Former Seattle City Council member Nick Licata’s War on Streetcars continues. Casting the downtown community as a monolithic bad guy and as only a neighborhood for the rich, Licata is saying the City shouldn’t support the 265,000 workers, 70,000 residents, and 100,000 daily visitors to downtown Seattle with the City’s planned Center City Connector project.
Licata’s objection? He thinks connecting the streetcar system with a new 1.5 mile line along First Avenue that will link the South Lake Union streetcar with the First Hill streetcar serving thousands of low-income housing units along the way, isn’t as good an investment as buses and light rail (this from a guy who didn’t support light rail during much of his tenure on City Council, by the way)
First of all, Licata misses the basic concept of the new streetcar line: The City’s planned investment in the streetcar, backed up by $75 million in federal money, isn’t intended to duplicate the commute trips he’s talking about. It’s intended to serve downtown workers, shoppers, tourists, residents, and the general public once they’re already downtown.
Licata’s argument is tantamount to saying: Don’t spend any money on shuttle buses at the airport when you could open another international hub for trips from Europe and Asia.
That type of thinking misses the big picture of what holistic, public transportation systems do: They stitch together different components—light rail, buses, and streetcars, for example—that work in tandem to create a seamless, reliable network for people to navigate the city. Giving thousands of people access to thousands of downtown businesses and services daily—10,000 of which, or nearly 60 percent, are small, one-to-four person shops—the Center City Connector will be the backbone of a connected streetcar network downtown. And it will simultaneously provide last-mile connections to transit hubs like Link light rail, Colman Ferry Dock, King Street Station, and a several current and future Rapid Ride stations.
Thanks to Seattle voters the City is spending close to $50 million a year buying additional bus service from King County Metro. Today, for example, one out of every three C Line buses is paid for by the City. We can and should invest in transit—streetcars and buses, including our expansion of Rapid Ride service. Now, we want to capitalize on those investments by making downtown a user-friendly neighborhood for people once they arrive.
Serving 25,000 riders every day with a reliable 10-minute trip from Westlake to Pioneer Square and streetcars every 5 minutes, a connected Seattle Streetcar system linking the existing South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars via First Avenue, will be an invaluable component for anyone who comes downtown.
And that’s the second basic thing Licata misses. The streetcar is for everyone.
His critique of the CCC assumes that downtown Seattle is only for rich people. For example, he assumes that working class and lower-income people don’t shop at the bevy of downtown stores. Maybe Licata doesn’t know about the awesome bargains at Ross or City Target? Similarly, he assumes that thousands of working class and blue-collar workers aren’t working downtown. He’s wrong: 25,000 downtown workers make less than $15,000 a year and 54,000 downtown workers make less than $40,000. In fact, nearly 40 percent of Seattle’s low-wage employees work in one neighborhood, Downtown Seattle. Helping that workforce by supporting their lives downtown is a priority for the City. Streetcars can serve this purpose. Just ask the thousand or so nurses who every day arrive at King Street on Sounder and use the streetcar to access their hospital jobs on First Hill.
Licata might not understand that downtown Seattle belongs to the public at large. Well, SDOT does. And is evidently committed to serving everyone by including downtown in our plans for a reliable, efficient, transit-rich public transportation network.