The S.L.U.T. gives a disappointing ride.
Submitted by murph on 29 December 2007 - 2:02pm. planning | seattle | transportation
Seattle's easy mark for cheap jokes these days is the South Lake Union Trolley, a working name for the newly opened transit line put out in the latest round of failure to proofread by planners who should have learned their lessons after those flyers advertising "pubic input sessions", complete with snacks, that every beginning planner produces at some point. The official name is now the Seattle Streetcar, but I expect the "SLUT" won't stop.
Part of the basis for the teasing is that the trolley is apparently seen by the neighborhoods hipsters, punks, and just folks as a tool of the gentrifying developers who even west so far as to impose a new name on the neighborhood "South Lake Union"). But a transportation planner's vantage provides so much more room for criticism. The SLUT is a pretty poorly implemented transit line, which makes an easy example for future critics to use when attacking other transit proposals. Badly done transit really annoys me. But, hopefully, some of the problems can be fixed over time - the SLUT has only been running for three weeks now, so there's still time to fix the obvious failures of foresight.
The biggest issue was pointed out by a young child riding the SLUT with her family - "Daddy, why does it keep stopping and going?" Because, get this, the SLUT has to stop at stop signs. Come on, really? Stop signs? If you're going to spend $50m on a streetcar line, you can hopefully justify fifty grand per intersection to replace the stop signs with signals. But, if not, at least remove the stop signs on the streetcar's side of things!
Step two, signal preemption. A streetcar should never ever have to wait at a red light. (Unless there's an ambulance coming up the cross street.) Signal preemption is a pretty basic piece of equipment for a shared-grade transit system, which allows the streetcar to turn all the lights ahead of it green, clearing traffic out of its way and preventing congestion or waits for lights along the route.
Really, if a transit system is to be seriously seen as a commuting option, the speed, convenience, and cost have to be lower than driving. As Elias noted, parking costs the same all along the SLUT's route, it's hard to compete on cost here. Convenience is typically where transit is starting with points against in all cases (unless congestion and parking are much more difficult than they appear to be here). So speed's the only place to make up time (ha), and stopping at every stop sign and red light means that the streetcar's planners are totally missing the point.
The "honor system" pay-after-you-board fares seem strange to me - it makes sense to not have people queue up to pay fares as they board, in the name of time-savings, but, unless the fine for getting caught without having paid is sufficiently high, I don't see how this will work well. Also, I don't care for systems that rely on vigorous patrolling and enforcement to work - that's a sign that you didn't plan things out well enough to allow the system to Just Work. This seems to be a great place for Curitiba-style fare collection before boarding; all of the stop locations appear to have plenty of space for tube stations or similar structures.
Which brings up the final point of blatant failure of planning. The entire time I've been in Seattle, the weather has been chilly, windy, and, most of the time, raining or snowing. Yet the brand-new, skimpy, barely-there "shelters" that tease you while you wait to ride the SLUT provide very little actual shelter from any of these elements. Something like a tube station would be a welcome addition to most of these stops from the rider comfort point of view.
Oh, and, also, no trash cans at the "shelters"? Or on-board? What? I'm just going to go sulk now, and daydream about transit done well...