11th Ave Streetcar

The Stranger notes the possibility of an 11th-Avenue alignment being thrown into the First Hill Streetcar mix. CHS helpfully draws a map.

Adam @ STB makes a pretty convincing case why 12th Ave is a bad idea, so I’m curious what his take is on this alignment. From my point of view, I like the fact that it runs very close to Broadway but on a street less prone to Broadway’s traffic (north of Union, anyway).

Taken For A Ride

Welcome back! As a primer for two of my classes (transit planning and transportation policy) this quarter we are watching and discussing a PBS documentary “Taken for a Ride” by Jim Klein. The film documents how GM and other automotive industries conspired to kill established streetcar providers. I’m sure there are some half truths in this movie but it is a fact that GM was prosecuted for illegal activities that killed American streetcars.

I was able to find the first 20 minutes of this film on YouTube. If anyone else finds the complete film please share. If not maybe this would be something to watch at an STB meetup?

Seattle Streetcar is Free Until After Xmas

After the bus system failed me yesterday, and others at the bus stop told me they’d been waiting an hour with no bus in site, I thought I’d walk home. I realized the streetcar would save me a bit of time on this walk, and hopped on board. But when I went to pay, there was a sign telling me it’s free until Dec. 26. So I thought I’d share the news.

Streetcars Get the Go-Ahead

No funding yet, just a resolution from Council.

I guess they want to qualify as “shovel ready” when the Obama administration comes to town with buckets of cash.

Streetcars Approved

So the council’s transportation subcommittee has approved 4 more streetcar lines, pretty much the same ones we heard about in May. I’m actually rather surprised that these things still have support in the midst of an economic downturn. Not that I don’t think it’s wise to invest in infrastructure in a downturn — I just (a) didn’t think that many council members agreed with me, and (b) wasn’t sure where the money would come from, since the city presumably can’t run a budget deficit.

But streetcars we shall have, it appears! I’m still skeptical about running them on streets as crowded as 1st Ave downtown and Broadway on Capitol Hill. One double-parked car or fender bender and you’ve effectively taken down the network for hours.

Nick Licata’s not impressed:

Councilmen Richard McIver and Nick Licata voted against the streetcar resolution Tuesday. Licata said too much is still unknown, including the impact on bus service, how construction and streetcars will be paid for and how the operations will be funded long term.

“They have no idea where they are going to get this money,” Licata said. “It’s what I refer to as misguided good intentions.”

The Ballard and University District lines don’t pencil out, he said. Ballard doesn’t have the density for a streetcar, and the University District is better served by buses.

I don’t agree with that last bit — I think Ballard and the U-District absolutely can support a streetcar — but his concerns about money are well-founded. Will Metro be asked to take over operations once the lines are built? Presumably you’d get some efficiencies of scale by building up the network a bit, especially on maintenance and driver training. But the day-to-day operating subsidies will have to be paid for by someone, and I’m not sure a LID is your answer here, absent one large, Vulcan-like property owner to push for it.

Lego Viaduct

via LostCarPark

Well the cost estimates are out. As Hugeasscity had a little bird tell him it looks like everyone is leaning towards Alternative C. It is a good balance between vehicle capacity and making the waterfront a great place to be. As pointed out in previous entries these different alternatives are not mutually exclusive rather just a mixture of different elements, many of these elements can be applied to most or all of the alternatives.

In order to make any of the surface alternatives viable there must also be a significant investment in transit including streetcars, rapid trolleys (anyone know what that is?), and rapidride. For a comparison I’m picking what most people in this blog and STB would pick. So…. let build a viaduct replacement.

Hybrid B/C: Capital/Operating (cost in millions)

Central Waterfront: Couplet – 900
I-5: Medium – 346
Surface: Medium – 291
Streetcars: High – 641/26
Transit: High – 476/60
Policies and Management: High – 24/36

Capital Cost – 2,678
Operating Cost – 122
Already Committed Costs – 1,100
Total Cost – 3,778

Funding + 2,390
Balance = 1,388

Below are the minimum cost for the other alternatives. As you can see the surface option with all the transit goodies is a good amount more expensive that the elevated option and falls mid-range in comparison to the underground/trenched alternatives. So if Hybrid B/C is to be built a compromise will probably have to be made. With Hybrid B/C the road improvement cost comes out to 2,346 million, roughly 400-900 million less than the elevated options. Although the elevated alternatives aren’t where this region or its leaders want to go I think this will limit how many transit goodies can be added on top. If they all cost 2,778 million we could justify coming up with the extra money and spending it on transit. My guess is that both Rapidride and the streetcars will be scaled back with the streetcars taking a larger hit unless alternative funding (federal, LID, etc) can be found.

Elevated Alternatives Minimum Cost = 2,700 to 3,200.
Underground/Trenched Alternatives Minimum Cost = 3,000 to 4,600

A huge thing that wasn’t factored in was tolls. Everyone is thinking about them. If tolling on I-90 and SR-520 start in 2010 and they improve traffic, which the models show they will, this region might move ahead with region wide tolling faster than expected… I think???

Streetcar Love

These are good ideas.

I think the streetcar needs to be put in proper context. It’s one of those rare modern transit systems that gets running in advance of population growth. It was built to accommodate an South Lake Union residential and office population that isn’t there yet.

Transit and population growth have a chicken-and-egg relationship. In building the streetcar, Nickels-Vulcan stepped in to break the deadlock by saying, in effect, “screw it, let’s just put a chicken there and an egg will show up eventually.” And they did, because they had the will and the money to do so. The population (the egg) is coming. It may take a bit longer because of the current housing slump, but it’s coming.

However, the problem, if I can extend the metaphor, is that in the interim you have a somewhat useless chicken sitting there in downtown Seattle for all to see. And so people naturally ask, “why did our elected officials put that chicken there? And while we’re at it, what other chickens are they talking about building? Do we really need them?”

This line of thinking naturally makes people chicken-averse, and as such, undermines support for the whole chicken-building enterprise known as “Sound Transit.” And that’s a problem. Voters see empty streetcars moving back and forth on Westlake, and wonder why we spent money on them (never mind that the money was minimal, mostly raised from private funds, and didn’t involved ST at all).

Do I think this is a huge problem that’s going to kill Proposition 1 in November? No, I don’t. But it is worth considering when starting these kinds of projects.

I Owe the SLU…S $1.75.

After work the other day I walked over to the SLU trolley to meet family at the Center for Wooden Boats. If you know how to sail, I highly recommend renting a boat for an hour on a sunny day. The streetcar was just about to leave as I made it to the stop, so I hopped on expecting to pay onboard.

I knew I only had $1 in my wallet, and also knew that they only take credit cards at the kiosk outside the streetcar. However, I have $1.75 tickets in my wallet that I keep for use on the bus. Also I remembered that their website lists a good dozen forms of payment you can use on the streetcar*, so I wasn’t worried.

But… apparently Metro cash tickets aren’t on the list. This means that I owe the streetcar $1.75, and that I will have to start carrying a pocket full of quarters (6 for a round trip) if I ever want to ride it again. Man do I wish they’d start the Orca pass.

* “The following forms of payment are also accepted to ride the Seattle Streetcar; Metro Pass, Puget Pass, Flexpass, GO Pass, U-Pass, Visitor Pass, Regional Reduced Fare Permit (with monthly or annual sticker), and active Metro bus transfer slips.”

Financing the Streetcar

The Idaho Statesman reports on possible ways to finance a streetcar in Boise:

“Bieter said as much as 50 percent of the estimated $40 million to $50 million price tag could come from a local improvement district – a special taxing district approved and paid for by landowners within a specific boundary.

The city would not go through Valley Regional Transit to implement or operate the streetcar, Bieter said. That means no federal funding, though, because any federal transportation dollars must go through that group or Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, the federally designated metropolitan transportation planning organization for the Treasure Valley.”

We have something like 137 days left of Bush, but the evil he did will live after him. It may be that the best approach is to build our own transit, and demand that the Federal budget actually be reduced so we don’t need to send all our money to Washington DC.

Either that, or use some of those aircraft carriers we bought as ferries.

Streetcar Advocacy

I wish the Seattle Streetcar Alliance well in their efforts to expand our nascent Streetcar network. I’m not sure whether it will succeed, but I think the approach is right-on, to create a coalition that forces the relevant municipalities into action.

This stands in stark contrast to the approach of the Monorail folks, who created an entirely separate municipality, one that didn’t require any local pols to put any skin in the game. This made it easier for Sims, Nickels, et. al. to walk away when support started to slip.