alignmentsYesterday, councilmembers Rasmussen and Licata asked that Council postpone by three weeks the decision to move forward with the Center City Connector project.

On its face, their reasoning makes little sense. They ask whether it would be better to connect our two existing streetcars with buses – a question long answered with a resounding ‘no’ by both the Transit Master Plan and by subsequent study of the downtown corridor. Licata also asked “why would we spend tens of millions of dollars on streetcars, or other transit modes, to have them stuck behind other traffic?” – and as the connector project will use exclusive lanes, so the answer is simply that we aren’t!

It makes more sense that this is about power. This project is unlikely to be stopped. Mayor Murray supports it, as did McGinn and Nickels. The downtown business establishment wants it, so it has a clear majority once it goes to a vote. The Federal Transit Administration has made it clear they want to fund the project, ranking it at the top of their Small Starts program, and according to one of my sources in city hall, the Obama administration has been pressuring the city to submit our intent to request funding.

With this strong support, requesting a delay gives these two leverage over the rest of Council, Mayor Murray, or the new SDOT director (to be announced tomorrow), to win benefits for their districts.

There’s little we can do here to change this in the short term; I just want to point out yet another example of politicians holding transit hostage to benefit themselves. Until we build enough transit that it’s the default choice for most people, politicians aren’t easily held accountable for this kind of behavior. It’s up to urbanists to remember this when they run for re-election.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. Or it could just be that rail streetcars are slow expensive novelty acts, which would be fine if we were flooded with extra dollars for transit.
    Is it faster? More convenient? More efficient? cheaper?
    How much bus service will be cut to pay for street rail hobbyists obsession?
    How many more fast, clean, quiet trolleybuses could we have for the price of satisfying the street rail fetish?

  2. I agree with Licata’s sentiments regarding putting money into efficiency (streetcars are neither fast nor nearly as efficient as subways), HOWEVER, where is Nic with his plan to speed up construction timelines and increase the number of lines on the Seattle Subway (I refuse to call it “Link” -one of the lamest names ever)? I’m so sick and tired of politicians who are ready to sink something but nary lift a finger to roll out bold, progressive, NECESSARY projects, such as subways/rail transit.

  3. I agree with Licata’s sentiments regarding putting money into efficiency (streetcars are neither fast not nearly as efficient as subways), HOWEVER, where is Nic with his plan to speed up construction timelines and increase the number of lines on the Seattle Subway (I refuse to call it “Link” -one of the lamest names ever)? I’m so sick and tired of politicians who are ready to sink something but nary lift a finger to roll out bold, progressive, NECESSARY projects, such as subways/rail transit.

  4. And thus the inherent corrupt nature of district politics rears its head… All I can say to Seattle is, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet…”

    • Perhaps once we have district representatives we will see north east and north west seattle get some transit love rather than all the council members falling all over each other to do the bidding of their corporate funders downtown. For real? street cars for downtown’s north/south corridor? served by nearly every bus line in the city, a light rail transit tunnel, and easily walkable? Why is this what we are spending 110 million on and not better east/west transit options, especially north of the ship canal? and if the Feds only want to pony up money for street cars, then we should think about extending SLU fremont and ballard along westlake.

        • But unfortunately no northeast to northwest routes, at this time. My larger point is that $110 million to connect the two streetcars is a pretty silly use of transit funds when you consider the existing transit options through the downtown n/s corridor and consider the other transit problems we have in seattle, namely getting more people to and from downtown from the north (east and west) and from the east (side).

          I don’t think anyone can legitimately claim that the central city connector will lure commuters out of their cars. And that is what our transit dollars should be dedicated to: getting more commuters out of their cars by providing legitimate transit options to access downtown.

          “I wish i could ride a street car from pioneer square to westlake center” said nobody ever.

          • You’re thinking very narrowly about the utility, and it’s making you miss the primary use cases. This interlines with the other streetcar routes. Because SLU and FH streetcars each only get to the edge of the downtown core, they’re not very useful for most commuters along their routes. Building this extension allows both of those lines to serve people across the core, instead of those people transferring or not riding at all.

            One of the nicest things about it is that it’ll soak up last-mile riders, like those coming from Sounder and hopping on a bus through downtown. As a result, a lot of oversaturated buses will become a little less packed and a little more reliable.

            This line isn’t about car commuters, not directly. It’s about easing peak loads for a lot of our existing transit, something that will increase the utility of a lot of commuter bus routes that then *can* lure more car commuters.

          • This is the reason I support the project. 5 minute combined headways on the central corridor (King St to Westlake)! That’s mobility.

          • Gregory, I wrote in my last reply to you some concrete reasons that extending the streetcar into downtown would turn two seat rides into one seat rides and reduce demand on other crowded trips; both of those are needs the transit tunnel isn’t solving. That answers your question; can you explain to me why you’re asking it again?

          • Then why pick first avenue, of all avenues? it is the furthest avenue from the highest density office space in downtown, and, topographically, is completely separated from the 3rd and 4th (and 5th) avenue offices for most of its length. No “last mile” commuter is going to take a 1st ave street car if they work on 3rd, 4th, 5th and university/columbia/madison.

            I understand the concept, on paper, of the interlacing, and that its not about 1 seat rides from end to end, and certainly I am not as engrossed in all the transit planning as you Ben, but I see the SLU line every day (i work at 6th and stewart) It is slow, get’s stuck and way too many lights, can be beat on foot most days, and appears to be operating at maybe 30 to 50% capacity. I simply fail to believe the ridership will materialize for a central city connector (as planned) and $110 million more will be sunk into street car infrastructure. There is nothing a street car can do that a bus can’t do, and a bus can do it at far less expense and with far more flexibility. If we want shorter headways, or more reliability lets give buses dedicated right-of-way and build some BRT infrastructure for a fraction of the cost of laying rails in our roads.

          • If you want to know why they picked 1st Ave, read the study in which they compared 4th/5th with 1st. 1st gets more riders – a little fewer at peak, and far more off peak.

            SLU isn’t measured by whether it’s operating “at capacity” – it would be terrible if we were already at capacity! The whole point of good infrastructure is that when it’s only a few years old it’s well under capacity, and it can scale up as demand grows. The SLU streetcar is operating well over expected ridership.

            If you “fail to believe” SDOT’s ridership model is correct, can you point to other scenarios in which similar models have severely overstated ridership? You need evidence for us to stop using a model.

            And it’s pointless to talk about the $110m total – we don’t have most of that money for anything else. The FTA is offering us up to $75m, which means we have to come up with $35m locally. Because we don’t get that other $75m without this project, the only local comparison we can make is what else we would do with $35m. There’s nothing else I’m aware of in the Transit Master Plan that could improve transit by any remotely similar measure for that price.

            Finally, flexibility is not a goal transit should have. In practice, “flexibility” means “I can cancel this bus or move it to another street”, which breaks user trust.

            I’m reading “I don’t like streetcars and I’m going to keep throwing out reasons why and not really pay attention to any of the reasons this might be the right choice.” Right now your questions come from misplaced expectations and refusal to trust the work that’s been done, but you are showing no logical basis for either. If you want your opinion to be informed, start reading my responses and talking about them, rather than just throwing out new criticisms.

          • My criticism of the SLU line is not just that it seems so far under capacity, but that it provides such mediocre service (perhaps resulting in low ridership) eg, if you factor wait times for the street car in, an able bodied person can almost always beat the street car by walking unless they approach a stop just as the street car is arriving (and assuming that it stops, which it doesn’t always if the driver doesn’t see someone waiting). SDOT could probably reprogram the signal timings on westlake to sync with the streetcar, but as they are now, I often see the street car pull out of a stop only to hit a red light, or to get through one intersection and be immediately stopped at the next (stuart, 6th, virginia, are pretty bad).

            Clearly you’re all-in for the CCC, and I am skeptical, and you are far more well versed in all the details than I am. While you have fairly characterized my general opinion on streetcars, I don’t think you’ve fairly characterized the discourse here. I have considered your responses, and I continue to remain skeptical of the CCC.

            Will the feds only pony up money to connect our two lines? or would they pony up the $75m to extend into other neighborhoods, are the SLU > UW and SLU to Fremont/Ballard lines not in the master plan? They are indicated on the seattlestreetcar website documents.

            I’ll also point out that laying tracks doesn’t guaranty service in perpetuity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfront_Streetcar

          • You’re making technical criticisms of the SLU line, which are all valid, but don’t stop the SLU line from getting thousands of riders. We should absolutely improve the SLU line, and one of the political ratchets we can use to help us get there is the CCC, which will be dramatically faster than the rest of the line. The very thing you complain about, the CCC helps with. 🙂

            The feds won’t “only” pony up money to connect our two lines. They’ll pony up money for lots of things, from many different buckets. This project has no impact on any other project that might ask for funding from the same budgets – nothing else is far enough in design to compete.

            Suggesting that ‘laying tracks’ guarantees service in perpetuity is simply setting up a straw man and knocking it down. Services that carry tens of thousands of people a day, as this will, don’t just get cancelled.

    • I don’t think this is so much a district issue, as it is a Licata and Rasmussen issue. Both have been opposed to rail projects for quite a long time. Notice that other councilmembers running in districts haven’t tried to hijack this project for their own parochial needs.

      • I don’t think they have the ability to, as they aren’t on Transportation. But I bet they would.

  5. Councilmen Rasmussen and Licata want “leverage over the rest of Council, Mayor Murray, or the new SDOT director (to be announced tomorrow), to win benefits for their districts?”

    Districts? Both these Councilors are elected citywide in Seattle, as are all other Councilmembers in the present day. Districts are coming later to Seattle.

    Are you anticipating their future Districts? Do explain.

      • Or maybe these men are still representing the citywide constituency that doesn’t like the notion of a streetcar on First Avenue. Maybe they get mail from people who think that way.

          • I did read it. It doesn’t say much substantive about why two councilman did what they did except your theory of district politics. You mention your theory that “exclusive lanes” for a streetcar will keep it from being stuck in traffic, and apparently Licata doesn’t agree. What makes you think I didn’t read it?

          • Yes, I wrote my analysis of a situation, based on my understanding of city politics. It makes me think you didn’t read it because the full council supports the streetcar, just not these two, so the only place they have any ability to stop it is in Transportation.

          • Any Councilmember can attend any committee. Committee members do not have any special powers over non-committee members attending a committee.

          • Lisa, committee members can vote to pass bills out of those committees to full council. Nonmembers cannot.

          • It’s in the Council Rules. (Ben, this is Lisa Herbold)
            VII. STANDING COMMITTEES
            3. Any Councilmember attending a standing
            committee meeting may vote, or abstain from
            voting, on issues before the committee.

          • Sometimes non-committee members come to influence the committee recommendation that goes to Full Council. It doesn’t happen a lot. It happens though.

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