By Charles Bond and Gordon Werner

Potential route for an Alki streetcar.

In the discussions about the new Alaskan Way project and the 1st Ave streetcar, the topic of the old Greg Benson waterfront streetcar often comes up. Since the loss of their home on the waterfront, the cars have been tossed back and forth between the 1st Ave and Alaskan Way plans with each project seeming to assume that the other will take care of them. A new idea, however, is putting the cars somewhere else entirely–like along Alki Beach.

First, a little history

Streetcars used to run along the waterfront from where the Olympic Sculpture Park currently stands to Pioneer Square and the transit center on Jackson St. The streetcar storage barn was demolished to make way for the Sculpture Park and, though promised, a replacement never materialized. In the subsequent years, much of the track for the streetcar line was removed, though many have suggested it be added back to the new Alaskan Way design or for occasional use on the 1st Ave streetcar line. Unfortunately, both alternatives have problems.

The problem with 1st Ave/Alaskan Way

As documented previously on Seattle Transit Blog, in order for the streetcars to be used with the 1st Ave project, the old waterfront streetcars and boarding ramps would have to be modified for ADA-accessible equipment and to accommodate the streetcar floor height, respectively. They would also need to use different track gauge and voltage than they currently do and to allow boarding on both sides of the car. An Alaskan Way-only alignment has the potential to run the cars unmodified, but that would restrict the cars to only Alaskan Way, severely limit the usefulness of the connection, and likely be unable to keep up with transit demand in this corridor.

Why Alki Beach?

If these cars operated on Alki Beach, they could run in a single dedicated lane with passing zones as it originally did on the Seattle waterfront. They could connect the water taxi with the popular parks and shops on the north coast and boost both transit access and tourist appeal to the Alki Beach area. In a dedicated lane, the streetcar could run with relatively high frequency and fewer vehicles than buses generally need. Also, since the 37 bus route is slated to be canceled with the upcoming Metro cuts, this corridor could use some extra service.

Where would funding come from?

This is easily the biggest challenge, but there might be some creative solutions. Since there is a tourism component to this and lot of public support for restoring the waterfront streetcar, there might be some way to scrape up funds for this project using crowd-funding, local tourism boards, or other agencies/cruise lines that might be interested in generating more area attractions.

Challenges

This idea is not problem free, of course. The aforementioned funding sources may be inadequate, the loss of parking required for exclusive lanes would garner resistance, and this small project does not serve the core transit needs for West Seattle (just some small piece of the transit service likely to be lost with the upcoming metro cuts). The line would also have to be designed carefully not to interfere with the existing bicycle facilities along the Alki trail. Nevertheless, it may be more meritorious to put these old streetcars into service somewhere where they would see daily use rather than relegate them to occasional festival service in the heart of downtown.

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Charles is an avid cyclist that uses his bike as his primary mode of transportation. He grew up in the Puget Sound, but previously spent time overseas living in Japan. He covers a range of topics like cycling, transit, and land use. His time in Tokyo really opened his eyes to what urbanism offers people and has a strong desire to see growth happen in Seattle.

7 COMMENTS

  1. What to do with Luna Park? Emulate the SeaBus terminal at the Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver for starters… A hotel, a mall, the street car, the water taxi, and buses!

  2. Unless I’m missing a large component of demand, this sounds like a toy for tourists. Which I’m actually ok with – Seattle doesn’t cater to tourists nearly enough considering the large amount of money they bring in. But being a toy for tourists you’ll need to either set the price fairly high or find enough retail interest to fund this. I’m thinking the small shops that exist now don’t have the pockets to pay for it, and the local residents don’t likely value tourism enough to want to fund this. What you really need is a new large anchor there, something with a high profit potential that would drive a lot of travel to the area.

    Of course I’m proposing you bring back Luna Park.

    • Yeah tourism is a bigger pull here than any real need. That is why I don’t really recommend that the city shell out much (or anything?) for this. Its more of a “what to do with the old streetcars” then “we really need rail on Alki Beach”. The old streetcars would be more useful on their own cheap, single tracked line somewhere out of downtown then they would be on the same tracks as the modern streetcars.

      I don’t think we are likely to see an amusement park go in here, unless you think someone is willing to build one on a new pier out on the sound. The beach here is actually fairly popular, being one of the two “nice” beaches in the city limits.

      The reason why Alki Point is attractive is that there is already a foot ferry (the water taxi) serving as a connection between it and where the current waterfront basically ends. If you can think of a better suggestion though I am open to it.

      • My solution would be to design the downtown waterfront much differently (no highway, just small roads), run the Benson line through it, and connect to the modern 1st Ave line at Pioneer Square (maybe even continue further to the stadiums). But short of that, the Alki solution is a fine one, though I really think something like Luna Park is the only way to make it work. We’d need a fun-loving investor with deep pockets to start it up (maybe even the cruise lines themselves), but I can imagine it being nicely profitable. Yes, it would be built on a pier out where the original was.

          • I don’t know. It’s a start, but Wiki says Luna Park was 12 acres. I don’t know if we need a full 12 acres to attract enough people to justify a trolley, but we’ll probably need more than that little pier.

          • Condemn Salty’s and link the two parcels, then use the adjacent parcels just over the railway tracks. There is tons of waterfront(ish) developable land. Arguably, you could link all the properties to Seacrest Park, and the public benefit of doing so would be worth the effort.

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