In his years on the Seattle City Council, Nick Licata consistently supported running more buses in traffic. He was also a frequent opponent of capital investment for higher-quality transit. Never a leader on bus lanes, he engaged in a little concern trolling about Move Seattle before ultimately supporting it. He opposed light rail until its opening made it incredibly popular in Seattle. And his strident opposition to streetcars never wavered.
This is useful context for his recent op-ed ($) opposing the Center City Connector. Most of the arguments have been rehearsed elsewhere, and I personally find them unconvincing. But I want to focus on one assertion, important enough to become the op-ed headline, and unintentionally revealing about the mindset that produces it.
Clearly if the CCC is built, there will be more transit riders on the three streetcar lines. However, SDOT has not projected how many will be new transit riders or riders moving from bus lines to the CCC. Those switching transit modes will only divert revenue from the larger bus network serving to bring employees and shoppers to our downtown while reducing the traffic congestion that is choking access to it.
With Link, we heard this argument a lot before ridership so overwhelmed even the mightiest bus line that it became ridiculous. More importantly, this is an impoverished view of transit investment. It is a windshield mentality where transit is only valuable when It Gets Other Cars Out of My Way.
To be clear, I don’t think the ridership assertion is true. The CCC will add capacity to the most congested part of the system, bring new road space into the transit network, and provide a more legible and convenient option for newcomers to some of Seattle’s premier tourist attractions. That is a clear case on the merits that it will bring new riders to the system.
But even it were true, this argument devalues the experience of existing transit riders. If riders switch from old service to new service (and the old service still runs), that self-evidently improves their experience. Whether they avoid a transfer from the existing streetcars, appreciate a closer stop, or find 1st Avenue travel to be less clogged than on 3rd, their lives are slightly better. That is valuable in itself, just as “congestion relief” would improve the lot of those committed to driving.
This is the leap that many pro-transit progressives are not willing to make: perfectly happy to pay taxes to run buses, help poor people, and get some cars off the road, but not to reallocate road space to transit or pay serious money for dedicated right-of-way.
There is certainly some constellation of investments that would produce greater rider improvements than the CCC. As no project is optimal, it would be remarkable if that were not the case. But there is no indication that a superior package will emerge if the streetcar folds.