This is an opportunity for Seattle to give its streetcars, with flagging ridership, a clear-eyed analysis and determine whether they are the best use of precious arterial lanes and transit dollars.

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A remarkable moment of clarity came to Seattle City Hall last week when Mayor Jenny Durkan halted work on the troubled First Avenue streetcar project.

Durkan called for a review of the project after Times reporter David Gutman found that King County’s concerns that Seattle was drastically underestimating operating costs of the expanded system. The county, which runs it for Seattle, expects operations to cost $24 million a year.

That initial review quickly revealed capital costs grew to $200 million, $23 million over budget, prompting Durkan to halt the project last Friday until a full analysis is complete.

This is an opportunity for Seattle to give its streetcars, with flagging ridership, a clear-eyed analysis and determine whether they are the best use of precious arterial lanes and transit dollars.

The project should not proceed until four questions are answered:

1. What will be the total cost to build, maintain and operate the streetcar system over the next 10 to 50 years? Seattle must provide the cost per trip and the total benefit, relative to other means of transportation, to justify the expense.

2. What are the net gains in mobility and effects on congestion? This must factor in the loss of First Avenue arterial lanes as planned for the streetcar and the effects of diverting that traffic to adjacent arterials.

3. Why should Seattle build a streetcar on fixed rails instead of add additional buses that are more flexible and cost effective?

4. How trustworthy are budget and ridership forecasts of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)? The agency oversold previous streetcar projects that cost more than promised, missed deadlines and failed to meet ridership projections.

The real test of Durkan’s leadership will come next, when she must demand honest answers to these four questions.

Taken altogether, the situation highlights how desperately SDOT needs stronger oversight, especially as the city center faces gridlock from the impending viaduct closure, bus-tunnel changes and convention-center construction.

The streetcar pause is an opening to improve SDOT’s credibility. Emboldened by special-interest groups, the agency has pushed problematic projects that blew budgets and failed to deliver promised mobility.

Pronto, the failed bike-rental venture, is the most disappointing example. But it may be displaced by the streetcar.

SDOT explained away the paltry 1,300 riders a day during the streetcar’s first year in South Lake Union, saying ridership would grow as new workers and residents came to the neighborhood. Tens of thousands came — and streetcar ridership was 1,420 daily boardings in 2016, although several months of data are missing because of equipment failure. Boardings peaked in 2013, according to King County data.

Then ridership on the next segment, on First Hill, missed its 2016 ridership projections by a third.

The third, connecting segment, along First Avenue, promises to link South Lake Union to the Chinatown International District, but Amazonians wanting dim sum would need extra time. The city estimates a lunchtime round-trip would take 51 to 55 minutes, crawling along at 6.4 to 7 mph. Existing buses are faster.

Durkan already was working to change the culture at city agencies when the streetcar overruns were found. She’s in the process of hiring a permanent SDOT director to replace Scott Kubly, the lightning rod who left in December.

These changes are welcome. Seattle has a dearth of elected leaders willing to challenge ideologues and special-interest groups, especially when large pots of transportation money are being spent.

But for all of its prosperity, Seattle cannot afford to squander hundreds of millions on projects that don’t make financial sense or benefit the majority of those living and working in the city.

Durkan was wise to pause the streetcar expansion. It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate her commitment to data-driven decision-making and more pragmatic governance.