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Lonely Seattle streetcar riders don’t know how lucky they are

During a commute in the late afternoon, the South Lake Union Streetcar still has plenty of room for passengers. It's averaging about 2,500 riders a day. (Linda Thomas photo)

In contrast with the spacious commute riders of Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar enjoy, passengers on Tokyo’s subway trains barely have space to breathe.

You’ll never think of your commute the same way after you see a series of shots photographer Michael Wolf has captured.

Wolf has been capturing the cramped conditions of Japanese subway for 15 years. He’s just published a third book of photos of Tokyo’s Compression. It’s worth a click here to see some of the sweaty, exhausted, smashed-up-against-the-glass passengers.

Standing on the platform as the train doors close, Wolf captures passengers’ facial expressions. Most of them seem to surrender to the situation.

He spent 20 days, every morning from 7:30 until 8:45 at the same subway station shooting portraits of people on their way to work.

“The images create a sense of discomfort as his victims attempt to squirm out of view or simply close their eyes, wishing the photographer to go away,” Wolf says on his website. “Tokyo Compression depicts an urban hell.”

That wouldn’t be his experience on Seattle’s Streetcar.

The system, which is owned by the City of Seattle but operated by Metro Transit, has been around for almost three years and averages about 2,500 riders a day.

Ridership on the city’s one streetcar line has increased from about 400,000 passengers in 2008 to more than 700,000 last year.

Construction started in April on the First Hill Streetcar line. When finished, that 2.5 mile route will connect Capitol Hill, First Hill, Central Area, Yesler Terrace, the Chinatown International District, and Pioneer Square.

While it’s unlikely Seattle’s streetcar system will get crowded enough to feature faces pressed against the windows, the city wants to spend as much as $10 million to study or design more streetcar lines, including one to Ballard.


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