Atomic Taco/Flickr

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.

56 Replies to “The Windshield Perspective on Rail Projects”

  1. Thank you, Martin. The Seattle region is batting zero for two within just three months when it comes to supporting the “locally preferred option” for important in-City projects. First the Mayor “delayed” the Center City Connector and began repeating the memes of the anti-surface rail jihadis of all stripes, and now we have the fiasco of the under-powered or perhaps non-existent buses for “Madison BRT”, now known as “RapidRide G”.

    While no one knows how Cary Moon would have handled the “incompatibilities” of the domestic streetcars, it has become crystal clear that the suburban autoistas got their dream mayoral candidate in Jennie Durkan.

    1. What a total BS attack against the mayor. The fiascos, as you call them, were the result of the previous mayor. It is in the newspaper, for heaven’s sake:

      None of those problems are due to her administration. All of them were due to the previous adminstration’s failure to communicate. The last problem (the vendor issues with the buses) is probably the least damning. Someone forget to double check to make sure that the bus company could deliver the buses (after initially promising them they would). But the other two were huge mistakes, that should have gotten the people fired. (The head of SDOT managed to jump ship before people discovered the issues). Failing to return phone calls and respond to concerns from Metro — METRO! — is inexcusable. I don’t know if it is rooted in arrogance or disinterest, but it is inexcusable.

      Now you want to attack the current mayor because she inherited this mess and had the audacity to point out the problems? Is that what you really want — someone to just sweep the issue under the rug, then turn around years later and say “oops, I guess we can’t build that after all — oh well”. Move Seattle is already underfunded (thanks to the previous administration); we already know that the streetcar operations budget is underfunded; what if it turns out that the whole thing is underfunded? What if it turns out that we can’t possibly build the thing, or afford to pay for the new streetcars — what then? Do you want to cancel bus service so that we have a streetcar? Do you want to have a streetcar line with service every 20 or 30 minutes? Those are real possibilities, and they are not the result of a mayor who favors cars over buses, but a previous administration that simply didn’t know what it was doing.

      1. Blasting out false concerns about the gauge of the streetcar tracks is not merely having ‘the audacity to point out the problems’ – it is making up new problems to justify killing the project.

        Look, I’ll keep an open mind about Durkan until she actually does something, but this is looking a lot like an anti-transit administration. I’d advise you to compartmentalize your dislike of the streetcar project and do the same.

      2. Thank you for continuing to be the voice of reason RossB.

        This transit project is flawed. It is a poor use of our limited transit funds. The route as a whole is completely useless so connecting the two pieces is not going to increase their utility in a meaningful way. The pieces of the route that are useful are already served (better) by the light rail in the tunnel two blocks away and the many, many buses on 3rd and elsewhere that not only go back and forth downtown but continue on to other destinations!

        Most importantly, and what you streetcar fanatics always conspicuously avoid mentioning is that the streetcar tracks are a proven, deadly danger to cyclists and we should not be putting more in! Even if you hate cyclists the injuries and deaths will continue to occur and the city will continue to spend significant amounts of money on legal fees and payouts. This will only add to the already ballooning operating cost estimates. The streetcar is not Vision Zero-compatible.

        This project stinks and it is pretty despicable to see so many people jump straight to the “Durkan is anti-transit” bandwagon when she has the audacity to point out real and significant issues with the project as it stands.

        The 3rd Ave decision was weak, she should be called out on that, repeatedly. The decision to delay and potentially cancel the CCC is strong leadership and good stewardship of our limited transit dollars in the face of vocal opposition that I very much appreciate. I believe that much of this narrative is being driven by folks who did not vote for Durkan because they viewed her as insufficiently progressive (fair enough, that’s what the election is for) but they are now unable to consider her decisions in a neutral light because of a desire to justify their opposition or brush up on their progressive bona fides. “Oh, she’s against a transit project? I knew it!!1”

      3. 3rd Avenue bus or train service is not an adequate substitute for the CCC. More about this tomorrow.

        Also, the CCC tracks will be in the center lanes and should not pose any obstacle to cyclists under normal circumstances. Cyclists and trams coexist without carnage in cities all over the world, provided that the track design is better than our first attempt on Westlake.

      4. >> 3rd Avenue bus or train service is not an adequate substitute for the CCC.

        No, nor is the CCC an adequate substitute for good bus service on First Avenue. Third Avenue bus service — with all of its flaws — at least is frequent. If I want to get from the north end of downtown to the south end of downtown, I can walk over to Third and catch a bus. I have no idea what bus I will catch, but I know I won’t have to wait long at all. The street has effective headways in the seconds. But if the streetcar is built, the tiny little choo-choo trains will run five minutes at best. I say “at best” because the reality is that a streetcar will inevitably be delayed by traffic, a car a few inches into the lane, or my favorite, a shopping cart. So what if my First Avenue experience is wonderful, and none of those cars inch over into my lane — it means nothing if the vehicle was delayed even getting to First.

        Also, the CCC tracks will be in the center lanes and should not pose any obstacle to cyclists under normal circumstances.

        But they have to get over to First, David! There are problems connecting the route:

        Cyclists and trams coexist without carnage in cities all over the world, provided that the track design is better than our first attempt on Westlake.

        Yes, they do, but only if you spend huge amounts of money making them safe. Guess what — we don’t have huge amounts of money. We don’t have the kind of money that Toronto has, and yet Toronto hasn’t made them safe. That is because it is really expensive! Do you really think the city is going to spend millions making the street wider so that it looks like this: Really? It takes them forever to build simple BAT lanes, and you think they will buy up the downtown property, expand the street, put in new sidewalks and an isolated bike lane, all so that we can run a streetcar no bigger than our buses every five minutes at best? Seriously?

        No, that just won’t happen. The city hasn’t dealt with the real hazards that have existed for years — the least we can do is try and not create new ones.

    2. Who’s not supporting RapidRide G? I have heard no calls to divert money away from it. Just some concerns that it may be impossible to have the full speed potential given the limitations of the “Buy America” act and the American-made vehicles that are available. If the buses turn out to be sluggish, it will be a wasted opportunity for something better, but it won’t be the end of the world and it will still be better than the 12.

      1. I’m curious – just how much Fed money are we getting with the limitation that we ‘Buy American,’ and would it be more viable to buy what we want using only local funding?

        Is there a foreign source for the kind of bus we want that could provide them within a reasonable timeline (versus waiting for a domestic manufacturere to cobble together the kind of bus this route demands…)?

        Or is the amount of Federal funding so significant that this project doesn’t pencil out unless we rely on that funding (nevermind the unreliability of even getting Federal funding from the current transit-hostile Administration)?

      2. I started thinking about that last week. It has really skewed our decisions on the vehicles for the SLU streetcar and Link. because only a few companies qualify so they only offer what’s easy for them and have an almost monopoly on pricing. In some cases there is only one vendor and one model to choose from. Other companies won’t open factories here and conform to the materials sourcing requirements because the US rail trasit market and trolleybus market is so small it’s not worth their while. Our car market is massive so they can’t ignore that market, but rail transit and trolleybus transit is a tiny fraction of the total vehicle market. So because we threw away our national streetcar infrastructure (the US had the most miles of rail in the world a century ago) and stopped building those vehicles and lost the industry and instead placed massive orders for cars, diesel buses, and airplanes, we’re now hit doubly hard because the small size of our existing industry means the grant criteria works against us. The rest of the world has much better and more economical trains and buses that we can’t use because they don’t qualify for “Buy American”.

        ST1, 2, and 3 were practically predicated on federal grants. ST made its decisions based on what the FTA would favor. The monorail project said “We don’t need no skinkin’ grants” because they didn’t want the restrictions, and designed something to be locally funded. Of course their budget was like the emperor has no clothes, but it didn’t depend on uncertain or restrictive grant money.

        But that gets into what I said this morning, that we’ve gotten into a huge backlog of deferred investment as any other country would consider it, and we need emergency measures now to get up to where we should be. That’s what makes the grants all the more necessary. But it doesn’t help when the current administration and a longer-term half of Congress is hostile to the very goal of transit security.

    3. I agree Ross. The technical and cost merits of a project are valid concerns. I could see how someone rejoices that Santa said he would bring that special train or ETB that someone always wanted — but an adult would be circumspect enough to see what reality is. Pitching a hissy fit like our President has popularized is needless and counter-productive.

    1. Wow! Now that is a swamp of Trumpian proportions. This is not the kind of thing I like to see from our elected leaders — we should be better.

      I’m not exactly sure how this feeds the anti-streetcar bias of this admin, but thanks for the link

      1. Now Mike, that’s a sad, unfair, and fake thing to say. My opponents are always trying to belittle my achievements. My swamp is at least six hundred million acres, and seeded with giant alligators which the Clinton people substituted for the dinosaurs that were originally there.

        But more important is that in a minute, Sarah Huckabee will announce that never in history have the world’s feline creatures enjoyed a cat box the size of that beach. Where depending upon the outcome of our last negotiation fifteen seconds ago, Kim Jong Il will either manage a new hotel tower or stage a beach-head invasion with the nuclear weapons he said he’d just destroyed.

        Probably bought off by the world ‘s most treacherous villain, that car-tariffing Trudeau! And by the way. We’ve now found all those separated children and have them on trial at Angle Lake for infiltrating the United States by running away from their mothers. That’s why this alligator has a zipper. Jeff Sessions, the floor, I mean mud, is yours!

        Signed, Steve Bannon.

  2. Just wait until the Durkan administration decides to move forward with the CCC, but re-engineer it to be in general-purpose lanes. Or cheap out on prioritiness of the lane so that cars are using it all the time regardless of the hard-to-read restrictions.

    Durkan’s team needs to come out with better reasons for not painting 3rd Ave red than that the handful of permitted delivery vehicle drivers who have obtained special permits to travel on certain blocks of 3rd during off-peak hours will get confused.

    1. I’m not worried about that. The problem with the streetcar is cost. Red paint doesn’t make much of a difference in costs. Yes, she could use it as an excuse to coddle cars and boost her reelection chances among drivers, but so far there’s no sign of it.

      1. However much of the cost is sunk cost (Fed grants, existing contracts, ect.). You don’t really save much money by canceling the streetcar. In fact, you may actually lose money in the long term because more dependence on busses wasting service hours in traffic. At some point in the life of a project, it is just time to get the damn thing done.

      2. That’s where we need hard numbers from the city. So far it hasn’t said what percent is funded or how losing the grant compares to that.

        Comparing it to a bus route is mostly apples and oranges because there would never be a bus route in this alignment. The fallback would probably be nothing on 1st. Or maybe eventually something to replace the 99. That would go to Belltown instead of SLU so it would serve different trips. Meanwhile there are many buses to SLU two blocks away on 3rd that people will take instead. 1st-Jackson is an even less compelling use case so I don’t know if it’s worth talking about..

  3. Give it a break, Nick. Any chance you’re really afraid because the streetcar draws all those new passengers from automobiles, putting them in the unfair disadvantage because they’re all stuck? Or that somebody on a streetcar isn’t driving their Beamer because they’ve finally got a fast pleasant way to get to their bus? And worse, don’t have to find a parking space near the place where it stops?

    You going to take your car to somebody who won’t buy an expensive socket wrench because it diverts all those hex bolts away from cheaper existing screwdrivers? And Hell if you’re gonna get a seat in my getaway car. Promised Chief Best I’d stop cutting into ridership on all her padlocked vans with bars on the windows and stolen motorcycles.

    This why Seattle desperately needs people from places where “Stupid” sounds like it’s got two “o’s” instead of a the “u”‘s we’ve already got, even “o’s” are getting clobbered by tariffs.. Believe me, in Seattle they’ll pay for themselves. And for same reason we must be prepared to get right number of overpriced “e’s” into “Sheesh!”


      1. Anybody know whose embassy we need to contact to get one for a couple of terms? At least the Third World cities I’ve been in are happy energetic places with a lot of activity.

        Truly the Anti-Seattle. I also think it’ll be good for Jennie-girl’s political career to be able to walk gracefully down First between Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square with a clay bottle of coconut wine or a basket of fresh pineapples on her head.

        Excellent for the posture, I’m told. Learning to fabricate car parts with a cutting torch and a scrap fuel filter will be profitable new skill for Maintenance. Average parts store here probably can’t do a rush order to equip the whole bus fleet with steel bars and railings so we can carry goats and chickens on the roof.

        Though come to think of it….the Mayor’s career might take some damage if somebody discovered she’s a prosecutor, and required to wear a wig that looks like a rug knit from a mop. But here’s most problematic cultural adjustment.

        When you’re “Walkin’ down the road, with a ratchet in your waist..” you haven’t just been to True Value Hardware. On the other hand, satisfyin’ to have a loud authoritative “click” be the last thing your enemy hears in their life. US switchblades have a spring, which somehow spoils the whole effect.


    1. People aren’t going to switch from cars because of the friggin’ streetcar! The biggest reason people cite for not driving downtown is the cost of parking. A streetcar running fifteen more blocks is not going to make a difference. That’s assuming they will, during their visit downtown, make a trip from SLU to 1st Avenue or from 1st Avenue to Little Saigon. That’s a vanishingly small number of people. Also, they’ll have to know ahead of time that they’re making that trip. If they decide on the spur of the moment, then either they’ll already have their car with them or they won’t. If they drive and park downtown and make a round-trip streetcar trip to SLU or Jackson Street, well, that is using transit for Center City circulation so that’s a good thing, but it falls between the case of them driving 100% or using transit 100%. They would also pay the fixed cost of the fare, which they probably don’t have an ORCA card for, compared to the incremental cost if driving another half-mile. Although the thought of paying for parking a second time may deter them.

      1. Tourists and event crowds taking Ubers count as cars too? Nowadays downtown cars aren’t just the ones driven in from the suburbs and parked downtown.

      2. I don’t know how streetcar trips relate to Uber trips. It’s a different level of service, because you’re paying a lot more for door-to-door convenience.

      3. Apologies, Mike. That statement was only to remind Nick Licata to be careful when he tries to cash that check the streetcar haters gave him to read all those stupid things he allegedly said.

        If I really wanted streetcars to carry motorists to where their cars are parked, I’d chop lines in the offshore ice off Tierra Del Fuego, and have car-ramps at the ends of First to load the bullet trains.

        Or as I’ve been threatening, go full-bore interurban and hook automobile trailers (no fair if we’ve only got bike trailers) to Ellensburg LINK because barn space is probably pretty reasonable. And the feather-fortified chicken crap on the roof will come off with only a couple inches of paint stuck to it.

        A lot of sidewalk baristas will pay us a big premium for cans of fresh milk products. And by then we’ll have the chicken and goat securements welded onto those buses that the streetcar just left at the market. W hich in Tanzania is always where the bus station is!


    1. Why would her making a decision “right before the election” matter: neither she, nor members of the city council, nor anyone else having anything at all to do with this are on the ballot this November.

  4. speaking of move seattle funding…. a portion of the bridge over I-5 between the Northgate Link station and North Seattle College was to come from the Move Seattle Levy.

    if that project gets squashed because of all of this that would be another huge disappointment.

  5. What many people lose sight of is that planning is not for Seattle of today, but the Seattle 20 years from now. There are two outcomes of transit expansion: if it is well done, it will induce growth. If it is adequate, it will support growth.
    Link, being clean and safe induces growth. Our downtown is no longer supportable with private cars. I believe the streetcar is necessary not because it is needed now, but that it will prove a growth necessity in the future.
    Yes buses could do the same thing. The train bias though is real and it is not undeserved. It is actually shocking the state of bus engineering. They bounce, they have uncomfortable seats, they feel (are?) narrow, they look ugly, they don’t go always where you expect them to go, they are noisy (all the parts creak, the engine is loud, etc), they are polluting, and they are dimly lit. In Seattle, I feel the security is better on trains than buses.

    1. Seriously?

      Buses “don’t go always where you expect them to go?” If you can read a streetcar route map, you can read a bus route map. Meanwhile, try re-routing a streetcar when there’s something blocking the route!

      Buses “are polluting” if you’re takling old-school diesel, but most of the Metro fleet (and certainly the ones that compete with streetcars) run off of overhead wires just like the streetcars do. There’s zero emissions difference.

      I’ll grant you that streetcar and light-rail have a nicer feel – but given the limited resources and the higher capital costs of rail, buses are a better overall investment.

      1. Exactly. The whole idea that “buses don’t go always where you expect them to go”, while streetcars do is absurd when you look at the proposed route. Holy smoke, it is so convoluted it is hard to explain. Imagine if you are in from out of town, and want to attend a ballgame. Your find yourself at Pike Place Market, and want to head to the game. Great, you think, you know Safeco Field is south, and the streetcar must go there. So you start riding. And riding. You notice the bus is heading east, and get a bit nervous (it must straighten back out, you think) but then it turns north. You are about to ask someone what is going on, until you realize the thing has just reversed itself again — it is now heading west! What the heck is going on, you wonder, until it starts heading north again. You get off the damn thing, now only marginally closer to the stadium. You should have walked (or taken a bus).

        But hey, no matter, that isn’t the point of this thing. It is not a “Stadium” streetcar. It is a Capitol Hill to South Lake Union streetcar. One would surmise, therefore, that if you were on Capitol Hill, and took the streetcar heading north (towards South Lake Union) that the vehicle would take you there fairly soon. Nope. Because the South Lake Union to Capitol Hill streetcar doesn’t actually connect those two neighborhoods in a logical fashion, but instead loops around, just so that people can enjoy the wonderful streetcar experience, instead of actually getting to their destination.

        We do have some weird routes on our hand, but if this streetcar is completed, it will compete for being the weirdest, which is quite something since it would be the only streetcar line.

        As to the whole notion that streetcars are inherently more popular, I don’t buy it. That certainly hasn’t been the case with either streetcar. Both were built with the idea that people would flock to them, just because they are streetcars. But it doesn’t work that way (or least, doesn’t work that way in Seattle). People much prefer transit that actually gets them there.

    2. We need to start with what the need is. In 30 years, how much will people want to travel from Pike Place to SLU, or from Pike Place to 8th & Jackson? (They won’t travel from Pike Place to Broadway & Terrace, at least not more than once, not when they see that RapidRide G and the 3/4 on Yesler are much shorter.) How much does it burden them and the city as a whole if they can’t make that trip as a one-seat ride on a streetcar? The answers to those questions determine how critical this corridor is. Is there any reason to believe it will become more critical after more density has occurred? I would think that there would be a greater need for Pioneer Square to Belltown, which is straight and a grid route, and not in Metro’s long-range plan.

      Then there’s speed. The streetcar might be potentially faster than the existing buses, but not by much. If you start from Pike Place, you’ll only travel part of the transit lanes. If you start from Pioneer Square to SLU, you’ll get the full transit lanes, but that’s a less common trip. Again, this doesn’t mean the streetcar has no benefit, just that its benefit is small. It’s not something that can transform Seattle’s transit capabilities or even make much of a difference.

      It looks very much like the CCC corridor was chosen not because it’s the biggest mobility bottleneck downtown, but because it happens to be where the two legacy streetcars end. That looks a lot like throwing good money after bad. Again, we should take a needs-first approach and design our network to meet the most critical mobility needs most effectively, rather than a legacy-infrastructure approach. The most critical transit corridors downtown appear to me to be 3rd, Madison, and Pike/Pine, not 1st-Stewart-Westlake.

      1. It looks very much like the CCC corridor was chosen not because it’s the biggest mobility bottleneck downtown, but because it happens to be where the two legacy streetcars end.

        Exactly. Of course that was the case. No one in their right mind would go through a bus restructure, and then come up with a convoluted route that violates every principle imaginable when it comes to transit routing. Just look at the various options (good, bad and ugly) that Metro laid out for Capitol Hill and northeast Seattle after UW Link. Nothing looked even close to this. Metro may have its flaws, but it is definitely moving in the right direction — towards routes that are straight and fast, not “short, squiggly and looping”.

      2. “It looks very much like the CCC corridor was chosen not because it’s the biggest mobility bottleneck downtown, but because it happens to be where the two legacy streetcars end. That looks a lot like throwing good money after bad.”

        Whatever the eventual streetcar network looks like, you’d end up with tracks on First Ave, Stewart, Westlake, Jackson and Broadway. I have no trouble imagining a future streetcar system in Seattle that runs vehicles on those streets.

  6. Well said, pointing out that improving vehicular transit doesn’t have to always be the end game for a mass
    transit project.
    That being said, the irony is the street car would help the cars because it gives me as a suburbanite more reason to use Sounder (which has to eventually run more often on weekends), that’s for sure. Imagine a nice trolly ride from King Street Station along 1st Ave with the family to Pike Place or Lake Union and everything in between. Vice having to go underground via light rail to Westlake Station and than hiking down to the market.

    1. Your one-seat ride will end at Westlake. You’ll have to transfer to the other streetcar line (5 minute wait) to go to SLU, or walk from King Street Station to where the line begins on 1st. The lines only overlap between Westlake and 1st & Jackson or wherever the southernmost SLU station will be.

      1. The terminal for the north-side streetcars will be 5th and Jackson. There’s a one-seat ride from Sounder to SLU for those who prefer rail to speed.

    2. Random or spontaneous trips within the boundaries of downtown do not occur after a Sounder or Link trip into town. This is well documented among bloggers and should be highly discouraged as a future travel possibility. Heaven forbid planning engineers implement such accommodating and practical tools for such.

  7. (Another), good kit has different tools for different jobs. The First Avenue Streetcar will be part of a car-line running through about a half-dozen end-to-end commercial districts. Purpose is sight-seeing, window-shopping, casual purchases, and general enjoyment. Confined space of a bus hard to relax in.

    For anybody going home, back to the hotel, back to either Amtrak, Sea-Tac airport, or the Victoria Clipper- LINK stations at several places along the whole line’s route. Unless the Center of the Earth is really a shopping mall, World Class certification really requites that streetcar line.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Well, it will be a way to meander between those districts. But that right there illustrates the biggest problem with American transit planning and city design: they don’t start with where pedestrians want to go and how many of them want to do so, and realize that pedestrians want a reasonably short and fast route, for the same reason car drivers don’t want a lot of stoplights or low speed limits. But somehow they have a blind spot about that. Non-car trips are either afterthoughts or are explicitly deprioritized because degrading the SOV experience would be unacceptable. These kind of meandering bus routes were rampant in Seattle before Metro started reforming them, and they’re rampant all across the country. And now we’ll have a streetcar route that, whatever else it does, its route diagram can be held up in a Canadian or Mexican PowerPoint about typical bad American routing, or how not to design a route. What shape is it from SLU to Broadway? A Web 2,0 shopping cart? I call it an egg-dropper shape. Aolthough even that is straining it because it’s a tight fit to put the egg in the opening between Westlake and Broadway, and then it would fall southwest to Pioneer Square and might break.

  8. >> The CCC will add capacity to the most congested part of the system

    Yes, but at what cost? That is the point Licata is making. Why spend a fortune only to add one bus sized streetcar running every five minutes, especially when a big part of the problem is *getting* to downtown, not getting from one end of downtown to the other. Do you think the E is crowded because of all those folks getting on at Pike, riding it to Yesler? Of course not. It is crowded because of all those people getting on *outside of downtown* trying to get downtown. This doesn’t address that problem at all, and makes only a marginal difference in terms of intra-downtown travel.

    The two issues could be combined, of course, far more economically than this proposal. Move a couple buses over to First Avenue, run those buses more often, and everyone wins.

    Meanwhile, you have implied something that he simply didn’t say. Nowhere in his editorial did Licata say he was opposed to granting right-of-way to buses. You will notice he has not opposed the Madison Rapid Ride project — otherwise known as RapidRide G. If Licata truly hated the cost of new right-of-way, he would oppose that as well. But he doesn’t. Not a word on a project that has more right-of-way than the streetcar, both in absolute number as well as ratio. If he really just wanted service — and no transit lanes — then don’t you think he would focus his attack on the one project in Seattle that will actually have a lot of it?

    He hasn’t done that because Licata — for all his flaws — doesn’t feel that way. He simply thinks that a poorly designed, overly expensive and needlessly dangerous downtown circulator is a waste of money. Of course it will be better than nothing (at least to the people who aren’t injured dealing with the tracks) but it is nowhere near as good a value as simply carving out the space and running buses.
    Put it this way — if this wasn’t a streetcar, would anyone propose it? Seriously, would we even be having this discussion? Of course not — it is a flawed route, full of ridiculous, textbook failures in design ( It only makes sense in the context of a streetcar, which in itself shows how flawed this is.

    1. Bingo!

      What the transit overlords should be focusing on is dedicated right of way for BUSES – which can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of the same right of way for light-rail and/or streetcars simply by the fact that you don’t need to worry about laying/maintaining rail and specialized rolling stock.

      Link Light Rail could have been done as a grade-separated bus-route, with the added option of buses entering/exiting that dedicated corridor at a variety of locations – greatly increasing the flexibility of the system while lowering ongoing operating expenses asociated with vehcile maintainence.

    2. It’s not enough to just add capacity, you have to add it where the need is. The need is concentrated between 3rd and 6th Avenues, not on 1st. That’s the center of downtown and were most people are going to or through. Saying a streetcar (or bus) on 1st will significantly solve Seattle’s capacity problems (and the city’s rhetoric and budget makes it out to be the single greatest need after ST3 Link) is like when the US and Saddam faced off over Iraq and Saddam responded by bombing Israel. Huh?, that’s left field. Or if you prefer, it’s like if the state responded to the need for a ped bridge between Northgate Station and North Seattle College by building a ped bridge on Mercer Island.

      1. It’s not supriainf to see Ross arguing against transit priority on technical grounds, but I’m suprised to see you doing it Mike.

        The CCC report will come out and it will up the streetcar projection to 25k riders/day, up from 20k/day. 1st is a legit transit market and is slightly different than 3rd.

        The stupidity of Licata’s article is that he sees moving people off buses on 3rd as a bad thing. He’s saying that increasing capacity is a negative and, to Martin’s point, improving rider experience doesn’t matter.

        Killing the CCC will be a great victory for the windshield types who will throw any excuse into the wind they can think of to stop those lanes on 1st frim becoming transit exclusive.

        Side note: There is no reason buses can’t also use the CCC ROW. I. A future where Metro is moving to electric buses it would make a lot of sense.

        Side note 2: Killing the CCC will not result in better transit elsewhwere. It’s a central logical flaw I see indulged quite a lot here.

      2. Side note: There is no reason buses can’t also use the CCC ROW.

        Exactly, which is why spending a huge amount of money on a route that is obviously stupid is nuts.

        Side note 2: Killing the CCC will not result in better transit elsewhwere.

        How do you know? The city only has so much money. What if overruns for the thing sap all other projects. What if we have a choice between saving the streetcar versus building half the Move Seattle projects, or simply increasing frequency on a dozen routes? Can you confidently say that the streetcar would be worth it? Of course not — no one can. Streetcar planning and transit planning occurred independently. No one sat down and said “what is the best way to serve First Avenue” or even “what is the best transit we can build for the money”. Instead they said “let’s connect the streetcars”.

        We don’t have an unlimited supply of money. That is really at the heart of Licata’s editorial. He has seen — way too often — half ass transit because we lacked funds. He doesn’t want to see the city spend a bundle on something that delivers very little when there are alternatives that would provide very good service to the same area for barely any money at all.

      3. Again, the most effective transit is that which serves the largest cross-section of the total population’s trips. I’m not trying to kill the CCC, and I’m not pushing unrealistic alternatives that would never be approved. I’m just standing up to the idea of “CCC at all costs” and “It’s the most critical project for downtown circulation after ST3 Link”. The city should follow through on its decisions even if they’re less than optimal. Something is better than nothing. But if it starts to get cost overruns that weakens its case, and if it remains as Seattle’s top priority then it will suck up all the resources in the room. The city could still pursue it but put it at lower priority than a few of the RapidRide lines, for instance. The difference is the proportion of future money it would get compared to the city’s other transit priorities. Does that make sense? I’m not on a campaign to kill the CCC, and I can’t help it if my position overlaps with windshield-types a bit. When there’s only two choices, there’s a lot of overlap between people.

        What we need to think about is, if the CCC weren’t built, would it be a major disaster or a minor inconvenience? The flip side of that is how much of a benefit the presence of the streetcar would be, and how critical it is.

        And yes, there’s the issue that returning the grant money may jepordize Seattle’s ability to get future grants. That is a serious counterissue. I wish we could get clarity on exactly what the impact would be.

      4. Ross: If the CCC is not built there will be no exclusive transit ROW on 1st.

        Mike: Fair enough – it should stand up to a critical review on its merits. Unless something majorly changes, the cost/rider in both capital and operations will be really good.

        The CCC build/no build decision is probably around $40M once you subtract spending on lumped projects ($50M) closeout costs ($20-40M?) Grants $75-83M off that $205M number people toss around.

        Regarding how big a deal it would be – hard to say. We know DT is facing major capacity issues in the mid term. The ST report that got us thinking about a WSTT and lead to ST to make future Link an X laid out a pretty big problem… and that study assumed the CCC would be built.

        The CCC is the only major capacity improving project until 2035. I suspect that, without the CCC – getting through DT on transit will get extra rough in the late 2020s-ish.

  9. I will say, though, I agree with your point about ridership. Simply focusing on whether a transit improvement moves people out of their cars misses the point. But this blog is guilty of the same sort of problem. Look how often folks get excited about increasing Link numbers. But many of those dramatic increases occurred as a result of bus truncations. In other words, people moved from one vehicle to the other, and in many cases, their ride was actually slower. Is it better overall? Hard to say. I would assume so, but you can’t just look at big ridership numbers and pat yourself on the back when a lot of the riders not only switched from a different form of transit, but had no choice.

    1. The bus truncations occurred almost two years ago and all at once. Ridership has been increasing gradually month by month and year by year. Part of that is occasional riders finally realizing their old route no longer exists, but the biggest chunk of changes was in the first after opening when frequent riders had to switch. People who’ve moved here since then have no experience with the old network and don’t even know what it was. Transit fans like watching good rail ridership numbers the way Snohomish A 12s like watching their football team win. Part of the increase is forced transfers, part is the population increase, part is the propensity of tech bros for transit and urban areas, part is people finding it’s more useful than they thought it would be, but part of it still seems baffling, as if the public is finally warming up to transit and light rail like we always hoped they would, and downsizing their number of cars. That’s what people are so excited about. Sure it’s nothing compared to Vancouver’s Canada Line or BART, but in a Seattle context and with Seattle’s conventional expectations (not RossB’s expectations), it’s the biggest success we’ve ever had since at least 1930, and bigger than we expected.

      1. Yeah, but the point I’m making is that Martin’s critique should apply to his own blog. I agree with his overall point. Getting people out of their cars should not be the only goal. By the way — Licata never said that either — Martin’s critique is a straw man attack. But back to the point. Getting people out of their cars is a worthy goal (right, Martin?) but not the only one. On that we are all agreed.

        The problem is that it cuts both ways. If ridership on bus X goes way up when they added it, then one could assume that bus X is a great success no matter if the riders are new to transit, or switched from a different bus. But if along with bus X came a restructure, then you can’t assume that it actually improved things. In the case of UW Link, simply looking at ridership numbers tells only half the story. Lots of people switched not because they wanted to, but because they had to. Alternatives that existed (and were quite popular) were no longer available.

        I’m not saying that UW Link is especially good or bad, but what I’m saying is that looking simply at ridership numbers as a gauge of popularity is misleading, since it was added at the same time Metro truncated routes.

      2. If ridership on bus X goes way up when they added it, then one could assume that bus X is a great success no matter if the riders are new to transit, or switched from a different bus. But if along with bus X came a restructure, then you can’t assume that it actually improved things.

        I agree with what you’re saying, but in the case of Link ridership far exceeds the ridership of the routes that went away.

      3. But the difference would be noticeable in the ridership of existing routes. This happened with the 10, 11, and 49. Ridership on the 49 dropped a few percent, and it dropped dramatically on the 10 but there was a compensating increase on the 11. This suggests that some 49 riders switched to Link and a lot of 10 riders near 15th & Pine switched to the 11. Link drew riders from all the Capitol Hill routes but the 49 is most notable because it was the primary trunk route with the most frequency before Link. At the same time, the U-Link stub doesn’t address trips between northern Broadway and the northern U-District very well so some of those riders stuck to the 49. But when U-District station opens they’ll probably switch to Link, and the 49 will end up as a medium-ridership route.

        An STB article at the time said the 49’s ridership dropped by a modest 8% (I don’t remember the exact number), and that’s small compared to the theoretical probability that half the 49 riders might have switched to Link. The gap was small enough that it would be made up in six months, and Link is probably bringing new riders to the 49 too.

  10. Thank you for reminding us of Mr. Licata’s ever-touching concern for bus riders, and his deep and abiding fear of any transit project that might someday benefit someone who isn’t poor.

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