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A desire named streetcar

Is public transit all about getting there quickly and conveniently, or about having fun and looking cool? The new First Hill Streetcar line will give us one, but we could have had both.

Cute to go at South Lake Union

Cute to go at South Lake Union Wikipedia

Not so cute, but useful.

Not so cute, but useful. King County Metro

The old Skid Road: too steep for streetcars, but not for trolleys.

The old Skid Road: too steep for streetcars, but not for trolleys. Eric Scigliano

A futuristic trolleybus from the German firm VISEON Bus.

A futuristic trolleybus from the German firm VISEON Bus. Edmonton Trolley Coalition

I like streetcars as much as the next ride-hopping tourist or transit booster. I’ve happily ridden them in Hong Kong, Toronto, Rome, Milan, Rio, San Francisco, and New Orleans — not to mention Seattle’s late, lamented waterfront 'streetcar,' which didn’t run in the street for most of its length. And Monday marks a signal day in Seattle’s streetcar history.

At midday the city will break ground on a new First Hill streetcar line, running from Broadway and Denny to the multimodal hub at 4th and Jackson. But unlike the South Lake Union streetcar informally known as the SLUT, the First Hill line didn't start out as a one-off boost for a jumbo redevelopment project. It’s a downpayment on an entire network. Already the city hopes to extend the line to Aloha Street.

And so I was doubly glad to join the transportation wonks and mavens for a semi-debate between two transit gurus with very passionate notions of why transit does or doesn’t work and how we can make it work better. Together, Davenport, Iowa, city designer Darrin Nordahl and Portland transportation consultant Jarrett Walker offered a 3-D pair of lenses for considering the First Hill project and the network that looms beyond it. And together they nearly filled Town Hall’s lower hall and left interrogators lined up at the mikes when shut-off time arrived — an indication of how much Seattle cares about such things.

Both have books to flog, of course: My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transportation from Nordahl and Walker’s Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, which grew out of his Human Transit blog. Despite the similarity of their titles, Nordahl’s and Walker’s foci are very different. “Many arguments about transit are actually answering different questions,” Walker himself noted, and he and Nordahl proved it.

For Nordahl it's a question of psychology: How do we make transit as enticing, entertaining, captivating, and sexy as cars, whose makers have spent billions building beelines to our ids?

He dispenses quickly with issues of route, scale, speed, headway, and so on. The problem with transit — especially buses, the transit most Americans ride no matter how much their officials spend on light rail and streetcars — is that it’s not fun. It’s drab and dreary. From Charlotte to Chicago to Los Angeles (Nordahl’s choice of slides), the same boxy buses — white on the outside, dark and grim inside — prevail. The only difference here: King County Metro’s have more distinctive paint jobs.

People want novelty, charm, amusement, Nordahl explained — as at Disneyland or that even better real-life amusement park, San Francisco, with its cable cars and other quirky, vintage rolling stock. He didn’t mention that Seattle once had such a charm line, at a bargain price: Antique Melbourne trolleys tooled along Alaskan Way until the Sculpture Park displaced their maintenance shed and the city mothballed the cars and cut the track, spurning both a Port of Seattle proposal to extend the tracks to Interbay and make it more than a tourist shuttle, and a developer’s offer to host a new maintenance shop in Pioneer Square. He did show a skylight-roofed bus that Davenport recently deployed, the kind of obvious innovation that makes you say, “Of course.” With our cooler summers, it would work even better here.  

Urban transit thus becomes less about getting there than about the experience of getting there. “Public transit is public space!” Nordahl declaimed. And it should be attractive and engaging like any other space. But planners neglect that fact, not just in transit but in every transport mode: “WalkScore doesn’t measure how pretty an area is for walking. The more there is to look at, the more people will walk. People will walk two miles in a mall, but not one block” to get to parking.

Bicyclists, especially women, want safety, the more attractively packaged the better cycle paths separated from auto traffic by bollards or, better, planting strips. On U.S. streets, where bike routes are set off by painted stripes if at all, male pedalers outnumber female three to one. In the über-cycling cities of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Berlin, which have protected paths, half the cyclists are women. Something like those ratios seems to prevail on Seattle’s exposed sharrows and protected Burke Gilman trail.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 6:42 a.m. Inappropriate

My take:

http://citycomfortsblog.typepad.com/cities/2012/04/sparring-on-transit.html

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice job, Eric. This is the article that had to be written and the debate that now is thrown sharply into focus as Metro struggles to keep transit service afloat while huge sums of taxpayers’ money that ought to be supporting transit service are squandered for ancillary purposes and visions. At the root of the problem is the Seattle area’s unique solution to transit management and planning: Sound Transit hell-bent for rail whether it’s the right solution (sometimes) or not (that, too). Metro trying to run a workhorse bus system carrying hundreds of thousands of people a day that among other things now awkwardly must be reconfigured to feed the hugely costly light rail system people voted for, whether or not these consequences or service were fairly explained. And the City of Seattle throwing vegetables into the stew with a transit agenda, like so much in the city, purporting to be all things to all people but actually getting very little done that makes much sense for anybody. We’d be well served in Seattle to hear a lot more of Jarrett Walker’s brand of sense. And, as Walker pointed out at Town Hall, keep an eye on Portland where a once-strong bus system is at risk of debilitating and chronic fiscal illness and crumbling service. Not so cool as the Grass is Always Greener on the Portland Side of the Fence contingent generally asks us to believe.

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 8:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Really an excellent article. Well written Eric. You covered it all but passenger conduct. Having to listen to people rant into their cell phones is the tipping point for me. I just can't stomach it. In Mexico City i notice that they have placed wide screen tv's with music videos and public service announcements in many of their MetroBus vehicles. MetroBus is a new series of surface transit lines that use dedicated streets or dedicated traffic lanes to move millions around Mexico City. You have to buy your payment card at a local 24 hr store where you also add payment. The card readers are on board or in some cases in secured waiting areas. All this digging and track laying; wouldn't it have been more sensible to dedicate existing street routes? I think these big transit budgets are a form of political power-base building, all that money is spent to enhance a politicians career. Thus bigger, more costly project is always preferred. When the tunnel, the new waterfront, the new sports stadium and all the transit projects are finished, with South lake Union redevelopment completed, will we see a Seattle that's more liveable, easier to get around, still a place of incredible views and friendly people? Or will transit frustration boil over into civic life, will we end up with a dead downtown owned by the drug dealers and visiting tourists? The city council does not impress me as having the skills to connect all the urban planning dots. The light rail Sea-Tac airport stop at the far side of the parking garage is a good example of poor planning masked by expensive furnishings. More of the same on the way I fear.

chapala21

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 8:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Ditto Doug, Eric and 'The WizKid" (tm).
Metro is cannibalizing service while it's bastard step child born in the early 90's burns though million dollar notes on rails like there on a moon mission.
Transit is Transit, not this agency v. that one. We, the riders are just one group.
The First Hill Streetcar was a big booby prize for ST hubris to build rail under all of Capital Hill. Sure, a couple of hundred million for FHSC is better than a 1/2 billion to build the light rail stop they eliminated, but is it a wise use of OUR money? Time will tell the tale, at which point we're stuck with the outcome.
At 7 mph, and no power wire coming down Jackson (they have to coast downhill), it's a like a new Disney disaster flick in the making.
It will air, but to mostly empty theaters, with no sequels planned.

007

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

It is always interesting how some ideas don't even get included in the comparison matrix. It is unfortunate there were no major news stories comparing both the up front and the ongoing operating costs of the rubber tired trolley buses to the rail trolleys at the time the decisions were being made.

sjenner

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Streetcars are particularly useful when they have their own right-of-way, but the stretch of this route along Broadway will put streetcars and motor vehicle traffic in the same lane to accommodate the exclusive separate bike lane on the east side of Broadway. Northbound streetcars will be waiting behind any cars or trucks that are making a right turn, and curb bulbs at the intersections will mean that these turning cars won't be able to get out of the main traffic lane while waiting for bicycle and pedestrian traffic to clear so they can turn.

I think that the streetcar is a great idea and will help a lot of the hospital employees to get to work when there is snow on the ground, particularly those who live south and can take the train or light rail to King Street. Providence's Swedish campus at First Hill will benefit a lot as it drops off people right at their front door.

But I think the 19 minute time could be optimistic during rush hour as more cars and delivery trucks are sharing the rail right-of-way.

talisker

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

19 minutes from end to end? I'm betting closer to 30 minutes during peak times, rush hours, accidents, church events, and overall, this is just more road dieting and another poke in the eye to automobiles, trucks, taxis, and even buses. Here comes the maddening, shrinking, worsening world of mobility on streets named Broadway, Yesler, 14th, and Jackson.

animalal

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

"faster to walk." that will be true if you are going from Union Station/ID tunnel station to Harborview. The Hospital used to run a shuttle bus for it's employees but it got cut. This street car route with the delay between runs, it will still be faster to walk.

BTW, I'm still pretty angry about the underhanded deal struck to remove the Waterfront Street car. And that the Waterfront redevelopment group is still against putting it back in place.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

This is a good article, and I am in agreement with it. And, that is without even mentioning the unbelievably stupid cost of OPERATING streetcars in our area. According to Sound Transit's 2012 budget, the operating cost of the Tacoma Streetcar is projected to be $4.52 per boarding in 2012. That is just the operating cost -- it does not include any of the millions of dollars of construction (capital) cost, or any depreciation.

The Tacoma streetcar line is only 1.6 miles long, so the longest trip anyone can take on it is 1.6 miles. I would guess that the average trip on that streetcar is about 1/2 the line, or 0.8 miles. But, let's say the average trip is actually over half the route, or exactly one mile.

That means the Tacoma Streetcar OPERATING cost (not including depreciation) is about $4.50 per passenger mile! Think about that. $4.50 per passenger mile just for the operating cost.

For comparison, Metro buses operating cost is in the area of about 80 cents per passenger-mile. That means the Tacoma Streetcar costs about SIX TIMES AS MUCH AS A METRO BUS per passenger-mile to operate.

And compare that cost to the average U.S. car. According to AAA, the OPERATING cost (not including depreciation or other ownership costs) of the average-size U.S. sedan is about 14 cents per passenger mile with gas at $4 per gallon. Which means that the Tacoma Streetcar costs about THIRTY TIMES as much to operate, per passenger-mile, as the average U.S. auto with 1.6 passengers.

The Tacoma Streetcar's operating cost is about SIX TIMES higher than a Metro bus, and THIRTY TIMES higher than the average U.S. sedan. What the hell are they thinking???

Lincoln

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

They were thinking the ST Board members from Tacoma really, really wanted a train downtown, so they got it.
The First Hill Streetcar is being built because some City Council-members and former Mayor really, really, really wanted a train.
The North Sounder trains are costing taxpayers over $30 a trip (not counting the $350 million to build it and get access to the BNSF), because some Snohomish electeds really, really.....
You know the drill.

007

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 2:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Mr. Scigliano, and thank you Crosscut, for the best most comprehensive piece of transit reporting I have yet seen published anywhere in this notoriously anti-transit region.

Nevertheless – as someone who during the past half century covered public transport here, in New York City and in the New York-New Jersey metropolis – I offer the following (wholly supportive) criticism:

While your characterization of the style-versus-function clash is accurate, it omits how regional transport history created the present factions and indeed made such self-defeating conflicts inevitable.

For as long as I have lived in the Puget Sound area (1970 -1982, 1987- present), there has been a small but extremely wealthy and therefore overwhelmingly powerful clique within the local One Percent that reflexively opposes any sort of sensible transit. This opposition seems driven by two motives. One is greed – protection of substantial investments in the Big Oil/Big Automotive monopoly, the environmental consequences be damned. The other motive, apparent in anti-transit propaganda, is an extreme form of xenophobic snobbery, a vision of the entire state as a kind of country club.

The clique's influence, bolstered by ownership of a major daily newspaper, is all-pervasive. This makes it easy to impose policies and conditions – including woefully inadequate public transport – that make life here uniquely inhospitable to lower-income peoples. A big part of the clique's exclusionary strategy is its 44-year war against mass transit. Its products include what is probably the most anti-transit citizenry on this planet and what is surely the most anti-transit voting record in the industrial world.

A perfect example of this hostility – which includes such a nasty undertone of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic bigotry our region is sometimes labeled “Puget Sound on the Mississippi” – is the “transit is welfare” argument that surfaced during recent transit-sustainment fights in Tacoma/Pierce County and Bellingham/Whatcom County, where overwhelming majorities voted to destroy their transit systems. The message was identical in either jurisdiction: “It's the poor who caused the economic collapse; now let's punish these lazy parasites by abolishing their bus service.” Transit policy has thus become class warfare.

Whatcom Transit's directors responded by reconfiguring boundaries to include only the population that voted for a minuscule, transit-preservation sales-tax increase of two pennies on a ten dollar bill. As a result, Whatcom Transit is now effectively Bellingham-only transit.

Pierce Transit directors were notably less courageous, downsizing their domain while slashing bus service in Tacoma to maintain much of the commuter service favored by rich suburbanites. Never mind Tacomans voted 56 percent for the tiny proposed sales tax increase – three cents on a $10 purchase – even as the “transit-is-welfare” suburbanites voted by landslide margins against it.

More distant transit history is relevant too, particularly in terms the Big Oil/Big Automotive lobby's opposition to trackless trolleys. The Seattle Sun, the superb alternative newspaper of which I was one of the founders, caught Metro dirty in the mid-1970s, the smoking “gun” an unannounced program of destroying Seattle's remaining trackless-trolley lines and replacing them with – what else – air-befouling diesel buses. This was not my story, and for that reason I don't remember its details, but it was the sort of investigative reporting on which The Sun built its reputation. Best of all, the resultant public outcry saved the trackless trolleys.

Indeed trackless trolleys are especially sensible here. Thanks to the New Deal – notably Bonneville – we have the second cheapest electricity in the United States. (Cheapest is in the vast region served by the Tennessee Valley Authority.) In any case trackless trolleys obviously avoid the atmospheric befoulment produced by internal-combustion engines while providing nearly the same flexibility as buses. But buses, remember, are products of Big Oil/Big Automotive and thereby merely extend our enslavement to the Oil Barons – no doubt the reason Pierce Transit once fired a deputy director for publicly suggesting it might be more economical to electrify several diesel bus routes and replace the buses with trackless trolleys.

Why then is rail so popular amongst the transit cognoscenti? Many advocates of rail – and I admit I am one – see it as a radical and therefore attractive means of escaping our enslavement by the Big Oil/Big Automotive aristocracy. Too often we fail to realize trackless trolleys will accomplish the same goal and do so probably much more expeditiously, even when we factor in the tire industry's unsustainable dependence on petroleum byproducts.

Ultimately though trackless trolleys may just be too rational – and therefore too drab – to appeal to the masturbatory, sensation-seeking mentality of the Ayn Rand Era in which we are doomed to live.

In this context, rail – or rather the raging (and sometimes justifiable) controversy that surrounds it – may actually serve transit's opponents, particularly via sensationalist steno-journalism that focuses on the soap-opera rhetoric of the associated clashes and (deliberately) excludes the essential background Mr. Scigliano explores in the above.

Alas, in today's Moron Nation climate – where even the most intelligently conceived transit proposals are subject to instant attack by cliquish One Percenters, self-obsessed autocentric suburbanites and a hard corps of anti-transit bigots evenly distributed between urbs and burbs – rationality is like truth in wartime, the first victim. Flash equals pass, the former necessary to seduce voters who claim to be more environmentally enlightened than any electorate on the planet even as they demonstrate their galaxy-class hypocrisy – and stupidity – by consistently voting against transit: a 44-year regional record of (at least) nine defeats in (at least) 11 tries.

Meanwhile Mr. Scigliano's reportage is a long-overdue stride toward genuinely informed debate and – one can hope – eventual transit sanity: not just sound-good transit, but transit of genuinely sound conception.

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 2:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Transit is not environmentally friendly. That is just one of the lies from the leeches who want taxpayers to subsidize their transportation so they don't have to pay for it themselves.

I think you will find most people are not against transit. They are against stupidly expensive transit which is heavily subsidized. Build a transit system which pays for itself without any tax subsidy, and who would complain?

Lincoln

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle’s transit-planning follies" - a polite way to describe this mess....

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

"They are against stupidly expensive transit which is heavily subsidized. Build a transit system which pays for itself without any tax subsidy, and who would complain?"

No such system exists. We subsidize air travel via building airports with tax dollars. We subsidize driving by property taxes to pay for local roads. We subsidize trains with Federal land grants for the land they traversed, granted them money for track laid etc. Even my favorite transportation, bicycles is subsidized by the property tax for the roads.

It's a matter of land use. Personal Auto transit takes up a lot of land. See the "High cost of Free Parking."

GaryP

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 5:28 p.m. Inappropriate

1 of 3

One of the flaws with Loren’s loopy, verbose post is the false equivalency he suggests, to the effect that the numbers of successful votes on transit measures somehow translate to the quality of bus and train service.

Hey Loren – you were a journalist. I’m sure you’d agree with me that being fair and accurate is something journalists should strive for in what they publish. That’s what I’ll shoot for in these posts.

The fact of the matter is there is FAR too much taxing of individuals and families in the name of transit around here. I’d estimate the average family around here pays about $500 per year in direct transit taxes, and that amount is set to rise year after year for decades unless some significant corrections are made.

Here’s how I derived that estimate. I began with Dan Satterberg’s estimate of sales tax impacts:

"[With a] 0.3 percent tax, Satterberg said, the tax would cost a family of four about $60 a year."

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011050967_salestax12m.html .

There have been about eight tax hikes for transit during the past 25 years. Sound Transit and Metro together now impose a 1.8% sales tax, so that’s six times the $60 per year, or $360. Sound Transit’s car tab tax has to be entered in. It has been coming in at about one-eighth of ST’s sales tax stream, so that’d put it at about $22.50 per vehicle each year. The average family of four has two vehicles, so that’s $45 per year. Metro also got a new property tax (in 2010) of about $40 per household per year. Metro got a new $20 per vehicle annual car tab tax last year, so the average family pays another $40 per year on top of all the other transit taxes. Did I leave any general taxes for transit out?

I’m not counting either the Seattle “Bridging the Gap” property tax hike or the Seattle $20 TBD car tab fee that were enacted during the past couple of years in that total.

Bear in mind that families in Portland, the Twin Cities, etc. pay $0 in direct taxes each year for transit. A far more modest tax that businesses pay is all that is needed in those regions.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

2 of 3

Metro, the transit governments in Pierce and Snohomish counties, and Sound Transit will confiscate something on the order of $1.5 billion in local tax revenue this year alone. All the peers do a great job of providing bus service, and expanding train systems, with far less annual local tax revenue:

- TriMet (Portland) - $233 million;

- DART (Dallas/Fort Worth) - $385 million;

- San Diego Metropolitan Transit System - $100 million; and

- RTID (Denver) - $241 million.

There is no excuse for the high taxing level here; it’s many times higher than in the peer metro areas. Anyone think they can justify the excessively high taxing levels here? I’m sure Loren won’t try doing that.

The core flaw with Sound Transit’s financing plan is how those entirely unaccountable appointees pledge to collect the regressive taxes at or near the maximum rates while any of the bonds remain outstanding. They plan on selling thirty year bonds ten years from now, meaning that taxing district would confiscate something on the order of $85 billion in tax revenue JUST as security for about $8 billion in bonds (which would be used to cover part of the approx. $13 billion in ST2 capital costs). NOBODY imposes massive regressive taxes like that in the name of transit.

Anyone want to try explaining why the government heads around here designed and implemented such a unique, financially abusive financing structure for buses and trains?

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 5:31 p.m. Inappropriate

3 of 3

Loren, can you back up some of the wild assertions you made in your post?

What evidence supports your assertion that entities intent on “protection of substantial investments in the Big Oil/Big Automotive monopoly, the environmental consequences be damned” have stunted transit revenues or service delivery around here?

Can you link to documents that show what you refer to as “an extreme form of xenophobic snobbery” that is supposedly “apparent in anti-transit propaganda”? I’m not aware of anything like that.

You characterize the current transit our myriad bus and train services providers afford us as “woefully inadequate public transport”. What facts support that claim?

You tout light rail and commuter rail this way: “Many advocates of rail – and I admit I am one – see it as a radical and therefore attractive means of escaping our enslavement by the Big Oil/Big Automotive aristocracy.” Identify where people now no longer buy as many cars and trucks, and as much motor vehicle fuel, because light rail was installed. This is a reality-based expectation of yours, right, and not just some grandiose fantasy?

crossrip

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 6:08 p.m. Inappropriate

"We subsidize air travel via building airports with tax dollars. We subsidize driving by property taxes to pay for local roads. "

The tax revenue spent to build airports is from taxes on airline tickets, landing fees, etc.. Airline passengers pay for the airports.

Taxes, fees, fines, etc. on motorists generate more revenue in WA state than is spent on all roads in WA, including federal, state, and local roads and highways. This includes parking fees, taxes and fines, which in Seattle alone total about $75 million per year. It also includes the MVET, the extra $20 license fee in King County and City of Seattle, sales taxes on new and used vehicles, parts, repairs, and servicing, federal and state gas taxes, tire taxes, et. al. Much of this tax revenue collected from motorists is not spent on roads -- it is used to subsidize ST and Metro. But motorists pay a total amount of taxes, fees, fines, etc. in our state which is greater than the amount spend on roads of all types in our state.

Lincoln

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 6:24 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm still waiting for someone to determine a formula for calculating the cost of intentional, self-inflicted damage to our transportation system with ill-conceived projects like tearing down the Alaska Way Viaduct with no logical replacement, and programs of propaganda demonizing our automobiles.


jmrolls

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 6:56 p.m. Inappropriate

"Because rubber-wheeled trolleys can climb steeper hills than steel-wheeled streetcars," The story might well have gone on to say "than diesel buses too." Any #2 rider up Queen Anne Hill's Counter Balance can tell you about the difference between the line's normal rubber-tired trolley and an abnormal diesel—the latter makes one wonder if one is to ride back down backwards, hopefully safely.

The Counter Balance gets its name from the counter-weight installed under the street in the brief number of years or months when cable cars led the pack as most cost-effective. Seattle quickly moved on to the electric street car era, but I believe the City was stuck with the Queen Anne cable for much longer. It's computer technology that moves at the speed of light today, not public transit, even so Seattle will again stick itself with obsolete transit technology and shortchange real mobility—some things, it seems never change.

Not mentioned, unless one counts Loren's comments, is how picking the least cost effective technology is then used to justify upzoning all the so-called "nodes." As in "you want public transit" then guess what, if you own you can sell out for mega bucks and move to the sticks, all others, well hopefully Uncle Sam will subsidize a new apartment for you and you can manage the rest of the rent by not owning a car." Guess what, those guys move to the sticks too.

afreeman

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 8:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Lorenbliss, I will be doing a brief edit job on this if you don't mind. I'm letting you know and saying thank YOU. As for comprehensive transit reporting, Seattle has a long way to go to ever become respectable in many quarters. "This notoriously anti-transit region" I'll ask politely to quote and another damning one-liner comment or two. I'm ready to shread the macdonald for his nonsense response and culpability in transit configurations, but I'm too often unable to put it succinctly and my shrew's tongue for exposing intolerable ignorance doesn't help.

Lorenbliss Tuesday edit:

"For as long as I have lived in the Puget Sound area, there has been a small but extremely wealthy and therefore overwhelmingly powerful clique within the local 1% that reflexively opposes any sort of sensible transit. This opposition seems driven by two motives: One is greed to protect substantial investments in the Big Oil/Big Auto monopoly, environmental consequences be damned. The other motive apparent in anti-transit propaganda is an extreme form of xenophobic snobbery, a vision of the entire state as a kind of country club.
-
The clique's influence, bolstered by ownership of a major daily newspaper, is all-pervasive. This makes it easy to impose policies and conditions – including woefully inadequate public transport – that make life here uniquely inhospitable to lower income people. A big part of the clique's exclusionary strategy is its 44-year war against mass transit. Its products include what is probably the most anti-transit citizenry and surely the most anti-transit voting record in the industrial world.
-
A perfect example of this hostility includes a nasty undertone of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic bigotry for which the region is sometimes labeled “Puget Sound on the Mississippi” as the “transit is welfare” argument that surfaced during the recent 'transit-sustainment' fights in Tacoma/Pierce and Bellingham/Whatcom Counties where overwhelming majorities voted to 'decrease' their transit systems. The message was identical in both jurisdictions: “It's the poor who caused the economic collapse. Let's punish the lazy parasites and abolish their bus service." Transit policy thus become class warfare.
-
More distant transit history is relevant too, particularly in terms of the Big Oil/Big Auto lobby opposition to trackless trolleys. The Seattle Sun, the alternative newspaper of which I was a founder, caught Metro in the mid-1970s with a "smoking gun” unannounced program of dewiring Seattle's remaining trackless-trolley lines and replacing them with air-fouling diesel buses. This was not my story, and for that reason I don't remember its details, but it was the sort of investigative reporting on which The Sun built its reputation. Best of all, the resultant public outcry saved the trackless trolleys.
-
Indeed trackless trolleys are especially sensible here. Thanks to the New Deal – notably Bonneville – we have the second cheapest electricity in the USA, after the TVA. In any case, trackless trolleys obviously avoid the atmospheric foulment produced by internal combustion engines and provide near the same flexibility as most bus routes. Buses are products of Big Oil/Big Auto and thereby extend our enslavement to Oil & Auto-related big business barons – little doubt the reason Pierce Transit once fired a deputy director for suggesting in public it might be more economical to electrify several diesel bus routes and replace with trackless trolleys.
-
Ultimately trackless trolleys may just be too rational and therefore too drab to appeal to the masturbatory, sensation-seeking mentality of the Ayn Rand Era in which we are doomed to live.
-
In this context, rail or rather the raging and sometimes justifiable controversy that surrounds rail may serve transit opponents, particularly via sensationalist steno-journalism focused on soap-opera rhetoric of its associated clashes and which deliberately excludes the essential background Mr. Scigliano explores in the article.
-
Alas, in today's Moron Nation climate where even the most intelligently conceived transit proposal is subject to instant attack by the cliquish 1% and their mostly ill-informed spokespersons, Mr. Scigliano's reporting is a long-overdue stride toward genuinely informed debate and hopefully eventual transit sanity - not just sound good transit but transit of genuinely sound conception.

Lorenbliss words rewritten a bit...

Final note: A certain 2005 "Trolleybus Reconfiguration Proposal" would have increased frequency of ETB service on 'more' Downtown Hillclimbs/descents with actually fewer trolleybuses, thus at reduced cost. To sweeten the pot, more than a few 'cluttery' intersections were redesigned to minimize wiring arrangements, no kidding. To view the TR2005 just ask the mayor to unlock the censor box it is filed away in and commission a low-cost cursory but fair review.

Wells

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 9:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I am not sure what all the fuss is about. When we have this remarkable piece of ground breaking world class technology installed, residents of Capitol Hill will will be able to ride modern public transportation the 15 miles to the airport in about 80 minutes including time waiting for connections and an invigorating walk at the end of their trip. Why would anybody want to drive?

Posted Mon, Apr 23, 11:37 p.m. Inappropriate

This is a fine article. But its most important feature is that is too late. The First Hill streetcar has been launched. Transport choices are made in the political realm. Economic and technical factors are only part of the decision making. The mode choice may have been made in 2006. At the time the First Hill station was dropped, ST boardmembers began asking staff for a streetcar. They did not apply Walker analysis about access. Were the press and political activists involved as ST made its choices? The ST and SDOT staff did what they were told.
When Vulcan, Nickels, and Drago pushed through the SLU streetcar, they assembled a political movement. The proponents were organized. They had passion and desire. Only councilmembers Steinbrueck and Licata questioned the allocation of scarce service hours.
We should be careful of mono-modalists. They seem prevalent in Seattle (e.g., monorail, streetcar, even Link). They may appear elsewhere. They do not comprehend Walker’s points about providing transit access cost-effectively. The key transit attributes are service frequency and reliability. Whether steel wheels or rubber tires are used is secondary. Good frequency makes transit networks sing. If costly modes are chosen, they should provide needed capacity and not just urban bling.
A short, slow streetcar is not regional; nothing is more local. Between 2008 and today’s ceremony on Broadway, SDOT did plenty of analysis and designed a streetcar to fit in the crowded streetscape. But the marginal choice between streetcar capital and transit service was not considered. Funding, street width, and signal time are the key constraints to consider.
Please note that ST, Seattle, and Metro all raise tax revenue from the same taxpayers; they spend the funds to move the same riders.
If better decisions are to be made in the future, attention must be paid to the interaction of elected officials, technical staff, and management. Are the three groups open to objective alternatives analysis and benefit- cost analysis? Or, are they shut off from one another suffering from group think? What decisions are being made right now that should have such an article (e.g., Northgate parking, Lynnwood extension – I-5 or SR-99 or both, south Link, ST3).

eddiew

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 12:24 a.m. Inappropriate

I'll give yall my cessment uh the frickin furst heeall sturreet-kar on da rayuls sumtime latur. Course I will juz make fools uh ya again no doubt when I mention it aint thuh rayels what makes the plan good nuf fer the perfesshunal wurld circles what I freqwent. Yalls are dummies, but sometimes dummies too do not the wurst werk. For thuh wurst werk ya need a highway gang what can rig what not werk good pre-determinedly.

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

eddiew writes: "Transport choices are made in the political realm."

Not the financing plans for Sound Transit. The ST2 financing plan was created by ST's staff and self-interested lawyers and financiers. The key details about it -- such as the amount of new local regressive taxing that would be required -- were kept from voters and now are hidden from the public. Moreover, it is being implemented by the appointees comprising that board who are entirely unaccountable to the people by ANY political means.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 7:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. EddieW is one of the lone wolves crying from the forest. I've never understood the dynamics of why Seattle is blind to such obvious waste to please a small group of insiders willing to squander precious tax resources like they are playing Monopoly. Maybe it's a legacy of the Boeing 'Good Old Days'.
The FHSC, when fully operational will rank high on the list of Seattles 'Transit Oddities', and cost many times more per (rider, boarding, hour, passenger/mile, $$/mi - choose your poison), than a simple trolley bus going from Pill Hill to Coleman Dock, via Yesler.
If Seattle's PowerRangers (tm) are really serious about providing efficient transit, then I offer this challenge.
When FHSC launches, also launch a new trolley wire down Yesler with a turnaround at the Ferry, and stops at Link Pioneer Station, along with sufficient stops on the Hill. Let the trollies run at the same headways and span as the Streetcars.
After one year, cancel the service provided on the 'loser' mode.
Now, how sure of yourselves are you about the alternatives?

007

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

"The tax revenue spent to build airports is from taxes on airline tickets, landing fees, etc.. Airline passengers pay for the airports."

Actually not here. The Port Of Seattle operates at a loss. Since they co-mingle their funds from shipping/airport/marina it's nearly impossible to get the exact figures, but the fact that they levy a property tax on all of King County shows that they are subsidized.

Oh if you want to get more angry about your war on cars, the Airport revenues are roughly 1/3 parking fees, 1/3 landing fees, 1/3 passenger fees with some spare change tossed in for the rental of the food court/store space. So if you park at the airport you are directly subsidizing it's existence. AND most airport employees have free off site parking.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

"and programs of propaganda demonizing our automobiles. "

No need to generate propaganda about automobiles, the death and injury statistics do that all on their own... over 30,000 dead this last year, and 100,000's injured. (with the death tolls closer to 40,000+ per year in the past 20 years.) If we make some gross assumptions about age and income potential, that each dead person could have worked for another 20 years (being 40), that they earned the median income of $40,000 we can say we lost $24Billion every year (that's direct income, and not counting the expense we had in paying for their k-12 education, food, housing etc.) ... Now if assume that the injured only lose a year of income, that's another $4Billion in loss of wealth to the country.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

"Taxes, fees, fines, etc. on motorists generate more revenue in WA state than is spent on all roads in WA, including federal, state, and local roads and highways."

Must depend on how you add it up: http://publicola.com/2012/04/19/the-wsjs-nightmare-a-car-free-utopia/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm;_medium=twitter&utm;_campaign=publicolanews has links to things like this:

"the amount of government spending diverted to other purposes to pay for highways has exceeded “user fees” like gas taxes and tolls by more than $600 billion. Put another way, roads are subsidized at a rate of more than 50 percent"
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10780.pdf

GaryP

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 12:45 p.m. Inappropriate

GaryP, Getting back to the subject of the article do you by any chance know what the percentage subsidy is for the Seattle street cars or if we want to get back off topic for Light Rail. How does this compare with the ~50% subsidy to roads.

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

"So if you park at the airport you are directly subsidizing it's existence."

If you park at the airport, presumably, you are using the airport, right? So, people who use the airport are paying for it. How is that a subsidy?

If you park at the airport and are not using the airport, then your parking fee goes to paying for the parking garage. You call that a "subsidy" -- parking fees used to pay for the parking garage where they are collected?

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 3:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's pretend you're right about demonic automobiles. What do you suggest we do..?

jmrolls

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 6:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Really?
Really? says: "FHSC, fully operational will rank high on the Seattle 'Transit Oddities' list, cost more per rider, per boarding, per hour, per passenger/mile, whatever, less effectively than a simple trolleybus from Pill Hill to Coleman Dock via Yesler."
-
This is likely correct, however, both routes are logical and needed. It's not a question of one or the other but not both. The main service route segment is "Between the Hills" on Broadway. A switchback could make more frequent streetcar operation there. To and along Jackson to Coleman Dock (most logical initial terminus) the ride will be a pleasure as sidewalk reconstruction beautifies the route and where trip speed and frequency may be less important for now. A trolleybus shortline as you suggest is a good idea Metro doesn't really want to do.

And master ReallY? continues: If Seattle PowerGangers are serious about providing efficient transit, I offer this challenge: When FHSC launches, also launch a new trolleybus line on Yesler with a turnaround at Coleman Dock, stops at Link and the hill. Run these trolleybuses at the same headway and span as the streetcars. After one year, cancel the service provided on the loser mode.
-
ReallY?, Both lines are probably necessary so please put it in ink with your name on it. The idea has been tossed around a long time. Alaskan Way or Western Ave should get the trolleybus turnaround. I say Alaskan Way.

And I say fire Corner Fields and Co. Many oppose a fancy but weak Seawall treatment. Many already dislike the designwork; apparently a mimic of the vulger Sculpture Garden excuse for a public park - Looove that gravel! Who really needs shade trees? Giant traffic cones, that's what people like! Suuure. I say fire the DOT head leaders of the DBT mistake and for related horrible mistakes to Mercer, Denny & 1st Ave corridors. Geez, your engineers, you otherwise decent Seattlers, are beyond incompetent.

Though the FHSC line will have problems, it has undeniable potential to succeed beyond expectations. Pick an axilliary streetcar barn site on the hilltop. Elect Michael McGinn your Governor.

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Your too funny Wells - PowerGangers?? I like yours better than mine.
I did some number crunching on the FHSC, and applied FTA 'Annualization Factors' to convert capital costs to annual costs. These are added to the operating cost, which allows them to consider projects for cost effectiveness. Facilities are figured at 30 year life and rail vehicles at 25 yr.
FHSC costs were given in 2007 dollars, which must be converted to 2012 dollars, giving a project cost NTE to ST of $172m. Annual operating cost goes from $5.2 to $6.0m.(That's in the SDOT Ordinance 117387) Applying the annualization FTA factors gives and annual capital cost of $13.6m, plus the $6m to operate 20 hours a day, so that's about $20m/yr.
ST estimated ridership would be between 3,000 and 3,500 in the year 2030, or about 1 million riders per year using Link formulas to convert daily to yearly ridership.
In short, in the year 2030, FHSC will be costing the taxpayers $20 for every boarding. Compare that to the #12 trolley route with 1.1 million annual riders, costing those same taxpayers $3.1m/yr. - or about 1/6 as much.
That's why I can make the challenge and rest easily at night.
Don't ask me what the numbers were on the WizKid's idea. They never studied it, but it's a trolley in a transit rich environment, just like the #12 is.

007

Posted Wed, Apr 25, 8:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanx. And I'll hope you'll consider my positions/perspectives fairly.
Here follows some notes on your wording below. I'll disagree with your $20 subsidized 'actual' cost figure because 1, the capital could be paid off sooner (there are ways to do that), 2, it will be paid off eventually, and 3, there are measurable explicit cost savings with functioning transit. If it weren't for capitalist chums who arrive in town aboard a Big Boat, Seattle could have a model trolleybus transit system. Their money is in and on the automobile market and have friends in high DOT offices to make sure transit doesn't live up to even the most reserved predictions and expectations.

"You're too funny Wells. PowerGangers? I like yours better than mine.
I did some number crunching on the FHSC, applied FTA 'Annualization Factors' to convert capital costs to annual costs. These I add to operating cost, which allows project considerations of cost effectiveness. Facilities are figured at 30 year life and rail vehicles at 25 yr. FHSC costs were given in 2007 dollars, then converted to 2012 dollars, giving a project cost to ST of $172M. Annual operating cost $5.2M to $6M.(SDOT Ordinance 117387).

Applying the annualization FTA factors gives an annual capital cost of $13.6M plus $6M to operate 20 hours a day, about $20M/yr. ST estimates ridership between 3000-3500 in year 2030, and 1 million rides per year using Link formula to convert daily and yearly ridership.

In short, for the year 2030, FHSC will cost the taxpayers $20 for every boarding. Compared to the #12 trolleybus route with 1.1 million annual riders, a cost of $3.1M/yr or about 1/6 the cost. That's why I can make the challenge and rest easily at night. Don't ask me what the numbers were on the WizKids idea they never studied it, but it's a trolley in a transit-rich environment just like the #12 trolley.

**Late edit to sum up FHSC advantages: Pedestrian infrastructure for improved safety, increased transit use from overall system redesign, more potential to revitalize storefront businesses, within a district which serves everyone, not mostly well-dressed snootypants whose personal health care expenditures come from an 'actual' slush fund. Thanx again for the civility. The dbt is deadly wrong, criminally deadly wrong.

Wells

Posted Sat, Apr 28, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

That is a very interesting take on the streetcars that I had not considered. Thanks!

tomgruner

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