Yesterday, Mayor Durkan suspended almost all work on the Center City Connector (CCC) Streetcar that would join the First Hill and South Lake Union lines using dedicated lanes on First Avenue. The trigger was a jump in the cost estimate from $177m to over $200m, partly due to estimation “errors” and partly because costs for all construction projects are skyrocketing in the current economy. This is a setback for Downtown and its people-carrying capacity, obviously, but there are too many unknowns to really understand the long-range implications.

  1. What is the impact on FTA funding? Seattle expected a total of $75m from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for this project, and canceling it would forfeit this money. If this affects FTA awards for other transit projects like Madison BRT, as streetcar boosters warn, then it will be one of the more disastrous decisions in Seattle’s transportation history.
  2. Is this a pause or a cancellation? The Deputy Mayor’s language clearly describes a mere pause to get a handle on costs by the June 19th project review. However, advocates on both sides reasonably see this as a prelude to killing it altogether. If it is just a short delay, this might have salutary effects. Construction would have coincided with the city’s period of maximum constraint, where the viaduct comes down, Convention Place Station closes, and so on. Although CCC will be an efficient way to move people in the long run, a slip short enough to stay on the FTA’s good side might allow Seattle to stagger the impact of multiple projects.
  3. Where does the money go? Transit-oriented streetcar opponents mostly argue that the same amount of money would achieve much better outcomes if spent on buses. This is a great test of that hypothesis. There is now an extra $100m, minus the continuing utility work and costs to exercise contract cancellation options, in the transportation account. Can it go to more bus hours, which is hard to do with Metro’s capacity limits and leaves no legacy after it’s spent? Could we build more rapid bus corridors? Do the currently planned bus corridors need more money because of escalating costs? Or will the money be siphoned off to tackle homelessness, provide tax relief, or do something else unrelated to transit?
  4. What would have paid for the overruns? If the streetcar never opens, we will never get the answer to this. But the $23m shortfall would have been filled from something, and this is the converse question to #3.
  5. How will we move through downtown? A lot of Seattle’s job and residential growth is happening in greater downtown. ST3, when built out, will provide the capacity to move about 36,000 people per hour* through the two tunnel lines. That’s a colossal number of people — but it may not even absorb the growth in jobs in that area over the next few decades. Third Avenue is near its bus capacity. Although One Center City may yet piece together some right of way, the CCC’s dedicated chunk of First Avenue would have been very useful for moving people efficiently. Redistributing resources to bus routes that go further into the neighborhoods has its merits, but doesn’t solve the problem of the city’s most important bottleneck.

* assuming 60 trains per hour and 600 people per train on the five approaches to downtown.

174 Replies to “5 Questions About the Streetcar Halt”

  1. The jump in cost alone, $>33 million dollars, is enough to create transit lanes on 1st ave and buy a lot of busses for this corridor. Good, riddance, streetcar, and your bicycle dangers and absurd cost/benefit ratio.

    1. I find your estimate highly dubious… what I am sure about is this: A center lane exclusive bus lane on 1st won’t suddely appear out of the ashes of this project. Even if it did, a bus lane wouldn’t integrate with the existing streetcar lines and would cost more to operate.

      1. >> A center lane exclusive bus lane on 1st won’t suddenly appear out of the ashes of this project.

        Why not? That seems like the key question here (although it really is a two part question). How much do you save by simply switching over to bus lanes, and can you get the federal grants to make the switch (as Providence did).

        >> Even if it did, a bus lane wouldn’t integrate with the existing streetcar lines …

        Who cares if it integrates with the streetcar lines. It would integrate with bus lines that are a lot more important. I could easily see the C as well as the new Roosevelt Rapid Ride (essentially the 70) use 1st Avenue. That would overlap the South Lake Union streetcar, providing much better functionality. The First Hill Streetcar simply has a flawed route, and there is little we can do about it (unless we want to spend a fortune moving the tracks). There is no point is connecting to anything. Besides, the RapidRide 7 (or whatever it is called) could provide the connection you want — going south on First, then east on Jackson. Do you really think there are that many people who want to go south on First, east on Jackson, north on 14th, west on Yesler, then north on Broadway?

        >> and would cost more to operate.

        Since when? They both hold just as many people. If anything, operating a low capacity streetcar is *more* expensive. You have special cars, special sheds, special drivers and a special maintenance crew. All for a vehicle that has more delays.

      2. Re: Operating costs. Since always. The worst case CCC operating costs are still under $3/trip and would trend lower over time with rideship.

        Cheaper than KCM buses and significantly cheaper than an electric trolly bus – which is what we should be taking about if you want apples to apples.

        You would need to buy all new trolley buses, put up catenary, do all the same capital stuff except lay tracks. Not really much savings there.

        The best argument is that you could potentially run higher frequency. But it’s a moot point. They aren’t putting in exclusive bus ROW on 1st.

      3. A new transit plan that’s post-ST3 is needed for First Hill, Capitol Hill and Central District. Travel patterns here are complex, growth is significant and Link connectivity is now more important.

        That said, I’d love to see what happens to ridership if the FHSC was split and extended as two lines, say:
        – EW line on Jackson (existing), 12th, Jefferson to Garfield High
        – NS line on Broadway (existing), Yesler (existing), 14th (existing), Rainier to Judkins Park Station entrance under I-90

      4. Buses with left-side doors are already coming for Madison and maybe other corridors like 45th depending on whether it has center lane segments. And Metro hasn’t even started designing the suburban corridors in its LRP. So buses with doors on both sides may become commonplace on several routes, and ordering a few more won’t matter.

      5. >> Cheaper than KCM buses and significantly cheaper than an electric trolly bus

        Wrong. See the article Glenn linked to.

        >> Not really much savings there [in not laying tracks]

        Wrong. It costs a lot of money to lay rail. Just to move the streetcar a couple blocks is $7 million (as part of the Roosevelt RapidRide project).

        >> They aren’t putting in exclusive bus ROW on 1st.

        Again, why not? What a ridiculous argument — that we can’t do something because we aren’t doing it.

        >> Buses with left-side doors are already coming for Madison and maybe other corridors

        Exactly. Many of those buses will of course go right through downtown. There is no reason why those buses can’t use First Avenue.

        It really is a strange argument you have there. Somehow the only way to build right of way on First is with a project that every one agrees is more expensive, and less useful. First is somehow going to a tremendously popular route through downtown, but we don’t want to send any of the new (or existing) RapidRide routes on it. It is absurd.

        If this was simply a bus route, everyone would call it silly. Why on earth are you stopping at MOHAI, instead of continuing on Eastlake? What is with that stupid button-hook? Doesn’t it make sense to build a grid instead? If you do want a one stop ride from the south end of downtown (beyond Madison) then why not go up Yesler? Why on earth are you spending all this money on right of way for First, just so you can run one, small, obviously flawed bus route?

      6. “Many of [RapidRide] those buses will of course go right through downtown. There is no reason why those buses can’t use First Avenue.”

        Yes there is. The vast majority of destinations, transfers, and people are at 3rd Avenue and further east. First Avenue is almost the edge of downtown. It’s like siting a station with half a walkshed, and away from where the center of the population concentration is. First Avenue is well-located for only one set of destinations: the West Seattle buses. And maybe Ballard and Magnolia but it’s not so clear-cut. For everything else: the E, 5, 40, 131/132, 124, 7, 14, 36, etc and their successors, it’s an unnecessary out-of-the-way detour.

      7. Obviously the only political reason to “take” those lanes on 1st Ave. from the cars is for the streetcar. Take that away, and there’s much less incentive to allocate the space to transit. You might get more busses on 3rd (competing for space with busses coming out of the tunnel), but first, pretty much forgedaboudit. Furthermore, why put the effort and expense into the Rapidride G shared 1st Ave. stop with the streetcar if there’s no streetcar? The G may well have to deal with mixed traffic while making those turns.

    1. Two tunnels at 2 minute headways? Ambitious perhaps given the rolling stock required, but hardly impossible.

    2. ST is already planning 40 trains per hour (3-minute service) when Lynnwood and Redmond open. It has said that it could go down to 90 seconds with capital improvements in the tunnel. It considered doing them in ST3 but decided not to when it chose to build the second tunnel. But it still could be done later.

      1. 60 is the current plan. Six minute headways in the new tunnel (10 per hour per direction=20) and 3-minute headways in the DSTT (20 each direction=40). The question is how full they will be. I would expect crush loads at commutes and spare capacity most of the time, but who knows.

  2. Additional Questions:

    1). What signature transit improvement is coming out if Move Seattle? Watered down Rapid Ride lines in 5 years and….?

    2). How much did gold plating (such as replacing a water main – which is moving forward) impact the CCC budget?

    3). Does the Lander overpass ($200M) have a new cost estimate? Is it moving forward?

    4). Similar to one you asked: What capital transit improvement is getting the money instead? Or just nothing… which seems to be the status quo.

    1. 1) Signature transit projects were (or are) a very small part of the Move Seattle budget. Most of the money went into small improvements all over the city. 41% for road and bridge maintenance. 27% for walking and bike improvements. Only 18% were for the RapidRide + corridors.

      But to answer your question: Clearly it will be Madison BRT. The work started before the levy, but the levy funds a lot of it.

      2) Replacing a water main is gold plating? Huh? Since when is proving water (or preventing a flood in downtown Seattle) considered a luxury.

      1. Since when does a water main have anything to do with street level improvement? Hasn’t stopped buses from running there.

        Move Seattle was sold with quite a few transit improvements attached. They are all getting delayed, cancelled, or watered down.

        Madison BRT is now twice delayed.

      2. >> Since when does a water main have anything to do with street level improvement?

        Seriously? Maybe you should go to the library and check out a Ms. Frizzle book. The water runs underneath the road. At least it usually does. Right now, the water is running above ground, next to the sidewalk.

        >> Move Seattle was sold with quite a few transit improvements attached. They are all getting delayed, cancelled, or watered down.

        Because there isn’t enough money! Good God, man, it isn’t that complicated. There is no grand conspiracy to screw over transit. It is right there, in the budget. Sometimes things cost a lot more money than expected. You dig up a street (to put in rail) and realize the pipes (that are very old) are in trouble, and you have to fix them, especially since tearing up the street made things worse. .

        That is the problem with this project, and it is the problem with Seattle Subway thinking in general. Here is a recent quote from the organization:

        “There’s absolutely no reason to think we have to sacrifice anything. We can have everything,” said Drew Johnson, volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit Seattle Subway.

        No, you can’t Drew (or Keith). There is only so much money. If we blow it all building streetcar lines that only carry a handful of people, then we won’t have money for more important projects. You have to prioritize, and pick the projects that provide the most benefit for the money. The streetcar is not one of those projects.

      3. The question for me with the water main and some of the other utility work is should the funds be coming from ratepayers or from the CCC/Move Seattle budget?

        With canceling who is paying for the water main work (which from what I understand needs to be done regardless)?

        To go back to Martin’s point we can’t seem to find the political will for dedicating road space to buses in this town. For everything proposed the transit lanes get watered down as people bitch about the loss of parking, turn lanes, and travel lanes. On top of that the “transit only” nature of the lanes we do get is seldom enforced.

        With rail there seems to be more political will to build continuous transit lanes and to provide some physical separation with a curb, raised hump, or large buttons marking off the lane.

      4. The water main is being paid for the Seattle Public Utilities, not SDOT.

    2. “What capital transit improvement is getting the money instead?”

      I assume it would require another vote if it’s a new project.

    3. Move Seattle has spend three full months to date and countless millions building 2 blocks of one way bike lane on 7th Avenue that will be used by 4 cyclists a day

  3. >> Redistributing resources to bus routes that go further into the neighborhoods has its merits, but doesn’t solve the problem of the city’s most important bottleneck.

    Neither would the streetcar. The streetcar is simply one bus. Nothing more, nothing less. It isn’t like having a pair of four car trains running underneath downtown every three minutes (or faster, if we are willing to put up with a little less reliability —

    Which basically leads to one of the key questions you didn’t ask: Can this be converted to a BRT line? In other words, can we simply get the right of way on First, but without laying the rail. That would save some money (no rail, fewer rail cars). It might even qualify for federal funding (Providence did it — In the end, it would obviously be a far more useful line that would be able to move just as many people — if not more — through downtown.

    1. No, it cannot be converted to BRT for obvious reasons. Not that anyone is about to start on that project.

      1. Obvious political reasons, I’m sure you mean – technically, it obviously can.

      2. Ok… how will it integrate with the FHSC and SLUS?

        But yeah, the politics are also obvious and I don’t know that we have any reason to think BRT would be substantially cheaper.*

        *Assuming we are talking Electric trollys and the same ROW design.

      3. It could definitely be converted to BRT with center running lanes & stations. It would then look exactly like Madison BRT.

        Connecting the two orphan streetcar lines into a coherent loop was always a nice outcome, but if the end result is we get two top notch BRT lanes in downtown Seattle, that strikes me as a pretty good outcome.

      4. Obvious what political reasons? Nobody with any power has proposed it. Especially not since the streetcar’s cost increases and overoptimistic ridership projections came to light. Not having to interline with the streetcars opens up other route possibilities, like that Seattle Center to SODO line.

      5. AJ, yes it would be a good outcome, and No, there will be no exclusive bus lanes on First Avenue. Bank on it.

        And if by some miracle they come about, they will be trespassed with utter abandon by autoisas.

      6. What does this do to Madison BRT? The current plan is for the First Avenue station to be shared with the streetcar. That means that the bus can turn from the right-side bus lane into the second lane of First Avenue. Without the center platform station, the bus will have to turn into the curbside-lane from Madison and then ditto onto Spring. That means every four or five minutes a bus will be making a very difficult turn onto and off of First Avenue.

        It going to slow things down for sure.

      7. Madison RR will have center lanes between 9th and 14th Avenues. If they can do it on Madison, they can do it on First. Of course political approval is different issue.

      8. Madison RR is a special line with custom Madison only buses (nuts but happening). Buses on 1st would be normal lines using normal buses. Of course the weird design for CCC wouldnt accommodate normal right side door buses.

      9. Some of the other RapidRide+ corridors may have center lanes too and thus left-door buses. There are no routes outlined for 1st at this point so no indication of whether they’d be “normal buses” or not.

      10. “Of course the weird design for CCC wouldn’t accommodate normal right side door buses.” Running buses contraflow would work.

      11. >> Ok… how will it integrate with the FHSC and SLUS?

        Who cares? Seriously, since when are those good lines. They carry only a handful of people every day, and are stuck in traffic, or held up by a driver mere inches into their lane. If they were bus lines, they would have been killed (or moved) a long time ago. Connecting them doesn’t suddenly make them wonderful — they are still bad, with only a small segment in the middle that is decent.

        As Mike said, we are buying a fleet of dual sided buses. This gives us the opportunity to provide something that is clearly *better* than the existing proposal, at no additional cost.

        Martin raises a good point. It makes sense to consider how to move people from one end of downtown to the other. But we also have to consider that a lot of those people started outside of downtown. No one is saying that what we really need is a set of buses that merely go back and forth, between South Lake Union and Jackson. That is absurd. The other buses (like the E, the 40, the 70, the 7) carry huge numbers of people, and they aren’t going away. They need to get from one end of downtown to the other, which means they could (and do) double as ways to carry passengers from one end to the other. The big problem is that we don’t have much room to send so many buses through downtown. It is crazy to think that we should reserve one part of downtown for the exclusive use of one bus, when that bus route is obviously flawed, and not nearly as useful as other buses, that need to get through downtown.

        Holy cow, has anyone considered how obsolete the First Hill streetcar will be in a few years, even if it looked around through downtown? If you are headed to CHS (the terminus) you are better off taking the subway. If you are headed to First Hill, then Madison BRT will be a lot faster and more frequent. If you are headed up Yesler, then the 27 is faster, and only needs the long overdue increase in headways. So that basically leaves the folks along Jackson who don’t mind the button hook, or the folks along Broadway, who only want to take it a few blocks. Even some of those potential riders would be better off with the 60, if they happen to be heading to the hospitals. You are left with a very tiny set of riders. This is *after* you connect to First.

      12. I, for one, care whether the two lines get connected.

        Sure, you could have U-Link just run between Capitol Hill and UW, and have Central Link just run between Beacon Hill and Angle Lake, and connect them with RapidRide.

        That wouldn’t impact ridership, would it?

    2. There are real echoes of Jarrett Walker’s famous argument against streetcars as that which could otherwise be replaced by high-quality bus services. The observation over time is that streetcars are a political tool to seize ROW for transit-exclusive use where an argument for buses would otherwise fail to win hearts and minds.

      Without the streetcar project, would the possibility of entirely transit-exclusive ROW anywhere downtown be in the immediate future? Talks of 24/7 transit-only 3rd avenue seem theoretical at best, for now.

      We are even locally blessed to already have empirical evidence of failure to properly secure transit ROW for a streetcar, which by and large could obviously have been replaced with or originally incarnated as a bus (I’m looking at you, SLU…).

      1. There are several arguments. Jarrett’s argument is that buses can perform as well as streetcars in many aspects, and better in some aspects, and that too many decisions are being made based on the brand image of streetcars or non-transit issues or false claims about their performance. The argument that trains are the most effective way to get exclusive transit lanes approved is not one I’ve heard Jarrett make; I first heard it from Martin Duke in a podcast. Then there’s the question of whether First Avenue is the most critical place to make a transif investment. This is all being driven by where the existing streetcars terminate rather than by where the biggest mobility needs are. I’d love to hear SDOT or Metro articulate where a Stewart-First line fits into Seattle’s total mobility needs and why. Seattle did release a transit master plan in 2012 that identified several sensible corridors like Westlake and Eastlake, which anybody can tell (and Jarrett’s geographic arguments would support) are the most direct ways to get from downtown to northwest and northeast Seattle. But the arguments for First Avenue have always been lacking. The best they’ve articulated is “It connects tourist destinations” and “There are some highrise buildings there”. But what I’m interested in is whether it meets the travel needs of the largest number of residents and visitors combined. First Avenue is closer to Ballard and West Seattle, but Third Avenue and further east is closer to everything else, which is where the vast majority of people are going. We are addressing some of those corridors but we’re not addressing others, and that’s where I’d like to see investment money in.

        However, the fact that the CCC has started construction and a grant has been approved complicates things. It’s no longer an abstract question of what investments have the best cost/benefit ratio for the widest cross-section of the public, but of what would be the cost of stopping now and possibly putting future grants in jeopordy. But here again it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. We need to find out how much it would affect grants so we can quantify it. All these things need to be compared and the tradeoffs weighed.

        “Talks of 24/7 transit-only 3rd avenue seem theoretical at best,”

        Even if there are exclusive lanes on 1st it doesn’t help the buses on 3rd. That’s all the RapidRide lines, RapidRide expansion, and other major routes like the 5, 14, and 131/132. Seattle may expand the span of exclusive lanes on 3rd when it gets closer to the crunch and sees what the actual impact is, and losing or postponing the CCC may prod it in that direction. I don’t believe that we need to ban cars on 3rd midday or evenings because I don’t see lines of cars holding up buses; I see a lot of buses and a few cars.

      2. Mike,

        If you don’t ban cars 24/7 then drivers aren’t properly trained. You have to have dynamic signage and people get “caught” at the change in status. It’s basically a mess. Just ban ’em completely and use the freedom it gives to build island platforms for the trolley buses like on Market Street.

      3. Darn, islands won’t work; the street’s too narrow. That pretty much rules out electric Rapid Rides, then, at least downtown. They won’t be able to pass the trolleys.

      4. The handful of cars on 3rd off-peak don’t really need to be there. If they do, a system of permits can be set up.

        But most importantly, you can’t paint the red carpet unless the cars are banned 24/7.

        There is nothing in OCC more important than painting 3rd Ave red.

      5. I think I have discovered the reason for Jarrett Walker’s vehement aversion to streetcars. On the A-line, on NW 10th Avenue at I think Johnson, a block or two from the curve to the Broadway Bridge on Lovejoy, on a street with barely two GP lanes with parking, I have personally been trapped for what seemed like ten minutes from the Lovejoy Bakers a block ahead!

        Honest, Jarrett, as a former transit driver, I know how to take the air off the doors so you can escape, leaving the other hundred passengers doomed to confinement because they fail to give a (well it IS organic!) I won’t let this happen to you again!

        Also- I’ll teach you how to use a hacksaw to eliminate that evil menace of a stop sign. Some day the IT world will also know to do this, when their nut removal from bolt course has been completed!


      6. Without the streetcar project, would the possibility of entirely transit-exclusive ROW anywhere downtown be in the immediate future?

        Yes, absolutely. It is happening as we speak. Madison BRT will have entirely transit exclusive ROW. More than the proposed streetcar. More in terms of mileage, more in terms of ratio, and if you believe the studies, much more in terms of average running speed.

        The two lines would cross twice; downtown and First Hill. In downtown, both would be in the same, exclusive lane. On First Hill, only the bus will be in its own, exclusive lane. Got that? The bus will be running in its own lane, while the streetcar will be stuck in traffic.

        You don’t have to speculate as to whether we might give the same level of service to a bus project as a streetcar project. We are giving the bus project *more* than the streetcar project.

      7. I wonder once all is said and done if we will actually get the transit-only lanes promised for Madison BRT. Call me cynical but I fear in the end the lanes won’t end up 24/7 exclusive.

      8. Also let us not forget the small matter of lane enforcement. Even if Madison BRT gets exclusive lanes the damn cars have to be kept out of it. Will there be any sort of physical barrier to discourage cars from using the lanes?

      9. It’s kind of hard to do much separation on Madison. Keep in mind that there are many emergency vehicles that use it every day (that shouldn’t be stuck a block from a hospital emergency room in a queue of cars), and that ladder fire trucks need to be able to reach high-rise buildings. It may have been possible to put up a separation had it been designed for one side or the other or on the curb lane — but being on the inside lane poses lots more challenges for these kinds of important access situations.

  4. Welp, I wrote a letter to the the mayor encouraging her to push some value engineering on this project to get it moving after as short a delay as possible.

    And a letter to the FTA encouraging them to suspend their funding process on Roosevelt and Madison if the project is cancelled. If the city can’t be trusted to follow through on one project, it shouldn’t be given funding for any.

    1. So, some streetcar boosters are holding RapidRide lines hostage? That definitely does not help your case.

      1. Nobody is holding anything hostage, simply suggesting that if an agency can’t competently manage one project, its funding partner should be taking a hard look at the other projects that agency is leading.

        Won’t really matter anyway, Congress basically mandated FTA to fund all its commitments in the pipeline. Which is why it’d be exceptionally stupid to leave that $75m on the table.

      2. Ron, your first paragraph is attempting to hold the other projects hostage if your preferred project doesn’t happen. (Or do you also not want the CCC to happen?)

        Your second paragraph explains why money for other projects would probably not be in jeopardy if the City returns the CCC money to the FTA.

      3. Congress instructed the FTA not to cancel any existing projects or reduce future grants for political or ideological reasons. That doesn’t necessarily mean the FTA can’t enforce performance standards on the grants.

    2. You’re shooting yourself in the foot. You don’t think Madison and Roosevelt would help the city’s and your own mobility? This isn’t an abstract issue of accounting with no real-world impacts. The federal government has mostly neglected transit funding except this small trickle, and you want to make it even smaller?

      What the FTA should do is stop approving streetcar projects, and focus on light raill buses, and commuter rail. Streetcars are like an ancient Greek siren that attract cities but then don’t improve their mobility. While it’s the cities’ fault for choosing them the FTA should recognize that it’s a more systemic issue, and the mere fact that the FTA offers streetcar grants is encouraging cities to choose streetcars. The FTA should require that “streetcars” have at least exclusive lanes and intersection priority, at which point they’re light rail.

      1. This project has both, it’s not like we’re proposing to cancel a one mile tourist loop. It is essentially a proposal to cancel a light rail line. One that could easily expand to serve Belltown, the densest census block in the state, and one that gets nothing from ST3.

      2. A one-mile segment that turns into mixed traffic after that is not really a line that gets people anywhere. If we were to upgrade Jackson Street along with it, then I might agree with you.

      3. And why can’t Jackson be upgraded? The tracks are already in the middle of the street. What’s needed is a few hundred gallons of red paint and some signage. How hard (or expensive) is that?

        And need I point out that if RapidRide Rainier stays on Jackson and as everyone seems to want uses First, this would be three more stations using the left-hand doors. Given that the stretch of Rainier between Jackson and I-90 is the best place in the city for Vancouver-style 50 story residential towers, center running something (BRT or tram) down Rainier to Mount Baker might be just the right thing in the absence of a Metro 8 subway.

      4. Ooops, sorry. Forgot to close the emphasis after “best place in the city”.

      5. “And why can’t Jackson be upgraded?”

        Ask the City Council that. At this point it’s not in the plan, and no indication that it ever will be. They’re also the ones who could paint Third Avenue red if they want to.

        “the stretch of Rainier between Jackson and I-90 is the best place in the city for Vancouver-style 50 story residential towers”

        That’s an interesting idea. Jackson Street has historic buildings from the original Chinatown, but north Rainier is all industrial. But given how minimal the Mt Baker upzone was, there’s not much chance of it.

      6. >> It is essentially a proposal to cancel a light rail line.

        No it’s not! Light rail implies capacity above that of a bus. This doesn’t have that, nor will it ever have that.

      7. “And why can’t Jackson be upgraded?”

        Ask the City Council that. At this point it’s not in the plan, and no indication that it ever will be.

        It is in the Move Seattle, RapidRide+ plan. See Corridor 3, from this article: To quote Frank (who in turn quotes the TMP):

        The TMP also includes this nugget: “evaluate tradeoffs of converting First Hill Streetcar running way on Jackson Street to center-running transit-only lanes to allow for shared RapidRide/streetcar operations and Japantown, Chinatown, and Little Saigon center-platform stations.” The result would be an impressive 33% travel time savings through the corridor.

        Once you do that, though, the First Hill streetcar becomes even less useful. If you are headed from Jackson to downtown, you take the RapidRide. If you are on First Hill headed downtown, you take Madison BRT. If you are on Capitol Hill headed downtown, you take Link. If you are in Pioneer Square, headed up Yesler, you take the 27 (which should get better headways soon). If you are close to 12th, headed to the hospitals or First/Capitol Hill in general, you take the 60. So that basically leaves only a handful of trips, most of which are extremely slow, and unreliable. You gain very little by extending the streetcar, since the folks who ride along Jackson would do just as well by riding the new RapidRide (as it will head up downtown as well).

        In any event, the problem is money. Center running costs money, and we only have so much. Which is why we shouldn’t blow it all on a silly, misguided streetcar line.

      8. There’s one gap in your Jackson reasoning. A primary purpose of the First Hill Streetcar is to get Sounder riders to First Hill hospitals. Like, Madison BRT, and the east-west Jackson Street bus routes don’t do that. Then there’s a secondary market of people around 6th-8th Avenues going to Broadway and back. That is a hole in the transit network, although not a high-volume one. So there’s arguably some need for a Broadway-Jackson route, although it doesn’t have to be a streetcar, and it’s debatable how necessary it is. For a transfer at 12th & Jackson to be a sufficient substitute, the frequency would have to be in the 5-minute range, and Seattle has difficulty achieving that. (The same problem occurs at 23rd/John/Madison.) There’s a somewhat reasonable argument that Sounder transferrees should have a one-seat ride to the First Hill and SLU job centers, because they are so close. Of course, the First Hill Link station could have taken care of that….

      9. Thanks Mike for pointing out the transit “hole” between upper Chinatown/Little Saigon, to Broadway. I happen to live and grocery shop there (Pike/Pine QFC and Mudbay for the cats). As will thousands of people in the new apartments by Yesler and Broadway, and there’s also a complex going up along Jackson in Little Saigon and plenty of space and potential for redevelopment. Of course, the whole waterfront area will see much more activity in the near future too.

        Even now plenty of people take the streetcar from Pike/Pine down to the ID and Pioneer Square. Would be great if the streetcar went all the way up Broadway, but of course that’s another story. Yes, you could walk to link, but it’s a further walk on both ends of those trips so the net time difference is actually not that great, within 5 minutes. Having a second stop in the heart of Pioneer square is also a good thing. The 1st and Pike/Pine stop would be more convenient than Link or 3rd Ave. busses both for going to Pike Place and part of under-served Belltown. And I still can’t figure out how to get across town to SLU/Lake Union Park without transferring or walking far. So there are plenty of streetcar trips that make sense that do not involve traversing the entire line (which would indeed be pretty slow). Could the same thing be done with a “greater downtown” Rapid-Ride-ish bus loop? Perhaps, but that’s not currently on the table.

    3. Ron;

      People like you are going to jeopardize federal aid for ST2 & ST3. Shoulda thought about that…

      That said, I’m no fan of streetcars either. The problem is there are other jurisdictions that will take our region’s dollars for THEIR streetcrawlers.

      Very respectfully;


  5. Of course, not mentioned is that street car tracks are a disaster for bicyclists. Taking over 1st Ave was a terrible move for the riders in the city. Maybe worse than losing Westlake.

    1. Why are there so many bike accidents with the streetcar tracks, and not with the light rail at-grade tracks?

      Are there no mitigatory measures that will work, such as rubber bushings in the tracks like are used around Kent Station?

      1. Because cyclists are incompetent in Seattle. Go to cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen where 1 in 2 trips are by bike and they have lived harmoniously with large streetcar networks for a hundred years.

      2. Ah yes, “the user is at fault” mentality. Committing us to millions of roadway deaths per year, with no end in sight.

      3. Where cyclists interact with light rail tracks, it is almost exclusively at right angles, i.e. the street you are riding on is perpendicular to the tracks.

        The accidents with streetcar tracks seem to mainly occur when cyclists ride parallel to the tracks and when they turn across them the angle between their bike tire and the tracks isn’t significant enough to keep their tire from slipping into the groove and then catching on the sidewall and throwing them off the bike.

      4. The issue is whether Amsterdam and Copenhagen have segments where bikes and streetcars run parallel in the same lane. I haven’t been in either city but my impression is that Amsterdam has mostly separate bike lanes like the Burke-Gilman that if they cross streetcar tracks, do so at a sharp enough angle that the wheels don’t get caught in the track.

      5. Copenhagen hasn’t had streetcars since 1972, so that’s one way to prevent such bike accidents.

      6. Why are there so many bike accidents with the streetcar tracks, and not with the light rail at-grade tracks?

        Brett has the right answer. The light rail line is separated from the main roadway, on the inside. Bike riders — especially on busy streets — typically stay to the right. There aren’t many riders willing to go in that fast lane.

        There are several street crossings, but those are close to 90 degree crossings, which really aren’t a problem.

        Mike is also right. To begin with, bike accidents caused by streetcar tracks are common ( As this article points out ( places like Amsterdam (which have fewer accidents) are safer because they have more separation and avoid having a situation where a rider can easily cross at a bad angle. They also have lower speed limits (less than 20 MPH) in the more dangerous places. Basically, the way to deal with streetcars is to spend a bunch more money on bike infrastructure, and lower speed limits. This is yet another hidden cost with the streetcars. Either you spend the money to make them safer (while simultaneously making traffic worse) or you simply make the city more dangerous (while gaining nothing).

        Because cyclists are incompetent in Seattle. Go to cities like Amsterdam …

        Simply not true. The reason they have fewer accidents is because the bike routes are safer (as explained above). A rider from Amsterdam would probably be way more likely to get in accident here, because they would have an (unfounded) assumption of modern Western safety standards. Then they would get a shock when they see the medical bill (talk about culture shock).

        Are there no mitigatory measures that will work, such as rubber bushings in the tracks like are used around Kent Station?

        Yes, as mentioned above (do what Amsterdam does — spend a bunch of money on bike infrastructure). I can’t find the article, but I seem to remember that bushings aren’t that effective. Part of the reason is that getting your wheel stuck isn’t the only way to get hurt. Steel is very slick, especially in the rain. So if you are forced into the streetcar tracks, you can hit that slick section and go down. Going down isn’t necessarily where the worst accident occurs. You can also be hit by a car, since the tracks are in the street, or are often right next to it (when they are in their own lane).

    2. This is a huge hazard and design flaw where the streetcar tracks are together with the bicyclists in the right lane. But the 1st Ave. segment runs in the center. In the end, a basic network of grade separated or otherwise physically separated bike infrastructure is the safest option with respect to both streetcar tracks and cars. Not having such a network in a busy city center is itself an even deeper design flaw.

  6. I wouldn’t jump to any conclusion yet.

    1. The funding could emerge. For example, a Downtown impact fee could pay the difference in capital costs. In fact, getting it in the fee would be a good legal nexus reason for stopping it now.

    2. The Convention Place agreement isn’t completely done. Paying for an increased amount to cover for this as a replacement can now be on the table.

    3. The political fallout of bad cost estimates could be significant if nothing is reviewed. Trying to get a handle on this prevents taking blame in the next election. I’ve long argued that Seattle transit projects usually low-ball contingencies and that could be the case here too.

    4. The ridership forecasts themselves appear to date before ST3 passage. Unpublished, updated forecasts may be worse. If revised numbers show a drop, it would create lots of howling.

    The worst thing that we could do is to rush to an alternative project. Sure I’d advocate for my favorites — but that’s getting way ahead of the implications of a mere pause.

    I applaud the Mayor’s actions. Some review is needed. Only more accurate facts or more strategic finances can come from it.

    1. Agreed some review is needed to sort out the operating cost estimates, but after all, we’re talking operating costs not construction costs, which could well be sorted out during construction. The only construction cost overrun is, ironically, caused by knee-jerk halting the construction contracts.

  7. If construction costs are skyrocketing because too much is being built at once, there is a megaproject that could be delayed, with the impact of allowing much better bus flow for another couple years or so: the Convention Center Annex.

    The buses don’t really have to come out of the tunnel before Northgate Link opens. In fact, the buses don’t have to come out of the tunnel until a few months before East Link opens, to install the turn-back track in the middle of International District / Chinatown Station for East Link.

    The One Center City plan for mitigating the Carmageddon unleashed by kicking the buses out of the tunnel assumes Link will take over a lot of cross-downtown trip supply. But the new Light Rail Vehicles don’t start arriving until next spring, and only a few will be ready by September 2019. (If the City Council gives the street vacations too fast, the Convention Center may even decide to kick the buses out next March, before any new LRVs have even arrived, much less gone through the two-month prep process.)

    And then, what if a major design flaw is found in the LRVs, like happened with the streetcars? I don’t think the Convention Center will let something like that get in their way when they already know their project, justified as bringing billions into the local economy, is going to bring downtown to a screeching halt for a year or so, possibly costing billions to the local economy.

    The Convention Center is also crowding out the housing emergency for priority for skilled construction labor.

    Delaying the Convention Center Annex construction until after Northgate Link opens would keep the downtown economy moving, drop construction costs for all the Move Seattle projects (including the Center City Connector), and free up labor for building desperately-needed housing.

    Something tells me the Convention Center didn’t study the extreme negative impacts on other sectors of the economy when it came out with its calculations of positive economic impact. Coming up with that figure would be one Herbold filibuster study I can support.

    1. Hundred percent agreement, Brent. And a couple of other additions. If it isn’t already – I really do forget- extend trolleybus wire north on First to join the West Queen Ann wire at Broad Street. And run the Route 70 down First.

      And exactly as we did with DSTT, lay the streetcar trackway-grooved pavement, platforms, reserved lanes, signal pre-empt and all. Becoming joint-use when it’s time to add the streetcars. My own “call” is that this is a “when”, not an “if.” But either way we can relax about it.

      Trolleypoles and pantographs? We do that on Broadway, don’t we? And one more thing, Michael:

      Icelandair to Reykjavik to Copenhagen, few hours’ train ride to Gothenburg, couple more to Oslo.Give yourself some credit. Same as for pedestrians, problem isn’t streetcars and their track, but learning how to handle them and getting used to them.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Something curious to consider:

      The amount of track getting built for the Center City Connector is less than the length as it would have been to extend the SLU line to also become a Pike-Pine streetcar couplet linking to the FHSC tracks (a second line that could have been extended further south on Broadway to end around Harborview). That would seem to have lots more benefit and ridership. It would also seem to augment Broadway cycle track use, as it’s easier for bicyclists to use streetcars than buses.

      Is there a reason why a Pike-Pine couplet streetcar wasn’t considered? A streetcar line was on each street for many decades in the past. Since two lines are proposed anyway, the need to connect the FHSC at one end or the other goes away.

      1. Someone posted here — I think Martin — that the waterproofing over Westlake is pretty close to the surface and might be damaged by the excavation for a new trackway above it.

      2. Interesting… Perhaps that was for the Fourth/Fifth couplet. This alignment would use either Fifth/Sixth or Sixth/Seventh which partially or fully avoids Westlake station.

        It’s kind of notable too that within this post we’re talking about a project alignment here that has grown from $115M in 2014 and $135M per FTA to $200M now. Surely that would more than pay for a waterproofing issue of a few hundred feet.

      3. I haven’t heard of a Pike/Pine couplet. The answer probably is that it’s not downtown where the highest concentration of people are and where tourists go.

        As for the route itself, it would turn it from a right-facing egg-dropper shape into a left-facing egg-dropper shape. It would allow going from the hospital district to SLU without backtracking (whereas going from Broadway to First is the long way around and you’re better off taking Madison RR or another east-west route). But most people going to the hospital district are transferring through downtown, not SLU. The Pike/Pine segment also wouldn’t be long enough to replace an east-west bus route; the same problem that the Broadway and Jackson segments have now (they can’t replace the 14, 49, 60, etc). Those are my initial thoughts at least.

      4. The actual SLU/Harborview route I was thinking of wouldn’t be an egg-dropper shape. It would look more like a Z but at more of 90-degree angles. If both routes were combined, it would be an odd shape, but I’m not suggesting that. (I’ll also note that the current operations plan (developed only in about the past year) is to have two route.) I’m talking only about extending the SLU route to use Pike/Pine and then share some of the FHSC tracks and not changing the FHSC route at all.

        It could allow for some Capitol Hill route restructuring that would save bus operating hours.

        – Routes 3/4 would possibly see Harborview riders shift to this streetcar, meaning that the short Route 3 (20th Avenue loop) trips could be eliminated.

        – Route 11 could be replaced by the Madison BRT buses (half Madison BRT buses for Route 11 and half for Route 12, with the Pine/Pike segment driver hours going to this new alignment.

        – Route 2, now sometimes proposed to move to Pike Street, could remain on Union Street.

        – Routes 49/7, 47 and 10 could share an exclusive bus/streetcar lane Downtown on Pike or Pine Street. With a couplet, the signal priority could also be geared to favor transit better as vehicles would only be approaching from one direction.

        Consider finally that a signature WSCC stop could be established even on the premises of the new building!

      5. Oh, I understand now. You’d turn the SLU trolley south on Sixth and/or Seventh to Pike/Pine, go up the hill to Broadway and then turn into the existing Broadway tracks? Do I get is correct now?

        In that case, you’re probably right about the station vault.

      6. I live right in the middle of that Z-shaped route so I guess I’m the primary transit market for it. Yes, it would help with getting to SLU and First Hill, which the existing transit doesn’t address. I pretty much have to walk to those neighborhoods because it would be silly to do a 2-seat ride for a few blocks each segment and wait several minutes for a transfer. But is this an important enough transit market to have one-seat rides? There’s another alternative: a Boren Street route. That would be a couple blocks from the same destinations and straight. Metro’s LRP proposes turning the 106 into it: Rainier Beach – MLK – Rainier – Boren – Denny – 1st N – Mercer.

      7. I wonder if modern streetcars could climb Pike Street. The historic ones did but I’m not sure if they had to move slowly. I mention this because I just don’t see a streetcar climbing the hill on Boren between Pike and Sececa.

        I see that there are many primary markets. SLU is getting multiple buildings of 20 floors or higher. First Hill has them now. There are 7-floor buildings along much of the entire route. Yesler Terrace is another dense area that is just starting to develop — and it could be the terminus of this line.

        Consider too the remarkable market for transfers. I cannot see existing transit riders from the CD or First Hill liking a ride all the way to First Avenue to get a SLU streetcar to get to SLU and vice-versa; they will choose other transit paths. I could see how this “crosstown streetcar” would however be attractive for all sorts of transfers from many routes.

  8. Great post Martin. :-)

    As to:

    Transit-oriented streetcar opponents mostly argue that the same amount of money would achieve much better outcomes if spent on buses. This is a great test of that hypothesis. There is now an extra $100m, minus the continuing utility work and costs to exercise contract cancellation options, in the transportation account. Can it go to more bus hours, which is hard to do with Metro’s capacity limits and leaves no legacy after it’s spent? Could we build more rapid bus corridors? Do the currently planned bus corridors need more money because of escalating costs?

    I would say if the money was spent on electirfying more of King County Metro’s fleet and creating more RapidRide lines – that’s some legacy to be proud of. Period.

    NOT a legacy to be proud of: Taking service hours from the poor and whatever middle class is left in Seattle and giving it to a Streetcar for Downtown when there’s the light rail. Frankly the next thing that should go is the First Hill Streetcar & the South Lake Union Streetcar and replaced by 100% electric buses that just use the streetcar platforms which are rather nice.

    Or will the money be siphoned off to tackle homelessness, provide tax relief, or do something else unrelated to transit?

    I sure hope not. But good question.

  9. How did the cost estimate ever escalate to the $177 million figure?

    The 2014 full report and analysis on this project had the project costs at a high of $115.6 million (mixed traffic) and a low of $108.1 million (exclusive), including the cars needed, in 2013$ escalated to 2017$ by formula.

    What the heck happened with the cost estimates prior to this latest announcement?

    1. The designers and engineers take over and create an overly complex over engineered over designed project that escalates costs, each of these then uncovers new things that must be mitigated, requiring more engineering complex “solutions”. We saw this with Madison BRT too.

      1. Another way to say that: the route is initially planned without adequate technical analysis.

      2. I would also add things like utility upgrades and things tangentially related that get rolled into the costs, and paying for mitigation for business and neighborhoods that complain a lot. Buying consensus costs money. Plus, the fact SDOT appears to have intentionally lowballed operating costs.

      3. A lot gets rolled in. The key is to design with minimal impact so as to not trigger additional scope. Next thing you know you are moving curblines and doing a full on building edge to building edge rebuild of the street, ideally you’d avoid that. The beauty of streetcar track originally ie 2001 Portland was how it could be inserted with minimal impact into street requiring only about 1′ deep. It was three blocks in three weeks. Three blocks of track could be built in the timespan of three weeks that’s also minimal impact. They also even placed the track in certain lanes to avoid underground utilities as was the case on Market Street in Portland. Now streetcars have become these bloated over engineered costly lines.

      4. Why do things get rolled in? Especially essential things like water-pipe maintenance, and important things like Complete Streets. The answer seems to be our limited tax structure, that allows levying taxes only in a few limited ways, and often requires tying things to popular projects to pass a public vote. Rail projects tend to be things that get a yes vote and have enough tax-authority capacity for these other things, so they piggyback on to it.

  10. One of my biggest peeves about this project is the terrible design with center platforms so that no standard fleet buses can use and stop on the route. You create this additional dedicated transitway and then design it to prevent flexibility and utilizing it to it’s fullest capacity in an area where street space and transit capacity is most needed. Nuts. Build floating islands for right side door vehicles that can be shared by bus and streetcar.

    That said, now we are left with nothing but a clogged up 1st Avenue.

  11. Not that hard to handle, Poncho. Though needs some emphatic lane reservation. At each end of the trackway, special-signal the buses diagonally across the intersection.”Contraflow”, like we used to do on Second and Fourth. Just to be safe, police and/or supervisors at each end ’til the driving public is with the program.


    1. That’ll just require more engineering and added cost with new traffic signals and safety warnings.

      1. What if all that engineering and safety upgrades will bring in many times more than those things cost? As for safety warnings… once people are familiar with streetcars- and most other moving things…Count them.

        Also count the people:

        And remember, toilets and fireplugs cost money too, There are heavily populated parts of Seattle for which the city isn’t paying either. Want to live in them? Whether you’ve got your car to sleep in or not?


  12. These 2 notions are both true:

    1. The entire notion of building the streetcar line from Capitol Hill to SLU was a costly mistake.

    2. It would be amazingly shortsighted to kill the CCC now that the 1st Hill and SLU streetcar sections are operational but cut off from each other.

    The entire streetcar line was financially irresponsible, but the completed line (including CCC and N. Broadway) would at least be useful transit infrastructure moving forward. It gives reliable service that connects many of the densest residential and employment hubs. But building only disconnected fragments leaves you with a huge outlay of funds wasted on a useless folly.

    1. The issue is how much it meets the city’s total mobility needs compared to spending that money on other transit projects. There’s a time to leverage sunk costs, and a time to cut your losses. People on First have more transit options on Third than people anywhere else in the city do, including underground lines that are faster than surface lines. Yes, there’s a steep bill in the southern part, not no streetcar on First does not mean no transit ever on First. There are many bus alternatives that could be used. (And not the 99: it was never a First Avenue route; it’s a waterfront route that was displaced to 1st because of the seawall and tunnel construction.) The Ballard/West Seattle buses used to be in First many years ago, and other routes could go to it, such as my Seattle Center to SODO line.

      1. They were taken off First Avenue because of their hideous reliability. Even should you give buses “their lane” cars will trespass with impunity. The only thing that will prevent it is a trackway with no pavers between intersections.

    2. tk, if you really timed out this survey over the amounts of time involved with this story, your opinion is in an enormous majority. So be sure you don’t put it in either The Cloud of Facebook.

      The Statue of Liberty was an unsolicited French present for which New Yorkers yelled insults for all the financial burdens it laid on them. Also, nobody could figure out why San Francisco wasted all that money for an obviously overdone bridge going where nobody who amounted to anything would ever want to live.
      And in Seattle everybody knew don’t be sitting on a toilet on First when a wave comes in.

      All the Brooklyn Bridge had to look at was church steeples to the horizon. But least known budgetary fact is that one of the two gigantic pillars rests on the planet’s own sandbox. And worst outrage would be why the Chief Engineer deliberately violated the make sure it’s on a rock principle.

      With the building methods of the day, the work chambers- called “caissons” under the river had to be pumped full of high pressure compressed air to keep the weight of the river from breaking the walls like a cardboard box. At that pressure, far above-normal amounts of oxygen were pushed into the workers’ blood.

      So leaving the chamber meant time in a waiting room from which the pressure was slowly reduced before they could walk out into ordinary air. Sudden drop in pressure- like if a seam blew out- the men’s blood vessels would be bristling with bubbles like sparkling water.

      Leaving the victim either paralyzed for life or dead. The chief engineer, Washington Roebling, finished the job, and his own life, in bed. His wife took his orders to his crews every day. So something always on his mind. He knew that every day of work would hundred percent kill laborers.

      So when he discovered that the bed-rock- on which every giant structure absolutely had to rest- was much deeper than predicted, he knew the casualty count of the extra days it’d take to reach the rock. Absolutely no government programs for all those families. Which did definitely relieve company owners of all those job-killing safety regs.

      But knowing his fossils- which every tunnel engineer like the guys on DSTT probably do- he calculated
      that the pillar would rest on sand that had not shifted since before the beginning of the world. If the legal department had found out, they would have stuffed him in nearest air-compressed caisson and run a barge into it.

      Good thing average New York habit is not to worry much about the odds. Also, a lot worse things to worry about anyhow. Hopefully, those fossils will stay where they are ’til all the bonds are paid off. But in fact we still really don’t know how those taxes he saved will finally affect the economy.

      One thing is certain right now, though. Given price of copper often so high that people take a hack-saw to cemetery monuments- and pull miles of copper wire out of giant elevated transit structures like between Rainier Beach and Tukwila International for meth money…

      Not only will all those Americans who opposed the unwanted surrender-monkey French statue be avenged, but hundreds of extractive industries will be recompensed with copper-money for all those years of sad, sad job-killing mining regulations. Especially after we get all that copper- tariff money with interest!

      And best of all, will no longer be any doubt how our country feels about unvetted immigrants. Because average veterinarians’ bill is so high, you don’t let anything in the house that’s gotta be kept alive.


    3. The entire streetcar line was financially irresponsible, but the completed line (including CCC and N. Broadway) would at least be useful transit infrastructure moving forward.But building only disconnected fragments leaves you with a huge outlay of funds wasted on a useless folly.

      That’s a sunk cost argument.

      The problem is, when you are done, you still have a very weak line. The northern section is nothing special, and too short. It shares the same basic corridor with many lines, several of which are RapidRide, or will be RapidRide soon. It doesn’t make sense to improve a subset of a route, when you can improve the longer route for a lot less money. The route to First Hill is worse. To understand why, consider the part of your paragraph I left out:

      It gives reliable service that connects many of the densest residential and employment hubs.

      No, it isn’t reliable. In fact, it is one of the least reliable forms of transit in our system. A delay on the very unreliable parts effects reliability on the more reliable parts. Yes, it is wonderful if your vehicle moves at a good clip, but not if it arrives ten minutes late. Even the more reliable parts aren’t that reliable, because it is a streetcar. Folks every day complain about the fact that cars sometimes ignore the bus lanes. In this case, though, even a car inching into the streetcar lane will stop it. A bus would be able to get around it, while a train is stuck. An accident shuts down the system, while a bus would simply be waved around the mishap.

      Second, it won’t *connect* many of the densest residential and employment hubs, it will simply run through them. This is the big flaw with First Hill design, and the overall flaw with the extension. It assumes that the only problem with the both streetcars is that they aren’t connected. Hardly.

      The problem is that only a very small set of trips make sense with this line. You could easily send several buses (the 40, the 70, a RapidRide from Ballard) through First, and get a lot more connectivity. But riding the First Hill section from downtown rarely makes sense, even if this is complete. If you are headed to CHS (the terminus) you are better off taking the subway. If you are headed to First Hill, then Madison BRT will be a lot faster and more frequent. If you are headed up Yesler, then the 27 is faster, and only needs the long overdue increase in headways. If you are headed along Jackson, then you can take the new and improved 7 (when it becomes RapidRide). You have hardly any new riders on the First Hill section by extending this up First. The only additional riders will be those heading up to South Lake Union, which again can be better served by using any number of buses.

      It is a classic sunk cost argument. You want to make the previous expenditure (which everyone admits was bad) worth a little more, while ignoring the fact that if you just take your losses, and invest in something else entirely, you would get more out of it.

  13. I think it would be a mistake to cancel this project this late in the game. The truth is most big projects have cost overruns, especially when the cost of everything is going up in Seattle. Will we also be canceling the various nee rapidrides at the last minute for the same reason?

    The real question about the project: are the ridership numbers realistic? I think so.

    Unlike last two streetcar projects, this one actually solves a real transportation problem and had dedicated right of way and high frequency. It also connects up with the madison rapidride. It has the makings of a high ridership corridor.

    I think metro probably was just extrapolating from existing streetcar ridership. What makes anyone think their analysis was particularly deep?

    1. Serious downside, though, Brendan. The more accurate your positive opinions about ridership, the louder and sooner everybody will be complaining they can’t get a seat.


    2. >> The real question about the project: are the ridership numbers realistic? I think so.

      Not really. The real question is whether we can build something better for the money. It really involves two parts:

      1) Change the nature of the project from streetcar to BRT. Doing so would obviously increase ridership. The First Hill section is, was, and always will be flawed. It is slow, and there are few, if any, people who would ride it from downtown, given the alternatives (Link, Madison BRT, RapidRide 7, etc.). The South Lake Union section is OK, but if you ran buses there, they could go farther and thus have a lot more riders along that section.

      2) Try and get the grant shifted over to the new project. Providence did that ( and I see no reason why we can’t. Again, the project is actually *more* useful. Instead of a line with poor connectivity, you would have a connected set of BRT lines that would have much higher ridership *along the newly constructed corridor*.

    3. The 2016 ridership forecasts were developed prior to ST3 (with a SLU to ID tunnel) and very possibly no RapidRide C to South Lake Union (which cut into SLU ridership significantly). I don’t think they have been publicly updated; I couldn’t find anything in One Center City studies, for example.

  14. Let’s not assume too much about the impact on other federal grants. The Times article says it “could damage Seattle’s credibility when it applies for funding of other projects”. That doesn’t mean it definitely will, or say how much, or how it might affect existing applications. The FTA must know that any city can have one bad project. And while we have local complaints about RapidRide A-F and Link, the FTA when it talked has been very satisfied with their construction and performance, and considered them among the best projects in the country. Remember that most of the country is worse, with less transit and less effective projects. We focus on the Big Six — New York, DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Philly — but they are outliers and not representative of 80% of the country. That doesn’t mean we should be satisfied. Canada, Europe, Asia, and Latin America show how far in the dark ages we are, and what a transit network that really allows cars to be optional is. But that collides with US politics and expectations that are present even here in Seattle and Pugetopolis. So let’s focus on what’s possible or might be possible, and continued federal grants might still be possible.

    1. In the past, the FTA has considered trolley buses and light rail close to the same for operating grants.

    2. It’s more like this was our last Federal grant anyway since Congress is itching to get rid of the grants and we managed to get them to keep this last batch.

      1. I don’t know about that. It’s basically a subset of Republicans that are itching to eliminate transit grants. Right now they have influence over the entire Republican caucus which is the majority. But that’s not necessarily a given over the next twenty years. If the Dems take back Congress, they will favor transit grants more. Different Republican factions could gain the upper hand, and while many of them want to cut government programs, some of them don’t care as much about transit grants, especially the current small level of grants.

  15. If this affects FTA awards for other transit projects like Madison BRT, as streetcar boosters warn, then it will be one of the more disastrous decisions in Seattle’s transportation history.

    This is the crux of the issue. Ross and the rest of the streetcar haters are dancing on the grave of the CCC while the already-hostile people in the Trump Administration who were outmaneuvered by Senators Murray and Cantwell and House Republican Conference Chair Kathy Rodgers are also celebrating, but for entirely different reasons.

    Senator Murray especially has been a tremendous friend to transit throughout the State of Washington. She got at least fifty million for new hybrid buses all over the State in the ARRA (“the stimulus”) and has defended ST3. This could be an embarrassment for her with her colleagues who had to stand tough to get specific Lynnwood Link ST2 funding included in the Omnibus bill.

    Politics often produces technically sub-optimal transportation solutions. Let’s not give the enemies of public transportation ammunition to use in the next fight for funding.

    1. The entire Congress put Trump’s budget in the wastebasket and said it wasn’t realistic or good for the country. It wasn’t just transit grants but also Amtrak funding and federal services and many other things.

    2. “…who had to stand tough to get specific Lynnwood Link ST2 funding included in the Omnibus bill.”

      This is only true in the general sense that DOT funding from the FY2018 omnibus appropriations act included full funding for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants program, much to the administration’s chagrin. It was a big win for the Dems in the short term.

      Hopefully the Lynnwood Link project can secure its FFGA this year as now planned.

      1. I thought it was “secured”. Northgate is a part of ST2, not ST1; I thought that the Feds had agreed that if they money was made available SoundTransit would get it. Thanks for clarifying that.

        And to the OP, this about-face is even more ill-timed.

      2. Oh, that was unclear. I should have said “that if the money for grants was made available, Sound Transit would get the money for Lynnwood.”

    3. Congresspeople, for all their faults, talk to their constituents and decide on the agencies’ budget items and oversee the agencies, so they have a better idea of all that the agencies do and what their constituents need than this administration does. Ideally an administration would focus on manging the agencies and getting them to do their best, but this one is busy appointing people hostile to the agencies’ mission, catering only to his base, and believing lies right and left. In that case what can you do except pass a more sensible appropriation. (I said appropriation rather than budget for Tisgwm’s sake. :)

    4. >> Let’s not give the enemies of public transportation ammunition to use in the next fight for funding.

      I agree. The last thing we should do is give enemies of public transit their biggest weapon, which is the argument that sometimes cities build dubious projects using misleading numbers, and ridiculous assumptions. We shouldn’t build something as bad as this streetcar project, as it will only embolden enemies of transit and hurt us when we have good, cost effective proposals.

      1. I agree, “We shouldn’t build something as bad as this streetcar project, as it will only embolden enemies of transit and hurt us when we have good, cost effective proposals.”

        Indeed. Like ST2, ST3 and more SWIFT lines.

        Yeah sure Todd E Herman is going to be insufferably happy tomorrow 3-6 PM KTTH and the substitute host he had on Friday wanted to offer a “Nobel Peace Prize” if Mayor Durkan shut down Sound Transit.

        I’d rather see this proposal deep sixed and it made very clear this is about being Robin Hood and getting spare & rare transit service hour dollars to low income & people of color – NOT downtown! Let’s start defending public transit as something that makes SENSE!

      2. Speaking of Bertha, I can’t help but think of that project’s delay and this “period of maximum constraint.” Seems like forcing the Convention Center expansion to delay is an unwarranted economic impact, while forcing the delay of Light Rail exclusivity in the tunnel is a straightforward transportation impact. Has there been so much as a “my bad” from any of the parties involved in that over-budget fiasco? I can recall the previous Governor, no friend of transit, threatening all of us that the viaduct was coming down in 2016 no matter what the state of replacement plans. Why is it the state’s construction of a downtown-bypass route is free to wreak havoc on downtown with impunity?

      3. Because the state has authority over everything in the state, and a state highway is considered a compelling public interest, while a city is just a city. The previous governor was also concerned about the seismic risk of the viaduct, and it killing people if it collapsed in an earthquake.

      4. //Because the state has authority over everything in the state, and a state highway is considered a compelling public interest, while a city is just a city.//

        Well, yeah. I guess that was a stupid question.

        //The previous governor was also concerned about the seismic risk of the viaduct, and it killing people if it collapsed in an earthquake.//

        Right, I remember that. The one thing the governor was right about was that the structure is unsafe and should come down in an orderly fashion, yesterday. When I actually believed the bluster, I had hope we would get the chance to see proof of just how unnecessary the underground bypass would be. Alas.

  16. But for First Avenue, everybody needs a basic understanding: First hasn’t been a reliable through motor-corridor for decades. So streetcars, buses, bikes, and feet serve will be what the the street between Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market already is:

    Both these attractions blending into each other for the busy street life- that Third Avenue should have been- and could still become. Which the new Waterfront and everything in between also in the project. Colman Dock will be a major feature.

    The art museum. And how many hotels are there already? But also remember: LINK stations at IDS, Pioneer Square, and the museum. Which could be best thing of all. Because I’d like to see this part of Seattle be different from similar districts in other cities:

    I want it full of people of all income brackets and walks of life. No, not going to happen overnight. Healthier if it grows one step at a time. But whatever opening date for the streetcar line, that transitway could be strongest force for a good development.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I love the vision you lay out here and I’m with you, Mark. First Avenue makes a lot of sense. That is why it was selected. If we let this be the end of the project, it will be just another head-scratcher of a gap for future generations of Seattleites who wonder “why wasn’t this done?” The answer is, sadly, politics or (barf) optics…

      Transportation in Seattle is much more a political problem than one of engineering, and we only have ourselves to blame. Sorry to be so dire, but look at the highway 99 tunnel, with all its flaws. Or the repaving projects slated for this summer in North Seattle. 25th Ave promises no change whatsoever for parking and driving your car, while 35th is actually considering multiple modes of how people get around in 2018 (and more want to all the time). But people are seemingly ready to murder each other over a bike lane. When it comes to car infrastructure, the Seattle Times reader’s cry “just get something done already” wins the day. Over in the transit camp, the smallest sign of weakness and we go to war with one another until the money dries up in the heat of withering discourse.

  17. I don’t find any of this surprising. Cost estimates change. The original cost estimate was likely a planning level estimate based on unit costs from the existing streetcar lines and peer systems. The current cost estimate is likely based on design using the FTA Standard Cost Category (SCC) format. .

    Makes sense that it has gone up based on labor costs and cost of materials. Most folks don’t realize that over a 1/3 of FTA cost estimates are soft costs. Add in contingencies and it’s around half the total estimate are soft costs.

    In my opinion, the biggest reasons for cost estimates in Seattle are the bloated agency structures. The operating costs for streetcar in Seattle are astronomical compared to other regions because they use ANOTHER AGENCY AS THE OPERATOR. Take a quick look at National Transit Database (NTD) data on streetcar cost per revenue hour and you will see how much higher Seattle is than other regions, even when taking out the cost of living differential.

    1. Why do you think building an in-house Seattle transit department would cost less than letting Metro run it? They deserve the same remuneration Metro drivers have. And don’t even start about private contractors, the first thing they do is cut wages and benefits to minimal levels.

    2. Metro has a lot of experience with managing transit operations, and setting up maintenance bases and such. SDOT doesn’t have this. Why set up new operations centers and getting into hiring drivers when Metro can do it for you? Metro’s high-ish union wages and benefits are because it’s in a larg-ish, liberal city. SDOT is in exactly the same situation.

  18. 600 people per train!?! You’re joking, right? I live on First Hill, and there are far better choices than the street car. The existing legs have been far below ridership predictions, and the SLU leg is losing riders. Joining these will do little to change this.

  19. an extra $100 million, minus some costs for transportation. My prediction is that cancelling this project at this point and forfeiting the federal money will leave very of the local funding remaining for other projects.

  20. What about when the viaduct comes down? For those of us who live on First Ave. it’s going to be gridlock, with or without the proposed trolley. I support a rapid ride line from Uptown/Key Arena to Pioneer Square as the best option.

    1. Rapid Ride doesn’t get its own lanes. At least, it hasn’t to date in downtown except the pitifully under-enforced joke on Battery Street.

      1. It does in parts of Aurora and other streets. Madison RapidRide will also have plenty of bus only lanes. The section Deborah mentioned could probably have its own lane most of the way, if the money could be found. Along First you could use the proposed streetcar path for buses, then replace the parking on Queen Anne Avenue and First Avenue North with bus lanes. For the most part the streets have parking on both sides, which is excessive. It is a fine idea, and could either be it’s own line, or dramatically speed up the D.

        Personally, I would like to run another RapidRide line out to Ballard, after the 40 is converted to RapidRide. This would be a hybrid of sorts. Start at 65th and 24th, then make a turn at Market, to get over to 15th (instead of following Leary). Follow 15th all the way down until it becomes Western, then continue, onto First. The entire route would be RapidRide (a combination of the D, the Rapid Ride 44 and 40) except for the part downtown. You already have the planning done for much of First, which only leaves the small section in Belltown. Such a route would be an express of sorts for folks on 24th NW, while giving them one seat rides to various places (15th and Market, Interbay, Belltown, etc.).

      2. Of course all those routes could have red lanes. And you’re right that I omitted the E. But getting those lanes elsewhere has proven to be nearly impossible. There’s a constant clamor from West Seattle to remove the bus lane from the high bridge. “Can’t the buses go on the low one?”

        The fundamental flaw with your idea of moving RR’s off Third to First is that, with the exception of some people using the C between downtown and SLU, the riders on the RR’s are not largely headed to or from the Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square. They’re headed to Third, Fourth, Fifth or even farther east. Including the REST of the riders on the C.

        However, the streetcar route is perfect for linking the mushrooming population living in SLU to those food and entertainment destinations.

        Sure, now that you have some priority on Westlake for the streetcar, you could rip up the tracks and have an “S-Line” Rapid Ride between Fred Hutch and First and Jackson. It’d probably get the same ridership that the streetcar would attract. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the money doesn’t just have to go back to Feds, but that Paul Allen put a clause in his support for the SLU streetcar that says he gets his money back if they tear it out.

        So, have your Autobusse über alles glee.

      3. Actually, I stated in my original comment “at least … downtown”, because that’s where she was proposing an RR. If you did the “S-Line” it would make sense to do a “Q-Line” also. Either would have to have very frequent service though.

    2. What about speaking up and raising hell to save this project? The gaps in our transportation network (like the one we seem poised to cast in concrete here after the utility work is done) are glaring. They are noticeable to Seattleites new and old. And whenever baffled newcomers wonder aloud “why wasn’t this done?” a member of the highly-informed opposition will be near, and will relish in the opportunity to dance on this project’s grave like so many before it, happy to revisit the foolishness of a failed plan they helped to bring to a halt.

      For every proposed solution to our transportation woes, there’s always a better, more perfect use for transit funds proposed. Every day we probe what went wrong, and better ways spend that money instead, 55 more people move here. Meanwhile, the car lobby and conservative talk radio are laughing all the way to the bank.

  21. This is only a political ploy by the mayor to appease transit haters and street car haters in particular. Once she has beaten her pecs and won political clout she will then follow-up with ardent CCC support. To cancel the project now and leave a disjointed SS system would come across as being more inept than would be the case if she pushes the system forward.

    1. Another issue is that SDOT held back the information from the City Council on the labor costs for the operation of the street car. Metro estimated those costs at 24 million dollars a year while SDOT said it would be 16 million dollars and internal documents and emails showed that SDOT brushed aside Metro’s concern and advice.

      SDOT has a credibility problem with many people including members of the City Council and when you brush aside Metro’s concern and they are the ones operating the street car and they would have a better understanding of those labor costs. SDOT also has a reputation of running roughshod over people who don’t agree with them and their disagreement with Metro is a prime example.

    2. >> To cancel the project now and leave a disjointed SS system would come across as being more inept than would be the case if she pushes the system forward.

      But she didn’t create this mess. She didn’t start the streetcar project, nor did she hire the people in charge of SDOT. All the people responsible for this fiasco are now gone (including the former head at SDOT). It is quite common for a new administration — with no ties to the old one — to cancel projects, especially after learning that they are not nearly as good as promised. I would argue that it is the smarter thing to do politically.

  22. This was Mayor Durkans first political test, and she gets an F. There are better ways to message a cost overrun on a public project. This notion of a “pause” is pandering to her old-Seattle base, and provides a palatable but incoherent excuse to kill the project.

    I also adore the comments above that claim a bus would be better, because they miss the point of the CCC completely.

    Whether you agree or not that the streetcar is the right technology for this line is moot. We have streetcars, we are stuck with them. Let’s use them as a tool to secure dedicated transit ROW.

    Of course it will be expensive, and probably cost more in the end. I’m wondering if anyone here cares how much is spent keeping the roads open?

    If this post comes across as pure snark, forgive me. I’m traveling in Europe and no one on this bloody continent can make a decent cup of coffee. But the surface rail is convenient and quick.

    1. >> Whether you agree or not that the streetcar is the right technology for this line is moot. We have streetcars, we are stuck with them. Let’s use them as a tool to secure dedicated transit ROW.

      Again, we can secure the right of way without using streetcars on them. If the two streetcars were bus routes, no one in their right mind would argue that connecting these two bus routes is essential. Because they are both flawed routes. The South Lake Union section is too short — it is simply a subset of several much more useful longer lines (many of which are, or will soon be RapidRide). The First Hill line is much worse. It spends way too much time stuck in traffic, making ridiculous twists and turns. Connecting it to downtown adds next to nothing. If you are headed up to Madison, then Madison BRT is faster and more frequent. If you are headed to Capitol Hill, then Link is faster and more frequent. If you are headed to Jackson, then the 7 is faster and more frequent. There are only a handful of spots where taking this makes sense, and none of them involve downtown.

      1. Ok genius so what do we do with two shitty lines? Do we throw up our hands and walk away or try to fix them?

      2. It is a sunk cost. You walk away. No sense spending good money after bad, since you really can’t fix them (and the CCC won’t fix anything). You don’t fix a Chevy Vega when the transmission goes out, you just wonder why on earth you bought the thing.

        One option would be to admit we were wrong, and that streetcar technology — especially small streetcars — is a stupid idea for a hilly city like Seattle. Tear up the rail lines (in the name of safety) sell off the streetcars and the streetcar maintenance building (which would fetch a pretty high price, given its location). We wouldn’t be the first (and we certainly won’t be the last) to make mistakes like this, and just move on. Nor is it the first time we changed our mind (remember the Kingdome?).

      3. Again, we can secure the right of way without using streetcars on them

        Prove it! Madison BRT was to have been center running left door throughout. Now it’s going to be an expensive hybrid for about 60%.

        Roosevelt was to have had Red lanes north of the Ship Canal. Uh-un. Mixed traffic as far as the eye can see.

        Battery Street. Red Paint! Yippeee, a Red Lane bumper to bumper with cars!

        Prove it!

      4. If I recall correctly, you think pretty much the same thing about Link It’s no good north of Northgate. It’s a big waste to go to Bellevue; the bridge probably won’t really work. We never should have gone to the airport. West Seattle should be buses. And maybe Ballard.

        I guess you must commute between the Rainier Valley and the U-District, because that line seems to pass whatever muster roll you’ve written.

      5. Normally I’d agree. Except tearing up the streetcars doesn’t solve the surface transportation issue we have through downtown. And remember, the political will does not exist to make 3rd Ave bus only, and 3rd can’t really be widened. I can see many options for downtown transit but zero political will or even consensus on what to do.

        Seattle didn’t buy the existing streetcar lines, they were gifts from a billionaire and regional taxing. So no real loss or gain to tear them out. You won’t find any politician to agree to that idea I’m sure.

        Streetcars are typically not good transit. They are political tools to encourage development. The CCC plan supposedly changed that calculus by providing the necessary cover to restrict ROW for surface rail that should be fast and frequent.

        The CCC is a bold plan in many respects. It might improve transit through downtown and it might not. But there isn’t a city in the US, other than Seattle, with the progressive cred to give an audacious plan like this a shot.

        Our Mayor, who is not a politician btw, has created a crisis of confidence she may not be able to resolve (see Nichols, Mayor, snow ploughing, B grade).

    2. I would hold off on giving our mayor an F at this point.

      I believe this is more about calling out (and possibly reforming) SDOT.

      If the CCC actually gets cancelled, then I’ll look over the reasons she has given (and her proposed replacement projects) and grade her appropriately.

    3. “I’m traveling in Europe and no one on this bloody continent can make a decent cup of coffee.”

      Head to Italy. That’s what inspired Starbucks.

      (I don’t like coffee so I can’t tell the different kinds apart, but the American coffee-connaisseur culture came out of Italian-American coffee bars. The last time I went to Chicago, on the first day I went to a vegan cafe and had a hazelnut hot chocolate that was so good I went back on my last day and ordered the same thing. I got it and it tasted burnt. I flagged down the waiter and told him my hazelnut hot chocolate is burnt and could i have it remade. He said, “Hot chocolate? I’m sorry, I thought you wanted hazelnut coffee.”)

  23. The capital and operational costs are still being underestimated.

    Once the CCC opens, there will be two “lines”: SLU to Pioneer Square, and Pike Place to Jackson to Capitol Hill. Each will have 10-minute headway, creating roughly 5-minute headway in the overlapping portion.

    The headway on the tails will still make them feel unusable compared to bus lines that will be more frequent than them during peak.

    So, people will demand more streetcars be purchased in order to have them all travel the full length of the line. They’ll also have to replace the SLU streetcars with the specialized technology in the FH streetcars.

    That full capital cost figure ought to be part of the discussion now, especially if it is cheaper to purchase the full fleet now. The operating cost of 5-minute headway for the whole line should be calculated, as that is what it is going to take to get serious ridership.

    Has Metro foreseen this and based its operational costs estimates on the more realistic eventual 5-minute headway scenario?

    1. Yes, absolutely. That is yet another problem with this. You are only serving a very small part of this with the promised five minute headways. If I’m at South Lake Union, headed towards the south end of downtown, then the C comes more often much of the day. If I’m on Jackson, headed up towards the north end, then the 7 sounds better. Along First this is the best option, but only because it goes along First. Along each of the other streets, the other buses will arrive more often. In fact the problem seems to be too many buses, not too few.

      Then there is the question of bunching. The First Hill section is notoriously unreliable, and that won’t change. So that means that a streetcar may arrive at Pioneer Square several minutes late. It is quite possible that the SLU streetcar will start out right ahead (or behind) the other one. You can adjust accordingly, but only if you add a bunch more streetcars. In other words, five minute all route streetcars might not be the best option. It may be that you time the SLU for five minute headways, but just live with whatever headways the First Hill line provides. There is nothing wrong with this from a customer standpoint, but it means you need a bunch more streetcars, just to provide the type of service you promised (i. e. five minute frequency through part of downtown).

  24. Oh and folks the Seattle City Council hearing is when? 10 AM on a Monday. No public comment. Council meeting at 2 PM doesn’t have this on the agenda, so no public comment then.

    Thanks to a certain jerk for having misbehavior so bombastic as to force reforms to public comment that limit public comment to agenda items. Most of us know who he is, so I’m not going to give him name ID.

  25. There have been so many projects in Seattle that have gone overbudget that it just doesn’t even surprise me anymore. Many of them I didn’t vote for or wasn’t given the choice of voting at all. This one is very small compared to others. Most of us are smart enough to know when the numbers or timelines aren’t realistic. In a few years history will show this project as done early and underbudget, just like everything else.

    I did actually vote on the First Hill streetcar line. Not because I like streetcars. It was because I voted on ST2 and it was already in the package. As I remember it was called The First Hill Connector. Everybody who voted for ST2 voted for that streetcar line whether they liked it or not.

    Immediately after the vote passed there were rumors of connecting them. I just don’t believe a lie or cost overun will stop it. The halt is merely to make the Mayor and the Council look responsible. Even when they questioned it a few months ago, I was betting my friends it would not stop that project. If The Times did not run that article every one of them would have ignored it and let it go.

    Of course this is just my opinion.

  26. Given the cost overruns and delays on the freeway tunnel, can we just scrap the middle section and provide a bus bridge between the northern and southern portions of the highway? Or maybe a car gondola, similar to what Elon Musk is proposing, but above-grade?

  27. Question #6: What alternative options exist for connecting the ferries and the waterfront to Link? One of the whole points, which was part of the promo material, was to connect the First Hill hospitals to the ferries. Which BTW the shared Madison RR and Streetcar stop really doesn’t do a good job of–it’s a four block walk to transfer, and it’s across a busy highway and up a steep hill unless the ped bridge is retained or replaced (I’m not convinced it would be….). One idea is use the money to extend Madison RR to the waterfront and the ferries. There is PLENTY of space to do this–the waterfront is basically being completely rebuilt! And there’s really no point of a RR stop there on 1st unless it is a shared streetcar stop. RR should have a *destination* attached to it! People promoting RR over streetcars–here’s your chance! Another option would be a Hong Kong like system of public escalators, but we all know that would be prone to breakdowns.

    1. Agreed.

      I’ve long argued that the streetcar should take riders right up to the ferry – and that WSF should have streetcars waiting for ferry riders. Others seem fine making ferry riders walk across parking lots and busy streets to get to streetcar and Madison BRT — but there is an ingrained attitude in Seattle that making great transfers isn’t important, so we are left with too few escalators, missing escalators, forced surface crossings of major streets at Link stations to reach bus stops and blocks of walking because there was little interest in paying for the last block. If a rider in this region changes modes (especially between different operators), they are conditioned and trained to accept terrible pedestrian connectivity.

      1. Al S. AGREED! OMG, SLUSC couldn’t have gone just 1 more block for better tunnel connection? First hill street car should be a block longer on the north and 2 on the south ends for connections.

  28. The infighting makes me sad. I know a lot of you guys and I love you all. Lots of enlightening facts and figures but here’s the thing: our region’s planning shelves are packed with projects that never got off the ground, or were killed when a patient opposition finally had the perfect political conditions to carry out the execution.

  29. This is really a fantastic argument surfacing so many interesting (and some good) ideas. I hope the transit planners read it through. The existing street cars are sunk costs that are not meeting their ridership goals, not because they don’t connect to each other, but because they are slow and unreliable, and there are better options (as many have made the case). If we don’t just rip them up and sell off the rolling stock, make the First Hill Street car a bit more useful and extend it to the waterfront for the ferry. Consider splitting it at Jackson and 14th and continuing it up to 23rd, maybe even to the Judkins Park East Link Station.

    Fighting for dedicated transit right of way on the roads is clearly hard, EVEN FOR STREET CARS, just look at the fight the Capitol Hill businesses are mounting over some proposed street car ROW improvements for 3 or 4 blocks. The fight should be no easier, or harder, if it is made for buses. Buses would have a larger ridership constituency, which should make it politically easier.

    Last thing: FTA funding for street cars is like free puppies. You still have to operate the things, and SDOTs operating estimates haven’t been particularly accurate.

  30. I am late to this thread. the comments of RossB are sound.

    At least three phrases in Martin’s original post deserve comment. There are: “This is a setback for Downtown and its people-carrying capacity” and “Although CCC will be an efficient way to move people in the long run” and “the CCC’s dedicated chunk of First Avenue would have been very useful for moving people efficiently”. They are all doubtful. Please note that in the peak periods, 3rd Avenue now carries about 130 trips per hour per direction. The CCC Streetcar plan was to provide only 12 trips per hour per direction. The middle lanes of 1st Avenue would be about as empty as a bowling alley. The SDOT plan to use trips from the two unreliable tails is flawed as well. As RossB points out, much of the time, we would have two bunched streetcar 10 minute apart. I suspect the ridership forecast was dependent on even headway and probably does not handle the nearby duplicative service in the robust network well.

    The third and fourth questions have both a capital and a service component. where else could Seattle spend the scores of millions if they did not do the CCC streetcar. Candidates include Aurora Avenue North sidewalks and 23rd Avenue, South Henderson Street, and Yesler Way trolley bus overhead. The operating subsidy issue would arise if the farebox comes up short of the SDOT forecast or the partners back out after 2021.

    As RossB points out, if Seattle provides transit priority on 1st Avenue, it could carry many trips and much better CBD circulation than the CCC streetcar would provide. Frequency yields transit mobility. the transit lanes could be on the outside. Both streetcars and buses move better with priority. The former cost a lot. With OCC constraints, we need capacity for the latter any way.

    The study underway during the pause will help Seattle make a good decision.

    Some commenters missed the history. Routes 15, 18, 21, 22, and 56 were shifted to 1st Avenue in 1998. Seattle kept 1st Avenue slow by retaining parking in Pioneer Square in the afternoon peak period. in 2011, the AWV project required them to shift to 3rd Avenue; city light dug up Cherry Street; WSDOT built the WOSCA detour.

    1. The 10/12 combined route through downtown also used part of 1st at one point.

      1. Alaska Way Viaduct

        The group in charge of the convention center. Forget the entire alphabet soup on that one.

      2. AWV = Alaska Way Viaduct
        WOSCA = the SR-99 detour that took out a building west of 1st Avenue South and closed that arterial for several months while the former on ramp became the connection to the AWV.
        WSCC = Washington State Convention Center
        routes 10 and 12 were combined via 1st Avenues for many years; during the AWV traffic revisions, 1st Avenue became choked with traffic and the pair was broken in fall 2012.

  31. Here are the things I find bizarre about all of this:
    1. SDOT is in fact a department in the government she runs, right? Surely there are ways of asking questions to a department in her own government than stopping the thing, starting a $500,000 investigation (that sure sounds like it will be a long pause, unless they have a large team of investigators working in parallel), and putting $75M of federal funding at risk. Looking at SDOT’s website they have someone who’s job is to communicate with the mayor and council.
    2. The whole thing about King County not being able to comment with different operator hours. SDOT of course contracts with KC for operations, so it seems like there may be some conflict of interest going on. It’s like a window contractor weighting in on how many windows you should upgrade. Pretty sure they’ll always say all of them. And maybe they’re right, but I wouldn’t take their word for it.

    1. Durkan has doubts about the credibility of SDOT’s answers, so it wouldn’t help to just ask SDOT again. There are allegations that SDOT kept the previous city council and mayor in the dark about likely cost risks, and that prevented them from making a fully informed decision. There’s another allegation that SDOT ignored Metro’s warning and estimate of operating costs (more below). The investigation’s initial report will come out in June; that’s only two months away.

      The federal grant is a well-known risk, and different people have different opinions on how much a risk it is and how that should affect the city’s decisions. But Durkan is the elected mayor and it’s her job to make her own judgment on that.

      It’s possible that Metro is highballing operating costs and unnecessary staff, but it’s possible it isn’t. The best way to answer that is to compare other cities’ streetcar operations. But Metro has experience in it so it’s the best expert in the city that anyone has identified so far. Of course Metro has union-level wages and a possibly-high staffing ratio: it’s a public agency in a liberal city. But that’s not going to change and King County voters would not deunionize or privatize it; they don’t want to see bus service go down the toilet and drivers paid minimum wage, especially not at this time of increasing population and increasing congestion concerns.

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