NAMED DESIRE? WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE STREETCAR

lol so slow

Let’s start here: I’m a Public Transit Stan. I have  a driver’s license, know how to drive, but I don’t own a car. Instead I walk, take trains, take light rail, take buses. Augmented by the occasional cab (don’t use Uber, guys) I get around just fine.

There’s the odd delays, and frustrations with the general public, but compared to, say, being stuck in traffic for hours or having to find parking in this town, I almost never “wish I had a car.” Living at the edge of Pioneer Square and the ID definitely compounds this. So yes. Public Transit is paramount for me, and this town needs more of it. Other towns need more of it. It’s a net good that makes a place more livable.

So me= PRO PUBLIC TRANSIT.

This is important to keep in mind when reading the following: WELL WE SURE GOT OURSELVES INTO A PICKLE WITH THIS GD STREETCAR DIDN’T WE?

Like, seriously— WTF, Seattle? I love you, but you’re bringing me down here.

The streetcar is a good idea

So, to date we have one line (First Hill Street Car) that winds from Pioneer Square, through the ID, cuts through a corner of the CD, up Yesler, First Hill by the Hospitals, to Pike/Pine. Cool. We have another line that goes from Westlake Mall to South Lake Union and terminates by the Fred Hutch Cancer center. Currently the work is/was  being done to connect the two, essentially creating a line from Fred Hutch through downtown all the way up to Capitol Hill. This will connect multiple communities and business districts that would require multiple bus-transfers to make by transit, and are generally hellish to drive. That connector line, in many ways, is a good idea.

Except that the Streetcar, in and of itself, is an incredibly flawed idea. I’m not the first to say it, and won’t be the last, but the point of rail, be it light, heavy, or streetcar-y, is that it doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

My commute to work #1 is far more predictable because I can take the Link, where as work #2 is sort of a crapshoot because I take the 7, which frequently gets bogged down in long lines of cars. So when you have a street-grade traincar that gets stuck behind a string of Subarus, well, it might as well be a bus.

The streetcar is a bad idea

And sure– the First Hill Streetcar is cleaner, and more spacious, making for a pleasanter ride than any of the buses in the area. . . because no one uses it. In it’s few years running, it’s gone from “exciting new infrastructure project” to frequent punchline. Add to this the unexpected cost overruns in connecting the two existing lines, and you don’t have to be a boorish transit doubter to suggest scrapping the project entirely and leaving the two separate lines to tourists and the handful of folks who find them useful.

But at the same time, scrapping the whole thing also seems like a net loss– it could potentially cost the city even more money, and while a line that runs through all of downtown will never be ideal as long as it gets stuck behind cars, it would be far more useful than the two separate lines.

The streetcar is a good idea

Follow me here: The farther the streetcar goes, the more useful it becomes. If I need to get downtown from my apartment, I’ll frequently just walk. The bus I would have taken passes me, then I pass it as it’s stuck behind a Toyota Camry trying to turn up a hill. I may lose a minute or two, but the walk is easy enough.

However, if I need to get to say, the far edge of Belltown, I’ll hop the bus. It’s still a walkable distance, but it’s just far enough that the bus is likely to make up traffic-related delays in bursts of speed. Not to mention the energy I save by not power-sprinting to band practice/a date/whatever people do at the far edge of Belltown.

The same principle applies to the streetcar; it can make up lost time the farther it goes, especially if it reaches places not serviced by bus. It could potentially make the lives of many mobility-impaired riders much easier. It’d still be a flawed, irritating system, but I can see the value in a transit line that takes people from, say, their jobs in SLU to the Mariners Game, Ferry, or drinks on The Hill. So in that way, I say yes! Connect the lines!

The streetcar is a bad idea

Still, it’s hard to see any end to this story that’s not simply making the best of a bad situation: the money on these projects should have gone to Link.

Or bus improvements. Or more frequent Sounder Trips. Or whatever. But they didn’t, and here we are, facing an embarrassing admission of defeat on one hand, or an expensive venture for small returns on the other.

In fact, the Pioneer Square/Broadway line is a half-ass replacement for the Link station that First Hill should have had. And First Hill is still asking for its light rail, btw.

Whatever

As a Transit Stan, I’d love to throw my whole weight behind continuing the project but the greatest enthusiasm I can muster goes something like “. . . I guess? Might as well? Prooooobably better than not?”

So we’ll see what happens.


Also published on Medium.