Seattle’s vintage streetcar line deserves to live

Random header image... Refresh for more!

Beginning of the End for the George Benson Streetcar

As ’twas to be expected, the George Benson Streetcar tracks are being raised, a short section here, and then maybe a short section there, but in reality, of course, those rails are toast, having been fitted into exactly none of the plans for what comes next.

Arguably the best place for a trolley, the historical streetcar may not be the best trolley for the place. Being historical, the cars are old-fashioned, and if any great volume of traffic is to be carried, modern street-level boarding may be preferred. There are other places to put a historical streetcar in Seattle.

Some of us are streetcar people, some of us are historical people- how many of us are either remains to be seen. Working with Nickels and Paul Allen, Seattle DOT did a very credible job of working up a route and overseeing the installation of the South Lake Union line. Hopefully a little institutional memory will remain of the Nickels years when the DOT was instructed to sketch some trolley lines- and did so.

Quite possible we’ll have to wait until the end of the McGinnteregnum to see any more progress with streetcars. Simply getting a new streetcar line shown in the plans and drawings for the new waterfront would be important, because the old one will be lifted for construction, to be sure. Like the phoenix, the streetcar must rise renewed from its own destruction.

October 31, 2010   4 Comments

A Ferris Wheel On The Waterfront?

A Ferris Wheel on the waterfront? C’est une bon idea!

The original Ferris Wheel, built in St. Louis for an exhibition fair, lifted long enclosed ‘gondolas’, each seating about 30 people, high in the air for a view of the countryside and fair. Happily, the current proposal retains the enclosed ‘gondola’ concept, making the wheel practical for year-round use and, incidentally, broadening considerably the number of people who might consider riding.

This would be a wonderful addition to Seattle’s list of places with great views, and furnish a view of the Port activities that’s hard to get from any other location. I hope they do it.

October 23, 2010   No Comments

Dreams Are Important

Dreams are important to understanding where you might want to go, and nightmares are important for understanding were you don’t want to go. Believe it, others are dreaming too, and, on the waterfront, watching for chances to make their dreams reality.

Dan Bertolet and his ilk focus on the park, as a vulnerable target they can attack, and indeed, that poor little ten-acre park resembles nothing so much as a deer staked out, for road builders and property owners to quarrel over and devour.

The waterfront, from Pier 91 to Washington Street, is much larger than the proposed park, and contains many properties that have, over time, become functionally obsolete. Other properties, by the viaduct, were frozen in time by the building of the viaduct, and may be valuable in restoring the torn fabric of walkable urbanity. Without careful inventory, dreaming, and planning, much may be lost, replaced with ad hoc development.

Try to develop a holistic view of the waterfront with a proper streetcar and then, when you have the chance, visit and inspect what is there today.

This will give a juster appreciation of what could be done, what should be done, and just how quickly it will be done.

The world will always be full of surprises, but they don’t all need to be bad ones.

October 5, 2010   No Comments

The ‘Elevator Pitch’ For A Waterfront Streetcar

Say you got the chance to give a short pitch, in an elevator perhaps, to a public person, about the Waterfront Streetcar. You might say something like this-

“The Waterfront is long and narrow, like the Waterfront. The line would cross other major travel routes with large numbers of foot passengers, and pass parks, the Aquarium, numerous private businesses, housing, and employers. The long narrow waterfront simply doesn’t have enough room to accommodate cars, while streetcars are easily expanded into trains to handle crowds at public events. It’s the best transportation option we have for people to reach, or leave, the waterfront.”

Or you might say something different. Whatever it would be, boil it down, and keep it handy in your mind, so you can express an opinion succinctly and confidently.

Your listeners will thank you.

September 29, 2010   No Comments

Look! Over there! Shiny!

Behind the glitter of a new park on the central waterfront is a nasty reality- the park is intended to contain green intentions as much as it is to showcase them. The people who want to make the waterfront great have been awarded their 9 acres, to do with as they will.

The rest of the area belongs to the Seattle Department of Transportation, or the Washington State Department of Transportation, or the railroad, or private owners of the current parking lots. Most of these people have their own plans involving more cars on the waterfront, most of it traffic that has no reason to be on the waterfront at all.

The best, and really, the only, way to change the waterfront is to use a streetcar as a spine and hang everything on that. There should be no through-traffic and no parking. Tour buses should debark passengers directly to the trolley with passes provided by the tour bus company.

There is no better place in Seattle for a transformative streetcar than here. The shoreline from the cruise ship terminal to Washington Street is essentially linear, just like a trolley line. There are 2.5 miles of real estate a short walk from such a line, totally awaiting redevelopment as residential, professional and light commercial, or restaurant, a lovely destination for an evening in the town, garnished by a string of parks in which to linger and enjoy the evening while coming or going.

Land is too scarce for parking, and here is where the Jane Jacobeans should focus their ire- on taking the city streets there, and using them for low-rise residential and commercial instead of street. This would be one of the toniest neighborhoods in Seattle, and new residents should reasonably pay a “tax” of not being allowed to park automobiles there.

It’s not impossible. The feds would love it, and it’s just the right size for the packets of money they want to hand out. All the state wants is the tunnel. The city could spend a lot less on surface streets there, and by “a lot less” I mean maybe $50 million that would not be needed to build a new ‘urban arterial’ there. A considerable amount of surface land would then actually be available for the person-sized development the Jacobseans gush over. It could be done, and would be a success.

Sadly, almost nobody in Seattle is seizing this teachable moment to push for a streetcar and a rebuild that reduces substantially the number of automobiles in the neighborhood. The so-called ‘environmentalists’, who want to save the world by stopping the tunnel, are even less help- a new highway on the surface is part of the ‘surface options’ they champion. Seattleites in general like streetcars, like the Waterfront streetcar, and would like to see more streetcars, but that’s in general, not strong opinions arrived at by study which they are willing to fight for.

It’s a darn shame there aren’t more transit advocates in Seattle who could help the average people in understanding how to demand more streetcars.

September 24, 2010   No Comments

Old or New?

Within every trolley fan lies the darkest question- would you give up the old trolley for the new streetcar? With the high-level boarding and limited technologies of the old cars, this is not an idle question for the Seattle waterfront.

The waterfront, as intimated in previous posts, could be an ideal streetcar line- for modern cars. A bustling service should be anticipated a few years after a line is up and running from the cruise ship terminal to Pioneer Square. What will be wanted is the ability to handle large crowds at times, smart and regular service at all times, and whatever ability to economize that can be found in some standardization with other streetcars in Seattle’s ‘system’.

To be honest, I have my thumb on the scales, because I can think of a better place for Seattle’s vintage cars- running up Westlake from The Center for Wood Boats to the south end of the Fremont Bridge, and perhaps from there out to the SPU fieldhouse. All of this line is level, was quite recently working rail, and is now used as parking or a path. It s quite possibly the most shovel-ready piece of rail right-of-way in the US.

And there’s that heritage thing, with the line running from MOHAI and the Center for Wood Boats to just short of the Fremont district, where one may, with a short walk, find the old carbarns now serving to brew and dispense fine ale. This, I submit, is where we want to showcase our centerpiece cars, and knit the raveled skeins of time with restoration skills and memories. Did I mention the beer?

Who knows, maybe at such a juncture somebody would build a new replica of one of the seaplanes Bill Boeing built and flew off of Lake Union, possibly duplicating he Museum’s prized mail plane, just as the CWB has been responsible for so many new boats built in the old style. It’s part of how we remember who we are and what we can do.

Think ahead a little and I’m sure you’ll see the virtues of modern streetcars serving happy crowds on the Seattle waterfront, and old streetcars serving smaller but even happier crowds on Lake Union. It’s all a question of scale.

September 19, 2010   No Comments

Wednesday (Sept 15) Waterfront Meeting

I’m reminded in an e-mail from Sanjay that this Wednesday, September 15, there will be a meeting from 7 PM to 10 PM to discuss plans for the post-viaduct waterfront.

This will be a long-term project, and this meeting might be a good chance to meet people who will be working for years on this. There will be people there who know what they want to say, so you need not be prepared with a comment, but it’s also a good chance to practice making comments in public meetings.

Something tells me we’ll be doing a lot of that in the years to come.

September 13, 2010   No Comments

The Next Waterfront

A briefingon the coming choice between four finalists to design the new public spaces on the waterfront-to-come, courtesy of Crosscut.

September 1, 2010   No Comments

The Real End of the Waterfront Streetcar?

In some respects the central waterfront of Seattle seems like an excellent place for a streetcar. Our ability to build one there, though, may be lost if the Deep-bore Tunnel is defeated by the Surface+Transit plan.

From the cruise ship terminal at the north end, past Amgen (which currently buses employees downtown), and then past Myrtle Edwards and the SAM Sculpture Park, condominium housing and hotels, the Aquarium, shops and the ferry terminal- and none of these places with anything like adequate parking- this route is a natural for a streetcar. It’s even level.

But the Surface+Transit option for Highway 99 at the waterfront puts a six-lane highway through- six lanes of frenzied traffic the streetcar can’t cross.

Do the math yourself, but start by remembering what always happens to the drawings you saw when the project was proposed, compared with what you actually end up driving on. Next, remember that when they tell you “four lanes” it will end up being six.

A streetcar can’t go under a waterfront highway, and any signaling that is allowed there will be, first and foremost, for other purposes.

Building a highway on the waterfront may close the option of building a streetcar for another 40 years. It’s not what Seattle should do with the waterfront.

August 27, 2010   No Comments

If You Can’t Go There, Come Here

This would be a wonderful time to take the ferry into Colman Dock and board the Streetcar for a visit to Pioneer Square or a venture out to the north end of the line. Unfortunately, the ‘leadership’ of Seattle has failed to support this activity, so you can’t do it.

Consequently, West Sounders have been forced to make their own fun, and as a result, you can board the ferry at Colman Dock and travel to Bremerton and Winslow, on Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island (to accommodate the various preferences for naming the islanders have adopted).

In Bremerton you’ll find a waterfront esplanade, with an historic ship at the east end, and at the west end, sculpture park upon sculpture park. In between it’s all scrumptious goodness with coffee shops, ice cream, and a restaurant. Bainbridge has a beautiful park by the water, coffee and food, and some smart walkable housing within a short walk of the ferry. Like kids, suburbs can grow up to become smart young cities.

No, you’ll find no streetcars here, but it is car-free entertainment and it’s summer. What more excuse do you need?

July 20, 2010   No Comments