On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted 6-1 in favor of a $9 million appropriation to continue work on the Center City Connector streetcar, with Councilmember Lisa Herbold casting the sole no vote. Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Kshama Sawant were absent. González was in Copenhagen taking urbanism classes, and Sawant walked away from the dais before the vote.
The appropriation, facilitated by an interagency loan, means that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will continue engineering work making design tweaks needed to finalize the revised plan and break ground on the project, as we reported last week. The biggest change is bridge strengthening on Jackson Street to accommodate the new heavier CAF Urbos streetcars that will carry up to 166 people each and thus weigh about 40% more than the older model the City uses.
Previously slated to open in mid-2020, the project has been in limbo since Mayor Jenny Durkan hit the brakes in March 2018 as construction was ramping up, citing concerns about the budget. After nine months of review, she officially backed the project in January.
The Center City Connector will unite the First Hill Streetcar and South Lake Union Streetcar Lines to create one consolidated five-mile corridor. The new timeline has the Center City Streetcar opening in 2026, but SDOT will iron out the details in the final proposal it submits to the City Council sometime in the next year or two. Presently, SDOT’s portion of the budget sits at $208 million, with the $9 million approved Monday a portion of that, and utility work (attributed to Seattle Public Utilities or Seattle City Light) adding another $77 million.
“Today’s vote is another indication of growing confidence in this project and recognition of the need for clean and efficient transit in the heart of our city,” said Emily Mannetti, spokesperson for the Seattle Streetcar Coalition. “Record levels of people are living and working in downtown and we can’t afford further delay. We applaud the Mayor and City Council for moving the streetcar forward.”
Ahead of the vote, Councilmember Herbold delivered a lengthy soliloquy assailing the streetcar as a wellspring of all manner of evil. Many of the hits should be familiar by now, and most have been discredited in this publication.
Streetcars are transit workhorses not trinkets.
Herbold Claim: Streetcars are not real transit; they’re economic development tools.
Reality: The Center City Streetcar is a highly effective transit investment projected to boost streetcar ridership 230% so that the consolidated system would carry about 20,000 daily riders, which is more than any bus line in Seattle. In short, it’s real transit. And dedicated transit lanes on First Avenue means it will be fast and reliable. While Herbold painted it as a well established fact that streetcars are economic development tools not transit, in many cities streetcars are transit workhorses, as we’ve reported. We cited the example of Budapest which has more than a million rides per day on its streetcar network. Plenty more examples are out there, including Toronto with about half a million daily boardings.