Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 19, 2008 at 1:18am

Neighborhoods: Sound Transit Must Include Streetcars

Tacoma's Neighborhoods are requesting (demanding?) that any new Sound Transit Package must the include the building a intracity streetcar network on short time line.



Sound Transit is considering the next ballot measure they will place before voters.

Meanwhile, Tacoma's neighborhoods are lining up behind adding a streetcar system in the city.

However, according to the TNT, many neighborhoods and groups are taking it one step further and are making the inclusion of a street car system mandatory for support of a Sound Transit ballot proposal.

Writing for the North End Neighborhood Council, chair Jonathan Phillips states:

With the Failure of Proposition 1, we support Sound Transit placing an intracity streetcar network within the city and believe that this must be in the next Sound Transit proposal with prompt funding. We agree with Tacoma Streetcar’s statement that “…any Sound Transit proposal in the future must contain funding for a streetcar system in Tacoma connecting its neighborhood mixed use centers” and “the streetcar system should have an aggressive timeline, commencing on the passing of the ballot measure.”
The operative word is must.  On their website, the NENC states that they:

Supported the mandatory inclusion of a intracity streetcar provision in the next Sound Transit proposal.

(Full disclosure: I am on the North End Neighborhood Council)

Similarly, the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council sent an email yesterday to Sound Transit stating:

The New Tacoma Neighborhood Council supports the
principles of expanding transportation options that increase economic development and the attractiveness of the city while reducing pollution. We also support Tacoma Streetcar's vision of a citywide streetcar system. 
 
To this end, we request that any future Sound
Transit ballot proposal include an extension of the existing LINK system.

Sincerely,

Marty Campbell, Chair
New Tacoma Neighborhood Council

(Version II)

Other neighborhood groups have voiced their support in the past including Hilltop Action Coalition, Central Neighborhood, West End Neighborhood,  (click on links to view letters of support).  Even the Tacoma Transit and Parking Committee supported the implementation of streetcars.

One of the reasons the streetcar proposal is gaining so much support is that the streetcars proposal would link the neighborhoods together.

Commentary:

The last Sound Transit package before voters was exceedingly bad for Tacoma.  I can't believe I voted for it. 

The cross base highway was worse than nothing.  All Tacoma would have received would have been a mall interchange and a link to the airport in 20 years.  Meanwhile, Seattle would have received a treasure trove of urban benefits. 

The only Sound Transit component that has been discussed that would benefit Tacoma would be an intracity streetcar system.  Seattle and Portland have streetcars and even Everett is under consideration.  Many cities around the country have found that they make cities attractive, economically vibrant and environmentally sound.

Tacoma had one of the best streetcar systems in the country and it can one day again.  The time for Tacoma to move from believing streetcars are simply a good idea to moving toward implementation is now.

By the way, gas is $3.50 a gallon and there is a finite amount of it.

For more information, see:

Tacoma Streetcars

North End Neighborhood Council

New Tacoma Neighborhood Council

The Bus Stops Here: Transportation Blog (Article on Streetcar issue)




comments [31]  |  posted under tacoma, Washington

Comments

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 9:06am
From the Seattle Streetcar site: (when do we get ours?)



The Streetcar is Open!

On December 12, 2007 the city, county and state elected officials joined the public to celebrate the official start of passenger service on the Seattle Streetcar’s South Lake Union Line. Find out more!


Since opening day, the Streetcar has become an integral part of Seattle’s Center City transportation system. It has improved connections for thousands of office workers, residents, shoppers and students by making it easier to get around the Downtown Retail Core, Denny Triangle and South Lake Union areas.
Hop on board and ride the Seattle Streetcar.


www.seattlestreetcar.org/

The routes:




Get Connected with Seattle Streetcar!


Welcome to the South Lake Union line of the Seattle Streetcar, the Emerald City's newest way to get around downtown Seattle.

From the fast-growing South Lake Union neighborhood to Seattle's vibrant downtown core, the Streetcar will get you where you want to go. Eleven stops along the 2.6 mile line lead to great culinary experiences, unforgettable entertainment options, and retail offerings as well as Lake Union's new 12 acre water front park. The Streetcar will connect thousands of people to new homes and jobs in this vibrant urban neighborhood.

The South Lake Union line of the Seattle Streetcar conveniently connects to Seattle's other public transit systems including Metro buses; Sound Transit buses, trains and light rail; the Monorail; and Washington State Ferries.

Bus service that makes convenient, useful connections at selected streetcar stops includes Route 8 (Seattle Center, Capitol Hill, Central District), Route 25 (Montlake, University District, Laurelhurst). See the streetcar system map for more details.

So hop on board, Seattle Streetcar is on line and rolling. Go on, get connected!

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 9:11am
If Sound Transit in the Pierce County seems modest in comparison to King County it is because Sound Transit is bound by "subarea equity." Sound Transit created 5 subareas in which the revenue collected in that subarea is spent in that subarea. More information about subarea equity is available at the Sound Transit website, www.soundtransit.org/x1393.xml .

After the March 28th Sound Transit Board meeting we will know more. It appears ST 2.1 will include a Tacoma Link light rail extension to Tacoma General as well as additional investments in express bus service and Sounder commuter rail. The Seattle Transit Blog, seatrans.blogspot.com , is a good source for updated Sound Transit info.

You are right that the last transit package was bad for Tacoma but don't confuse the roads package with Sound Transit. As Sound Transit must decide by the end of this month on the contents of ST 2.1 I don't see a street car network making it in. I support Sounder commuter rail and express bus service so I'll be voting for ST 2.1.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 9:18am
A little background on the South Lake Union Streetcar:

"The Seattle City Council approved the project by a majority vote on June 27, 2005... a creative financing strategy that utilized federal funds secured by Senator Patty Murray, state funds secured by state Senator Ed Murray, a Local Improvement District (supported by surrounding property owners) and sponsorship opportunities."

from:
www.seattlestreetcar.org/about/

Sound Transit will not be giving us a streetcar line anytime soon. We need to make the City of Tacoma step up if we want streetcars.

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 9:19am
You are right that the last transit package was bad for Tacoma but don't confuse the roads package with Sound Transit. As Sound Transit must decide by the end of this month on the contents of ST 2.1

In the end, Tacoma is going to have to decide if there is enough in there to support the package. The last one missed it by several notches IMO.

f Sound Transit in the Pierce County seems modest in comparison to King County it is because Sound Transit is bound by "subarea equity." Sound Transit created 5 subareas in which the revenue collected in that subarea is spent in that subarea.

Yes. Tacoma is well aware that it is often treated as a "subarea." That's systematic problems Tacoma seems to be having in alot of different fields.

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 9:23am
Sound Transit will not be giving us a streetcar line anytime soon. We need to make the City of Tacoma step up if we want streetcars.

But Sound Transit is planning to expand light rail extensive in Seattle:

We as a region are about to complete the first phase of a new transit system — Sound Transit's Link light-rail line. Next year, you will be able to ride the 14-mile line that connects downtown Seattle, Beacon Hill, the Rainier Valley, Tukwila, and Sea-Tac Airport. A few years after that, light-rail expansion will take you north to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.

Sound Transit has done extensive planning and public outreach over the past three years on extending our rail system. But, our plans to extend this first line to the north, south and east are mere lines on a map until regional leaders and voters summon the will to move forward.


seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2...

I don't think Tacomans will care whether it is a traditional streetcar system or a LINK light rail or something else.

Everett

In addition to light rail expansion throughout the Seattle area, Sound Transit has also been considering a street car system in Everett which is far less dense than Tacoma.

seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews...

Thus, given its proposals and actions in Everett and Seattle, Sound Transit can certainly include a intra neighborhood LINK expansion in Tacoma.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 9:26am
You are missing the point of subarea equity. It keeps Pierce County Sound Transit dollars in Pierce County. It ensures equality. The subareas include:

Pierce County
South King County
East King County
North King County
Snohomish County

I would not be supporting Sound Transit without subarea equity. If it were not for subarea equity Sound Transit would have robbed the coffers of the South King County Seatac light rail extension to fund light rail in East King County all the way to the Microsoft Campus (it stops tantalizingly close).

I support what I have seen regarding ST 2.1. We will have to wait for the final package but what I have seen is a solid start and takes us through 2020.

by fredo on 3/19/2008 @ 9:26am
My family would enjoy riding the streetcar as much as anybody. How much of the cost should be bourne by the taxpayers and how much should be bourne by the riders is a current issue. However, I question the proposition that we need as a society to provide commuting solutions for people who unreasonably, I believe, elect to work great distances from their residences. Commuting around town is a good thing. Encouraging people to work in other cities and counties is a bad thing to put it simply. This sort of arrangement is not sustainable in the long run.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 9:29am
"But Sound Transit is planning to expand light rail extensive in Seattle"

When we have King County's tax base Sound Transit can build an "extensive" light rail network here too. Until then Sound Transit has certain constraints that don't exist in King County, If you want a streetcar network talk to the Tacoma City Council.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 9:37am
Oh, come on fredo...

"However, I question the proposition that we need as a society to provide commuting solutions for people who unreasonably, I believe, elect to work great distances from their residences."

Head down to 10th and Commerce, the Tacoma Dome Station and Freighthouse Square between 5 AM and 8 AM on a weekday and look at the sheer numbers of workers headed to King County. Transit provides a significant financial gain for Pierce County.

I've been working in Seattle for some time and I just got a new job there. There is no way I could obtain the same salary I have in Pierce County. My job does not exist here. I could have taken a nearly 50% pay cut to work in Tacoma but that would bring with it reduced career opportunities as well.

Don't underestimate the economic impact of all those workers bringing their (in many cases higher) wages back to Pierce County from King County. The Pierce County tax base would be significantly smaller without the commuter workforce.

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 9:51am
When we have King County's tax base Sound Transit can build an "extensive" light rail network here too.

It all comes down to priorities.

Tacoma would have received little but roads and an interchange last time and a 20 year delayed light rail connection north while Seattle would have received a slew of urban projects.

I think Sound Transit needs to come up the curve a bit and treat the Tacoma more like a city and less like a suburb.

As far as funding, I think that the funds raised from the taxes proposed for Pierce County in the last Sound Transit proposal could fund a significant expansion of LINK in Tacoma. Let's see how far it goes.

Why would Tacoma allow itself to be taxed by Sound Transit and get nothing and then tax itself again for streetcars? Tacoma can get something out of this funding round if it is willing to stand up for something meaningful.

If not, there is little or no reason to vote for it IMO. Certainly not for an "express bus" service.

However, I question the proposition that we need as a society to provide commuting solutions for people who unreasonably, I believe, elect to work great distances from their residences

Yes. That was the whole point of the last Sound Transit package. Tacoma was supposed to support even further suburban expansion with cross base highway which would have been the latest chapter in 50 years of destructive road building in the county which helped give birth to the GMA.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 10:07am
Yes. That was the whole point of the last Sound Transit package

Sound Transit does not build roads. The package to which you are referring was an abomination that attached two competing priorities, roads and public transit. The closest Sound Transit comes to road transit is Bus Rapid transit (BRT) which is a very controversial topic although popular in Snohomish County.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 10:17am
I believe that a Link light rail extension to the Stadium District, increased bus and rail services for Tacoma, Lakewood and East Pierce County residents for a transit package that only goes out a little more than a decade is a good deal.

Apparently the needs of Lakewood, Puyallup, Sumner and unincorporated Pierce County don't count much on this forum. Don't forget that our subarea encompasses all of Pierce County, not just the trendy areas of Tacoma.

As a person who does not own a car and has made extensive use of the transit systems across the region I can say that I doubt half the people supporting a streetcar network in Tacoma would even use public transit. Streetcars are easy to support. They are pretty to watch and make your community appear "eco-friendly." The boring parts of transit (like increased bus service to Bonney Lake or Sounder rail service to Dupont) are more important than trendy things like streetcars in my opinion.

If Tacoma wants streetcars it is easy, Tacoma needs to pay for them just like Seattle did.

(note: I like street cars and would like to see more of them I just don't think Sound Transit is the right primary funding mechanism)

by fredo on 3/19/2008 @ 10:24am
You've made some good points, Andrew, and I'm not trying to shoot down your ideas. However, commuters must acknowledge that in every case, whether they travel by car, bus, streetcar or horse to get to their job that the increased pay is always occasioned by the inconvience of commuting. This is referred to as a faustian bargain. One final point I didn't raise earlier is the unlikelihood of getting any new tax package passed. In times of grave economic uncertainty, such as we are experiencing now, a tax increase seems rather implausable. Having said that, we will certainly enjoy the streetcars should they be installed. It was a big mistake to tear out rails in the first place. Good luck to you.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 10:28am
faustian bargain

lol

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 10:32am
However, commuters must acknowledge that in every case, whether they travel by car, bus, streetcar or horse to get to their job that the increased pay is always occasioned by the inconvience of commuting.

Yes, and I think we need to look at the larger transportation issue and ask is a package just facilitating sprawl in a "green" way?

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 10:56am
...because ignoring development in East Pierce County and not providing mass transit options helps how?

I think we stop sprawl with zoning not by withholding transit that those communities have paid for through their tax dollars.

by NSHDscott on 3/19/2008 @ 12:06pm
I'm a huge fan of the idea of building streetcars that connect Tacoma neighborhoods to the Link line or directly to downtown, and have posted on the subject most times it comes up. I've also had a bit of email dialog between myself and Julie Anderson, who is both on the Tacoma City Council and the Sound Transit board.

She told me something I didn't quite realize: "...regional rail systems are the RTA’s responsibility. Local street car systems are the responsibility of local transit agencies or local municipalities. NOT the RTA."

So, as Andrew said earlier this morning, if you want a streetcar network, talk to the Tacoma City Council. At the same time, keep pressuring Sound Transit to expand the Link within Tacoma. Let the Seattle line continue to be expanded southward as far as the South King County subarea money allows (Federal Way, basically) before we move to spend the Pierce County subarea's dollars on expanding Tacoma's line northward.

by thriceallamerican on 3/19/2008 @ 12:15pm
However, the point Marty makes in the NTNC letter, and made by others, is that the scale of the Link extension being proposed as part of ST2.1 can be different depending on the technology used. If, instead of building light rail tracks, streetcar-grade tracks are used for the extension, we may well be able to take it further than Tacoma General given the reduced cost-per-mile. This would bring the regionally funded Link further down Sixth Ave, providing better jump-off points for a locally funded streetcar network...

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 12:51pm
So, as Andrew said earlier this morning, if you want a streetcar network, talk to the Tacoma City Council.

Tacoma residents shouldn't have to pay twice.

It is Sound Transit that is requesting to impose a tax on Tacoma residents. It's reasonable to ask for something that it is going to benefit Tacoma.

Many people choose streetcars as they have a demonstrated track record of benefiting cities whereas much of the "transportation" built in the last 50 years in Pierce County have caused more harm than good.

In the end, the Sound Transit proposal is going to have to stand on its own merits. It certainly does in Seattle.

If Seattle and Everett can use Sound Transit funds for a streetcar network, Tacoma should be able to also.

by Nick on 3/19/2008 @ 1:05pm
Also, isn't there a clause somewhere about allowing the City and/or Pierce Transit to take ownership of the Tacoma LINK line?

It seems to me the best approach would be to push Sound Transit to build as much of a "foundation" as they can, and then allow the city or PT to take over and expand the system into a city-wide streetcar network.

I'm all for putting the pressure on. I have no shame, I'll go to city council meetings and complain about it, if ST has publicly-accessible board meetings I'll go there too. I'll make myself that annoying squeaky wheel that desperately needs oil. I think we need to focus all our efforts on the right organizations in the right order though, to be fully effective and actually get some results.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 1:08pm
Tacoma residents shouldn't have to pay twice.

Link light rail in King County benefits not just the City of Seattle but King County. The South Lake Union Streetcar benefits the City of Seattle and Paul Allen. Seattle did, in fact, have to "pay twice." Likewise a City of Tacoma Streetcar would benefit the residents of the city but not the county.

Buckley residents shouldn't have to pay for Tacoma's streetcars. If we want light rail from Tacoma to Puyallup let's talk to Sound Transit. Extending the Tacoma Link, which serves as an intermodal transfer, is an excellent use of a portion of the Pierce County subarea funds.

If you want streetcars from Stadium to Proctor contact the City of Tacoma.

by NSHDscott on 3/19/2008 @ 1:15pm
Erik, it's my understanding that the South Lake Union Streetcar did not use Sound Transit funds. The funding came from other sources. Am I wrong? Also, I know very little about the Everett streetcar, will that use Sound Transit funds? A "yes" answer to either question would contradict what Julie Anderson told me (as I quoted her above).

Jamie, I'm tentatively with you and Marty in preferring more of a cheaper streetcar than less of the overly heavy and costly Link. I just wonder if that's the best solution if we would have to get off one streetcar to board another at the two ends of the Link (I think yes), or if the cheaper streetcar would have to share the road with cars, stop at traffic lights, etc. (I tend toward no). I've ridden the SLUT enough to conclude that a streetcar with no right of way is too bus-like to justify the costs.

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 1:19pm
NSHDscott,

The point is that Sounds Transit has funded and will be funding streetcars in cities in Washington. Tacoma's LINK is our example here.

Read about Seattle in this Op ed:

We as a region are about to complete the first phase of a new transit system — Sound Transit's Link light-rail line. Next year, you will be able to ride the 14-mile line that connects downtown Seattle, Beacon Hill, the Rainier Valley, Tukwila, and Sea-Tac Airport. A few years after that, light-rail expansion will take you north to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.

Sound Transit has done extensive planning and public outreach over the past three years on extending our rail system. But, our plans to extend this first line to the north, south and east are mere lines on a map until regional leaders and voters summon the will to move forward.


seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2...

by Nick on 3/19/2008 @ 1:22pm
@NSHDscott

As far as I know, switching to a lighter-grade track would not require one to change trains. The heavier track was laid so that the LINK line could be shared with the larger light rail trains (like the ones that will run between Seattle and Sea Tac). The trains that currently use the LINK could accomodate a ligher rail than what is currently used, so in a sense the current tracks are being under-utilized.

by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 1:25pm
If Seattle and Everett can use Sound Transit funds for a streetcar network, Tacoma should be able to also.

Seattle funded their streetcar network through a special tax on property along the 1 mile+ line as well as state and federal money (no Sound Transit dollars).

The proposed 5 mile Everett line would be funded by the city, they are discussing a sales tax increase (no Sound Transit dollars). From what I have heard it depends a lot on Everett getting a UW branch campus.


by AndrewBecherer on 3/19/2008 @ 1:28pm
FYI

ST2.1 is a 12 year, $6 billion plan. This is a significantly shorter time frame and lower dollar figure than the original Sound Transit and the failed ST2 proposition.

I think someone once said "the perfect is the enemy of the good." This is a good regional transit plan.

by Erik on 3/19/2008 @ 8:59pm
(I just modified the New Tacoma Neighborhood position as requested to reflect the board's support of a streetcar system without limitation to any particular technology)

by JoshKelley on 3/20/2008 @ 2:54am
@Nick

As far as I know, switching to a lighter-grade track would not require one to change trains. The heavier track was laid so that the LINK line could be shared with the larger light rail trains (like the ones that will run between Seattle and Sea Tac). The trains that currently use the LINK could accomodate a ligher rail than what is currently used, so in a sense the current tracks are being under-utilized.
I'm not sure about the details of the rail capacity you mention, but I believe I read that it is in Sound Transit's long-term plans to replace the current Tacoma Link LRV's with the some ones which will be used on Central Link. Those cars are about 29 feet longer and carry 44 more people seated.

Just a note, this document was part of ST2, so it's a year out of date, but I can see this happening way down the road.
Link LRT: Conversion of Tacoma Link to Central Link Technology

by fredo on 3/24/2008 @ 12:30pm
I like the streetcars with their charming clickity-clack sound, the occasional toot of the whistle, and the Rice-A-Roni placcards, but do we have to have the over-head wires? That image isn't working for me.

by Erik on 3/24/2008 @ 12:36pm
I like the streetcars with their charming clickity-clack sound, the occasional toot of the whistle, and the Rice-A-Roni placcards, but do we have to have the over-head wires?

That's a technical streetcar question you should ask Morgan Alexander, president of Tacoma Streetcars. However, I believe they most likely would not have overhead wires.

by tacoma1 on 3/24/2008 @ 2:50pm
FYI
The overhead wires are the most efficient and cost effective way to supply electric power to light rail or street cars.

BTW, Andrew I definitely agree with you on ST2.1.

In regards to Pierce County getting their fair share of Sound Transits money and attention.... the last time that I was on Sounder, I was on the reverse commute leaving Tacoma to go north towards Seattle at 4:45. I overheard some of the commuters talking. One of them said that they had just taken a new job in downtown Tacoma. The main reason that person gave for taking the job over their previous job was that they no longer had to drive to work. They could take the Sounder from Auburn to Tacoma. The Sounder currently has only one reverse commute trip, but is likely to get more. And as for extending Sounder commuter rail to Dupont, I would think that would a great way to get people from the South to downtown Tacoma. As for me, since I live in the North End, I would be happy as can be if only the 13 bus ran twice as often.