Seattle: Envious of The Embarcadero

For decades, urban planners have discussed the similarities (and differences) between the two U.S. Pacific Coast cities with the best natural harbors: San Francisco and Seattle. Among other similarities, both cities had their waterfronts marred for decades by double-deck freeways. Now, as San Francisco did 20 years ago, Seattle is going to tear down its double-decker, called the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
A Seattle television station recently ran a refreshingly in-depth report on the impact the rejuvenation of The Embarcadero has had on our city. One of the experts they interviewed is former Deputy Mayor (and current MSR Vice President) Doug Wright. And throughout the story are great shots of F-line streetcars, credited for drawing some of those former freeway users into attractive mass transit. Worth a look.

One irony here, not mentioned in the TV piece: Seattle had a waterfront streetcar line before San Francisco, the brainchild of the late Council Member George Benson. It used a few Melbourne trams (like our No. 496) but was “temporarily” shut down a few years ago when its carbarn’s land was appropriated to become part of a sculpture garden.
Seattle is now expanding its nascent modern streetcar system (originally dubbed the South Lake Union Trolley until someone figured out the acronym that goes with that name), but it doesn’t look like a revival of the waterfront line is a high priority for the Seattle transit overlords, even after the boulevard is rebuilt.
Maybe the city planners up there need to look at this video again!

Comments: 6

  1. Actually it was originally (and is still officially) called the South Lake Union Streetcar. Some prankster just dubbed it otherwise.

  2. Given the drama of the Seattle waterfront, the romantically named Alaska Way (viaduct) is nothing short of appalling when seen in person. I have no idea what could materialize in its absence, as their waterfront lacks the march of Beaux Arts facades that cuts San Franciscans off from their bay view, but, I would imagine it could be something spectacular.
    On the other hand, Washington is not California. We don’t want to pay taxes, but we expect to vote, in every election, for every free lunch proposition that comes down the pike. And somehow, despite the ramifications of Prop 13, the state tries to grant us our candy store wishes. By contrast, when you listen to Seattle news, or read their papers, their government is just the opposite: They’re broke, and every time anybody has a great idea, the politicians come back with the same line: “Can’t afford it. Sorry”
    I hope and dream that Seattle will kill that miserable freeway (but, unlike us, save a couple of pylons as an architectural folly). And I can only fantasize about what they’ll come up with, because they aren’t short on imagination.
    And I would like to see a trolley line again, even if it’s a new streetcar line, like the one in Portland. But get it over with!
    Go Seattle! Tear It Down!

  3. Being a former motorman on the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar, a King County Metro driver, and now assigned to operate the Link linght rail, (also a MSR member), I wish to thank you for the kind words about the line. All 5 cars are currently stored under cover in a warehouse near our Atlantic trolley coach base. Please think of the line fondly on Tuesday, May 29th as it would have been the 30th anniversry of it’s opening.
    Doug Thomson

  4. Time is just going too fast. I remember the earthquake that caused so many deaths on that freeway as it collapsed. I remember seeing the freeway torn down as if it was yesterday. I remember Seattle’s waterfront trolley line opening and being as it was thought of by alot of other cities as a great start up line. Only San Francisco being successful and still operating. It is hard to believe it has been 30 years since Seattle’s opening. The only way it and other projects will get the funding they deserve is if they stop making it such a political issue. Someone please slow down the clock. Let these ideas and dreams become a reality and let them become as is in San Francisco a living dream that has a big success with a bright future ahead with expansions.

  5. While it is unfortunate that our type of streetcars will not be used there,,,Have we given any consideration to try and obtain all those Melbourne cars for use here. We know that 496 has always been a strong and reliable car and I think it would be a worthwhile effort.

  6. We have considered this possibility, but the Seattle waterfront streetcars aren’t officially closed down yet, just “suspended,” and would require considerable adaptation for San Francisco use in any event. Perhaps most important, they would require two-person crews in San Francisco service, so if Muni needs more streetcars to meet growing ridership, it makes more sense to concentrate on restoring cars they currently own that could be run with a single operator.

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