Tacoma Link construction in the Stadium district (image: Sound Transit)

Tacoma Link light rail is expanding to the Stadium district and Hilltop. While the new stations don’t open until next year, work is well underway expanding what is now a 1.5-mile line connecting the Tacoma Dome to downtown. To support this expanded future service, Tacoma Link will be closed from June 21 to 29 to connect the existing line to the new, larger operation and maintenance facility.

Sound Transit 3 extension of Tacoma Link to TCC (image: Sound Transit)

This will be the last extension of Tacoma Link for a long time. Tacoma Link will be extended along S 19th street (currently served by Pierce Transit route 2) to Tacoma Community College transit center with six new stations. However, time timeline is long even under the original ST3 plan with service to TCC opening in 2039. And the line is all but certain to open even later than that as Sound Transit is going through a long process of realignment. For now and for the foreseeable future, riders will have mainly Pierce Transit’s routes 1 and 2 and 28, with a faster ride to Tacoma Dome Station available in very limited circumstances on Sound Transit’s route 595.

76 Replies to “Tacoma Link to be closed for 9 days starting June 21”

  1. When does this train branding change from “Tacoma Link” to “Link Line T”? Is the name change taking effect on the Hilltop Extension opening day or beforehand?

    1. Pierce County transit needs are pretty decentralized given that the county has mostly unrestricted parking and very little high density. BRT seems conceptually best given that.

      I can’t help but wince a little bit that the Tacoma Dome station isn’t served on the TCC extension without this time-consuming Stadium area jog. It would seem that Link 1 should instead get a short extension to UW-Tacoma and St Joe’s rather than merely its early planning to a potentially dead Tacoma Mall with plenty of free parking if the Phase 3 extension is ever to get many riders. It even seems a more useful project than the Phase 3 extension to TCC to me — but I defer to those that understand transit in a Tacoma better.

      Taking a larger view, the Pierce transit interests will need to better discern and likely revisit how to spend their subarea ST3 money on the future. The cost increases for TDLE appear to mostly be to build more aerial track sections within Pierce County and that may wildly delay the TCC extension. Another issue is whether the DuPont Sounder extension can evolve into a TD-DuPont day-long two-way service since ST has put so much money on those new tracks.

      Politically, I believe ST and PT would be better served by a new visionary systems study. However, the area transit ideas have been studied so much in recent years that it may be best if that waits a few more years. The potential Pierce “mutiny” of ST3 may however necessitate a new systems plan sooner rather than later.

      1. PT’s most recent study identified 5 BRT corridors, including the Pacific Ave, so I think that’s the best starting point for a reimagined ST+PT network. I think it’s less about PT needing a rethink as ST funding the needs PT has already identified.

        BRT-2 covers the light rail extension to the mall, and BRT-3 covers the streetcar extension to the TCC, so the 5 line network appears to fully cover the spirit of ST3.

        The Tacoma mall extension is 100% about TOD, so that all comes down to if Tacoma wants just one main urban center or try to create a secondary urban center. In theory a Bellevue-esque urban cluster at the mall would merit upgrading BRT-2 to light rail, but Tacoma should simply launch BRT-2 this decade and reserve some ROW for Link to be added later if/when capacity was needed.

        I like all day TD-DuPont rail service; I don’t know why the western Pierce cities haven’t latched on to the idea. Once TDLE opens, the all-day transfers to King County become super compelling, while right now if you are going to transfer to a bus in Tacoma Dome, might as well just run an express bus from west Pierce straight to King with a stop (rather than a transfer) in TD.

      2. Yes, it is crazy that the main Link line won’t serve downtown Tacoma, and they are instead thinking about sending it to a freakin’ mall. If there is TOD, it is way more likely to occur downtown than in a mall surrounded by parking lots and freeways. It is probably a moot point, as it is unlikely it will ever get that far.

        As I wrote down below, what Pierce Transit needs is more service hours for their bus system. But Pierce County voters aren’t interested in that. My guess is that there is no other way of getting that money, other than a one-time grant from the federal government, as part of an infrastructure bill. Under normal times, the government doesn’t pay for extra service, but will chip in with capital investments, or service as part of a big project (someone can correct me if I’m wrong). Meanwhile, Sound Transit could simply grant Pierce Transit the money, but that is out of character. In contrast, money for BRT is very much in keeping with what they’ve done in the past, and would likely qualify for some matching by the feds. Meanwhile (assuming that it included service) would relieve Pierce Transit from that responsibility. The BRT version of the 2 replaces the 2, which allows Pierce transit to shift a significant amount of money to other routes. I agree with AJ, that Pierce Transit already has a plan, and it is a solid one (replacing the most popular routes with “BRT”). Sound Transit should shift the money into those.

      3. “I can’t help but wince a little bit that the Tacoma Dome station isn’t served on the TCC extension without this time-consuming Stadium area jog.”

        I more than wince. Going that out of the way if you’re going to TDS (which is the only connection to TDLE, and that will open well before the TCC extension) is downright crazy. It’s like ST never really thought about whether anyone would take a trip that looks like THAT to connect to Link. There is a clear corridor that will be served by Link, but on its way, Link goes WAY out of the way to serve this other corridor on the way to downtown where most people are going. ST does this all the the time, and I wonder how many people will just keep driving because Link can’t choose a corridor and just stick to it.

        With TCC Link, if you want to head to Seattle (a trip that should be that ridiculous), you have the Stadium district detour on top of the Rainier Valley detour, and after all is said and done you end up with a 2+ hour trip that no one in their right mind would drive.

        What would really be good here is to split up the stadium/MLK line and TCC lines into two. The TCC line could be a kind of hybrid cable car train that could make the lift from downtown straight up the hill to the vicinity of 19th street, and continue to TCC. I’d say the designers of the first train across a floating bridge should be able to pull off that kind of innovation, but it doesn’t seem like it should be all that innovative since Tacoma had a streetcar network up steep hills in the last century. If it’s not worth doing well then is it even worth doing?

      4. IIRC, per-Covid Sound Transit funds ~40% of PT’s service hours through STX, so there is already significant investment in bus O&M by ST, it’s just mostly focused on intercounty trips rather than intracounty (Federal Way Link truncations may allow ST to spend more of Pierce’s money within Pierce). The Stride mode creates the precedence for ST funding O&M for arterial rapid transit (Stride along 522), so the same framework could be applied to any of the BRT corridors PT has identified. If ST funds the capital but PT funds the O&M, that’s Stream; if ST funds capital and O&M, that’s Stride (there would be some differences in standards and specs between the two brands, but you get the idea).

        Not only is funding bus O&M not ‘out of character,’ but throwing O&M dollars at Pierce might be an important part of the ST4 coalition if North King wants to go big and subarea equity remains a key part of the political framework.

        @Alex – no need for a fancy cable car, just run a bus along the TCC to Tacoma Dome route. If the corridor needs capital improvements, give it the ‘Stream’ treatment. I don’t see rail adding any value to this segment, in particular because the T-Link alignment is poor for through-rides.

      5. The streetcar route is very unusual, in that it loops around so much. There is a route like that in Seattle … I forget what it is … oh yeah, its the other streetcar route. This isn’t a coincidence. It is yet another reason why streetcars don’t make sense here. They have trouble going up hills.

        That being said, it really doesn’t make sense to send the streetcar looping around. Just don’t go there. Go somewhere else, and let some other route cover that area.

        Better yet, don’t waste your time running the streetcar there, when you can accomplish the same thing (in a much better way) by simply extending routes to the dome. As it is, there is the 13, 41, and 42. You could easily extend other routes that come from the north, like the 11, 16, 28 and of course, 1. The 1 could be split up, with the northern section going to the Tacoma Dome, and the southern section ending up by Tacoma General (overlapping downtown). Instead, they are doing it backwards. The southern section will be BRT, with a huge detour to the Tacoma Dome (delaying the bulk of riders headed to downtown) while the northern section remains the 1, and will likely just end downtown.

        It isn’t just about the Tacoma Dome, either. If you are trying to get from 19th and MLK to downtown, you can take the streetcar, but it takes a long time — you are better off taking the 2. Looping routes are usually a bad idea, and this is no exception. If the 28 was extended south, through downtown (maybe all the way to the Tacoma Dome) it would connect those areas with Hilltop. The 1 already connects downtown with 6th (and again, could easily be extended to connect with the Tacoma Dome). The already connects to downtown as well. The streetcar is really not very well thought it. It doesn’t provide much that is new or replace anything.

        We have much the same thing in Seattle.

      6. [ST funding] is just mostly focused on intercounty trips rather than intracounty

        Yeah, but that is what I was getting at. ST is usually focused on trips between counties, and big projects. It would be weird of them to just grant Pierce Transit a bunch of money to run the buses more often.

        Most of the trips within Pierce County never leave the county. What Pierce County needs more than anything is simply better bus service for *all* of its routes. It is worth noting that the main reason that the 1 gets so many riders is because it is very long, and runs often. It does perform very well (towards the top) and it is long, and thus will benefit from the improvements. But the county may be much better off just increasing service across the board.

        If the case for a BRT on the 1 isn’t that strong, the case is even weaker for the other buses. The 2 (like the 1) definitely carries more riders than most, but after that, there are a lot of buses that are all about the same in terms of total ridership and ridership per hour (a bit over 1,000 and low 20s respectively). These are low numbers, way below where agencies typically consider spending big bucks on improvements. What agencies like this need is not special projects, but just more service.

        But I really don’t see ST doing that. That would definitely be out of character. In general, they like to run their own routes, or create their own projects, not just grant agencies money.

        So be it. The handful of BRT projects really would be good, and since most of the money is going into service (not expensive street widening, or huge parking garages like 522 BRT) it is all about the same. Pierce Transit can shift money around, while ST gets to have the big ribbon cuttings they so much enjoy.

      7. I don’t think it’s out of character at all for ST to just grant other jurisdictions money. Both PT’s Pacific BRT and SDOT’s Madison BRT projects have significant capital grants from ST. Nearly all freeway infrastructure paid for by ST is owned & operated by WSDOT. The entire station access fund is an exercise in municipalities applying for ST grants for capital or O&M improvements, and the capital projects for all Link extension include grant funding for municipalities to improve station access. The Edmonds and Mukilteo Stations Parking and Access Improvements project is entirely a collection of municipal and CT projects funded by ST, both capital and O&M. Providing funding on a PT route to better feed a Sounder or Link station would be very much within ST’s modus operandi, particularly as building new parking structures fades from favor.

        Further, ST staff has a deep O&M relationship with all three county agencies because it’s the counties that run STX and Link. Not only does ST pay PT for bus service hours, ST also funds most of PT’s major bus base capital expenses, paying the share proportional to ST’s use of the bus bases; those bus base capital projects are initiated and managed by PT, with ST simply consulted. PT is able to significantly share its fixed cost base and realized better economies of scale in its bus operations through its contracts with ST.

        Finally, ST’s legal mandate is to connect major activity nodes, as defined by the PSRC. As University Place (TCC), Lakewood, Fredrickson MIC, and South Hill are all designated centers, I think it would be very much in the spirit & letter for ST to operate a line that connects any of those centers to each other or to downtown Tacoma, under either the ST Express or Stride brand & service standards.

      8. @AJ — I think we are talking past each other. My point is that it would be very much out of character for ST to grant Pierce Transit (PT) money, and say “do whatever you want with it”. If they did, then PT would do what Seattle did, when voters approved additional funding for Metro. No special projects, just a lot more buses running more often. This is exactly what PT needs.

        What is in character are the things you mentioned. Specific, often highly expensive projects (like this streetcar line). Or regional bus routes (in keeping with their mandate). The smaller, in town projects are often designed to leverage existing or future ST services, and are not just general purpose improvements for the area. Yes, ST pays PT (and Metro) to run their buses, but PT doesn’t profit from it. They can’t use that money to then run other buses more often. It would be perfectly reasonable for the federal government, or the state, to grant Pierce Transit money, which they could then use for *anything* transit related. It would be very strange for ST to do that.

        But that’s OK. There is a clear work-around, as you wrote. Fund those five projects, and it accomplishes the same thing. Those are showy projects, which is what ST prefers. It is like when ST granted Seattle money for the C and D. These are showy routes (RapidRide). This isn’t necessarily what Metro or SDOT would put money into. But it doesn’t matter much, because Metro will just shift money around (if and when it actually happens). The same is true here. The BRT routes replace a lot of other routes. Whatever money they get from ST (and the government) for those projects will allow them to shift money to other bus routes, that are just as worthy. ST gets to show off a really nice piece of transit infrastructure, while PT gets to run a lot of buses more often (not just the BRT versions). Everyone wins.

        If they continue with the streetcar silliness, then they get very little of that. They could restructure, and maybe take advantage of the streetcar, but I really don’t see it. This makes it very different than the BRT, where lots of service hours will be shifted.

      9. Oh ok, yeah we were talking past each other a bit. But yes, it doesn’t really matter because a good ST rail project should displace significant bus hours. T-Link does not.

        It doesn’t need to be a showy project. ST could run an ST Express route on 161 between South Hill and the Sounder station and call it a Sounder feeder route. If they give it modest all day frequency, that’s still a nice bit of platform hours PT can shift elsewhere. I believe with the Edmonds and Mukilteo Stations Parking and Access Improvements project, ST is going to fund some CT service, which is somewhat analogous to Seattle’s TBD albeit much more focused. Maybe when TDLE opens, ST can fund PT service to East Tacoma and/or Fife Link stations in lieu of parking? Legally and politically there still needs to be a tie to ‘regional transit service,’ but that definition is large enough to fund a lot of bus service in any of the counties.

    2. I agree.

      There is value in making that turn (from 19th to MLK) but the 57 already does that, and most people are headed downtown anyway (via the 2). I wouldn’t have built the streetcar in the first place, as there are much better ways to create a grid in that area. But once its done, it will at least provide more frequent service along MLK. I would shift the 57, so that you double up service from 19th and MLK to 9th and MLK. But then again, it might make sense to shift things around at some point.

      The main thing the area needs is more service. It is tough to build a grid without it. Yet having routes that curve back and forth to cover areas doesn’t work that well either. Turning some routes into “BRT” may be the only way to get needed service (using federal or ST bucks).

  2. Will riding all the way around the U simply be a requirement to connect to the rest of the region? This a large time penalty to pay for virtually every trip out of the local neighborhood.

    Hopefully, there will be a bus alternative that gets to Tacoma Dome via the direct shortcut.

    1. Hopefully the 57 is converted to head straight to T Dome station. As it is now all the bus routes follow a similar pattern of heading downtown.

      1. As it is now all the bus routes follow a similar pattern of heading downtown.

        Not really. The 2 goes straight towards downtown, then turns on Market (which is pretty much downtown). It runs more often, and carries a lot more riders than the 57.

        But to get to the original question, there are several routes that go to the Tacoma Dome. But from what I can tell, they all go along Pacific, instead of Market when serving downtown. So that means that riders either have to walk four minutes (to essentially cut off the buses/streetcar at the pass — https://goo.gl/maps/GpBQ4MSJRpyP2CZu7) or wait until the bus turns around at 9th. Pierce Transit has a very nice transit map: https://piercetransit.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=5e122c82aab449f9acf4ce14b596d394. What I like about it is that you can highlight specific routes, while hiding others (by deselecting “bus routes”).

      2. That kinda goes beyond my point though. Yes obviously they don’t all follow the exact same path but they are going downtown. No bus goes to the dome without also going downtown.

      3. One thing they could do is send the 2 straight to TCC by moving it to S 21st east of Yakima, then Pac Ave/Puyallup to TDS. Because Hilltop Link duplicates one corridor of the 57, the 57 north of J street could turn onto 19th and take over the 2’s routing up to 10th and Commerce. It wouldn’t straighten out the 57 much (it will still be a coverage route) but it will straighten the 2 and make it possible to travel almost directly east/west from TCC to TDS efficiently.

      4. OK, I misinterpreted your statement. I thought you meant that all buses took the same basic approach to going downtown. I get you now. If a bus is coming from that direction and it goes to the Tacoma Dome, then it goes through downtown.

        Except no bus actually does that, right? I mean it could, but downtown is a way bigger destination than the Tacoma Dome. It would be nuts to bypass downtown to get to the Tacoma Dome. At most, you would go through downtown on the way to the Tacoma Dome — e. g. the 3 could turn south instead of north once it got to Pacific. But that would be almost as crazy, since it would pick up way more riders by maximizing downtown coverage. It only makes sense for the buses to serve the Tacoma Dome if it is on the way to downtown, or an obvious extension to a route headed that way. Even the 1 doesn’t serve it — although I guess the BRT version will (a controversial decision).

        Nor does it get to the original point. The streetcar not only goes through downtown on the way to the Tacoma Dome, but makes a huge detour to get there (unlike the 2 and 3). It goes all the way out to North 1st, or more than twice as far north as the 2 goes. This means that it doesn’t work very well at all with through-riders, in that they are better off taking the 2, and transferring at Pacific.

      5. I was thinking the U detour meant going through downtown. My idea of connecting to the rest of the region is by transferring at the dome. Maybe I misunderstood what they meant by that.

        Serving the Stadium district makes sense to me for what this thing is supposed to do. Eventually it will have to go down Division through 6th Ave if it ever intends to be really useful.

      6. Serving the Stadium district makes sense to me for what this thing is supposed to do. Eventually it will have to go down Division through 6th Ave if it ever intends to be really useful.

        Exactly. I said as much months ago. Division/6th is a worthy corridor from a streetcar/development standpoint, in that they both have charming old buildings and shops that could use a little boost. The same is true for MLK (Hilltop), but the difference is how things are connected. A route like the one we want is relatively straight. It is faster to just stay on 6th, but it isn’t much of a detour, and you definitely pick up a lot of people along the way. Every trip combination is fast. The streetcar then replaces the 1, saving Pierce Transit a lot of service hours. The 57 could then extend all the way to Division, providing all of the service on MLK that the streetcar will, and then some. That really doesn’t make the 57 any more squiggly than it is. If anything, it makes it straighter, in that it goes longer on MLK before making a turn. It would also go longer on that corridor than the streetcar.

        With the current plans, you have two looping routes, and Pierce Transit can’t really save anything in terms of service. I suppose the 57 could head east at 19th, and follow the 2 downtown, but that doesn’t really get you much.

  3. In one corner is five Stream lines. In the other corner is a half-dozen Tacoma Link lines. And the winner is… Stream! Pierce could have gotten ST to build this in the 1990s if if hadn’t been distracted by a shiny Tacoma Link.

    Stream has an impressive amount of exclusive center lanes and BAT lanes, more than Seattle. On a not-so-great note, it sounds like ST is buiiding Stream P&Rs. That sounds like a significant amount of money for parking. I wish the 20-minute off-peak frequency were more frequent, but Pierce has to start somewhere, and the PT district is particularly low-funded and transit-tax-adverse. Once it’s running on the ground and people can see its benefit, it’ll be easier to argue to make it more frequent. Especially with so much transit-priority lanes making it faster than the 1.

    The difference between Stream and Stride isn’t just operational funding, it’s the nature of the service. Stride is limited-stop like Swift with local overlays; Stream is full-stop like RapidRide with no overlay. The marketing said Stream would be like RapidRide.

    (Stride’s overlays include at least these:
    – 522: the 372.
    – North: the 250 and future K, the Kirkland-Bothell local, and CT 105.
    – South: the 240 and F.)

    The 1 will have to be split because Stream covers only the southern part of it. The northern part will be spun off to another route that goes on Pacific Ave through downtown Tacoma and terminates at Tacoma Dome Station. So Stream will be on Jefferson Ave, T-Link on Commerce Street, and the number-TBD route on Pacific Ave.

    1. The 101 is definitely an overlay of Swift, because they largely follow the same path, and the 101 has lots of stops, while Swift has very few. I wouldn’t call the 372 an overlay of the 522 Swift. The two routes overlap, but not for the bulk of the route. They are just two converging routes that will probably overlap. Chances are, the 372 will be truncated at Kenmore. Metro may explore truncating it even further south, to further reduce overlap. The challenge is where. If it truncates south of 145th (e. g. the Fred Meyer, where the 41 lays over) then it doesn’t make the connection. It isn’t clear if there is a turnaround and layover between 145th and Kenmore (that is something Metro would need to explore). The point is, the 372 isn’t trying to get all the stops that the 522 Swift missed, since the 522 Swift didn’t miss much.

      I get your bigger point. This is not like Swift. This is not a limited stop express, that requires a second route to cover the area. This is a good thing, given the nature of the corridor (it doesn’t lend itself to converging overlaps).

      The northern part [of the 1] will be spun off to another route that goes on Pacific Ave through downtown Tacoma and terminates at Tacoma Dome Station.

      All the more reason they should not have the Stream detour to the Tacoma Dome. That means a bunch of buses (and the streetcar) going on Pacific from downtown to the Tacoma Dome. Transferring (for those who don’t want to walk five minutes to the Tacoma Dome) would be an easy option, not unlike folks who hop a bus on Third to get to King Street Station (and Sounder).

    2. The 372 is upgraded to RapidRide to Bothell in Metro’s long-range plan. The reason is it serves the in-between stops Stride doesn’t. Even if it is truncated in Kenmore, it will still be an overlay between 145th and Kenmore, which will probably have more activity than between Kenmore and Bothell because it’s closer to Seattle. The 522 does have more stops than most limited-stop routes.

      If Stream doesn’t go to Tacoma Dome Station, then how will people in southeast Tacoma transfer to Central Link? A six-block transfer walk between a metro line and a BRT line that extends its reach is excessive and would deter riders. The fundamental problem is that Tacoma’s geography is bad and downtown Tacoma is not on the way but is in a kind of cul-de-sac. The transit network can only do so much to mitigate this, and bypassing the major transfer station on the line shouldn’t be done lightly. The largest on/off points on the line are downtown Tacoma, Tacoma Dome Station, PLU, and Walmart.

      1. The LRP needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It is a general plan, not a detailed blueprint. Notice how little of that plan is happening with the Northgate restructure.

        The 522 BRT bus will serve stops that get hardly anyone right now. For example, the stop at 165th gets 33 people total (both directions). In contrast, the Lake Forest Park Town Center gets 130 people, and the main Kenmore stop gets 340. It is clearly not a limited stop express — otherwise it would skip that stop at 165th. It is acting very much like a RapidRide bus. If there is a stop that ST feels is not worth serving, then it is, by its very nature, a coverage stop. It doesn’t make sense to have a frequent bus — a bus that might eventually be a RapidRide — operate like a coverage bus. The only reason the 372 would go north of 145th is because there is no turnaround and layover around 145th. If, while serving that area, it happens to make an additional stop or two (that the BRT doesn’t make) then it shouldn’t be construed as the reason the bus goes that far north. Those stops just happen to be on the way.

      2. If Stream doesn’t go to Tacoma Dome Station, then how will people in southeast Tacoma transfer to Central Link?

        As mentioned, they will either transfer, or make a five minute walk. For the transfer, they will have the 41, 42, the new 1, and the streetcar. That’s about 13 vehicles per hour — not a really long wait. That assumes that no other routes could be sent there. The 28, for example, just loops around northern downtown — it could easily go to the Tacoma Dome, while serving other parts of downtown along the way. Same with the 11 and 16.

        You could very easily ask the same question of people on other corridors. How will riders on the 2 — the second most popular route — get to Link? Transfer? Yeah, probably. Or that bus, like many others, is extended to the Tacoma Dome. With enough buses, the transfer from the 1 is trivial.

        You could also ask the same question in Seattle’s system as well. How are you supposed to get to Sounder from the Central Area or Queen Anne? Buses like the 2, 3, 4 don’t even come close. Even the D requires a walk, or a transfer. Yep, but the transfer is so painless, it doesn’t really matter.

        All that being said, if there is enough demand to run the 1 very frequently during rush hour, then I could see a version that goes to the Tacoma Dome. It would be timed to Sounder, taking advantage of the right-of-way improvements and the off-board payment. It could end at the Tacoma Dome, which means the Sounder to Pacific direction would be trivial to time.

        But requiring each and every rider to sit through 7 turns (I counted them) just to serve a handful of people most of the day is silly. The vast majority of people on Pacific Avenue are either going to another stop on Pacific, or headed downtown. Both would be hurt by the detour. The latter because of the detour, and both because the delay will take a long time, reducing frequency on the bus.

  4. When the First Hill station was proposed in St2, before it was eliminated, where was it supposed to be? What intersection would it be located?

  5. My mistake. U-Link money was set up before ST2 went to the voters. That means the route with a First Hill station was eliminated before that. I think U-Link had permission to build by 2006. Not sure how. That means First Hill was eliminated even earlier than that.

    1. Yes, a station on First Hill was part of Sound Move and later eliminated when that first light rail phase ran into serious financial problems and the recognition of the challenges of getting to that area. If you research the surplus properties from this time frame that should give you a general idea where the station placement was being planned. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember exactly which sites those involved.

  6. ST1 (Sound Move) authorized U-District to SeaTac in the 1990s. Its financial estimates were overoptimistic, and construction risks on the Portage Bay Ship Canal ship canal crossing were unexpectedly high, so ST deferred everything north of Westlake, as the agency went through a financial meltdown and reorganization in 2000.

    In the mid-2000s it had enough money to restart U-Link slowly, and it switched to the Montlake crossing alternative, which it said was less risky, and also avoided a fight with UW over the Portage Bay alignment affecting nearby seismic monitors. ST2 in 2008 accelerated U-Link by providing more money.

    STB started around 2006 to advocate for ST2. Before that I didn’t know about the board meetings and open houses and other transit fans so I knew less about what was going on.

    I don’t remember whether First Hill Station was dropped before or after ST2 passed in 2008. If it was before, ST2 would have included the streetcar replacement. If it was after, the streetcar was substituted afterward.

    First Hill was dropped because ST was afraid of another construction risk in the peculiar soils under First Hill.

    The station would have been at Madison & Boren if I remember, so that it could serve Swedish, Virginia Mason, Harborview, and Broadway.

    1. I think you’re right about the FH station location. By the time ST got to its capital program realignment for Sound Move and ST2 in Dec 2010*, the FH station had been dropped and replaced by the “First Hill Link Connector” (project #007), otherwise known as the FH Streetcar. It made the cut, being listed as a tier one project that was fully funded. Still, most of us knew that the FH area was getting shafted for a second time around.

      *See ST Motion 2010-102.

    2. Now that I looked at my saved documents, it was actually at Madison and Boylston.

      From ST Resolution 2017-23 (June 2017):

      The First Hill TOD site consists of approximately 21,600 SF fronting Boylston Street and Madison
      Street near the intersection of Broadway Avenue E in Seattle, WA. The property is comprised of
      two unique parcels located at 1014 Boylston Avenue (FH004) and 1400 Madison Street (FH005). The unrestricted value for this property based on a 2017 appraisal is $8.64 million.

      “The property is occupied by two structures, one is a vacant medical office and the other is a
      commercial building currently occupied by a tenant. The property was purchased in 2001 for use as a First Hill Light Rail Station but was eliminated from the final station list in the Central Link Light Rail project through action Resolution No. R2000-04. The properties were purchased without assistance from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA); therefore FTA approval is not required to dispose of the property.”


      1. and now there is a large multifamily housing building and whole foods store that was built a couple of years ago

  7. Every once in a while I see mentions of “streetcars can’t climb hills that well”.

    There are certain hills they can’t climb, but they do better on hills than what the current construction standards say they do.

    This is Vista Avenue in Portland:
    The Council Crest streetcar line climbed this hill until 1950. It’s not even the steepest part of the old line, but just one with a wall that shows how steep it used to be.
    This area was on that line too:

    If it is insisted for some reason that the region’s best hope at imporved transportation is to spend millions on a rail line that is stuck in traffic, the least that could be done is to take a careful look at the actual maximum grade these cars are capable of, and plan routing accordingly.

    1. I don’t know the maximum grade of that route, but the issue comes up with the First Hill streetcar. It explains why the streetcar didn’t just make the simple, fast, far more convenient turn at Yesler.

      1. Yes, and I don’t think they really had to route first hill that far out of the way. Not when you see what other lines do. Hell, the BNSF branch up the hill from Mukilteo to Boeing is probably one of the steepest in the USA. If loaded freight trains can climb that, I see no reason a streetcar, powered on every axle, shouldn’t be able to do just as good. Next time you’re up that way and feel like a hike, take one of the Japanese Creek trails up the hill that parallels the line. It’s no Queen Anne Hill, but to me it looks much steeper than a few possible shorter routes of the First Hill Streetcar, and certainly Tacoma could use a line that pushes the limits of what is possible.

      2. If the desired route is too steep for a street, the solution is not to replace it with a loopy route, just so it can be served with a vehicle on steel wheels. The solution is to just run the route you want to run with a bus. If you have a bunch of money to spend and really want overhead wire for placemaking purposes, run it with a trolleybus.

      3. The decision to go on Jackson and not Yesler was likely dictated by mode. The decision to add another little loop to 14th was all political.

        In comparison, this streetcar route is not that bad. I doubt that the physical limitations of streetcars — or fears of their limitations — changed anything. It really isn’t a crazy route, if viewed in isolation. If it was connected to the southern part of the 57, it would be quite reasonable. You cover the MLK corridor quite a ways (to the hospital, which is much better than the current 57 route). The bad part is that it loops around. It isn’t as bad as the First Hill streetcar (where you can get off the train, walk, sip some tea, and then get back on) but there are plenty of trips where a different bus will get you there much faster. At the same time though, the bus (a hybrid 57/streetcar route) does cross paths with lots of other buses, providing plenty of connections.

        The problem is, it can’t be connected to the 57. They are different modes. This creates a problem that doesn’t exist with the BRT: you’ve got a lot of expensive, somewhat redundant service, but it doesn’t replace anything. The 57 will have to take more or less the same route. So will the 2. Even if this is extended west, it is unlikely that they will truncate the 2. Thus you have a new route, somewhat similar to older routes, with an outstanding level of service (for the area) and yet you can’t shift service around. From a system standpoint, that is the big failure.

        But the worst thing about it, by far, is the cost. A huge amount of money is being spent supporting a mode that isn’t needed. There is no way that buses would be full running that route, and they aren’t running anywhere near the point where added buses (to deal with crowding) doesn’t also get you lots of added value (less waiting). Tacoma is not Toronto.

        The only reasonable argument for the streetcar is that it attracts development. This is debatable — I can think of far better ways to use the money — but this explains the route. The streetcar is seen as special, and the Hilltop neighborhood could use a little of that.

      4. The argument that the mere presence of a streetcar somehow spurs development when the maximum ridership it can ever get is only a tiny percentage of the building’s workforce, has never made any sense.

        They’re essentially saying that a streetcar is not meant to be something you actually ride, but something you look out the window and watch once you get there (by driving, of course).

        But, the goal is simply to see something that looks like a train move out the window, there are a lot cheaper ways to so it than an actual streetcar that pretends to be a transportation mode. Just run a toy train in a 10 foot loop out in front of the building and be done with it.

        The real streetcars try to do both transportation and placemaking at once and do both poorly. In transportation, they basically function like an overpriced bus that you can’t go more than a mile on without having to transfer to a real bus. In terms of placemaking, you have to wait 10-15 minutes to even see the train go buy, so a toy train that runs continuously would be more effective and far, far cheaper.

        The whole thing just feels very poorly thought out.

      5. “The whole thing just feels very poorly thought out.”

        Agreed. At it’s original estimate of $166M (YOE$), the Hilltop extension was already an expensive little project with questionable value. With its current budget of $252M, it’s become a very, very expensive people mover that some stakeholders hope will spur development in the area. Just like the Mariners making the playoffs in the next three years, I will remain hopeful but I’m certainly not going to place much of a wager on it.

      6. The whole thing just feels very poorly thought out.

        This is the Seattle Transit Blog. Tacoma/Pierce gets to make their own decisions. Seattle (aka North King) doesn’t have an exemplary record to fall back on. Fundamentally the system is flawed. “Planning” is being done by elected politicians that care squat about transit but all about getting elected. Whatever is decided won’t be built until decades after they’re long gone.

      7. The same issues apply to Seattle’s streetcar projects too. Look at SLU line. Look at First Hill. Look at the CCC. All of these lines, existing and proposed entail spending a fortune on capital expenses to produce a streetcar line that provides little to no mobility improvement over buses already in the area.

        The SLU line provides essentially no added value over the combined 40 and C-line. Even if the CCC were built, the streetcar would still be basically add essentially no value, as the 40 already continues down 3rd Ave. to Pioneer Square.

        First Hill, ST spent a fortune to produce a north/south line that could have been achieved much quicker and cheaper via a simple bus restructure. The Jackson segment of the Streetcar is entirely redundant with the 7 and 36 buses and after the CCC, would remain redundant with the 7 and 36 buses, both of which continue up 3rd Ave.

        The only value the streetcar really has is to look good for people that don’t understand how transit works and judge the quality of the system, not by metrics such as frequency, span of service, or geographic coverage, but by counting the number of modes. No matter how much bus service you add, since we already have bus service, to their eyes, it’s still just one mode, and will always be just one mode. Link is a second mode. Sounder is a 3rd mode, the ferries are a 4th mode, and the monorail is a 5th mode. The only way to improve the score further and get a 6th mode is by building a streetcar…somewhere – not by making the existing bus or train routes more frequent.

        This modal scoring has a lot to do with why First Hill got its streetcar. They couldn’t get Link because a station would have been to deep and too expensive to construct, leaving the “modal score” of First Hill at just one (buses). Running buses more frequently, or filling longstanding gaps in the bus network, such as Mt. Baker->First Hill->SLU would help people get around the city – but for the bigwigs that simply count modes and drive everywhere, it doesn’t do squat. But a streetcar, on the other hand…it may cost a fortune without improving actual mobility bus, but it does the one thing that bus improvements will never do, which is to increase First Hill’s Mode Count. So, the streetcar gets built and there is still no all day transit option between First Hill and either Mt. Baker or South Lake Union.

      8. Agreed , asdf.

        A transit advocate in Berlin told me that there, if a rail line can’t get you between two points faster than driving, it is usually not regarded as worth the capital investment. This applies to surface running lines vs surface streets as well as intercity highways.

      9. It comes down to the basics of transit. People want something fast, frequent, goes to their destination, and is reliable. If transit has it they’ll happily take it; if not they’ll think about driving or foregoing the trip and they’ll be less satisfied with the transit agency and government. Sometimes these goals conflict: if your stop is minor, a fast route may not serve it but a slow route will.

        In the 90s or early 00s SDOT had open houses to ask whether the next generation of city transit should focus on light rail, streetcars, or buses. I said light rail or buses, but not streetcars. Light rail addresses the speed goal, while buses are inexpensive so you can have more routes. Streetcars are the worst of both worlds: slow and expensive.

        An important point is the definition of streetcar. The same technology is behind streetcars, light rail, European trams, U-Stadtbahnen, and pre-metros; the difference is in the design of the right of way. The Seattle/Portland definition of light rail is mostly exclusive lane or grade separated; the definition of streetcar is mostly mixed traffic. So right there, streetcars are defined as the kind of rail that shouldn’t exist because it fails the speed criterion. Why build an expensive train if it’s stuck behind SOVs and stops at every traffic light?

        The First Hill streetcar should have been a trolleybus. That would have been less expensive, the wire is already there, it could have the same frequency as the streetcar, and it can climb hills better. In fact, buses are often faster than streetcars, as in the C and 40 compared to the SLU streetcar. (The streetcar gets caught at a stoplight every block between Stewart and Denny, while the buses don’t.)

        There’s value in an L-shaped route on Jackson and Broadway, because it connects a dense residential/commercial/medical area to a dense shopping area, more so than the areas east and south of the L. If you’re going from Little Saigon to First Hill or Capitol Hill, the distance is only a mile or two but the hill is steep, and if you take both an east-west bus and a north-south bus, you’d be waiting five minutes, riding three minutes, waiting 5-10 more minutes, and riding five minutes, so you’d be spending more time waiting than riding and you’d hardly sit down before you have to get off again and you’re doing it twice.

      10. I agree, asdf. I can’t imagine how anyone who understands the capital and operating costs of rail transit and a rider’s need for a reasonable speed would ever have endorsed the project. I feel like it continues to set back streetcar applicability in our region about 20-30 years.

        I wouldn’t however assign blame just to politicians. It’s true that if they aren’t a regular transit rider that they are personally clueless about the design details, rider experiences and hidden ongoing costs. Still, they are reacting to what interests tell them. The systemic problem is that we have many people who have other primary goals and view transit as way too malleable to fit those other goals. Those goals — from hiding rail in subways to protect skyscraper property values to turning buses into rolling homeless shelters with free fares to wanting stations in front of big buildings with little thought about the trips headed there — burden transit with huge costs that make critics broadly say that transit investment is a waste rather than say that transit investment is severely hurt because of it being so compromised by these other goals. Transit is not just a “tool” to achieve other things but is instead an ongoing major public investment.

        FHSC was fundamentally flawed in that the corridor was defined and the technology was defined quickly for a ballot measure without logically comparing a wide range of alternatives. A short funicular from Pioneer Square to Harborview on Jefferson would have been so much faster and direct , for example!

        I lay partial blame of the FHSC situation at the feet of McGinn and the bicyclists who were so intent on having a bicycle track (on an undulating section of Broadway with almost no retail south of Madison) that they through the streetcar riders under the wheels (making it move insanely slowly). It was a bad corridor made worse in execution. So our ST “transit” dollars went to help a few hundred daily bicyclists more than thousands of daily transit riders.

        I do believe that the FHSC segments could be more useful if they were straightened out. One way would be creating extensions to have an east-west line and a north-south line. In the current configuration it’s very redundant with frequent bus service. I could see a number of alternative layouts being more useful so I won’t advocate for a specific one — and instead hope at some point there is a way to revisit the investment with an open mind.

        Finally, I’ll continue to rue that the CCC is stuck on a crawling First Avenue (and parallel to Third Ave) rather than considering a Pike-Pine one-way pair alignment that would have tied both Belltown and SLU (one line each for First Ave and Westlake Ave) more directly and quickly with Capitol Hill and First Hill (one line each for Capitol Hill Station then possibly turning east on John to pass by Kaiser and north on 15th to Volunteer Park attractions, and the current tracks headed south) — with the expanded convention center in between. It would be so much more direct and productive!

        I find terrible irony in that we generally agree about the 14th Ave jog/loop as punitive — yet the region creates much bigger loops first with the Hilltop extension and then the CCC project. How many times do we need to prove that loops in streetcar routes are terrible for anyone riding all the way though the loop before we convince well-meaning decision-makers to not do that?

      11. To me, the Broadway bike path was one good thing to come out of the entire first Hill streetcar project. Of course, it would have been much more useful had it extended further north.

      12. The inefficient turn on 14TH Ave. instead of 12th/Boren is a bit annoying, but in the scheme of things doesn’t make your ride from the ID to First Hill *that* much longer. It’s two blocks, we’re really talking about a minute or two here. Not the best situation, but you can live with it. And we certainly shouldn’t hold it against those streetcar segments that are decidedly straight and not up steep hills and serve dense areas, such as City Center Connector and the proposed extension further up Broadway. Of course, the T-link extension is a MUCH more substantial detour than two blocks in the case of First Hill.

      13. The inefficient turn on 14TH Ave. instead of 12th/Boren is a bit annoying, but in the scheme of things doesn’t make your ride from the ID to First Hill *that* much longer. It’s two blocks, we’re really talking about a minute or two here. Not the best situation, but you can live with it. And we certainly shouldn’t hold it against those streetcar segments that are decidedly straight and not up steep hills and serve dense areas, such as City Center Connector and the proposed extension further up Broadway.

        The City Center Connector is most definitely not straight. You have to think of it in the context of the complete route. One way to define a “detour” is whether the route creates trip pairs that are slower than necessary. On the E, for example, there is really only one — northbound to service Linden. Every other trip pair — on a very long route — follows the exact same path you would take if driving a car. Maybe the Linden stop is worth it — that’s debatable. But clearly it is a detour.

        In that sense, the completed streetcar line is full of detours. If you wanted to get up the hill from James, you would follow the 3/4, not loop around. Likewise on Madison or Pike/Pine. Same thing goes for Capitol Hill to South Lake Union — take the 8. In that sense, both streetcars are similar. If anything, the Tacoma Streetcar detours less, because the ‘U’ section (the part where the trains are running largely parallel to each other) is smaller and it doesn’t have the additional 14th Avenue button hook. Either way, you substantially decrease the value of your line when you reduce the number of trip pairs that people are expected to take.

        At best, these routes have to be considered independent sections connected together. But these sections are small and largely redundant. One of the reasons the 47 didn’t perform that well, is because it largely overlapped other routes, and the unique section was tiny. The same thing is true of the fully connected streetcar. There are buses that go from South Lake Union to the south end of downtown. There are buses that go from Jackson through downtown. The only unique sections are along Broadway and the connection from parts of Jackson to the top of the hill. The former could easily be achieved with a bus restructure, while the latter is debatable. Which brings up another point:

        There’s value in an L-shaped route on Jackson and Broadway.

        Yeah, sure, but at what cost? There are only so many people making that connection, and they could transfer. Imagine the following restructure:

        The 49 goes straight down Broadway until Rainier, then follows it to Mount Baker Station. The 60 gets straightened out, running on Broadway the whole time. The 3/4 gets modified to pick up some of those riders (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2017/06/22/metro-wants-out-of-james-street-gridlock/). The 60 and 49 each run every twelve minutes, and are timed to provide six minute service along Broadway (all day long). This would cost less than *running* the streetcar, let alone building it in the first place. Yet for most people, it would be much better.

        We really don’t need more ‘L’ lines. If anything, we should have less. Making lines straighter make them go faster, and with enough buses, would make transfers a lot less painful.

        All of that is beside the point. asdf2 has it right. This has little to with public transportation, and everything to do with building a symbolic investment. It is a terrible waste of money that should have gone into bus service for an area that clearly doesn’t have enough.

      14. “It’s two blocks, we’re really talking about a minute or two here.”

        It takes a minute just to turn at 14th & Yesler. The streetcar just sits and waits for no apparent reason. To paraphrase “Anathem”, “The worm is wiggling and trying to tell us about its wormy doings, but since I’m not a worm I have no idea what it’s trying to say.”

      15. @Brandon,

        “It’s two blocks, we’re really talking about a minute or two here.”

        It’s actually two blocks out of the way to the east and then two blocks back to the west to get back to where you would be using a more direct route.

        And diagonals across the grid are more direct. The Boren/12th route is about 0.4 miles shorter in totality. That adds up.

        @Mike Orr,

        It is not just the approx 0.4 additional track miles the current button hook routing requires, it also has an additional 2 ninety degree turns and several additional signalized intersections to traverse. All that makes things much slower than need be.

        SDOT didn’t have much experience with SC routing when they laid this out. They basically laid it out like Metro might lay out a bus route. Their goal appears to have been to connect areas of perceived need and not focus much on speed or efficiency. Thus the route goes to Yessler Terrace and the retirement center on 14th, but underserves the bulk of the ridership who would be better served with a more efficient routing.

      16. They basically laid [the streetcar] out like Metro might lay out a bus route.

        Get real. This isn’t Metro’s doing. Metro is trying to make routes faster and straighter. There is really nothing like this route anywhere within the entire Metro system. Oh, there are deviations (like the 60), and out and back detours, to serve an important stop (like the F, which serves the Link Station). But there is nothing this “short, squiggly and looping” in the entire system (to use Jarrett Walker’s phrase). You can criticize Metro for a lot, but Metro planners didn’t put this together and there is no way Metro would come up with a bus route like this.

        Ron Sims actually came up with the idea. Then a working group (with the city, Sound Transit and neighborhood stakeholders) approved it. SDOT did the detailed planning, and came up with three alternatives, including the one chosen. I don’t think Metro had anything to do with it. These are pet projects pushed by politicians who don’t understand transit.

        Oh, and I don’t think you can blame Metro for Tacoma Link, either. Two streetcars, both with bad routing, both connected to Sound Transit, and somehow you blame Metro.

      17. L shaped routes and bizarre routing can have a logical reasoning.

        Eg: TriMet 73. To the south and east of 122nd and Foster Road, there is nothing that demands frequent transit service. The bus goes east-west on Foster and North on 122nd, staying within the area that actually has transit demand. 33 and 72 are similar: they combine a bunch of traffic. Riders used to transfer at Milwaukie between two routes to go south or east, and there was a lot of crossover between the corridors, so there was a fair amount of reasoning to combine the two.

        Then there’s TriMet 34, which is a combination of a bunch of stuff that needed service but not enough demand for an individual route. Each section has ridership, but it’s a feeder to various endpoints. It’s not something anyone rides from end to end.

      18. “…and there is no way Metro would come up with a bus route like this.”

        Metro would never run a bus route that short because it’s inefficient – too many service hours spent on buses just sitting there in layover. But, they absolutely will detour buses when requested by a special interest, even if the detour does not generate enough ridership to be worth the delays to everyone else.

        Take the 250′ detour to Bear Creek Park and ride, or the 239’s detour to Totem Lake Transit Center, with a second detour to Brickyard park and ride.

        Or, take the 8’s detour to 23rd and back to MLK.

        One common source of bus detours is park and rides. It’s as if somebody at Metro has decided that the people who drive to park and rides are choice riders, since they’re already coming with a car, so Metro must bend over backwards to serve them by ensuring that privileged car drivers will never have to suffer the indignity of having to cross a street to get between their car and the bus stop. If it means slower buses for captive riders that ride through, so be it.

        That logic is dumb. Nobody with a car is going to ride a local bus like the 250 anyway, so chasing after people in cars is a waste of time. Express buses can be oriented around park and rides, but the local bus network should treat park and rides as merely a convenient end of route layover point (since they have bus driver restrooms and space for the bus to turn around and wait) and nothing more. If bus isn’t going to end there, there’s no reason to go in there. Just stop on the nearby street, and the one person who really does need to get to the park and ride can walk a block.

      19. One related point on park and ride detours. Sometimes, a detour to serve a park and ride is actually detouring away from an apartment complex across the street from the park ride, which would have had a stop right there has the bus just stayed on the street (at least, in one direction).

        For a local suburban route, I would argue that an apartment complex is actually a bigger ridership generator than a park and ride (absent some important local->express bus connection that can’t be made anywhere else). Even just 5 carless units out of 100 is still more ridership than you’d get out of people driving to a park and ride to ride a local bus 3 miles.

      20. @Glen on Portland,

        I think we are mainly in agreement.

        Bizarre bus routings can have a certain logic to them, but what I’m saying is that, with something like a SC system, that isn’t the logic that should be used when selecting the route

        Bus routes often are selected based on a logic that is more like a connect-the-dots approach. Given a set of destinations that may warrant service, the temptation with a bus route often is to try to connect all (or most) of them with one or two routes. Essentially the temptation is to select coverage over speed and efficiency.

        This is fine with buses where there is little expectation of speed anyhow, and where the bus route is cheap to implement and just as cheap to modify later, but that is not the case with SC routings.

        With SC the investment is higher, the route harder to modify later, and the expectations for speed and efficiency higher. Thus more direct routings are preferable. Essentially with SC routings the designer should emphasize speed and efficiency a bit more than just coverage.

        Portland has a lot more experience with this than Seattle, and I think generally speaking has done a better job with their SC system design.

        Seattle is still a bit hamstrung by our Metro experience where speed is usually not possible (there is only so much you can do with buses stuck in traffic), so we have tended to emphasize coverage more. This is the mistake that SDOT made when selecting the FHSC route.

        I think we are getting better though, and we should continue to get better. Our expanding LR system is certainly a part of that. Someday SC will be too.

      21. The FHSC problem is made difficult by the L but the big problem is the speed. If it could move in exclusive lanes and not have to wait at signals, it wouldn’t be bad. Also, if it had a straight route to Beacon Hill on 12th and a separate Jackson streetcar went to 23rd, it wouldn’t be so bad but the speed on Broadway would still be a huge disincentive.

        Tacoma Link is however so far out of direction that better speed wouldn’t help it much.

      22. Portland Streetcar might take a more direct route in some places, but it still wanders a bit.

        It could have stayed on Lovejoy, but for some reason when you cross from east to west on the Broadway Bridge, you must now go two blocks north and then two blocks south on a perfectly flat part of town.

        So, it would be a bit like having the First Hill Streetcar make the roundabout routing it does, but only doing it one way.

        Northbound on the east side, it stays on major roads, such as Grand and Broadway. Eastbound and then southbound it wanders all the way over to 7th, for some reason, which is not intuitive in terms of where you would get a southbound anything. It serves a bunch more private parking lots that only workers in the buildings there are allowed to use.

      23. Isn’t the plan to continue to run the SLU and FH streetcars as independent lines and simply overlap along the CCC to give better frequency in the core?

      24. Yes. Except the “better frequency in the core” will still be not as good as buses every minute or two on 3rd Ave., just two blocks over.

    2. The J Church climbs (and more scarily, descends) 9% through Dolores Park. However, it never snows in San Francisco, and Muni is pretty diligent about keeping leaves off the tracks.

      1. Old streetcars were able to climb steeper hills than modern streetcars, we’re told. At least that was the reason given for Madison RapidRide not being a streetcar, and the hook at 14th. The people who say this never talked about snow; they imply it’s about something in the streetcars’ design in all weather. I’m not a streetcar engineer so I can’t evaluate this. If it’s just about snow, we could just suspend the streetcar during snow like we do with First Hill bus routes, and replace them with Route 90 (a loop on 3rd, Jackson, Broadway, and Pine, with a steeple up to Roy I think).

      2. Snow is an issue for autos because of ice buildup on the road, but the issues are much different on steel rails. It’s several thousand psi that gets pushed down, and the snow or ice typically quickly turns to water.

        The problem with ice on the track in street running is a completely different matter, as the big problem is that it builds up in the flangeways cut next to the rails that provide the street running.

        Wet leaves seem to be particularly bad, but those happen everywhere. Rio de Janeiro manages 9% or so in one spot, and they definitely have both wet and leaves. I think Chicago Transit Authority L has one section that is 10% but I’ve not been able to find it.

        Either way, they had equipment available to deal with stuff on the track. Perhaps the problem is that sweepers haven’t been built in North America for some decades?

        Streetcars today should be able to handle somewhat steeper grades than their ancestors because electronic traction control made significant improvements in how well the wheels can grip the rails.

        I mean, that hill from Mukilteo to the Boeing plant must be in the 8% or 9% range, and this is able to climb up it:
        Something with all axles powered (which the modern streetcars have), several redundant brake systems (which the modern streetcar have – tread brakes and track shoe brakes at the very least), and modern traction control should be able to at least equal a thousand ton BNSF freight train.

      3. @Glenn in That Other City,

        You are correct. Per traction, snow and ice aren’t a problem for rail vehicles. The high contact pressures simply eliminates the ice/snow. Review the phase diagram for water to confirm.

        Wet leaves is normally the limiting traction condition for rail vehicles because the high contact pressures produce something approximating……wait for it……oil. That is after all how we got oil in the first place.

        Ice/snow can be an issue in flangeways however, and are particularly an issue for switches. The solution is obvious however – switch heaters or shovels!

        And modern streetcars are just as capable of climbing grades as their older counterparts, and should actually be better with the addition of modern traction control systems. I have no idea where that little bit of disinformation started from.

        Per the button hook on the FHSC, it has nothing to do with grades. It exists because SDOT was actually setting the route and they thought they needed to have the FHSC serve both Yessler Terrace and the retirement facility over on 15th. It’s an example of social service routing and is not the result of technical limitations of rail.

      4. We’ve already had a run away incident with the 1st hill streetcar. Once they start to slide there’s no stopping until the grade levels out.

      5. That was a braking system failure that occurred at 20 mph. It had to do with problems in the electrical systems for off-wire capability. But ya, you take most of the braking systems offline and then try to do a full stop from with a compromised SC from 20 mph and you can get some odd behavior.

        But still much better than a bus in a snowstorm..

      6. Mike, I believe that Madison was a cable car like Yesler and James, not a streetcar. Madison is quite a bit steeper than 9% between Third and Fourth Avenues. Spring might be OK, though it’s pretty steep between First and Third.

        It’s crazy that the electric service on Madison/Marion is going to be replaced by diesels on Madison/Spring. A definite step backward.

      7. There are a bunch of cases where the CTA makes transitions from elevated to ground running to underground, and does so around various structures, and structures that aren’t there any more.

        I’m not finding anything that looks close to 10% yet on the photos yet.

      8. Yep, Madison was a cable car. They dug up one of the bullwheels when they were doing construction (convention center or maybe the bus tunnel?) and I think it’s now on display in one of the DT stations.

      9. Yeah, there’s several places where the L goes from underground to 3-story elevated stations then back down again, several times. It’s fairly wonky to experience.

      10. And some of those transitions on the CTA aren’t regular service lines. Eg, the red line is normally in a tunnel, but if there are tunnel issues it can be moved to the loop with the pink, brown, green and orange lines.

        For what it’s worth, I have ridden the Estrada de Ferro Campos do Jordão in Brazil, which has a fairly long 10.5% grade. Not sure they’re a great example because their newest car is from the 1950s, and requires two people. The same goes for the stream powered tourist railroad I’ve ridden with a short section of 13% grade (former logging track): operating crew is about 5.

        That may be the big difference between the historic operations and today: the older operations had a motorman and a conductor. There was always a backup to crank down the hand brake wheel before anything got out of control, should the primary operator fail to keep the speed down.

        To do the same today, with single operator trains, you’d need at the minimum automatic train stop or similar. I don’t think any streetcar lines have anything like that.

  8. “Isn’t the plan to continue to run the SLU and FH streetcars as independent lines and simply overlap along the CCC to give better frequency in the core?”

    AJ, after the CCC was announced (before being suspended) there was going to be a foot race to see if runners could complete the entire circuit before the streetcars could complete it. If I remember correctly, both the SLU and FH streetcars have already lost to foot races.

    I have tried to use the FH streetcar. I work in Pioneer Square and my dentist is on Broadway across from Swedish. Not only is the SC very slow, but it suffers from something Ross has noted: it is the only mode or bus on that route. It isn’t as if another bus will come along earlier and at least get you close. You wait for the SC, until it gets there and leaves. Very aggravating.

    Or I could walk to my parking garage and drive straight up Yesler, left on Boren, right on Broadway and park in the (expensive) underground garage. Less SC fare, round trip the total cost to me between the SC and driving and parking is pretty close to the same, maybe $2 difference if the appointment is over an hour) but I save at least 20-25 minutes each way. No brainer.

    1. The streetcar is indeed very slow, but saving 20-25 minutes each way by driving is still a gross exaggeration. Even including walking and waiting, the entire trip on the streetcar is about 20-25 minutes each way, so to save 20-25 minutes each way, you’d need a teleporter. A car may be faster, but it’s not a teleporter, especially once the time walking and driving through the parking garages (which Google Maps ignores) is included in the calculations. I’d expect the actual time savings each way to be more like 10-15 minutes, not 20-25.

      And, of course, there are other options as well. Once, I had jury duty in Pioneer Square and went to a restaurant at Broadway and Madison for lunch. I decided to get some exercise and walk up the hill, rather than waiting for the streetcar. I walked fast, but the entire walk was about 20-25 minutes, door to door – similar to the streetcar, but much more reliable and much better exercise. Forget about cars, the streetcar is essentially competing with feet, a mode of transportation that is completely free. You do not need lots of money to park in expensive garages to have alternatives to the streetcar – all you need is just a jacket and walking shoes.

      1. Currently the frequency of the FH streetcar is 15 minutes. I remember waiting for a long time for it to arrive and leave, and maybe should have checked the schedule. Plus the station is around three blocks from my office, while my garage is across the street. At the other end, the station was around two blocks from my dentist’s office, and IIRC the wait was pretty long again.

        So for me the difference was at least 20 minutes each way, hardly a “gross exaggeration” from your own estimate of 15 minutes each way. If walking is a better and almost faster mode than the SC then I think the inquiry should be on the SC. Transit might not be as convenient or fast as a car, but it is suppose to be faster and more convenient than walking, especially up steep hills.

        I am sure some could walk this route although it is pretty steep, but based on that logic why have transit in the downtown core/First Hill/Capitol Hill areas at all. Everyone can just walk.

        Finally my point was the “expensive garage” at my dentist’s office was basically the same cost as a round trip on the SC, although I could walk if the value of my time was zero, or $6/hour.

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