First Hill Streetcar inaugural day

As a Capitol Hill resident I spent a good chunk of the weekend observing the belated launch of the First Hill Streetcar, both actively as a rider and passively as a nearby pedestrian. Though anecdotal observations should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, anecdotes confirming widely-acknowledged structural characteristics should be a bit more trustworthy. Here are a few things that I noticed:

  • People love the ride quality. In a city of rough pavement, especially on major bus corridors, I consistently heard praise from riders about the quiet, comfortable ride offered by the streetcar. The comparison to, say, Route 43 on the potholes of Bellevue Avenue is quite favorable to the streetcar.
  • Even on Day 1, I saw plenty of local circulation. I was surprised by how many local trips I saw between 5th/Jackson and 12th/Jackson, for example, with riders waiting on the corner to quickly decide between a curbside 7/14/36 or a center-running streetcar. On Capitol Hill, this was less the case, with curious riders packing weekend trains, but with mostly empty trains when I rode during Monday AM and PM peak.
Photo by the author
Photo by the author

  • Even weekend trips are slow. The inaugural train took 25 minutes on a quiet Saturday morning. Without an official schedule to compare by, we cannot be sure of how much recovery time streetcars will be allowed, and therefore how much buffer they have to offer reliable headways. But anecdotally, streetcars on Opening Day seemed to be on a 1-hour cycle time, with 5 to 8 minute holds on each end and 22-25 minute travel times. With four streetcars in service on Saturday and each car making one cycle per hour, that equated roughly to 15 minute frequencies. A major uncertainty going forward is if SDOT will be able to deliver the promised 10-minute weekday peak frequency. Bunching is almost certain to happen regularly, and riders may frequently be delayed waiting to access the single-track terminals at Denny and Occidental.

FHSC Running Time

  • Weekday peak trips are painfully slow. Yesterday I rode from end to end at 4pm, and the ride took 32 minutes (4.7 mph average), 11 minutes of which were spent stopped between Madison and James streets waiting for box-blocking cars at James. When traffic is heavy, the streetcar will be forced to pull just short of a station, wait for the intersection to clear, then move forward and open the doors. This means often multiple light cycles per station stop.

    SounderBruce (Flickr)
    SounderBruce (Flickr)
  • The 14th Avenue deviation is a huge weakness. Outside of peak, the streetcar moves pretty well on both Jackson and Broadway. But the streetcar takes 10-12 minutes to work its way through the middle third of the line, with a circuitous 1-mile route from 12th & Jackson to Broadway & Terrace, which is only 1/2 a mile walk. Riders that left Pioneer Square excited and happy tended to deflate a bit in the middle of the line.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 5.39.24 AM

  • The lack of OneBusAway integration is extremely disappointing. Consider a few trip options. For Capitol Hill Station to Seattle University, riders will have real-time info for the streetcar only at the platform, while information for Routes 9 and 60 will only be accessed by OneBusAway. If a streetcar rider wants to check real-time on their phone, they will have to use Next Bus instead. Or consider a rider wanting to go from 5th/Jackson to 12th/Jackson. They need to choose between bus and rail, as they are located on separate platforms, but again they would need to toggle between OneBusAway, NextBus, and the streetcar platform’s level real-time information.

Did you ride this weekend or this morning? What did you notice?

163 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Launch Observations”

  1. I too was very happy with the smooth ride. The real time arrival info did not seem to be based in reality, though. Hopefully SDOT can soon make the changes needed to improve reliability.

    1. Yes, a transit line with a smooth ride. Buses and bicycles would enjoy the same benefit if more streets got repaved. (Repaving city streets is not just a benefit for those accursed automobiles.)

      1. Even upon the most grade-A, top choice, organic and cage free Concrete tax levy $ can buy, the streetcar will be a smoother ride than any bus.

        I can’t believe I’ve become a streetcar defender, but this thing has potential. It definitely needs work though.

      2. Exactly. Most of the problems are not with the streetcar itself, but with the roads it runs on and the non-integrated next-train information system.

        Although the next-train sign was correct when I ride it Saturday.

  2. A couple of weeks ago I commented about an end-to-end walk I made along the streetcar route. The elapsed walking time for my trip was 45 minutes.

    1. According to Google Maps, walking from one streetcar terminal to the other is 36 minutes if you take the direct route (2nd to James to Broadway), or 53 minutes if you walk the route of the actual streetcar. Walking the streetcar route, minus the Yesler Terrace Deviation, is a compromise 45 minutes.

      So, the moral of the story is that, even for end-to-travel, in the interim period before Capitol Hill Link Station opens, it is still (on average) faster to walk all 1.5 miles than to ride the streetcar (at least on weekdays)

      1. I used to think exactly this way too. Then I got a bit older and had some kids and started to slow down for a variety of reasons (kids, knees, etc.). So I can appreciate that while you’re young the walk/ride math is terrible, but as you get older the math can change considerably. Transit isn’t only for youth and able-bodied. That being said, I don’t advocate for stupid, slow, designs as of course faster is always better for everyone.

      2. @SHman; Or even for the young and able-bodied who have to carry lots of stuff! I’m usually one who’s going to walk more often than take the bus whenever the trip can be walked in ~30 min or so, but if I have a couple bags I’m carrying, or I just went to the store and bought something large, you bet I’m hopping on a bus or Link to ride a relatively short distance. That’s especially going to be true for the uphill route on FHSC.

      3. Age, kids, etc. shouldn’t make a difference. If something like this gets built, it really should get built so that it is faster than walking.

      4. Huh? The end to end time is 25-32 minutes, and the walk takes 52 along the whole route. Streetcar is much faster. What am I missing?

      5. You’re missing that the streetcar route is circuitous in the 14th and Yesler portions, and that nobody would walk along the actual route that the streetcar travels. The direct walking route is 36 minutes, but goes by a different route.

      6. Right, and it picks up additional destinations along the way. I’m no fan of the way this streetcar is running back and forth across lanes, and think it could have been designed way better. But, comparing the end to end walking to time for a line that *by design* doesn’t go in a straight line is the end-point fallacy. This, by the way, crops up every single time we discuss a streetcar: “but, I can cut corners while I’m walking and get there sooner!” Yes, and you skip all the destinations in between. Which the streetcar doesn’t.

        How many people on that detour get to ride the streetcar easily as a result of that detour? We don’t all live at either end.

      7. How many people on that detour get to ride the streetcar easily as a result of that detour?

        Unfortunately very few. Almost the entire area inside the loop is a grade school with a giant playground. Most of the rest is taken by Boren slashing diagonally across the grid. I get that the SC needs the distance to make the elevation difference. It’s really just the residents of Wisteria View Manor which is an 86 unit section 8 housing so not a complete loss. The key really is signal priority, especially on Boren. “The loop” should never take more than 8 minutes.

        That said, the endpoints are the main origin/destination for this line getting to/from Link at CHS and ID Station. The time in the loop wouldn’t be that big a deal except that it directly eats into headways. Best case it’s one third of the end to end travel time so instead of a single car being able to make three end to end runs it can only do one round trip; that’s a 50% reduction in frequency. I can see a future where after the line is extended/connected there’s a turn back at Yesler and 12th with only alternating cars making the through trip end to end.

      8. Who would want to ride it end-to-end, when the ID->Capitol Hill light-rail is only a ~7 minute ride, and is unaffected by traffic conditions?

        I see the use is people who live North of & within the deviation taking it to Capitol Hill (and maybe onto UW/downtown), or people in or West of the deviation getting to Pioneer Square & perhaps getting on the lightrail in either direction.

      9. The endpoints are the main origin or destination for any given trip, but they aren’t the main origin AND destination for any given trip – since, as others have pointed out, why would you do that, when you have the subway?

        Comparing the endpoint walking time, and cutting off the middle as best you can, is really poorly informed. And we haven’t even gotten into the large portion of the population that would rather sit on a seat than walk. Or that *needs* to because they *can’t* walk that far.

        There are *many* other reasons to think this streetcar was poorly implemented. Walking time just isn’t one of them. Every time it comes up, essentially about any streetcar, I roll my eyes and stop paying attention to the person making the argument.

      10. The delays turning off Broadway and Jackson need to be fixed. But the reason it turns is to avoid the hill on 12th. If you’re walking in a straight line you don’t avoid the hill. That also means some people won’t want to walk up and down it, and others can’t. Thus why they’d take a streetcar that has a detour.

      11. @kptease — Again, the problem isn’t just limited to end to end travel. There are various places along the way where this is extremely slow. So slow that alternatives — including walking — are a faster option. We already have a very good transit network that pretty much covers the entire city, including every single stop on this streetcar route. Every single one. The problem is that in many cases, it is too slow, and people find alternatives much faster (walking, biking, driving, calling a cab, skipping, hover boarding). When that happens, ridership tends to be low and this doesn’t add much value. This means that we spent a lot of money on a system that wasn’t worth it.

        As Mike said, part of the problem is that we chose the wrong tool. A more direct route is simply not possible with a streetcar in this city.

        But this route is really part of a larger problem, and that is a failure to consider a transit network, and focus instead on vague concepts of coverage. Light rail goes to “Capitol Hill”, which sounds great, but what part of Capitol Hill? Where does it go after that? How do you get to the stations?

        The same with light rail to Ballard. Again, which part of Ballard, where does it go and how do you connect to it? The answer to those questions is the difference between making a huge number of trips much faster, or building something like what we have now. You can get there by transit, but it takes too long.

      12. Ross, I can agree with everything you say about the design of the route (I do), and still point out that the data presented here about walking times do not support the assertion that you can walk faster than the streetcar. You can’t. And even if you’re that one guy who can, most other people can’t. Even the walking time claims presented here *with* the shortcut are slightly slower than the streetcar. Never mind the fact that most of the population cannot or will not walk that fast. This is a red herring that gets brought up with every streetcar discussion.

        As I said, there are many many reasons that this streetcar was a bad idea. 120M on improving the buses running through here would sure have improved mobility more. But, saying you can walk a shortcut between two points faster is bogus. There are people between those two points who will use the service. The number of origin-destination pairs is more than 1. The ability to sit down is not worth nothing. The ability to trade a small wait for the chance to sit down is not worth nothing to a giant portion of our population.

        Could this have been better designed? Yes! I’d start with all of your suggestions, chief among them plowing the money into great bus connectivity instead. But, I sure wouldn’t wave the “but I can walk faster” flag at this.

  3. Taking exclusive lanes on Jackson and obtaining signal priority (esp at 14th and Jackson) should both be high priority if SDOT want this line to become popular with daily riders.

    1. At peak times, the stop sign at 14th & Washington can create a queue of vehicles that extends back to Jackson Street. What good is TSP if there’s nowhere for the streetcar to go? This is going to be one of those “teething problems” that needs a solution.

    2. Taking exclusive lanes on Jackson and then sharing those lanes with the new 7 RR+ is a great idea. That would add tremendous value to the corridor. You could hop on one vehicle or the other to go through the busiest part of Jackson. That would likely be the most popular part of this streetcar route.

    3. The real benefit would come from signal priority, or better yet, signal pre-emption. My observations Saturday were that traffic queues were all occurring behind the streetcars, not in front of them impeding their progress.

    4. I can’t understand why signal priority was not designed in to the system from day one. Was it studied? There must be a way to reduce the streetcar delays at intersections without destroying traffic operations.

      I appreciate that the new streetcars have bike hooks and that our existing hook-less streetcars will be replaced. I saw one of the two hooks get used but have yet to try it myself.

  4. I’m of the school of thought that if the train will get stuck in traffic, you shouldn’t build the track. Tacoma Link is slow too (but not this bad). And one of central link’s future projects will be elevated the MLK stretch as it gets progressively slower.

    1. Tacoma Link never gets seriously stuck in traffic. I used it ride it every day. There’s basically zero traffic in downtown Tacoma.

    2. And Taocma LInk has both signal priority and a semi-exclusive right of way. It almost always stops only at stations.

    3. I understand that it was cheaper, but putting light rail at grade on MLK has to be the dumbest idea I’ve ever seen. Watching it play out is so painful: a line of cars waiting for minutes for a left turn, only for their hopes to be dashed by an approaching light rail, which resets the lights. When they put more trains in service, and/or make them longer, it will effectively split Rainier Valley in half. That plus it’s just dangerous. Running at grade through SODO seems fine to me — not exactly a residential neighborhood there — but Rainier Valley is going to absorb more and more density in the next few years, and it’s going to be a mess.

      1. There’s also the loss of life in collisions and the delay in clearing them which cuts into the line’s frequency and reliability. Those would be eliminated if it were put underground or overhead or in a trench. The cost of a surface alignment should include these “costs” so that it wouldn’t misleadingly look cheaper. Also, wasn’t the purpose of light rail to be more frequent and reliable and faster? So shouldn’t we choose an alignment that maximizes all these?

      2. There’s also the loss of life in collisions and the delay in clearing them which cuts into the line’s frequency and reliability. … wasn’t the purpose of light rail to be more frequent and reliable and faster?

        The reason we spent a billion dollars to tunnel under Beacon Hill and “serve” the RV was social justic. It was sold as TOD, how’s that working out? What we got was an airport line that is s l o w and the imagined “spine” is so useless nobody is willing to truncate bus service at our currently under construction gold plated free parking garage south of the airport. I guess we got social justic, it doesn’t work for anyone. Semi reliable and slower. But if we just wait for the freeway to get worse and don’t spend a dime on buses eventually it will start to look “not as bad”.

      3. Upside is now that the corridor exists, it should theoretically be easier in the future to elevate it or put it underground.

  5. Concur on the ride quality. The difference is shocking to someone who is used to taking buses everywhere (my wife). And it’s not just the smoothness of the ride, but also the smooth acceleration. Love those torquey electric motors.

    Not sure why they picked the 14th routing as opposed to a Boren/12th routing.

    Blocking the box is a problem all over the city. Seattle drivers generally suck.

    Didn’t know the SC wasn’t on OBA, but surely that can be fixed.

  6. I’m sorry, but this whole project has been an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. I tried it for two days, and it nearly doubled my commute time from First Hill to the King Street Station area. Yesterday afternoon, I waited at 5th & Jackson with about 30 other people for close to 25 minutes for an uphill trip which was so crowded, most of us stood the whole way. This morning, I waited about 22 minutes for a downhill trip. They are not achieving anything close to a “10 minute headway” in the rush hour, and I can’t spend half my commute time waiting for it. I’m going back to walking down Seneca Street, then catching FREQUENT southbound bus service on 5th Avenue which I never have to wait more than 5 minutes for. The money squandered on this project should have been spent on a fleet of low-floor trolleys operating under existing wire with 2-minute headways on Jackson and Broadway that could have branched out to every neighborhood on Capitol Hill and the Central District providing a fast, frequent and reliable one-seat ride to practically everyone east of Broadway. Don’t even get me started on the high-tech “countdown clocks” at each station which do not give any semblance of what time the next streetcar is REALLY arriving.

    1. This is what you get when politicians get to direct traffic at major intersections – more traffic and longer waits – but at least they get more face time with constituents and lots of hand waving, or is that wringing we see lately.
      ST and the City danced there way through the wedding ceremonies showing a LRT stop on 1st hill, then justified all sorts of reasons why spending `$200m (YOE) on a streetcar was ‘nearly just as good’ after taxes were increased.
      Lots of professional planners have warned of this outcome, offering bus and trolley improvements that in the aggregate do more at much lower cost and every administration has ‘stayed the course’ of micro-spine destiny at the voting tract level.
      Bottom, line is this. Lipstick on the front of streetcars will make it more attractive but do little to make it more useful. Signal priority and exclusive travel lanes are the biggest time wasters and the fix is marginally effective now that it’s open.
      Just another of Seattle’s Transit Oddities in the works.

    2. Ah yes, the false economics of buses. So cheap up front, but hardly cheap over time. Such thinking has been holding Seattle back since the late 40’s.

      An, the economics of SC and of buses really aren’t that different – some would even claim that a high ridership SC line is cheaper in the long run. But once the Broadway Ext and the CCC gets built we should have the data to tell for our operating environment.

      Time will tell

      1. OK, first of all, this isn’t a bus. It is a train. As such, there are limitations on its route and its capability.

        Secondly, and this is key here — it all depends on what you do. There are bus systems that do a great job. There are train systems (like this one) that don’t. You can find examples of both all over the world. But you can start with Seattle. The bus tunnel carries people from one end of downtown to the other. It has for many years. Riding it is very fast, and would be faster with level boarding and off board payment.

        There are couple problems with this train line. It takes a screwy route and it gets stuck in traffic.

        Now compare it to Madison BRT or Roosevelt BRT. Both routes have level boarding and off board payment. Both routes are much better than this. They are very direct (at no point could you hop off, walk a couple blocks and then wait for the same train). Both routes would be extremely fast (assuming Roosevelt BRT is built to what they call “Full BRT” standards).

        The bus tunnel wasn’t cheap, and it hardly held us back. It enabled a greater improvement in transit than anything Sound Transit has ever built. There is no “false economics” of buses – it is just a matter of building things that do the most good for the least amount of money. Biggest bang for the buck. Sometimes that means investing in rail infrastructure, sometimes it means investing in bus infrastructure. Sometimes it just means adding service (more drivers and more vehicles).

      2. Ross,

        You can’t compare the FHSC with “Madison BRT” or “Roosevelt BRT”. You can compare the FHSC with the Madison BRT of your head or the Roosevelt BRT of your head. But until the other lines are built, all you can do is compare what you see on Broadway and Jackson to what you believe you will see on Madison and Roosevelt.

      3. Steel tracks last longer than asphalt roads, and electric motors last longer than diesel ones. But to truly leverage rail’s advantages, you need to design the roads for them like the old streetcars were, not shoehorn them into a street whose first priority is cars. You also need grade-separated rail for longer distances, not just surface-running streetcars. A streetcar may be appropriate for this little distance, but it needs a stronger backbone like Link to be the main trunk. So yes, an all-rail future would be appropriate and would save money in the long run, but you’ve got to put a larger capital investment and roadspace priority into it than the city is currently willing to do.

      4. @Anandakos — OK, but so far every prediction has come true. The streetcar runs on the line they predicted, with all the flaws they predicted. I see no reason why Madison BRT should be different. Do you really think it won’t have center running or off board payment as promised?

        Oh, and I guess I can compare the bus tunnel to the streetcar. The buses in the bus tunnel are fast. The streetcar isn’t.

  7. I rode the street car on opening day and brought my bike on board. I urge others to try it, as my bike didn’t fit well in the rack, and swung around in the aisle as the street car accelerated and decelerated.

    Also I noticed none of the on train signage for announcing next stops was working.

    1. Really, street cars are being used to transport bikes? Just pedal the bike to where you want to go, why use a street car to transport a bike?

      1. Hills? Rain? Bike repairs?

        I don’t see why it’s difficult to understand why someone would want to put a bike on a streetcar. No different than wanting to put a bike on Link or a Metro bus — save for (right now) it being a relatively shorter distance.

      2. At age 23, I pedaled my bike everywhere. At 53 now, I still ride, but riding from the bottom to the top of Capitol Hill and I wouldn’t be up to doing much once I got up there. Now, downhill, that’s a different story!

      3. Given the speed/reliability/indirectness of the streetcar and the layout of the hills, probably the most convenient way to get a bike up the hill if you can’t pedal it up (or don’t want to — Jackson is the easiest route by grade but the traffic is no picnic) is to take the most direct route possible, pushing where it’s too steep to pedal. Yesler, James, and Cherry are likely routes across I-5 using this tactic.

        In many cases there will be a bus route better suited to the trip than the streetcar, too, as the bus routes are more direct for a lot of origin-destination pairs. If Madison BRT ends up as good as promised it will be an excellent candidate for many trips. I don’t know what their plans for bike-loading are.

        For those with heavy or unwieldy bikes that struggle to get up hills, all this is doubly true. These bikes are hardest to lift, and least likely to fit conveniently, into any plausible on-board hanging arrangement. Maybe the arrangement used by CT on Swift buses would be better; I haven’t heard from any cargo bike users about it.

    2. “I don’t see why it’s difficult to understand why someone would want to put a bike on a streetcar.”

      Because they demanded we spend tens of millions of dollars to build them a bike path from going up Jackson and down Broadway. And then after we built it for them, they now don’t use them, whining that it’s a little too hilly for their taste. That they’ll just put their bikes on the streetcar, instead.

      1. There’s no bike path on Jackson, or even bike lanes, and the streetcar tracks completely messed cycling use of Jackson, which has a far more reasonable grade than any other route to First Hill or the Central District. Also the Broadway cycletrack saved ’em money compared to alternative designs that would have required utilities to be moved.

        If you’re going to troll get your facts right or go back under the bridge.

  8. Blocking the box seems a newer syndrome in the area – it’s something I (Seattle native, no less) was specifically taught to avoid, so many years ago. Enforcement needed.

    When I got to the Broadway & Marion Station, the “next car” display for the inbound cars showed one 30 minutes away, and the next 32 minutes away. I had the time, so I waited: 29, 28, 27, 26, then suddenly *2*, at which time the car was in distant view (at Pike, or thereabouts). At least in this instance, the car while on layover at Denny skewed the “next car” results (and not in favor of increased ridership).

    Inbound trips are largely downgrade. When the train was full (“SRO”, and not much room to “S”) on a Sunday afternoon trip, the added overall weight meant the operator had to use the track brake to slow or stop. It may have been the operator’s inexperience with track brakes or it may be their nature, but their effect seemed to be “all or none” – either no reaction, or full braking. It made for an at times jerky ride, particularly contrasted with the overall smooth ride and acceleration – that part was welcome.

    On my outbound trip Sunday, the “next stop” screen did not get reset after the previous inbound trip, so it displayed that we were *at* the Pioneer Square Station, and that all riders had to exit.

    Most, if not all, seem to be fixable items.

    1. SPD and SDOT have been working to get out enforcement and education about blocking the box during heavy traffic times. It’s particularly bad on Olive and Howell getting up to I-5, as well as along the entirety of Mercer from 5th Ave N to I-5, and Westlake Ave from Stewart to Mercer.

      SPD has put up signs (big sandwich board types) at all of the busiest intersections indicating you’ll be fined $136 for blocking the intersection, and at least in some cases they have officers out writing tickets and managing traffic. I’m not so sure it’s having too much of an effect, though, as any time I walk down Olive at peak times there are still tons of cars blocking the intersection.

      Blocking the intersection is only mildly annoying on some streets, and in most cases buses are able to maneuver around the car or two that are slightly in the way of the bus lane, but when it comes to a streetcar you’re SOL if a car is even blocking by 1 foot. I would seriously hope that along with signal priority for streetcars, SPD is considering a campaign to stop blocking of intersections along the streetcar routes — just like they’re working with people on learning how to park close to the curb along the tracks.

    2. Yep, track brakes are meant to be “all or nothing”. It was on its face stupid not to include overhead in the downhill sections. That’s what regenerative brakes are for! Retarding downhill while giving back to the power system.

      Track brakes are the streetcar equivalent of “big holing” a freight train — dumping all the air so that the individual cylinders on each car jam the brake shoes against the wheels with the maximum force possible. According to Wikipedia, MBTA in Boston does use them in ordinary service on snow days; they have a separate control which can apply them less strongly than a full on emergency stop when the wheels are slipping.

      1. The streetcar still uses regenerative braking on the stretches without overhead wire, the energy is used to recharge the batteries. The streetcars also have hydraulic disk brakes. The track brakes are only for emergency stopping. I’d guess that the operator was just inexperienced, or unconcerned with passenger comfort like a lot of Metro drivers.

      1. Regenerative braking is essentially using the electric motor as a generator to return power to the wires or batteries. Instead of power going to the motors to turn the wheels, the wheels are turned with the kinetic energy of the train and the wheels then turn the motors which are acting as generators. Since it takes work to turn the generators, this bleeds off power and retards the wheels. This isn’t that different from engine braking on a car or truck where the wheels are connected to the engine through the transmission but the wheels are providing the effort in moving the pistons up and down without fuel going to the cylinders. This is noisy on diesel engines which is why municipalities have no engine braking signs. Hybrid vehicles use regenerative braking extensively to return power to the batteries during braking and it is one of the reasons that they are so much more efficient than conventional car engines in city traffic with plenty of stops and starts.

        Track brakes are an emergency braking system that has brake shoes pressed directly on the tracks. Because a round steel wheel does not connect with much surface area on a flat steel rail, and both surfaces are smooth, the is a limit to the stopping power of brakes that slow the wheels. So for emergencies some trains have track brakes that apply brake shoes to the track directly. This system is not found on most freight trains, and I suspect is a passenger train only system.

        In addition, the streetcar will have its usual brakes. They generally use air pressure to apply brake shoes to the sides of the wheels or to separate discs just like a car.

        Probably getting well into tmi territory here, but there is a bus connection. Some diesel buses are set up so that as soon as the driver’s foot leaves the gas, the bus starts engine braking automatically. They do this to save brake pads. The typical scenario is a bus accelerates from a stop, then travels at constant speed for a bit, then driver takes foot off gas entirely in anticipation of a red light up ahead, the bus engine brakes for a bit, and then driver applies brakes to slow the bus to a final stop at the light. Transit system saves a penny on brake pads. But city driving isn’t always so simple. Drivers may take their feet off the gas and just cover the brake in case they need to slow down, but then go back to the gas. But with the automatic engine brake systems, this results in an extra herky-jerky ride.

  9. It seems like hyper-local transit: people will ride it on Jackson, people will ride it on Broadway, it won’t work well between the two.

    I think it’ll completely transform Jackson, and will provide a bump in construction to Broadway (upzones please!).

    I think this line will prove that even a streetcar done wrong can be successful. Just like the SLU Trolley did. Though I’d much prefer we find out what a streetcar done right can do.

    1. I think getting the extension to Broadway and Aloha is a major value-add too, and should be funded as soon as possible. It’s easy to walk from John to Pike/Pine in just a few minutes, but even a streetcar that has to deal with a stoplight or two will beat a pedestrian from Aloha to Pike/Pine.

    2. How in the world can the SLU Streetcar be considered a success? It cost over $50 million, and carries less than 3,000 people a day, few of which would ever say it is great.

      1. $50M capital investment for 3,000 daily riders comes out to $16,700 per rider. This is actually a great value compared to Central Link, which cost $65,000 per rider ($2.28B for 35,000 riders).

        By the standards of Link, the SLU streetcar is extremely cost-effective and a smashing success.

        More seriously, I consider our current streetcars as infrastructure placeholders, until the time when changes in street use policy (signal pre-emption, exclusive lanes, etc.) make them into effective transit. Reasonable speed combined with <10 minute frequency will result in high ridership in both streetcar corridors.

      2. Right, except in the meantime Seattle will be busy building what makes sense for this area: BRT. This is just a downright screwy route. As mentioned below, a route that went up Yesler, then turned up Broadway would be much more effective. It would be much faster and much more direct. But it is impossible with a streetcar, which is why streetcars are stupid in our area. Yes, you can have little bits and pieces that work, but try and connect them something bigger and they fail. They just don’t make sense here.

      3. Over half of that $50 million was private dollars, Ross. SLUS will be a success, once the current Westlake improvements are completed and the CCC (assuming federal money comes through) comes online. The problem wasn’t building the streetcar, it was waiting nearly a decade to make necessary priority improvements and to connect it to a network.

    3. Have to agree on the local travel use-case for FHSC. As soon as Cap Hill Station opens for Link, there won’t really be a reason to ride the FHSC end-to-end unless you need to stop for something along the way. FHSC is going to be better for those middle trips for folks who aren’t near the Link stations or need to shuttle quickly between intermediary stations.

      This is why the speed and long times between trains are so worrisome, though. These are relatively short travel distances we’re talking here, and when the FHSC is barely competing with the speed of walking, let alone biking, and you have to wait 10 minutes for a train ride that’s maybe only 10 minutes in itself, people are going to sour on it.

      And all of these same issues are affecting the SLU SC, which is why I don’t understand how you can call it a success. It covers such a short distance and there’s such a long delay between trains (even before it was cut to peak-only service while stop construction is ongoing) that it’s almost never practical to ride. If you have to do any amount of walking to the station, then wait several minutes for the train, you aren’t going to bother just so you can ride it a handful of blocks — you’ll rather just walk unless it’s pouring down rain and you forgot a hooded coat.

      1. The streetcar’s purpose is for destinations in the middle, not for end-to-end trips. Although I might use it for Pine Street to the Chinatown groceries.

      2. Most transit routes are for destinations in the middle. The problem is that the middle of this route is not good. It doubles back upon itself to take a turn. There are various combinations where you are faster to just walk. Even very long trips. For example, Broadway and James to 1st and Jackson. That’s almost a mile, or almost a 20 minute walk. But because the streetcar curves around all over the place, it is competitive with walking. My guess is that even if they add signal priority and exclusive lanes, a rider can get off at Yesler and then get back on again at Jackson. That just isn’t good.

  10. Oh, and my personal experience. Took a ride with my young boys Saturday afternoon. Waited around 5 min for the streetcar at the stop across from Link in the ID. It was pretty packed (my boys shared the last seat, around 20 standing), but comfortable. Yes, it was slow – took around 20 min from there to Broadway and Union. I know Jackson well and knew for years that 14th would be a nightmare. It was slow, but not as bad as I’m sure it will be on weekdays.

    For weekends at least, it was signal priority that was the killer. I’m sure the parking issues and box blocking issues would annoy me on weekdays as well, but didn’t notice them on Saturday.

  11. I have a couple questions about the routing:

    1) Why does the thing go to 14th? Why not turn on 12th and Boren?

    2) Why not use Yesler instead of Jackson?

    I know there are trade-offs, but the straighter the route the better. The 14th deviation seems especially silly. Using Yesler instead of Jackson would be even straighter and faster. You would lose the direct connection between Jackson west of I-5 and Broadway, but you would make up for it with extra service on Yesler. If I’m at Yesler Terrace or Harborview, and want to go downtown I think I would find the detour irritating. That’s a lot of people who will avoid this and just take the 27. Meanwhile, the whole thing runs less often because it takes a lot longer to complete its journey.

    1. A Jefferson Street aerial funicular to go back and forth between Pioneer Sqaure and Harborview would have been a much faster connection – three minutes as opposed to 15 for the same trip on the streetcar.

      1. Wait, are you telling me that this really isn’t the appropriate tool for the job? Are you telling me that we could have built a much better route than this if we had used a bus?

        Maybe, just maybe, Seattle isn’t the best city for streetcars, and this is a great example.

      2. Bicyclists would really benefit from a Jefferson Street stair-step funicular that has one step designed for bicyclists. Imagine going from the Second Avenue bicycle track to the Broadway bicycle track in 5 minutes with no tilted bicycle maneuvering, no bicycle racks and a very short wait.

      1. There was a cable car on Yesler. You can see parts of it in Pioneer Square station that they discovered while building the DSTT and also some remains on the lake end.

    2. 1) Because 12th Avenue goes up steeply from Jackson.

      2) Jackson is the center of the commercial district where pedestrians are going. The streetcar isn’t meant to be the fastest way from Harborview to downtown but to serve the areas in between. Eventually the 3/4 will move to Yesler and then they’ll be as fast as the 27.

      1. 1) So, again, the route is limited by the technology they chose (streetcar).

        2) Really. Because I thought the whole point was to provide a connection to First Hill to downtown to make up for the fact that they lost out and didn’t get a Link Connection. The only reason they didn’t go the fast way is because they chose the wrong technology. Had they chose BRT, it definitely would have connected Yesler Terrace (a very dense population center) with First Hill and Capitol Hill. The route would have been much more direct, and thus much faster and more frequent. Such a route wasn’t even considered because we chose the wrong tool.

  12. The smooth ride is its biggest positive — except for the brake jerkiness I endured coming down the hill. Is it a driver training or an equipment problem?

    One big negative is the signage. It’s as if there is no Link, no Sounder and no buses. There is no mention of the International Dustrict at all, and the end point is nowhere near Pioneer Square Link. I fantasized about having a regional sign review process with a multi-agency committee.

    If that wasn’t bad enough, the uphill driver had the destination signs off the whole way and said nothing through the microphone. The car design is such that this driver appeared sequestered in a different world (no small window open between the cab and the passengers). There wasn’t even an easy way to mention to the driver to activate the sign!

    1. That last part’s by design, right? Isn’t part of the point to not have to interact with passengers, that tend to distract and slow down drivers?

    2. There are blue arrows at some of the intersections that have gotten rather extensive. The ones I saw listed more transit hubs than I expected (based on the previous round of pastel arrows and green bicycle-mile signs), plus more landmarks and parts of town. There may be particular intersections that are missing signs but other intersections have them.

    3. The press release announcing the opening of the line didn’t even mention that the streetcar connects two light rail stations! Considering that this line was funded by Sound Transit as a connector to Link, I consider these omissions a major FAIL.

      1. And oddly, the simplified maps shown off by the Seattle Streetcar group show “Union Station” on the map … not King Street or IDS, the actual working stations. It’s so weird.

  13. The reason for the delay on weekends is the traffic signals. There are a ridiculously large number of long traffic signals at intersections with very low traffic volumes. Signal priority seems like it should have been a given here.

  14. I know this was built as a concession to the loss of a 1st Hill LINK station. Seattle got to expand it’s streetcar system for free, plus it got Broadway and Jackson pretty much rebuilt, plus the routing goes through the soon to be rebuilt Yesler Terrace (transit-needy), Pioneer Square, and International District (high ridership corridor).

    The fact that a streetcar got put in was icing on the cake. Does it actually replace a 1st Hill LINK station? Nope. Does it substantively improve transit? Nope. Will people ride it end-to-end? Generally not. Will people ride it? I think so, but as others have said more likely intra-corridor, not really end-to-end. I’m hopeful the 1st Ave connection/extension will make both the SLUT and FHSC more useful, though not for me personally.

    If they would put in aggressive signal priority to speed it through the circuitous 14th ave routing as well as at a couple points along Broadway, they could improve reliability and lop several minutes off its run time.

    1. Like the SLUTram, this will be novelty transportation for most people and for most of its long life, but useful for some “short trippers” The First Avenue segment will be the same, with the addition of a ton of visitors.

    2. SIgnal priority on this line is going to be a major challenge, given its route. Along Jackson it is fine, but all the twists and turns will make it difficult. It can happen, but then you will probably screw up regular traffic which means screwing up regular buses.

      A BRT route on Broadway and Yesler would have made a lot more sense. One turn and that’s it. Signal priority would have been much easier too. A lot fewer intersections and most of the time you would be going the way that traffic flows anyway.

      Oh well, I heard it is a smooth ride.

    3. “Will people ride it end-to-end? Generally not.”

      Is that a problem though? End-to-end will have Link. In the meantime, the streetcar is better than the infrequent 60 or going though downtown.

      “When the Center City connector ties these two stub lines together, the streetcar will provide useful service.”

      Minimally. 1st Avenue is a detour like 14th Avenue is. Visitors might use if if it’s the fattest line on the map, but people who really want to get from SLU or the Denny Triangle to Chinatown or Broadway will look for alternatives, and some of them will choose Link or the east-west buses, even if they have to walk a few blocks more at the end. The CCC will be most useful for those going to/from 1st Avenue, which includes tourists at Pike Place Market and the art museum, and perhaps the ferries. If you’re starting from 1st Avenue, the detour is not a detour but is bringing the train to your block.

      1. There are surprisingly few buses along 1st. Adding transit service along there is long overdue. You could accomplish this by adding a regular bus route, or BRT, but I guess they will add a streetcar. Why use a hammer to put in a nail when a sledge hammer is much more fun?

      2. Regular buses aren’t really an option due to viaduct traffic (and stadium traffic on certain days); that’s why the 15/18 and their West Seattle thru-routes were moved from 1st to 3rd.

        Proper BRT might work and avoid those problems, but if you’re going to invest in transit exclusive lanes and signal priority, you might as well use it for a streetcar to connect the other two. You may not like it, but what’s done is done in SLU and First Hill; you might as well connect them to improve their utility.

      3. “There are surprisingly few buses along 1st.”

        The Ballard and West Seattle buses used to be on 1st. They were moved off because First Avenue used to be a more sketchy place and people didn’t want to wait there, plus most of the destinations are closer to 3rd as are all the transfers. The waterfront construction finally took all buses off 1st except the 99, to avoid periodic blockages and slowdowns.

      4. First Avenue used to be a more sketchy place and people didn’t want to wait there

        When did it change? I haven’t had a compelling reason to venture down there and find out. What is it about “the new 1st” that is really great?

      5. Most of the commercial establishments (and nightlife) in belltown are on first, some of it on second, and very little of it on third.

      6. The routes were moved because of traffic, not sketchiness. Otherwise they would have been moved a long time ago (when the streets were famously sketchy — Still Life With Woodpecker came out in 1980 and had a section about life on 1st Avenue back in the 1970s). Things have slowly evolved to be a lot less sketchy.

        But traffic has slowly evolved to be a lot worse. The problem with the current routing of buses from Ballard is the same problem with this streetcar route — too many curves. This is not how you build a grid. It is an anti-grid. It makes a transfer even more onerous. For example, let’s say you are on Rainier Avenue under I-90 and want to get to Seattle U. You can wait for the 9, but you see a 7, and figure the streetcar will be frequent. You ride it and then transfer at Jackson. You wait a couple minutes and hop on the streetcar. In the distance you see the 9. It passes you as you make the looping turn out to 14th and back. You feel like a putz. Never again, you say. But more importantly, what it Metro wants to do a restructure? What if they want to modify or just get rid of the 9? You would oppose that not only because it means making a transfer, but because the transfer is very slow! That is the problem with wiggly-squiggly routes.

        The buses from Ballard/Magnolia should avoid similar detours and run along 1st. Some of the buses that serve Queen Anne should go on 1st. Hell, a lot of them do right now! They go all the way down to 1st, then they cut back to 3rd. All that zig-zagging costs time and hurts the grid. I realize the issue is traffic, but the answer is bus lanes. Otherwise, there is no point in running the streetcar there. Whatever we might consider doing for the streetcar we should do for the buses that happen to be running in that neck of the woods anyway. Rather than force them back up the hill, we allow them to take more of a straight shot.

        There are plans for a (streetcar) line from Lower Queen Anne to Belltown and then down 1st. This one actually makes sense. It is a straight shot. Unlike the current line (or even the CCC connector) there is no spot along there where you would be better off walking — there is no shortcut. The key with a line like that, though is to make it a BRT line, so that you could extend it into upper Queen Anne or Ballard* at some point. Let’s not keep making the same mistake over and over.

        * That is actually the Metro D.


  15. I was surprised by how many local trips I saw between 5th/Jackson and 12th/Jackson, for example, with riders waiting on the corner to quickly decide between a curbside 7/14/36 or a center-running streetcar.

    This seems like a bug, not a feature. We’re going to see so many people darting across traffic when they chose to stand at the bus stop but they see the streetcar coming first, or vice versa.

    1. Just one of the issues with having the different platforms, but tough to avoid — people are adverse to waiting, and they want to weigh their options. The only real way to decrease this is very frequent and consistent FHSC service, where you won’t ever think about the bus being a better choice.

      1. @eric; They’ll be doing just that, at least at a handful of stations, when the C Line and D Line separat and the C Line will start running down Westlake along the current SLU SC route.

      2. If the Rainier RapidRide comes down Jackson, it will doubtless stop at the streetcar stations, and then the “streetcar lanes” will actually become real honest to goodness “streetcar (and bus) lanes”.

      3. Yes to the followup points. The reason you don’t mix off board payment vehicles with on board payment vehicles is because you don’t want to slow down the fast vehicle. If the whole point of building a BRT/streetcar line is to have that line run very quickly and very frequently, then you run the risk of screwing it up if there is a different bus in front slowing it down with a wheelchair lift of a bunch of change fumblers.

        I guess in L. A. they do have similar shared bus lines, which do cause people to run from one bus stop to the other. In general I think you want to avoid that, which is why you want to pick your BRT/streetcar line carefully. It makes sense to pick a major corridor, without a lot of overlap. In that sense Madison BRT is a great choice. Kicking off the other buses is fine. The bus from Madison Park can follow the current route of the 43 (up Thomas/John by CHS) which means only a very small bit of overlap (accomplished by two different bus stops). Since the buses would be heading different directions (or if heading east, much farther) I doubt people would be OK with either one.

        That isn’t true with this route. On both Jackson and Broadway, there is a lot of overlap. On Jackson I see a lot of it going away. The 7 will be a BRT route fairly soon, and I could see the 36 being one as well (it is a heavy hauler). Which leaves the 14, which doesn’t run that often. I don’t think anyone would care if the 14 comes before the 7, 36 and streetcar; one of those would be by shortly, and probably pass the 14.

        Broadway is a lot trickier. You could run the streetcar a lot more often, but I doubt it will pick up that many people, given the route. So either you are running inefficiently, or you are likely to have people looking to jog between bus stops. I don’t see any other bus routes along Broadway being converted to BRT. Of course, you could just move the streetcar over to 14th, which would make it completely independent of other buses. That would make it far enough away from the other bus routes to provide unique service (no overlap). Doing that would make it much easier to give it it’s own lane as well. I would run it all the way up to Group Health, thus providing a much better grid for the area.

      4. Good point. We could do something like that but it takes more space for the platform (and we would have to move the rail).

    2. The problem is the streetcar’s 15-minute frequency. People who now take the 7/14/36 interchangeably are used to a bus every 3-5 minutes. Those are the ones who will be reluctant to wait 10-14 minutes for a streetcar, or not go to the streetcar stop if they don’t know when it will come and can’t see the next-train sign. If you increase it to 10 minutes or 7 minutes or 5 minutes, that disincentive goes away. The CCC will have both lines overlapping from Westlake Station to somewhere on Jackson, so 7.5 minutes. If the 7 becomes BRT in the center lanes, that will be another line with 7-15 minute frequency.

      1. Yep, that’s pretty much what I said. You just don’t have the demand for this route to justify 6 minute frequency (unlike the straight shot on Madison). So that means you need to add more BRT along there so you can share the stations. The 7 BRT route will help a lot, and eventually the 36 could work as BRT. Along Broadway it is trickier, as I don’t see a combination of routes working, which is why the streetcar should go up 14th/15th, which would thus be a unique route (and greatly improve mobility in the area).

    1. As far as I know, they’re only focused on the CCC to run along 1st between the two existing lines.

    2. There is one honkin’ big hill between Broadway and Aloha and Fairview and Campus Drive. And a twelve-lane freeway. Jes’ sayin’.

  16. Reminds me of this video, but replace the word boat with streetcar. I rode the thing on Saturday. I noticed a whole lot of people who were irrationally excited about being on a streetcar, seemingly not caring how slow it is. “I’m on a streetcar!”

    1. Yep. The streetcar silliness won’t last. Eventually people will figure out the advantages and disadvantages of a surface rail line with cars roughly as big as our buses and find that they are inappropriate for our hilly area.

  17. We rode the street car Saturday evening. Waited 30 minutes for the tram because of an accident at Yesler. Tram was smooth and comfortable. My wife, who is German, barely know life without trams, and they make life extremely easy and less hectic there. But her first comments were, “why is there no tram designated track?” The second question, do they not look at other cities for what works well?” My answers, “you’re right, it should have tram-only lanes” and “yes they do, but still make stupid decisions.” We laughed at the wasted space for bike lanes. Over the time waiting for the tram, on the tram and getting off the tram, we saw two people using the bike lanes (one walking their bike), one riding on the sidewalk with pedestrians and 5 ride through red lights. Should have made two driving lanes and two tram tracks. You could then count on the tram like clockwork, as in places who know how to use mass transit.

    1. 1) Placing a travel lane there would have required massive utility relocation. The bike lane actually saved money.
      2) Tracks on Westlake has made what was the best bike route in South Lake Union the most dangerous. Citizens demanded something safer between Capitol Hill and First Hill.
      3) Don’t give up hope. It’s likely the route will get dedicated transit lanes at some point through the I.D. at least in tandem with a Route 7 Rapid Ride.
      4) The Broadway bike lane literally connects to no other well made bike infrastructure. It’s like an extremely short subway segment with no transit connections – not exactly super useful, but it could be if connections were made.

  18. I think it’s funny they offer an all day pass for $4.50 that only lets you ride the streetcar, but I imagine these will mostly be sold in bulk to Amazon, the schools, and the hospitals so they can hand them out to visitors who want to pop up a couple blocks to get lunch.

    I think the fare is pretty high both for this and SLU, but I imagine most trips are either transfers or for people who have passes and don’t have to worry about the cost for a couple blocks ride.

    1. I agree the cost is high, particularly if you’re not riding end-to-end.

      But there are lots of people on monthly pass ORCA cards (pretty much anyone who commutes via transit 5 days a week or works at a large company), and those who are transferring to Sounder or Link will be happy to hop on knowing they aren’t paying the $2.25 just for a short ride.

      At least with FHSC there’s a decent chance you’re actually going to be heading to or coming from a different mode of transportation where you’ll have an applicable transfer. With the SLU SC that often isn’t the case.

  19. Hurry, Hurry, Step Right Up Folks
    Get your Order in for Streetcar station sponsorships. There going fast folks, so don’t delay. Only 17 of the 18 stations are left, so be one of the lucky ones to plunk down an average of $19,333 per year along the SLU line (Sorry, but Westlake/9th OB is taken)
    But all the FHSC stations are available for anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000 each for a year. STB gets a discount too!

  20. Yesterday I rode from end to end at 4pm, and the ride took 32 minutes (4.7 mph average),

    That’s unacceptable. It was 22 min on Saturday afternoon. The cars were holding at Pioneer Square and departing on exactly 1 hr intervals with a long dwell time at Japan Town. I thought that would be plenty of buffer for traffic, and it should be. Cars blocking the intersection need to be ticketed. It not only slows the SC it’s a cascade effect that creates gridlock throughout DT.

    A .9 mile deviation should take no more than 7 minutes. The SC controls seem to be highly automated. If the traffic signal system needs an upgrade (likely) then it’s a matter of figuring out who’s going to pay for it. Obviously it’s Seattle residents either way and it’s probably more expedient for SDOT to take the lead than ST.

    1. Fun fact: in that same 32 minutes you can get to Wallingford (16), Auburn (Sounder), or the Issaquah Highlands (218).

      1. Yes, but of the three, only one of those routes has (practically) 100% reliability. The other two face the same problems as the FHSC in terms of traffic delays. Your point is still valid, though, in terms of wicked penalties due to design and the lack of priority we give transit.

      2. Fun fact: in that same 32 minutes you can get to

        Just for fun I took a snapshot of the drive times from WSDOT at 4PM today. Almost every route was faster than average so these are the average times in the GP lanes (miles minutes):

        SR-520 Seattle to Bellevue 9.67 14
        I-5 Seattle to Federal Way 22.19 38 (28min real time)
        I-90 Seattle to Issaquah 15.71 18
        I-5 Seattle to Lynnwood 15.73 36 (33min real time)
        SR 520 Seattle to Redmond 14.56 16
        I-5/405 Seattle to Renton 13.61 24
        I-5 Seattle to SeaTac 13.03 25
        ExLanes Seattle to Woodinville 15.21 33

        The point being that if you want people to choose to live “in the city” where you get le$$ for more, at the very least you need to make it more convenient than life in the burbs. I know the FHSC serves a number of purposes and few are riding end to end. But trip time is inversely proportional to frequency. And frankly, 15 minutes with wide stop spacing sucks; especially for a route where most people are looking at a trip of less than a mile.

  21. Really looking forward to having to answer pointed questions from transit-skeptical friends and family about why we spent $134 million on a toy train that doesn’t save any time on walking during the time you’re most likely to need it.

    Certainly SDOT deserves some time to see if the travel times can be improved, whether that’s by better signal prioritization or more enforcement of box blocking by cars, but in general these sorts of half-measures and political vanity projects that share lane space with cars but fail to efficiently transport people from Point A to Point B are actively detrimental to the broader transit cause as we head towards a truly pivotal ST3 vote in November. Go big or go home – give new projects grade separation or at the very least dedicated lane space.

    1. The answer is public pressure. People in First Hill insisted on compensation for losing the First Hill Link station, and too many people (non-transit riders) think a surface streetcar is adequate transit. That may be starting to change as people recognize the benefit of center transit lanes for faster buses and trains, and as more people are turning to transit, and as more people vote for things like Prop 1. But there wasn’t a critical mass when the First Hill streetcar was approved in 2008, and there wasn’t any mass at all when the SLU streetcar was designed before it.

      1. I agree. The focus on a streetcar in a neighborhood that is extremely steep is silly, and folks should have said that. Ultimately it is a failure of leadership. When leaders fail to point out a bad idea, you get bad results.

        The good news is that at least First Hill will get the Madison BRT, which is a much better substitute for what they lost. It will run faster, more frequently and likely carry more riders and thus provide a lot more benefit than this streetcar.

  22. I’m wondering when someone will point out that there are no stops within a block of Madison Street which makes Madison BRT connectivity harder. Of course, Madison BRT wasn’t even an official idea until 2012 when construction of FHSC was already underway.

    1. Madison BRT will have a stop at Boylston, which makes it about a 400 – 700 foot walk depending on the direction you’re going. It’s one short block along Boylston from Madison to Marion. You’ll probably be able to see the streetcar platform on Broadway from the end of the BRT platform at Madison & Boylston. Not ideal, but not terrible either.

      Once the Center City Connector is built it will share a stop with Madison BRT on 1st.

    2. It shouldn’t even matter if Madison BRT wasn’t a thing when they were planning the streetcar. There is already a CURRENT bus route on Madison. Why wouldn’t they put stops at Madison just because of that.

  23. I was on a trip from the Broadway terminus to Pioneer Square on Saturday and the “next station” display never changed and was stuck on “Broadway and Denny”. Plus, there were no announcements. If you were new to the neighborhood, this could have been confusing. Does the station display have to be reset by the driver, or is it automatic?

    Anyway, the ride was far superior to the bus, and more comfortable in every way. It’s adorable, and bright, and fun. And, I don’t mind spending our transit budget on things like this since it’s a huge upgrade to comfort and accessibility. However, from a personal standpoint, any transit option that is demonstrably slower than walking is not going to make into my transit quiver (outside of some very unique situations). In the end, this will be a hyper local mode because once U-Link opens it will be the A+++ option from CH to the Stadiums/Pioneer Sq./ID.

    1. The sign was stuck for several blocks northbound when I took it on Saturday. But that’s why SDOT had a “soft launch”; it anticipated problems the first few days but didn’t want to hold up the opening any longer. (If it had opened after Link, even more people would have felt like it’s a waste, since they’d be comparing it to Link’s service rather than the spaghetti of buses now.

  24. Rode it with my family on Sunday and had pretty much the same experience as Zach and others in the thread. Liked it overall, but more signal priority – at the aforementioned 14th/Jackson/Boren/Rainier intersection, but also at Broadway/Madison and signal syncing north of Pike – would make a big difference. Dedicated lanes would have been nice too, but what’s done is done. Signal priority alone could take this from a solid B to an A-.

  25. This, from the Urbanist:

    On my return trip, the streetcar was blocked by a car crash at Yesler Way and 12th Avenue, next to Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. The driver announced the tracks were blocked, and after a few minutes she let passengers off when it became obvious we would not be moving for a while. I followed the tracks back to Capitol Hill, sat down for a drink at a bar on Broadway, and it wasn’t until an hour later that I saw the same yellow streetcar finally glide by.

    First day and already we see the silliness of streetcars in action.

    1. First day and already we see the silliness of streetcars in action.

      More the sillyness of drivers in action. If WSP can fit push bumpers on the front of a Crown Vic why not on a SC? Or this :=

      1. But my point is that you wouldn’t need all that if you ran a bus along there. This won’t be a problem with Madison BRT, for example. In general most of the problems with this streetcar won’t be a problem. A Madison BRT won’t weave around and make switchbacks up the hill. It will go straight up it. Ridership and value added will be much higher as a result.

  26. Tonight, an otherwise sleepy Tuesday evening: 18 minutes CHS to Pioneer Square (lv 6:30pm), 23 minutes return (lv 7:30pm). Those times are a serious improvement over any combination of existing choices over the same trip. Still, the moment Link opens, the end to end trip becomes uncompetitive again. (Not so for trips originating from an intermediate stop and heading to a terminus.)

    Return to CH was slower thanks to some nob whose parked car stuck out too far at the turn at Broadway and Yesler. The streetcar got by, slowly, but not without the help of a metro employee with a radio out on the ground watching proximity. That car was well on its way to the impound. I expect this lesson will be internalized quickly by drivers, and SDOT will get some lines painted soon.

    But the best thing was that even just three days into passenger service, people seemed to be using the streetcar for ordinary trips. On the trip to Pioneer Sq, people were obviously headed out to eat in the International District (disembarking at 7th), but others were dragging belongings off the train at 14th and Washington. One man asked me how to get to Swedish Hospital, which is about the best anecdotal validation for building the thing in the first place.

    Time will tell how it all pans out. If people ride, the case to implement signal priority at the most important points (crossing Madison, Pine, and Boren at both Broadway and Yesler) will grow. I was generally pleased tonight though.

    1. More proof the Department of Licensing gives out licenses more generously than Halloween candy. Any idiot gets one regardless of whether they know how to operate a vehicle or follow the simplest instructions.

      1. I believe there is precedent for charging people that fuck up for the loss of time they cause (any lawyers out there or is your time to valuable to be interested in transit?). So here’s a question I’ve been wondering about. If/when a SC swaps paint with an improperly parked car, who is liable. I know if the car owner is uninsured it’s like getting blood from a stone but if it’s a lawyers BMW who pays the bill?

    2. People f–k up. It’s part of the human condition, and can happen to anyone. We account for this by requiring people to have liability insurance. Going beyond that by imposing heavily punitive fines or criminal sanctions is a bad idea.

      1. Except a lot of people don’t carry liability insurance. And guess what, the reason they don’t is because no insurance company will cover them because they know they are going to FU. If you don’t lock them is stocks next to the intersection what other recourse do you have?

      2. Yep. People f-k up. We should assume they will, and plan accordingly. This means using vehicles that can avoid long delays when people f-k up (which happened on the very first day of operation).

  27. My experience/observations, based on one roundtrip Saturday evening.

    First off, the SB streetcar pulled out of the station just as I was approaching. Just like a bus! :). The wait wasn’t bad, guessing it left about 8 minutes later. The trip down was great. Though slow. On the trip back, we lost power at Broadway and pine and had to alt-ctrl-del the streetcar. Total delay was probably 7ish minutes.

    Signs and announcements need work. First off, I think inbound and outbound is stupid and unhelpful terminology, and not used anywhere else in our transit system. “Pioneer square” and “Capitol Hill” would be better choices.

    On the on-screen displays, the next station is displayed in bigger or bolder type that causes it to not quite fit and scrolls instead. Distracting and unhelpful. When you’re at a station, the whole screen just shows that station, but not the tagline/subtitle that each station has. There’s tons of room on that screen, and no reason not to show it.

    Waiting for the return trip at 12th (13th) and Jackson, the station display showed wait time only for the “outbound” direction. It was 3 minutes when I got there, stayed there, then went up to 5, then took more than that for one to arrive.

    When it did, that troubled car was stuck at “pioneer square”, which it showed for the whole trip. Even though on the ” inbound ” trip they audibly announced all the stations, they didn’t on the “outbound,” even though the display was messed up. The drivers should make those announcements if the system is messed up.

    From Capitol Hill, I’d say it’s a marginal improvement in connectivity to 12th and Jackson. I was hoping it might be more than that, but the detour to 14th seems about a wash with the detour the 60 makes down Madison. Really the 9 remains a much better choice than either, and it’s a shame it doesn’t run more often and longer hours! Glad they finally got the streetcar open though. And that it beat the u-link opening after all, even if just barely. The tortoise really did win that race!

  28. I rode to work today on it, as I did yesterday and likely intend to continue to do.

    Normally take a 10/11/49 at Pine/Summit on Pike or 43/47 on Bellevue/Olive then tunnel from Westlake to Pioneer Square, would be 22 mins on average apt door to office desk. My office is on Occidental Mall, extremely convenient to the streetcar, so close I hear the bell dinging all day during testing and now in service. The streetcar took door to desk 42 minutes, I timed it. 5 mins to walk the 4 blocks from my apt to the northern terminus. 6.5 minutes to wait for it to leave despite checking Nextbus before I left home with it saying ‘departing in 6 minutes’. Took 28 minutes on the streetcar end-to-end. We had to wait a couple minutes for a Cadillac SUV blocking the tracks dropping off their morbidly obese child at SCCC that clearly did not give two sh**s that they were blocking the streetcar and all the traffic behind. Not only drop off Buttercup but then wait for the kid to walk to the building who then forgot something and walked back to the car and then walked back again as we are all waiting and as the streetcar is honking and ringing its bell. Which in fairness the way this POS was stopped would have blocked the bus too. Finally we get rolling and actually Broadway isn’t bad speed or traffic wise (this being ~8:45am). But then we hit the already infamous and dreaded “detour section” (Yesler Terrace to Little Saigon stretch) which I sh** you not (as I mentioned, I timed this whole journey on phone stopwatch app) TOOK 10 MINUTES from the signal at Yesler/Broadway to pulling out of Little Saigon station!!!! 10 F-ing minutes! And it was pretty much all due to the traffic lights (Yesler/Broadway, Yesler/Boren, Yesler/12th, Yesler/14th, Rainier/14th/Jackson/Boren). Then the remainder of the journey on Jackson isn’t bad at all and travels a decent speed. Then two minutes from the time the streetcar opened its doors to sitting at my desk. It can’t be taking this long even if in 2 months people have no reason to ride end-to-end.

    I should also say that I used the streetcar in Portland as my main travel mode for 12 years so I’m hardly a streetcar rookie or hater.

    1. But then we hit the already infamous and dreaded “detour section” (Yesler Terrace to Little Saigon stretch) which I sh** you not (as I mentioned, I timed this whole journey on phone stopwatch app) TOOK 10 MINUTES from the signal at Yesler/Broadway to pulling out of Little Saigon station!!!! 10 F-ing minutes!

      Sadly, I think at best you get this down to 7 minutes. The end to end route is for the infirmed which is from what I saw on Saturday is a large portion of the ridership. And that is an important ridership. Fast are not, this is not the streetdroid you are looking for :=

      1. The problem is that the detour is in the middle. Thus it isn’t just the “end to end” folks that are screwed. It just about everyone. A trip from, say, Broadway and Jefferson to 5th and Jackson is ridiculously slow. Yet this is one of the few areas where you have added something (a one seat ride). That is nowhere close to end to end, but walking is faster.

        Oh, I know, you can take this along Jackson or take it along Broadway. But for the most part, both sections are covered by existing, fairly frequent bus routes. The 7 will become BRT soon enough, and the 36 could easily be the same way. That would provide a very fast, frequent trip along Jackson, and make this redundant along there. This does add frequency along Broadway, which is a good thing, but as mentioned, just adding frequency to the 9 would accomplish that.

        It is just a very bad, nonsensical route, the result of both the wrong mode (streetcar) and horrible planning. If we really insisted on a streetcar, then it should have run up 14th and then 15th. That would provided a much needed addition to the grid and avoided bus/streetcar conflicts (since there is no bus along there right now).

      2. A streetcar doesn’t necessarily have to be fast, it is primarily a much needed neighborhood connector.

    2. I’m a strong believe that if transit is going to be slower than walking, walking is usually less stressful. Google Maps pegs the 1.5 miles from Pine and Summit to Occidental and Main at 30 minutes (an average speed of 3 mph).

      About the only time the streetcar has real utility is for the disabled. Even then, I’m not sure if it will pencil out in many cases once fare collection begins. The distance is so short, even Uber isn’t that expensive – a group of 2 or 3 could ride Uber all the way end to end in less than half the time (taking the direct route) for pretty much the same cost as the streetcar fare.

  29. The First Hill Street is the reason that elected officials should never have any input for transportation projects
    The projects is too many good ideas in the wrong place.
    During Construction they were in a big hurry to complete the project….something about pressure from who knows where and unreal expectations, they missed them all!
    I get sick everytime I go up on Broadway…..make a choice bike track or streetcar tracks not both in the same corridor!
    The city could have paid Metro to relocate Dead Head Wire to another street like…..14th Av or 12th Av but no they(The City) did not want to Spend the $$$$. After all Seattle Transit had wire on 14 Av from 1940 to 1978! E Pike to S Jackson Sorry we don’t allow transit on substandard arterials!
    And….who ordered the cars as kits??? I know they came with really good assembly instructions but….that takes time!
    I been in operations for along time…..and I have sat still for all those bright ideas but I found the blog to
    unload, I hope did not offend anyone but the First Hill Street Car annoyed me on a lot of different levels
    I like projects that work…..not somebody’s so call good ideas…..from now on “It” will be known as the
    Broadway Urban Tram or ready for this…..the BUT!!!!

    1. who ordered the cars as kits??? I know they came with really good assembly instructions but….that takes time!

      The cars were ordered as “kits” so that they were eligible for “Made in USA” federal dollars. To qualify a certain amount of finish work had to be done here. And no, they did not come with really good assembly instructions. A big part of the delay and subsequent problems was the guy acting as middle man who was responsible for completing the work didn’t have a clue and was a cheap skate. My neighbor did some of the engineering and fixturing and had a hell of a time getting paid.

    2. make a choice bike track or streetcar tracks not both in the same corridor!

      But streetcar tracks in the right lane mean that either there needs to be a separate bikeway, or there will be a continual high rate of bicycle accidents caused by the tracks, as is the case on Westlake.

  30. My experience today on the streetcar during rush hour was an absolute nightmare along Broadway – from Broadway and John to Broadway and Terrace was about 20 minutes and the other direction looked just as bad. The rest of it, including the deviation to 14th, wasn’t that bad. Jackson in particular was pretty decent.

    Thursday morning, I gave it one last try, walked 5 minutes to the stop at Broadway/Marion at 7:22 AM. Noticed the “countdown clocks” were no longer “making up” departure times, but simply read “Streetcars arrive every 12 minutes” (they do NOT). Eight minutes later at 7:30 a #9 Metro bus showed up, so I hopped on and rode the (much shorter) routing to 12th & Jackson, which we reached at 7:35. Crossed the street and caught an inbound #36 at 7:36, and arrived at 5th & Jackson at 7:40. Walked to my office arriving at 7:45 AM – total door-to-door travel time = 28 minutes! About half the time of my 45-minute sojourn on Tuesday afternoon.

    From my office window, I can see the streetcars on Jackson Street. I saw several other buses (#14, #7/49 and another #36) go by, then finally at 7:50 AM, I saw the streetcar go by I would have been on, if I had decided to wait 20 minutes for it back on First Hill. This means I could have missed that transfer at 12th & Jackson and STILL made it to work faster than if I had waited for the streetcar.

    LACK OF FREQUENCY makes the First Hill Streetcar USELESS, and I think people have quickly figured this out, because there were MANY more people on the 9 and 36 buses I rode, than on any of the streetcars I saw traveling in either direction this morning.

    Now imagine how fast and convenient the trip from IDS to First Hill could have been if it had been conceived as a network of frequent trolleybus routes operating under existing wire on Jackson, 12th, Boren and Broadway with branches out Jackson, Jefferson, Union, Madison and East John?

    1. Well, that’s a depressing story. Anecdotes don’t make for good analyses, but I have a feeling your experience is going to be super common. If the FHSC going to be fumbly and numbingly slow, then the only positive angle it can have for a normal commuter is crazy good frequency (or at the very least, super accurate real-time departure information). It’s probably going to look even sillier when U-Link opens.

      Normally, these comment threads don’t radically change my notions of reality, but with this one I’ve gone from ‘very supportive’ to, at best, ‘agnostic.’

      1. Even more depressing is the cost per rider on this. ST will donate $5m/yr to SDOT thru 2023 towards operations. At 1500 boardings per day that works out to a subsidy of $8 to $9 per rider each time someone steps foot on the streetcar.
        Some trolley routes actually pay for themselves.

      2. Something’s wrong with that stat. If 5 streetcars operate 18 hrs/day 365 days a year $5M comes out to $150/hr. That would be more than just a contribution; it would just about pay the entire operating budget. And there’s going to be fare revenue and advertizing on top of that. I’m also cautiously optimistic that once Link is in operation there will be more than 1500 boardings a day but that is TBD.

        The SC needs some work, no doubt about it; number one two and three being signal priority.I’m just not quite ready to nail the coffin shut before it even begins revenue service. And as I suggested earlier the mid route meander could possibly be address once the CCC is in place by turning back every other car on Broadway and Jackson. With 8 minute headways on the populated parts of the route there would be a through coach every 16 minutes.

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