It is tough to take the Seattle Streetcar network seriously these days. The reasons are well-known to the STB community and beyond, and are both obvious and many: right-of-way design choices that permanently handicap operations; outrageous cost overruns and design delays due to bizarre procurement decisions; service corridors that make little sense in larger plans; an inability to use political capital to design the system to truly work properly. Even our venerable leading advocacy groups don’t give much love to the streetcar.
Which is all very sad, because some of the world’s finest cities have expansive and useful networks, built for competitive sums of money that are highly effective and quite nice to use. We can, and should, do better. I want to see streetcars made a much more visible part of our transit future, and I believe that it’s possible.
Anecdotally, the existing lines — First Hill and South Lake Union — seem like solutions in search of a problem. How did we get here? And where do we go?
What We Have Today
First Hill is first and foremost a compromise line, and not a very good one at that. First Hill was slated to get a Link station as part of the original 1996 Sound Move program, roughly sited on Madison Street somewhere between Boren Avenue and Broadway. That never came to be, and the staff of this formidable space has argued to find a new solution ever since. Operations are slow, ridership isn’t great, and the efficient connections it is supposed to provide — connect both Capitol Hill and the International District Link stations to the medical centers — are not really that efficient. Also, the years-long delay of start-of-service was a public relations disaster, and its effects remain by tempering local support to extend the line from its northern terminal at Denny Way through the bustling North Broadway business district to a new terminal at or about Aloha Street. At least the view is nice.
South Lake Union is little better. Though recent improvements have helped, they have also been half-hearted: 9 years later and only after the passage of a levy initiative, and still the line shares its right-of-way with bus stops and allows turning opportunities for vehicle traffic. The southern terminal at Westlake “station” is sited at such a distance from the transit tunnel entrances on Pine Street and 5th Avenue that it is difficult to consider them part of a transit “hub”. Those logistics problems skirt the central question: really, who is this line for? What was the issue it tried to solve in the first place? Bus routes C and 40 run more often and cover almost the entire walkshed. The entire line is just over a mile and a quarter, a distance most able-bodied individuals can cover on foot in 20 to 30 minutes, and unusually for Seattle, it is completely flat.
Thankfully, the biggest lessons seem to have been learned for the Center City Connector: dedicated right-of-way, coordinated signal timing (for First Hill too), smart station placement. However, enthusiasm for additional streetcar investments entirely disappeared after the multiple problems that plagued the opening of the First Hill line, by which time the Center City Connector had already been approved and design work had begun. (And, the CCC won’t fix the structural issues at either end.)
All of which is to say that there are plenty of opportunities still available. Streetcars remain cheap to build per-mile compared to light rail at any grade. They are a viable solution to last-mile problems with proper design and frequent service.They permanently convert bus corridors to rail corridors, allowing bus hours to be reinvested elsewhere. They can present parts of town without great connections with better ones.
In the dream-sequence world, the very best system designs will have:
- Exclusive right-of-way
- Intelligent traffic management at all grade crossings
- Headways of 10 minutes or better at least 16 hours a day (6a-10p), 7 days a week
- Cover an end-to-end distance that’s too far to walk in half an hour…
- …but be generally able to run the entire alignment in less than that same half-hour.
- (I have assumed around 5 miles as a maximum alignment length.)
I present several corridors for consideration, all chosen around the same principle of the last-mile and the idea that the Center City tracks are to be used to the fullest:
- The J line, of branches J1 and J2: 1st and Lenora to MLK/Cherry (J1) via 23rd Ave and to 31st/Jackson (J2), both via Center City.
- The B line: 1st and Broad to 7th and Jackson via Center City
- The CA line: California and Admiral to California and Morgan, with a potential extension to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal
- The G line: Sodo to Georgetown, 4th and Lander to 13th and Airport Way
- The F1 line: University District to Fremont via 45th, Stone Way, and North 36th Street
- The F2 line: Fremont to Ballard, North 36th to Leary/Market
- The LC line: Northgate to Lake City via NE 125th Street
And following all this, First Hill and South Lake Union are unified into the M — main — line.
Map this all out, and a coherent downtown network forms, along with isolated puzzle pieces elsewhere in town. Rails begin to reach places where even ST3 won’t go — the Central District, Fremont — and it fills in the gaps between Link stations. I personally see the J line as the best investment, though it will take some work to convince the residents of that given their recent experience with the 23rd Avenue repaving project.
This is not a slam dunk by any means: there are many concerns, nor is this silver bullet. The logistics of line terminations and turnarounds along the Center City tracks have been abstracted over for now. Isolated lines require the necessity of having to construct maintenance and storage facilities on each one, a prospect that is both expensive and possibly politically difficult. There wasn’t an obvious opportunity in Rainier Valley given geography and the proximity of the existing Link line, and there’s no answer here for crosstown service along the Metro 8 corridor. Capital construction anywhere is disruptive to residents and businesses, and some neighborhoods have grown weary. The potential for displacement is real. The custom fleet designed for First Hill works, but is not an off-the-shelf design and comes with additional cost. And last but not least, someone will have to pay for all of this while justifying its opportunity cost.
I do not expect all of this to ever come to fruition, but merely to serve as the starting point for envisioning a better future network. The thinking has to start somewhere, and now that ST3 and Move Seattle have been approved in consecutive years, there are opportunities to fill in the gaps with long-term solutions. Our city is already densifying and I believe this is a chance to enable those instincts even further.
39 Replies to “A New Streetcar Vision for 2017”
As I stated last Sunday, I’m not completely opposed to streetcars but they do need to be “special case” transportation. I’ve been thinking all week about when a streetcar is the best solution for a corridor. These are some of the factors that need to be required for a streetcar:
–the streetcar should be established along a distinct and discrete corridor
–the corridor should be long enough to beat foot traffic and have anchors at each end
–the corridor should be as straight as possible
–the corridor should be able to generate high ridership by itself and the volume should be greater than a bus route could efficiently handle at 10 minute headways
–the corridor should offer many possible transfers to other transit lines
–development along the corridor should be planned to maximize the potential of the streetcar.
Additionally,there is a balance that needs to be established between speed of operation and the maximum number of passengers that can be transported per trip. A streetcar that runs in dense neighborhoods should be designed to maximize the number of passengers transported (with a minimum of unnecessary traffic interference). If the average passenger trip is 10 minutes or less, saving an extra 30 seconds isn’t going to generate significant new ridership but making the trip as efficient and comfortable as possible will be more beneficial than the 30 saved seconds.
My hope is that someday the Capitol Hill Streetcar will be turned into 2 streetcar lines. The first would be a line straight up Jackson to the Central District and the second would be a straight line down Rainier to at least I-90 Station and maybe Mt. Baker Station.
Something that satisfies all of those points is… the madison BRT corridor. It’s high speed, straight as an arrow, can have TSP, and madison is getting upzoned to all heck. I’d be down to see an H line to streetcar conversion sometime.
I don’t actually hate streetcars – they’re smoother and last longer, and if they have ROW they’re better than buses. Take out the parking by Seattle Central, make broadway no thru traffic, and the FSHC can maybe not suck
I would turn the J2 line south on MLK and through the Hendrix Park (I-90 lid) to end across from Judkins Park Link station.
It had occurred to me to do that to consider both 23rd and MLK for that purpose, but both are somewhat challenging geographically and entirely residential between Jackson Street and I-90. I found it difficult to justify that connection solely on the basis of “there’s a Link station at the end”. Of greater interest to me would be a connection from Judkins Park to Mount Baker via 23rd and Rainier: it becomes a cutoff for passengers transiting east link to/from central link without having to travel multiple stations further to International District. And, that segment of 23rd is an established commercial center, so there’s plenty of opportunities for use.
23rd would work well. However, I understand (from talking with an active CD resident) that Seattle is ready to go with a reconfiguration of 23rd between Jackson and Rainier fairly soon, so it would be hard to come along in the next few years to rip up the street and landscaping again for a streetcar. That’s why I went with MLK.
Related to this, I don’t see any benefit to leaving the Broadway segment connected to the Jackson segment in the ID. If the Broadway segment was either connected to Judkins Park on 23rd or Rainier, or if the Broadway segment was somehow reconfigured into a two-way Central District loop (Broadway, Yesler, 23rd or 14th, Union, 19th, John as an example), the streetcar line would be a much more effective neighborhood circulator. That would free the ID Jackson Street segment to serve points further east.
Yep. The nice thing about straightening the line to run Broadway>Rainier down to Mt. Baker is that it actually works better as a last-mile connection to First Hill (which is why it was created in the first place). You could connect at MBS, JPS, or CHS and get to First Hill without having to go downtown first.
The only worthwhile kind of streetcar is like German trams: undergroujnd in the city center, in their own lanes in the periphery, with good signal priority. In American terminology they’re called light rail because they’re like Link’s MLK segment, just with fewer/smaller cars. I don’t believe these are suitable for Seattle at this point, because Link has displaced a downtown tunnel and will bring needed capacity and grade separation outside downtown. I don’t trust the city to give streetcars the right of way European streetcars would have, and your non-downtown likes are too isolated and short. The most favorable corridor for a streetcar is the one you didn’t include: Jackson-Rainier to Mt Baker Station, because part of it is already built, and it would enable people in Rainier Valley to actually use the streetcar rather than taking a bus for one mile and theoretically transferring to it.
“outrageous cost overruns and design delays due to bizarre procurement decisions”
The delay was because the trains were defective and the fire-suppression system had to be redesigned. What cost overruns and bizarre procurement decisions? The agencies were limited by the “Buy America” provision: only two or three companies make streetcars in the US so there weren’t many choices, and Skoda didn’t want to license its latest design to another company or demanded too much for it. The biggest flaws in the FHS and SLUS are the alignment and speed and why a streetcar in the first place, but those issues aren’t related to procurement.
“Bus routes C and 40 run more often and cover almost the entire walkshed.”
And when the line was created the 17 and 70 served the same role, and the 70 still does.
This gets into the problem with short lines. The SLU streetcar is only useful for downtown to Lake Union; it’s not useful for downtown to Eastlake or the U-District or Fremont so parallel buses still have to run. Likewise with the First Hill streetcar: it can’t replace the 7 or 14 or 9 so these buses are still running: it’s unreasonable to force a transfer at 12th & Jackson when your destination is just a mile beyond it.
That is the problem with several of your lines, specifically CA (California Ave), F1 (UDist-Fremont), F2 (Fremont-Ballard), and LC (Northgate – Lake City). But the thing with the short lines is that while they serve Admiral District to Morgan Junction, U-District to Fremont and Fremont to Ballard, and Northgate to Lake City, they don’t serve the same number of trips that extend beyond the ends. SDOT is already planning a Ballard-Children’s RapidRide on 45th (which may be truncated at U-District for cost but can be finished later) which covers a lot more trips. U-District to Fremont is better served by the 40th Street corridor which the 31/32 are on. And I think the 31/32 should continue west to Ballard rather than turning south to complicate the grid. Also your Stone Way is maybe too steep for a streetcar; while the early 20th century streetcars handled that incline I’ve heard that modern streetcars have less tolerance for hills. Northgate to Lake City is fine for those two endpoints and for Pinehurst in between, but it fails for people going from Lake City to Greenwood or Ballard which also seems to be a large market, and forces either buses to run in parallel or passengers to transfer in the middle. Finally, I think that isolated lines with their own maintenance base is more of a major problem than you’re giving it credit for. That both duplicates base facilities and prevents trains from being shared between lines unless they’re trucked from one line to another. The same problem would beset a Northgate – Lake City trolleybus: you’d have to string wire to the existing network or build a separate base for it.
I like J1 and J2 (Jackson St). B (1st Ave) would leverage the CCC investment. G (Georgetown) I’m unsure of but that area seems too undense for a streetcar. And I like your out-of-the-box thinking, questioning SDOT’s assumptions. It’s always worthwhile considering alternatives, and seeing if the agencies have forgotten anything important.
Depends on where. As an example, the Flexity Berlin GT8-08×7 type is 131 feet long.
I think a fairly credible argument could be made that it would be better to spend money on incline-based, cable-drawn services than on streetcars. Streetcars would be essentially replacing buses, either diesel or electric. In contrast, something like gondolas or funiculars or diagonal elevators would have floors in the vehicles be level, which is much better for standing, using wheelchairs and strollers, and bicycles (if allowed). Finally, they would have much lower labor costs as they would require fewer employees.
If we’re going to be strategic on how we invest in alternative, high-capital-cost transit technologies, wouldn’t it be wiser to choose some technologies that offer some rider benefits and cost savings that electric trolley buses don’t?
In all honesty I’d rather see a plan to push electric buses than this one.
Agreed, I too would rather see all that extra cost spent on expanding the electric bus routes, especially now that we have electrics that can go off the wires for some useful distance.
That goes along with the gondola from Uptown to SLU and Capitol Hill. Unfortunately the city is not willing to consider technologies like that at this time.
Joe here. I’m not a big fan of streetcars, but if you’re so gung-ho to expand the streetcar network… OK, under your premise of expand the streetcar network, here goes:
a) Why not have a Streetcar line from SoDo Station stopping at the end of the SoDo Bus Way – also very close to the SoDo Kremlin of the Washington Policy Center, then Georgetown, then the northern end of Boeing Field, then at the Museum of Flight then connecting with the infill ST3 station on the light rail spine? Definite ridership spike.
b) West Seattle needs a streetcar from the Water Taxi dock to the hopefully (1) future light rail for West Seattle. Seems to make sense.
c) I use the Lake Union Streetcar to get to two businesses in particular (2) to/from Link but I get disoriented in Westlake Station trying to make the transfer. When the Central City Connector is done, why not have the streetcar stop closer to the Westlake Link Station so folks can just walk up and make that mode transfer?
d) I don’t mind a streetcar with a line longer than a half-hour. But I want a damn good reliable link to faster Sound Transit Link to where I want to go in Seattle out of your network. Right now, there’s some great destinations in the streetcar strings helping Link riders like me out – Dick’s Drive-In on Capitol Hill, IHOP on Capitol Hill, AIRBNBs, South Lake Union Park, Glazier’s Camera Rental and Whole Foods Grocery.
(1) Thanks Tim Eyman.for I-947
(2) Glazier’s Camera Rental and Whole Foods Grocery
In Jarrett Walker’s excellent essay about streetcars (http://humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html), he lists the two advantages of streetcars:
2) Existing rail right of way.
We obviously don’t have the second, and as it turns out, we don’t have the first, either. Our streetcar cars don’t carry more than our biggest buses. Without that advantage, spending money on bus service is simply a better value, regardless of the route.
Maybe what we should do is build a system with larger streetcars. That means larger platforms, which is expensive. You would need substantial grade separation as well as signal priority to generate demand, and justify the extra expense, You would also need need to extend it beyond the relatively short, flat areas or demand would suffer. So that basically means building a streetcar system that runs on the surface for long stretches, but also goes through tunnels or on elevated railways. We could call a system like that something catchy, like, I don’t know, Link.
The case against buses would be where there is a distinct and often congested corridor served by several bus lines that causes schedule disruptions for riders outside of the corridor. Too many buses in too short of a corridor can often lead to bunching and gaps. The best example of that would be route 36. At peak periods the 36 is scheduled every 5 minutes but because of congestion in downtown and along Jackson Street the buses tend to bunch up and by the time the buses reach BHS the service pattern tends to be 3 buses every 15 minutes instead of 1 bus every 5 minutes.
Metro used to have a coordinated schedule for service along 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle. The 15 and 18 came from Ballard and went south as 3 different routes (21, 22, 56?). On paper, the schedule was very clever and perfectly coordinated but unfortunately buses run on asphalt and 1st Avenue service was always gaps and bunches because of delays outside of the 1st Avenue corridor.
An example in Seattle where a streetcar might be beneficial would be the Lake Union to Fremont corridor. Congestion around Mercer Street that delays routes 40 and 62 can disrupt bus service in Fremont, Ballard, Northgate, Wallingford, Green Lake, Ravenna and other neighborhoods. Would it be better to build a streetcar with some protected right-of-way/signal priority across Mercer Street via Dexter to Fremont? How much better would north Seattle’s overall transit service be if Dexter became a designated streetcar corridor with service every 7.5-10 minutes and many north Seattle riders would then connect to their bus in Fremont? There would need to be some serious funding and planning commitments made to justify a Dexter streetcar, but in the year 2040 it might be one of the most important transportation corridors in Seattle.
You are making an argument for adding transit right of way, not an argument for a streetcar. Again, just about anything a streetcar can do, a bus can do as well. The two exceptions are carry as many people (which is true of some streetcars, though not ours) or run on existing rail lines.
Meanwhile, a bus can take advantage of the right of way just as well, if not better than the streetcar. Imagine they give the transit vehicle right of way, but allow right turns. Now someone cuts in front of the streetcar, and waits for a gap while pedestrians cross the street. A bus can simply ease out into the left lane, while a streetcar has to wait for the car to turn. It is also much easier to carve out right of way for buses, because concerns over bike paths are minimal. They can run side to side, and intersect at acute angles if it is a bus. Such a situation is literally fatal when it involves a streetcar line.
Now, it is possible that buses, running unobstructed, from Mercer to Fremont every five minutes still might not carry enough people. If that is the case, then rail makes sense. But the rail would have to be much bigger than our streetcars, and closer to Link, which even on the surface is a very expensive proposition. My guess is simply spending more money on right of way (for the buses) would be a better value.
In a fairly short corridor with high ridership a streetcar would have several advantages over buses. One of most important might be terminal and turnback locations. If the downtown to Fremont corridor is served by buses at 5 minute headways at peak hours the schedule would need 16 buses to cover the schedule (using the current 62 timetable and running the buses from 34th & Fremont to Pioneer Square). At 5 minute headways, even a short delay for a wheelchair or a cash fumbler will cause bunching and overcrowded buses. We expect very high ridership on the corridor, so when one bus falls behind it becomes nearly impossible to recover the schedule because late buses usually just get later and more crowded. Also, terminal and turnback space in Fremont and downtown is very limited, so schedules have to be very tight with minimal time spent at the terminals. With a streetcar the terminals are usually built in a central location and the turnback process just involves having the driver walk from one end of the vehicle to the other after a short rest.
I don’t ever envision a vast streetcar system being built in Seattle. But in the future there may be a few well defined corridors with high enough ridership to warrant consideration for streetcar service.
I think you make great points about throughput, but I think Ross makes a good counterpoint below – “At that point, you are essentially just building more Link lines.”
The RR+ corridors are an exercise in improving bus throughput along key corridors, using a broad toolkit that includes exclusive ROW, off-board payment, signal priority ,etc. If you want to go above & beyond those improvements and start laying track, at that point you might as well just build a proper Link line.
In other words, the difference between Tacoma Link or Central Connector Streetcar and a well designed RR+ line is pretty minimal. The difference between either of those and big-boy Link is enormous. If a corridor is important enough that it merits Link, then let’s build Link, not a streetcar that costs lots extra for a small improvement over RR+
You’re right that at some point it might be better to build light rail instead of a streetcar. Currently the Pioneer Square to Fremont trip is scheduled at over 30 minutes at peak hours–that’s really, really slow. If Fremont can be integrated into a light rail line and turned into a 5 minute trip, that would be fantastic, but if there isn’t any light rail plan that would efficiently serve Fremont, then it’s time to look at what’s best for the corridor. And that might be a streetcar.
Perhaps, but how is a streetcar better than the RR+ as currently proposed to replace the 40? The 40 will get oodles of improvements, include bus only lanes on Leary and Westlake (if I remember correctly). How will a streetcar improve on that?
There are some improvements – a smoother ride, better branding, and a slightly larger car. But is that worth the capital expense? I’d rather just boost the frequency on the 40 during peak to sub-5 minutes, because as you point out, many Fremont trips will include a transfer to Link.
European trams have no heavier axle loading than do buses. They don’t require the very heavy infrastructure that modern large LRV’s do.
Transit lanes for buses are not exclusive! You can’t cobble them or leave the ties exposed to prevent other vehicles from intruding. They will intrude. But a rail line is much more self-protective. Even if it has trams rather than full LRV’s running on it.
I’m not advocating for streetcars all over the place. Seattle doesn’t have the boulevards with median space that they need.
The 15 used to serve both 15th ave NW and Alki (via Admiral Way). The 18 served 24th Ave NW and Fauntleroy (via the West Seattle Junction). Then the routes were split and the 54 took on Fauntleroy and the 56 took on Alki. Meanwhile the 55 went to the Junction and then north on California Ave to Admiral Way and terminated. The 21 went to downtown and the 22 may have too, but if they were through-routed it was with other routes. The 15/56 was the unluckiest route because it went down 1st Ave S while the 18/54, 55, and 125 went on the viaduct. I don’t remember if the 21 and 22 were lucky or unlucky. When
When RapidRide C came, it replaced the 54. The tails of the 55 and 56 were assigned to the 50. The 21 became frequent. I think the 22 was reduced to a shuttle and daytime-only and truncated from Arbor Heights, but I’d never used that route before so I’m not certain what it previously did.
In the spring 2010 timetable, when the 15/18 were still on 1st Avenue, the 15 and 18 ran on 20 minute headways to downtown and thru-routed as the 21, 22 and 56 (all on 30 minute headways). Timekeeping and reliability was awful. On my trips to Ballard it was much better to just take the 17 on 4th Avenue and walk 15 minutes to my destination.
Even capacity isn’t a reason to justify Seattle streetcars because the streetcars, themselves, are no larger than a bus. They’re definitely slower (I have observed the C-line to be consistently faster than the SLU streetcar between Westlake/Denny and Lake Union Park).
In fact, the only rational reason to prefer a streetcar over a bus is that a streetcar is easier to get on or off with a wheelchair or stroller. That’s basically it. Certainly not worth the hundred of millions of dollars, not to mention all the cyclists that ended up in hospital tripping over the streetcar tracks.
It seems you’ve approached the problem as, “I’m going to put in streetcars, now where should I put them?” A better way to think through the problem is, “I have a good transit corridor, should I serve it with buses or streetcars?” You gloss over an important topic in your piece – why is a streetcar a preferred outcome? I don’t think simply pointing to other cities is a compelling argument.
For all of these corridors outside of downtown, I fail to see why a streetcar is better than a RR+ line, and for most I think a streetcar is actually inferior to a moderately well designed bus line.
For example, take your “B-line,” which is really the post-ST3 RR-C. SDOT is proposing the C-line will continue north on California into Admiral as you propose, but then the bus will also turn and serve Alki, something I don’t think a streetcar could do, at least not without incredibly disruptive construction. In contract, extending the C-line to Admiral and Alki really just requires rebuilding a handful of bus stops up to RR quality.
(Should have started with this) – but still a good article! And a great map, I always prefer these Page 2 posts that have good maps.
Thanks for taking the time to put together the article.
Exactly. Everything our streetcars can do, our buses can do better, since our buses can carry just as many people, but don’t have any of the negative trade-offs of rail. None of the corridors have rail on them now, so building a BRT line would be much cheaper than adding rail.
We could build much bigger streetcars, but that is very expensive. It is hard to see that being worth it, unless you give the line grade separation and continue it beyond areas that are limited topographically. In other words, build tunnels or bridges to extend the surface rail. At that point, you are essentially just building more Link lines.
Why are “bigger streetcars” “very expensive”? The five segment trams that run in Paris on the Peripherique are off the shelf models with three center sections. They’re just trams, complete with full wheel skirts and low floors throughout. They don’t have axles, and yes, their top speed is about 35 mph which is slower than the theoretical speed of an ETB, but not slower than its actual speed.
These are no wider than the Inekon’s, so they can use the existing stations. Obviously they have to be extended but you end up with double the capacity of a 60′ artic because people don’t mind standing.
And of course it makes no sense to adopt them without reservation. It’s much harder to get REAL reservation for buses than it is for trams.
I am NOT advocating anything like Skylar’s system. Jackson out to 23rd and First up to Republican are the only extensions that make sense in the near term. If enough street capacity can be cobbled together on Rainier the north end RapidRide could be a streetcar ending at MBS. Personally I’d rather see the Metro 8 go that way in the air.
Streetcars used to go to Alki Point. I believe that a single track line actually skirted the north shore as well.
Streetcars aren’t good verywhere, but IIRC Alex Francis Bouchard said that streetcars are significantly more efficient in terms of O&M, as in buses need to be severely once every couple years, while streetcars don’t. In their own ROW/when shared with buses, along straight routes with TSP, streetcars can be pretty good and can hit some decent speeds (Madison BRT is a perfect place where streetcar > bus in my view). You can also run multiple streetcars down a line with a single operator. In my view, we ought to have built a madison streetcar rather than BRT
Streetcars aren’t good everywhere, but if I recall correctly, Alex Francis Bouchard said that streetcars are significantly more efficient in terms of O&M, as in buses need to be severely once every couple years, while streetcars don’t. In their own ROW/when shared with buses, along straight routes with TSP, streetcars can be pretty good and can hit some decent speeds (Madison BRT is a perfect place where streetcar > bus in my view). You can also run multiple streetcars down a line with a single operator. In my view, we ought to have built a madison streetcar rather than BRT
RossB is correct again. Do we have a corridor that needs the one key characteristic of a streetcar that yields a capacity benefit – more than one car can be coupled together and run by a single operator? No. In all cases, the electric trolley bus is superior. If additional capacity is needed, Europe has double articulated ETB. The degree of exclusivity is decided by the jurisdiction; it can be provided to bus or streetcar. The much higher capital cost of streetcar has the opportunity cost that the needed funds could be used for service frequency. Seattle is hilly and already has an ETB operating base. the two existing lines and the CCC all have or will have one car stations. They are local and pretty dumb.
I think Center City can potentially change some minds (including upper Broadway interests?) about streetcars, as it’s more likely to be done right. Well, provided they run frequent enough. And by frequent enough I really mean every 5 minutes or better, because they’re designed to cover relatively shorter distances more reliably, comfortably, and more straightforward for riders compared to busses, so they can afford to be slower than busses as long as you don’t have to stand in the weather waiting too long and as long as rail-to-rail transfers are easy (OK, so this is not currently the case for SLU.). You can’t just run them like you would run a bus and expect to do better than a bus. Those busy bus routes getting more riders are also much longer routes, remember. Different kind of service. It’s gotta be more like a downtown area people mover extension of Link than a frequent bus line.
Remember, lots of things they didn’t get right with Seattle’s first light rail and “BRT” service too. And just like with bike lanes, being a network rather than a patchwork of routes matters too.
And the signal priority on Broadway should really be done *now* not waiting for CCC. Low hanging fruit!
P.S. they should have cheaper fares than busses or even free fare, because they’re designed for shorter distances. Riders just going down the road a few blocks shouldn’t pay the same as those going across town. Especially for those traveling in groups within the downtown area, it’s more cost effective to get an Uber than all jump on a bus or Link. Of course those transferring from busses and Link have already paid for the longer trip. You and I might be willing to just walk the whole way, but I do get the feeling we’re in the minority, especially when it’s raining and cold out.
There is a need to stop separating light rail from streetcar.
Atlanta’s “streetcar” is using Siemens S70 stock, which is what Link will be getting soon.
The “streetcars” in use in Toronto are CLRV (Canadian Light Rail Vehicle).
There is nothing physically different about SLU line that wouldn’t make it be called light rail if it weren’t put in dedicated lanes and operated faster.
Once this distinction is eliminated maybe it helps focus the energies a bit different.
Where does it make sense to put Link? Wherever the buses aren’t able to meet the current needs (speed, reliability, capacity).
Where does it make sense to put a streetcar? Same place as Link: where bus routes aren’t working for some reason that can be solved by changing to steel rails.
Just as with Link, the streetcars need to be designed so that they eliminate whatever isssues are unsatisfactory with the bus routes they replace.
The only reason not to do so is if a line is an extension. Say, if the above suggested Mt Baker to First Hill line were connected to Link to allow for a First Hill – MLK – Renton through service with part of the line as streetcar as necessary, then it makes sense to have the northern part in the street since it uses part of a line that isn’t in the street.
(And yes, I know this will never happen due to the requirement for infrequent service on MLK due to road throughput desires)
I don’t think streetcars should be used to *replace* bus lines at all. Link and BRT are going to be much more effective at this, especially over distances of more than a mile or so. Streetcars are not effective as bus replacements. The bus will be faster!
Instead, think of streetcars as a completely different and complementary type of service. Basically, a downtown people mover or circulator, like how larger airports have people mover systems. When you’re just going down the road for something quick, or the last mile from the train stops when the weather’s bad so you’d otherwise call an Uber (and likely pay a surge fare). Some cities do run downtown circulator busses for this, but they’re notoriously prone to getting stuck in traffic. Sure, you could just walk instead, but the investment is still worth it. But NOT as a bus line replacement!
Google search “Miami Metromover” to see what is a very popular (though poorly designed) service in my hometown, which is a very transit adverse city in general. It’s the kind of thing many people, tourists and locals, ride just to ride and see the downtown area neighborhoods. And IMHO, it’s one form of transit missing in Seattle.
These types of circulators work well when separated from traffic like the Metromover is.
Putting it on the ground and letting it get stuck in traffic would result in a quite different popularity.
Putting it on the ground and giving it separate right of way gets you light rail.
Let’s be real here, LINK is more like our own mini-BART than it is MUNI. I’m concerned about capacity in the future to be honest. We’re building a BART with only MUNI capacities, and no possible way of increasing them, unless we can somehow extend our stations, which sounds impossible.
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