As the last sections of the viaduct are removed, let’s remember another defunct waterfront fixture.

This is an open thread.

36 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Riding the Waterfront Streetcar”

  1. It’s more that fair and equitable for the other subareas to pay part of the downtown Seattle tunneling costs. The Snohomish Co. subarea will benefit the most, so shouldn’t it kick in $500 million to that project?

    1. Appropriate contribution levels, reflecting value of benefits of second downtown tunnel to other subareas:

      Sno. — $500 M
      E. King — $400 M
      S. King — $300 M
      Pierce — $300 M

  2. ST4 Link Map Update Still a work in progress. ST keeps cutting my staff so the slow going.

    I added East Link for a better relationship perspective to ST2.

    I also added Redmond to ST4 (the red). I figure with a population of Kirkland, Redmond and North Bellevue at about 250,000 and Ballard-Wallingford at 80,000, if the east side demand for access to UW is say 7% and the west side is say 20% then .07*250,000 vs .2*80,000 or 17,500 potential riders vs 16,000. You also pick up any software geeks who may want to commute to Redmond. Throw in the greater trip miles and the justification for a Sandpoint bridge a la Tilikum Crossing is more than warranted. That said, it is much harder to figure in the Kirkland Transit Corridor with this route though it does put both Kirkland stations at P&Rs.

    Also, I think an inexpensive at-grade station at Sandpoint is more than warranted. With the city park, NOAA and a large contingent of 75 riders that may want to use it (it opens up access to a whole new eastside job corridor for NE Seattle residents), you know, induced demand, how can you go wrong. Besides its on the way and not every station has to run 10,000 boardings/day in order to make a successful line, just ask Portland.

    1. Sandpoint is a great weekend destination trip. A dog park, a swim beach and all the other things that go on there.

  3. I used to take the kids downtown to ride the waterfront street car just for the fun of it. Back and forth then walk up to the monorail, then down to the bus tunnel. It was a mass transit holiday. Better than an amusement park. Lunch in a park, often occidental, or the pier. It’s a crime that the new waterfront won’t have these cars.

    1. I’ve got a wait and see attitude now. That’s really all you can do. It will definitely be different. New, but better? My fear is that the only appeal will be to cruise ship passengers and other tourists. The whole thing will have a corporate vibe because there will be little left of “Seattle”.

    2. I was always frustrated that the streetcar was slower than a bus. And it couldn’t run more than every 20 minutes because of the single-tracking, So I rarely found it useful to get from one part of the waterfront to another. I took an Australian friend on it who had grown up in Melbourne (where the streetcars came from), and he said it reminded him a lot of his childhood.

    3. Lived here all my life and although I always the waterfront streetcar many times I never did ride it. I guess that’s another reason my parents suck.

      I’m actually moving out of state this week and probably won’t be commenting as much. Perhaps there’s going to be a subway in Ballard when my spouse’s academic career lets us move back to Seattle.

    4. The waterfront’s success will depend on how good the park is. Seattlites definitely want to go to a nice waterfront park. The linear bioswales and ped/bike trails and gathering places are promising. The zigzag stairs and two more Pike Place elevators and one or two more escalators further south will help. I’m not so enthused about the empty concrete and mediocre modernist art in the gathering areas, but it’s something and maybe the best we could get with public attitudes being what they are.

      Some have raised concerns about the width and noise of the boulevard. Those don’t bother me. The six and seven lanes is all south of Columbia Street. At Pike Place it will be four lanes the same as the existing Alaskan Way. And even if it is louder than the current Alaskan Way, it will be quieter than the viaduct or the I-5 boom I hear on southwest Capitol Hill.

      The transit plan is a circulator bus or minibus. That’s fine. The waterfront team has a point that two streetcar tracks would take a lot of the reclaimed space. I’d rather have a bioswale and trails and shuttle buses. We can make an outdoor museum for one of the streetcars somewhere.

  4. Does anyone else think that there is an element of tech or class bias when determining which areas need light rail, and which areas can make due with bus service? If so, what’s an example of a bias you see?

    1. For me, I like to stay away from downtown Seattle because of tunneling limitations, ie, it’s above my pay grade. In regard to south of Seattle, I’ve never lived or traveled much in those areas and ST, beyond Burien, hasn’t done any studies there as far as I know.

    2. I can’t find my post on this, but I’ve long stated this:

      – Ballard before Belltown
      – West Seattle before First Hill/CD
      – Issaquah before Renton
      – Federal Way before Burien

      The issue is that the corridors were defined by ST2 direction. It wasn’t based on a systemic analysis that examined equity issues.

      1. Do you think people would be lobbying as hard to build a tunnel across north Lake Washington if, instead of Kirkland on the other side, it was a Kirkland-sized Skyway? And instead of Google, it was a Nike sweat shop with 800 employees?

    3. The obvious one is I-405, which got relegated to BRT due to the ST Board deciding years ago that’s what it would get, regardless of how conditions might have changed.

      However, the Board conveniently allowed a Google/Kirkland to/from Issaquah line, the latter home of the former ST Board Vice Chair, duplicating part of E-Link and following I-405 for a stretch when a superior choice would have been a Tukwila International Station to Renton to South Bellevue to Issaquah! Even public officials from the Issaquah/Renton area reported a year or two ago that commutes between Issaquah and Renton were up 95%! At the other end of I-405, the worst part of the express toll lanes is between 522 and I-5, which would have been the other logical choice for light rail, i.e. Ash Way to at least Bothell.

      I was recently looking through old email, and it looks like East Link originally was to go from Mariner/128th to Seattle to Bellevue and Renton. More recently, that line stopped at Lynnwood at the north end. The former made a whole lot more sense, for there would be connections to the Swift Green Line (Boeing, Paine Field, Mill Creek, Bothell) at Mariner and that 3-station segment (Lynnwood to Mariner) could be built “sooner” than “later.”

      1. “More recently, that line stopped at Lynnwood at the north end.”

        Exactly. The transit portion proposal of the 2007 Roads and Transit ballot measure that ultimately failed to pass included two additional stations north of the Lynnwood TC, specifically Alderwood and Ash Way. When Sound Transit came back with a revised plan the very next year, 2008’s ST2 measure, they unwisely stripped out those two stations and made the Lynnwood TC the northern terminus. This will ultimately unfold as yet another major regional planning mistake made by ST.

      2. The obvious one is I-405, which got relegated to BRT due to the ST Board deciding years ago that’s what it would get, regardless of how conditions might have changed.
        “the Board conveniently allowed a Google/Kirkland to/from Issaquah line, the latter home of the former ST Board Vice Chair”

        The terminus is 1 1/2 miles south of Google. Google was never mentioned as a reason for the line. The overwhelming reason Issaquah wanted it was for a train-to-train connection to the Seattle-Redmond line, because Issaquah was afraid it would be left out of long-term prosperity and commercial tax base if it wasn’t one of the cities on Link. Every other city feels that way too because they know businesses and residents will preferentially choose cities on Link. That’s why Federal Way, Tacoma, and Everett are so keen on Link.

        “duplicating part of E-Link”

        That was a wise choice. Central Bellevue is where a lot of people are going. It takes them directly there, it gives double-frequency to that area, and it leverages unused capacity on that rather than spending money on a parallel track.

        “and following I-405 for a stretch when a superior choice would have been a Tukwila International Station to Renton to South Bellevue to Issaquah!”

        That’s your opinion. ST believes Renton-Bellevue won’t have sufficient ridership potential for decades. Renton-Issaquah I’ve never heard of. Burien-Renton got an ST study that found a high cost per rider, and both South King and East King got quiet about it after that, so they may have lost interest.

        Issaquah-Bellevue-South Kirkland seems low-ridership too, but I think Bellevue College will become a sleeper hit. People go to colleges from all over the region; I’ve known people in Seattle that go to it, and I’ve gone to the planetarium a few times.

        ST saw insufficient ridership for 405 Link in the mid term. If it’s ever built it will probably be north first, Bellevue-Bothell or Bellevue-Lynnwood.

        Even public officials from the Issaquah/Renton area reported a year or two ago that commutes between Issaquah and Renton were up 95%! At the other end of I-405, the worst part of the express toll lanes is between 522 and I-5, which would have been the other logical choice for light rail, i.e. Ash Way to at least Bothell.

        “I was recently looking through old email, and it looks like East Link originally was to go from Mariner/128th to Seattle to Bellevue and Renton”

        What? Mariner sounds likely, but not Renton. East Link was certain to go to Bellevue and Redmond, both because that was the Forward Thrust plan and because a little company called Microsoft was founded in between and has tens of thousands of jobs in Redmond.

      3. I’d just point out that if there were ever a need for Link to tie into Issaquah, There is a perfectly good rail banked ROW between Issaquah and Redmond Link. Of course the chance of that happening any time in the next several decades is about the same as the Burke Gilman ROW being used for light rail between Bothell and UW.

  5. Personal thing, Bruce, but I’ve always considered “defunct” to be reserved for a woefully permanent condition.

    Right now, the very heavy-duty line-haul transit the new Waterfront will need is an open question. Luckily, as opposed to viaducts, the people of Seattle can add a streetcar spur when they see it’s needed.

    Short-term, thanks to hybrid and battery propulsion, the Waterfront can have zero-emissions transit without having to run trolleywire across the BN tracks. The rest is a matter of strictly reserved transit lanes where they’ll be needed in the most urgent way.

    Yesterday or day before, news included one more regrettable: Mad Magazine is out of print. At present, the online glossary of Don Martin sound effects still protects our nation from the loss of this magnificent literary endeavor. But one cost free security measure, Bruce.

    Define the new Waterfront’s streetcar potential as “Prefunct.”

    Mark Dublin

  6. There is a Rider Alert at the route #41 bus stops that starting on Saturday, July 27th it will be using Union Street instead of Stewart Street after leaving I-5.

    The first stop will be at Convention Place when the express lanes are open southbound. The next stop will be at 5th and Union before stopping at its stops southbound on 3rd Ave.

  7. To me it always seemed contrived that they canceled the waterfront streetcar that I used when I interned near there because they couldn’t/wouldn’t build a maintenance barn in the hill of the SAM Sculpture Park.
    Too bad they can’t reinstall the removed tracks for tourists

    1. ron and Bruce, Seattle City Councilman George Benson was able to create the streetcar line named after him based largely on regret over street rail that got taken out before Seattle realized how many passengers the years were going to add to the system. Pedicabs are fuel efficient and reliable, but have their limits. Next generation of streetcars is your turn now.

      Mark Dublin

  8. Too bad the designers of the waterfront park had no interest in public transit. It was just not on their radar at all. Last time I looked at waterfront plans, public transit just wasn’t there, not beyond a mention of shuttle buses.

    Removing the viaduct opened up new ROW which could easily have accommodated double tracking the George Benson streetcar line.

    1. Shuttle buses are all that’s needed. To add two streetcar tracks you’d have to take out: (A) the bioswale, (B) the trails, (C) half the road, or (D) half the wider sidewalk on the west side. Which one would you take? You’d probably say #C, but what we’d get is #A or #B. And #A is critical to healing the environment and irreplaceable.

  9. The waterfront streetcar, the Kingdome, the Viaduct…oh my! How the times have changed. But before Link, before the SLU and FH streetcars, and before Sounder, for someone like me who loves to ride [local] rail, that’s all there was. Yes, it was clunky; yes, it was touristy; yes, the cars were “foreign” and not of local origin; yes, it was not for the disabled; and yes, the route was short. But what fun it was!

  10. I don’t think you can talk about projects like this without also talking about how they will be paid for. Political will is as important to consider as are engineering efficiencies. New taxes? As things stand, it’s quite possible that new taxes will have to be enacted just to finish ST3, due to inevitable cost overruns and missed completion milestones. We have a strong political faction in Seattle that wants to give every homeless person an apartment. We have fare evasion on Metro and Sound Transit. You have property taxes at rates that many retirees and other low-income people can’t afford. You can only soak the rich so much, given our state constitution, and political will, even in Seattle. Even if the state eventually enacts an income tax, I doubt if the legislature would use it for high-speed rail. Just look at what happened with the head tax. The most popular thing government could do about transportation for the average voter, driver and bus rider would be to fill a few potholes.

    1. “We have fare evasion on Metro and Sound Transit.”

      This is a red herring. Fare evasion is around 3%. The difference between zero and three percent is not that much. It’s less than the cost of installing Link fare gates. (Plus having a manned ticket booth at all stations, which you’d need to let ADA passengers through or in case the gate malfunctions). Metro’s fare is 20-30% of operating costs by council decree, so the fare rate is arbitrary.

      “You have property taxes at rates that many retirees and other low-income people can’t afford.”

      The property tax rate is just one part of the whole. The problem is people’s reduced purchasing power relative to the necessities. Renters don’t even have property they can sell or will to their children, have less purchasing power on average, and are at the mercy of rent inflation. So this problem affects the 90%, and homeowners are the most well-off part of this.

      We should focus on improving purchasing power through some combination of subsidies, allowing missing middle housing and microapartments, minimum wage increase, and perhaps tax abatement or other things. The reason for this loss of purchasing power is the tax cuts, deunionization, and deregulation since the 1970s that has funneled all the gains to the 1%. So by fixing these we could fix a large chunk of the problem. The state constitution and legislature are partial impediments, but the important thing is to decisively go in the right direction and implement what we can, and work on the legislators’ attitudes. The constitutional barriers may require amendments: the property tax and income tax restrictions are designed for a 19th-century economy, and are completely inadequate for dealing with the 21st century situation and a large population.

      1. Facts are not red herrings. Does something fave to occur more than 3% of the time in order to be a fact? 3% of $10 million is $300,000. That is a lot of herrings.

        If you think high property taxes only affect affluent home owners then you haven’t been to my neighborhood, Where equity does not matter until you sell your house, and you are on a fixed income.

        What my point about taxation was wasn’t that I think it’s too high but rather an observation on how much political will there is among actual taxpayers to increase taxes. I have gained this impression I talking to people and reading the press. The state of Washington, at least currently is a democracy, and voters must approve directly or indirectly any tax increases. Eventually technocratic bureaucrats will rule us, but we aren’t there yet.

      2. I would love to hear Charles’ solution for reducing that 3% fare evasion that does not cost more than the $300,000 he estimates we are losing to fare evasion.

      3. It’s not an estimate; it’s a calculation. Regardless of what you think about it, there is a cost to it, and that cost affects the store’s profits and the prices it charges people who don’t shoplift. If Metro collects 30% of its operating costs from the farebox, then 3% of that 30% is not trivial, assuming a budget of around $160,000,000. And once it becomes clear to the public that fares won’t be enforced, that 3% is bound to go higher. It’s simple economics. If people can’t afford to pay a full fare, then they are eligible for various legal reduced fare options.

      4. Except where places have no fare enforcement it doesn’t go high enough to justify the cost of said enforcement, absent non-fiscal reasons for it (ie security theater). Especially with a system like ours that has such a high usage of passes.

        As it stands our fare enforcement programs bring in less than 10% of their operating costs in fines, and the rates of compliance on RapidRide lines aren’t much better than non-fare enforced routes. And that’s not even getting into how arbitrarily enforcement acts.

      5. What do you mean arbitrarily? When fare enforcement officers go through a car on the light rail line, they check everybody’s proof of payment. They don’t just arbitrarily pick out people to verify.

        If people don’t have to pay, some will still pay, and some won’t.

        When Sound Transit decided not to go with turnstiles, one of the assumptions was that they would use fare enforcement to deter people who believe they shouldn’t have to pay a fare. The statistics I see here don’t take deterrence into account. If someone doesn’t pay their fare they are creating a cost that honest people will have to pay for in the form of fare increases, or to the taxpayer, who pays 70% of Metro’s operating costs as it is.

      6. You still haven’t answered the question about how you are going to reclaim that $300,000 without spending substantially more than $300,000.

      7. Remember the 80/20 rule: it takes 20% of the resources to do 80% of the work, and 80% of the resources for the remaining 20%, and it gets exponentially higher as you try to squeeze out the last 3% or 1%. Metro’s and ST’s thresholds are around 3%. That may or may not be the best cutoff but they’re the experts. Again, the fare recovery target is arbitrary, and the council knows the evasion rate when they adjust the target.

        ST’s and Metro’s fare inspectors work the same: they go through the bus or train checking everybody.

        How would you bring it down to zero? Hire enough inspectors to check every trip, or even the same trip multiple times? That would require several times more inspectors. Make the driver enforce fares? Metro says it doesn’t because it doesn’t want to put drivers in danger of assault when there are no security guards or police right there, and the driver needs to pay attention to the road.

  11. When Seattle extended the Waterfront Streetcar 3 blocks, I assumed it would never go away. Oh Well.

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