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Video: Rails to Rubber the removal of Seattle’s streetcars in 1940

This 1940 film tells the story of the removal of Seattle’s streetcars in favor of buses and trackless trolleys, rail to rubber. Flashforward 60 years and the city is putting streetcars back.

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3 Responses to Video: Rails to Rubber the removal of Seattle’s streetcars in 1940

  1. Peter Brassard October 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    This is a fascinating propaganda film. There were looking for any excuse to justify demolishing the streetcar system|they couldn’t wait to rip it out.

    It’s interesting how people would jump on and off the streetcar and how drivers in cars would have to be more aware and conscience of pedestrians getting on and off the streetcar, since tracks were in the middle of the street.

    There was hardly any traffic “congestion” when the streetcar turned right. The two modes were simply at odds with each other, which is why the driving public must have hated streetcars so much. Curb loading of buses allowed cars to travel past without stopping or slowing down.

    The woman at the typewriter standing up and putting her hands over her ears because of the streetcar noise was comical.

    The “outmoded” streetcar had nothing to do with the Fremont draw bridge. The real reason they wanted to replace it was because the car drivers were just impatient that they had to wait.

    The trolleybus wires were more of visually intrusive than the single streetcar wire.

    The throngs of passengers boarding the trolleybus all at once from downtown would have also been the same with the streetcars. Inbound passengers would pay as they boarded and outbound passengers would pay as they got off the bus. Providence’s UTC and early RIPTA used the same system. It may have been the late 70s that fare collection was changed to pay as you board.

    Reconstruction Finance Corp. could have just as easily offered a loan to replace the existing streetcars and repair tracks, but that wasn’t the agenda. Westinghouse got to sell a lot of electric motors for trolleybuses and Twin Coach must have had a trolleybus assembly line, which made vehicles not just for Seattle, but also for other cities that were disposing their own streetcars systems.

    The film reveals how streetcars; the drawbridge with its boats passing by; and really also pedestrians conflict with car culture. The underlying tension and sense of singular superiority of the auto-culture is obvious.

    I own a small pickup truck and enjoy driving and drive a lot, but I think that all cities would be far better off without cars.

  2. Tony P October 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Actually it’s been 71 years. I thought it was interesting though, how they tried to make it sound like buses were the better option.

    And here we are in Providence, about to get our streetcars back too.

    To our congressional delegation I say, aim high! Ask for $2 Billion for improving public transit in RI with streetcars and light rail. They can ask for that knowing we’ll get about 3/4’s of a Billion to build a real streetcar SYSTEM.

  3. Claude Masse October 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    To think that GM was pulling this out west too.Yes it was the BUS that they wanted on the streets,not just automobiles.Mellon’s United felt this at the same time in greater Providence.I think we had better streets though.Seattle’s seems so porous.1940: Seattle metro 658,000, Providence 763,000.

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