Jesse's Blog

Jun. 3, 2013 at 10:40am

Streetcar Cost Savings: PCCII

I was in San Francisco a few years ago and noticed, of course, the serious array of classic streetcars they had.  In use, MUNI uses many types of classic streetcars in their operation.  They're beautiful, functional, and inexpensive to restore.  The F-Line  in San Francisco is progressive and frugal thinking.  But, is it realistic to create such a system on a budget?  What about in Tacoma?  Let's take a look.

In 2010, the City of Tucson inked a deal with United Streetcar of Oregon for $26 million for 7 modern streetcars.  That's seven low-floor, ADA accessible streetcars with modern drivetrains, and A/C - the kind you see in Tacoma.

That's $3.71 million each.

Well, what if Tacoma could use classic streetcars that have been overhauled with new drivetrains, components, and have A/C and are ADA compliant?  What would that cost?  Well, it turns out you can have a classic streetcar for about $1.3 million complete with the technological ability of a modern streetcar.  In fact, one particular municipality has done this - Philadelphia.

This car is a SEPTA PCCII streetcar that's been completely refurbished by Brookville Equipment Company.  The above car includes the new drivetrain, to specs, as stated above.  It has A/C, modern running equipment and components, and is ADA compliant with wheelchair ramps.  They even found several for restoration - they're available!

That's $1.3 million each.

It has the same components and technology as a United Streetcar, similar capacity, superior attractiveness, and is interesting as all hell.

Why not?  Isn't Tacoma looking at buying about seven streetcars for the new E1 route?  If so, that's $26 million dollars versus $9.1 million for seven PCCII cars.  That's a savings of $16.9 million dollars.

So, I am asking here today, if this is an option?  Can we be this progressive?  These are the trains Tacoma would have had to buy in 1938 if it continued it's streetcar system anyways, no? 

If Tacoma can build E1, with a few spots where there's a single track instead of a double, and use PCCII trains, how much can that save?  Is it enough saved money to make a spur off of MLK to 6th and Sprague as part of the deal while completely building out E1?

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Oct. 1, 2012 at 2:34pm

Fabled "Feet on the Street" or... Stop Glaring...

Here is an idea I have had for quite a while.  I don't even know if it's feesible on the scale at which I speak - but it will be someday.  It's a little idea packed in potential for not only Tacoma but for our friends at Milgard.  It's no glare glass.


Okay, it sounds like an idea that isn't an idea at all... but hear me out.  


I have a new Mac computer with a new screen that doesn't glare.  It's pretty cool.  I can't see myself typing away in the reflection of the screen and it doesn't hurt my eyes.  But, what if this werre transferred to the windows on stores around town?  


What if you could drive through town and see right into the windows right in the middle of the day without reflection?  What if it were easy to see right into shops as you drive and walk by regardless of your distance, angle, or lumens outside?  Would you be more likely to stop at a store where you see something interesting - because you may not have seen it otherwise?  You would see more interesting things - besides seeing your reflected self in your car playing the air drums. 


It would be like nightfall.  Have you ever driven around at night?  The sun is gone so most of the glare goes with it.  The light within is seen better and you not only can see the store's insides, but you can see the people there too.  You'll notice more stores then because you can see inside.  It seems as though there's more action around because... you can see the people behind the glare.


So, I'd propose a small change to the city code or zoning bonus - if these windows are available or become available.  That would be to find a way to encourage thier use on the first floor of all buildings in business districts.  Maybe an ammendment to the zoning code for encouraging use on street level floors of mixed use buildings.  Every business advantage should be explored.


So the next time you're driving down Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma, look to your left and your right.  Try and see into the businesses that are there and figure out what the businesses are - as if you were an out-of-towner.  Then imagine driving by at night with all that glare gone.  You'll notice a lot more life, businesses, and people.  It's the difference between "There's a cupcake shop on this street" and "Look!  That looks like an awesome cupcake shop!  I never noticed it before. Let's stop in!"


Thanks for hearing my idea... with a possible big impact.  What do you think?  Would this make a difference?

comments [8]

Sep. 25, 2012 at 12:01am

Scheming Theming - Park Place North (PPN)

The other day I promised myself that I would get some of my ideas about imagineering Tacoma out there for you all to read.  I made a list of 26 different ideas to start the process so I could get my thoughts in order and have something to talk about each week - at least for a little while.


One idea I wrote down was one of creating facades for the theming of downtown buildings.  Since the Conversations Tacoma ( topic on their first night (Sept 27) is going to be about facades, I thought I'd write about that this week.


The idea mainly is one of theming the north end of Pacific Avenue as 1890's  to 1900's architecture.  The ability to have a substantial row of historic and historic replica buildings is probably unprecidented, as far as opportunities go, in Tacoma.   Why?  Not only are there substantial historic buildings from that era left but the one main building that would tie almost the entire length of Pacific Avenue together is owned by the City of Tacoma and due for a remodel/repurpose.  That building is Park Place North.


Staying with great urban design principals, I would tackle Park Place North as two buildings.  That is, I would split it in two parts and take 10th street and run it up through to Commerce or Broadway.  On the south end of the building there's a park that I would eliminate as it is primarily there for foot traffic and the street sidewalk on 10th would now exist for that.  Could this be done with the remainder of my imagineered plan?  I'd like to think so but I'm no architect.


Then, I would pick facades from the original Pacific Avenue stretch, and make the Pacific side frontage as replicas of the chosen buildings.  We've all seen the pictures of these great architectural jewels and wished they never had disappeared... they could be back.  Sometimes these ideas end up coming off as hokey and done wrong so you'd have to insist on detail.   There's room for storefronts on the entire block and they should be converted into storefronts, and not surface level parking, again.


Undoubtedly, the building would end up taller than the original buildings that were there and the Park Place North building as it sits today.  I would inset the top floors in from the top of the facade and make the rest of the building glass to appear translucent or reflect the old buildings from across the street.


In the back of the building, I would leave it the same on the first floor and sell the air rights for above Commerce Street.  There, I would court a modern movie theatre complex to build a megaplex theatre that primarily emptied out, as it's "front entrance" onto Broadway through the Theatre on the Square Park.  If you look, you see a foot bridge/sky bridge that passes over Commerce from Park Place North to the Theatre on the Square Park.  This is the level at which the theatre would sit.  It would be built over Commerce street and ontop of the current PPN.


So now you would have converted PPN into vintage storefronts on the Pacific Avenue side to carry the "theme" of Pacific Avenue to most of the buildings along the street.  You'd have parking at the intermediate levels.  The top floors would be a megaplex drawing people into downtown and emptying out in an area filled with places to eat, museums, and hopefully more shopping.  The Commerce bus depot would then be covered from rain.


I know theming and recreating classic architecture can sometimes come off as corny.  This would have to be done right.  Just look at Port Townsend and how they have capitalized on a mere couple of blocks of old buildings to convert the whole town into a tourist mecca.  Tacoma is almost there, like a jack-o-lantern missing it's teeth, it misses sporatic buildings and personality but obtains more of this architecture than probably any other northwest city.  It is something that really can't be stolen or replicated by Seattle.  It gives personality and therefore pride.  It makes a tombstone of a building into a catalyst for a renewed and relegitimized Theatre District and hopefully become a place where people want to be. 

So, what do you think?  Could this or should this be done?  What are the roadblocks?  What would you do with Park Place North?

comments [7]

Sep. 20, 2012 at 10:55am

Streetcar Tacoma: My Routing Opinion. What's Yours?

I wrote this as I have, unfortunately, a lot of time to kill these days.  I thought I would start contributing to the feed once in a while instead of just my usual commenting.  This is just my opinion on the new proposed streetcar line and why I think it should go on Tacoma Avenue. 

Heavy transit corridors that necessitate rail don’t go to the suburbs. I’m shocked that the plans state that some of the routes go to places like the mall, out on 6th avenue past Sprague, anywhere on 19th street, or out south of Salishan. These are obviously not the best routes to build when looking at the density rail often serves or causes. After all, does New York, Rome, Portland, Paris, or any other city with rail send it out to a zone where there’s primarily single family housing? No. It stays where the big density is possible and where it can make businesses and commerce stronger. It stays close to the core of the city because that’s where the amenities are and therefore serves well the people who can’t afford the suburbs, like the city life, or want to live car free - saving an average of $700 a month.


If you have a map and there’s primarily single family houses or duplex’s in the area of where you’re thinking of putting the tracks, than you are way off base in your thinking of where to put said tracks.

I think the best route is going up Stadium way to at least that district.  Perhaps stopping there or going down Tacoma Avenue and turning onto Jefferson and making it's way back to 17th and Pacific Avenue.  I'd also like to see a line (would it have to be a cable-car?) straight up 11th from the Murray Morgan Bridge to the MLK business district.


I like Tacoma Avenue because it is:

1. At the edge of UWT and sudents have proven they will ride light rail in Tacoma.  

2. It is only about 6 blocks from the Pacific line therefore creating a sandwich effect on the land between the lines - for commerce reasons.  Pedestrian shed on side blocks.

3.  Tacoma Avenue needs to be a major street in town for commerce.  Coupled with a freeway on/off ramp at Delin/Tacoma Avenue, you'd jump start Tacoma Ave as an important corridor again.

4.  At the Tacoma Avenue and Jefferson/Center Street intersection end of the line is a great spur location for a line to the mall, downtown brewery district, Lincoln High School, or the Lincoln District.  These lines then become cheaper to add onto the system later.

5. The Stadium area on Tacoma avenue is a great spur location for a future line to 6th Avenue, Old Tacoma, or downtown.  These lines then become cheaper to add onto the system later.

6. It would go right by the City/County Building - where there's always lots of foot traffic.  

7.  Tacoma Avenue needs a makeover to attract more housing and commerce.  Having only Pacific Avenue as the "main" street in town guarantees that not much value is added to locations only a few blocks off this path.

8. It sandwiches the mega-lot at Tacoma Ave and 21st and will make it attractive enough to get something awesome in there.  

9. Downtown is built on rock and underground parking is near impossible west of Pacific Ave.  If it went down Tacoma Avenue, you could build satellite parking structures and eliminate the parking requirement downtown for big businesses causing our real estate to be much much cheaper to a developer to actually build on.  

10. A Tacoma Avenue line goes right by Stadium High School and close to walking from Lincoln High School. If you haven't noticed, this is a demographic having money to spend on things like clothes, meals, and entertainment. For proof, pay attention to how many stores target teens in the mall.

11.  Creating this line created much less money to expand it out to another business district in the future creating the possibility that some of these districts may start the process of making this happen on their own.

12.  It encouraged UWT to build it's next buildings out to it's currently planned west side of the campus much sooner.  Therefore forcing the center of the campus to be completed, if only asthetically, faster.


Our ancestors knew all of these reasons and built the 2nd streetcar line ever on Tacoma Avenue.  Are we as smart?


Joining the hospitals on an MLK line shouldn't be a priority as people usually never leave a hospital if they work there and patients are either financially, emotionally, or physically destitute when coming or going that they create no commerce nearby.  Otherwise, if this "Medical Mile" would create commerce, hospitals everywhere would be surrounded by commerce and they aren't.  Doctors rarely (see also; never) leave for lunch and are wealthy enough to not be living nearby in a one or two bedroom condo.  But the business district there in itself is ripe for greatness IMO as it's proximity to downtown and the suburbs is ideal... but not BECAUSE OF the hospitals.


Sixth Avenue business district would have a hard time with this because of parking issues after the line is built -- and anything west of Sprague is the burbs anyways.  Besides students, people out in the suburbs LIKE their cars.  That's why they live in the suburbs!  Do these people want to set off a building density emphasis right on sixth Avenue?  Can you foresee and like seeing buildings being torn down in exchange for 3-6 story mixed use buildings?  That's likely to happen on sixth avenue and it's likely to happen INSTEAD OF it happening downtown.  I personally love sixth avenue the way it is and wouldn't want to see this.  Besides, what are they going to build the streetcar out to Alder and stop the route there?  Are you then going to have to load onto a bus for the rest of the route? 


The mall is 50 years old and in the outside of the downtown core.  Unless there's a way to use it for it's parking, this is a horrible idea.


Salishan is a good line but anything south of it on Portland avenue not only encourages sprawl but is a waste of money.  The route to Salishan is almost all dead streets as far as shopping or housing is concerned.  You'd have a hard time extracting the full potential of streetcar's economic impact if the line goes here.


Pacific Highway?  Really?  As long as there's a Sounder line, Tacoma isn't getting light rail to Seattle.


If there's a route up some of these suburban lines, what is the streetcar service going to end (because that's what line they could afford?) and then you'll have to load onto a bus?  Lol. 


The best way to build a track is on one street going one way and putting the other direction of tracks on a street at least two streets over parallel - this is how Portland capitalizes on it's system.  You buy not much more materials for the project but you get twice as much track frontage in front of businesses/commerce/ housing.  This  gets you much more commerce out of each dollar spent.  It creates (at least) a four block wide strip of street (pedestrian shed) where there's fixed transit lines... this is how the Pearl in Portland took off and it would create a similar effect between the Commerce line and the proposed (here) Tacoma Avenue line.

What are your thoughtful opinions on streetcar routes?  Where should it go and why?

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