lanes are in the door zone of adjacent parked cars, get regularly blocked by buses, delivery vehicles, or people pulling in/out of driveways and parking spaces.

      4. The Westlake parking lot aisle is a horrific place to ride during peak hours. Parking turnover is really high and, of course, drivers pulling in and out of spaces aren’t very predictable! Plus there are the drivers accelerating into the lot to make left turns from Westlake. It doesn’t matter if you’re riding fast or slow if you’re in that entrance when they barge in.

        I have taken the parking lot aisle twice. The first time I took it to work just to see how it was, and I saw a collision involving someone turning left off of Westlake right in front of me. The second time was on Parking Day, just after work, when it was going to be the easiest route between a couple of the installations as they were about to close; I saw a near-collision similar to the first, and had cars pulling out in front of me from both sides the whole way. Never again. At least the sidewalk crosses the aisles at well defined points (I’ve used that when riding my mountain bike downtown to catch buses to fun places).

  4. I support the streetcar extension to Roy, if only for the street improvements (Broadway needs it) and the cycle track extension. I could care less if the FHSC ever actually runs to Roy or at all.

    The CCC money, no matter how large or small the City’s portion is after external grants, is a waste and is better used on just about any other transportation project.

      1. No, because transit doesn’t do that. Traffic expands to the size of the road. If you check out seattlestreetcar.org, you’ll see in the analyses they did on the CCC that the CCC will cost around $1.80/rider, BELOW ticketing costs! And it’ll connect the SLUT and FHSC.

        There’s such irrational hate for streetcars on here, it’s crazy.

      2. @Zach I’m way late on the response, but I call complete and utter bullshit of the highest stench on the $1.80/rider cost. Show me a frequent, all day metro bus route that even approaches $1.80/rider, let alone the $2.50 fare. Spoiler: there are only a couple of routes at specific peak times that break even.

        Now show me how a slow moving, expensive to build and maintain streetcar can beat a bus in farebox recovery. Another spoiler: it can’t.

    1. The argument for the Roy extension is that it would serve the entire commercial core of Capitol Hill rather than just the south edge. Yes, you can walk from Denny Way, but that’s not what a streetcar is supposed to do.

      (Against that is the argument of throwing good money after bad with the streetcars, which will never be the vast improvement they should have been to justify them. That offsets but doesn’t negate the urbanist argument for extending it through the entire neighborhood center.)

    2. I don’t support the streetcar extension to Roy. I’m sure it’s nice that Broadway gets an upgrade but it’s actually not bad today. I also tire of having the project be sold as a “transit” project when it’s really a bicycle track and landscaping project.

      Here is why it’s a bad idea from a transit standpoint:

      1. Extending the streetcar to Roy is such a short distance that the only people that will ride it are people that are going further down Broadway to the Pike/Pine corridor or the hospitals. If people are going to the Capitol Hill Station, they will almost certainly just walk the short distance. Given the frequent bus serves also serving these connections, it doesn’t really serve some missing need even for Broadway-only trips.

      2. Having a waiting streetcar at Denny is a powerful connectivity attraction for using the Streetcar for people getting in and out of Capitol Hill station. Coming out of the station and being able to quickly board a waiting, climate-controlled streetcar at the station entrance is a much more powerful incentive to use the streetcar.

      If there is a need to rehab that section of Broadway, then do it! Just don’t do it at the expense of the intent of the streetcar.

      I’m not naïve enough to believe that the City will renege on it’s commitment to build the extension project. I just felt like it should be pointed out that it makes little sense from a transit standpoint. That’s different than the connector, which will link many important destinations in Downtown Seattle.

      1. “I also tire of having the project be sold as a “transit” project when it’s really a bicycle track and landscaping project.”

        I tire of people mischaracterizing other people’s motivations. The streetcar wasn’t built to get ST to pay for a cycletrack and landscaping, it was built to assuage First Hill over not getting a Link station, in the mistaken belief that a streetcar would improve mobility significantly (the same mistake Lazarus falls into below).So it was a transit project, although an ineffective one. The cycletrack came along because cycletracks on main streets were popular at that time, and the landscaping came along because it always does. Although I can’t say I can see any landscaping there. The only decoration I see is the blue smurf turds barrier, and I wish they would go away and be replaced with something less obnoxious.

      2. Having a waiting streetcar at Denny is a powerful connectivity attraction for using the Streetcar for people getting in and out of Capitol Hill station. Coming out of the station and being able to quickly board a waiting, climate-controlled streetcar at the station entrance is a much more powerful incentive to use the streetcar.

        I don’t understand this at all. Seattle have very mild temperatures; as long as there’s a covered place to stand it doesn’t matter. The notion that for most people sitting on a non-moving streetcar for 5-10 minutes is more palatable than waiting at a stop doesn’t strike me as plausible.

      3. It may be that the original intent of the entire streetcar project was to address First Hill’s loss of a station. However, the extension to Roy has been consistently sold as a transit project although there has been no demonstrated need that it benefits transit riders. It has been driven entirely by bicyclists and some business interests.

  5. Are we sure that street cars are the best use of our transit dollars? How many miles of BRT can be built for the same money as one mile of street car? It seems really expensive and disruptive to rip up streets and reroute utilities to lay down rails. We need more BRT, not streetcars.

    1. BRT and streetcars serve totally different niches. We need both if you want to wean people of cars. SCs for the urbanist and BRT/LR for the fringe commuter.

      1. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think there’s a good argument for something like BRT-lite (not like RapidRide “BRT”, mind you) wherein the vehicle is still a bus (preferably a trolleybus), but it has dedicated ROW, streetcar-like stop-spacing, offboard payment, etc. At that point I don’t how much savings you’d get vs a rail-based line, but avoiding ripping up the roads must be worth something.

        What I’m envisioning is something like the trolleybus lines in Zurich. They even have the huge double-articulated trolleybuses which are neck-and-neck with most streetcars in terms of capacity.

      2. In general, BRT is a longer distance service, but not always. New York has a crosstown line (on 34th St.) and Chicago is building one across the Loop.

      3. Total nonsense. Chicago is urban last time I checked.

        Look, we’ve been over this before. Our streetcars can’t carry more people than our buses. This makes them the wrong answer for our area all of the time. The advantages of BRT over streetcars with tiny cars is enormous, especially in a hilly city like Seattle.

    2. No, the streetcars are political. Paul Allen and Mike McGinn wanted to be like Portland. A streetcar that fulfills its potential would be like Link on MLK but with shorter platforms for smaller trains. Link is expensive but it reaches 55 mph in grade-separated segments and has lots of capacity. BRT and trolleybuses are inexpensive so you can deploy many frequent lines. A streetcar at Seattle’s specs is the worst of both worlds: more expensive than a bus, slower than Link, and even slower than a bus. The CCC will have its own lanes but it will still have traffic lights every block, unlike MLK which has an intersection every 5-10 blocks. We can’t eliminate intersections downtown, but for the same reason we shouldn’t have at-grade streetcars downtown. Germany puts them underground in city centers, and surface outside the center.

      1. Being like Portland is not a bad thing. We shouldn’t be afraid to copy those things that are good about other cities.

      2. I would rather be like Vancouver, BC. Or, to put it another way, copying Portland’s streetcars is stupid, because they aren’t that good.

      3. Correct, Mike. The streetcars were, and are, political.

        At some point, what you are describing is light rail. There are only a handful of places in the world where streetcars make sense, and just about all of them already have them. Toronto comes to mind. Chicago, for example, is going with BRT, despite having advantages we can only dream of (very flat, lots of existing rail to leverage, extremely high density, etc.).

      4. @Rossb,

        Actually not true. Properly sited and implemented SC’s can fill a void between Buses Stuck in Traffic and LR. This is what they do in Portland, and their system is generally considered as successful and is being emulated by a variety of American cities.

        It’s also worth noting that Link is substantially more capable than Portland’s Max. We have really built more of a Light Metro than the traditional version of Light Rail. As such, there is more of a gap in Seattle between buses and LR and therefore potentially a grater opportunity for successful SC’s.

      5. Properly sited and and implemented streetcars are light rail. The entire problem with our streetcars is putting them in the wrong corridors and with not enough ROW priority. If you put a bus in a sand dune and somebody complains it’s not moving, you don’t say that sand-dune transit is an important niche level, you say that buses don’t belong in sand dunes and they need a road to function effectively.

      6. I believe the CCC is supposed to have signal priority. While not as good as grade separated rail or a surface line with limited intersections it is still better than either the SLUT and FHSC (indeed the project includes signal priority upgrades for the SLUT and part of the FHSC lines). Also remember Portland’s MAX has lights every block through downtown as well.

        That said unless you are going to take advantage of the capacity of rail, which ‘modern streetcars’ as practiced in the U.S. don’t, you are better off making the same street and signal improvements and running buses instead.

      7. If we’re going to try to be like a different city, let’s try to be like Paris. They’d be a really extensive subway all over (really under) the city, and a French bakery on every block.

      8. “remember Portland’s MAX has lights every block through downtown as well.”

        That’s what’s wrong with MAX.

        “a French bakery on every block.”

        It’s easy to do that in Paris. :)

        But on the other hand, it’s cheaper here to get American jeans,

      9. Also remember Portland’s MAX has lights every block through downtown as well.

        Also remember that Portland’s major streets are one way streets. This means the traffic lights are somewhat easier to set into a synchronized pattern and left turn backups don’t happen except for pedestrians. In most places in downtown Portland the synchronized speed is 16 mph or so. A couple of places (eg ML King and Grand, which are highway 99E in Portland) have them set for 30 mph.

        This means that on the transit mall, buses and MAX shouldn’t (and under the right circumstances usually don’t) have to stop except at their station or stop. For some reason the traffic lights on the east-west MAX streets aren’t as well coordinated as the north-south ones but that is a different story for another time.

        Seattle has a lot of two way streets in the downtown core. That means that a one-way street traffic light synchronization grid isn’t going to happen, and a lot of traffic is going to have to wait for a lot of other traffic. Throw the streetcar into that mix and it’s going to be slow.

        For what it is worth, the Portland streetcar ridership shot up pretty nicely when they did the east side loop extension. I’ve not ridden it, but I think it may be telling that the segment through downtown goes through a lot of lesser streets that don’t fit too well into the overall downtown street signal synchronization. However, for all its faults the east side loop sits mostly on Grand and ML King, which are a one-way couplet synchronized at 30 mph. It should be able to move along pretty good through there – or at least a bit better than it does on the downtown segment.

        I don’t see any sort of opportunity to do that with the First Hill Streetcar or the Central City Connector.

      10. We should paint streetcar tracks on the ground and run buses (disguised as streetcars). They could carry more people, run up steep hills and save a lot of money. Then everyone would talk about how great streetcars are.

        Again, I keep going over it, but folks seem to ignore it. The only advantage streetcars have over buses is greater capacity. This is not the case in Seattle. Given their other major disadvantages, it was stupid to build them.

      11. The CCC is to have reserved lanes and signal priority. Now what “reserved” and “priority” mean are the crux of the matter. If the only “reservation” is a stripe of paint, the CCC cars will, as d.p. noted, be thwarted by selfish Uber and taxi drivers waiting for fares in them. Not to mention the famous azzolus northwesticus and his beloved auto.

        But if reserved means a curbed trackway — or even better, one with lowered pavement between the rails except at street crossings — then we’re starting to be serious about the system running efficiently. However, such a form of reservation could not be shared with buses, which I believe is at least under consideration.

    3. ” How many miles of BRT can be built for the same money as one mile of street car?”

      Madison BRT Proposal: $87 million for 2.1 miles ($41 million/mile)

      Center City Streetcar: $110 million for 1.7 miles ($65 million/mile)

      So, in the real world, Seattle can build 1.56 miles of BRT per mile of streetcar. Most of the money is in reconstructing the street.

      I’d rather spend the bit more and get steel rails and a smooth ride.

      1. Thanks for the numbers. 1.56 sounds more than a bit more to me; I’d rather go with BRT and get more transit.

      2. The term “miles of BRT” by itself is meaningless. See RapidRide as a poster boy example. What is actually different about those miles between the BRT and a regular old bus makes all the difference.

      3. You have to factor in outside money available. There is $75 million in federal money for building the CCC. While there would likely be federal money for Madison BRT too unless it is $52 million or more the local cost of the CCC would be less.

        Note I’m only talking about project capital costs not operating costs.

  6. The language in the levy says the list of projects are “anticipated” deliverables, the Spending Breakdown, Attachment A, is “illustrative” only. Any proposal to spend money to build or operate the street car, Sec 8 in the levy, “must be accompanied by a narrative presented to the appropriate Council committee evaluating the proposals….value”. There is no prohibition on spending for street cars. I encourage you all to actually read the levy then draw conclusions as to what is and is not to be funded.

  7. I’ve never heard a well-articulated business case or rational justification for street cars. Somebody… Anybody… Go!

    1. Compared to BRT (RapidRide at least)
      1. Level boarding. RapidRide requires a ramp. This means wheelchairs etc… don’t slow down the ride.
      2. More space inside the Streetcar (and bigger doors) mean that you can just wheel your Bikes in. You don’t have to spend time attaching them/detaching them from the front of the bus.
      3. Although not taken advantage of today, it is possible to couple multiple streetcars together, meaning higher capacity than equivalent BRT (with lower cost since there are fewer drivers).
      4. Smoother ride because of the rails, and more pleasant because the inside of the cars can be much more spacious.
      5. Pedestrians are more comfortable walking adjacent to streetcars because the rails make the paths very predictable — whereas buses are much more erratic in their routes — ultimately you need less horizontal space.

      Whether these tradeoffs are worth the 1.56x cost compared to BRT is an exercise left up to the reader. IMHO I think generally streetcars aren’t worth it — I would prefer to go right to Light rail in any scenario where Streetcars are considered (or, do nothing if the cost doesn’t justify it).

      1. Light rail costs like a bajillion times more than streetcars, and generally are 2 city blocks long!

        Another benefit of streetcars is that they don’t rip up the road like buses.

      2. Light rail only costs more than streetcar if it is built like a subway line rather than a light rail line.

        The only real “cost” for turning the SLU line into light rail is forgetting to pave the track.

      3. 1 – Bullshit. Buses can have level boarding.
        2 – Not the case with our buses and streetcars. Our buses are bigger. Our streetcars are tiny.
        3 – This would require a major investment on the streets, which is unlikely to ever happen.
        4 – Correct, but so what? Who the hell says “The bus goes closer to where I want to go, but I ride the streecar because it is more smooth.”
        5 – Correct. A bus might swerve to avoid an accident. A bus might move out of its lane (with the help of a flagger) during contruction. A streetcar will just sit there, doing nothing. Perhaps a potted plant would make for a better transportation option?

        Look, there are tradeoffs with every system, but there are very few advantages to streetcars. They make the most sense in flat cities that already have a major investment in streetcars — big streetcars — and are oodles of magnitude more densely populated than Seattle. In other words, Toronto. There is a reason why Vancouver BC, a city with three times the transit ridership as Seattle or Portland — ridership third per capita in North America — has not made a major investment in streetcars. They know what they are doing.

      4. Ross, why are you obsessed with the existing streetcars? I agree that Seattle has, as of this time, made a bonehead error. Longer tram vehicles would have been wiser, as would have putting the tracks center street where they are less subject to ill-parked and turning vehicles.

        But you appear to think that because Seattle has made a bonehead decision it can’t — or at least “won’t” — correct its behavior in the future.

        Yet you are trying incessantly to “correct ST’s” foolish behavior of ignoring what you think is the obvious solution to urban Seattle’s near-term transit problems: the West Side Transit Tunnel and Ballard-UW Light Rail.

        At this time neither of those options is obviously in much favor at SoundTransit, so you’re trying to correct their ill-behavior. Why, then, do you think the City of Seattle cannot, for instance, be convinced to scrap the crappy Inekon cars, lengthen the stations, and get some long Siemens trams?

    2. SDOT did a great mode analysis overview a while back. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/tmp/briefingbook/seattle%20tmp%206%20mode%20analysis.pdf

      And t o quote Sustainable Transportation Planning [a book I took out from the library!], “As a mobility option, streetcars offer few (if any) advantages over buses. However, they can increase access, or the number of destinations within reach, by driving economic development. And it cites the Portland Streetcar, where property values along the lione increased by 40%.

      1. No. Values increased along the Portland Streetcar due to heavy investment by the Portland Development Commission into redeveloped land and the overall housing shortage which guaranteed a demand for those developments.

        If the line had been a significant improvement in service, then it would have increased property values on its own.

      2. Right, and even that last point (that it drives economic developement) is controversial. It certainly isn’t needed in this town, or at least anywhere they are willing to add a streetcar. The only part of this city that is underdeveloped right now is Rainier Valley. Maybe they should add a streetcar there, and connect it to a larger, underground and overhead light rail line. Oh wait, they did. Yet housing prices and development around Rainier Beach is still tiny compared to Ballard, Fremont, the Central Area or dozens of other places that don’t have streetcars. If there is a “streetcar effect”, it is a very minor one. I would put money into quieting the street (as they did in Lake City) which has boomed over the last few years.

  8. Please tell me that street section image above is not the latest thinking for the CCC. There’s going to be exclusive lanes and yet they are going to be designed so buses can’t use them (left door center island)?!? The tunnel is closing to buses and we don’t know how to handle all the buses when they are on the surface and yet we are going to waste transit capacity downtown on 1st Ave with a route that only handles two streetcar lines, combined running no more frequent than every 5 mins at rush hour, and much less outside rush hour. If there’s permanent all day dedicated transit lanes downtown I expect them to be used by numerous routes, a lot more than 2.

    1. The illustration is indeed the latest design for the CCC. It could in theory be used by buses with left side doors (though metro doesn’t currently own any).

      Do remember no routes currently use First for more than a few blocks. In addition the full build out of ST2 is likely to take many routes off downtown streets. Finally I expect like during the earlier tunnel closure SDOT will make 3rd avenue transit only full time.

      1. More politics. Streetcars, as many have said, don’t offer much in the way of advantages (especially our small streetcars). They won’t be especially popular for that reason. You could give our buses the same treatment as the streetcars and they would be more popular (since they could run up hills). But if you isolate the streetcars and make routes only for them, then they will be reasonably popular, and look like a success.

    2. At the last open house they said they would be bus compatible. However, there aren’t really any bus routes that could use it. The Ballard and West Seattle buses used to run on 1st but they’ve now moved to 3rd and been partly replaced by RapidRide. At the time it was because 1st was more seedy and people felt unsafe and then because there was so much construction on 1st. But even without those, it’s a steep hill south of Pike to 3rd and 5th and 6th where people are going. 3rd is near the center of downtown while 1st is at the edge. And the long-term plans include a possible streetcar to Uptown someday.

    3. If the verbiage in the illustration means anything there will NOT be reserved lanes. It says “Streetcar/Travel Lane”, not “Streetcar Lane. And there is absolutely no protection between the other “Travel Lane” and the “Streetcar/Travel Lane”. In other words, they’ve caved to the porn shop owners on First Avenue and made it “Streetcar Subject to Every Selfish Azzolus Northwesticus“. A pox on them.

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