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Bemoaning Seattle's fixation on all things trendy,Eric Scigliano, in a recent Crosscut piece, rightly asked, “Is public transit all about getting there quickly and conveniently, or about having fun and looking cool?”
The Benson streetcar promises both utility and pleasure, combining its own kind of cool with connectivity. An antique vehicle taking the city's visitors to and from a splendid waterfront could also bind together places very important to the city's everyday life. A blue-ribbon committee cited (but not further identified) in Danny Westneat's recent Seattle Times column on the Benson streetcar proposed restoring the service from the sculpture park to the Starbucks corporate headquarters just south of Safeco and the site proposed for basketball arena, rather than to the International District.
On its way to Starbucks, the streetcar could call at the cruise ship terminal, the ferry terminal, and two or three huge sports venues. With a connection with the First Hill streetcar on Jackson, the alignment would improve connectivity with Sound Transit and the hospital district. The connection to King Street Station, and to any intermodal facility that might be built there, is not without trade-offs, but its potential benefits are huge. On a map of Seattle, the route is literally a matter of connecting the dots. The vehicles? Mahogany and ash woodwork adorning a classic, angular profile that will bring the nostalgia buffs running. And the cars, Arkills says, are in excellent condition. What's not to like about the idea?
“I can't support anything at this point,” Walker of the CWC said. “There are a lot of options. Transit is not the only thing going on there." She observed further that "none of this [transit solution for the waterfront] is going to go until 2018. This is six or seven years out. There's time to think about this thing, and work it through.”
Kevin Daniels, whose North Lot Development LLC is building a major retail-residential complex between King Street Station and Occidental Avenue, is among those favoring the north-south transit line. “Right now I am advocating a line that goes from King Street Station or 1st & Jackson down First Ave to Lander and then over to the E3 bus lane with stops at the stadia and at Starbucks Center," Daniels said in an email. "Extending that particular line to Colman Dock would make sense to me for the inter-connectivity. Carrying it further along to the cruise ship terminal would be a positive for Pioneer Square for sure, but I have been told the ridership isn't strong enough to justify the investment and the property owners along the path don't have the resources for the required LID [local investment district tax].”
Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Joy Goldenberg reported that “through our on-going coordination with the Waterfront project, we are aware that the City is interested in pursuing a streetcar connection to Colman dock. We anticipate that transit-focused coordination will pick-up in the fall.”
The compartmentalization of thinking in modern governments makes the creation of effective transportation linkages an easy task to avoid. Still, Seattle is thinking big and comprehensively about its central waterfront. In this context, the Benson streetcar's connectivity and tourist appeal could become a component at relatively little cost. The cars and some of the station platforms and track are still there.
George Benson's vision is still there, too. “My primary interest is in seeing the legacy that George Benson left us reactivated,” Gibbs said. “George Benson worked hard to put that together and it was extremely popular to both residents and tourists. And it's an absolute shame that it isn't still running.”
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