Monday, October 18, 2010

Seattle SL**

Seattle has had public transportation since its early beginnings. The first streetcar - drawn by a team of horses - ran down the center of Second Avenue. In 1887, a cable car climbed over the hills to take people from Downtown to Leschi Park on the lake. In 1889, the Interurban system ran streetcars from Tacoma to Seattle to Everett. In 1891, streetcars ran to Queen Anne, climbing and descending formidable Queen Anne Hill with a counterbalance system. By the turn of the century, streetcars ran everywhere, from downtown to Ballard, out to Madison Park, and down Rainier Avenue to Renton.

But labor unrest, high operating costs and just plain bad management doomed the system - along with the popularity of the automobile. By 1940, the tracks were pulled up and the streetcars were replaced by buses.

Now in the 21st century, Seattle's streetcars are a fashion, anyway. Somehow Seattle stories always have an odd twist.

The pet project of billionaire Paul Allen, the South Lake Union Streetcar connects downtown's public transit hub with the South Lake Union neighborhood. Bio-tech and medical research firms were expanding in that area, bringing business, customers and employees, so a light rail line modeled after Portland's successful systems seemed like a good idea.

It wasn't until the name South Lake Union Trolley had already been used in media stories, public meetings, and neighborhood focus groups that someone noticed it was a rather unfortunate acronym. The authorities re-branded the system the South Lake Union Streetcar. But once it became known, the name SLUT stuck. A local coffee shop started selling "Ride the SLUT" T-shirts.

At a final cost of $56.4 million for a 1.3 mile system, the SLUT is seen by some as a boondoggle. Local politicians now distance themselves from it. Its construction phase resulted in horrendous traffic jams that alienated the neighborhood it was meant to serve. Its ridership hovers at about 10% of its capacity. Operating on busy intersections filled with cars means it creeps along at a speed so slow you can make as good time walking the route as riding.

I took a ride on the SLUT this afternoon. It was easy to board. I paid my fare at the machine, and kept my receipt, although no one ever asked me to show it. Apparently, many riders freeload, since enforcement is rare.

I'm not sure how many cars there are, but they come in two colors, purple and red. I rode down to Westlake and did some shopping and then rode back to the hotel.

As our purple car headed northbound on Westlake, this lady in a scooter was giving us a run for the money for a block or two.

On Yelp's website the SLUT has mixed reviews. Some folks love its convenience, others decry the waste of money. But everybody has a good joke about the name.


Anonymous said...

ROTFL, my mother failed to tell me about this one. Leave it to bureaucrats to miss an acronym in the planning stages! If I was tipsy, I'd need to buy one of those t-shirts.

You know how Washington State has the WASL to test children's abilities at certain grade levels? Well, Virginia had the same problem as the revamped interurban transit authority... the Virginia form of the WASL is called the SOL!

Sharon said...

In Portland you wouldn't dare ride MAX without a ticket because the fines are enormous--the base fine is $175. The system employs inspectors and you never know where they will show up.

I love the "ride the S.L.U.T." slogan. Seattle should have run with it--imagine the advertising campaign!

unmitigated me said...

Surely, there's a visit to Mrs. G. in the offing?

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I would totally ride a purple slut. :-)

Chuck Pefley said...

Ah yes, a purple SLUT. She (it) must be quite old to wear purple -:)