I must say that I didn’t realize that Seattle has had a streetcar running since December 2007. It’s only 1.3 miles long, so it’s not very long. However, it seems like Seattle is finally coming over towards the side of transit and has been developing their light rail transit system. These are Skoda trains which look exactly like the ones running in Portland.
After watching the video, it makes me wonder if the streetcar idea will ever catch on in Vancouver. We have the Bombardier Flexity demonstration streetcar that will run during the Olympics next year, but will it catch on? We’ve already fallen behind our Cascadian brethren in more sustainable transit options. We’ve been constantly fed that SkyTrain is better and faster. It is definitely faster, but when you look at the price tag, it’s really outrageous that we don’t actually get a full sized metro for that cost. The streetcar/light rail options can carry just as many people and can give a better riding experience at the street level. In the video, you can see that development has not been shy about popping up along the streetcar route. I don’t know if the streetcar was the main impetus for the development, but the streetcar definitely makes the development look more attractive.
Many years ago, Seattle had voted down the expansion of their monorail line across the metropolitan area. I thought it was a major setback for Seattle. However, in hind sight, I can see that the monorail would have sucked up huge amounts of money. Monorail had to be elevated along guideways and needed large expansive station platforms. Does that sound familiar, Vancouver? The death of the monorail expansion was a blessing in disguise. Now that Seattle is about to open 30 miles of light rail that runs from Sea-Tac Airport to Downtown Seattle, travel in the south of Seattle will be transformed. Thirty miles of monorail definitely would have cost more than 30 miles of light rail.
Having ridden the Portland Downtown Streetcar, I must say it is a lot of fun. There’s a definite novelty to it. Once the novelty wears off, there is definitely a practical attraction to the quiet and comfortable ride. As when I ride the B-Line, I’m reminded how the sudden jolts and constant lane changes can make a ride become less pleasant. A streetcar with the appropriate right-of-way can be integrated well into traffic and the surrounding environment. What I love about the streetcar is that it doesn’t require a huge change to the landscape. Existing neighbourhoods can co-exist well with streetcars and new neighbourhoods can be developed in empty or forgotten pockets along the streetcar route.
Vancouver may have more in terms of rail transit with our 2 SkyTrain Lines and the Canada Line (also now called a SkyTrain line by TransLink), but I think Seattle has done better with the more financially sound Light Rail options. Now I’ll have to visit Seattle for a trip. Anyone interested in a Mariner’s game to see Ichiro?