City Red Light District: The SLUT’s Virgin Journey
posted by December 13 at 7:30 AMon
Originally posted last night.
The most striking thing about public transit is the smell. When I boarded the South Lake Union Streetcar this afternoon for its inaugural day, it smelled like a new car. The windows were big. The inside was clean. I liked it.
Inside, there was transitmania—passengers jockeyed for a window view and delighted at recognizing insignificant landmarks. Sue and Lavern, wearing long purple coats, came downtown just for it. “We’re two little old ladies from the north end,” said Lavern, who only makes it downtown two or three times a year.
After the car left the Westlake Center station, though, I wondered: How long can the SLUT keep this new-car smell? And more importantly, will this 1.3-mile ride from the shopping district to the SLU office parks prove to be a tourist novelty for folks like Lavern and Sue, a commuter line, or simply an amenity for Vulcan?
School groups make me want to die.
The answer to the first question came within minutes, about a block before the second stop, when a rank fart gusted through the cabin. About a dozen passengers clamored for the doors in front of Paul Allen’s 2200 Westlake towers, but—a veteran of Metro buses—I remained committed to the trip.
Streetcars totally get stuck in traffic.
John Fox, Coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, is quick to speculate about the second question: It’s a corporate amenity. “For Paul Allen it enhances value of properties along the route,” he says. “It’s expensive tinsel and a waste of city resources.”
“Not one buck of the general fund [was used],” according to Michael Mann, Executive Manager of Infrastructure for the Mayor’s Office, who then disclaimed that the city paid $1 million out of obligation for property it owns near the tracks. The project cost $52.1 million to build, he says, and $25.7 was raised from property owners within four blocks of the line. But Mann says the remaining 26.4 million came from federal, state, and county grants. “The most important part is that it provides another transit option without getting into a car,” he says.
Fox isn’t buying it. “This is a misuse of finite resources earmarked for transit. We should have been applying for those funds for other transit needs,” he says. “It’s not acceptable in a region that needs real solutions, such buses, vanpools, carpools, and bikes to move people at far less cost.” He points out 19 bus routes already serve South Lake Union at a cost 30-40 percent less than street cars.
Mann says maintaining the streetcar will cost about $2 million a year, including a contract for King County Metro to staff the cars with drivers. Rides are currently free but increase to $1.50 for adults beginning in January.
Rush-hour traffic and sexual innuendos after the jump.
After the olfactory assault.
At 2:55 p.m., I was waiting at a stop in the middle of Fairview Avenue on the other end of the line; next to me stood a lab tech who works Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute named Peggie Bates. She wanted to get home – as soon as possible – and she hoped to catch the trolley but kept her eye out for the #70 bus, which runs every 10-to-15 minutes during rush hour.
At 3:10 the SLUT, which is supposed to arrive every 15 minutes, was still nowhere in sight. A #70 Metro bus approach, so Bates walked across the street and boarded. When the the streetcar arrived 3:20 none of the passengers got off. It was packed. Rumor had it the red car (there’s also an orange and a purple) had fallen out of commission.
Rush-hour traffic was agitating slow. Every light was red. Cars kept passing us. Riders commented that they could walk faster than we were traveling. After 21 minutes, averaging four miles-per-hour, I got off. Mann assuaged me, however, that once passengers levels decrease, the end-to-end trip will take only nine-to-eleven minutes.
But despite being slow at peak hours or on opening days, the trolley has its esthetic advantages for folks who work in the area. “I’d be more comfortable riding the streetcar than taking the bus. It’s cleaner and I know the route of the streetcar,” says Karlee Birt, a researcher at Cancer Care Alliance. “Busses make me nauseas. Just, kinda, the smell.”
One sentiment repeated again and again by riders, such as Ballard resident Joe Cole, was the need to extend it. “If the streetcar went to the University District they could kill the 70 route.”
Ken Johnsen, the streetcar’s Project Manager, said the council and mayor have considered that option. “It’s all about circulating people between jobs and housing, a making a pedestrian-friendly experience,” he says. But the design would have some physical limitations climbing Seattle’s hills: The cars can only traverse an eight-to-nine percent grade.
Oh, and about the nickname SLUT… not everyone is over the colloquial acronym. Remember the venerable Sue? She laughed the entire trip. “There are a lot of SLUTs down here on Lake Union?” she asked nobody in particular. “Is this where all the sluts are?”