South Lake Union Streetcar (Image: Peter Lewis)

The Seattle City Council is considering the city’s 2018 budget this week, and may consider an amendment to remove funding for the Center City Connector streetcar. A key procedural deadline is on Thursday. At a Select Budget Committee meeting Monday, several members voiced skepticism about the project.

The CCC connects the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars with a frequent connection in exclusive right of way through central Seattle. It is anticipated to carry over 8,000,000 annual riders when it opens in 2020. The capital cost is $177 million, inclusive of utility work. Of this, $75 million is covered by an FTA Small Starts grant, $25 million of which is to be appropriated in the FY 2018 budget. (Another $8 million is federally funded via the PSRC). The Council authorized SDOT to accept the grants in July. The CCC is in final design with the first utility work scheduled this month.

Proposals to amend the budget must be introduced by Thursday at 2pm, and the support of three members is required. An amendment could prevent Seattle issuing bonds to cover its portion of the project costs. In Monday’s session, Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, and Kirsten Harris-Talley all appeared to likely to support amending the budget. The budget will be finalized over the course of several meetings in November with a final vote on November 20.

Criticism of the project focused on the risk of federal funding falling short, doubts about ridership projections, and SDOT contingency planning for funding risks. Council members also questioned the race and social justice implications of a downtown transit project over buses serving disadvantaged neighborhoods. But the discussion was also a replay of the decision to build the streetcar. For instance, Lisa Herbold:

“The streetcar, from my perspective, has limited utility as a transportation infrastructure tool for people to get to and from their workplace. It may have value as an economic development tool. [] One of the performance measures [] is increasing access to transit service and we really need to be evaluating our investments in how we are helping people get to and from their daily obligations.“

CM Harris-Talley asked whether the city should redirect spending to buses. Should spending be on “routes that only serve key parts of the city, instead of investing more into our buses which allow us flexibility. [] In a city that is growing quite quickly, we don’t know where all the centers are going to be.”

CM Rob Johnson warned of the consequences of stepping back from a project with generous federal support. The federal grants would be repayable, and there would be downstream impacts to the city’s ability to capture federal resources for other projects.

CM Sawant cautioned not to support the project on the basis of the federal assistance, pointing approvingly to a 1971 ballot where Seattle voters rejected a federally funded urban renewal project that would have replaced Pike Place Market.

CM Johnson also pointed to the central role of the streetcar in the 2020s regional network.

“When light rail opens to Northgate and then beyond … that’s going to have a major rippling effect on our regional bus networks. Many of those bus networks that currently serve portions of downtown may only serve the northern portion or the southern portion. That connectivity piece as those bus services are rerouted and redistributed all throughout the region is going to leave us with a gap in services, particularly for those bus routes that are running to and through downtown. Finding a place for folks to be able to easily understand how to get from one part of downtown to another is justifiably part of the ridership model.”

Another concern raised by Herbold is whether Sound Transit will continue its annual $5 million contribution to streetcar operating costs. Originally tied to the First Hill Streetcar, that contribution is guaranteed through 2023, but no agreement exists thereafter. SDOT anticipates renewal of the funding agreement, but critics point to the absence of dedicated funding in the ST3 measure. In Herbold’s view, SDOT has not sufficiently planned for the risk Seattle might need to fill this gap. But the funding issue would arise anyway because Sound Transit would need to decide whether to support the stand-alone First Hill line.

The usefulness of streetcar projects vary widely. Some cities, motivated by hopes of economic development, have created poorly functioning streetcars. The worst operate on short poorly-designed routes in mixed traffic at low frequencies. Nick Licata draws parallels with these projects to disparage the CCC as “only a downtown circulator”.

There is little resemblance to the CCC. With a much-needed exclusive right-of-way for transit through the densest parts of the city, it offers five-minute headways through the downtown core and the International District and deep into South Lake Union. Seattle’s increasingly extended core is large enough that intra-downtown mobility is critical even for riders arriving from elsewhere in the city. Modeled ridership projections appropriately reflect existing activity on the corridor. A moderate 3% annual growth rate indicates the estimates do not rely on speculation about future development.

Herbold’s concerns – that the streetcar might be more an economic development tool than a transit project – seem misplaced, and based on inapt extrapolations from other cities. Added ridership is mostly within downtown, or between downtown and South Lake Union. The CCC will easily outperform its predecessors because it serves such a critical set of destinations. As a direct consequence, it will yield much higher fare recovery than the existing lines.

103 Replies to “Seattle budget threatens the Center City Connector”

  1. One big reason the streetcars have failed is insufficient frequency. That is a result of the fleet being too small.

    We spend $100M+ on building a line, and then cheap out on fleet.

    The council should be adding to the budget to get enough streetcars to run 5-minute headway for the entire length of the SLU-1st Ave-FHSC line, not suddenly shutting down the project after nearly half the money for it has been procured from the federal government.

    1. They could have made this a shared transit way and routed a number of buses on it to add transit capacity downtown, more frequency and make it more politically palatable.

      1. Sharing a streetcar lane means running them along the side of the street, having left-side doors on the buses, or installing contraflow lanes. The first is ruinous to streetcar reliability. The second creates a specialized/non-fungible bus fleet. The third is a traffic engineering challenge, but one that ought to be surmountable. The fact it wasn’t done for SLU and FHSC would then necessitate a track crossover on each end of 1st Ave.

      2. Buses with doors on both sides are coming anyway for Madison RapidRide and potentially other corridors like 45th. It will become a normal part of the fleet.

      3. Not if you design it with island platforms for right side boarding. They didn’t here so it can never be shared with standard fleet buses, that was a mistake and something I kept saying during design about the importance if designing platforms like this for this project.

      4. What element of the center-running platforms makes them unable to have the streetcars reverse direction? … other than if they don’t build a switch on each end of 1st Ave?

      5. 1st is essentially 6 lanes: 2 parking, 4 traffic.

        You could do right side platforms reasonably well for both streetcar and bus if the dedicated transitway was on one side of the street or other. You’d wind up taking a parking lane for the platforms.

        Essentially, what they did with MAX on NE Holladay Street, only with fewer traffic lanes taken and narrower platforms.,-122.658032,3a,75y,303.19h,84.39t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sfGCBjvv6xSOyL9Etm-eLNQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

      6. Right side platforms are completely unnecessary because, as Mike points out, buses with doors on both sides are coming to the fleet soon.

      7. There’s no need for “cross-overs” to have contra-flow on First Avenue. You’d need crossings at each each end. At both ends it would involve curves, but that’s just fancy trackwork. Grant that when cars cross paths there must be an interlocking and there are always occasional delays. Given the lack of reservation on the other parts of the system, that might be quite a bit of a problem. It won’t be possible to schedule the cars through the crossings at different times reliably.

        However, the biggest potential problem I see with contra-flow is that the Madison BRT couldn’t easily use the station between Madison and Spring. To allow it to turn into and out of the contra-flow lane the platform might have to be quite a bit shortened at each end.

      8. One issue with using busses instead is that Seattle has not yet shown effective use of fully implemented BRT. Rapid Ride is still pretty slow, and “too frequent for a schedule” didn’t quite happen. Madison RR may be an improvement, but still won’t be full BRT. In fact, the only thing really being called BRT now is the I-405 expressway busses! Sure, some of rapid ride could have been upgraded to BRT using the streetcar money, but as shown by the watering down of Madison BRT, is there really political will to take the necessary space from the cars on that scale?

      9. Glenn,

        Yes, a design like that of Holladay Street would be a good idea. It would have to be on the west side of the street, though for Madison BRT to use the trackway. It would be pretty hard to turn into and out of the rightmost lane though I suppose good drivers could do it with artics.

      10. B, that gets into the definition of BRT. Given the diversity of opinions, the most useful is a scale of levels such as the Gold/Silver/Bronze used by the BRT Standard. I opined my personal thresholds on Sunday. I haven’t yet looked at how RapidRide, Swift, and ST’s plans correspond with the BRT scale but you’re welcome to do so. Which factors or threshold do you care most about?

        As for what’s coming, Madison is supposed to be 10 minute travel time from 1st Avenue to 28th Avenue. That’s a quantum leap above the 12, 2, 3, or 4 so it will make First Hill much more accessible, and arguably be good enough to be called BRT. Roosevelt looks less transformative, and we haven’t heard anything about the 44 or 48/7 yet except a vague thought of center lanes for a half mile or so near 15th Ave NE if I remember.

        Roosevelt is exactly that problem of bikes getting priority over buses that the editorial mentions. Originally SDOT envisioned a parallel cycletrack on Fairview Ave E (north of Galer), but later studies showed the Eastlake-Fairview corridor to be much worse than anticipated, and the Move Seattle budget is limited, so they moved the cycletrack to Eastlake, and that dashes the possibility of transit lanes because the total right of way is narrow and has many mode demands. North of the Ship Canal they dropped transit lanes because they said they were unnecessary with the traffic volumes, and again to save money. They dropped a Northgate extension again to save money, but did extend it to 65th which is the latest terminus. Some transit fans like myself would like to see much more aggressive use of transit lanes and/or BAT lanes along all of our RapidRide lines to make local transit truly the most useful, and more attractive for drivers to switch to. But it’s getting lost in competing bike/ped/parking/driving concerns. And Move Seattle is being redefined. Didn’t we vote for high-quality RapidRide lines of Madison-level quality? But now bike lanes are moving up in priority and displacing those transit lanes.

      11. Madison RR may be an improvement, but still won’t be full BRT.

        Will this be “full streetcar”? By that I mean, what percentage of this new, improved, longer and better line will be grade separated? More importantly, which will have better reliability? I am no fortune teller, but the answer is obvious: Madison BRT will be better than our streetcar.

        All it takes is one idiot sticking out a couple inches into the streetcar’s path to completely disable the grade separated section. A bus, on the other hand, will simply move into the other lane.

        Not that it will matter — most of this streetcar line won’t be grade separated. With Madison BRT, SDOT has made a conscious decision and believes that the less urban outskirts (to the east) aren’t a problem, and don’t need their own lane. But SDOT has also said that when it comes to running this streetcar in South Lake Union and First Hill, nothing much can be done.

        Holy cow, First Hill! Do you folks realize that for several blocks east of Broadway, the Madison BRT will be running in its own lane, let alone the entirety west of there? Not a BAT lane, but a transit only lane. You could stand on the corner of Madison and Broadway and watch the BRT bus sail by, then turn your head and see the streetcar stuck in traffic. What if you are trying to enjoy the grand “CCC” experience, and ride a few blocks up First Avenue, only to find that your streetcar is ten minutes late, because it was stuck on First Hill?

        Oh, and what if the SDOT folks are wrong, and the east side of Madison is congested. Or what if Madison Valley adds a lot of density, and they want to extend this line to the water? Easy, schmeezy. A little paint, a little wire perhaps, and you are all good to go. But with the streetcar, you hem and haw over whether the extreme cost of moving rail is really worth it.

      12. Couldn’t agree more, Mike. Pedestrians and transit need absolute priority over anything else. Almost everyone is a pedestrian at some point, and almost anyone can take transit.

      13. Ross, Glenn’s idea of having the trackway along the curb solves the idiot problem very elegantly. You have parking in the lane next to the trackway in blocks which don’t have a station platform, and put a row of bollards to separate the parking from the trackway. No, it doesn’t solve the problem of someone getting T-boned by a streetcar by crossing in front of it, but that happens with buses as well.

        The more I think about it, the better I like it. It ALMOST makes the west side of First Avenue — the side against which all the new residential development will b built — a transit mall. Cars are limited to two directly adjacent lanes to the East.

  2. The council loses credibility and standing on all transit projects going forward if they do this, and they will be blamed for any and all transit problems in the downtown core.

    1. I don’t think blame will historically lie with this council for downtown gridlock, unless they ignore the opportunity to paint 3rd Ave red.

      We should be enabling more buses to fit on 3rd Ave, where most of the transfers occur, not shunting them way over to 1st Ave.

    2. The shortfall is in the federal funding, possibly. I’m not sure if they mean that costs might be higher than expected, or that Congress will cancel Small Starts and withdraw the grant.

  3. What’s with this clueless argument that any spending downtown benefits wealthy residents? Barely anyone lives downtown (many are the poorest too), downtown is just the hub of the region, one of the largest employment centers for all incomes and a crossroads for everyone.

  4. Wow a budget shortfall in good times with the strongest economy in the US. What happens in bad times? These council members are utterly incompetent.

    1. Did you read the story? There’s nothing in the story that indicates the existence of, or concerns about, a budget shortfall. They’re merely questioning whether this is the best use of the existing resources.

      It’s hard because I’m a huge streetcar skeptic and clearly the existing two lines never should have been buit. But….a) we’re doing this one right, b) it’s got good fed $$ so it’s relatively cheap, and c) it makes the other two lines a considerably less useless, and d) maybe it’ll take some intra-Seattle trips away from 3rd ave buses, which might improve the efficiency of the buses for people trying to get into or out of Seattle. Moving forward is the right thing to do, even if it seems like doubling down on a mistake.

      1. When reading the article, I think it’s a ruse. I don’t feel that concerns of usefulness, etc, have anything to do with the city council’s proposed amendment.

        I understand you are a streetcar skeptic. Have you travelled anywhere in the world (say Europe)and thought that streetcars weren’t the most efficient, practical, best mode of transportation? Or are you a skeptic because of the way the US tries to use them?

      2. Let me clarify–I’m a 21st century American streetcar revival skeptic. I understand perfectly well they can be–and are–useful transportation infrastructure. The current political climate in US cities isn’t turning to them to be useful transit, for the most part, and the political climate under which they could be made useful doesn’t currently exist, and with the arguable exception of one line in Portland, they have achieved predictably disappointing ridership numbers and transit times.

        I’m particularly hostile to the goal (this doesn’t apply to the CCC, obviously, but very much does to the Tacoma link extension) of using scarce transportation resources for gentrification and development purposes, rather than building something designed to efficiently and usefully move current and future residents around the city.

      3. How does a streetcar cause gentrification? Isn’t that just a function of failure to build TOD, including a lot of affordable housing, around the stations?

      4. djw, I though that was what the tunnel was supposed to do. :)

        But the irony is painful. The council was in a rush to make sure good money would be thrown after bad money to finish the mostly-useless automobile-only tunnel.

        Now, the council is considering ditching a much smaller project because someone likes being seen punching downtown in the face, figuratively.

        That tunnel wasn’t needed for automobiles to have a way around downtown, and was never the choice of the engineers. The Center City Connector is needed for the other two streetcar segments to function meaningfully. I wish the council would pick on the car projects, for once!

        But we should have seen this coming. Licata was part of a group that wasted time opposing Sound Transit instead of making the monorail work. He also worked on the monorail, to his credit, but playing the two off against each other helped kill the monorail. Licata did not stand up against the tunnel, despite his reputation for opposing boondoggles.

        Stand up to climate-messing-up freeways, not clean transit projects, please!

        For example, the City is going to spend at least 8 figures on a Lander St overpass. It will help a few buses for awhile until West Seattle Link opens. After that, it is just more car capacity. I wonder why Herbold won’t raise studies against that. Hmmm.

      5. “The Center City Connector is needed for the other two streetcar segments to function meaningfully.”

        That’s partly true, in the sense that
        SLU + CCC + FH > 2 * (SLU + FH)
        in terms of usefulness and ridership. But transit decisions need to be made on the basis of what’s best for the entire network and the widest cross-section of Seattle trips, not just on making the most of two legacy streetcar lines and serving one narrow market (1st Avenue). What the city most needs is a robust Link network, a robust RapidRide network, a transit mall on Third Avenue, and strategic coverage routes. First Avenue is one of those strategic coverage routes, not the center of a trip-transfer network. If downtown continued further west a half mile, then First Avenue might have more of a case to be a transit trunk. This square-shaped streetcar corridor will mostly serve to get from SLU to First Avenue, and Broadway to Jackson and First Avenue (if Madison RapidRide doesn’t eat its lunch). Those are minor corridors, not the major corridors like SLU to 3rd, Broadway to Rainier/Beacon, Madison Street, Jackson 1st to 23rd, etc. That’s where the concerns about prioritizing the CCC are coming from: it’s the tail wagging the dog. We can make lemons out of lemonade and say, “OK, SLU to Pike Place and Harborview to Jackson and Pike Place will serve some people and particularly tourists, but it’s not the best thing we could do.”

    1. [OT]

      But with Seattle City Council-members named here, problem is lack of originality. Bet none of you voted for LINK, did you? Because every single Connector objection caught same exact criticism.

      Until first train out of UW Station, before it got to Westlake, changed complaint script from “Nobody will ride!” to “Nobody can get a seat!” And then there’s: “Well, buses are just as good.” Ride one rush hour standing load using both modes, and pass a lie detector test.

      Even worse: “Buses are flexible!” Since he used to drive trucks, I think even Bob Hasegawa would disagree. As far as likely blockage Downtown. Gridlock is an equal opportunity locker of grids.

      Council would also have more credibility on this one if they’d give proposed Madison BRT a whole two-way fully-reserved right of way between First Avenue and Madison Park. When they get finished permanently 24-7-365 removing every foot of street parking whole Seattle CBD.

      But main reason to keep the Connector is that when above blockages are dealt with, Seattle will have a single long fully-connected streetcar line along a route permanently heavily Downtown-caliber commercial.

      Meaning single-train ride much better suited than buses for both sight-seeing and window-shopping. Broadway. International District. Pioneer Square. Pike Place Market. South Lake Union.

      “Finding a place for folks to be able to easily understand how to get from one part of downtown to another is justifiably part of the ridership model.” Proud of you, Council Member Johnson. That’s exactly what a Connected line will do.


      GK, main Seattle problem isn’t process. Problem is using the term for an excuse not to make decisions. Every council member named above really ought to know better, especially about being too lazy to think up their own fresh wrong arguments.


      Mark Dublin

      1. While I stressed commercial advantages of a connected streetcar line, I certainly believe that same qualities will serve work travel as well, or better.

        As for speed and reliability, especially on Broadway, in one sentence: Completely reverse lane and signal priority to make streetcars first.

        Since the Broadway District is not a through corridor, I can see the day when the Business Association will lead the campaign.

        Incidentally. Since STB is rightly focused on efficient discussion of streetcars, and trolleybuses…Congratulations on most skilled use of the [OT] key in transit history!

        But recalling when the PCC’s were new and editors a lot tougher and smoked all the time, any way to do a digital red pencil through the text to show what somebody better not do if in the future they wanna get published?


  5. Regardless of the outcome, it’s interesting to see that our Council members are interested in questioning how SDOT pursues capital projects, and mulling over the equity implications of their decisions. As the district culture becomes more rooted, I think that the way that decisions get made will change as district council members will take more of a vested role than before. The way advocates for projects build support is changing as hard questions will increasingly be asked.

    1. Bingo! A councilmember who has no constituents downtown is free to engage in downtown-bashing as a re-election tool, at will.

      As we warned, districting tends to be more harmful than helpful to building a coherent transportation network.

  6. Is anyone else concerned at how the new 99 tunnel opening will change Downtown access? I’ve wondered if we should table chopping traffic lanes out and contracting for disruptive construction projects until we know. The flows are going to change and with this can come opportunities and challenges that we don’t fully realize today. We are only about 15 to 18 months away from knowing.

    1. While I think you have a good point about not making too many major changes at once, I do think getting a transit lane is worth the risk. If the lane is transit only when the viaduct comes down, no one will expect a car lane to be there and 1st will only be able to take on a smaller amount of additional traffic. If we do experience bad effects from a lack of car capacity in first, the solution will likely involve more transit investments. If on the other hand, we wait till the tunnel is open before removing a lane on first, first is likely to take on more traffic. If first already seems to have too much traffic, people might oppose taking the lane even if taking a lane would improve the overall system. So I hope they throw caution to the wind and take that lane.

  7. It’s going to get far harder to get local and incremental improvements through with the district CM model. Every local district is going to be looking for pork. Things that benefit high population zones will be gutted by the low population CMs. It’s another redo of the Electoral College & Senate model and it’s failures.


    1. The council districts are supposed to be nearly equal population, at least based on the decennial census. Sure, some district populations will grow more than others in between, but there is construction going on all over town. And we have two at-large CMs. The largest question is how to handle annexations, of which there are only a couple large opportunities left, in White Center and Skyway).

      Districting is bad, but apples and oranges compared to the Electoral College and Senate which have no grounding in one-person-one-vote.

    2. Exactly. The problem with the at-large system is that only rich candidates with long resumes and big bucks backers can get elected. That’s a problem, to be sure; you get a Council filled with identikit candidates.

      But districts aren’t the answer, either; they give you a Council rife with neighborhood jealousies and grandstanders posturing for the “folks back home”. Like Congress.

      What works is government money. No, not to support favored candidates, but to let people with other ideas be heard. The Democracy Vouchers are an excellent idea which came too late. It would have been a very good thing to have had them for a few elections under the old system. I think you would have seen a younger, more heterogeneous Council even with at-large seats.

      1. I would disagree that a council district system breeds complete neighborhood parochialism Downtown. Residents work and visit Downtown from all over Seattle, so what happens Downtown will matter to every Council member. When I’ve seen neighborhood issues play out in other big cities, I have seen that residents with issues can often enlist the support of friends, family and coworkers to express support or opposition to things that make council members from other districts take note.

        What is going to be increasingly different is how council members communicate with their constituents. As residents understand how the specific district council person serves them, this council person will be more likely to hear from them. It’s kind of similar to a reverse phone tree; when you know who to contact, you are more likely to pursue the opinion and your district council person is more likely to take notice. To put it another way, if 9 people from your street complain about something, but each complains to a different council person, it probably won’t get noticed; if all 9 complain to the same council person, it more likely will get noticed.

        The old systems of advocacy in Seattle have been notably modified. The frustrates interested parties that achieved some success through the old advocacy models. I think the emerging model may take a few more years to fathom, but it will be more responsive. Seattle is not a little village any more but is instead a major American city.

      2. Honestly I don’t really see any difference in the council with specific districts vs. an all at large system.

        Herbold, Johnson, and Juarez could have all easily been elected under the old at-large system.

        It is too soon to tell but I don’t think we’ll see the amount of money needed for district races being all that much different than what is needed for the two at-large positions.

    3. That was the initial concern, whether councilmembers would become parochial. We’ve now had a year or two to see. Well, have they?

      Also, the district system was pushed in by NIMBYs hoping to get their people in place to stop upzones and growth. But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box, we got mostly pro-urban councilmembers instead, most surprisingly in single-family-heavy north Seattle. They may not be the best urbanists but they’re better than we feared or than the previous councils.

      I haven’t seen signs of excessive parochialism. Has anyone else?

  8. The existing streetcar segments have serious problems. It’s fair for councilmembers to have concerns about those.

    As long as those existing segments remain unreliable and dangerous, people will fight against any new streetcar segments. The Broadway extension is “on pause”, and the center city connector is at risk. Make the existing segments run in dedicated ROW, make it safe to bike around them, make it frequent, and concerns about adding new streetcar will dissolve.

    1. Are there opportunities to make more of the ROW around existing tracks dedicated?

      Do you have ideas how to make the tracks less dangerous for bikes?

      Do you know a funding source to buy more streetcars, in order to increase frequency?

      1. All fantastic questions! If I were CM Rob Johnson or Mike O’Brien’s office, I’d be looking into that. Actually, I’d have been looking into that 6 months ago to try and couple CCC funds to existing streetcar improvements, well before the CCC budget was under attack. That said, I don’t know how much of a priority the streetcar is for O’Brien, and Johnson’s office has been super busy with HALA upzones and other stuff, so… Yeah.

      2. For Broadway, quite easy: ban thru car traffic on the portions that are a single lane in each direction with tracks (parking and local building/business access can remain). Boren and 12th are viable alternatives for thru car traffic. However, my experience has been that the signal timing is much more of a delay than cars getting in front of the streetcar, especially from James to Yesler. SDOT could easily fix this without reallocating any space! Treat it as a conventional railroad crossing where you give extra signal time to cars after the train(s) to clear out any backup. And fixing the timing and reliability would naturally help improve the frequency, though more trains are needed to get it to an ideal 3-5 minute frequency.

      3. Both of them work downtown. Both of them represent north end constituents who work downtown. The reason why I picked those two is because they are chair and vice-chair of Council’s transportation committee. They are both very invested in downtown mobility.

  9. I would love to see the Seattle City Council appropriate $100M to remodel the 30-year-old DSTT Stations so that they would have better access — additional escalators to go down to the platform and handle the additional demand, more secured underground walkways to places like the WSCC and Pike Place Market with new entrances, and other strategies. The DSTT will have trains every 3 to 5 minutes after 2023. I can’t see that many people would choose a less frequent, slower streetcar unless both ends of the trip are below Second Avenue given this amazing transit service unless it’s just too crowded.

    1. An additional reason people would choose this over Link, just off the top of my head, would be to avoid the 3-seat ride currently necessary to get from many buses to destinations on our existing streetcar segments.

      1. It appears to me that any three-seat rides that would be required by using Link in core of Downtown Seattle (the streetcar service area) can more quickly and easiliy served by a Metro bus that either runs directly or requires just one transfer today. Can you identify a three-seat ride that would be required using Link, but cannot be a direct or two-seat ride using Metro buses today but would be served by transferring to/from the streetcar faster?

      2. The most egregious example, 121/2/3 Burien express to SLU, was corrected by giving the C a SLU loop redundant with the streetcar.

        But if you’re starting at Burien Transit Center, there are still locations on Broadway that either require long walks from service on E/W cross streets or a 3-seat transfer to the Streetcar. (walking probably faster and GMaps knows it LOL)

        And yes, it technically can be avoided by riding a slow local milk run the entire distance to 3rd ave, avoiding the “no dropoffs downtown below Seneca” problem. But that turns a 30 minute express trip to downtown into 55 minutes.

      3. Lack, what about taking the F to TIB and Link to Capitol Hill Station? The F is pretty fast west of TIB (unlike east of Southcenter). And even if you have to transfer at Capitol Hill to a bus, it’s not that bad, is it? (You don’t have to transfer to the streetcar because the 49, 60, and 9 go everywhere the streetcar goes and beyond it. The streetcar is effectively just supplemental frequency.)

    2. Note the CCC will have streetcars every 5 minutes between 5th & Jackson and 5th & Olive/Stewart.

  10. A couple of concerns about the numbers:
    1. The Small Starts Nov 2016 rating assignment shows the total capital cost at $166.55 million (YOE$). So am I to assume that the utility relocation costs adds another $11+ million to this project? This seems high for 1.3 miles.
    2. The city’s application for additional funding through the 2016 FWHA Regional Competition, administered thru the PSRC, requested $8.650 million but only $7.3 million was recommended. This additional $1.3 million funding shortfall will need to be made up somewhere. Bonding already covers 35.5% of the estimated project cost, so unless savings are found in some phase(s) of the project the city is going to have additional budgetary pressures on the earmarked local funding source (utility reimbursement revenues).

      1. I believe the amended budget for Milwaukee’s streetcar project included $15 million for utility relocation costs along its 2.5 mile run.

      1. Lol. I guess you’re not as concerned about the cost escalation on this project as some are. Perhaps you should review the 2014 Evaluation II analysis which had estimated the cost for a mixed use line at some $115 million, escalated to 2017$, and with a 2018 service date. (Utility relocation costs were estimated at $8.9 million at that time as well.)

      2. No, I’m not at all. There is going to be a titanic immigration to the cool, damp Northwest by climate change refugees in the coming decade and Seattle, Portland and all the smaller cities of the region had better be damn ready to accommodate it. There will be plenty of money to pay of the piddling bonds to pay for the Central City Connector overruns, should they occur.

        And you know what? All that needs to happen for the CCC to be reliable is to paint a Red lane in Jackson and add a new destination for the south end line. The SLU streetcar is already getting Red lanes to share with the C and 40. In the absence of a viable plan for a Metro 8, add a streetcar line down Rainier to MBS and have the Broadway cars shuttle between CHS and JPS/MBS with the MBS to downtown cars providing the “other half” of the frequency on the CCC.

        That gives a high frequency along the core area of north Rainier which is the City’s #1 most upzonable stretch of arterial. Grant that some of the cars coming more randomly because of delays on Broadway. Since no one living the north RV today can see over Beacon Hill to the west or Mt. Baker to the east you can build thirty stories there if you want to without harming any existing views.

        In fact, you’d create hundreds of new view properties by giving the upper stories a peek over those hills.

        Eventually I’d like to see that car extended to Seattle Center up First Avenue. That would put frequent, reliable transit one block from Western in the heart of Belltown. And since First Avenue would already have been nuked north of Jackson for game day travel, go ahead and extend the SLU half of the CCC service south to Railroad Way and a terminus on that street between First and Occidental. Talk about good service to games for SLU and Belltown folks!

        By the way, putting the trackway in the western half of the street as Glenn suggested also helps with the trees problem in Pioneer Square. Have “tree” style catenary supports in the western half of the divided part of First South and run the traffic both ways in the east half of the roadway. South of Jackson there’s room to have a single southbound lane between the trackway and the curb for pickup-dropoff and access to garage doors.

      3. edits:

        “pay off“, not “pay of”
        “some of the cars would come more randomly” not “some of the cars coming more randomly”
        “living in the north RV” not “living the north RV”

  11. If the city has designated exclusive right-of-way for the alignment, just run the service with buses. Save the infrastructure investment, save the engineering headache, save the incremental additional cost of streetcar fleet acquisition (over bus fleet acquisition). Electrify if desired; just use trolleys or electric buses.

    This isn’t rocket science.

    1. Exclusive right-of-way without rails? Count me skeptical. As soon as the rails are pulled out of the plan, the right-of-way will disappear almost immediately.

      The engineering might not be rocket science, but the politics of exclusive ROW for buses approaches it.

      1. Exactly, Lack. Without rails paint is hard to come by. Maybe they deliver the cans only by REA?

        And of course, even if a “reserved busway” has a six-inch thick coat of red paint the jerk drivers of Red party persuasion will be driving it it. With a streetcar you can put obstructions between the rails and I fervently hope they do (except between Madison and Spring, of course…)

      2. Nonsense. Most of the Madison BRT (Rapid Ride G) will be in bus only lanes. Most of the streetcar line is not exclusive, and even if this section (the CCC) is 100% exclusive, most of the line won’t be.

      3. “Most” sounds like an exaggeration. 8th to 17th will be in bus-only lanes. That’s between a third to half the line.

    2. Exclusive right-of-way is planned for a single streetcar line, but not for a street where the vast majority of person-trips are on dozens of different bus routes (or on foot on the adjoining sidewalks). I don’t think even Einstein could come up with a theory for that.

    3. Problem, seattleyo. Of all the technical fields’ for urban vehicles like streetcars, rocket science is the absolute worst. During discussion of the Boeing Vertol cars- same aerospace designers built the first MUNI Metro cars- a Boston T mechanic told me:

      “These cars work as well as if the Brill streetcar company built a helicopter.” Starting with powerful air intake fans that sucked a fine talcum-powder of carbon and copper directly into the traction motors.

      Final verdict? “This car would work just fine if it cruised at 30,000 feet!” Not that everything old is still better. But that urban transit has to be able to stand up to dirt, shocks, heat, surprises, and rough handling that only a DC-3 could take.

      But between streetcars and even the best new trolleybuses, railcars still have the edge for several reasons:

      .Regular standing loads- hallmark of every successful urban transit system in the world- are much kinder to passengers aboard a streetcar.

      . Over time, maintaining ride quality on concrete lanes is a lot harder than keeping ride quality for streetcars.

      . But most important, what I saw in crowded areas in Europe, especially in plaza areas, pedestrians are a lot more comfortable around streetcars than buses. Makes for nicer sidewalk cafe scene too.

      I think main factor is that along the same track, the outside edge (called the “Envelope” of a rail vehicle) is constant with minimal pavement marking. It’s easy to get used to exactly how close the side of every streetcar while walking beside track.

      Market Street and some other San Francisco Muni Stretches run both light rail and standard trolley buses not only on same lanes, but sharing positive wire with streetcars.

      My call would be that it’s easier to get lanes reserved for streetcars than buses, but once the car line and its lanes are in service, easier to add buses. Some of that along Westlake through South Lake Union, isn’t there?


      1. I also talked with a T mechanic while waiting for the Green Line at Riverside long ago on the same topic. He told me that the Boeing cars were a new paradigm for mechanics raised on fixing mechanical things. Everything that went wrong with them was on the electronic side, and they didn’t have the skills or training to respond – so the fleet was in terrible shape with a high number of cars out of service at all times.

    4. If there’s room for two streetcar lanes that can accommodate buses, then there’s room for two bus lanes without the streetcar. The city hasn’t explicitly rejected that, it just hasn’t considered that option. But if we’re building transit lanes — and especially if we’re envisioning multiple bus routes from several parts of the city using them — then the transit lanes need to be on Third Avenue. That’s closer to almost all the areas these buses would be coming from. it has direct entrances to the subway. And it has a complete walkshed on both sides so more people can use it. Paint Third Avenue Red!!!

      We should look at transit wholistically, what’s best for the overall network and the largest cross-section of riders. That means a great transit mall on Third Avenue. If First Avenue needs anything, it’s just a local circulation route like is planned for the waterfront. The only reasons for the City Center Connector are to connect the existing streetcar lines and leverage the federal grant. I can go either way on that. But it’s not a major need we need. What we need is robust bus service and transfers through downtown, which means a Third Avenue transit mall. (And if the merchants don’t want transit lanes on Fifth because they’re afraid the Third Avenue drug-dealing filth will spread to Fifth and scare away shoppers, then let’s put transit lanes on Third where they won’t harm anyone.)

      1. But it’s not a major need we need. What we need is robust bus service and transfers through downtown, which means a Third Avenue transit mall.

        Exactly. But you know, one of the cool things about buses is that if the city basically said “We can’t give you third, but we can give you first”, then it would be pretty darn cheap to simply send the buses to first. You just can’t do that with a streetcar. It is limited in where it can go.

      2. “…it would be pretty darn cheap to simply send the buses to first.”

        Not even close.

        Most of the bus routes would have to add service hours to each run for the detour.

        The walkshed would be much smaller.

        People with mobility issues trying to get to the east side of the Central Business District would have a heckuva time.

        Ridership would be lost as the longer trip time reaches individuals’ tipping points, and 3rd Ave’s sudden availability to SOVs would induce many back into their cars.

        Converting 1st Ave to have the fancy bus stops needed to make it work would still cost millions.

        Businesses dependent on the transit-riding masses east of 2nd Ave would close up.

      3. Nobody is saying anything else. Third Avenue should be entirely transit only during the peaks, curb to curb. Perhaps it can support enforced single block access during off-peak times when the bus load is considerably smaller.

        I believe that there is no disagreement about that on this blog. Putting frequent, reliable service on First Avenue — which, practically speaking is only available via a streetcar extension — isn’t “either-or”, it’s “both-and”.

      4. The reason why I am so adamant about painting 3rd Ave red is that, then, the infrastructure becomes the enforcement. People who are unaware of the byzantine rules for driving on 3rd Ave will see the red paint, and know not to turn onto it.

        Enforcement hasn’t worked, is more expensive, and blocks buses when it is done. Paint is cheap.

  12. I see no short OR long term benefits to the inclusion of streetcars in our infrastructure. If the First Hill Streetcar is any indication of speed, reliability and traffic engagement, then they should stop right now and use the funding to beef up surface-level buses and accelerate the tunnel construction to Northgate.

    Pouring a ton of cash into another streetcar will be as foolishly short-sighted and ultimately money wasting an endeavor as running 5 miles of light rail at-grade between Rainier Beach and Mt Baker.

    1. The Central City Connector is being built far better than the FHSC, including dedicated ROW and much better frequency. The two projects are apples and oranges.

      I’m a critic of streetcars in general, at least the botched way they are done in this country. But SDoT is finally learning what mistakes not to make.

      We can’t get better streetcar implementations because of the way the political system works here. CM Herbold’s latest anti-downtown grandstanding is an example of why it is so hard to build streetcar lines right.

      1. I would refer those who dissed me for my “grandstanding” comment on the discussion of a District versus At-Large Council to Councilor Herbold’s conduct. She’s been absolutely great on the 130th Station issue, which speaks to her transit smarts, but then she wants to rob downtown of a significant infrastructure improvement for some nebulous “improvement in local bus service”.

        District grandstanding at its finest: run against downtown like Congress runs against Washington DC while doing their damndest to get sent back.

  13. Ryan’s piece glossed over a factor: the marginal $25 million of FTA funds may not come as DC will debate the budget and Trump is opposed. The FHSC rolling stock was delayed, so the CCC was delayed. Now, its construction and operation would conflict with the interim pathway needed for SR-99 bus routes after the deep bore opens. When SDOT planned the CCC, it did not know that joint operations in the DSTT would end prematurely, putting tremendous pressure on downtown Seattle transit capacity. SDOT also did not know that Trump would become president and propose that the small starts program be zeroed out. The CCC operating plan is complex. Though the middle may be protected from traffic, all trips will begin at an unreliable tail; therefore, the headway will be unreliable and streetcar bunched. Five minute headway is 12 trips per hour per direction. That will still leave one-half of 1st Avenue as an empty bowling alley. If SDOT provided similar priority to bus, many more trips per hour could be shifted to 1st Avenue. Better circulation would be provided and the Seattle capital could be used on better transit and sidewalk projects. SDOT proposes to use no new service subsidy; they forecast that the CCC will attract 25K daily rides; note that the E Line attracts 17K daily rides. SDOT is to rely on pixie dust. Yes, more priority on both 3rd and 1st avenues. that is the way out of the One Center City transit capacity crisis. see:
    perhaps Seattle could revisit the CCC in 2024 when suburban buses need not serve downtown. The Councilmember Johnson concern is better met by the Providence solution. In 2021, the two-way all-day routes likely to be redeployed from downtown are routes 41 and 522; Route 41 will be replaced by Link. SDOT plans to improve routes 7, 40, 120 to RapidRide; they serve downtown. The C Line and Route 120 will serve more of downtown when the deep bore opens. the CCC is costly and duplicative.

    1. Since there will be a circulator bus on Alaskan Way, we can turn it into a loop route on Alaskan and First.

    2. With all the buses coming out of the tunnel, there is going to be a need for transit priority someplace beyond what is on 3rd.

      Imitating what they did with MAX on NE Holladay would get you a CCC for the streetcar plus the ability to put buses there if desired.

      Once you’ve gone through the effort of building a busway and platforms and separated right of way, I’m not convinced that adding some rails to it would really be that much more expensive.

      1. VERY well said, Glenn. Plan for the future; it is going to be rife with millions of climate change refugees.

      2. Oh, and as a nod to Ross, use longer trams that fill the entire block. They’re available for not much more money than the Inekon-style cars.

      3. 56 meters = 183 feet.
        Not quite a city block in Seattle
        Almost a city block in Portland though.

      4. “Once you’ve gone through the effort of building a busway and platforms and separated right of way, I’m not convinced that adding some rails to it would really be that much more expensive.” – all the more reason to do it at the same time. Building the busway & then coming back and adding rails would be both expensive & disruptive.

        IMO, building rails is actually pretty expensive b/c you need to tear up the whole street, while on a bus lane you can get away with simply re-painting the street in stretches. For example, on Westlake is was expensive to put in the SLUT, but probably pretty cheap to come back a few years later and paint it bus-only.

  14. “The CCC will easily outperform its predecessors because it serves such a critical set of destinations. As a direct consequence, it will yield much higher fare recovery than the existing lines.”

    SDOT is betting heavily on hefty increases in both ridership and fare recovery rate. The Traffic Lab did a nice piece on this whole matter just last month.

    1. Wow! I’m slowly rereading the memo from the Central Office in the link listed above. It’s not pretty. While the staff person tries to write the memo mostly in a non-judgmental voice, the numbers presented are pretty dang disturbing!

      The memo suggests that SDOT did not update the ridership forecasts from the 2014 work. Since the FHSC opened in January 2016 at a performance level significantly lower than the 2014 assumed baseline (wondering how Link factored into the 2014 forecasts, by the way) and hasn’t showed a surge since that time, SDOT has not yet recalibrated to the actual FHSC ridership as well as the now-declining SLUS ridership (partly because of RapidRide C and Route 40). How can anyone can take these rider numbers seriously? At the very least, shouldn’t the loss of riders to RapidRide C be incorporated in any forecasts?

      The memo also states that SDOT is assuming only a 50 percent increase in operating costs, even though the FHSC appears to be extended by about 70 percent in distance with 80 percent more stations, with the SLUS extended by about 100 percent in distance and stop at 100 percent more stations. While there may be new exclusive ROW and signal priority, the time at the stations is growing by 80 to 100 percent, and that’s before considering the added boarding time that it may take to add these 200 percent more riders. I don’t see how exclusive ROW and signal priority is going to make up enough time between stations to result in only an aggregate 50 percent increase in operating costs.

      Seeing how negligent SDOT has been on updating their forecasts based on existing data and operational realities, I think that our three council people are right to table spending capital money until SDOT gets its act together!

      On a final note, this lack of updated forecasting makes me wonder what the One Center City analyses have been looking at. Is the One Center City program also based on old data? If not, why didn’t SDOT roll out new streetcar forecasts during the One Center City discussions?

      1. Yes, the ridership and farebox estimates have to be questioned. It is valid to criticize spending so much scarce capital and right of way on a circulator. Downtown circulation can be accomplished much more cost-effectively by well-organized radial services already going through downtown. Routes 40, 62, and 70 already connect SLU and South Jackson Street. The C Line and Route 120 (H) will serve more of downtown when the deep bore opens before the CCC can open. SDOT plans to improve routes 7, 40, 70, and 120. Link will have tighter headways. So, the CCC is not needed. Further,the CCC is in the way of the interim SR-99 routes pathway and in the way of a better circulation network.

      2. Al S. I agree. The numbers presented are quite troubling as SDOT appears to be disregarding their own internal analysis and engaging in a good deal of fanciful projections.

        KIRO picked up the story after last Monday’s budget committee deliberations. Be sure to check out the central staff memo link in the KIRO piece, as well as the referenced links in item #6 on said memo.

        Also note the following about the 2018 proposed budget for SDOT:

        1. Reduced Capital Spending
        Overall, SDOT’s 2018 Proposed Budget is $93M less than the 2018 Endorsed Budget. This is largely
        due to a $118M reduction in planned capital spending (Capital BCLs). The bulk of this reduced capital spending reflects revised construction schedules on three projects:
        • The Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement project (TC366850) shifted planned spending for Fairview Bridge into 2019, reducing 2018 capital spending by $18M.
        • The Center City Streetcar Connector project (TC367210) shifted planned spending into 2019 and 2020, reducing 2018 capital spending by $56M.
        • The S. Lander Grade Separation project (TC366150) shifted planned spending into 2019, reducing 2018 capital spending by $45M.

        Finally, how did this project grow to its estimated $166 million cost (YOE$) from the $115 million estimate (2017$ with a 2018 revenue service date) given in the 2014 Evaluation II report?

  15. You can’t look at the CCC in isolation. It’s not just about connecting the existing street car lines, but also connecting the planned Madison BRT.

    All taken together it would create a rapid network to move between SLU, Downtown, first hill, and the northern central district. All high density areas.

    If you remove the CCC, then the Madison BRT isn’t really connected to anything. The CCC was designed to have a fast transfer.

    Streetcars don’t always make sense, but this particular plan is necessary to plug everything together. I think we will be shooting ourselves in the foot if this gets cancelled,

    1. Why not just turn Madison BRT northward up First Avenue to follow the streetcar’s proposed path up to South Lake Union? It’s especially noteworthy that the BRT will have stations and left-handed boarding, just like the Streetcar!

      1. Then you’d have no service southward along 1st Ave.

        Also, from an operational perspective – both reliability & navigability – I think it makes more sense to have two high frequency lines running perpendicular to each other, rather than stitching them together into a single line. Sometimes through-routing lines makes sense, but I don’t think this is one of those times.

        The one station the streetcar & Madison BRT is sharing will indeed be a left-handed station, and in the future we might run other bus lines down 1st with left hand doors (say, a QA-Belltown-Downtown route) that could leverage all the CCC infrastructure.

      2. You would lose just one stop, AJ. A modest streetcar extension could solve that.

        If perpendicular lines are preferable, what good is a “U” layout for the streetcar in the first place?

    2. I can’t see any way Madison RR needs the streetcars. The 5-minute transfer frequency will be only between Pioneer Square and Westlake. Anyone who’s going to those places from RR G can transfer to a much-more-frequent 3rd Avenue bus, or even Link at 3rd & Seneca. As for going up and down Broadway, there are existing buses, there will be more north-south buses in Metro’s Madison restructure, and any move to decommission the streetcar would presumably include even more buses.

      “what good is a “U” layout for the streetcar in the first place?”

      The combined streetcar route is more of an egg-dropper shape. (Which by the way we could leverage into a sunny Easter theme to cheer Seattle up, a spring festival.) But the network significance is still similar to a U. Whenever you see a U-shaped route, think of it as two corridor routes interlined in the middle. The 75 used to run from Campus Parkway to Sand Point, Lake City, Northgate, NW 85th, and Ballard. But anybody in their right mind who was going from the U-District to Northgate or Ballard would take the 67 or 44. The 75 wasn’t for them: it was for shorter trips between the L-shaped parts (UDist to Sand Point, Sand Point to Northgate, Northgate to Ballard). So it’s equivalent to interlining the 75/31/32, 26/28/131/132. Toronto’s main subway looks ridiculous in abstraction: a long narrow U shape where the sides are only a mile or two apart, but it’s not for those trips, it’s for two virtual north-south lines that happen to be interlined downtown at the train station.

      So the way to evaluate the streetcar route is not how well it gets from SLU to Capitol Hill — use the 8 for that — it’s how high is the trip demand from the ends to the middle: SLU-1st, SLU-Jackson, Broadway-1st, Broadway-Jackson. Immediately we notice that Madison RR, 3rd Avenue buses, and future SLU Link knock away 1 1/2 of those. SLU-1st will have some minor attraction as a one-seat ride. But Broadway-1st is so circuitous that only foamers would take it instead of Madison RR or Link (CH-Univ Street), or the future 2 (ultra-frequent Pine-12th-Union). Broadway-Jackson is a unique transit market, since waiting at 12th & Jackson for a bus transfer can take a log time on weekends, but it doesn’t need such high capacity that it couldn’t be served by a trolleybus.

      When you see a U-shaped layout — although the combined streetcar route is more of an egg-dropper shape —

      1. I’m actually totally cool with transit routes being “L” shaped or “U” shaped. I think more Metro routes should be that way! It just seemed like an appropriate response to the prior comment about how routes should not be perpendicular.

        When one looks at the CCC as just its stations, really the only First Avenue station that is not essentially level with Third Avenue is the one at Madison. That’s about a two-minute level walk for the average person. With this in mind, it appears that Madison BRT will serve that station well! If that isn’t enough, we could also put some escalators on Seneca Street to and from the Waterfront (knowing that the 99 ramp will soon be history).


      Madison transit service could connect with many more north-south trips on 1st Avenue. The CCC streetcar would provide 12 per hour per direction. If Seattle provided an equivalent level of priority for buses, many more trips on several routes could use 1st Avenue. Wait times would be shorter and ridership higher and circulation better. The essence of the One Center City project is the short term downtown Seattle transit capacity crisis following the end of bus operations in the transit tunnel. The CCC streetcar is not necessary for good circulation; instead, it is in the way.

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