Community Post

City to CD:!3{2}No Streetcar for You

Back in February we talked about how the city would be studying a list of potential streetcar routes to connect various neighborhoods to downtown and each other. Now the results are out, and we’re left off the list. The closest line would run up Jackson from 5th, then over to Boren and north on Broadway.

I really feel like we get the shaft when it comes to transit. The #3 and #4 buses that connect most of the neighborhood to downtown have been standing-room-only for years, but Metro keeps putting all the new service hours out in the much less densely populated suburbs where they run mostly empty (note to Larry Gossett: what are you doing to fix this?). Plus the time it takes to reach even the closest part of downtown on a bus averages about 25 minutes, and on busy days can take up to 40 minutes (I can walk the route in about 45).

Light rail is also looking hopeless for the neighborhood – we’re more than a mile from any planned station. The closest one on Capitol Hill will have no useful transit connections to the CD, so you’re looking at a mile walk in the rain if you want to take advantage of that. And even the 50 year vision of light rail doesn’t include any service for this part of town.

And now we find out that we don’t even merit a little streetcar. Those will go to First Hill, Capitol Hill, the U District, and Fremont. Three out of four of those destinations are either already getting light rail, or in the case of First Hill they’re close enough to walk downtown anyway.

I’m all for increasing density around town – it’s the right thing for the environment, and if done intelligently it can be the right thing for the neighborhood. But there’s no way it’s going to work if the only way to get around is on the same old crowded and slow bus routes we’ve had for 50 years. And honestly, why should we continue to support transit ballot measures that offer us exactly nothing, forever?

Correction: As lavicat points out below, the Seattle Times version of the story describes the 1st Ave route as turning east on Jackson and up to 23rd. So I take a small part of my rant back, but that tiny sliver of service doesn’t doesn’t change a whole lot for me.

0 thoughts on “City to CD:!3{2}No Streetcar for You

  1. I’ll probably never use light rail except for the rare trip to the airport or for a fun trip to Columbia City. I probably won’t use the proposed new First Hill streetcar. In fact, I hardly ever take the bus, as I usually walk to work. But I still have and will continue to support transit ballot measures. I want myself and others to have as many good transportation alternatives as possible, even if I can’t/won’t necessarily take advantage of them. For the environment! For the earth! Hello!

  2. No offense, but if you’re complaint is about slow transit modes, this isn’t a solution. Streetcars are slow–maybe not as slow as buses, but given their cost, not the wisest investment to move a mass of people. Go to Portland…that thing is great for moving people short distances in a dense environment (downtown), but it’s not a mass transit solution by any stretch. The thought of a several mile streetcar line to Ballard is absurd. It’s good $ after bad. People who ride the bus today from downtown to Ballard say the express can take an hour–a streetcar isn’t going to be any better; rather, it’ll be worse.

  3. It’s not just about slow transit modes, it’s about accessibility and relief from overcrowded busing situations. Sure, a little more speed would be nice, but the primary issue is capacity and availability, not to mention the fact that increased capacity should (theoretically) increase the speed of transit anyway. (If the bus doesn’t have to stop at EVERY stop b/c people are taking the rail-line, it will run faster.)

    As to the environmental issue, it really would be nice to be able to vote for transit measure for altruistic reasons like traffic reduction, etc. Unfortunately, not all of us can walk to work (I confess, I can and do ;)), but more importantly, our vote against these measures is sadly the only individual voice most of us have. If enough CD citizens speak their mind with their vote by voting against measures that skip over our needs, we send a message to the city that we MUST be considered in future planning for transit. Its important to serve notice that to ignore our needs for those of First Hill, Fremont, or wherever is NOT going to be politically advantageous.

    I think it’s also important to recognize the potential financial impact increased public transportation can have for an area, bringing shoppers, tourists and other people from downtown to the CD can help continue to drive the commercial economic development of areas like 23rd and Union and 23rd and Cherry (not to mention many others).

    I think scott’s question is a good one, Mr. Gossett, where are you on this??

  4. I agree that anything at-grade is going to generally be as slow as busses. That’s especially true for longer distances such as out to Fremont & Ballard.

    But I think there is one exception, and that is short routes with heavy ridership. Right now when our trolley busses get bogged down, it’s usually because they’re packed to the gills and it takes forever to get people on and off at the stops. The streetcars have the advantage of more and wider doors and more floor space – it really speeds things up in boarding & unloading. So I think for us, looking at a bit more than a mile between here and downtown, it would allow us to move significantly more people, a bit more quickly, and with an improved quality of ride.

    We’re seriously lacking in transit connections to the business and entertainment options on Capitol Hill and the forthcoming light rail station there. If I ruled the transit planning world, I’d build a streetcar from the light rail station at McClellan & Rainier, all the way up 23rd to Union, and then cut over to Broadway and the light rail station near Cal Anderson Park. Then we’d get both a nice new option to reach Capitol Hill, and an easy way to connect with light rail if you’re going to the airport or (someday) need to head up to Northgate, etc.

  5. I’m confused by the proposed route map shown on this page

    It seems to suggest that the route would run up Jackson all the way into the CD. I wonder if that’s the old route that’s no longer active?

  6. That must be an error. It was a part of previous studies, but it’s not included on the list of possibilities they’re talking about now.

  7. I don’t disagree about the need for more transit options to the hill/high density places. A streetcar from Fremont to Ballard might make sense–parking has become a nightmare in Ballard, but as a transit option, to and from work, it’s not exactly a solution.

    In portland, the genius has been the linkage of light rail and streetcar, making it a true mover of folks along a series of points in the city.

    BTW, the reason you’re seeing more service to the burbs is b/c there is political pressure on King County to provide service for the growing base of tax payer support–meaning, formally less dense populations of King County are growing and paying an increasing share of the taxes and thus they now have to provide them with more service. There is a forumla to this as well.

  8. I’m really pretty annoyed by the bus situation in general. I ride the #2 downtown fairly often, and in the mornings and evenings it is completely packed, standing room only, often hardly even that.

    It also seems the schedules are absolutely insane, at the peak of rush hour they are almost 40 minutes apart. (The #2 stops downtown at 4:34, 5:06, 5:45 and 6:15) I see twice the number of #7’s go by and they are double length buses.

    Although having light rail here would be nice, I think the buses are great if they were just less packed and ran more often during the rush hour. The CD is actually pretty astonishingly well connected via bus between the #2, #3 and #48.

    Of course with the weather lately, I just ride the bike downtown, which takes 10 mins as opposed to 30 on the bus.

  9. There may be a closer light rail station option, at least for those more towards the southern end of the Central Area — Yesler Way and 3rd Ave. Currently the #27 bus stops quite close to it. If the streetcar ran up to at least MLK as shown on the PI map (may be out of date map though) then it would also do a decent job of connecting to the light rail with a short walk from Jackson to Yesler. Ideally the route would jog somewhere down around 3rd or 4th and actually have streetcar stop at or near 3rd and Yesler to connect to light rail there. However, Scott’s idea of a Central District line that went from McClellan/Rainier to Nagle Place on Capitol Hill would also be a good route to have, although I am not sure it serves the business districts quite as well since most of them run East-West (Jackson, Union, Madison) with the exceptions of 23rd in shorter stretches from Cherry to Union and near Madison. Madison actually seems like a wiser East-West cooridor than some others as well since it would serve several business district stretches from Madison Park all the way to down town crossing many sub-neighborhoods in a diagonal cut from east of I-5.

  10. from mlk and union to Pioneer SQ it is 40 mins. i worked at microsoft and my commute to work was shorter. totally absurd.

    but again, this is about a forumla that mandates that new service go to areas outside of Seattle as they are paying an increasing share of the taxes. The #8 got increased service b/c businesses in SLU paid for it (it’s route is a “logical” 23rd and Jackson, down MLK, up over the hill, through SLU on Denny, to QA–that’s logic).

  11. I can’t help but feel the lack of transit is a death knell for our neighborhood. How can the CD not spiral further downward, for decades, if there’s little incentive for people to stay here, move here, shop here, come here for entertainment, etc?

    Seattle’s plan is to keep us effectively disconnected from every amentity in the city (including the airport). It’s like they went out of their way to route light rail around us. I fear we’ll become a pocket of decay while everyone pours their money into Columbia City and other parts south.

    At a minimum I’d like to see better bus service. The 8 gets me to Capitol Hill in six minutes – but doesn’t run evenings or weekends. 40 minutes to downtown shopping, even though I can practically spit that far. The 48(late) is OK, but the most unreliable route in the city. It’s like a bad joke. Wish I were gung-ho to bike up and down the hills in the rain, but I don’t trust drivers.

  12. I ride the #2 and #48 regualarly and am an advocate of improved and increased trolley bus service over the very expensive street car option, but hey if public dollars are going to be invested all other parts of the main part of the city for street cars, which are difficutlt and expensive to build, take out lanes of traffic to either duplicate bus service or do what a decent bus route could do for much less, I want my street cars in the CD too. Broadway, downtown and the University district are already extremely well connected to each other. While the #8 serves a small piece of way underserved areas (CD to Capital Hill), it doesn’t run often. I will challenge myself to come up with a better route.

    Good questions are where are the elected officials when we need them. Who has done a great job of representing us? I guess we need to be more in touch with them.

  13. kb (above) directed a question to him. It’s not a bad idea to express the community’s thoughts about transit to the policy makers.

    The article that prompted these comments is about a study by the Seattle City Council. If we want to weigh in on the streetcar issue we need to talk to the City Council Transportation Committee, and specifically Jan Drago. Contact her office. And,even better, the community council can arrange a meeting if there’s interest.

    Regarding bus routes: that there is a Metro Route #8 has a lot to do with the fact that community members acted in an organized way and worked to get it. Yes there’s a formula that directs most new transit dollars away from Seattle, but it doesn’t hurt to try to get involved in letting the transit planners (and politicians — for example Councilmember Gossett)know our needs.

  14. My mention of County Councilmember Gossett was related to the overcrowded conditions on our bus routes, which he does have some influence upon.

  15. And I’m wondering if it’s possible to translate the energy and concern about bus and streetcar issues expressed by readers of CentralDistrictNews into some direct approaches to the County Council and the City Council and other policy makers.

  16. I don’t know if its with delays or not but the #4 and #27 practically run at the same time from downtown up to 23rd. Which isn’t useful on weekends when they run like 30-40 mins apart and defeats the advantage of having two buses ride up to 23rd. (sure, I could get on the 14 which crawls up to 23rd but it takes longer and the crowd is just rowdier. Sorry to say that but whenever I’ve been on the 14, I’ve watched the bus drivers have to take so much crap from people..its a bit disheartening)

  17. Buses are the prefered transportation option of people who will never ride them.
    A streetcar will have a dedicated route, right of way, and fixed stops. It will run more regularly and encourage development along its route.