Tom Gibbs on the latest Streetcar news
Recently the City announced the preferred alignment for the Center City Connector – the streetcar line that will provide a connection between the South Lake Union and First Hill lines. It will run on 1st Avenue from S. Jackson Street to either Pike or Pine where it will turn east to connect to the SLU terminus on Westlake. The 1st Avenue alignment for the CCC is strongly supported by the Seattle Streetcar Alliance. The Alliance includes representatives from Pioneer Square, Vulcan, the Port, SAM, the Pike Street Market and freight haulers.
Senior City staffers told me that they are evaluating the use of the Benson Trolleys on the CCC. They indicate that there is space for a maintenance facility for the vintage cars adjacent to the SLU base. The cars would have to be retrofitted for use on the CCC to include a second door, modified motors and lifts for the handicapped. According to LTK (a firm specializing in streetcar systems) in a report prepared for the City in April, the cost of such modifications would be about $3M per car. This is $1.5 million less than the cost of the modern cars purchased for the First Hill line. I have learned that the CCC is favored by the Federal Transit Administration which makes a Federal grant likely.
What does this mean for our efforts to re-activate the Waterfront Streetcar line? Some will say that restoring the Benson cars to operate on 1st Avenue is a win and we should accept that result. Others, myself included, believe that connecting the waterfront with Pioneer Square, the Market and MOHAI is a very attractive option and creates a very useful transportation network. If retrofitting the vintage cars and building a storage facility is part of the cost of the CCC the remaining cost attributed to the waterfront park would only be that for the rails and overhead contact system – about $17M.
Recently I attended a meeting of the Port Commissioners where the transit options for the waterfront were presented by the City’s Waterfront Project Manager. All 5 Commissioners expressed concern about any transit option that could impede freight movement along the new Alaskan Way. Their concern is based on the fact that when the viaduct is demolished this new street and I-5 will be the only routes available to move freight north and south through the city. Unfortunately, streetcars of any vintage have become a negative catchword for those concerned about freight movement. This despite the fact that far fewer streetcars would be operating on the waterfront during the summer months than would the small battery powered buses seemingly favored by the Waterfront Advisory Committee.
What does all this mean to us? There is much education necessary to familiarize our elected officials with the facts associated with waterfront transit options. I’ll be working with a noted PR firm to develop material that we can use with the media and with the City Council. Also, we need to pay close attention to the EIS for the waterfront transit options being undertaken by the City.
I’d like to hear your reaction to the idea of using the Benson cars on 1st Avenue. Do we achieve our goal of preserving the vintage cars even if they don’t operate on the waterfront?
More later as the situation evolves.