The term streetcar is used to refer to a public transportation system which consists of a single car which rides on a set of steel rails, powered by electricity. Streetcars tracks can be installed within the footprint and lanes of existing streets or can be installed on a purpose built roadway.
A streetcar is different from a light rail. Light rail system is much more expensive, has trains consisting of multiple cars, carries more passengers at one time, and runs far less frequently than a streetcar.
Streetcars are similar to buses. In contrast, light rail are more like subways and trains.
A streetcar service is in keeping with the rural nature of Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap. The cars are small and unobtrusive. Stations consist of little more than a raised sidewalk. A two-way, double set of streetcar tracks is only slightly wider than a single, one-way lane of highway.
Streetcars are generally considered quaint, unlike light rail, which are generally considered heavy infrastructure, despite the name, and are more suitable for metropolitan and urban areas.
The Bainbridge ferry run has 5,000 daily commuters. Kitsap Transit provides rush-hour bus service for these commuters to and from the Bainbridge ferry to major intersections along Highway 305 on the island, park-and-ride lots in Poulsbo, Kingston, and Silverdale. Nine other Kitsap Transit bus routes support destinations on Bainbridge Island.
A single streetcar can hold a similar number of passengers as a small bus, and thus a handful of streetcars can meet the current capacity to service the highway corridor bus routes.
Streetcars travel in their own lane, so can bypass the traffic. Thus, streetcars will be able to transport passengers from the ferry to Agate Pass Bridge in 15-20 minutes during rush hour, compared to a predicted 30-40 minutes for future car commuters and bus passengers.
How? Streetcars travel at up to 30-45 miles per hour. This is approximately the same speed as the automobile traffic on Highway 305 during peak hours, and much faster than the traffic when the highway is congested.
Highway 305 has no sharp curves and no major hills to climb or descend. This allows the full speed of the streetcar technology to be achieved.
In rush hour, the 7-mile drive from the Bainbridge Ferry terminal to the Agate Pass Bridge takes over 20 minutes. At least twenty days per year, it takes 30-40 minutes. The 2002 Island Wide Transportation Study predicts this average time to grow to 40+ minutes by 2022. A streetcar can make that same run in 15-20 minutes, traveling on dedicated tracks, with a top speed of 45 miles per hour, including traffic lights, and including time for unloading at multiple stops. The full 15-mile line from the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal to College Park in Poulsbo can be completed in 30-40 minutes.
Individual streetcars are small, and thus capacity can be added in small increments. Streetcars on the same system can vary in size. They can be doubled up to double capacity. Capacity can be adjusted during the day to optimize the system for the expected rider-ship.
Outside of 305, Streetcar lines can be installed within existing roadways, to run inline with traffic. So in lower density neighborhoods and central business areas, additional lines can be built without widening the streets.
Comfort and Desirability
Streetcars use steel wheels running on steel rails. Rail provides for a far more comfortable ride than any bus. Streetcars run on electricity, providing smooth acceleration, smooth deceleration, and little vibration. In study after study of public transit options, the vast majority of riders prefer rail technology over buses.
Streetcars are tourist attractions. Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo are both tourist destinations.The Plan