Take a Ride on the Seattle Streetcar
Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar is a 1.3-mile line that opened in December 2007, the first leg in Seattle's commitment to new transit and light rail. It passed the half million passenger milestone in its first year, surpassing ridership projections.
The streetcar features many top-of-the-line tech amenities, including real time arrival message boards, solar-powered ticket vending machines, and human-activated doors to save energy while the train is in layover mode. If you go to the Seattle Streetcar web site, you can find out the next arrival time and actually watch the streetcars moving via GPS trackers.
As you'll see in the film, development is booming along the South Lake Union corridor. "If you build it, they will come" certainly seems to apply here.
However, the streetcar is not without a contentious history, and continues to divide Seattleites as to whether it was a worthy investment. I'll steer clear of taking sides, but one commentary I will offer: these streetcars were made in the Czech Republic. With major U.S. cities continuing to make major plans to build transit, why are there no quality, American-made transit company options to assemble our trains? The Obama administration is busy giving massive bailouts to the auto industry, yet we continue to send money overseas for much of our transit needs. Okay, end of rant.
RIDE THE SEATTLE
Ethan Melone: [00:03] Hello Streetfilms, welcome to Seattle and the South Lake Union line of Seattle’s new streetcar network. It opened December 2007, had half a million riders in it’s first full year of operation. We’re here at the Westlake hub of the southern end of the 1.3 mile line that connects to major bus routes, to the monorail that goes to Seattle Centre and the Space Needle. And starting July of this year, we’re just half a block away here from an entrance to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel where you can hop on buses today, but in July there’ll be a light rail system that connects to southeast Seattle and our airport, and will eventually be over 30 miles of light rail through the region. The South Lake Union line of the streetcar is a 1.3 mile system with eleven stops. We have three cars, this is the orange car, there’s a red car and a purple car. Two are in operation at any given time so that gives us 15 minute headways. We have a real time arrival system, so people always know when the next train is coming, either by looking at the digital message sign at the station or before they leave their office if they want to look on the web or on their PDA. We took our parking pay stations, these are solar powered and we’ve got them all over Seattle and when we got started up with the streetcar we said, “you know, people can pay onboard using cash, but people are really used to being able to use their debit card or their credit card”, and we said, “why not adapt these pay stations”, so put your card in, take it back out, it’s going to call the bank and in a second here, here we go. Seattle streetcar. Here’s a monthly or annual pass. So when you’re ready to board, just press the open here button. These streetcars were made in the Czech Republic. They’re also operating in Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington. They’re a combination of the best sort of modern European light rail technologies, you know, the doors are from a German company, and the propulsion system is from an Austrian company. So all those pieces and all that experience from a part of the world where they never stopped providing streetcar type transit is all brought together into these vehicles. One of the things that people always remark upon is how quiet the vehicles are. When you’re on board, and also when they pass you on the street, you really don’t notice it’s coming and, you know, people need to be alert about that, but they also really enjoy having more of a premium ride. They’re used to a sort of bumpy, noisy bus ride, so people are really taking to the streetcars. Behind us here is what’s called the 2200 Westlake Development. It includes a whole food supermarket, which is the first full service supermarket in downtown Seattle in decades. Across the street, finishing up on construction is an office condo. This is a new condominium project, The Rowling Street Lofts. It’s just getting ready to open. As we head further into South Lake Union you’re going to see a lot of cranes, a lot of construction activity and it’s all about Amazon dot com, they’ve decided to move their headquarters to this part of town.
Barbara Gray: [03:07] As for South Lake Union today, it is an entirely different neighbourhood than it was 15 years ago. It is a neighbourhood that has a real range. There’s industry that’s still there, there’s affordable housing, there’s pretty high end housing. We’re starting to get the services that support the transit oriented lifestyle there, like the grocery stores and the shops, places for people to go and walk their dog, open space. It’s a pretty exciting neighbourhood that’s really attracted the young and vibrant clientele.
[03:35] This is much an economic development tool as it is a transit
investment. And the idea was to provide good local transit service
and something permanent in the form of a rail investment so that people
would feel comfortable making that investment in this emerging area
and know that they’re going to have that constant link to the downtown.