Urban Politics #237: Funding the SLU Streetcar


No Comments (Leave Comment)

By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

________________________________________________________________

FUNDING THE SLU STREETCAR

This Monday (6/25/07) the Full Council voted 7-1 (Steinbrueck excused absence)  in favor of  Council Bill 115917 which provides a financing plan for the operation of the South Lake Union streetcar, and approves an agreement with King County Metro to operate the streetcar. I cast the “no” vote.

I had written in great detail about this legislation in the last UP #236. What follows is a much briefer description of how I see this particular project fitting into the larger picture of providing good transportation services in Seattle.

The South Lake Union Streetcar presents both benefits and problems.  

The benefits are clear:

There is every indication that the South Lake Union Streetcar will augment and encourage further development in South Lake Union. Some, and probably most, of that development would have occurred without the streetcar line. But certainly it adds to the economic growth of that neighborhood and to the quality of life for the workers and residents there.

While South Lake Union is becoming a major new office and residential center, the numbers often used to describe that development usually include Belltown and Uptown (lower Queen Anne), and parts of Denny Triangle and Eastlake, because those are the boundaries used to provide data on economic growth. In other words, if the net is cast wide the numbers look awesome. But keep in mind that Belltown has seen the great bulk of the growth in residential units for this general area. Actual growth numbers for the area in South Lake Union that is within walking distance of this new streetcar line and hence that area most likely to be served by it, are rarely mentioned because they are difficult to measure.

The problems are not so obvious:

Funding streetcar operations takes money, in the form of allocated bus hours, away from what could have gone to other bus lines in the city. This one small line, little more than a mile long, will take about 10% of the new bus hours that Seattle will receive during the next ten years.

The Mayor has argued that we are receiving so many new hours we will not notice this small slice of the pie-which has already nearly doubled since being proposed. And in a way he is right. We may not directly notice its impact on our city wide transit needs. Nevertheless they will be there.

Consider for the moment that that none of the 61 corridors serving our Urban Villages meet all five criteria set out in the Seattle Transportation Strategic Plan to make Seattle, “a more livable city where we do not need a car for mobility.” While the SLU streetcar will operate at 15 minute intervals for 16 hours a day, less than 40% of our most important transit corridors connecting urban villages meet that standard. The residents living in these urban villages are the people who are driving single occupant cars into downtown. To get them out of their cars and into busses we need to make transit more convenient, so that bus schedules are predictable and buses frequent.

Our failure to meet our own criteria for providing good transit show that Seattle has a long way to go to meet its own goals. This is where our money should be going. It should be devoted to connecting Seattle’s Urban Villages first and then applied to special projects like the SLU Streetcar-no matter how much it stimulates economic development in this one neighborhood.

And that is why I voted against this legislation.

Keep in touch…

Leave a comment