Streetcar in South Lake Union (image: SounderBruce)

The Mayor’s budget proposal funds streetcar service in 2021 at current levels, with about 10% fewer service hours than before COVID. The Seattle Council however appears to be looking at further reductions, eyeing about $700,000 in operating savings for every 10% further reduction in service. Prospects for restarting the paused Center City Connector appear dim.

Overall, the City’s streetcar operations budget for 2021 is flat vs the original enacted 2020 budget. Cost increases nearly offset the 10% reduction in service.

Pre-pandemic ridership on the First Hill streetcar had reached up to 4,000 per day, with another 1,700 on the the South Lake Union streetcar. Recent ridership on First Hill had recovered from post-pandemic lows to about 2,000 per day. South Lake Union service, suspended for most of 2020, reopened on September 19.

Council Member Alex Pedersen, casting an eye at the empty office buildings in downtown, was skeptical last week about funding current operations levels on the SLU line in particular. There were several questions from Council about how much further savings could be wrangled by reducing service. Council President Lorena González cautioned against going too far. “If the cut is too deep, we’re signaling we’re abandoning the streetcar system entirely”. González sought further analysis of where a tipping point could be, warning “particularly on two lines that have already been built, and that are existing infrastructure in our city, I worry about whether we are setting them up for future failure”.

Meanwhile, the Center City Connector remains on hold.

Slide from Seattle City Council Meeting 10/20/20. (Source: Seattle Council)

The Center City Connector’s long running challenges with cost overruns appeared resolved in September 2019 when the Mayor proposed a 51 cent tax on rideshare services in the city. The spending plan anticipated $56 million from the tax to cover the remaining funding gap in building the streetcar. A year later, expectations for the rideshare tax have collapsed. Far from the expected doubling of rideshare trips, those trips fell precipitously with the onset of the pandemic and are still down by about half. What remains of future rideshare tax revenues are allocated to other general fund spending.

Work was paused indefinitely on the Center City project in the 2020 budget rebalancing. It remains a listed project in the 2021-2026 CIP, but with no funding proposed in 2021 or any local transportation funding identified in later years. That leaves an unsecured funding gap of $92.8 million. Despite some concerns about federal funding, particularly the risk Seattle might have to repay money already received, there seemed little interest at last week’s Council meeting in restarting the project.

Has Council politics shifted against the Center City Connector? Beyond the challenge of finding another $93 million of capital dollars in a contentious budget cycle, the needs seem to have become less urgent, however temporarily. Intra-downtown and South Lake Union transit capacity is not stretched. Meanwhile, the Connector’s most effective proponents, Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien, have left the Council. When the Council debated streetcar funding in 2017, several members argued against directing so much money downtown on equity grounds, and that may resonate again this year.

Seattle’s operating funding for the streetcar must grow in coming years to offset the likely loss of funding from other sources. Sound Transit’s $5 million contribution to the First Hill streetcar is scheduled to end in 2023. King County’s partnership which contributes $1.5 million annually to the South Lake Union streetcar expires in 2024. Seattle’s proposed budget allocates $5.3 million of commercial parking tax revenue. Pre-pandemic fare revenue was $1.9 million, though that fell to $750,000 in 2020. The budget anticipates a return to pre-COVID ridership by 2023, a forecast that is more optimistic than some other agencies.

88 Replies to “Streetcar service may be cut again, as Center City Connector remains on hold”

  1. I always thought it would be redundancy that killed the CCC, not equity zealots. I hope Chris Hansen is watching. I bet the council uses the same equity logic to argue against bringing the NBA back to LQA, allowing Bellevue to swoop in and get the Sonics.

    1. It’s the pandemic that’s killing the CCC. The huge revenue shortfall that’s forcing the city to make harder decisions between the CCC and other transit. Before, the CCC’s funding was just coming out of RapidRide expansions. Now it’s coming out of current service, which is more critical. If partner funds for the First Hill and SLU streetcars expire and the city must make up the difference, then it really is the CCC vs existing streetcar service. Plus all those other unfunded service hours in the expiring TBD that won’t be replaced by the proposed TBD. If those are to continue then funding will have to come from somewhere, and the CCC is one place for it. I was already skeptical of the CCC, but regardless of whether you’re skeptical or supportive of it, the same tradeoffs exist: $X dollars for the CCC is $X dollars not available to restore and boost local buses.

      Of course the distinction must be made between Seattle’s portion of the funding, vs federal grants and partner funding. Only Seattle’s portion can be redirected to other routes. And if we have to repay the federal grant because we didn’t build the project, then that might sink our ability to get other federal transit grants in the future. That would impact future RapidRide lines for instance.

      Prioritizing equity has increased this year during the coronavirus epidemic, with Metro and ST both making decisions weighing low-income and minority neighborhoods and essential workers more heavily than they have in the past. I don’t see how that has anything to do with the NBA’s location in Queen Anne or Chris Hansen’s proposal for an NBA stadium in SODO. If the NBA is there it will increase the need for high-capacity transit to there to get people to games.

  2. How does the marginal cost of each operating hour compare with streetcar vs. buses? If SDOT were to mothball the streetcar fleet and pay King County Metro to run buses down the streetcar route, would that save any money? Perhaps the existing overhead wire could even be used to run trolley buses (using battery power to turn around at each end).

    1. I would ask a different question: what is the current ridership of the SLU and FH lines? Is there a rebound to justify maintaining service? Is the current ridership patterns enough to justify a bus-replacement? If it’s minimal, then I wouldn’t even bother running a bus-version of the streetcar. The same funds could be divested to other service that has been cut.

    2. Streetcars are more expensive to operate. That was the issue with the SLU streetcar, that private sponsors were paying capital costs but the ongoing operating costs would cut into bus service because a streetcar seat costs more than a bus seat.

      The First Hill streetcar is at 50% of its pre-covid level according to the article, with ridership at 2,000/day. Is that large or small? It depends on your values. Certainly buses could carry the streetcar’s ridership without being overwhelmed, and there are no streetcar-only lanes to give it a speed advantage.

      I would probably keep running the First Hill streetcar because it exists and has a significant number of passengers. We could replace it with a bus and save some modest amount of money. I’d keep the SLU streetcar suspended because its route is flat and has several parallel bus routes both on the same street and within a block. The First Hill streetcar goes up a steep hill and makes an L shape. Those are both reasons why its ridership is higher.

    3. While streetcars cost far more to build than buses, it’s not obvious whether they would cost more to run, once built. Either way, it’s still one vehicle and one unionized driver. If it comes down to electricity vs. diesel (with the overhead wire a sunk cost), maybe running the streetcar is actually slightly cheaper. I really don’t know the answer to this one, but it’s something that should be at least studied.

      Whether the routes have enough demand to justify continuing to run them is another question. The SLU streetcar is entirely redundant with the already frequent 40 and C-line, so its only real value is more capacity, which doesn’t appear to be necessary in the short term. First Hill seems more justifiable in keeping, since it’s both more frequent than the 60 and follows different streets.

      In any case, I am definitely glad the city is not raiding the bus service budget further to push through the CCC.

    4. The trolley bus uses 2 overhead wires, while the streetcar only has one (the missing wire is actually the rail, to compete the circuit).

  3. A 10% reduction in service = $700,000 in savings. Where is that savings mostly coming from? Wages from fired employees? Something else?

    1. Or staff that doesn’t need to be hired? SDOT won’t staff up for CCC operations until much closer to opening.

      1. I think we may get further clarity on this in the next Council discussion. $700k was a sort of working assumption in the Council meeting. But it’s easy to imagine it would be less linear than that. One might not get a simple 10% reduction in cost from a 10% reduction in service levels. SDOT will probably come back with more worked out scenarios.

  4. Would really appreciate some operating-cost figures comparing streetcars with both modes of buses. And also keeping in mind how much trackway and trolleywire have already been installed.

    For me, though, streetcars have always served a slightly different purpose from buses. Main use of a bus is transportation in general. But because they can’t move side-to-side, streetcars are more or less park benches on wheels.

    With its wider interior space and larger windows, a major part of a streetcar’s duty is sight-seeing and window-shopping. All of which really mean that the Center City Connector is something we can also relax about.

    It’ll solidify when three connecting linear business districts, South Lake Union, First Avenue from Pike Place Market to Pioneer Square, and International District/ Hospitals/ and Broadway announce they’re ready to Connect, along a main street that’s grooved-rail from end to end.

    Wasn’t born yet, but I doubt the Golden Gate Bridge competed with very much else in Franklin Roosevelt’s mind. Sort of same budget as World War II. Along with the rest of Central Puget Sound’s regional transit system, our streetcar funding will come from the Recovery on which our country’s survival will depend.

    From both the present Pandemic, and a new generation’s resolve to remedy a lot of past mistakes. Though pray to God that this time we can leave out the World War.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Ideally streetcars would have their own lanes so they’d be faster than buses, and they’d have larger or multi-car trains so they can carry more people and accommodate demand spikes better. Our streetcars don’t do any of that so they’ve lost most of their advantages compared to buses. Other advantages of ideal streetcars are a smooth quiet ride, and the sense of place the track brings. Of course, trolleybuses can also give a smooth quiet ride, and their trolley wires are second best in connoting a sense of place and an urban neighborhood and telling you where the route goes. It’s just a shame they go on rubber tires on an asphalt road as if they’re nothing more than cars.

      When the SLU streetcar travels between Westlake and Denny Way, it not only stops at an excessive number of stops every two blocks, it also stops every single block at a stoplight. When buses go through the same area, they don’t stop nearly as much and get to the end faster. It has something to do with the buses’ speed and acceleration vs the streetcar relative to the stoplight timings.

      The argument that streetcars can’t go sideways is mostly a non-issue. 99% of the time there is nothing blocking the streetcar.

  5. The streetcar should be looked at like it is a typical bus route. Does it make sense to spend a fortune to expand the bus route? Of course not. Does it make sense to cut service? No more or less than other routes, depending on the answer to asdf2’s question. If it is cheaper to run buses, then run buses. If not, then it should be viewed like any other bus.

    1. Running more buses on the same routes would certainly bump up the CO2 output. I’m not sure how running extra buses in place of the streetcars would save any money.

      1. Re: CO2 emissions. Seattle uses hydro power so any diesel bus will put out more CO2. If it’s a ETB then there’s a couple of factors. A streetcar is a lot heavier so it’s going to take more energy to accelerate. Does the streetcar have regenerative braking? I believe all the modern trolley buses do. Rolling resistance is lower for the streetcar but on the 1st Hill line it has to haul all that extra weight up hill.

        On cost the streetcar is only competitive with ridership that is at least pre-covid levels. We can also scale buses back in size based on demand at each time of day.

        Streetcars win on Panache hands down. Seriously though the level boarding is easier and more efficient.

    2. To be fair, the expected ridership per mile (pre-Covid) of the FULL system was greater than the busiest, most crowded busses in Seattle. It really has to be a FULL route to be competitive with busses. Complete the route. I suspect there aren’t many short, and frankly incomplete, bus routes that carry as many people as the FH streetcar — even post pandemic, even given how inefficient the routing is going up the Yesler hill. And SDOT certainly isn’t canceling of “indefinitely pausing” roadway projects because car use has been down esp. during peak hours. Finally, note that Durkan did have the bus option studied, and for the equivalent level of service, it wasn’t much cheaper than finishing the CCC. Come on now–this should really be built and in service by now, ready for a booming post-Covid Seattle with it’s new waterfront.

      1. The problem is that the full route is terrible. The mode has its own issues (lack of flexibility, etc.) but the route is terrible. It is one of the worst in our system. It is a textbook example of a bad route, being “short, squiggly and looping” ( This means it is slow, unreliable, and simply doesn’t work for much of the route.

        Compare it to a regular route, like the 70. Pick any two stops, and it is pretty easy to imagine someone making that trip. In many cases it is the only good way to make that trip, while in other cases, it is merely one of the many options along that corridor (e. g. 3rd).

        In contrast, many, if not most of the trips don’t make sense with the streetcar. If you are trying to get from Broadway to downtown, you are way better off taking a more direct bus. From Yesler it is ridiculous — the streetcar starts out by going the wrong way. That is why short, squiggly routes perform poorly.

        It is a circulator in an area with *more* than enough bus routes. If the goal is to serve Broadway, there are better options. If the goal is to serve First there are better options. These options are much more useful — they connect a lot more trips. It is far more cost effective to simply restructure the existing bus routes if you want to increase frequency, since so many buses go to those areas. At best it is poaching service from other routes (that run there anyway). At worst it performs poorly, as people just take one of the buses that come along more frequently.

        Consider this: If the streetcar gets cancelled, will Metro take over that route? Will Seattle use some of its extra money to run a route that loops around like the proposed streetcar?

        Of course not. It is a terrible route. That is what makes it different than routes like the 7 and 70 (which were also considered for streetcars). It is a terrible route, and an extremely expensive mode that is inappropriate for the city.

    3. Well, we have the National Transit database numbers for Metro Operations.
      Streetcar – $247 per vehicle revenue hour; $6.23 per unlinked passenger trip
      Bus – $179 per vehicle revenue hour; $5.38 per unlinked passenger trip
      TrolleyBus – $155 per vehicle revenue hour; $3.98 per unlinked passenger trip

      Streetcar is definitely less efficient than bus, though not by an enormous margin. I’d think if you did an urban route to urban route analysis, the streetcar would look worse.

      The difference is probably in the scale efficiencies of the Metro bus fleet. Some activities are just cheaper for 1,000 buses than for 10 streetcars.

      1. For the looks of it, there is no reason to assume that we are better off replacing it with a bus on the same route. Even upgrading the route (e. g. sending it down Yesler) would likely be controversial. The best option is probably to just muddle alone with it indefinitely.

      2. The thing is that finishing the middle segment creates two currently un-served high-demand routes: SLU to Pike Place/Pioneer Square and First Hill/Upper Jackson to Pioneer Square/Pike Place.

        You’re right Ross that people going ACROSS the “U” won’t use the route; there are much more direct options that involve only a two block walk from Third to First. But folks going from the entirety of the SLU route to First Avenue destinations and folks traveling from the southern end of the First Hill segment to First Avenue destinations would use the route if it were finished.

        And the opportunities to extend car lines down Rainier to Mount Baker, up first to Seattle Center and down First to Starbucks would make the entire network more efficient and desirable. Run frequently between Capitol Hill and Starbucks, Mount Baker and West Seattle Center and Starbucks and South Lake Union with as much as possible in dedication and you have links between six centers around the CBD.

        But that’s all speculation at this point.

    4. But it’s not just a bus; the streetcar provides a better experience. It’s a more comfortable ride, and the route is more legible. If the FH streetcar were replaced with a bus route, I doubt I’d bother to look it up and figure out how to use it; but I take the streetcar when I can, just because it’s there.

      1. The vast majority of transit riders don’t care if it is a “better experience”. They just want to get there.

        Here is an example: run a bus and a streetcar along the same route. Run each every 30 minutes, opposite each other. How many people do you think will wait an extra 15 minutes for that streetcar? Hardly anyway. Once that bus arrives, they are taking it.

        There is a reason why the streetcars have performed poorly in the past. The mode preference is minimal. It is more about frequency and speed.

      2. How about this compromise? Run a bus down the streetcar tracks, but paint the bus like the streetcar and make the headsign say “First Hill Streetcar”, rather than a route number.

        I say this not so much as a serious suggestion, but to illustrate the point that nobody really cares whether the vehicle has rubber tires or not. They just want to get where they’re going.

      3. Or, similarly for the CCC, you can run it with buses, but paint in tracks on the road and paint the buses to look like streetcars. You can even throw in overhead wire and run the route with trolley buses.

        Again, not a serious proposal, and actually absurd in many ways, but is still functionally equivalent to the CCC at a much cheaper price point.

      4. asdf2, not really much cheaper if any to operate, and MUCH slower around Pike Place, because you’re not going to get signal priority with buses.

      5. “If it’s a bus, I won’t take it, but if it’s a streetcar, I will,” is a very weak argument for the streetcar. It’s almost an argument against it. It makes it sound unnecessary. It’s not vital to anyone’s commute. They can take it or leave it.

  6. Axe it.

    Let’s say the Streetcar is replaced with a bus. Ridership, especially on the FH line, would likely fall even further than it already has simply because some people don’t like the idea of riding bus. The SLU line is already duplicated with the C and 40. And frankly, the overall concept of the Seattle Streetcar was broken before COVID and generated a lackluster experience, especially without the CCC. We shouldn’t spend much needed funds into a mode that is mediocre at best.

    1. Yeah, the case for the SLU Line is very weak. But the case for the First Hill line isn’t. It is the main bus on Broadway. The button hook is crazy, and it becomes redundant on Jackson, but killing it would be rather arbitrary. With all of its faults, it probably performs better than most routes.

      The main thing is, it should be viewed like any other route. The 47 was killed because it didn’t perform well compared to the other buses, and didn’t provide much in the way of coverage. I don’t think we can say the same about the streetcar.

      1. Furthermore, the case for the 1st Avenue segment is far from weak. The expected ridership volume per mile is greater than *any* of Seattle’s busiest bus routes. Build Back Better!

      2. The only reason the SLU streetcar is there is one of the richest people in the region was a developer there, admired the Portland streetcars, and owned a Portland sports team so he had time to admire the streetcars there.

        The biggest problem with the CCC is the egg-dropper shape of the combined network. It never goes straight for even a mile without turning. It doesn’t address Seattle’s biggest transit needs, which are a better grid throughout the city and north-south circulation downtown. A route on 1st Avenue from Intl Dist or the stadiums to Belltown and Seattle Center would be more worthwhile and serve a less-redundant transit market. There is Durkan’s argument that “A tourist at Pike Place Market can go to MOHAI and Little Saigon on the streetcar!”, but that’s not a large market for one of the city’s most expensive transit lines (excluding Link). Why can’t we get that same kind of enthusiasm for RapidRide 7? Which, incidentally, is two blocks away from Pike Place Market and also goes to Little Saigon. Or even Streetcar 7 to Mt Baker, which was in the city’s earlier plans.

      3. The expected ridership volume per mile is greater than *any* of Seattle’s busiest bus routes.

        So what? Even if that is true (and I don’t think it is) it is only because it is the only route there. You can achieve the same thing by simply sending a bus on First Avenue. Doing that is way cheaper than running the streetcar. Not only is it much cheaper from a capital standpoint, but it cheaper from a service standpoint.

        The proposed streetcar route is stupid. There are much better ways to provide service on First.

      4. By the way, when I wrote that ” the case for the First Hill line isn’t [weak]”, I meant with the current routes. If you kill the streetcar, you would need to add something on Broadway in its place. The streetcar route is strong right now, and without a restructure, remains strong. After a restructure, the case for the streetcar (with its squiggly route to downtown) becomes weak.

  7. If the streetcars had been included in Metro’s ridership resiliency list, the First Hill Streetcar would have come in 6th place if the stats in the article are long-term.

    However, with ST practically pulling the plug on its flagship service through the summer, that might have had an impact on the FHSC’s summer ridership.

    As it is, there is not enough streetcar fleet for the FHSC to mesh with the return of regular light rail service. That bizarre decision to cheap out on the fleet after spending $100K+ on other capital investments remains the system’s albatross.

    The solution to the lack of frequency and small fleet is to expand the bases and buy more fleet. The FHSC could perform quite well if it were there for riders when they step out of CHS.

    Keep in mind, if you are reading this and seriously trying to make the FHSC perform optimally, that means having enough fleet to have a streetcar come every 3.75 minutes after East Link opens in 2023. That’s a much larger fleet.

    Go ahead and keep the orders coming for more fleet. If it can’t be used on the CCC, at least use it to get the FHSC line up to full strength.

    1. The other (much more affordable) option is to simply run more buses on Broadway. Spending a bundle of a fleet that can only be run one or two (flawed) routes is not a good long term plan.

      1. Except that the existing Busses on Broadway have been shown to be even slower than the streetcar. And presumably you wouldn’t just run a bus up and down Broadway, it would be part of a much larger route (or worse–overlapping portion of multiple routes), which means it gets delayed in traffic more often. Getting randomly delayed by a few minutes before even getting *to* the Broadway stretch is fatal if you want something that comes every 3-4 minutes, LOL.

      2. Sorry, that is ridiculous. A bus on Broadway would be just as fast — if not faster — then a streetcar. The streetcar can’t avoid obstacles, a bus can. It would be different if the streetcar ran in the middle of the street (then we would need special buses to do the same thing). That isn’t the case. Both can have off board payment and level boarding, making the streetcar just a little bit worse (since it can’t swerve out of the way of obstacles).

        Yes, a bus on Broadway extends further, which makes it a bit less reliable. But that is a small price to pay for a route that is a lot less useful. It isn’t like the streetcar doesn’t get delayed making the ridiculous button hook from Jackson to Broadway.

        Besides, if the only goal is to serve Broadway, then just run frequent buses back and forth there. Start where the 60 lays over, go down Broadway, take a left on Yesler and just end downtown. That would be way more popular (since Yesler has low service due to its weak tail). That is clearly a better route than the First Hill Streetcar.

        I’m not saying that is the best approach. But if your goal is to focus service on Broadway (and only Broadway) then that would be much better than running the streetcar more often. The streetcar route is terrible. It would be altered if wasn’t so damn expensive.

      3. @RossB:

        A corollary to your observations (with which I agree completely, and thank you for the comment): it appears that there might be at least one inflection point where the inflexibility of the streetcar (or other rail) route becomes less important than the advantages. I am thinking here specifically in terms of route length – for example, the FHSC would seem to be better set up as a bus, even on the same route, but we would not want to run the entire Link spine with buses. Do you know of any studies which discuss these sorts of trade-offs in a concise way?

        I understand that I am oversimplifying the issue quite a lot, obviously there are a lot more factors to consider. But I think that it would be really cool if this sort of analysis existed, especially if written in an easy-to-parse way for an interested layperson like myself.

        Thank you in advance, even if the answer is “no idea” :) I am always grateful for your information, so I thought it was worth asking.

      4. I’m not sure if I fully understand the question. If you are basically asking “when does a streetcar make sense?”, then this blog post is as good as it gets: It basically comes down to two advantages: existing rail rights-of-way (not applicable in most of our system) or capacity. In the case of Link, this is clearly an advantage. If you ran a bunch of buses down MLK it would be tough to get them all signal priority. You would end up platooning them, which means more money on service without additional frequency.

        Oh, and one funny thing about our streetcars is that they aren’t much bigger than our buses. So even if they were running on a hugely popular corridor, you would not get the service savings that come from running big streetcars.

        Anyway, the post is excellent. Walker, as always, does an outstanding job of handling the nuances involved with the issue.

      5. Thanks – I will read it later when I have more free time, but from your description it is getting at the general issue. I was thinking something more specifically trying to tease apart the effect of specific factors (route length vs. vehicle capacity vs. ROW vs. whatever else) but this probably gets at what I am thinking about. After I read it I may have additional questions if it doesn’t quite get into the detail I was looking for.

        Thanks a lot!

      6. Okay, I read through the article and the first couple of dozen comments. It is informative but much more of an opinion piece (a very reasoned, very well argued opinion piece, to be sure) than I was looking for.

        I understand that one cannot design a proper causal statistical study as there is no way to compile a control. However, I was hoping for an observational statistical study that post-factum tries to control for certain aspects, both technological and cultural, and then provides statistics on ridership as correlated with various variables (such as route length) treated as the “experiment” when other variables are “controlled” as best as possible with an observational study.

        Jarrett and others on that post also requested similar things, if not in quite so precise terminology. I suppose one might have to dig through transportation/urban planning academic conferences, but it’s not my field. I might assume that it is the field of people like Jarrett Walker though, hence why I was hoping someone would have done the summary for us laypeople.

        If you know of such a summary, now that hopefully it is clearer as to what I am after, I would greatly appreciate it.

        Thanks again for the informative post, even if it was not what I was looking for.

      7. I wouldn’t call Walker’s post an editorial. It is more of an explanation. You don’t need a study to confirm that a big streetcar can carry more people than a bus, or that there are existing rails that can be leveraged. About the only thing that has been studied is rail bias. I can’t recommend anything in that regard.

        I was thinking something more specifically trying to tease apart the effect of specific factors (route length vs. vehicle capacity vs. ROW vs. whatever else) but this probably gets at what I am thinking about.

        OK, yeah, now I understand. I did run across this, but it isn’t really a study: Alon wrote a followup (of sorts) The followup is really about corridors that do not have a lot of bus ridership because they are so slow. In that case, surface rail wouldn’t be good either (it would be slow as well). But at the same time, some of those corridors would be good subway corridors. A good example of that in Seattle is the 44.

    2. If we move the SLU streetcars to First Hill, could they improve the frequency? I suppose that’s out if there’s no space to park and maintain them on the SLU line. But it would be a way to address the mediocre frequency on First Hill and the low ridership in SLU.

      1. Hmmm, that is an interesting idea. It is certainly worth exploring. We could move the streetcars, and sell off the depot, which would fetch a lot of money (given the very high price of South Lake Union real estate).

        Like you wrote, I guess it would come down to how much extra space there is at the First Hill streetcar barn.

  8. I still hold out hope that Northgate Link opening will help FHSC ridership as well as SLU SC ridership. I wouldn’t mind it if the City kept things low and prepare to rebrand them better as Link feeders in 2021. Call them “CityTram” as lines C1 and C2 and get ST to diagram them on their Link maps.

    In preparation for 2021, I think it could also be useful to plan and implement a design for an open air streetcar. It would take several months to create and build replacement window frames to enable that. It would be popular between April and October as well as more safely carry more people.

    1. The streetcars remind of the 47. Before the pandemic, it competed with buses and walking. If it was a lot more frequent, it would get more riders, but it just wasn’t worth it. A restructure could change the number of riders, for better or worse.

      The problem is, unlike the 47, I don’t think it will ever make financial sense for the streetcar to be really popular. Imagine sending the 49 down Broadway and either up to Beacon Hill or down to Mount Baker. Now a lot of the 49 riders shift to the 47, which could then justify 15 minute frequency on the 47. One little change and suddenly the 47 is valuable again. At the same time, the First Hill Streetcar becomes a lot less valuable. The one section it does well (along Broadway) has a frequent alternative. Investing in more special vehicles for that section seems like overkill.

      Likewise, with the 40, C and 70 all running to South Lake Union, the only way the streetcar can compete is if it runs very frequently. But if does that, you’ve spent a bunch of money simply shifting ridership from one set of vehicles to another (and those vehicles still make that trip).

      You could essentially clear the way for the streetcar (in both cases) but that doesn’t make sense from a network standpoint. Having buses like the C run to South Lake Union provides plenty of benefit beyond just connecting the Westlake area with South Lake Union. Likewise, extending the 49 through First Hill provides more than just service on Broadway.

      In the long term, I see three alternatives for the streetcars. One is to sell them off and consider those routes outdated. Another is to run it with complementary service levels (more or less what we had before the pandemic). For Broadway that would mean it would be timed (as best as possible) with the 49 (or a similar bus on Broadway). For South Lake Union it would mean that while riders wouldn’t seek it out, they would take it along with the C or 40 to get further south. The third alternative is just have it limp along with service akin to the old 49. This would mean low ridership, but handy for those trying to take one of the few stops only served by the streetcar, or for tourists who are enamored by streetcars.

      Personally, I would go with the second option. I wouldn’t spend extra on streetcars, but I would run the First Hill streetcar about every ten minutes (opposite the 49). I would give SLU whatever is left. Unless, of course, someone wants to give us good money for those streetcars (and the barns they are in). Then I would sell them off, and put the money into transit improvements.

  9. Building the FHSC without dedicated lanes was the worst transit-related decision in Seattle in the last decade. We spent more than the entire RapidRide expansion on a transit route that is easily the worst performing route in Seattle when adjusted for the density of the neighborhood that it passes through. The ridership numbers are truly abysmal, comparable to bus routes that run through single-family neighborhoods.

    On my afternoon walk from the Capitol Hill link station to First Hill I used to laugh at how I could frequently outwalk the streetcar along Broadway. Not to mention all the times it gets stuck waiting for a parked car to move out of the way, with the passengers having no way to get off since the doors can only open at the stations. Meanwhile Metro route 60 serves the majority of the streetcar line and more.

    The poor design of the FHSC has completely destroyed political support for any future streetcar expansion. Essentially the FHSC killed the CCC.

    The ‘permanence’ of streetcar tracks was one of the reasons cited for building it, but building something permanent means you need to do it completely right the first time. It wasn’t even designed so that it could be given dedicated lanes in the future. Now we’re basically stuck with letting it bleed money for however many years until we give up and axe it entirely. A total embarrassment that will continue to have political fallout for decades.

    1. It’s not very popular to say this, but the FHSC morphed into a bicycle track project on Broadway as the primary goal. We ended up with a insanely slow streetcar as a result. I blame the bicycle advocacy for hijacking the project’s original primary goal as well as its justification for getting transit money to build it.

      I wouldn’t call it a stupid decision. I would call it one inappropriately manipulated by bicycle advocacy. It wasn’t bad design but instead was goal manipulation. The designers did the best they could under the circumstances.

    2. Ridership per mile is certainly not “abysmal.” Those routes running through low density neighborhoods are much longer routes. Route E is what, 15 miles long with roughly 15000 daily riders? That’s roughly 1000 riders per mile — which is lower than both the pre pandemic and comparable to current FH ridership per mile. 1st Ave. segment expected to blow the E out of the water in terms of ridership per mile. Post-Covid boom Seattle is going to need this capacity.

    3. No, it was a stupid idea in the first place. Streetcars have their place. But running a streetcar up to First Hill was always going to be flawed. Consider a couple route alternatives:

      1) Run right up Madison to at least 23rd.

      2) Start at First and Yesler, then go up Yesler to Broadway. Take a left and end where it currently ends.

      Both of these are way more direct and would have a lot more riders. Yet neither is possible, because it is too steep. The routing was flawed because of the hills. That in turn meant that even if it ran in its own lane the entire way, it would never justify big streetcars. There is no point in running a tiny streetcar.

      As Jarrett Walker wrote ( there are two big advantages to streetcars:

      1) Using existing right of way.
      2) Capacity

      The problem is, to take full advantage of capacity requires spending a lot of money and having a route that will actually generate a lot of ridership. We did that — for Link. It runs on the surface in Rainier Valley, acting very much like a streetcar.

      But that wasn’t possible for First Hill. The route was too short, or too squiggly, or both.

      This explains, for example, why the Madison BRT will operate just fine running every six minutes. Despite clearly serving First Hill much better than the streetcar (because it is a much more straight forward route) it doesn’t need the extra capacity of a streetcar. We are nowhere near the 2 to 3 minute frequency where it makes sense to transition over, even it was possible. It is a very good route that should prove to be very popular. But it is too short to generate the kind of ridership that would justify a big streetcar.

      Streetcars just don’t make sense in Seattle. The only corridors flat enough and long enough to come close to that sort of ridership are the 7 and 70. But they still aren’t big enough. That is why SDOT rejected streetcars on those paths. They won’t need the capacity, even if they could afford the huge stops necessary for that to work.

      If the 7 or 70 were the only buses running downtown, then sure, you could justify a streetcar. But they aren’t. Buses converge on the only corridors that could possibly justify a streetcar (through downtown on the avenues). Oh, and Link will also run there. That is why the First Avenue idea is silly. The streetcar is no bigger than a bus — you might as well send a few buses from Third over to First and just call it a day. More people would use it, and you weren’t going to gain anything with a streetcar anyway (since our streetcars are too small).

  10. There are tangled and inter-related issues here. SDOT and Metro are in fiscal and Covid crisis. The transit decisions should consider two periods: Covid and post-Covid. Let’s focus on post-Covid. There are three Seattle Streetcar lines, two exist and one is planned but not funded. Per RossB, the two existing lines have different value. The FHSC has some value connecting First Hill with two Link stations, though the deviation to 14th Avenue South harms its speed and reliability. Part of its service subsidy comes from ST for now. The SLU line has little value, as routes 70, 40, 62, and the C line do its work better with shorter waits and penetration of downtown Seattle. Part of its service subsidy comes from Metro for now. (its original hours were taken from SE Seattle in 2009; the opposite of race and social justice). The CCC line is also weak due to its high opportunity cost. The capital cost, operating subsidy, and right of way could all be used on better projects. Mayor Durkan proposed that part of the TNC tax revenue would cover the CCC local capital share. That revenue has evaporated and has opportunity cost if it came back. Durkan had no proposal on the operating subsidy.

    As Mark knows, there is electric trolley bus overhead on Broadway, South Jackson Street, 1st Avenue, and Madison-Marion, Union Street, Pike-Pine, and Virginia-Stewart streets. If Seattle and Metro wanted to provide carbon free transit circulation on 1st Avenue, the CCC capital is not required. SDOT knows how to provide transit priority to bus.

    I would hope the Council would consider killing the CCC streetcar to free up the ROW and provide clarity to future budgets. Seattle cannot afford the pet pony. The suggested issues seem too timid and focused on the current Covid budget crisis.

    1. eddiew., from my first “pick” at Metro, my choice of assignments pulled me in two directions. Dilemma finally resolved with the advent of the MAN 4000’s, which let me drive a trolleybus and an “artic” simultaneously.

      Whatever his aversion to paleontology- “found” dinosaurs caused schedule delays- Chief Engineer Khazak and I were dead-on-page about putting the “Sixty-foot Seven” in the DSTT for the duration. Might’ve also kept ESSENTIAL buses from CPS to 62nd and Prentice….MINE for Keeps!

      So I’m not only well aware of the special-work you mention, but have never once advocated removing any of it. Pollution-control…like that’s a bad thing?

      But what that wire’s about is pulling passengers up cliff-sides. SF proves those wires are there not to replace exhaust, but rather Andrew Hallidie’s “grips” and CABLES!

      From your own considerable knowledge, though, would appreciate some inside info on what’s between the tarmac and the sewer pipes under First between Stewart and Jackson. There WERE once car-tracks there, weren’t there? Will last century’s rail be among the junk CCC will have to dig out for this century’s streetcars?

      Also respect your “take” on how many automobiles First-Future-Tense will have to carry. Aside from Emergency and maybe a cab stand or two, my guess would be zero.

      Or putting it another way, a jam-full of liberated former drivers transversing First in actual motion. But if we’re really talking money, let’s talk some history too.

      In the ‘Seventies ,”Recovered Memory accusations” sent a lot of innocent people to jail. But Chicago memories of all those navy uniforms aboard both CTA railcars and the North Shore interurban haunt me for life. My NPR “Take-Away?”

      This Depression, have our Recovery budget leave out the war and if we’re short on steel, that track could be platinum.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Does the current trolley wire allow a turn from eastbound Jackson to northbound 12th and vice-versa? Or would turn infrastructure have to be added, and would that be a significant cost?

      1. Thanks for the chance at aerial map-reading, Mike. While we can’t see the actual trolleywire, its shadows show patterns on the pavement.

        For Jackson and Twelfth, some impressive artistry. Which to my eyes confirms two things.

        One, the Base-Route I remember from Jackson to 12th to Boren to Broadway is at least still in the air. But Two, the wire still will not carry your shoes north-south across Jackson without de-wiring.

        eddiew., any idea what it’d cost to directly connect trolleybus service between Broadway and Othello Station by way of existing Route 36 wire along Beacon Hill? Looks like a line crew’s short work-shift.

        Though also, modern batteries could let a RE-wiring “pan” far-side of Jackson in both directions could let north-south service “Drop Poles”, maybe without stopping, and re-wire once across. With coach batteries pretending to be live wire.

        Also, know I’m [P] ushin’ [T] opic, but any time we want, modern battery power can finally commence long-intended passenger service between the Colman Dock walkway at First and Marion, turning left on Cherry, right on Second, left on James, and right on Third.

        To re-wire either southbound on Third or eastbound on James, or both alongside the Courthouse. I’m no lineman, but IMHO none is needed. OK, maybe to hang the re-wiring pans, but that’s it. Wills and Ways, Wills and Ways….


        Mark Dublin

      2. Mike Orr: yes, east-to-north and south-to-west turns are provided for by the overhead special work. That is or was the primary pathway of ETB between Atlantic Base and routes 43, 44, and 49 to begin trips. At one time, the trips were shown on the Route 9 timetable. before fall 2005, Route 9 was between South Rose Street and the U District via First Hill and Capitol Hill; a Route 7 turnback variant used the East Aloha Street wire.

    3. There are tangled and inter-related issues here.

      Yes, and thanks for explaining them.

      The FHSC has some value connecting First Hill with two Link stations, though the deviation to 14th Avenue South harms its speed and reliability. Part of its service subsidy comes from ST for now. The SLU line has little value … Part of its service subsidy comes from Metro for now

      I can only assume that Seattle is paying for the rest of it. With that in mind, I think we should do the following, in order:

      1) Kill off the SLUS. Metro has other priorities and it just doesn’t make sense anymore. Move as many streetcars as possible to the other depot. Sell off the land in South Lake Union, which I’m sure would fetch a lot of money. Poor some asphalt over the tracks (in the name of Vision Zero, although I don’t think those tracks have killed anyone, unlike the other tracks). At the same time, let ST continue to chip in for the FHSC. It is clearly a flawed route, but it isn’t as bad as the other route, and if we got rid of the streetcar, we would have to do a major restructure.

      2) Do a major restructure. Send the 49 to Mount Baker. Straighten out the 60, making it faster, by running on Broadway the whole time. Send the 36 to South Lake Union via Boren. Run all those buses every ten minutes, with the 49 and 60 opposite each other (thus providing a combined 5 minute headway on Broadway). This would all happen after East Link and after Madison BRT (with its all day 6 minute frequency). Now you can kill off the FHSC. Sell the streetcars to some city somewhere that figures it will revitalize their downtown (Cleveland?) and of course have the Biden administration chip in (a win/win). Pour asphalt over the tracks, and wipe your hands of the whole mess. Like the Montlake ramps to nowhere, spend a little time saying “what were we thinking?”.

      1. RossB: these would require significant work and have some flaws.

        one. about one-half the SLU capital cost was from an LID, largely Vulcan, and they will have a say and legal rights. the other half of the capital cost may have come from grants and those grantors will have a say. Yes, Metro could use the hours elsewhere; but in the short term, there is a contract. Former Councilmember O’Brien was one who spilled while biking near the SLU tracks and he remained a proponent.

        two. Route 49 could reach Mt. Baker under wire, but Route 48 or a Route 7 turnback needs to lay there. There are good reasons to serve 9th Avenue; it has density, no traffic congestion, and both Harborview and Yesler Terrace. With the cycle track, Broadway is slower than it was. So, there are tradeoffs. Boren Avenue does not have ETB overhead northwest of Broadway. There is significant rider demand between Beacon Hill and the ID for direct trips; so, the current Route 36 may be okay. routes 7 and 36 are 10-minute headway routes.

      2. one: Fair enough. That makes sense (that there is a contract). Any idea when it expires?

        two: Mount Baker is a transit center, right? Seems like plenty of room to layover. 9th Avenue is two short blocks from Boren. It doesn’t make sense to make half a dozen turns in a half mile just to save two blocks worth of walking. The case for running buses (or a streetcar) on First is weak, but at least it wouldn’t involve making a bunch of turns to do it. Broadway may be slower than it was, but no one would ever take the route of the 60 if they were trying to go from one end of Broadway to the other (Google doesn’t even come up with that as an idea Likewise, if you are trying to get from Mount Baker to South Lake Union, you would never make a detour to 9th. You would go Boren the whole way. This is assuming nothing is done in terms of bus lanes on Boren (4 lanes seems excessive — a few BAT lanes here and there and the bus would move fast even during rush hour). The point is, twists and turns make a bus horribly slow. The more densely populated an area is, the more those turns cost time. Slow buses not only lose riders, but they hurt the entire system.

        I notice that in Metro’s Long Range Plan they run the 49/36 bus on 12th, not Broadway. Maybe that is to avoid the congestion on Broadway. If that’s the case, fair enough — that is a decent option (especially if bus lanes are added on 12th). Another possibility is to move the cycle path to 12th, and add bus lanes for Broadway. Whenever possible, transit and bikes should be on separate streets.

      3. The 60 was put on 9th due to demand from First Hill for a route there. They would point to the large number of elderly people in the area who can’t walk very far and the disabled people who go to the county hospital.

        The 12th routing is to respond to a longstanding community request for a route on 12th, and the recent growth in housing and restaurants there. They point to the hill between Broadway and 12th saying service on one street is not a substitute for service on the other. I have mixed feelings about the routing. It adds 12th service, but there are probably more people going to lower Broadway.

    4. “Seattle cannot afford the pet pony.”

      +10 Great way to put it. Perhaps this council is finally coming to its senses. Seattle will still be left with its two sucky streetcar pieces and will have to figure out how to replace ST and Metro operating subsidies in a few years, though perhaps SDOT can renegotiate extensions to those respective deals should the city wish to continue to muddle along with them. Why the city wants to continue to throw money at the SLU line is beyond me however.

      1. I was thinking the opposite — Seattle could negotiate with ST and Metro before the subsidies run out to put the money into other projects.

  11. No, Ross B. While its signature versatility makes it completely compatible with both a bus and a regional light-railcar, a streetcar has additional qualities that entitle it to a special place in the transit world.

    I’m sorry that over the years I’ve lost the videos I took on-site at Oslo’s city hall park, standing a few feet from the track as blue and white Link-caliber streetcars rolled by in touching distance, the two of us equally comfortable with the proximity.

    And even sorrier that in Gothenburg, the instructor who was my host wouldn’t let me keep my camera in one hand and the streetcar’s “controller” in the other. As a young woman propelled her baby-carriage straight across my line of travel. On my bell-note (my host pushed my controller-hand forward), without looking up, she perfectly slacked speed so both our travel stayed smooth.

    European/US experience is the key here. I’ve read that babies visibly recognize music they first heard weeks before they were born. Same undoubtedly for the sound of a bell and the steel-on-steel-on stone reverberation of a street rail car.

    Further justified piece of confidence is that touching-distance from a moving streetcar is survivable. For a free-steered bus, just please stay both back and ready but also not be a storm-trooper.

    Since the US is a bigger richer country than Norway, despite the last four years’ high-levels efforts to shrink and impoverish ourselves, whatever Oslo’s scenic waterfront is, Seattle’s should’ve been from the beginning, and is still a matter of matching the Way with Some Will.

    Notice also that I’m comfortable putting final “nod” over the collar of not one business community but a permanent combination of three. Not only is Time money, but on this one it’s also On My Side. Notice no stipulation I’ll live to see it.

    And about that unfortunate loop at the top of Jackson? It’s the price of the maximum slope that streetcar can pull. In a hurry, that’s what Broadway Link station is for. In the books of this industry, some accommodations are worth what they cost.

    Mark Dublin

  12. The terminology between streetcar, tram, light rail, and heavy rail overlap heavily. Seattle and ST define light rail as a train that mostly runs in exclusive lanes or grade-separated, and a streetcar as a train that runs more in mixed traffic. So right there streetcars are defined as the least-worthwhile kinds of trains, the kind that many cities no longer build because their advantage over a bus is so small. Those cities instead build light rail, light rail with downtown tunnels, or heavy rail. If the corridor is not major enough for any of those, they put a frequent bus on it.

    Mark will doubtless point to European street-running streetcars, but most of those either have their own lanes, or share lanes for just a small segment that’s too historic or constrained for proper lanes or is a low-volume street. Not where the entire route is in lanes as congested as Jackson Street and Broadway. That’s where having a train misses the point and wastes money.

    1. Yeah, the terminology is always confusing. Its funny, because if you talk about “light rail” in this town, everyone thinks of something fast. In contrast, when folks in Vancouver are discussing light rail (as an alternative to SkyTrain) they think of it being slow (like a streetcar).

      Walker basically says it hinges on stop spacing ( but I don’t buy it. Stop spacing is very arbitrary and it is often determined by budget or the whims of the agency. If Seattle had decided to build a much smaller light rail system (no spine, just say, Northgate to Rainier Beach) and decided to spend a bunch of money, it is quite possible it would have had a lot more stops. Basically it would have been stop spacing similar to downtown for the whole line (where the geography allowed). So not only would there be lots of stops in Rainier Valley, but on the main line. There would be gaps (after Capitol Hill) but there would have been a station by SR- 520, along with three stations in the U-District, and a station at 55th, 65th, 75th, 92nd and Northgate. That’s not a crazy idea. It would have assumed the same sort of large scale increase in density promised in places like Fife, but in areas much closer to the heart of the city (places much like those that have grown whenever the city allowed them to). Given all those stops, is it now a streetcar? Not in my book. It is underground, most of the way. It is fast, much like a subway. In general, other than the type of cars, it would resemble a standard subway system.

      Or maybe the better term is “light metro”, another ambiguous term. Unfortunately, just like the term “BRT”, there is no clear cut, obvious consensus as to what it means.

      1. Link is a “light metro”. Even in the most optimistic scenarios it is limited to about 12,000 pph in the peak direction. The stations and the vehicles are too small. But that may turn out to be sufficient.

      2. I think what Walker is saying is that streetcars serve local trips while light rail serves longer terms, and that shows up first and foremost in stop spacing, otherwise it’s bad design. Light rail can occasionally have close stop spacing when the geography or density calls for it (like in most US downtown segments), but that still meets the spirit of the intent. On the other hand, a streetcar that goes too long is still a streetcar because it is poorly design to move people long distance.

        I agree Link would have closer stop spacing if it wasn’t trying to extend as long, but it still would be at most something like Swift stop spacing, which is another Mode primarily intended to move people between neighborhoods.

        Link does serve trips that may be better served by a different mode, like a Tacoma to Seattle trip, but it still applies light rail speed and stop spacing. If TDLE was only 2 stations, then there would be a question if Link is trying to transform into something else, but instead we are placing stations in East Tacoma and Fife, which is consistent with a “light rail” or “light metro” design. That design might not be the best for that corridor, but it’s a consistent approach of focusing on trips within a subarea or an adjacent job center rather than more long haul trips. (Long haul trips are tackled with Sounder and STX). In turn, you can apply the same argument on short trips. Link will serve very short trips, such as within Seattle’s downtown, but it’s not optimized for those, which will show up on some people just catching a bus on 3rd rather than going into the tunnel, riding a train 2 stops, and exiting the tunnel.

      3. While there are wide technical differencesblikevthevdtrength of the power supply, I usually look at those differences that affect the riders the most. That would be train and platform length and maximum attainable operating speed. A single-car tram on a city street has some usefulness but it’s different than a four-car train on an exclusive and protected track right of way. It’s conceptually akin to a Cessna bring different than a 787 even though both are technically planes, or Renton and Seatac airports even though both are technically airports.

      4. I think what Walker is saying is that streetcars serve local trips while light rail serves longer terms, and that shows up first and foremost in stop spacing

        I understand what Walker is saying. I’m just saying that his definition has obvious flaws. The Paris Metro averages a stop every 600m. The Moscow Metro averages a stop every 1.7km. Both are called subways. Nobody would call the Paris Metro a streetcar.

        It would be quite reasonable for the Seattle subway system to have Parisian style stop spacing, for *most* of its route, especially if it never left the city limits. I would argue that ridership would be higher. It would cover dense areas that it missed (e. g. First Hill), make better connections (to places like SR 520, or 23rd Avenue) and build much better TOD places (to places like 75th). It could also have followed Rainier Avenue all the way to Jackson, then entered the tunnel close to I. D., with stop spacing every half mile (800 meters) along the surface. Yet even with all that, I doubt anyone would call it a streetcar.

        Likewise, if Swift — with its enormous stops spacing and minimal investment in speed — consisted of relatively small trains, it would likely be called a streetcar.

        The point being that “streetcar” is just an arbitrary definition. You can find exceptions for every possible definition (this article does a good job of doing that — You can also find systems that are called both (Wikipedia does).

        It is silly to argue which one is which — that it like trying to argue what a “big” is in basketball. Is Kevin Durant a “big”? Not really — he mainly plays small forward. Was Charles Barkley a big? Absolutely. So a guy who is 6’6″ is a “big”, but not the guy who is 6’10”? In other words, the “big” is four inches smaller than the small forward? Now you’re gettin’ it.

    2. NTD has specific definitions, but I like GGWash’s breakdown the best:

      I like the term “light metro” for Link because it indicates light vehicles & overhead catenary for the technology, and metro for the stop spacing and carrying capacity.

      The only mode in our region that I think is clearly mislabeled is Tacoma Link, which is clearly a streetcar and is reported as such in the NTD. If we branded T-Link the same as the Seattle streetcar, it would be much more clear to the public and the politicians what those lines are trying to accomplish, and how they are different from Central Link.

      1. As that article pointed out, there are exceptions for every definition. The labeling is arbitrary — like when a kitten is just a cat.

  13. Among working-class voters, governance where terminology takes precedence over practicality could easily explain the victory margin that put 2016’s loser in the White House. When he’s not at Mara Lago.

    For me, “streetcar” is a wide, informal class of vehicle. Swedish term “Spore-Vang”, meaning “running Street Track” covers everything from SLUT(rolley) to Link’s longest and fastest.

    No skin off of us if we adopt it. Though one advantage of manufacturing our own equipment is that we can also bring our terminology back home where we can keep it from losing either us or our democracy.

    Since we’re a free country whose obscenity laws are also all obscene, can anybody cite me the violation if I fail to donate an element of fecal waste what anybody else calls a vehicle I think we ought to have?

    Anybody who’s written “Specification One”, does the trade even use words like “Streetcar” or “Light Rail?” I thought specs were all numerical. But being Mark, there’s one thing I’ve got no trouble whatsoever pointing out:

    The matter of what kind of vehicle belongs on our every foot of street space is not defined by either Webster, who’s dead, or God, Who’s Busy, but by the officials whose employment we can terminate if their regulations don’t keep what are commonly called “cars” out from under our railcars.

    Leaving unspoken, maybe because it really is obscene, transit’s truly self-crippling problem at this writing. How do we know what to order our office-workforce to do? Which, luckily, is exactly what Seattle Transit Blog is for.

    Pandemic-wise, and they’re not all due to germs, contemporary time-frame in any of our memories is still really early in the game. Leaving me with this appeal: How to induce people, with inside knowledge from specs to rocks, to start commenting and even posting?

    Which is the better “draw”: Praising, begging, insulting, or threatening them? Practicality’s Hell but by DEFINITION it’s always the cheapest! Grocery time!

    Mark Dublin

  14. What Seattleites call Streetcars were called Trams in London, they ran on fixed rails embedded in the road. I remember riding in them. But, obviously they were eliminated for double decker buses. Must have been a good reason to do that.
    And, yes, any form of transit along 1st Ave north to Seattle Center is all good.

  15. It has always seemed to me that the current streetcars were created for reasons of politics and equity more than for transportation. It’s a bad route that I can nearly beat on foot.

    So I don’t feel terribly surprised that they’d be on the chopping block when funds are tight, because people don’t really need them.

    I don’t really understand the thesis that they need to be ‘connected,’ either; I can imagine some small number of people wanting a complete trip to, say, pike place from SLU, but beyond that, I don’t see how many complete trips are enabled by completing them.

    Nothing against streetcars, though; my armchair/amateur streetcar plan for seattle would be a return to something like what they used to have in the 1920s; one running up most major arterials from downtown (Jackson, Madison, Pike, one up Westlake to Fremont and beyond, etc. Why is that so challenging? Why are they so costly?

    1. Because of the chokehold the “truck nuts” caucus has on the construction trades. What boahs deserve gold-plated jobs, dontcha know? That plus the triumvirate of engineering corporations who have a monopoly on rail projects nationwide.

      It’s a marriage made in Hell to which the taxpayers have to give welfare checks year after year.

      1. I would love to read more about how construction trade unions are the cause of high cost of rail transportation projects. I have no doubt you have a few references handy; would you please be willing to share at least one or two?

        Thank you in advance.

      2. The unions aren’t the only cause but they are huge. The biggest one is the triumvirate of Engineering firms. The unions are egregious featherbedders. Read for one example. Here’s a nice “pull quote” from the article:

        Still, Mr. Lhota, whom Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed last year, says the M.T.A. is working to bring down costs. To be successful, he will need help from Mr. Cuomo, who has been friendly with the labor unions whose members operate cranes and dig tunnels, and with the contractors doing the work. The unions and the construction companies are big campaign contributors and have a strong financial incentive to preserve the status quo.

        There is another long article about costs in North America (Canada is not as bad, but bad too) at I grant that it does not highlight labor costs as much as the New York article does, but that’s because “cost-is-no-object” in American infrastructure construction, so it’s just a given that the workers make loads of money.

        There is an article in Bloomberg City Lab at An excellent pull quote from it is:

        A chapter in a textbook about megaproject construction states that “as a result of existing union agreements covering the eastern seaboard area of the United States, underground construction employs approximately four times the number of personnel as in similar jobs in Asia, Australia, or Europe.” [Emphasis Added]

        Don’t suck up the construction unions. Their leadership may nominally support Democrats but the rank and file are largely a bunch of hyper-selfish swaggering Trumpies.

      3. underground construction employs approximately four times the number of personnel as in similar jobs in Asia, Australia, or Europe.

        Except that Asia, Australia and Europe all have strong unions — often stronger than in the United States. Don’t blame the unions for the high cost of American subway construction — if anything, it is the opposite:

        Levy makes the case that it is privatization — specifically specifically privatizing the planning aspects of the state, such as engineering — that is the cause of such high costs in the United States:

        The streetcars weren’t built because of some deal with the unions. They were built based on some romantic or nostalgic fetish with the streetcars. No one bothered to actually consider whether it is the appropriate mode (it clearly isn’t).

      4. Thank you, Tom. The first one is clearly an opinion piece (and the NYT editorial board has, in my humble opinion, a rather sketchy reputation these days – your mileage may vary) but the other two are definitely informative.

        As an opinion, I might venture to claim that we need more union jobs rather than fewer, and that we should not marry the ability to gain a union job with one’s political affiliation. Again, your mileage may vary.

      5. Sorry about splitting the thread. Not having a “Reply” on every level of the chain makes that a lot easier.

        I am not against “unions” per se. I think they’re generally speaking a great way to introduce some democracy into what is essentially a clientelist relationship between employer and employee. But the construction trades, in part because of the nature of the work and the genderist prejudices exhibited by their members, open a huge hole for reactionaries to disrupt and outright co-opt the organizations.

        Ross, you’re right about PPP’s; they’re a fire hose for connected companies. But just think about it; do you REALLY believe that those private engineering companies are the reason that it takes four times as many people on average to build a subway in the United States as it does in Europe? No; it’s the corrupt relationship between the construction unions and far too many cities, both Democrat and Republican. But so far as transit, it looks a lot worse for the Democrats because Republican cities don’t have subways. Instead they spread the grease through bloated and corrupt highway spending.

        Now sure, some of the nosebleed costs is the Cadillac stations with full cathedral ceiling mezzanines and nice rockwork. But at least as much is the featherbedded payrolls of the companies that build them.

    2. We have so many bigger transit problems in this city than than accommodating trips between SLU and Pike Place Market by people who are too lazy to walk two blocks to the 40 or C line.

      We’ve got bus routes all over the city that don’t run as often as they should, especially on evenings and weekends, which directly impacts people’s ability to go places.

    3. Ross, of course the unions weren’t the progenitors of the SLU streetcar. That was apparently Paul Allen’s or one of his advisor’s. But union featherbedding — the classic and very apt term for over- employing workers given its railroad origins — is one of the primary reasons.

      Why are transit advocates afraid of offending the construction trades? [obs]

      1. Why are transit advocates afraid of offending the construction trades?

        Because it is bullshit. It misses the point. Construction costs in the U. S. are much higher than they are around the world, even when the work is done without organized labor. It has nothing to do with the labor unions, and everything to do with private engineering (so called public-private partnerships). This costly way of doing business was actually created on the misguided belief that private companies are always cheaper — an idea that thrives on lies made about union workers.

        Consider that Sweden — Freakin’ Sweden! — has much lower construction costs than Texas. So does France. The unions aren’t the problem.

      2. I am not a transit advocate (a supporter and enthusiast, to be sure, but not an advocate as I do not do enough to count as one), so perhaps this does not apply to me, and I certainly cannot speak for other transit enthusiasts or advocates, but I will reply anyway, since I assume you are genuinely interested in a diversity of responses.

        I am not necessarily a fan of some specific unions (some of which I was associated with in the past, even), but I am definitely a strong supporter of the union _concept_, and think it vastly outweighs the downsides, for society as a whole. Thus, I would rather see much more union activity than much less, and am willing to pay for this with higher taxes for projects where union work is required. This is as true for education as it is for transit as it is for other trades. As I keep saying, I understand the reason for differing views, and hope you can understand the reason for some of ours a little better now, too.

        Hope this helps.

  16. One important thing about which everybody who really knows is dead:

    That when Seattle was a union town, a worker could make wages that could provide him with a house to own, not a lifelong loan that owned him. Or her.

    Best of all, in a place that’s still called “Ballard.” Talk about a lethal concealed weapon: the plastic card whose germ-ridden edge cut the throat of organized labor in America.

    With a view to preventing which, before the ink was dry on our Second Amendment, our Founding Fathers added the Ninth:

    “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

    Like, for instance, the right to be definitively rid of Hell’s own most ironclad servitude called “Debt.” Most likely reason it doesn’t show up in the Bill of Rights is that its Framers assumed it was already there.

    In Scripture, “Jubilation” was not about dancing ’til you got dizzy. It was God’s own worst Frown about inflicting upon anybody a lifetime in debt. Occupying a lot more line-space than choice of bed-partners.

    Mark Dublin

  17. The Seattle streetcar is such a joke! Typical of planning in this city they put the First Hill streetcar along most of the base route for all the trolley buses, rather than utilize that infrastructure. What a redundant waste! Once Madison BRT opens up — that thing on Jackson, if its still in operation, is going to have a fraction of the ridership. Metro should run the 49 straight down Broadway to Boren and down Jackson to Chinatown/ Int’l District Station. There’s so much redundant bus service in Seattle, why not create a meaningful crosstown route! Once the new 49 is put in operation – Seattle can then enjoy another mothballed piece of infrastructure, just like the Seattle waterfront streetcar!

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