Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 30, 2013 at 2:47pm

The Overwhelming Case to Extend Link Light Rail Through Stadium and 6th Avenue

As many people and Sound Transit itself has emphasized, the light rail Link extension must have a high ridership to succeed. As obvious as this may sound, the discussion has become derailed later to many other considerations.

Despite the good intentions, the City of Tacoma's failure to study the relevant factors which could have made the Tollefson Plaza a success (active permeable edges), has left it a dead piece of useless "open space" piece of concrete in all but a month or so in the winter when the skating rink is there. Tacomans are now burdened with this dead plaza just as they are with the North Park Plaza parking garage. Let's not make the same mistake with the link extension and create a vastly underutilized (empty) light rail system.

(photo credit Exit 133)

Here is the analysis by transit guru Chris Karnes on the issue:


The Logic behind a 6th Avenue LINK Corridor

Tacoma General Hospital, a major employer on the B1 corridor.
Right: Stadium High School Wright Park in Background
This post comes out of the frustration that I feel when I read editorials like this in the paper about corridors like C1. I understand where the author is coming from, but in corridor evaluation, you need to try to back up your claims with numbers and with specifics. I try to do that here.

Here's why 6th Avenue needs to be given more serious consideration. The bold parts are categories of criteria for evaluating the project that were designed by the stakeholders group and were prioritized in part by public comment. If you have more to add to this, mention it in the comments.

Improve mobility and transportation access for Tacoma residents and visitors.

Long Range Bicycle Map around 6th Avenue
11 streets with bike lanes and bike boulevards intersect with B1
The B1 corridor along 6th Avenue between Central Tacoma and the North End is slated to have a ridership response of 3.0 to 3.5 million additional riders per year or greater than 10,000 riders per day, matched only by the E1 corridor.  The B1 corridor would link together Tacoma Dome Station, Downtown Tacoma, the Stadium District, Hilltop, and 6th Avenue - tying E1 for the number of distinct neighborhoods and mixed use centers served by a corridor.  

Bicycle connections are planned at eleven - yes eleven - cross streets to the corridor, making it easier to expand access to more than just areas that are within ¼ mile to the line.  Federal regulations on transit investments allow federal grant money to be used to expand bicycle access within 3-miles of each station.  The eleven cross streets slated for bike access along B1 are: Union Ave, Puget Sound Ave, Alder St., Pine St., State St., Ainsworth Ave, J St., I St., Yakima Ave, St. Helens Ave and Tacoma Ave.  Also, local transit service from Pierce Transit routes 1, 11, 13, 14, and 16 would be available for redeployment to act as feeder and connecting services. Bus service from these routes could also potentially be redeployed to other parts of the city, further enhancing ridership and access to Downtown.

Increase transit ridership within the City of Tacoma.

The B1 corridor has the largest existing population center in Tacoma.  The 98403 zip code, which represents the North Slope neighborhood of the Stadium District is the 12th most dense zip code by population in the state and it is the densest in Tacoma by far at 7,830 people per square mile.
The Stadium District and 6th Avenue are rivaled again only by similar, but lower, existing population density along the MLK E1 corridor.

10,000 students, including those from UW Tacoma (3,662), UPS (2,600), Stadium High School (1,699), Tacoma School of the Arts (515), and others would have access to the line.  Students are very reliable users for public transit during all periods of the day.

Commuters would benefit by being connected with Tacoma General/Mary Bridge Hospital, the Downtown Tacoma regional growth center and connecting regional transit services at Tacoma Dome Station.  Tourists and visitors would be able to visit entertainment venues and green open spaces on 6th Avenue and at Wright Park in the Stadium District, not to mention the many festivals and farmers markets that take place in these areas.  Shoppers would have more choices in the Stadium District and on 6th Avenue.  Tacoma Link service would run late at night to match demand from existing night life venues in Downtown and on 6th Avenue.
Goal Criteria and B1 (Source: Sound Transit)

Serve underserved neighborhoods and communities in the City of Tacoma.

The B1 corridor would serve significant portions of low income and minority populations and more than twice the proportion of households without a vehicle when compared to the C1 Portland Ave corridor. In fact the number of households without a car adjacent to B1 is higher than that found on average in Seattle or Los Angeles (also see Goal Criteria; right, for B1 reference).

Use transit to spur economic development and other types of investments

The Stadium District is zoned for mixed use development and there are a number of vacant parcels capable of being built upon.  The entire 6th Avenue corridor all the way to TCC is either zoned for mixed use or for commercial development and has many opportunities for additional density. At least one six story mixed use project is in the works for the corner of 6th and Alder St that might better pencil with light rail.

Jazzbones, an example of vibrant nightlife entertainment on 6th Avenue.

10 minute frequencies would be viable for up to 20 hours a day because of high ridership and proximity to businesses that stay open late.  New businesses would fill existing buildings currently for lease and in new buildings that would be constructed.  Proximity to entertainment venues as well as the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center would make development of hotels a possibility in the Stadium District.

Wright Park in the Summer time.  Wright Park would be served by B1 and E1.
Ensure that the project is environmentally sensitive and sustainable

High ridership means fewer cars on the road.  Fewer cars means better quality air and less pollution into Puget Sound.  B1’s high ridership makes it easily one of the most environmentally beneficial routes considered.

The B1 corridor would be next to the 27 acre Wright Park with playground and sprayground facilities, a one mile trail, a botanical conservatory and pond.

The B1 corridor is consistent with the City of Tacoma’s Climate Action Plan, Comprehensive Plan, and Streetcar Feasibility Study.  No habitat corridors are affected by a B1 route.

Establish a project that is competitive for federal funding

The B1 corridor easily can match any other corridor in project justification for federal funding.  The mobility benefits of a B1 corridor would be profound, ranging from increased bike access to a 30% increase in transit reliability between 6th Avenue and the Downtown core.  High ridership again means more environmental benefits for the region.  It is a cost effective use of resources because it will save on the order of 2-3 minutes per trip between 6th Avenue and Tacoma Dome Station.  Local land use patterns are incredibly supportive of public transit, as is evidenced by high ridership on Pierce Transit’s Route 1. Economic development is zoned for and vacant land is available for development.  And finally, a local improvement district for a B1 corridor, that is the local match, is incredibly viable because local property values are high enough to support it.


comments [9]  |  posted under Link, tacoma, Tacoma


by Jesse on 3/30/2013 @ 5:53pm
This is so wrong on so many fronts that I don't even have time to address it.

And, Tollefson Plaza has nothing to do with... anything current.

by tacoma_1 on 3/31/2013 @ 6:55am
Seems pretty well thought out to me.

To me, E1 makes sense only after or in conjunction with B1. If the medical mile has the upside that MLK route proponents say it does, then an LID should be able to raise enough $ to build that portion.

I hope that the ST board chooses both E1 & B1 and then the combo of $ from LID's Feds & ST raises enough money to get 'er done.

by Erik on 3/31/2013 @ 11:16am
And, Tollefson Plaza has nothing to do with...

If the light rail extension fails obtain high ridership by connecting high density areas where Tacomans might actually have a change to ride it, then the streetcars will be empty like Tollefson Plaza.

Of course Tollefson was still opened with great fanfare. Some performers were even paid by the city to entertain people at the opening ceremony. 

It even won an award. After the ceremony ended though it has remainded empty and dead 80 percent of the time.The idea for Tollefson was that so long as people had good intentions in designing and planning Tollefson Plaza to create the perceived public benefit of "open space", that should be enough to make it successful.  

The result it Tacomans got a dead concrete space which mimics a parking lot nearly year round but without the cars and sucks out much of the potential life downtown Tacoma could have.

Transportation systems are supposed to connect high density nodes where people live. If this guideline for extending the light rail link is ignored, then the Link cars will look much like Tollefson Plaza but with wheels and be far more extensive to maintain.

by panachronic on 3/31/2013 @ 2:57pm
"The idea for Tollefson was that so long as people had good intentions in designing and planning Tollefson Plaza to create the perceived public benefit of "open space", that should be enough to make it successful."

That's pretty much the reasoning behind this entire streetcar movement.

by Mofo from the Hood on 3/31/2013 @ 10:06pm

6th AVENUE CIRCA 2025: The Malign Effects Of Egalitarianism.

by boearc on 4/1/2013 @ 7:42pm
So Erik, I was amazed by your 3.0 to 3.5 million rider increase.  So I went and pulled the 'real' numbers of Pierce Transit Bus Route #1 - the most populated line in their system.  Now this route runs from the Walmart in Spanaway to the TCC Transit Center.  I am assuming you are just using the stretch from TCC into Downtown predominately on 6th Avenue correct?  If so, the yearly totals for only this portion of the line from TCC to 6th/Sprague (since the proposed light-rail at this point is proposed to divert down Division to Stadium) has a total of 731 per day x 255 days for yearly total of 186,405.  I suppose we can double this for a yearly total of ons and offs and that gets us to 372,810 fares.  So you are saying that by running the LINK on this route all the way out to TCC on 6th Avenue will increase the ridership by 805-939% within a 1/4 mile each side of the line? 

by cisserosmiley on 4/1/2013 @ 9:24pm
That's 10 times more pee than the 'ONE' bus!

by Erik on 4/7/2013 @ 3:26pm
In case you missed the presentation last Friday on Tacoma Link expansion, here is a summary of the presentation by Chris Karnes including some slides: 

"Above is the presentation I made for "Moving Forward on Tacoma Link", as was requested. I enjoyed sharing the
presentation, while meeting so many rail transit supporters in Tacoma.

Sadly I don't have any photos from the event, but I am told that a story of some kind may be in the works in the Tacoma Weekly.

We had folks attend from Hilltop groups, the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council, the Stadium District, the North End, and elsewhere. We had representatives from Sound Transit and Pierce Transit, and even Pierce Transit Board Member Derek Young.

As long as we get up the hill

After the presentation and after speaking with people individually, the consensus I found was this:

"I can live with an option that gets us up to the hill [past Tacoma General Hospital]. If my route is not built today, it will someday, because it just makes sense to once we are already that far."

Some people offered ideas about using one route or another for the federal small starts grant and to use LID funding to get us the rest of the way.

And while it was not my intention to try to sway anyone from their preferred corridor, I was asked to talk a little bit about my own preference. I've already spoken at length on the blog about 6th Avenue, so I won't repeat it again.

Keeping the project on track

At the meeting, several officials told us that probably the most effective way of influencing the process from here is really just emailing your City Councilmembers. They are engaged and they are listening.

Other potential opportunities for public comment are below:

April 9th - Citizens Forum (City Hall - 747 Market St, 5pm)
April 11th - Sound Transit Tacoma Link Open House (Tacoma Dome Light Rail station, 4-7pm)
April 16th - Tacoma Council Study Session with Sound Transit (no public comment at this meeting)
April 23rd or April 30th - Possible dates for City resolution recommending route alternatives to ST
May 9th - Sound Transit Capital Committee (Sound Transit HQ - Ruth Fisher Board Room, 401 S. Jackson St. Seattle, WA, 1:30pm)
May 23rd - Sound Transit Board (Sound Transit HQ - Ruth Fisher Board Room, 401 S. Jackson St. Seattle, WA, 1:30pm)

Many thanks to Morgan Alexander for offering us his great space. "


by Jesse on 4/7/2013 @ 5:35pm
The sixth avenue line proponents are now in an opinion campaign against mathematics.