Seattle Needs to Ban Cars From Its Streetcar Tracks

Comments

1

Cue the same whining and pearl-clutching we heard when they shut off 3rd Ave to cars. Somehow life in the city went on after that, despite all the gas wasted on pouting.

2

I have an anecdote I like to tell when I hear complaints about streetcar tracks vs. cars, mostly about how some car drivers are assholes or just complete idiots. I was at Broadway and Pine, and an Uber or Lyft was half-parked in the parking lane in front of the Broadway Building, half-parked across the streetcar tracks. The driver was still in his car, too. The streetcar comes up behind him and honks a couple times. Nothing happens. Streetcar driver lays on the horn. Nothing happens. Streetcar, its horn blaring, is now blocking westbound traffic on Pine. I go to the Uber driver, tell him he needs to move his car because the streetcar literally cannot get past him. He smiles and thanks me. And.... that's it. He didn't move his car. Don't know if he knew English. I ran to catch a bus and don't know what happened after that. Some say you can still hear the streetcar horn blaring if you stand in that intersection..... (Because another asshole is blocking the tracks.)

3

You know what could just go around those cars? A freakin' bus! Streetcars are just not practical in this day and age. Get rid of the worthless streetcars and replace them with buses.

4

Lester Black here has it exactly right.

In these comment threads, I have been ambivalent, at best, about the streetcar, and I have called out how our two existing streetcar lines were created for the wrong reasons, where the right reason is to provide a competitive transportation option for potential riders.

But ambivalence does not make for good policy going forward; it just breeds more ambivalence. And ambivalence seems to be Jenny Durkan's only policy idea at this point, at least when it comes to the Center City Connector that would connect the two existing lines.

So Mayor Durkan, either go all-in on the streetcar system, just as Lester Black describes: "The combination of these three connected streetcar routes running on dedicated lanes would be massive. It would turn the streetcars into an effective part of our transit system instead of just another thing to be ignored." Or scrap the existing lines and reallocate resources appropriately.

Right now where Durkan seems to be is the worst of all worlds, which is the status quo. Politically, that might sound like a compromise, but practically, it's more like the compromise King Solomon offered with the baby.

5

@3

Sounds good to me. And we should create bus lanes where cars are entirely banned.

6

@5, burn.

Something tells me that's the last we're hearing from iamveryseriousnow on this thread.

7

The streetcars suck. The SLU streetcar line is still massively underused after more than 10 years in service and after private vehicles were restricted in the streetcar lane on Westlake. (Only right turns allowed at a minimum number of cross streets.) And this in perhaps the fastest growing urban center in all of the United States. The lane cannot be used for bikes as the tracks lead to injuries and lawsuits.

Get rid of the streetcars entirely. They are a terribly inefficient use of transportation resources.

8

I said this at the sound transit meeting and now I say it here:they should have bulit them up in the damn air like the light rail in some parts or the fricking 60s piece of shit tourist trap monorail right downtown! Even Chicago's "L" TRAIN system got it right by elevating it and letting traffic flow under it! I knew this would happen eventually!

9

I don't think this author goes far enough. We need to ban cars from ALL streets.
Paved streets were made for bicycles, you know. (It's history, look it up.)
Get those dull, inarticulate, metallic bullies off our roads and return them to their rightful owners: Bicycles. With allowances for buses.
"Trolly Streetcars" suck because their rails are mortally dangerous to bicycles. Off With Their Heads!

Two wheels GOOD, Four wheels BAD!

10

@9 - Then I trust you’ll never be transported in a horseless carriage ever again.

11

Just here to say I love the Broadway streetcar. I can get between the UWMC and Harborview using a combo of light rail and streetcar (and a little walking) in 15-20 min if timed just right. The free health sciences shuttle can take ages going south in the afternoon, and since I'm already paying for a UPASS, light rail+streetcar hits the spot. I love me a good multi-modal commute when it's faster than sitting in rush hour.

12

Seattle also needs to ban large, oversized trucks from its city streets, too, chiefly 1st Avenue. What happened in Pioneer Square back in 2001 is an excellent example.

@8 superhyrulean: I have often wondered why the monorail was never extended to go throughout downtown and connect to other public transit. I think the city's monorail designers were thinking of Chicago's elevated "L Train" for exactly your stated reason. It's too bad that Seattle voters were offered a shitload of federal money for city and interstate highway improvements for the 1962 World's Fair but turned it down.

13

@seatackled: "we should create bus lanes where cars are entirely banned"

Given that we already do that, one wonders why the fuck we've wasted over a billion in construction and operating costs on trolleys.

For that money, we could have provided every homeless person in Seattle a one way bus ticket and $100,000 in cash.

14

Hoi! So, I lived in Seattle for a decade that included the first 5 years of the operation of the SLUT. Now I live in the Netherlands where trams are the main form of mass transit in the major cities, and have some perspective on the matter. (side note: Mass transit outside said cities - Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht (and their closest suburbs) sucks and 90% of Dutch households own a car, so let me dispel any fantasies directly.)

At least half the streetcar track-miles here, in any city, are not sharing space with cars. More than half, probably. They're running in medians (in the older parts of cities, these are usually filled-in canals) or in greenways alongside 2-lane roads. Car crossings are kept to a minimum, maybe once in 5 blocks or so.

That's all well and good, and helps a lot. But as far as I can tell the real key to keeping things running is that:

the trams get priority at all signals. If a tram is waiting at a traffic light, its goes next. (NB. this is super-annoying as a cyclist commuting during rush hour. I have to cross a fairly busy 3-way tram/car intersection and waiting the bike signal when trams are running a minute or two apart can get ridiculous.)
the local drivers are familiar with sharing the road, and know that trams will fuck you up. (cyclists know this too. trams will fuck you up. it's better to wait for the green light.)
the foreign tourists who do show up in cars (Germans, mostly) are also familiar with trams. Thank god the North Americans we get here don't rent cars because they mostly stick to the Amsterdam canal belt where driving is obviously insane.

I want Seattle to get better transit. It deserves better transit. If it had better transit, I might still be living there. (probably not, but maybe.) But unless the entire streetcar route is closed to cars, there are going continue to be problems because Seattlites aren't used to trams, and other Americans really aren't used to trams. Or, as drivers, being anything less than fuck-you god of the road. So basically, I agree with the article.

I also think connecting the streetcar lines is stupid-obvious and should have been done already, but it's less important than actually extending them to places where people live (and don't already have light rail service.) In a city committed to planning for growth, the tram would already be running up Westlake or Denny (not Eastlake ferchrissakes), over the Fremont bridge (shrunk to 2 car lanes), splitting into 2 lines to serve Fremont, Ballard, and points North. Also the George Benson line (give me the night!) would have been double-tracked, fitted with modern equipment, and run from West Seattle to Magnolia, instead of being shitcanned.

Unfortunately, despite being rich, Seattle still exists in an American system that prioritizes the whims of entrenched interests over any common interest every day of the week and twice on Sundays. (And to be clear by entrenched interests, yes I do mean landlords, but also the concrete mafia that make it politically impossible to build or maintain infrastructure at a reasonable cost per mile. This is not a red/blue, D/R problem, it's endemic corruption.)

Anyhow, enough sade. Good luck with the streetcar. (And p.s., cyclists who can't deal with tram tracks, slow the fuck down and learn to ride. Me and hundreds of thousands of my neighbors don't seem to have a problem with it every goddamn winter's day in the dark wind and rain. Grow up and watch where you're going. Don't cross the tracks at a shallow angle and you'll be fine.)

15

Or we could not build expensive streetcars and just use fucking buses, which have a lot more flexibility in where they can go.

“Cars own the street!” That’s some high-level Stranger hyperbole (along with the usual dash of OUTRAGE!!!).

16

Transportation Technology from 1890 in a city dated 2018. What could go wrong? Bring back the horse drawn cart, that will move people too.

17

It may be too late in some cases but before the city continues this “road diet” path, narrowing wide streets to a one lane only in each direction like parts of Rainier Ave as well as 23rd and MLK, that extra lane should be retained and reserved exclusively for public transportation.

Narrowing streets in order to encourage the use of public transportation hurt everyone.

18

Those streetcars were clearly built for political, and not practical transportation, purposes. Take a shit or get off the pot: either fund and build the central connector or sell the streetcars to other cities that have use for them, pave the tracks over, and fund better in-city bus and Link light rail service with the money saved.

Link is actually a useful rail transit service. The streetcars as currently constituted are a sad joke.

19

How about just enforcing the current laws. I see countless delivery trucks and Uber and Lyft drivers throwing on their flashers and parking in traffic lanes or no stop zones and never any enforcement. I doubt the streetcar on Broadway would get much more ridership it really doesn't travel between popular destinations. One can get from China Town to the Hill via Light Rail faster than the streetcar will ever be.

20

The cost of buses for transit is several factors less than for streetcars. Insanity.

21

The entire point of the First Hill Streetcar was to meet Sound Transit’s obligation to serve (all together now) First Hill. Originally this was planned as a Link Station at Summit & Madison, but engineering difficulties with the route and soil made it prohibitively expensive. Thus, the streetcar, to get Link riders to and from (all together, now!) First Hill. It was never intended for a rider to go from one end to the other on the streetcar line.

This might have worked, had the streetcar connected the Capitol Hill Station to the Pioneer Square Station by running south on B’way and making a right turn on Yesler, to connect with Link at Pioneer Square Station. Instead, mission creep and bloat ruined the design, sending it left on Yesler to wander pointlessnessly away from (once again, with feeling) First Hill. This denies northbound riders on Link a rapid way up to (sing it!) First Hill.

The only thing we could do to make it less useful would be to send it across downtown to Westlake, putting it very far from its intended purpose of serving — where, again?

22

I drive from pac Med area Beacon Hill to Broadway, to Denny and down the hill to work. Sitting behind 1 and at times 2, 95% empty buses going between 3 and 6 MPH the entire way, Then only to sit behind them with a line of cars behind me, through 2 cycles of lights in 2 different stops.. Yeah, More buses...

23

@10 - Horsed-carriages ONLY! Well, except for Buses and Grade-separated Light-Rail. And ok, I'm willing to go halfsies on taxis. But Über is right out because they are abusing their own "gig-economy" workers, like the entitled shithead capitalist owner-class that they are. Lyft? My jury is out.

But all those "ride share" 'companies' have only flooded the market with supply, pushed costs on to the drivers, and dropped the living wages of those taxiing others for a living. Yeah yeah "apps" & "instant" & good point whatever,, but ultimately they have crappy politics.

So yeah, no more horseless carriages.

@13 - "we could have provided every homeless person in Seattle a ONE WAY BUS TICKET and..." (emphasis mine)

Ok, so fuck you. Yeah, let's treat people like we treat garbage and send it "out of sight, out of mind". No. Instead let's make sure everyone has Food, & Shelter, and basic standards of human dignity HERE. NOW. Not shunt our "problems" to some other locale. (Do you also expect anywhere else to ship their homeless via 'one way bus ticket' to Seattle?)
If Mexico can offer FREE TUITION to all university students... then the self-titled "Richest Nation In the World" can EASILY house, clothe, feed, and offer counselor support to ALL our sistren and brethren without a domicile. Here. Now.

24

How about the fact that these systems have become so uptight and impersonal that the streetcar driver has no mechanical or legal way to just open that one door closest to the platform to let the riders on while waiting for the traffic light/cars. Not every trip includes a disabled or wheelchair-bound passenger who would have trouble with the big step.

Or, we could've built the platform a little further back.

Instead the author suggests that we make Seattle more undrivable as a solution. Even he admits that the streetcar takes a minimally useful route and is often empty.

BTW: I'm a daily mass transit user, I don't own a car, and I'm a CH resident.

25

Have none of you ever been to Boston? Trolleys there do not have cars in their lanes, because trolleys are only in places where cars cannot actually go. For everything else, there are underground subway trains, and it's not like Seattle couldn't build them for the absurd amount of money they're spending on above ground public transit.

26

It would be nice to see the streetcar network expand on 2nd ave between Jackson and Denny. They should put it on the east side between the parking and the sidewalk.

27

The problem isn't the auto vs. the streetcars. The problem is shoehorning light rail onto an already congested vehicle route with little concern about how it ties into the transit plan as a whole. The streetcars are a poor solution for the traffic in those areas.

28

I'd get rid of the marginally useful bike lane...which incidentally serves only a few bikes and use the space to have a dedicated street car line which has curb access.

29

Having traveled to other cities in other countries that have excellent public transit and busy spacious pedestrian-oriented public spaces I have to ask the Seattle boosters: Is Seattle "world class" yet? Nah, we're a provincial little berg full of car people who don't want to get their privileged little feet wet by stepping outside between home garage and office garage. lol.

30

Streetcars are a grotesque waste of transit resources and do nothing that busses can't do better, except maim bicyclists with their unnecessary tracks and make Stranger editors feel smug. I can walk from Pioneer Square to Cap Hill faster than the streetcar can take me there by its convoluted route. Get the streetcars out of the way of busses!

31

Sure, sounds good, but why not kick the cars out of every bus route? If that is simply too difficult, why prioritize the streetcars? I don't see why you would.

Something to consider: Unlike Toronto or Amsterdam, our streetcars are tiny; they are no bigger than our buses. Thus they lack any advantage over our buses (in contrast, our light rail trains can carry shitloads of people on each trip).

This means you have every disadvantage of a streetcar, with none of the advantages. There are many problems with streetcars, such as cost, inflexibility of routing, and danger to cyclists. All of these go together. You can move a streetcar line, but that is very expensive. You can make the streetcar line very safe (like in Europe) but that is very expensive. But one of the big problems with streetcars is that they can't avoid even small, temporary obstacles. @2 had a great anecdote. Even if you have a transit lane, it is common to have temporary violators. The city has bus lanes all over town, and people routinely block it. A bus driver will not only lay on the horn, but drive around it. A streetcar simply can't do that.

Finally, consider the streetcar route itself. It sucks. To quote Jarrett Walker, "All other things being equal, long, straight routes perform better than short, squiggly and looping ones". The curves make things worse for riders and the overall system. It means money is spent making people wait (and that money could go into running the buses more often). Connecting the streetcars won't help. From Yesler Terrace you could get off the streetcar, walk down the street to First and Yesler, smoke a joint, and then get right back on the same streetcar. That is nuts, but it is the result of terrible routing. The obvious improvement would be to just send the streetcar down Yesler. But of course, that would be expensive. Oh, and impossible, because streetcars can't go up hills.