It’s not New Orleans, but city officials are optimistic that their latest transit project will spark desire…to ride the streetcar. It’s Seattle’s South Lake Union Trolley (yes, the acronym is SLUT), and it made its maiden voyage last week with an offbeat nickname and the upbeat goal of bringing eco-friendly transit to a city that has experienced gridlock unbefitting its progressive environmental outlook.
The trolley line is 1.3 miles long connecting South Lake Union, the new waterfront park, the Denny Triangle, and the Downtown Retail Core. The trolley stops every two-three blocks, offering up to 140 passengers a lift every 15 minutes. The transit connects to the light rail, regional buses, and the monorail at Westlake.
Depending on whom you ask, the new system is called the South Lake Union Trolley, South Lake Union Streetcar, or is dubbed by its acronym, SLUT. The many names tell an underlying story of mixed emotions in response to the city’s new project.
Supporters tout the trolley as an expansion of the regional transit and as a conduit meant to connect people to jobs, housing, recreation, and retail – a way to encourage economic development and create vibrant neighborhoods. The local area serviced by the trolleys are undergoing redevelopment that is projecting tens of thousands of new jobs and housing units.
Other residents question the construction budget of $50 million plus and annual operating costs of $1.7 million. Nearly half of the costs are covered by a local property tax through a Local Improvement District, while the rest will come from federal, state, and local governments.
While the trolley may move people, many local residents would’ve rather seen the funds go towards more affordable housing and feel the city’s initiatives have brought unwelcome changes. A local campaign was launched out of the local Kapow! coffee shop, both promoting the new transit system while poking fun at the myriad issues behind the trolley project.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels told the Seattle PI, “I don’t care what you call it as long as you ride it.” And likely they will. The city is expecting 330,000 passengers in the first year with projections growing to over one million annually. This month rides are free and then $1.50 – pretty good deal considering that a trolley, by any name, beats cars and buses in both people moving and fuel efficiency.