Streetfilms: 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 the city’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.

  • J-Uptown

    Don’t you mean the South Lake Union Trolley?

  • Rhywun

    I have always loathed the word “trolley”–it’s meaningless. Glad they changed the name, regardless of why.

  • Bike Dude

    Lets not start patting Seattlites on the back just yet for being champions of public space and urban transit.

    In the mid-90’s, the city voted down a proposition to build a massive park in the neighborhood called The Seattle Commons. Seattle had (and has) one of the country’s lowest percentage of public green spaces for a large city. The park would have of course reversed this, but voters chose to keep the manufacturing businesses and car friendly roads (especially Mercer Street). In an ironic twist of fate, Paul Allen and a handful of developers have closed many of the neighborhood businesses that voters fought so hard to preserve.

    Seattle voted to approave an elevated, rapid transit extension of the Monorail SIX TIMES before parking garage lobbyists and suburban developers finally convinced the city that mass transit was not viable and sustainable mode of transportation. The Monorail was taken to the voters a seventh time and failed. Seattle still has some of the worst congestion in America and no public rail service (SLUT is privately owned).

    Although SLUT is a flashy, eco-friendly way to get around it only covers a few blocks, is privately owned, and hardly an option for the majority of Seattle’s commuters.

  • Kyle

    Bike Dude, SLUT is not privately owned. It is owned by the city of Seattle and operated by King County Metro.

    It actually was creatively funded through a tax assessment on properties that are within a designated (1/4 mile?) area around the line.

    And if you still are not calling a city owned streetcar line public, Seattle’s first light rail line is opening in July and ground was just broke on an extension of this line north to the University District. Also, don’t forget the Sounder service which is commuter rail that feeds Seattle’s CBD from points north and south of the city.

  • BB

    you need your bike to go 1.3 miles?
    Not saying that is a bad thing and it didn’t look full, but wow.

  • Allie

    It was never officially called a trolley. That’s just the urban myth that makes the joke work.

    It’s also hopefully just the start of the new streetcar network. See for more info.

  • Bike Dude,

    Hey, we didn’t say anywhere that Seattle is a champion of public space and urban transit. From friends there I certainly know that it has been a tough struggle with lots of delays and battles over transit plans. But that said current momentum does seem to point to better things to come, it seems just a question of funding. As you know since a lot of the support for the Seattle’s transit system is based upon a functioning economy, there is a huge transit crisis booming like there is going on in NYC – fare hike, canceling of some bus routes, etc. – so let’s hope Seattle’s leaders can remedy that.

  • Maybe NYC should run some, on Broadway between Herald Square and CPW, for the tourists. That’s probably around the same distance.

  • I have always loathed the word “trolley”–it’s meaningless.

    “Trolley” has a lot more meaning than “light rail.” My mom used to ride the trolley to go shopping when she was a kid. People know what trolleys are.

  • bubi

    re: 15 minute headways. Either expand the system substantially more or this thing is stuffed in 5 years!

  • “Let’s not start patting Seattlites on the back just yet for being champions of public space and urban transit.”


    There has been a sea change in public opinion.

    As a native Seattlite I hear the difference when I go home for the holidays.

    Seattle and King County voted for light rail expansion last November (as did Honolulu).

    I think they do deserve a pat on the back for that. I am looking forward to taking light rail from the airport over Christmas.

  • Jeremy

    It doesn’t look like there are bicycle accommodations on the street. Does anyone know if there are bike lanes there?

  • A “trolley” is not always a “streetcar,” but a streetcar is always a trolley.

    A trolley is a trolley, because it “trolls” the overhead power line to get its power. That’s why that pole that extends up from the roof of the car to the power line is called a “trolley pole.”

    Therefore, a “light rail” is also a trolley, but, it is never a “streetcar,” even if does run on the street for some portion of its route. A light rail will always run on a private rail right of way for at least part of its route. A streetcar runs on a street for all of its route.

    Have I alienated all the non transit nerds yet?

  • Scott,

    If you speak the truth, that’s pretty cool. Thanks for the info. Reminds me of old mathematics tautologies and subsets.

  • AJ

    Jeremy: There are bike lanes and bike routes throughout the city. Nowhere near the number you find in a city like Portland or Davis, California, but they are certainly there.

    The trouble is, however, that you have to get people to use them. I see the random scuffle between pedestrians and cyclists where the cyclist insists the bike lane is dangerous (ignoring other cyclists whizzing by) and they should therefore be able to take priority on sidewalks. Pedestrians disagree, of course. And rightfully so.

    Very strange culture up here.



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