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Affordable Streetcar: Seattle's Waterfront Streetcar

Operating from 1982 through 2005, Seattle's George Benson Waterfront Streetcar line is an example of a single track streetcar system successfully operating on a single track with passing sidings. Constructing a similar system locally could reduce the cost of implementing rail transit in Jacksonville.

Published February 19, 2009 in Transit      12 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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About the Waterfront Streetcar

Seattle's George Benson Waterfront Streetcar is a 2-mile single-track line with two passing sidings. It utilizes a former freight line through the city's central waterfront district as well as a .4 mile extension in city streets to reach the International District, where it connects with the downtown transit tunnel and the Amtrak station, and is a short walk away from the new ballpark. The system operates five double-ended streetcars imported from Melbourne, with up to three cars running at one time. Each of these rebuilt 1924-vintage cars can carry up to 43 seated and 40 standing passengers, and have accommodations for one wheelchair. The line uses high-level platforms exclusively, all of which are on the same side of the track. The cars have thus been rebuilt without the original running boards and step-up entry, and have been reconfigured with doors on only one side. 

Conceived in 1974 as an easily-implemented tourist amenity, the idea quickly encountered a series of political, regulatory and other obstacles. Operation of the initial 1.6 mile leg finally began in May 1982, with a .4 mile extension in 1990. In 1998 the line was thoroughly rebuilt including installation of concrete ties. The line is operated by King County Metro as its Route 99, and uses exclusively paid staff.  Two-person crews are standard practice, and fare collection is on board the cars utilizing traditional fareboxes. The fare structure is standardized with other King County Metro Services. Off-peak fares are $1.25, and Peak fares are $1.50. Although the streetcar line runs through the Downtown "Ride Free Area", a one-zone fare is collected at all times. Transfers good for 90 minutes are available at no additional charge, permitting riders to hop on and off as they choose, making the streetcar a great way to see the sights along the waterfront. The Waterfront Streetcar carried 450,000 passengers in 2000.

http://www.railwaypreservation.com/vintagetrolley/seattle.htm

 

Seattle rail transit route map by The Streetcar Alliance and Seattle P-I at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/transportation/342783_carwhere08.html


Service suspended on November 29, 2005

Improvements to downtown Seattle's north waterfront area, including construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park and work on the northern end of the seawall, have necessitated the temporary suspension of the George Benson Line Waterfront Streetcar vintage Trolley service.

Metro is providing replacement service with free service on Route 99 Waterfront Streetcar Line buses. Bus routing and stop locations do not exactly duplicate the Streetcar, however Route 99 serves the same neighborhoods - the Waterfront, Pioneer Square and Chinatown/International District.

King County Metro is currently working on plans to restore the vintage streetcars to active service. This project is dependent on many factors, including construction of a new maintenance facility and decisions that are yet to be made about the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

http://transit.metrokc.gov/tops/wfsc/waterfront_streetcar.html

 

With the addition of an urban rail system, developments like the one above could be become common in Jacksonville.  Images by kldeutschman at www.webshots.com



Image by kenofseattle at www.flickr.com



 

Streetcars and urban infill development go hand-in-hand.  Image by John Smatlak at http://www.railwaypreservation.com/vintagetrolley/seattle.htm

 

Pike Street stop.  Image by mjochim at www.webshots.com

 

Named one of the 10 Great Streetcar routes

With an annual operational budget of $1.3 million, the route has been named by National Geographic Society as one of the 10 Great Streetcar routes along with:

Berlin (Berlin Straßenbahn) Tram 68
 
Lisbon's Companhia de Carris de Ferro de Lisboa (Carris) 28 Tram

Toronto's 501 Queen (TTC)

New Orleans Regional Transit Authority's St. Charles Avenue Line
 
Hong Kong Tramways

San Francisco Municipal Railway's F Market & Wharves line

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfront_Streetcar

 

 The Waterfront Streetcar corridor includes a parallel pedestrian/bike greenway.  Something similar could be possible with rail and Jacksonville's S-Line.  Image by kenb at www.webshots.com



Image by City of Seattle at www.flickr.com



A stop located in the center of a street.   If the JEDC decides to add medians to Bay Street, consideration should be given to making them wide enough to accommodate JTA's streetcar plans.  Image by kevin boyd at www.flickr.com



Eager residents await the arrival of a streetcar.  Image by Oran Viriyincy at www.flickr.com



Passing sidings eliminate the need to immediately double track a streetcar corridor.  Not double tracking can reduce the implementation costs of such a system by as much as 1/2.  Image by Oran Viryincy at www.flickr.com

 

Metro's green and yellow waterfront streetcars were built in Australia for the Melborne and Metropolitan Tramways Board between 1925 and 1930. The cars are double end, double truck, and designed for two-person operation.

Manufacturer: Melborne shops or James Moore
Fleet Numbers: 272, 482, 512, 518, 605
Seats: 43 passengers
Length: 48 feet
Special Features:
Station platforms built to accommodate wheelchair riders

An image of the Bell Street stop by neitech at www.flickr.com



The impending demolition of the Alaskan Way elevated freeway could possibly keep the Waterfront Streetcar service suspended until 2018.  Image by neitech at www.flickr.com



Running the streetcar line down the center of streets allows two-way travel without immediately investing in parallel one-way track.  Image by neitech at www.flickr.com



An in-street passing siding.  Image by neitech at www.flickr.com

 

Despite being located in a former industrial area and adjacent to a double deck freeway, the streetcar has helped convert Seattle's waterfront into a vibrant atmosphere.

This image highlights how a streetcar system could be designed with a linear urban park like setting in mind.  Image by flickr neitech at www.flickr.com

 

A streetcar and freight train side by side.  Image by neitech at www.flickr.com



A streetcar approaching a pedestrian crossing.  Image by neitech at www.flickr.com



Two streetcars in the process of passing each other.  Image by neitech at www.flickr.com

 

The Seattle system serves as an example of an urban streetcar system successfully operating without the need for taxpayers to immediately pay for double tracking. The reduced amount of track used results in a decrease in the price per mile for rail.  This would allow for an initial system that can link the downtown core with adjacent urban core neighborhoods for a more affordable price.  With limited dedicated financial resources available, the single track option should be considered for Jacksonville's proposed system.

Article by Ennis Davis








12 Comments

BridgeTroll

February 19, 2009, 07:06:31 AM
Seattles monorail also moves people from the Space needle area to the downtown district...

http://www.seattlemonorail.com/information.php

Traveller

February 19, 2009, 07:38:51 AM
Ah, yes.  The good old South Lake Union Trolley.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20841428/

http://www.ridetheslut.com/

David

February 19, 2009, 09:29:41 AM
I've been to Seattle twice in the past year and I always forget to get a "ride the s.l.u.t." t-shirt!

winthropf

February 19, 2009, 12:34:19 PM
While the Seattle Waterfront Streetcar may be (or have been) affordable, is it really one that we should be looking to for comparison...  It's been in dry dock since 2005, with no restoration of service in sight with the upcoming replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  I have been to Seattle 4 times in the past 3 years and always looked at the Waterfront Streetcar tracks and wished I could ride it...  but they have abandoned streetcar for a bus trolley type system that we have in place in Jacksonville.  Is that the example we want to hold up for Jax to follow?  I hope not...

A better comparison in the Emerald City would be the South Lake Union Streetcar which I believe was partially private funded.  I have rode the SLUS (or SLUT if you want to call it that).  It was a nice ride from the Westlake Center in Downtown Seattle (kind of an Urban Mall) to the side of Lake Union.  While it was nice it's not really functional.  Downtown Seattle is usually crowded with people and has tons of stores, and still nobody was on the SLUS.  I rode it in August of last year, i think it had already been in service for over 9 months!  It was a week day so that should have been it's busier time with the people working in the biotech companies around Lake Union connecting to downtown.    Hopefully, it has gotten better or I was just there on an off day.

Unfortunately i don't think the SLUS would sell anyone on the idea of transit for Jax either...  seeing as they have a large thriving downtown with many things to do and places to go and people still weren't riding.

It will be interesting to see how the SoundTransit Link system that goes from the airport to the downtown section will be next time I go to Seattle

I'm not trying to down mass transit either, I would love for us to adopt something that works in Jacksonville.... 
but JEA is going to have a long road to change peoples mind.  Even if we have rail of some sort, we are going to have to have a bus system that works, in order for the rail system to be a success.  Take for instance San Francisco... I'm in Mountain View right now, and unless I wanted to go straight to the Embarcodero or somewhere on the F Line, I would mostly have to take a bus (and that's including the mix of MUNI, BART, VTA and Caltrain for rail options) and even then I might have a 15 to 20 min walk somewhere.  On Monday, we went to the Golden Gate Park from our hotel in the SOMA area, and we had to take a bus.  It's not a problem, because the buses here are on time and the drivers are nice-ish.   The San Francisco transit system couldn't live without the buses. 

If a good group of Jackson-villians can't overcome the negatives associated with riding the bus, I'm afraid a rail system won't work here.  (I hope I'm wrong!)

thelakelander

February 19, 2009, 01:04:15 PM
While the Seattle Waterfront Streetcar may be (or have been) affordable, is it really one that we should be looking to for comparison...  It's been in dry dock since 2005, with no restoration of service in sight with the upcoming replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  I have been to Seattle 4 times in the past 3 years and always looked at the Waterfront Streetcar tracks and wished I could ride it...  but they have abandoned streetcar for a bus trolley type system that we have in place in Jacksonville.  Is that the example we want to hold up for Jax to follow?  I hope not...

The system ceased when the trolley barn was demolished to make way for another public project.  With the freeway viaduct demolition coming up, it doesn't make much sense to invest in a new barn, only to see the thing get shut down when the viaduct comes down.  Nevertheless, the system is a great example of implementing rail at an affordable cost through the use of medians and single track with passing sidings.  Apply those techniques locally and you'll be able to get an initial line that goes somewhere, as opposed to a circus ride looping around a few blocks of downtown.

Quote
A better comparison in the Emerald City would be the South Lake Union Streetcar which I believe was partially private funded.  I have rode the SLUS (or SLUT if you want to call it that).  It was a nice ride from the Westlake Center in Downtown Seattle (kind of an Urban Mall) to the side of Lake Union.  While it was nice it's not really functional.  Downtown Seattle is usually crowded with people and has tons of stores, and still nobody was on the SLUS.  I rode it in August of last year, i think it had already been in service for over 9 months!  It was a week day so that should have been it's busier time with the people working in the biotech companies around Lake Union connecting to downtown.    Hopefully, it has gotten better or I was just there on an off day.

Unfortunately i don't think the SLUS would sell anyone on the idea of transit for Jax either...  seeing as they have a large thriving downtown with many things to do and places to go and people still weren't riding.



The SLUT (or SLUS) shares lanes with regular automobile traffic.  Therefore, at times it can be subject to regular traffic flow and congestion.  If anything, one could use the SLUT as an example of why median running may be a better option locally.  With the median concept, streetcars travel on their own ROW.  In the event that one would like to see a future upgrade to light rail, a line with its own ROW will be more viable for quicker speeds than one sharing lanes with cars.

Quote
It will be interesting to see how the SoundTransit Link system that goes from the airport to the downtown section will be next time I go to Seattle

I'm not trying to down mass transit either, I would love for us to adopt something that works in Jacksonville.... 
but JEA is going to have a long road to change peoples mind.  Even if we have rail of some sort, we are going to have to have a bus system that works, in order for the rail system to be a success.

  Take for instance San Francisco... I'm in Mountain View right now, and unless I wanted to go straight to the Embarcodero or somewhere on the F Line, I would mostly have to take a bus (and that's including the mix of MUNI, BART, VTA and Caltrain for rail options) and even then I might have a 15 to 20 min walk somewhere.  On Monday, we went to the Golden Gate Park from our hotel in the SOMA area, and we had to take a bus.  It's not a problem, because the buses here are on time and the drivers are nice-ish.   The San Francisco transit system couldn't live without the buses. 

If a good group of Jackson-villians can't overcome the negatives associated with riding the bus, I'm afraid a rail system won't work here.  (I hope I'm wrong!)

I agree.  Any form of rail without a decent complementing bus service will mostly fail in today's American society.  Locally, part of our skyway's struggles come from the fact that the local bus system is not set up to properly feed downtown riders into it.

Nevertheless, overcoming the negatives is easy, if the goal of the bus service is become an efficient system that feeds riders into fixed-rail spines.  JTA is currently in the process of redesigning their bus system.  Maybe this is the chance to set something up and implement a plan that can turn the image of mass transit around locally.

stjr

February 19, 2009, 08:23:16 PM
Quote
Take for instance San Francisco... I'm in Mountain View right now, and unless I wanted to go straight to the Embarcodero or somewhere on the F Line, I would mostly have to take a bus (and that's including the mix of MUNI, BART, VTA and Caltrain for rail options) and even then I might have a 15 to 20 min walk somewhere.

This was a point I made a while back about the $ky-high-way.  People are not going to walk/drive to a mass transit station in the 'burbs, transfer to the $ky-high-way, exit to a bus/street car/trolley (due to the very few destinations within a walkable reach of the sparsely spaced $ky-high-way stations), and then walk to their final destination. In the downtown area, a bus OR a street car/trolley can reach far more areas with much greater ease, flexibility, and efficiency than will ever be accomplished with the $ky-high-way.  With the use of buses or street cars/trolleys, there is no cost justified purpose to the $ky-high-way.

Common sense:  Too many modes of transit are going to be too much aggravation and inconvenience for the average commuter or other regular traveler.   Only an occasional user such as a tourist would put up with the complexity of such a system due to the novelty of the trip, naivete, or inability to find an immediate and more suitable alternative.  Long term users will not subject themselves to the repeated inconveniences and effort of so many modes and will make the effort to find simpler alternative solutions. 

My Exhibit A:  The $ky-high-way.  This is why, after 20 years and a much larger population, it has failed to the tune of 90% to reach the original projections for what CURRENTLY exists which already represents one expansion built on false hopes and promises. 

thelakelander

February 19, 2009, 08:40:36 PM
From NYC, DC and Philly to SanFran, Dallas and Miami, thousands of riders catch jitneys, buses, commuter rail trains, etc. that feed them into heavy, light rail and streetcar lines to reach their daily destinations.  In a typical urban area, one mode does not fit all.  The needs of Riverside and Durkeeville are completely different from those of Argyle or Mandarin.  We can't build streetcar lines everywhere.  We can't built light rail everywhere and buses don't work in all situations.  Every decent mass transit system incorporates multiple modes.  In a spread out community like Jacksonville, we should not expect things to be different here.  The key is to make sure they all complement each other and that transferring between them is efficient.  Regarding the skyway, we fail on both of those issues.

stjr

February 19, 2009, 09:15:04 PM
From NYC, DC and Philly to SanFran, Dallas and Miami, thousands of riders catch jitneys, buses, commuter rail trains, etc. that feed them into heavy, light rail and streetcar lines to reach their daily destinations.  In a typical urban area, one mode does not fit all.  .... We can't build streetcar lines everywhere.  We can't built light rail everywhere and buses don't work in all situations.  Every decent mass transit system incorporates multiple modes.

Lake, please tell me where the $ky-high-way works that buses, trolleys, street cars, or light rail doesn't?  I would suggest the exact opposite is the real case.

Also, multiple modes available does not translate to multiple modes used.  One switch from a suburban rail line to an inner city transit mode is the most I would say any average public transit user could or would endure on a regular basis.  To suggest a system be created to FORCE people to use the $ky-high-way as a bridge between transit modes just because it needs its existence retroactively justified is pure folly.

thelakelander

February 19, 2009, 10:39:04 PM
Lake, please tell me where the $ky-high-way works that buses, trolleys, street cars, or light rail doesn't?  I would suggest the exact opposite is the real case.

If we were starting from scratch with an unlimited budget, I would not advocate anything to do with the skyway.  However, that's not the case.  Instead of spending millions to build a river crossing for new modes or invest in running another mode parallel to the skyway's current route, to me it makes more sense to extend new lines in areas that aren't currently served with fixed transit. 

For example, I'd rather run a commuter rail line from Orange Park to the Prime Osborn on existing track, than plow a commuter rail extension in downtown's streets to Hemming Plaza or FCCJ.  If we were to invest in a streetcar line, to me it would make more sense to build the thing from the Northbank to Springfield instead of investing in a streetcar river crossing to reach the Southbank.  Basically, the skyway is already there and its not going anywhere.  With that in mind, it makes sense to take advantage of it by tying it into a integrated transit system.  In the end, like the Miami Metromover, the thing would serve an important role in the overall regional transit network.


Quote
Also, multiple modes available does not translate to multiple modes used.

Correct.  You get no argument from me here.  You don't built multiple modes for the sake of building multiple modes.  Multiple modes come into play when you design transit for the specific communities and areas of town it serves.  For example, a commuter rail link between DT and St. Augustine makes more sense than streetcar, bus, heavy or light rail.  On the other hand, a streetcar link between DT and Five Points makes more sense than commuter rail down Park or Riverside Av.

Quote
One switch from a suburban rail line to an inner city transit mode is the most I would say any average public transit user could or would endure on a regular basis.

So, your destination is from River City Marketplace to DT.  You catch commuter rail into the JTC, where you then transfer to the skyway to access your DT destination (one transfer).  Your destination is FCCJ Kent from Avenues Walk.  You hop on commuter rail from Avenues Walk and transfer to the "A" line corridor at the JTC (one transfer).  You live in Riverside and you want to go to the beach.  You hop on a neighborhood streetcar and transfer to express bus at JTC (one transfer).  Having multiple modes does not mean one is forced to transfer five times to get to major destinations.  The mode you travel on will be dependent on which corridor you're attempting to access.

Quote
To suggest a system be created to FORCE people to use the $ky-high-way as a bridge between transit modes just because it needs its existence retroactively justified is pure folly.

Yes, that would be folly.  But that's not my suggestion.  The skyway is nothing more than a downtown peoplemover.  If you are traveling from Orange Park to Shands, Gateway Mall or Jax Zoo, there would be no reason for one to be forced to use the skyway, streetcar or bus.

stjr

February 19, 2009, 11:05:53 PM
Lake, we seem to have much in the way of common ground here if you just bear with me.   Importantly, we both agree that it was a mistake to build the $ky-high-way originally and that bus, light rail, street cars and/or trolleys are all superior solutions.

Where we continue to differ is in the future of the $ky-high-way.  My position is that it is CHEAPER, MORE EFFICIENT, and MORE USEFUL long term (think at least 50 YEARS here) to admit our mistake and abandon the albatross and to replace it with the agreed-upon superior modes of transportation.  This, RATHER THAN EXPAND the albatross, further compounding a terrible mistake, and HOPING transit users use, and making taxpayers pay for, a transit mode they have already proven HANDS DOWN they don't find at all useful (remember, 90% of projected users have not appeared after 20 YEARS from amongst a much larger population!) and don't wish to support!

If you were to do a financial analysis, looking to the future from where we are presently, of how to move the most people with the greatest level of overall service at the lowest cost (i.e. capital investment plus operating expenses less revenues), I am advocating my approach to abandon and not expand the $ky-high-way would trump the expansion and continue-to-operate approach unequivocally.

thelakelander

February 20, 2009, 12:43:01 AM
At this point, I'm not sold that it would be worth it financially to immediately abandon the system.  Imo, its poorly ran and incomplete.  I'm of the opinion that before total abandonment happens, we should attempt to see if we can resolve its main problem (no regional system to feed riders into it).  Nevertheless, my mind could be changed if a detailed long term financial analysis proved that it is better to abandon it, as opposed to working with it. 

Ocklawaha

February 20, 2009, 12:51:10 AM


Sorry to have missed much of this discussion. I'm back in the saddle wearing my rail planner shoes and haven't had time to look away much of the day.

The Skyway costs are what is very misunderstood by our public, and JTA nor the City ever tried to fix that perception. The "idea" that the crazy thing would cost us $90,000,000 per mile is simply insanity, based on a slightly twisted factual fate. As the original plans called for the Stadium, Arlington, Regency, San Marco, Shands, Gateway, Blue Cross and Riverside. the Skyway would have had two long double track lines connected in the center at about Central Station. The line I'll call "A" would run from Gateway mall to Central Station to the Stadium and eventually eastward. The line I'll call "B" was to go from San Marco to Riverside via Central Station. NO WHERE IN THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT is there a line to Union Station. It also appears that all of the track at Central Station was included so there were perhaps 4 tracks rather then two. (no bottle-necks).



Now to build a urban railroad of this size takes a major plant, major shops, yards, technical support, massive computer systems, even a traffic control room that would make the FAA blush, (and yes flyboys, I HAVE been in Hilliard Center back when it had a fake fireplace). THIS IS WHERE THE MILLIONS AND MILLLIONS OF DOLLARS VANISHED. They would be a "deal" if we'd just complete the cheap part of the darn thing which is line extension. Several amusement park industry suppliers say they can extend it as cheap or cheaper then Light Rail, and only slightly more then streetcar in costs... But PRIDE keeps us from asking the right questions. Do we want to be the city with a "Mickey Mouse Monorail"? Well here is a little known fact, MICKEY and their monorails are the single busiest monorail system in the world, in passenger miles, route miles or train miles, no one else is even close, and THEIRS was built by amusement park designers. Hum?

So following the original plans, what if the expansion came in at $15 Million per mile? Here's how it looks now and then:

CURRENT SYSTEM:

2+ miles, cost $184 Million Dollars or $92 Million per mile OVERALL = total system 2+ miles
2 new miles including San Marco, St. Nicholas and Baptist Medical Center, $30 Million or $53 Million per mile OVERALL = total system 4+ miles.
1.5 miles from Union Station to Farmers Market/Edwards Waters College area $22.5 Million or $43 Million per mile = OVERALL total system 5.5 miles.
5 miles from Rosa Parks to Shands and Gateway Plaza, $75 Million or $29.6 Million per mile = OVERALL total system 10.5 imiles.
2 miles from Central Station to Stadium and Arena, $30 Million or $27 Million per mile = OVERALL total system 12.5 miles.

Not a THING would have to be added to the investment we have in plant, operations, signals etc... So each mile built brings the cost more in line with the original promise.

Speaking of which, BINGO, I just found the 1972 plans for this thing, and it's easy to see how we completely fumbled the ball, even on the tiny part we really did finish, I'll scan some of the UMTA stuff and put it on line.


OCKLAWAHA


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