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February 6, 2013 at 7:54 PM

Should downtown Seattle streetcars have their own, dedicated corridors?

Seattle kicked off its public outreach for a “central city connector” transit line Wednesday night, but it may be months before the city wrestles with the crucial question of whether trains will run in their own lanes.

“We need a solution that doesn’t get stuck in traffic,” wrote a commenter on one of several yellow sticky notes, posted on displays during a forum at City Hall.

Some favored rubber-tired trolleybuses because unlike streetcars, they can maneuver around obstructions. Some transit fans, notably Ben Schiendelman of Seattle Subway, urged the public to fill City Council meetings to demand dedicated rights of way for downtown trains, as in Europe.

Councilman Richard Conlin said, “It’s always optimum if you can have separate corridors,” but he wants to find out if that’s feasible.

Earlier this week, in an interview, city Transportation Director Peter Hahn favored First Avenue. That route might join the South Lake Union line at McGraw Plaza near Westlake Center, or it could, instead, continue north to Seattle Center.

First Avenue has the advantages of being easy to use for conventioneers and tourists and support from businesses that would like to see transit return there, said Thomas Brennan, a principal at city consultant Nelson/Nygaard. It’s also a two-way street, making it simple to run both northbound and southbound tracks there.

The city should think about future ridership patterns and not just the use today, Conlin. He said citizens were suggesting to him the line continue down First Avenue South to Starbucks Center in Sodo — passing the proposed Sonics arena site along the way.

Fourth and Fifth Avenues are also being considered, as a more direct path serving commuters. The downside is Seattle would find it nearly impossible to cram streetcars there, and protected bicycle lanes, without taking lanes away from the already gridlocked motorists and suburban buses.

Mark Spitzer, an architect with transit experience, suggests mixing streetcars and buses on Third Avenue, so it would be easy to transfer between surface rail and the bigger Link light rail trains running below Third.

Former monorailist Dick Falkenbury says a streetcar will fail. Even if 80 people packed 10 trains an hour, that would deliver less than 2 percent of the crowd for a Sounders FC match, he said. Another problem is “there’s just no room on the surface,” he said. “Do no harm, do not put more vehicles on the surface.”

The $1.2 million study will last until February. The project itself is currently unfunded.

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: Central city connector, Seattle streetcars


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