But it needs more funding

Streetcars on Jackson. Credit: Bruce qu

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced yesterday that the 1st Avenue streetcar will go ahead, if the city can secure $88m in new funding. In a release, the mayor offered her most enthusiastic endorsement of the Center City Connector to date:

“We have the opportunity to create a downtown with fewer cars and where residents, workers, and visitors can walk, bike, and take transit,” Durkan wrote. “A unified streetcar route provides a unique opportunity to build on our investments for the next generation.”

Over the course of 2018, the mayor held up the project so that outside evaluators could perform an analysis of the capital cost estimates, ridership and operating expense estimates, and engineering that SDOT had already performed on the project.

KPMG performed previous rounds of analysis. The latest report was prepared by Parsons and HDR, the engineering contractors SDOT has retained for the streetcar project. In-house SDOT engineers verified the findings. The new report adds $34m to the cost estimate from last year’s KPMG report, which itself added $54m to the budgeted amount in 2017.

According to the new report, initial planning for the streetcar was flawed. Plans called for the new streetcar to share maintenance facilities and some right of way with existing lines. Initial planning didn’t account for the larger size of the new vehicles.

Consistent with previous vague reports out of the Mayor’s office, the track gauge of the South Lake Union line is subtly different from that of First Hill and the CCC, although the streetcars can fit either. The 7mm deviation from the North American standard is a result of Portland’s experience that a narrower gauge in the turns results in less wear and less noise. SLU only uses the narrow gauge in turns, while elsewhere it is used on all track segments. This has no practical effect on project delivery.

Modifying the existing streetcar network to support longer and heavier cars would, according to the new analysis, require $11-17.4m (2022 dollars) in modifications.

While the $11-17m figure is new to this report, it not clear how the rest of the estimate reflects new scope, otherwise needed utility work, higher unit costs, and/or regular inflation due to delay.

Where the unbudgeted $88m will come from is an open question. The city has to find a new revenue source; there’s been discussion of raising the downtown parking tax to pay for the shortfall, according to sources.

Contrary to earlier speculation, the release says that federal funding for the streetcar is not in peril:

In December, the Federal Transit Administration released their updated program tables that showed the proposed C3 continues to be eligible for the $75 million Small Starts grant. Mayor Durkan continues to work with the region’s Congressional delegation to ensure Seattle receives the $75 million Federal Transit Administration grant to help build this project.

Pro-streetcar groups were excited by the announcement.

“We have two lines today that when connected will give people a frequent and dependable way to access the city’s most popular destinations and densest employment center. With current and projected growth, we need to get this line constructed and operating,” wrote Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) head Jon Scholes in a release. The DSA has been one of the streetcar’s principal boosters.

Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) head Alex Hudson also cautiously praised the announcement.

“I think that the big takeaway from the day is we have answered all the questions about what it’s going to take to move this project forward. We know that the mayor has reinforced her support for this project. There’s still a lot of next steps,” Hudson said.

Before joining TCC, Hudson had advocated for the streetcar as the leader of the First Hill Improvement Association. Community groups in streetcar-adjacent neighborhoods, including Chinatown/International District (CID) and Pioneer Square, have also pushed for the downtown streetcar.

“The principle of making good on our commitments to our communities is really important,” Hudson says.

In the CID’s case, neighborhood leaders were sold on the Jackson Street segment of the existing streetcar network with promises of a future downtown segment.

“When they were talking about [streetcar projects] in this neighborhood, they were like, ‘Oh, you’ll be part of this great streetcar system, and it’ll be great for residents and economic development,’” says Maiko Winkler-Chin, head of the CID Business Improvement Authority.

Winkler-Chin says that expanding the streetcar network will help make up for the negative impacts of building the First Hill line:

“We suffered through construction [of the First Hill streetcar] and that was not easy. …It’s good that we’re actually moving forward on something.”

76 Replies to “The Downtown Streetcar is Alive”

  1. We have the worst limousine liberal of a Mayor. Instead of running SDOT (while saying things like this??), it’d be great if she could turn her attention to some real problems. Yes, we badly need the streetcar to get from the Market to Cal Anderson.

    “The types of investments we’re making in our city right now, they’re generational investments, we’re building the city for the next generation,” Durkan said. “This gives us important transit mobility that will connect MOHAI with Wing Luke, that will make sure people can get from the (Pike Place) Market to Cal Anderson.”

    1. “that will make sure people can get from the (Pike Place) Market to Cal Anderson.”

      I saw this in the Times and choked. It should have fact-checked this, and the mayor should know a little more about her city’s transit network. The Pike-Pine buses are a much better way for this trip. SDOT knows they exist because it recently converted part of them to transit lanes as part of the Pike/Pine Renaissance and Convention Center expansion, so they should know this and should be streamlining the corridor further. This is where we need a wholistic transit plan, one that starts with all of people’s trip needs, not fucusing just on the CCC because previous mayors tried to make lemonade out of lemons.

      Here are some legitimate trips the streetcar facilitates: Pike Place to Wing Luke. 5th & Jackson to 12th & Jackson. Maynard & Jackson to Swedish. Swedish to Capitol Hill Station. The Gates Foundation to Pike Place and SAM. Secondarily, MOHAI to Wing Luke, but only because the more direct buses are also slow, it’s a slightly better one-seat ride (a station right at Lake Union Park), and the detour is only 5 blocks. But please don’t promote the streetcar for Pike Place to Cal Anderson, or even worse, Amazon to Cal Anderson. That’s just silly, silly, silly. And inasmuch as the city makes it seem like the only way on visitors’ maps, neglects other transit corridors, and won’t even give the CCC transit lanes on Jackson and Broadway, it’s just saying that Seattle doesn’t even have a grasp of what its own transit needs are. And that’s sad because many leading cities do.

      1. There are at least 4 buses that frequently go from 5th and Jackson up to 12th: 7,14,36,106, and maybe the 1?

      2. Daniel — Yeah, that’s the thing. There are very few unique trips served by the streetcar. You can see that on the map (https://seattletransitmap.com/app/). South Lake Union has lots of buses, Jackson has lots of buses, even Broadway, as you get up to First Hill, has lots of buses.

        Furthermore, if the streetcar wasn’t there, the buses would fill in the gaps. I’m sure folks have considered straightening out the 60, for example, to be on Broadway longer, but hesitated in part because the streetcar covers it. The inflexibility of the streetcar weakens long term plans. It would make sense to restructure most of the bus routes in the greater Central Area (everything east of I-5 between the east-west freeways). The current system is outdated, it is a hodgepodge of old routes designed to serve a handful of trips worthy of a bus route. We should build a better grid, given the “everywhere to everywhere” demand (that comes from increased density) and adequate funding to provide it. If you take a clean slate approach, then it is hard to justify the streetcar. Longer trips — and even many short ones — just don’t make sense. From South Lake Union to downtown it is redundant — dozens of buses use that same basic route to serve longer trips. A route that goes down Broadway then turns to serve the south end of downtown is questionable — at best it is a one seat ride option in an area with very frequent service. The button hook just makes it worse. If I’m on Broadway and want to get to 5th and Jackson, what I really need is a frequent ride down Broadway, not a one seat ride, since the transfer at Jackson is extremely fast. For that matter, I would often be better off taking a bus towards downtown, then riding one of the dozens of buses that go south through downtown. If I’m at Yesler Terrace and want to go anywhere downtown it is faster to walk (unless a 27 comes along soon).

        To imply that the streetcar is serving a special need (or would serve a special need) is silly. The only thing unique or special about the new route is that it supposed to serve First Avenue. But that could easily be done with buses (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2018/09/03/mobility-alternatives-to-the-ccc/).

    2. I know, that’s a funny statement. That is probably the least time efficient way to get from the Market to Cal Anderson Park available.

      I’m agnostic to the CCC – seems like a good idea only to make the other, badly performing streetcars semi-useful. I also don’t trust that it’s in the clear to be built. If she still doesn’t want it, I’m sure finding that 88 million will be a problem. She’s been sitting on the reports for months.

    3. As if we can’t get between Pike Place Market and Cal Anderson today? Hahahahahah! I can make this trip and back today in the time the streetcar will take!

  2. The delay to opening until 2025 I think is the big news more so than the cost overruns. I don’t see it mentioned here, but it was in the Seattle Times article.

    My question is why another 5 years is needed for a project that was supposedly ready to break ground 9 months ago.

    It seems like the mayor has cast a lot of vague doubts on this project, but they often don’t seem to quite add up. I kind of wonder if she wanted to cancel the project, but got pushback, so now she’s just slow walking it instead.

    On the other hand, maybe I’m reading too much into it. It’s also possible that this project, like many of the other transit projects under Murray, had a really unrealistic timeline to start with… Still it seemed like we were very close to getting this project done…

    1. I think the lesson is that it wasn’t really ready last year. The backers of the project at SDOT intended to bury the extra costs and rework until it was half-done and then present the electeds with enough sunk costs that they’d have no option but to continue.

      I mean, at what point did they intend to tell us they needed a longer maintenance shed? Or did it just not occur to anybody that a longer train might not fit, and somebody needed to pull out a measuring tape? If the latter, the incompetence is worse than any other explanation of how we got here.

      On the other hand, kudos to the Metro staff who said the operations costs were being underplayed. SDOT insisted on $16m per year, Metro said $24m, and now we see it’s $28m. Adjusted for inflation in a different starting year, the Metro staffers were right on the money.

    2. I think it is a little of both. From the beginning I have no doubt Durkin wanted to cancel it. Just the very fact she left the city hanging about its future (unlike Ballard Link and its’ cost overruns where she spoke out on its behalf ) seem to indicate little support. I think the logic of leaving two dangling segments, a federal grant to be lost and business resistance to its termination all made her come to her senses.

      1. If she wanted to cancel it, she would have just cancelled. Holy cow, do you realize how easy it would have been to cancel it? I can’t think of any public transit project that has as much opposition as the streetcar. City council members — past and present — have opposed it. Folks on Capitol Hill don’t even want it extended. An entire biking community hates it. I’ve never actually met a single person who actually wants it — only people on this blog (which number in the single digits). No other transit project is like this. Not Link, not Madison BRT, not RapidRide projects, not extra bus service, not bus lanes, nothing.

        It wouldn’t have taken much to look at the numbers, cry foul, and cancel the whole thing. The previous administration lied. They lied about how much this was supposed to cost, just as they lied about how much it was going to cost to build the Move Seattle projects. It would have been very easy to just throw out the streetcar, focus on the Move Seattle projects, and keep moving. Of course there may have been big money downtown interests that pulled her the other way, but a new mayor has to stand up to them, and my guess is this would have been seen as an act of political courage. Now, apparently, she is simply punting.

        To be clear, she has done nothing wrong. She called for further investigation, and she has it. That is all she said — from the very beginning. People on this blog (and elsewhere) who called her names and made unfounded accusations are simply full of shit were wrong. She didn’t cancel the whole thing (as many said she would) but has simply done exactly what she said she was going to do. She wanted a study, and she got a study. We now know how much it will cost. Now it will be up to the city council (likely a new council) to decide if it is worth it.

    3. Does anyone know if the dollars presented are current year dollars of year-of-expenditure (YOE) dollars?

      A delay to 2025 on it own will cause a (self-inflicted) major cost escalation in YOE dollars.

      Even if all estimates have been current year dollars, a 2019$ buys a lot less construction than a 2015$.

      1. It’s YOE. So the latest estimate revision has a significant escalator in there (I think less than half though). The previous $54 million in cost increases were almost all real – $8m in nominal cost escalations, with everything else being a real cost.

        It doesn’t follow that this is “self-inflicted”. The major delay is that the FTA approval will take longer than initially estimated. The issues surfaced by KPMG would have required more FTA review, but the early SDOT estimate of how long that would take was also overly optimistic, and the more realistic FTA timetable is behind the latest schedule slippage.

  3. It’s about time. The City finally realized it can’t expect its citizens to rely on just six modes of transportation to get from the downtown shopping/Pike Place Market district to Pioneer Square/ID. Walking, Lime, Free Waterfront Shuttle, Uber, Link, and hundreds of bus trips per day traveling along 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th avenues. We aren’t some backward hick town anymore. We deserve a 7th way to get from point A to point B. Not to mention, I want to feel European when I take transit. Is that too much to ask?

    1. “The new report adds $34m to the cost estimate from last year’s KPMG report, which itself added $54m to the budgeted amount in 2017.”

      I’m worried about whether this will crowd out other transit investments. We need those RapidRide lines!

      1. Exactly. The good news is that nothing is going to be decided soon. It makes sense for this to be seen in the context of other improvements (like the RapidRide lines) and let the council decide where we should spend the money. My guess is that it will be hard to justify this.

        The strongest argument for this is that it is the only plan on the table that involves service on First Avenue. To me, that is silly, and needs to be rectified. Fortunately, there is plenty of time for that. Metro, working with SDOT (instead of in opposition, which was the case under Kubly) should be able to come up with several proposals for serving First Avenue. The streetcar should be seen in this light. For example, would it be better to have the 14 and the 1 run every ten minutes (overlapping downtown on First Avenue) than build the streetcar? I would say yes, definitely, and it would likely be much cheaper.

  4. Nice. Finally the mayor steps up and makes a transportation decision that makes sense. Having two segments of SC that didn’t connect anywhere, and didn’t serve the highest demand service area, was

    I might quibble a bit with some of the things included in the report. Some of it seems like a bit of CYA meant to deflect blame for the delay and give the delay a sense of legitimacy, but overall I think the mayor’s hand was forced when most of the studies kept coming to the same conclusion — “building the CCC makes sense.”

    And a chunk of the cost is due to utility replacement/upgrades that would need to be done anyhow. Why those costs get budgeted against the SC is beyond me, but at least we get to build the CCC.

    Good decision, now on to making it happen.

      1. Absolutely.

        1) I would only make this trip for pleasure.
        2) The CCC will be more pleasurable to ride than the competing buses.
        3) If it pleases me, I could get off in Pioneer Square or the ID on the way.

        On my SC wish list for the future:
        1) Get rid of the stupid FHSC buttonhook at Yesler/14th. It’s a waste of time.
        2) extend it north to Volunteer Park.

        After that, I say we pause on SC expansion until we see how the system works as, you know, an actual system.

        But hey, the major ridership on this route will not be Cal Anderson to Pike Place. That isn’t how the utility of this system should be judged. Lets get serious about this.

      2. @Jack

        Rather than walking 3 blocks directly to Westlake Station, you would choose to wait for the next streetcar, take it a few blocks to 3rd and Stewart, and then walk another block to Westlake Station?

        There will be a few people doing this,, but I can’t see it being a common trip.

      3. Excuse me, it’s not 3 blocks, it’s 6 from pike place. If you’re able-bodied and can walk, great. If you’re an able-bodied tourist or new resident and you dont know the city well you’ll appreciate the streetcar.

      4. @Jack

        I’m not sure how you’re measuring distance. I’m starting from 1st & Pike- that’s where I usually regard the Market entrance to be, and the CCC stop would be on 1st between Pike and Pine.

        The closest Westlake Station entrance is on East Pine, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. To get there from the Market, I’d walk a block from Pike to Pine, then another 2.5 blocks from 1st to to midway between 3rd and 4th. That’s a total of about 3.5 blocks of walking.

        To get from the Market to Westlake Station via the CCC, you’d have to walk about half a block from 1st and Pine to the station, board the streetcar, get off at 3rd and Stewart, then walk 1.5-2 blocks to the Westlake Station entrance. That’s a total of about 2-2.5 blocks of walking. The difference in distance walked is about 1-1.5 blocks.

    1. Lazarus, this is a safe space, and no one will judge you. You mentioned pleasure in points 1, 2 and 3. Will you admit that you have a streetcar fetish?

      Sam. Transit Psychologist.

    2. So, your first argument is based on sunk cost, and begs the question: Imagine we don’t have streetcars right now. If we could build the entire thing (from South Lake Union to Capitol Hill) for a quarter of a billion dollars (what this one section will cost), would you do it?

      My answer is an emphatic Hell No. It is a terrible route, and a bad choice as a mode. It is terrible in part because it short, squiggly and looping — an approach known for bad performance (https://humantransit.org/category/loops). It isn’t hard to see why, if you compare it to highly successful route. For example, every stop combination on the RapidRide E is fast. In contrast, many, if not most of the stop combinations on the streetcar line are so slow that walking makes more sense. To make matters worse, where it is best — where it runs basically in a straight line (downtown) — it is redundant. Buses converge onto downtown and run north-south (the result of our hourglass shape). So much so that frequency along those corridors is measured in seconds.

      The mode, meanwhile, simply means delays. There will be right of way granted to part of the route, but not its entirety. Like a bus, the streetcar driver will have to deal with traffic, along with scofflaws and accidents that render the transit lane pointless. But unlike a bus, a streetcar driver won’t be able to avoid delays, but have to endure the smallest of violations. Holy cow, a lot of this line will be center running, which is fantastic for a bus driver. A car can camp out in the center lane (in violation of the law) and a bus driver will slam on the horn and just pass the jerk (on the left). But a streetcar driver is just stuck honking his horn, waiting for the guy to merge back into (what is usually) congested traffic.

      The second argument has been called the Disneyland theory of transit (https://humantransit.org/2009/04/the-disneyland-theory-of-transit.html). It is worth noting that it hasn’t lead to high ridership. People may be riding the streetcars for the fun of it, but not enough to match the previous projections.

      Streetcars make sense in various situations. Link light rail, on Rainier Valley, could be considered a streetcar. But to make it work you need high demand, lack of alternatives, and a sensible route. The current streetcar plans lack all three.

  5. I think the Mayor’s office should do a round of outreach in downtown, SLU, and Pioneer Square to discuss the “new” plan for getting the CCC built. After spreading FUD around for a year, many of us are not convinced this is a legitimate change of intentions.

  6. I think the Mayor is using the delay in delivery date and the costs as a way to bury the project but in a way that it won’t come up in her bid for reelection

  7. I suspect the main reason for the delay was so the new SDOT director could weigh in, and own the decision and execution.

    Durkan’s statement is silly, and I never really got the rationale for “connecting” the two.

    I would love to see one run down olive st between the current eastern terminus and continue on to SLU – I bet that would be used a lot.

    1. I’ve long wanted it on Pike and Pine Streets with SLU and Belltown branches on one end and North Capitol Hill and First Hill/ ID on the other.

      Still, Seattle only plans incrementally in recent years — which prevents systems alternatives from being revisited. So it’s wishful thinking.

      1. I’m not sure the streetcars could handle the grades on Pike/Pine. But if they can, it’s still compatible with the Downtown Connector:

        Line 1: First Hill to Belltown via Capitol Hill, Pike/Pine
        Line 2: First Hill to SLU via CID, Downtown

        I don’t think there’s much momentum behind an extension to North Capitol Hill, but the service pattern wouldn’t be dramatically more complicated.

  8. Did she really make a decision?

    After all there is an easy way out if the extra money isn’t found.

    It feels similar to how she is approaching the ST3 lines to Ballard and West Seattle.

    We will see soon enough how much weight the mayor’s office brings to the funding conversation

  9. I’m not so sure this is a complete “go”. $88M is hard to find. The added operating costs may also be a factor — and no one is talking about whether hours of service for this versus for a crowded bus route is better.

    I’d feel better if this project was replacing some existing service hours — including more of a systems approach on other parts of the system. In particular, I’d rather the Jackson segment connect to the CD and the Broadway-Yesler Terrace segment connect to SE Seattle (at least Judkins Park Link). Then, some bus route hours can be shifted to streetcar hours and more riders will be on a streetcar.

  10. Well, Mike, I guess we agree on one thing. Before Mayor Durkan says one more thing about public transit, she needs at least a month’s escorted travel on Seattle’s entire electric transit system.

    I’d be glad to volunteer, because fact I don’t live in Seattle should render me a dispassionate consultant on this matter. However my expressed opinions about her locking up my young neighbors for refusal to snitch might make close proximity uncomfortable for both of us.

    So here’s where you come in. Look at it as your world-class best opportunity to reveal street rail’s every flaw. Your first an eight minute ride from University Street Station, which is around the block from Pike Place Market, should help you enlighten the Mayor that every single-purpose trip between those two destinations is already covered.

    Now. To prove by the stopwatch how inefficient the streetcar really is, I will help you set up a linear tour of commercial addresses between Seattle Central Community College and Kakao Cafe in South Lake Union to vividly illustrate how much of a Mayor’s time can be wasted actually seeing her city and meeting with her constituents
    by means of a transit mode that has already sent so many innocent horses to the glue factory over transit’s sorriest chapter.

    Reason you can use my name is that I’m on next Aeroflot run out of Sea-Tac to see if those Crimean trolleybuses take ORCA. Though understand Vladimir Putin is not Ken Cummins, so must always be sure to tap correctly. So Jenny will just have to rest content with Angle Lake’s “inventory” – what private prison industry calls inmates- as the best she can do.

    And truthfully tell the Grand Jury I made you do it by threatening to link YouTube’s every transit-related reference to the Austro Hungarian Empire.


  11. Great news! My cubicle overlooks the First Hill streetcar at King Street Station. It’s frustrating to watch the poor eastbound streetcars wait behind left-turning cars at 4th and Jackson. I’ve always wondered why SDOT doesn’t do a left turn restriction during Rush Hour or just a NO LEFT TURN to help the streetcar reliability. I read there are timing improvements in the works along the FHSC route, so that’s a plus.

  12. Is there a difference between a ‘streetcar’ and a ‘tram?’ They use the same vehicles.

    1. Historically they’re the same thing. Americans used “streetcar” to translate German Strassenbahn, and Britians named their “trams” after a Dutch word for the wooden beams used in coal-mining railways. Both North America and Europe developed similar streetcar networks, and after WWII both largely abandoned them (although Eastern European countries didn’t). In the 1980s there was a revival with new vehicle and streetscape designs, but the practice and terminology increasingly diverged between the US and Europe. Recent European trams are mostly exclusive-lane with grade-separated segments; the typical configuration in small-to-medium German cities is surface in the outlying neighborhoods with a downtown tunnels. These are more like American light rails; e.g., Link, or parts of MAX (Burnside median, west side). US “streetcars” are a category below this, mostly in mixed-lane traffic as in Seattle and Portland. Europeans don’t build those so they don’t need a separate word for them.

      Essentially, Europeans focus on transportation while Americans focus on access. Europeans ask, “How can we move large numbers of people quickly and efficiently?” Americans ask, “How can we regain the nostalgia of a train on the street, with stops every couple blocks so they’re easy to access, to accelerate real-estate development in the area, while not taking lanes away from cars.”

      1. There are plenty of places where Europe still has trans in the street. The big difference is there is a huge effort to make as much track as possible, especially in key congestion areas, into private right of way, basically making it light rail.

        US streetcars in many cities did this too, for the same reasons. Take a look at the east side of Westlake. That whole parking strip thing on the east side of the road is the “streetcar” right of way that didn’t operate in the street until it got closer to the Fremont Bridge.

        It’s a bit like saying an auto going down a residential street at 20 mph is a car, but when it goes down the freeway at 70 it should be called “light rocketry”. It’s quite capable of doing both light rail and street operation (and more….the Siemens S70 “light rail” car ordered by SoundTransit is legal to operate on main lines in Europe if you need to).

      2. “Still”, yes, but I was talking about newly constructed lines. In some cases they do run in the street for a short distance because the street is narrow and there are walls or historic buildings on both sides, or to cross a major intersection, but they try to keep those as minimal as possible. Not like Broadway or Jackson Street where the whole thing is in congestion-prone traffic and it’s marketed as an “improvement in transit”. That would be called a waste of money.

      3. Glenn,

        I don’t think you’re correct about the bikeway. The Westlake cars ran in the street. The bikeway is the old NP right of way down to the old power plant.

  13. The list of transit wins under Mayor Durkan is suddenly growing. Great hire for SDOT director, successful viaduct closure mitigation, and now the streetcar gets a green light. If she’s trying to win my support…it’s working.

    The actions are all I care about, she doesn’t need ride transit or have more than a basic working knowledge of the transit system.

    1. I can’t help but think Gregoire had a lot to do with the decision. A few months back I saw Durkin and Gregoire attending a UW volleyball match together. Not long after I saw the CCC listed in WSDOT funding priorities for 2019 to 2021. Coincidence?

      1. Makes sense. Gregoire is largely responsible for the stupid SR 99 tunnel. I wouldn’t put it past her to push for another ridiculous plan for the city.

    2. Holding up a project for years isn’t an accomplishment. This is a pathetic attempt at saving face and she’s really just punted an actual decision to council. In an election year.

  14. the delay until 2015 is the good news. that is after the ST2 Link extensions are due. in the meantime, 1st Avenue is needed for other transit. the additional capital and operating funds needed may be discussed during the 2019 campaigns.

    1. eddie, I hope you don’t think streetcars are incompatible with other modes of transit down the same lanes- especially trolleybuses. MUNI’s done it for years.

      Since First is already wired for trolleybus- we replaced Third Avenue with it during DSTT construction- only interruption could be to lay the track itself. If First at one time had streetcars, could be some substructure in place, though that’s a guess.

      Since you and I share some experience on what could be 20th century’s most intensive deliberate rate trolleybus-to-rail effort, would be interested in your thinking on other places in future ST-plans where we might start another electric railroad with rubber tires.

      Lazarus, the FHS routing north from Jackson isn’t dispensible. It’s the steepest grade those cars can climb. To know where-all streetcars could return- find a map from when last they were here. There’s no rush about restoration when the time comes.

      And Joseph, from what I can gather the term “tram” is British and Continental usage. If it’s got grooved rail and anything overhead from wires to pulleys, it’s included.

      Portland’s really nice aerial Airstream trailers count. So do coal cars in the mines in Wales. Story has it that Andrew Hallidie, sick of watching horses get murdered on the way to North Beach, fitted his cablecars with mining machinery. Scotland, I think.

      In the Nordic countries, if it can do street running for any of its route, it’s a “spårvagn” (spore-vang) referring, I think, to the grooved rail. In Crimea, google “tramway” and you’ll see streetcars and a fifty miles of dual wire I wish went over Snoqualmie Pass.

      Pretty sure that our Tunnel bus fleet will be remembered as “Tramway” to their bitter end, by right of inheritance. Will be enough for me to hope they’re remembered as examples of how to keep both progress and passengers in motion in the face of two devastating back to back electoral defeats.


      Tramway or not, I’d like my own work on the regional electric railroad that began with the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to be reachable with the same google-click as this one. Credit’s yours for the link, Sam.

      Good to show some actual operating details. Car design merits a Nobel for simplicity and economy of materials.Notice how their fellow railroad crewmen in the higher cabs seem to take their presence for granted and just sound horns in salute, and roll on by.

      Anybody that finds their service area unsightly, get with your elected Federal reps. If we’re going to insist on writing unwelcome provisions into our trade deals, for the next twenty years or so let them all be spelled “strong labor unions.”

      And I’m calling on ATU Local 587 to sponsor every crew in the video into this country for lifetime work with KC Metro and Sound Transit. If they’ve got the aptitude for our own tramways, Instruction surely can use an infusion of their attitude.

      Mark Dublin

    2. First Avenue may “be needed for other transit”, but show me the plans for using it.

      There are none other than the Center City Connector.

      Sure Ross has an elaborate plan to move a bunch of RapidRides to First Avenue in order to get them stuck in the scramble at Pike Street (which is NOT going to have bus priority). But Ross isn’t in the Metro Planning Department yet.

      1. There are no plans, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be created quickly. Bus restructuring is relatively easy. A year before the U-Link bus restructure there were no plans. It evolved very quickly, and if there was political will, then it could happen on First Avenue.

        As I wrote on my post (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2018/09/03/mobility-alternatives-to-the-ccc/) there are basically two approaches. First is to put BAT lanes on First Avenue, and move a few buses there. I think BAT lanes would work fairly well on First. It would certainly be cheap and very quick to implement.

        In the long run, they could switch over to center running BRT. Implementing BAT lanes in the short run would give the city time to see if it is even worth it. If buses run “fast enough” on First Avenue in BAT lanes, then I wouldn’t bother with the more expensive center running.

        The whole point is that it is silly to suggest that the only way that First Avenue can possibly have transit service is by building an extremely expensive, and obviously flawed streetcar system. There are alternatives, and no reason why they shouldn’t be fleshed out.

        As to whether they will or not is anyone’s guess. None of my suggestions are that complicated, or insightful. I’m sure there are folks who work for Metro and SDOT who have had the same idea, and likely even better variations. It is merely a question as to whether they will be heard. The previous administration was corrupt, so of course that didn’t happen. Alternatives weren’t considered, for fear of rocking the boat (better to skip town before the whole mess imploded). I hope that the new administration will take a good look at alternatives, but you never know. It is much easier to imply a stupid dichotomy (build the streetcar or First Avenue gets nothing) than it is to talk about alternatives, and the various trade-offs. After all, that is basically how we ended up with the stupid SR 99 tunnel.

      2. Tom, there cannot be official plans if Seattle has taken it off the table, preempting it for the CCC. As RossB outlines, it has trolley bus overhead. it carried Ballard and West Seattle local service before fall 2011; it had to move to make room for the AWV project. it will carry SR-99 while Alaskan Way is built. even during the AWV scenarios before 2009, Nickels had his central line take up 1st Avenue.

  15. Wont 2025 Be the first year of her Third term? This could potentially be the next mayors problem.

    1. She’ll be the Gov by then, busily undoing all of Inslee’s climate initiatives for her autoista funders.

  16. Good. Lays the groundwork to run up 1st through Belltown, provide better service to the densest census block in the state.

  17. One trip which will benefit will be Colman Dock to ID/Chinatown Station and onward to any Link station or Sound Transit destination. Currently it’s a long uphill slog on Marion or a slightly shorter climb up James to reach Link.

  18. $286M. Wow.

    So, can the city get a refund from Nelson\Nygaard for the $2.5 million* that SDOT paid them to produce the 2014 CCC Transit Study and Alternatives Analysis? (jk)

    I find it interesting that the mayor’s official update, linked to in the OP’s piece above, found it expedient to show the current cost estimates graphically by breaking out the SDOT, SPU and SCL pieces. I guess they didn’t want their readers to notice that the updated total cost of the project is now approaching $300M and probably would require adjusting the y-axis value range.

    Here’s a little refresher from the aforementioned 2014 alternatives analysis report:

    Capital Costs (escalated to 2017$):
    Mixed-Traffic- $115,600,000
    Exclusive- $108,100,000

    Mixed-Traffic- $8,919,235
    Exclusive- $7,913,586

    And now the mayor’s update reports the following:

    City estimate (total cost in 2015) $143.2M
    City estimate (total cost in 2017) $197.7M
    KPMG estimate (total cost in Aug 2018)$252.2M
    City estimate (total cost in Jan 2019) $285.8M

    Wow again. SDOT under Kubly apparently was just as terrible at cost estimating as Sound Transit has been.

    *PO 12-32 contract entered into with Nelson\Nygaard 5/20/14, amended thru 2/13/15, not to exceed $2,551,635

    1. Shall we mention the $18M subsidy each year for operations — based on about a 30 percent farebox cost recovery and over 7 million annual riders (or about 23,000 riders a day which is much higher than any RapidRide line today on streetcars with less seats and than a singular RapidRide) Line bus?

    2. I’ll add that the average fare is set at about $1.15 a rider. Keep in mind that many riders will probably transfer or have passes or reduced fares (students and seniors) so this seems a bit ambitious.

      A quick financial check on Metro as a whole is about $1.32 a boarding in 2017 — and I can’t believe that Metro generally has more transfers than this will.

    3. SDOT under Kubly apparently was just as terrible at cost estimating as Sound Transit has been.

      They were worse. So far as we know, ST has simply been incompetent. Everything about the agency and their planning screams incompetence, and nothing more. Sure, there may be some backroom reason why they make bad planning decisions, or ignore reports from third part experts, but I think it is simply a lack of expertise (not a single board member — other than the head of WSDOT — has any training in transportation issues, let alone a strong background in public transportation).

      Kubly was different. Kubly was corrupt. He knew about cost overruns, and purposely hid them from the public. Both the mayor and Kubly knew that the Move Seattle project was going to come well short of building what they promised *before the election* but they said nothing. Members of his staff also knew about issues with the streetcar, which is how the new mayor even got involved in this mess. So it is quite likely that Kubly knew that the streetcar was going to cost way more than originally planned, but he was probably planning on skipping town before the sh** hit the fan.

  19. What is arguably most problematic about Durkan is that after all this time no one — other than perhaps her senior staff — really knows what she believes. Did she actually come to support the streetcar, or is this a cynical political move designed to appease select constituencies while effectively punting the project into never-never land? You’re kidding yourself if you think you know.

    She is at least savvy enough to realize she is unburdened by any usual standards of restraint or gentle PNW decorum when unleashing on her predecessor: who’s coming to defend the alleged pederast Ed Murray?

    1. who’s coming to defend the alleged pederast Ed Murray?

      Not me, that’s for sure. Both Murray and Kubly were corrupt. They knew that the Move Seattle projects were going to cost way more than the levy allocated before the election, but said nothing. Similarly, it stands to reason that they were both well aware of the funding problems with the streetcar. Let’s not forget, that’s how this whole mess got started. The mayor didn’t suddenly wake up in the morning and doubt whether a streetcar makes sense. The streetcar would have been built if the original estimates were the least bit accurate. But they weren’t and the lack of transparency about it lead to the delay. She could have swept things under the rug, continued the work, and then — after most of the work was done — suddenly noticed the problem. I give her credit for doing the responsible thing, and investigating this further.

      As for what she really wants, I agree, I don’t think anyone here knows. Maybe she thinks it is worth the money, maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she doesn’t want to take a stand either way. At face value, though, this seems like a reasonable decision. I’m unhappy that she supports what I consider to be a white elephant, but her decision to let the city council decide (after a fairly long delay) seems reasonable. The council may decide that it would be nice, but simply not worth it. She may agree, once other alternatives are considered. My biggest hope is that other alternatives are considered. So far, we seem stuck in the same stupid SR 99 tunnel debate (either build it or live with nothing). There is no reason why we can’t send buses down First Avenue, either with BAT lanes or center running lanes. There are trade-offs with every approach, but the idea that the only option is the current transit network or the streetcar is ridiculous.

  20. I’m a streetcar supporter but how does it cost shy of $300 million to lay roughly 15 blocks of surface track? Streetcar track is supposed to be cheaper and less intrusive than other rail transit.

      1. Say what?

        “Costs for SDOT are estimated at $208.1 million and the critical and long overdue utility work is estimated at $77.7 million.” Hence, the current $286 milllion estimate.

        The SDOT portion has increased by some $100 million since the 2014 assessment. The utilities portion (SPU and SCL) has increased by some $70 million.

  21. Are the new streetcars really going to be $5 million a piece? Is that normal? How much did the new battery assisted Trolley buses cost?

    And are the new streetcars really going to cost $5 Mill a piece?!

    “The city had previously ordered 10 streetcar vehicles, from a new manufacturer, for the expanded system. Those streetcars, costing $52 million total, are each 9 feet longer and more than 20,000 pounds heavier than the streetcars the city uses.”


    1. I’d support Downtown developers fully paying for the vehicles. I tire of putting the residents on the hook for things like this, while Seattle makes developers contribute nothing additional towards these projects which add value to the adjacent properties. I even expect whining about lost value during construction so they can extract mitigation money!

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