Joe Wolf (Flickr)
Joe Wolf (Flickr)

While ULink is already setting ridership records, it’s easy for this North Capitol Hill resident to forget about the First Hill Streetcar, the beleaguered line that opened in late January after a series of delays and technical problems.

Curious about the line’s ridership both before and after ULink, I asked SDOT for ridership data a couple weeks ago. Sadly, it appears that ridership data for the First Hill line is not available due to yet more technical difficulties. In a twist out of our robot overload future, it appears the computers know the answer but the humans don’t.

From SDOT’s Michael James:

Here is where we are with the data.  Our [automatic passenger counters] and servers are collecting data.  However, we are having technical issues transmitting it back to our source software program.  We are actively working to correct the technical issue.  As soon as we get and review the daily data, we would be happy to share it with you.

We did calculate monthly ridership using ORCA tap methodology for March 2016, which was 50,159.

So stay tuned for further stats and analysis, but if the ORCA data is reasonably reliable, it appears that the First Hill line is carrying roughly 1,600 riders per day. Though Link and the First Hill line are obviously very different services operating at different scales, a good shorthand appears to be that Link carries in a day what the First Hill Streetcar carries in a month. If 1,600 riders per day were a bus route, this would place the streetcar near the bottom of all-day routes within Seattle, in the same ballpark as Routes 31, 47, and 50. Given the short length of the line, other metrics such as ridership per mile would likely rank the streetcar a bit more favorably.

FHSC Ridership

101 Replies to “First Hill Streetcar Ridership a Mystery”

  1. Here in the Tri-Cities, most routes have about 700-1000 riders per day (on routes with 30/60 minute service).

    I’m laughing at the idea of a streetcar being roughly as productive as a 30ft Gillig Low Floor on a low-density housing corridor.

    1. Or, about as many as could have been moved by building high level platforms and using the old Waterfront cars.

    2. You have to wonder how accurate the ORCA tap data is. Is there a lot of fare enforcement on the streetcars? They won’t be able to measure fare evasion until they can read the APC data.

      1. I’ve only ever seen fare enforcement on the SLU line, never the first hill one, and I live 5 minutes from it…

    3. ORCA taps include people who intended to ride the streetcar, but when it didn’t show up in ten minutes and the display didn’t say when it would come or said “35 minutes”, they left and took another bus. This happened to me a couple times.

  2. I’ve only taken the streetcar a couple times to get to the ID. What I experienced was total mystery of any kind of schedule that you could rely on. Platform time indicator is not based on any reality. Maybe it’s better now since it’s been close to two months since I took it. Also, the stops are not helpful at all if you’re wanting to use the line on Broadway since there’s just the one stop at E Pike street. Why they call the last stop on the line Denny is a mystery to me since Denny is almost two blocks away from the final stop on the line. KC Metro has some weird ideas on what they call stop locations. The 43/8 “23rd Ave E” stop is between 21s and 22nd Ave E. The stop which used to be called Broadway was *changed* a couple months back to Harvard Ave for no particular reason that I can determine.

    1. You must be thinking of John St.. Denny is only 1/2 block north from the terminus.

  3. This is the outcome when you spend millions to build a streetcar in one of the busiest corridors in the city of Seattle but then cheap out on the actual right of way it needs to keep a consistent schedule.

    It boggles the mind that SDOT has the ability to provide BAT lanes for bus corridors but didn’t opt for that initially on their street car lines. If the corridor is worth a permanent streetcar investment, why was it not worth giving it better right of ways? I guess we all know the answer to this, politics and a lack of planning, usually the answer behind any of Seattle’s complete mess ups when it comes to transit.

    1. Really has to be a dedicated corridor IMO. I’m not sure that would’ve worked on Broadway full-length.

      A BAT (or BSAT, I guess) lane would be jammed up by the turning traffic. BAT lanes only work well when there are either few turning cars or few pedestrians. Broadway has both.

      Pedestrians typically will cross all the way down to “0” on the Don’t Walk countdown. That limits the number of cars that can get through. In turn that delays any streetcars waiting behind. Even worse for the streetcars, since they can’t change lanes.

      1. “BAT” lane stands for “Business Access and Transit” lane. No need for a new acronym – you’re covered!

    2. Totally agree. Who spends millions on a streetcar that has no real benefits over the bus? There should’ve been dedicated lanes. Priority at signals. Real time arrival signs. Basic stuff like that. Hopefully the Central City Streetcar will remedy that. It’s a pretty train and I love the colorful paint jobs and frequency. But could’ve been WAY better in execution.

      1. We shouldn’t be wasting money because someone loves pretty trains with colorful paint jobs.

        Yes, dedicated lanes, priority at signals, and real-time arrival signs would make a street-car better – but not as good as a bus with those same features.

        Laying rail is expensive, introduces a new hazard to cyclists, and locks transit in to a fixed route. Why would anyone in their right mind waste money on that? Just get a few double-ended buses (with a drivers position at each end) and call it good.

      2. Nospin – you didn’t get my point. I was just making an opinion that the trains look colorful. But the lack of signal priority and dedicated lanes hampers it big time. Fixed route is actually a plus. It is a sign of permanence, people know where it goes, and encourages development around the line. Buses don’t attract development and fewer riders. The general public – not necessary transit savvy – overwhelmingly prefer rails over bus.

      3. This idea of “permanence” is just a feel good metric, JK. It has very little, if any, actual value beyond the urban planning bubble.

        Also, do you think the thousands of daily bus riders on Jackson care at all about this awfully planned line’s permanence?

        The hundred-plus million would have been far better spent by improving bus lines.

        It does have some lovely coloring, however, I agree.

      4. Troy, I guess you’re new around here. The reason that there is a First Hill Streetcar is that Sound Transit eliminated the southward bulge and a station for First Hill when some geological difficulties presented themselves up there.

        So there would have been no $100 million for buses had the streetcar not been built. Sound Transit cannot provide local bus service. The streetcar does provide workers at Swedish and (less conveniently) Virginia Mason with a direct connection to Link at Capitol Hill Station, and it doesn’t take long to get there. That’s probably all that should have been built.

    3. The year it was designed has the most to do with it. Link’s original proposal was surface from Mt Baker to SeaTac. But in negotiation with the cities and community, Tukwila didn’t want surface trains on Intl Blvd because it had just beautified the street and didn’t want it torn up again, so the segment became elevated. Rainier Valley is flat, and in the opinion of the residents poor and nonwhite and with little political clout, so it remained surface in the final. When ST2 came around there was more public demand for grade separation in spite of the cost, so at one point ST2 was 100% grade separated. That got watered down a bit in the final, with a few crossings in the Spring District and Overlake, but still 90% of it is grade separated. So Rainier Valley got the worst quality alignment because it was first and these other controversies hadn’t occurred. Likewise the SLU streetcar had no dedicated lane and you need a millisecond stopwatch to perceive the signal priority. The First Hill Streetcar fared only a bit better, and its transit lanes were taken by the cycletrack which was a big push at the time. Now the City Center Connector will have transit-only lanes where the street is wide enough. Madison BRT started design at the same time as the City Center Connector so it has partial transit lanes. And that’s actually an experiment or demonstration to see how much pushback they would geto, and the answer was not enough to eliminate them. So that’s a good sign, and projects are gradually getting better over time. But there’s a curse of being first in that it tends to be worst.

    4. The times I’ve ridden the FHSC, traffic queues up behind the car, not so much in front of it. Traffic signal priority, or better yet pre-emption, would do more for service reliability than a mere exclusive lane.

      1. This was my impression as well (based on one ride off-peak). Traffic signal priority is the improvement most needed.

        The South Lake Union line recently received transit signal priority and priority intersection treatments, 9 years after opening. Hopefully it won’t take that long for the FHSC.

  4. Ugh. It sucks, too, because if ridership was good, the politics would be there to improve the line, but it’s hard to convince people that more investment in a failing line will make it a success.

    (investments of choice: ROW, frequency, extend the line)

    1. “It sucks, too, because if ridership was good, the politics would be there to improve the line, but it’s hard to convince people that more investment in a failing line will make it a success.” — EHS

      Quoted for posterity. Funny, it is almost as if we should ensure that these huge investments are high-quality *before* we build them.

    1. Exclusive ROW on Broadway isn’t happening without a rebuild. We basically built it in such a was as to exclude the possability.

      1. Or we could just kick cars off altogether, requiring a permit for deliveries. Haha, just kidding, that’ll never happen.

      2. 12th Avenue is only a couple blocks away. It is a great corridor for cars. Car drivers should use that route if they want to access the vicinity of Broadway. It is much more safe and convenient.

        (hint: swap “car” for “bike” and this type of argument will be more familiar)

    2. It would also help to change that bored-sounding, not-quite-awake voice of the overhead announcer.

    1. Since I represent a two trips each weekday on the 31 and two more some weekdays on the 33… yes please!

    2. Probably wouldn’t even need that much. When I’ve ridden it between campus and Fremont, it seems to spend 20 minutes going from one side of campus to I-5, and then another 10 minutes getting to Fremont. Retime the stop lights on Campus Parkway, put in a peak period bus lane on the north fork of 40th west of Campus Parkway (or hope that SDOT just fixes that intersection some year), and you’re probably 80% of the way there.

    1. The ridership on the SLU streetcar has diminished significantly since the extension of the of the RR C and moving the 40 S to Westlake…It really only serves FHCRC at this point…seems a waste to me.

      1. I wonder if it’ll get a bump once the center city connector gets built in a few years?

  5. Is anyone surprised at the low numbers?

    Most residents of the area that I’ve talked with tell me that walking is usually faster. They just point at the bicycle track and shake their heads in disbelief.

    I would add that I think that most residents will also generally prefer to walk the distance between Roy Street and John Street if the extension gets built. The extension isn’t long enough to encourage riders to wait for a slow streetcar. Surely there are better ways to spend transit money on Capitol Hill.

    1. I hear this claim often, but I suspect it’s a red herring: can you point to evidence that there was an actual choice made to create the cycle track *instead* of dedicated right-of-way for the streetcar?

      1. I’m only reporting the public perception that has been shared with me, LWC.

      2. Got it – so you’ve been hearing the same things I have! Do you know whether there’s any truth to that perception?

    2. I agree there are better things we can do on cap hill, dollar for dollar. Absolutely. But, if we want to try to turn the streetcar into a success (an open question, IMHO), an extension is an essential part of the equation.

      The reason is that it’s really, really hard for transit to compete on short distances. For a 1/2 mile trip, you need great frequency and speed for transit to beat reliable old walking on speed. And who’s gonna spend money and choose humanity’s least favorite activity, waiting, for minuscule time savings anyway? Transit only starts to make sense for trips of over a mile or so.

      But the FHSC only goes 1.1 miles before it makes the the Yesler diversion, which means that at its current length, it can only reasonably be competitive with walking for one destination pair: from the south end of broadway to the light rail station. It’s basically useless for everybody in between. (we can argue about that 1-mile – it’s just a rule of thumb. But if you say 3/4 of a mile, that still means that for the central 1/2 mile of Broadway, there are no trips for which it is competitive with walking)

      Adding 1/2 mile of length more than doubles the number of destination pairs for which the line makes sense.

      (math: if we ignore the effects of station locations and assume a hard 1 mile threshold, then for a 1.1 mile line, you’ve got 0.1 miles on each end of the line for which the line is useful, and that’s for exactly 1 trip. That’s 0.2 miles of total line utility. If you add 0.5 miles by extending to Roy, there’s 0.6 miles on each end of the line for which you can take a trip of over 1 mile, and a few destinations from each end. That’s 1.2 miles of total utility.)

      Of course, first priority is dedicated ROW to get the thing faster than my own two feet, and then frequency so that the wait doesn’t eat up all of the time savings. But then we need more length. (Even more true on the even shorter SLUT. This is why the CCC makes so much sense)

    3. I ride the bike track to harborview daily and live in the neighborhood so I like it, it needs more control over the cars coming out of the gas station on Pine though.

  6. This is what happens when you pick symbolism over functionality. Just to review here, the streetcar was not SDOT’s idea. It is paid for by ST, as compensation for skipping the all important First Hill stop. That stop would have improved transit dramatically in the region not only because it is a better stop than most of the ones being built (or proposed) but also because it would connect the Madison BRT with Link. Speaking of which, that is the other mistake. We chose a streetcar over BRT. This meant that the route had to work its way up the hill, instead of just going straight up it. The other mistake was that this had to somehow provide something for First Hill. The combination is, of course, absurdly terrible. You see, First Hill is actually a hill. Streetcars can’t go up hills. So, naturally, this works its way back and forth until it hits a slope just shallow enough for the little medal wheels to make it up the hill. As a result, SDOT can only do so much. The route is absurd, and not one SDOT would have proposed or prioritized. Complaining that they didn’t optimize it misses the point. It was a stupid idea, there was only so much they can do, and frankly, they have more important things to worry about (like all the BRT corridors they are in the process of building).

    Seattle should have just taken the money and put into any of the other projects. Madison BRT would have been fine. But, once again, we picked the wrong tool for the job.

    1. Have you ever ridden a bus up or down Madison? “Fine” is not a word I would ever choose to associate with that lurchy, bouncy, shaky, rattly, unpleasant experience, which unfortunately stands between my house and virtually anywhere I might want to travel in Seattle via public transit.

      1. I assume you’re talking about the 12? Actually, I have ridden that, and it’s been mostly fine for me. The big problems were the lack of frequency and the sheer slope of the hill in downtown.

      2. 11, 12, and 8. My house is in Madison Valley, right near Madison & MLK. The west side of the 12’s route isn’t so bad, though it was so consistently crowded that I stopped trying to use it, but the east side of the hill is all bumps and lumps and tilted roads.

      3. I ride the 12 daily, mostly in the early afternoon. The 12 is “fine” until you get to rush hour. After about 4 or 4:30 is routinely takes 30 minutes to get from Broadway or 12th ave to downtown. This is when Madison BRT will really shine.

      4. Trolleybuses do well on steep hills, and when RossB said BRT I assume he meant a trolleybus, as Madison BRT will be for the same reason. Most of the problems cited above are due to overcrowding or infrequency, which is not related to whether a bus can physically go up the hill easily and smoothly. It can as long as it’s a trolleybus.

      5. @Mike Orr,

        Trolley buses do well on steep hills under good weather conditions. But put a little snow or ice on there and they don’t domsomwellmat all.

        Best bet under those conditions is to just shut the system down, shrug your shoulders, and say “Welcome to Seattle.”

    2. Dead on, RossB.

      It’s also infuriating as a biking project, because it makes protected bike lanes look bad. They connect to no other biking infrastructure, make you cross a cyclist’s worst enemy, train tracks, and of course, Broadway is way hillier than nearby 12th.

      It was only chosen because they were already tearing up the street for the street car and it saved them a bunch of money on utility relocation because bikes are light enough to go on top of water/sewer mains without modification, and streetcars are not. But the result is something nobody would have designed, and it fits no vision of practical bike transportation.

      So basically, the exact same story as the streetcar line: historical circumstance led to it being built, rather than anything that could rightfully be called planning.

      1. Broadway has tons of destinations in its own right, and precisely because of the steep climb up from 12th (at least toward the south end of the corridor), 12th doesn’t provide access to them. It would be pretty bad to do what the city did on Westlake.

        The fact that the Broadway Cycletrack doesn’t connect to other cycling infrastructure is a problem with the rest of the cycling network — any reasonable cycling network includes some sort of facility on Broadway.

      2. The rest of the bicycling infrastructure is coming. Part of Madison BRT is an east-west bike trail. It’s going to be mostly on Union east of Broadway, West of Broadway I’m not sure, it jogged south on Broadway for a couple blocks in an earlier draft but I don’t recall the latest. The Broadway cycletrack came right when the city was just starting to think about a wider bike-trail network, which later became a push for a citywide network.

        The Broadway location of the north-south cycletrack has to do with most of the destinations being there and bicyclists wanting to be on the pedestrian street where the action is. It comes down to the city having neglected bicycling infrastructure for so long that it wnated to do something big and visible for them, and that collided with streetcar lanes and the cycletrack won out. It may be another curse of the first like I said above. A later project (like, even now) might have put more weight on keeping the cycletrack off Broadway for the sake of the streetcar.

    3. It also could have taken Boren to 12th Ave (just as the trolley bus wires run) instead of running on Yesler and 14th. That alone would have saved so much travel time.

  7. Well this isn’t surprising. When taking the link + walking is faster from the ID to First Hill. Heck, even just walking is faster.

    I’m still upset that they caved and kept street parking on broadway. There are PLENTY of spaces elsewhere in the area. Then there it could have had continuous center-running/bus lane with the bike lanes on the edges. That would have made the street basically future proof. UGH. Why SDOT WHY?!?!

    1. Does anyone actually use that bicycle track? I’ve never seen a bike in it, though it’s certainly possible that there are riders during times I don’t happen to pass by. I’d rather see them acknowledge it as a mistake, paint a bunch of green stripes on 12th or something, and use the Broadway space for a dedicated streetcar lane.

      1. I do once a week or so, to get from the Capitol Hill Link station to First Hill during the PM rush hour.

      2. Believe the cycle track was put in because it was over the under-street utilities. Installing the streetcar tracks there would have required utility relocation.

        Cycling advocates were very much in favor of the track because it was “free,” although it does constrain the configuration of the street.

      3. If the streetcar could not move any faster than it does, then it should have been placed on a different street or dropped. I fault SDOT for doing an inadequate job analyzing and presenting this situation — and instead focusing more about how wonderful a bicycle track is in concept.

      4. “I fault SDOT for doing an inadequate job analyzing and presenting this situation”

        ST. The streetcar was an ST project to compensate for dropping First Hill Station from University Lijnk. So the correct answer is, ST should have built a trolleybus line instead. It didn’t because vocal First Hill interests insisted they’d accept nothing less than a streetcar, because trains.

      5. @Mike Orr,

        The FHSC is a City of Seattle/SDOT project with construction funding provided by ST to compensate for having to drop the First Hill LR station.

      6. ST could have declined the streetcar project and built a trolleybus line. Even if it had to get permission from the city to use its streets, do you think the city would have said no to a bus line somebody else was paying for?

      7. Just saw someone turning onto the Broadway bicycle track this morning – on the southern end, though, heading south from Madison. Glad it’s getting some use, but I still feel like it makes a mess out of Capitol Hill’s central boulevard. (As do the ziggedy-zaggedy streetcar tracks – they should have run two lanes down the center and had done with it.)

      8. Perhaps you are right though I use it every single day. If they were going to rip up Broadway from the ID to Howell street they may as well and did make the effort and installed a planned protected bikeway. Is it ideal no. Drivers even with new separation dividers still can’t parallel park and periodically destroy the reflective dividers but that’s neither here nor there. If you put in granite boulders they would have messed those up as well.

    2. I can tell that hardly any of you are true Puget Sounders,

      either because you’re from a part of the country/world where transit was in place a long time ago, and preserved, or…

      You’re just too young to understand the suburban/city driver mind.

      The solution for Broadway is to KICK the DAMN CARS OFF BROADWAY, at least now where the FHSC runs. (and when it’s extended…kick them off there, too)
      Haven’t you got the cajones to DEMAND this? No…. never mind,.. transit nerds deep into arguing the minutiae.

      Except for the cluster$*&# between about Madison and James, where Swedish parking access is entrenched, everything else can can be navigated by other streets.

      If you were true suburbanites you would already know that 10th/Broadway is the THROUGH route for drivers from I-5 getting to Pill Hill via the Roanoke exit. (especially for those in labor).

      Broadway has the potential to be a shining example of a non-motorized TOD/retail activity center for the rest of the city.
      All it takes is signage that seems to work for 3rd Avenue.

      and voting for the people that seriously want to accomplish this.

  8. There’s quite a bit ticket buying going on too, which isn’t disclosed here. So I wouldn’t jump to conclusions too quickly. While not Link or RapidRide counts, this is half of the available ways to pay.

    1. Sure we can draw some conclusions here. This is an underperforming rail line that cost a lot of money. Where it could have been a decent local tram line, alignment decisions compromised the route’s integrity. Hell, it barely even serves First Hill, its namesake.

      I hope people are making parallel’s between this and Link light rail.

  9. <>

    What was needed was a cable car, such as the James Street cable car that went directly up the hill or the Madison Street cable car that went all the way out to Lake Washington. The Madison Street line was built between 1889 and opened for business in 1891.

    1. I’ll keep pitching how an aerial Jefferson Street funicular (train with small cars like stair steps) between Harborview Park and Pioneer Square station would be a much better project. That would be a modern version of a cable car but with level floors and seating (and with a car for bicyclists) for the two minute ride. Service could run every five minutes and it could even be driverless.

  10. This is what happens when you pick a stupid serpentine route, have a badly managed and communicated project, and a slower-than-walking option. If I lived in First Hill, I’d be pretty pissed that, after all the promises, this is what I was stuck with. The whole thing is a joke and will continue to be until there are some major capital improvements to speed it up (which is pretty sad just months after opening).

  11. I had to use it last week. From ID it was about 80-90% full up to SU at around 7:30 am. In the afternoon (3:30pm) I took it the remaining way to Broadway district and it was 1/2 to 1/3 full. Once the extensions are built out and the Yesler developments are complete I suspect it will perk up significantly. Portland’s took 10 years to fill out. I took it about a month ago and their cars were full.

    1. I agree that Yesler terrace will make a big difference. As I said in my very long post above, on a line so short that a trip of half of its length isn’t competitive with walking (and I’m taking the length as the Broadway portion, because the winding route off of 1st hill makes it uncompetitive there), what is in the middle doesn’t really matter, but what’s on the ends makes a big difference. Growth of Yesler Terrace makes a huge difference, then, as does Link.

      With the CCC extension, trips from Yesler Terrace will make sense in either direction, which won’t be true for any other place on the line. (From Westlake will make some sense, too, but that doesn’t really count as the FHSC line)

      1. Yes, too many people get caught up in immediate gratification and lose sight of the big picture.

  12. This is why I don’t put much stock in arguments that BRT is a bad choice because it will get watered down. As the FHSC shows us, rail can be watered down to. The difference is that with BRT, the cost of going back to fix it is much less. Fixing the FHSC would require either completely closing Broadway to car traffic or ripping up much of the street again to straighten out the tracks. Fixing the 590/594 or the 510/511/512/513 just requires more aggressive use of HOV lanes. Neither is politically feasible right now, but fixing the buses costs a lot less, and political feasibility changes.

    Note that I do not mean to imply that STEX routes are BRT, I am merely using them as part of a bus-rail comparison.

  13. I’ve never been able to figure out the rationale for a streetcar. There isn’t a single real-world example, or even a realistic hypothetical situation, where a streetcar is the best possible option for transit.

    Streetcars require more costly infrastructure than buses, and end up stuck on a fixed route that cannot be altered one inch. A single automobile stopped in traffic with it’s bumper hanging over the track fouls up a streetcar, where a bus would be able to simply go around it.

    If service demands truly warranted transit service along this route, a new bus line could have been established with none of the delays and complications of this – or the SLUT – streetcar projects.

    1. I think the main draw is supposed to be the perceived permanence of the line, which in the view of the planners means that people find it more consistent, a smoother ride, and slightly higher capacity than a bus, and in turn driving more in the way of development opportunity.

      In my experience using the line in the Pearl District recently though, the line was slower than walking, was infrequent, and wasn’t any more pleasant than a bus. Several times I intended to take the streetcar and instead just started walking…. and would 10-15 minutes to my destination without seeing a single vehicle come along. I was always lukewarm to the idea but after those experiences, now I’m solidly against. The streetcar lines we see being built in this reason (including First Hill, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland) serve no transportation purpose. Rather, they are political carrots to encourage development and/or gentrification of specific neighborhoods, or in the case of First Hill, to placate a neighborhood that was originally promised a subway stop.

    2. Rail cars offer a much nicer ride than buses can. That matters a lot to some people, myself included. The unchangeable route is also a plus for people who don’t have the time or the interest to spend a lot of effort keeping track of the seemingly constant stream of minor changes to bus routes.

    3. It’s an odd offshoot of the American experience with cars and transit. Streetcars came before cars, and were the only transportation more efficient and high volume than horses. So streetcars were in the middle of the street and had the right of way. When cars became common, car enthusiasts and the car industry (dealers, gas stations, repair shops, etc) organized a movement to decomission the streetcars knowing that with the streetcars gone, their right of way priority would be gone too and then cars wouldn’t have to wait for streetcars. On the other side they derided pedestrians by calling them “jaywalkers” and managed to get the top right of way slot for themselves. Previously cars and pedestrians had equal right of way below streetcars, but now pedestrians were relegated to the sides of the street.

      That also changed the nature of the majority of transportation, previously it had been mass (in streetcars) but now it was individual cars. Buses replaced the streetcars, but didn’t provide the frequency they did, and they were now in traffic rather than bypassing traffic. (Horse carriages were individual of course, but a horse is a “pedestrian”; i.e., it walks, so not the level of service of a streetcar or car.) .Then the US had several decades and generations of car supremacy and neglect of transit.

      A century later Americans started thinking about trains again, and some wanted streetcars that only their parents or grandparents had experienced. (Actually it wasn’t a century; it was down to ten years in some places, like Portland which ditched streetcars in the 1950s but planned MAX in the 1960s, and Oakland and San Jose which ditched streetcars and ten years later started planning BART and light rail.) But the later generation didn’t know some things about the earlier streetcars, like their right of way priority. That’s how the idiotic idea of shared-lane streetcars without priority started. Some streetcar proponents weren’t thinking primarily of transportation (they didn’t recognize travel time as top priority as Jarrett Waker does); they were thinking more of cuteness and real estate development or that some other people would ride the train while they drove.

      Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, they didn’t get rid of the streetcars, and instead just gradually modernized their transit network. In Western Europe they got rid of the streetcars but then modernized their transit network too. This led to new light rail lines, such as Germany’s which are surface in the outskirts of town but underground in the city center. But they don’t share lanes with cars as far as I know and they have signal priority.

      There’s no single point where light rail ends and streetcars begin, and each American city has a different definition, but Sound Transit distinguishes “light rail” as exclusive lane and higher capacity, vs “streetcar” as shared lane and lower capacity. In other words, light rail is like new European trams, and streetcars are an idiotic idea that mistakes century-old technology limitations for ideals. We can add to that the federal “Buy America” policy, which ignores the fact that American companies stopped making state-of-the-art trains decades ago and don’t have the technology now, so forcing American suppliers causes expensive custom trains inferior to the off-the-shelf trains available in Europe.

      1. In Western Europe many places got rid of streetcars, but others kept them and gave them separate right of way wherever possible.

        In fact, that happened in a few places in the USA too. Witness New Orleans.

      2. They don’t have streetcars because nobody with any sense builds them in the street any more. Instead, they make every effort they can to separate them from the messiness caused by auto traffic.

        Witness Amsterdam photos:

        Sure, Amsterdam has some mixed auto traffic street running where necessary
        but it is also obvious that much of Amsterdam tram lines really should be called light rail when converted to USA terms rather than streetcar.

    4. “Streetcar” comes from German Straßenbahn. The US got a lot of German immigrants while Britain didn’t, so we went with a German-based word and they adapted some Middle English/Dutch word. Did Amsterdam keep streetcars continuously?

  14. If we’re going to throw a bunch of money at a useless streetcar project anyway, why don’t we complete the loop and connect the SLU and Broadway portions at the other end? I-5 is a huge pedestrian barrier, the proposed Broadway & Roy station is already pretty close to Fred Hutch, and being able to go between Capitol Hill and SLU without slogging through downtown seems like a good thing.

    This is a bad idea, right? Someone please tell me why this is a bad idea.

    1. I’m pretty sure the Broadway-SLU segment is too steep for a streetcar, although Metro has a bus route for that corridor in their long range plan.

      1. The SLU line and the FHSC line should meet in the U-District…. A great terminus would be Brooklyn and 45th.

    2. I’ve always thought they might try and catch Volunteer park since it was missed by Link and go down via 10th or 15th and then come back via Eastlake and/or Fairview.

      1. Extend the FHSC to Volunteer Park and then terminate it (at least for the foreseeable future). Then on the other end extend the SLUSC up Eastlake and into the U-Dist.

        That effectively is what used to be. There used to be a SC line running up into the U-Dist along The Ave, and another one running up to Husky Stadium and terminating at almost the exact same spot as the new LR stadium stop.

        Oh how smart we were when we junked our streetcars and went with buses – NOT!!!!

  15. So we have a post that claims that FHSC ridership is “still a mystery,” then throws out a speculative number as a little morsel of red meat for the usual pro-bus cable to work themselves up about? Na, my advice is to wait for real data and then we can have a real discussion.

    If there is a story here it is that SDOT can’t figure out what the real ridership actually is..that speaks volumes about SDOT’s management capabilities.

    1. If there is a story here it is that SDOT can’t figure out what the real ridership actually is..that speaks volumes about SDOT’s management capabilities.

      My thought exactly, the problem isn’t with the computers but the people hired to run the system.

      I too would like to know how this compares to SLU; more apples to apples than long point to point bus routes.

      As for the tap data and people not paying I’d bet that there are a lot of people transferring from a Metro bus and if they have a paper xfer they can’t tap. Plus, I’d expect a number of people with ORCA cards that already paided aren’t bothering to tap; AND YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO!

      IIRC ridership estimates were 1800/day? Sounds like they are making that which while not great is what was expected for this “starter line” which is just the first step in building a useful system for DT transit. I think you have to accept that in this age of the automobile a SC is essentially a moving sidewalk and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  16. Are there any other bus lines that start at 10 AM on Sundays though? I just pulled your lowest performers, Zach, and even the 47 (~7 AM), 27 (~6 AM) and the 22 (~9 AM) (couldn’t find the 25 and the 30) begin their first routes earlier than the FHSC on Sundays! Is this because it’s not truly a Metro service and it’s SDOT making the bad calls on service levels? Seems like running earlier on Sunday is an easy win for passengers and passenger numbers. Would 8 AM service starts on Sunday really be unreasonable?

    And why isn’t the Streetcar–serving the biggest hot spots in Seattle–running past bar close on Friday and Saturday nights? This would also make the service stand out for passengers and residents given how anemic late night service is to and from the Hill.

    Hope one or both of those ideas might find some traction soon!

    1. Runs cost money, and the city wanted to extend the line to Pioneer Square rather than terminating at 5th, and ST said it couldn’t go below a minimum frequency to be viable transit, so they had to take the money from somewhere else. Sunday mornings and evenings nmght have been it.

    2. Could be worse – MTA doesn’t even run Baltimore’s light rail line to the airport before 10AM on Sundays.

  17. I am one of the fortunate people who live near the FHSC (5 blocks away) and therefore I am able to use it, mostly to get to Cap Hill. As a frequent rider, I’ve noticed several issues (some are minor):
    1. There are no trash cans, so trash is accumulating near all the stations as people just throw stuff into the bushes, etc.
    2. There are only benches at half the stops! Why?
    3. The woman who recorded the announcements talks with a lisp, it’s very annoying.
    4. Many people don’t pay. I know because I’ve watched them.
    5. The schedule is abysmal! They’ve stopped publishing arrival times on the electronic reader boards because they’re so often WAY OFF. The One Bus Away app is much more accurate!
    6. The cars only run until 8 pm on Sunday night. Why? And the cars that end up at Broadway at 8 pm refuse to take passengers even though they have to run back to Pioneer Square.

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