Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ride the SLUT

Eight years ago when I moved back to Seattle I moved to the South Lake Union area which is now the Amazon.  At the time Paul Allen had bought up most of that blighted area, largely a transit, traffic corridor and began the gentrification process.  And when Whole Foods arrived you knew it was coming, we just did not know what "it" was.  That it became something even bigger than Allen's billions - it was Jeff Bezos' ones.

The area a mixed used of largely low income, small businesses, the original Seattle Times location and some light industrial is now a hub for the Amazon.  The first order of business was the SLUT, the South Lake Union Trolley.  When the of course ubiquitous obsession with acronyms that the tech sector loves realized it spelled SLUT another cottage industry was born and a local coffee shop created and sold T-shirts with that name.  They had to close and a local used bookstore assumed that mantle, they closed and now today in the very ironical twist of fate, they are now sold on Amazon, the very business that led to those same businesses closing.

The SLUT was paid for by Allen.   It ran about 9 blocks and one could actually run faster than it takes you. I have ridden it once.   It has that sloppy second feel as Sluts do.  But in all honesty the absurdity of it allows its existence.  Frankly if you live in the South Lake Union area there is no need to ride it to go uptown at all, why?  The Amazonians live at their desks, with their dogs, their overpriced Apartment, Condos, Pods are adjacent and given the traffic issues they clearly don't ride the SLUT either.

But that has not stopped Seattle from the obsession with streetcars.  The most ubiquitous is San Francisco.  The are the original ones and yes actually people do ride them other than tourists but there is another one, underground.  No, not BART but the MUNI.  Also maligned as useless and I have ridden that maybe twice and I lived in the area for a decade.

Buses are my mode of transport. And by god we have two systems here - our Metro and Sound Transit that runs the light rail.  The light rail I love.  It too showed up eight years ago with much dismay and disgust it is now expanding and is of course appreciated and well used. But in true Seattle sense we needed an actual vote to restore bus service and in King County we did, and we are improving, modernizing and upgrading the service.

And then we too had to add another streetcar. This links the Pioneer Square area where our two sports domes are to Capitol Hill and the soon to be open link light rail station that will take you to its newest link - the University of Washington's Husky Stadium. I suppose it is for "students" but in reality we live and breathe for the money maker - Sports.  It has nothing to do with commuters, transportation or traffic congestion, unless that means sports day. And of course it is fully a coincidence that Paul Allen owns the Seahawks, is the primary developer of Yesler Terrace remake and South Lake Union gentrification where both streetcars transgress.

And of course that area which the new light rail and now trolley runs is the new Williamsburg, the newly gentrified and homogenized area with new housing, shops, artisan breweries and the prices to match.  

Atlanta has added a streetcar and it has been widely mocked.  The Nashville area voted out the light rail concept and are now realizing that an overhaul of a their badly neglected public transport needs to be re-examined. The irony is that they also voted out a designated speed lane for buses thanks to the Koch brothers who funded the now absurd notion as they neither live there nor have any interest there. Well they do. The Koch's are the largest privately own fossil fuel company in the world and their products are ones we rely so their interest was in profit not public service with regards to Nashville's transit woes.

The below article in the American Prospect demonstrates that like all industry and individuals we are beholden to fads.  The streetcars are not domestically constructed, they are European built as well they are the ones who have streetcars.  They are easy to ride, they are accessible and they are well integrated into the overall transportation plan.   Americans don't do that well and that is largely why we have such disjointed systems.  Even our Sound Transits that run light rail and amazing public buses that serve our suburbs have their own fares, exemptions and schedules.  All of this makes it difficult to plan a commute when you may have to transfer between lines and in our case those low income ORCA riders who have the special discounted passes for Metro (the Link ironically excluded) are not accepted on Sound Transit.  So again the poor get dumped on the side of the road.

I love the 6 block streetcar just because its empty. The fare of 1.25 makes the deadbeat crowd that normally ride the same line on the bus do not ride the streetcar.  They cannot stiff the driver, they have security that can come, kick you off and fine you as they do on light rail.  The pass and reuse transfer system that is on our Metro is not used and when you are a legitimate rider however that can be a problem.

Our Metro serves a great deal of public housing, medical and mental health care on the same route so it pushes those riders onto the bus and off the new pretty clean streetcars and frankly at times I appreciate it.   They are in turn however, canceling, eliminating routes that serve that area to force those onto the streetcar (again it does not take transfers, gee that might be why its a money maker) and in turn it won't be long until we have another altercation that led last year to an Oscar Grant style shooting and killing of a passenger that occurred on our light rail.  And our Metro buses are not exempt, a shooting of a driver last year and just recently of a passenger proves there are more problems here than public transport can ever repair.

But buses are not sexy and buses run as a service. The trolleys, the streetcars they are there to glossy over the city, avoid seeing the poor and the downtrodden, I mean aren't all bus riders poor and downtrodden? And they are great drive bys to see what needs to be seen - the property developments that run along side it. At the speed they travel you have ample time to take up the view.

So while the Koch's hate public transport they have found an enemy in real estate developers who see a different need for accessibility when it comes to finding a ride. 



The Siren Call of Streetcars 
 Gabrielle Gurley
American Prospect
 March 11, 2016

How the real-estate industry foils cost-effective transit 


.The long-awaited D.C. streetcars recently started trundling down Washington’s H Street NE, near the U.S. Capitol. Yet the $200 million line, which had been in the works for a full decade, has mostly been greeted with the sound of one hand clapping. Residents have complained about the slow speed of the system, the short span of the line, and the paucity of new jobs or better transit connections for the area’s African American poor.

 When it comes to streetcars, New York is no Washington, insists Gotham Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Big Apple, he says, would have a “different” approach to the $2.5 billion Brooklyn Queens Connector, a cross-borough waterfront streetcar plan. Still, a streetcar is a curious choice for New York, a city that epitomizes a “the quick and the dead” attitude toward urban commuting—getting to a final destination by the shortest, fastest route possible.

Streetcars are all the rage today in areas that would be otherwise ideal for a speedier and less expensive option, such as bus rapid transit. But the streetcar renaissance in cities like Washington and New York reflects a short-sighted prioritization of real-estate development projects served by boutique transit, rather than more well-thought-out, cost-effective transit options that provide demonstrable benefits for the greatest number of residents. T

he primary such option is bus rapid transit, which provides bus-exclusive travel through a separate right of way (such as a tunnel) or a dedicated lane that excludes other vehicles, preferably with traffic lights timed to speed the vehicles through, especially during rush hours. In a tax-averse era, buses have other virtues. They are less expensive to purchase and operate.

Two years ago, an Arlington, Virginia, streetcar proposal got the axe as its estimated costs crept over the $500 million mark. This month, Cincinnati taxpayers found out a nearly $150 million city streetcar line will cost an additional $1.2 million more. However, streetcars have few of the benefits of rail or buses.

Unlike bus rapid transit, they travel at a leisurely pace, make frequent stops, and get held up in the same traffic that buses, cars, and trucks do. With their subway-like appearance and dedicated tracks built at a fraction of a subway’s cost, modern streetcars provide the illusion of the type of system that most riders want but that no city can afford. However, streetcars have few of the benefits of rail or buses. Unlike bus rapid transit, they travel at a leisurely pace, make frequent stops, and get held up in the same traffic that buses, cars, and trucks do. 

“There is always a bus solution to doing what a streetcar does,” says Jarrett Walker, an international transit planning and policy consultant who blogs at HumanTransit.org. “The expense of a streetcar is specifically associated with improving the look and feel without improving how soon you get anywhere.” But streetcars have a major public relations advantage: They aren’t buses, which are arguably the most maligned mode of transportation on the planet. Modern streetcars have more cachet, they are both sleek and retro in an age when an old-school vibe is a positive attribute.

Buses can be scruffy and are in sore need of a phalanx of public relations gurus. So when it comes to stoking big-ticket real-estate opportunities, a bus simply will not do.

“What the real-estate industry wants out of [streetcars] is to raise land values to stimulate higher density development,” says Walker.

 In its 2015 analysis of American streetcars projects, the Metropolitan Council, a regional policymaking organization formulating a framework for streetcars in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area found that “streetcar projects are expected to promote economic development.” However, the report also said that the economic impact of a streetcar project is “elusive, and debatable.” Nevertheless, a 2012 Washington streetcar land use study noted, “The primary benefit the streetcar offers … is its visible permanence, which can serve as a powerful attraction to private real-estate investment.” The report had this to say about buses: “Although highly visible shelters and stations can raise the profile of bus service, the very flexibility of routes and service levels that represents its biggest advantage also dilutes its ability to spur real estate investment.”

 In the case of Washington, “visible permanence” can also signal that a long-depressed area like Washington’s H Street Corridor, a predominately black neighborhood where whites have largely feared to tread or live until very recently, is ripe for gentrification.

An exhaustive 2015 Mineta Transportation Institute/San José State University report on streetcars observed, “The streetcar’s symbolic role appeared to be particularly important as its presence, and status as a public investment, reassured developers and business owners that it was now ‘safe’ for them to make their own private economic investments in the same area.” That conclusion might sum up the H Street streetcar for some. Area resident Ester Hardesty told The Washington Post that the streetcar was “for more affluent people … to get them off the bus,” Hardesty said. “I don’t care if they’re black or white, but it wasn’t put there for us.”

 The Brooklyn-Queens streetcar proposal is coming under similar criticism as a real estate sector-oriented boondoggle. Streetsblog editor-in-chief Ben Fried outlines a number of reasons that a streetcar is a poor fit for an area that does not have a subway stop. Under the current proposal, the streetcar would not provide a direct connection to the subway system and would operate independently of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city’s public transportation network. That means riders would have to pay another fare when they transfer to an MTA bus or subway.

Or that riders could travel for free and the operating funds would have to come from some other pot of city monies. One of Fried’s solutions to New York’s $2.5 billion conundrum is bus rapid transit. Or as a Curbed New York commenter put it: “It is amazing what people will come up with when just running more damn buses would be 1000x cheaper and 1000x better.”

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