Tacoma Urbanist

Feb. 22, 2010 at 8:39am

Streetcar Initiative Filed in Tacoma

From the streetcar website:

On Thursday, February 11, a group calling itself The  Committee to Build the Streetcar submitted a citizens  petition to the City of Tacoma. The petition was written by  longtime streetcar advocates Chris Karnes and Morgan  Alexander. Among the goals of the petition are an expanded  Tacoma LINK line up Sixth Avenue, the purchase and  restoration of an original streetcar that once ran in  Tacoma, and the creation of a Transit Commission to help the  city make the plan happen.

Funding for the plan would come from a relatively new  mechanism called a Transportation Benefit District. Funding  would come from a .2 cents per $10 dollar purchase sales tax  within the Transportation Benefit District. Currently,  Tacoma does not have a Transportation Benefit District.

In 2008, Tacoma residents approved the Sound Transit ST2  ballot measure, which provides over $80 million in matching funds for expanding Tacoma LINK. Those funds have been  accumulating for about a year.

The organizers of Tacoma’s “Build the Streetcar!” initiative hope their effort will result in a similar success. “There are a lot of different pieces in play right  now,” said Alexander. “There’s ST2, Pierce Transit doing some major introspection, and the City Manager has been busy  lining up partners and funding. We feel the time is right  for city residents to get involved and help create something  amazing for Tacoma’s future.

The organizers will need to gather over 4,000 signatures by the end of summer.

Those seeking to help gather signatures should contact the organizers: Chris Karnes at 253-267-3754 or Morgan Alexander at 253-228-7271 or visit their website www.BuildTheStreetcar.com.

The longtime goal of many Tacomans restore the streetcar system in Tacoma is getting closer.

Here is the language of the new Streetcar Initiative filed in Tacoma by Morgan Alexander and Chris Karnes:

To the City of Tacoma:

We, the undersigned registered voters of The City of Tacoma, State of Washington, propose and ask for the enactment of an ordinance of the measure known as Tacoma Initiative “X” entitled:

<<Insert City Attorney Ballot Language>>

A true, full and correct copy of which is included herein, and we petition the Council to enact said measure as an ordinance; and, if not enacted within forty-five (45) days from the time of receipt thereof by the City Council, then to be submitted to the qualified electors of the City of Tacoma for approval or rejection at the next regular election; and each of us for himself or herself says: I have personally signed this petition; I am a registered voter of The City of Tacoma, State of Washington.

Complete text of initiative

Now there will be a period where signatures are gathered at which time it will be placed on the ballot.

How to help:

Join Build the Streetcar effort on Facebook to keep up to speed on the effort.


It is about time.

There is already matching money set aside from the last transportation initiative for streetcars in Tacoma from the Sound Transit ST2  ballot measure. Tacoma used to have a thriving streetcar systems that brought life to the city. Other cities in the US like Seattle are adding one streetcar line after another.

Now it is Tacoma's turn.

comments [51]  |  posted under Tacoma


by NineInchNachos on 2/22/2010 @ 8:40am

by Erik on 2/22/2010 @ 8:42am

by Nick on 2/22/2010 @ 9:02am
I am really resisting the urge to post a multi-post AWESOME again. I'll definitely volunteer my time to help!

by Jesse on 2/22/2010 @ 9:15am
One major thing you did not touch on in your website is that tracks are set and people know that. IE- A business knows that the tracks/streetcar route does not move and therefore has confidence in building along the route knowing the flow of riders will be going by thier door for at least the next 50-75 years.

People also know where the streetcar goes because of the set tracks. I myself have ridden the Portland system a million times because I know where it goes. I have never once rode the bus there. Not once.

This is the best news I've seen on feedtacoma in months... maybe the last year?? Hmm... way to go.

by seejane on 2/22/2010 @ 10:10am
I've been coveting Portland's public transportation system for years - I think more light rail will be great for Tacoma.

by Jake on 2/22/2010 @ 10:14am
On a marketing/outreach stand-point for this initiative, do you think it would be better to use the pictures of the old streetcars or the modern streetcars? IMO you will get more support using images of the modern streetcars.

by Erik on 2/22/2010 @ 10:37am
Other references:

Tacoma Streetcar:


On a marketing/outreach stand-point for this initiative, do you think it would be better to use the pictures of the old streetcars or the modern streetcars?

Good question.

The old pictures show that the idea of streetcars is now new in Tacoma and that the city had an extensive line here.

The pictures of LINK and other moderns streetcars show how they would look now.

Feel free to post any pictures you think would help the effort.

Here is a Seattle Streetcar:

by fredo on 2/22/2010 @ 10:37am
"funding will come from a .2 cents sales tax per $10.00 purchase within the district"

Rebuttable presumption: There will be sufficient retail business/retail activity within the district to make the payments.

I will enjoy using these streetcars but am wondering what will happen to business activity when we add Governor Gregoire's proposed 1% sales tax to Morgan's .2% sales tax to Tacoma's current 9.3 % rate. Won't that result in a 10.5% sales tax inside the benefit district?

by chazzmoney on 2/22/2010 @ 11:10am
Sweet! I'm all in.

Also, I don't know the "historical" route of the streetcar, or if that is even important, but a streetcar that went along the waterfront from the south end of Thea Foss and the new park area there all the way down to the eventual Point Ruston development would be awesome. Not to mention valuable for economic development. Egg, chicken, repeat.

by NineInchNachos on 2/22/2010 @ 11:19am
use pics of those fancy streetcars from the port going to Vancouver Olympics!

by dolly varden on 2/22/2010 @ 12:03pm
This is great news -- can't happen soon enough. That said, I agree with Jake that restoring an old streetcar should not be seen as essential. It would be fun, but only if it's as functional as new streetcars and if it doesn't add a lot to the cost or complexity of the project.

by seejane on 2/22/2010 @ 2:06pm
Fredo Governor Gregoire's tax proposal does not include a 1% sales tax increase. ( www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/feb/18/gr... )

The .2 cent increase means that my shot of liquor on 6th Ave will increase by about a penny. Add some diet coke to that shot and the price increase by 3 more cents.... and I'lll have to tip my server and additional half cent.

by Erik on 2/22/2010 @ 3:29pm
New coverage on the streetcar initiative from one of the senior reporters at the Tacoma Daily Index:'


by Jesse on 2/22/2010 @ 4:29pm
Have you seen the San Francisco system? It is freekin' AWESOME. San Fran is also built on a hill like Tacoma. Thier old cars are so cool. It'd be awesome if Tacoma could buy delapitated streetcars from around the world, in the fashion of San Francisco, and have that company in Centralia (the one in the News Tribune the other day) completely restore them for use in Tacoma. That would differentiate T-Town from Portland and Seattle -- a tourist atraction within itself!


Perhaps a talk with some MUNI people would be in order? It looks like they were in this similar process of bringing back thier system starting in 1982.

by Chris.Tacoma on 2/22/2010 @ 6:09pm
Great discussion all!

I'll respond to a couple of points. The reason for inclusion of the historic streetcar restoration is two-fold. First, it's less expensive to restore the one historic streetcar rather than purchasing a new modern car (although we will have to purchase a number of new modern cars to meet demand). Secondly, Morgan and I think that it's important that we, as Tacomans, honor and preserve our history as a streetcar town.

In regards to the cost question, voters are going to have to weigh if its worth it to them to have access to a decent, city-wide mass transit system. If you go out and spend a thousand dollars on an item, your contribution to the streetcar is $2. If you spend ten thousand dollars, your contribution to the streetcar is $20. It isn't very much, and know that every penny that is contributed will be leveraged by Sound Transit and Federal dollars.

by panachronic on 2/22/2010 @ 9:01pm

What are the approximate boundaries of the Transportation Benefit District?

Has anybody done any preliminary engineering work? Has a route been selected, and do we know if the technology of the LINK system is compatible with the grades involved?

What is the length of the proposed line? How do we know it can be built for the amount of money the initiative provides?

Will this initiative result in an urban renewal project of the sort that ST has undertaken? Are we just buying trains and track? Or are we also being asked to overhaul entire streets, and pay for fences, landscaping, retaining walls, fancy lamp posts, sidewalk planters, rows of trees, etc.?

These are important questions, and I see no hint... not just of the answers, but that the boosters of this thing have even given any thought to this stuff. I mean, it's great to promote this dream and all... but if it passes, somebody will be required to actually build something.

by fredo on 2/22/2010 @ 9:11pm
Who pays if the sales tax doesn't provide sufficient funds?

by david on 2/22/2010 @ 10:13pm
Bring it! Also, the questions panachronic was asking have been hashed out in different ways on different occasions so, yes, they have been addressed before. They are important questions, but I don't think all those details should be hashed out in the initiative. You might be able to find someone kind enough to send you links to some of the ways people have addressed those issues. I am not involved enough to have them handy.

by fredo on 2/22/2010 @ 10:42pm
"the questions panachronic was asking have been hashed out in different ways...they've been addressed before" David

Where have they been addressed before? The petition was just filed on February 11th. Frankly, I'd like to see the answers to panachronic's questions myself.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 2/22/2010 @ 11:08pm
panachronic, people don't care what the questions are, the only thing they are concerned with is getting the money out of your wallet to pay for this. Yes, this will be expensive, yes there will be cost over runs. Yes, there will be many consultants and designs along with re-designs. Yes, huge engineering challenges are before us, that is why they will hire many engineering consultants. Yes, they will squeeze panachronic until they get every last dollar they need.

If this is the time for a streetcar there is nothing that can be done about it. I will remind people that the Central Link to the airport is mostly empty on most trips. This after all the consultants, engineers, designers, cost over runs and political speeches. If this is a good thing I want it, if it will end up like the Central Link I say no thanks. We are embarking on a very expensive project, are we sure this is the best expenditure. Remember, this isn't Portland we are talking about. I think people like the idea of streetcars in theory, but do they really want to ride it? Do we have the stomach to start building something today that may not really provide meaningful transportation for decades?

by L.S.Erhardt on 2/22/2010 @ 11:33pm
I'd ride it.

I like driving, but in the last 3 weeks (tonight included), I've narrowly missed being hit by idiots running red lights on 4 occasions. I'd like an alternative to driving.

I like an alternative to driving that isn't the bus. Why not the bus? Because PT forever changes the routes I use to be even less convenient. I used to bus to work, but since they jacked with the #60 and #61, forget it. Hey PT... a LOT of people work in the Port, you know.
As mentioned, the streetcar routes don't change on a whim.

I'm for it, and I'll even willingly pay the additional 0.02% extra sales tax. Granted, I very rarely buy taxable things in excess of $30... but still.

by Erik on 2/22/2010 @ 11:44pm
What are the approximate boundaries of the Transportation Benefit District?

Good questions panachronic.

Hopefully, Chris Karnes and the other supports will have an extensive Q&A on their website in the near future.

One issue that I know has come up a lot is what routes would be built first. I think the most bang for the dollar would come from simply first extending the LINK route from downtown to Stadium as it would be a relatively short distance to reach a relatively high density,

by tacoma1 on 2/23/2010 @ 4:14am
Boundary lines for a TBD are actually quite important. For example, if the vote is for all of Tacoma - NE Tacoma would have little to nothing to gain from a street car in town, and would probably vote no.

On the other hand, Fircrest and Ruston may wish to participate if they are included in the transit plan. Just a couple of random thoughts.

by panachronic on 2/23/2010 @ 4:57am
Just wanted to add...

A lot of people don't realize this, but the Tacoma LINK and Central LINK were not built with compatible technology. Supposedly, one day the two will be joined. But before that can happen, the electrical system for Tacoma LINK will have to be re-done and the rolling stock will have to be replaced, because the two operate on different voltages.

So, which of the two systems will we be buying? The Czech system in Tacoma, which can never directly tie-in with Central LINK? Or are we going to retrofit the existing Tacoma LINK so that it can be joined with the Japanese system being installed to the north?

by KevinFreitas on 2/23/2010 @ 7:23am
@panachronic: I'm going to take a stab at answering/clarifying what I can because this streetcar discussion is nothing new and Morgan and Chris are well versed on all the technical concerns of putting one in.

It's likely that a local streetcar system won't be compatible directly with the Tacoma Link nor the Central Link. Why? Because there are many, many different grades of lighter-than-train rail used for different purposes. The Central, Tacoma, and streetcars go from heavier to lighter respectively for the speeds and distances they need to travel.

The aim is for streetcars in Tacoma to be lighter than the Tacoma Link light rail. This will mean less impact on streets and pocketbooks because this lightest form of rail requires the fewest changes to infrastructure on and around any effected streets.

There are also many routes that have been mapped and a primary one to start with would be to run a streetcar from downtown to connect up with Stadium, Tacoma General, 6th Ave, Proctor, then even out to TCC. There are many other routes already in consideration as well to South Tacoma, East via Portland Ave, etc, etc.

I think Morgan and Chris already have $$ figures as well on all this stuff so, again, my hope is to see more of this trickle out here and onto their website as well.

I hope and presume this becomes a local reality and I applaud any support this gets to help connect our community.

by dolly varden on 2/23/2010 @ 7:29am
I think the idea is that this is an intra-city street car line that doesn't need to link up with the Central Link . If the Central Link ever makes it to the Tacoma Dome, you'd have to transfer to the streetcar, like people do if they ride the Sounder and want to go downtown.

I'm with Erik on extending Tacoma Link to Stadium. Get it up to Tacoma General at least. Eventually it would be cool to see one line heading down MLK, maybe eventually looping around downtown, with another line heading down 6th (or 12th?) to Proctor St. Based on existing use of relatively slow, less predictable buses in those areas, seems like these routes would have good ridership.

by tacoma1 on 2/23/2010 @ 7:37am
The anti transit mis-information machine is starting already. Central link is not almost empty. We are in the middle of a recession, and although not as many people are going to the airport or to Seattle as usual, the projected annual ridership is over 2 million. Thats 2 million trips off the freeway. That is a good thing for everyone. Plus just in February, Metro did their service change to reroute buses towards CL and canceled duplicated bus routes. That saves Metro money, and takes buses off the freeways and roads, making more room for cars. And CL is currently just a stand alone spine - as connecting transit is added to the line it will be used even more than it is now.

Tacoma Link technology is campatible with Central Link - the cars are not, but the tracks are, we need different cars, double the voltage and then we are at 50mph without traffic to the airport .

Personally, I'm not interested in BRT at all - I wish it wasn't even mentioned on the initiative. In a budget crunch, we all vote for street cars, the money comes in short, next thing we know, the city council gives us BRT, and no rail.

And actually, Panachronic's first set of questions seem valid to me, even though he is wrong about the compatibility issue.

by fredo on 2/23/2010 @ 7:55am
"In 2008 Tacoma residents approved ST2" Urbanist. Eric is this really true? I know that the proposal was turned down in Pierce County, but I don't have the figures for Tacoma.

Will the system be paid for by the extra sales tax collected plus the ST funding portion (which coincidentally is our money to start with funded by two other sales tax packages) and fare reciepts? Or will the system require other funding mechanisms which we haven't heard about?

Let's look at Pierce Transit. Because the system is heavily subsidized by sales taxes and revenues are down they are looking at adding a $20 fee to each car tab.

tacoma1 writes "projected ridership is over 2 million trips, that's 2 million trips off the freeway." Not quite. Only if every transit rider also owns a car (they don't) and only if every rider would make the trip even if there were no transit system (they wouldn't).

by NineInchNachos on 2/23/2010 @ 8:03am
drill baby drill... those streetcars home!

by Jesse on 2/23/2010 @ 8:05am
Portland does streetcars for $15-$17 million a mile so having a budget of $30 million may mean it'll come in under budget.

I thought of two possible allies last night. People who you guys might want to talk to:

Stacey & Whitbeck Construction - they built streetcar for Portland.

Oregon Iron Works - They are building domestic streetcars and getting that ball rolling now-- in Clackamas Oregon!

Perhaps these companies can back you financially for the campaign? It's all about networking.

Is there going to be a Board of Directors for this? If not, there should be.

by tacoma1 on 2/23/2010 @ 8:20am
Fredo, we've discussed ST2 voting results before. ST2 was approved in Tacoma. Pierce County as a whole narrowly turned it down- which includes alot of rural areas with little transit service. And most transit riders do own cars - I own two myself. Most adult bicycle riders also own cars. The world is not flat.

by Chris.Tacoma on 2/23/2010 @ 9:21am
I'll try to answer as many of these questions as I can.

Jesse - Yes, a citizen Transit Commission will be responsible for oversight and long range planning. In addition to the deadlines imposed on the City to get this project moving, we wanted an independent body to ensure it's being done right.

RE Technology - I've spoken with the general manger for Tacoma Link. The cars can handle grades of up to 9%. Some engineering will have to be done for the Stadium Way/1st St. turn, but please let me be clear, we will be doing no tunneling and no elevated sections. By doing at-grade streetcars we'll be saving ourselves a ton of money in comparison with what ST did up in Seattle.

A general word on revenue/budget - We specifically included a section in the initiative to construct the system in segments towards the goal of getting out to TCC. If our revenues fall short of the needed funds to make it all happen at once, then a segment to 6th and Pine or 6th and Proctor will open first, and we can apply for Federal funds in the meantime to finish the project.

RE ST2 - ST2 did win in Tacoma. In the areas where the streetcar will run, support was very high, including downtown Tacoma, Stadium, 6th Avenue, etc.

RE Pierce Transit - PT does have funding problems, but they don't have access to the $20 vehicle license fee. The legislature blocked the bill. PT has been budgeting for 6% annual increases in sales tax revenue.

by tacoma1 on 2/23/2010 @ 9:36am
Boundaries are very important for TBDs. For example NE Tacoma would have very little to gain, and would likely vote no if included in the TBD. You are 100% correct that DT Tacoma, the north end, would be a yes. If So. Tac sees some street car love, they would likely be a yes too. With link projected to get all the way to TCC, maybe including Fircrest in the TBD would be an OK idea. It would be worth doing some polling there to gage the support at the very least.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 2/23/2010 @ 10:08am
Downtown Tacoma (98402) has the poorest demographic of any area in Tacoma. The demographic on HIlltop is twice as weathy as downtown Tacoma. Who are these downtown voters? People that work downtown and live elsewhere. The only thing you'd have downtown voters voting on is easy availability of high alcohol beer and fortified wine.

by Nick on 2/23/2010 @ 10:09am
To me, taking cars off the road is not the only (or largest) objective of a mass transit rail system. This makes the lack of a 1:1 ratio of transit riders to car owners a non-issue for me. In fact, isn't the point of public transit to not only reduce congestion, but also provide mobility to a larger portion of the population?

Also one has to consider that owning a car and choosing not to drive it is not the only scenario that reduces congestion. Creating an environment in which a person does not *need* to own a car also does this. Improving mass transit locally makes this easier, meaning that when Tacoma grows by 1 person, it does not need to worry about also growing by 1 car.

by Chris.Tacoma on 2/23/2010 @ 10:50am
You're right Tacoma1. Council will have to establish the boundaries of the TBD. It's not inconceivable that NE Tacoma would not be included in the district, since they have little to gain directly. Inclusion of other municipalities would tend to add a bit more complication.

That's a great point, Nick. The streetcar will be transformative - changing Tacoma Link from a downtown circulator to a full fledged line linking regional destinations, population centers, and the Downtown Commercial Core. It'll help stimulate local economic development where it's needed and will also take demand pressure off of parking supplies and bus lines. This is going to be an integral part of Tacoma's growth management strategy over the next 30 years.

by Erik on 2/23/2010 @ 4:58pm
Coverage by Exit 133:

However, what we heard in today’s meeting is that the legality of the initiative is very much in question. What’s at issue? Two things came up in our brief hallway conversations:


by Nick on 2/23/2010 @ 5:11pm
It sounds like it needs to involve more than just the city council to work. Not really a big deal, but may slow things down a bit since it would mean coordinating between more than one gov't entity.

by panachronic on 2/23/2010 @ 6:17pm
And actually, Panachronic's first set of questions seem valid to me, even though he is wrong about the compatibility issue.

Not to start a pissing match over this point, but you're selling a falsehood here.

Yes, the two systems use the same track gauge, but there's quite a bit more required than merely doubling the voltage to run CL's trains on TL's system. Tacoma LINK's catenary was built for 750VDC; Central LINK's trains (and all future ST build-outs) use 1500VDC. This might work if the numbers were reversed, but as it stands, Tacoma LINK's electrical system will have to be rebuilt if it is to run at higher energy levels.

by morgan on 2/23/2010 @ 7:38pm
Great thread! Thanks for your support! Let's keep the discussion going and keep your eyes open for details on the volunteer kick-off party!

by L.S.Erhardt on 2/23/2010 @ 9:56pm
We need propaganda!

Who's up for some gurella poster action? A little wheatpaste never hurt nobody....

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 2/23/2010 @ 10:12pm
Has anyone asked Seattle if we can have streetcars in Tacoma?

by L.S.Erhardt on 2/23/2010 @ 10:19pm
Has anyone in Seattle asked Boston if they can dig a multi-billion dollar money pit?

by morgan on 2/25/2010 @ 10:15am
Got word we have the official city okayed ballot title! Now on to creating propaganda and getting the petition out. More updates soon!

by fredo on 2/25/2010 @ 10:22am
"...now on to creating propoganda..." Morgan

Ha Ha, what a delightfully candid admission.

From Wikipedia: "propoganda" is the controlled transmission of a one-sided message...using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response."

by morgan on 2/25/2010 @ 12:16pm
Fredo: You would be surprised how many friends the auto industry lobby has - even in these parts.

by Nick on 2/25/2010 @ 12:34pm
heh, Fredo's comment reminded me:

In the words of Lois Griffin (and Michael Bloomberg)... "nine-eleven!"

by Erik on 2/25/2010 @ 2:42pm
Fredo: You would be surprised how many friends the auto industry lobby has - even in these parts.

No kidding.

The killed the Streetcar


and have their lobbyists out everywhere and I mean everywhere:


All we can do is try to repair the mess they made and repair the landscape and restore civic life.

by NineInchNachos on 2/25/2010 @ 2:59pm

by Erik on 2/25/2010 @ 3:13pm

by Erik on 2/26/2010 @ 7:54pm
Update from Exit 133:

We just received word that the citizen’s initiative to bring streetcars back to the City of Tacoma has been approved by the city attorney. The City Clerk will assign an initiative number and signature gathering will be able to begin 5 days after the Clerk’s notice has gone out absent judical review. So, for all of you looking for a little reading to begin your weekend