Tacoma Urbanist

Dec. 1, 2007 at 12:29am

The Lessor of Two Evils : An At Grade Crossing for Sound Transit

The Tacoma City Council is set to vote on the preferred Sound Transit route on December 11th. There has been a considerable effort to change the route of Sound Transit.  However, that effort appears to be unlikely to prevail.

If Tacomans are forced to live with the proposed route, residents need to determine which is better, an at grade crossing or a elevated rail track over Pacific Avenue?

Tacoma Planning Commissioner and architect David Boe describes why an at grade crossing would be preferable:

The best option ˆ I believe ˆ is to cut the track in a open air channel through the district ˆ I think it is the best solution ˆ but ST will say it is too expensive and that they will not be able to make the magic grade of 2.85% maximum grade for the train (which is why they want to go over Pacific as it evens out the grade and makes it possible).  IF that is not possible, I would recommend going with an at-grade crossing as it is the least disruptive to the street grid, it will be significantly less expensive, it will allow some reasonable development to happen adjacent to the rail line and it can be abandoned in the future easier when the reality of the project is fully realized by the public five years after it is completed.
David Boe - Principal

BOE architects, pllc
705 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA  98402
(253) 383-7762

From what I have read and observed, Boe is correct.  There are a number of at grade crossings such as in Old Town which are working out pretty well.  However, I know of no overpass in Tacoma which is not caused considerable adjacent blight.  Plus, an overpass is around 24-7 while an at grade crossing is only noticable much when there is a train present.

A quick search of overpass and blight on Google brings up many cities which are working hard to remove elevated freeways and overpasses or to fight them due to the problems they cause to the surrounding area. Seattle is working to remove their viaduct.

Regardless of the various artist renditions of the overpass, it will ultimately look something like this:

If Sound Transit obtains the route they desire through Tacoma, it seems reasonable to have them make the crossing with the least damage to the urban landscape as possible.  Plus, one would think an at grade crossing would be the cheapest option.

Yes, the overpass would allow more cars to drive through faster.   However, such car centric policies make Tacoma a place to drive through quickly but not a place worth stopping at.....making Tacoma little more than a "a road to no where" of sorts.  

Making an area easy to travel to but blightful in the process is counterproductive and reminiscent of Tacoma destroying the buildings streetscape on Pacific Avenue to build the foreboding North and South Park Plaza Parking Garages.  People could now park easily but the reason for traveling downtown was now removed defeating the purpose.

comments [5]  |  posted under sound transit, tacoma, washington


by drizell on 12/1/2007 @ 6:28am
I prefer the at grade crossing as well, if it's going to be a choice between that and an overpass. Sound Transit produced some very slick drawings of what an overpass may look like, and the City Council seems to have been very influenced by them.

I think what needs to be realized is that the intended users of the track are Sounder and Amtrak. Sound Transit eventually wants to run 9 round-trip trains a day between Lakewood and Seattle. Currently, there are 10 Amtrak trains per day that pass through Tacoma. So 9X2=18+10 equals 28 trains per day, or roughly 2 per hour, on average. Passenger trains are lightweight and have the ability to gain speed quickly, so I would guess that the wait time at an at-grade crossing would probably be less than a minute for each train. I don't think that alone will cause traffic backups any more than the 4-minute stoplights do.

by KevinFreitas on 12/1/2007 @ 9:15am
I think an at-grade crossing is probably the most wise at this point as well. Before I thought an overpass would work, if decorated well as art, as a gateway into this part of town. But upon realizing that the overpass isn't above the current but a sunken Pacific Ave. I don't like it. drizell's calculations are apt and, having an office a block-and-a-half from ground zero for this project, I completely agree that waiting for a commuter train now and again isn't any worse than the lights.

Less cement is good, too. If it lowers cost, great, but it could also avoid creating space for taggers to do their worst. My big question: would an at-grade crossing eliminate the closing of "A" Street between 25th and 26th? If so, then consider me all in. It's great to connect Lakewood to the Sounder but let's not further divide Tacoma with yet another physical barrier.

by Erik on 12/1/2007 @ 10:09am
Sound Transit produced some very slick drawings of what an overpass may look like, and the City Council seems to have been very influenced by them.

Yep. The overpass looks great in the 200 ft fly over shots. Its going to be a close vote.

I used to work near 13th and Broadway. At the time 13th street was a three lane one way street going down the hill with no light of any sort to cross to the Sheraton Hotel.

It was a foreboding freeway of sorts people who fly down the hill to use. It was designed to move the maximimum amount of traffic possible without any care for pedestrians.

Now, the street is two way with one way each way with a cross walk. Easy to cross back and forth on Broadway across 13th. Yet, there is no back up on it for traffic. Another example of successful traffic calming and making the streets more useable and attractive for pedestrians.

In the end, if Tacoma is not a place someone would want to travel to and walk around and enjoy and look at, it is not going to matter how easy it is to drive to.

by Erik on 12/1/2007 @ 5:35pm
By the way, this is what an at greade crossing looks like without the train. Not bad. No blight.

by Erik on 12/3/2007 @ 10:23pm
Heard from Jake Fey tonight and spoke with some other insiders. There is still alot up in the air on the issue.