Morgan's Brain

Nov. 15, 2009 at 1:00am

NEWS FLASH: City Manager Announces Next Streetcar Line Will Be MLK

At the Chamber sponsored Transportation in Tacoma for the 21st Century summit yesterday, the City Manager announced that the next streetcar line will most likely be on MLK. He said the city is pursuing that route because of an LID underway in that area - and because of the muscle power of Multicare at one end of Hilltop and the Franciscans at the other end. He also said it might be built out of sequence with a planned extension of the downtown LINK streetcar up Stadium Way.

MLK? Not connected to a main route?

Based on my own conversations, I've heard much support on 6th Ave for the streetcars. I wonder if the city has worked with property owners in that area for doing an LID. I also hope that other streetcar designs will be considered for Tacoma, besides the modern Eastern European design currently so prevalent. Something that speaks a little more to Tacoma's heritage and character would be ideal. New Orleans and may other cities, for example, designed their own.

What do you think?

comments [34]  |  posted under streetcars, tacoma


by Erik on 11/14/2009 @ 5:23pm
What do you think?

I think that it is good we are now talking about specific routes.

What we need now is a timeline for street car implementation.

Let's get past the gee wiz reaction to streetcars and start the design, funding and building of it.

We have elected a new set of city leaders on the Tacoma City Council. Here is their opportunity to lead.

by dolly varden on 11/14/2009 @ 7:07pm
I like it. The cliche is right: Hilltop has tons of potential as an urban neighborhood. A streetcar would go a long way toward helping the neighborhood realize that potential, maybe more than any other Tacoma neighborhood has for, I don't know, 60 years or something.

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/14/2009 @ 9:34pm
bLink is a bit heavier gauge (the track is at least) than a normal streetcar.

Is this extension supposed to be light-rail gauge or streetcar gauge?

by tacoma1 on 11/15/2009 @ 9:33am
T-Link was built to handle heavier duty and faster light rail cars. Anyone that is interested in our streetcar/lightrail future owes it to themselves to hop on the new central link lightrail. That could be and should be our future with T-Link all the way to the airport. Exactly how far it extends into T-Town will be a matter of budget, political will, grass roots support, and probably plenty of Nimby-ism.

As far as the design of the streetcars, I don't care what they look like on the outside, but they need to have low floors so wheelchairs and suitcases can roll in and out quickly and easily. The lines also should have signal priorty. Although there is precedence and some need for parking structures for lightrail, streetcars don't need the added expense.

I think it's great that our city is finally planning out streetcar routes. I think that the streetcars and the lightrail have to remain separate in technology. If we compromise and extend link with streetcar tracks, we will effectively kill lightrail to the airport.

Chris K wrote in his blog that by the end of 2010 that a streetcar feasibility plan with routes and cost estimates would be out. That will give us plenty of to blog and argue about I imagine. The big advantage of starting on MLK is the hospitals must have the financial ability to help out with an LID. Also, the street could use some economic development and is likely to have fewer NIMBY's. As much as I would like a streetcar to come up 6th ave, I think that there could be substantial pushback from the local business's at least until the economy comes back.

by Jake on 11/15/2009 @ 9:42am
So is the extension down Stadium Way going to just stop at the end of Stadium Way? It seems like they would/should just go ahead and bring it down Division to connect with the MLK line.

by fredo on 11/15/2009 @ 11:40am
Morgan-The city manager has suggested that a streetcar line be installed on MLK because there will be LID going in there. Does this mean that the financing for the streetcar is going to be passed through to the adjacent property owners as is customary with a LID or just that the track be laid while the LID improvements are installed to minimize disruption?

Quite frankly, I don't see a lot of property owners along MLK (with the exception of Multicare and St. Joes) who could support a LID with or without a streetcar assessment.

by Jake on 11/15/2009 @ 11:41am
Last I heard (this was over a year ago) there was strong support along MLK for a LID. The property owners along MLK were also very supportive of height increases in the district.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/15/2009 @ 12:20pm
I just want to know what Mr. Mac thinks of this development. Is it a street car that Mr. Mac desires. If Mr. Mac thinks it is a good thing then sign me up.

by Erik Hanberg on 11/15/2009 @ 12:38pm
I think it's an interesting idea, and if it means getting rail in the ground sooner rather than later, I'm for it.

Connecting the two hospitals, and then wrapping the LINK up Stadium Way and connecting the two lines at Multicare seems to make sense.

But I wouldn't want it to detract from a line up 6th Ave, which makes the most sense to me, especially connecting that line to TCC and eventually the UP Town Center.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/15/2009 @ 12:44pm
Connecting the two hospitals is a good thing if you want a quick second opinion.

by Marty on 11/15/2009 @ 3:41pm
When we think of street cars/ light rail and possible extensions, we must ask the following question:

Do we look to replicate existing routes that have the heaviest Pierce Transit ridership already or do we look for routes that bring new Transit Oriented Development?

by Erik Hanberg on 11/15/2009 @ 4:32pm
It's a good question, Marty.

My instinct would be to only partially take into account current Pierce Transit routes.

Lightrail is a decades-long investment, so I would want to plan for the long-term, ideal routes.

To me that means connecting neighborhoods and transit hubs with downtown and Dome, followed by inter-neighborhood routes.

Basically: get the most dense areas, and the areas zoned to be even denser, on the routes, whether or not they are already well-used Pierce Transit routes.

by dltooley on 11/15/2009 @ 4:37pm
IIRC Anderson mentioned connecting at the South end as well as at Division, creating a downtown circulator. Including less advantaged areas in a service plan is a solid political foundation and a MLK loop also provides a solid foundation for future service. Whether streetcars work for TOD lower income areas is another question.

The heaviest transit ridership argument is also good, and hopefully we'll see a full civic discourse on this one.

FWIW, in Portland Max and the Streetcars are the same guage. The biggest difference is the amount of power in the vehicle, I believe there may also be floor height differences - neither of which are unsurmountable obstacles for joint operation.

by NSHDscott on 11/15/2009 @ 4:48pm
I think the idea of an MLK line is great, and what it could do for Hilltop could be a really great thing, but I think it would be a mistake to not connect that line to the existing line. With no connection, it's no more useful than our existing Pacific/Commerce line, if not even less useful.

Remember, streetcars are primarily a tool for commuting to and from work and home. Maybe people will run an errand here and there on it, and it can have great benefits with TOD, but primarily it's for commuting. Marty's comment just above mine echoes that, and I bet some of your other comments do too if I'd read them (I will soon, I swear!).

So an MLK line will benefit people who both live and work in that area, and who don't live close enough to work to just walk there. Think there are many people like that? At least with the downtown line there's a parking garage at one end so people can drive from elsewhere, park, and ride the Link to work. That's still not good enough, but it will be once the Link is extended into a few Tacoma neighborhoods.

In the same way, the MLK will be a horribly ineffective commute tool if it is standalone. If it is connected to the downtown line, then it becomes an effective commute tool for anyone who lives in the Hilltop area and works downtown. Now we're talking better numbers, and they would improve even more because Hilltop would get that TOD.

But that's not all! Let's say the connection between the two lines is via Stadium Way and Division Ave, where the line runs up the two hills and turns left on MLK, with a station in Stadium District and another on that corner near Tacoma General (and Frisko Freeze!). Now anyone who lives in the Stadium or North Slope Historic Districts can also commute to work either downtown or at St. Joe's (since those people won't need a streetcar to commute to TG). Those neighborhoods also feel a little TOD love and we have a good chunk of neighborhood connected to downtown via light rail. That would be sweet!

One last benefit: What's more expensive, building a parking garage downtown or one in Hilltop or Stadium? Obviously the latter. So for those people who live in Proctor, Pearl, UP, Fircrest, etc. and work downtown, they can drive to Hilltop, park in a (free?) garage, and take the Link to work downtown.

Anyway, just a few reasons I immediately thought of for making sure those two lines are connected. Otherwise, I'd be a bit bummed that the line wouldn't reach the 6th Ave area, but I can certainly understand why MLK would be chosen if it'll be cheaper given the LID and I'd be happy to support that decision as long as it connects to the downtown line.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/15/2009 @ 5:06pm
I see where this is going, pretend there will be street cars on MLK to push the project forward, all the while knowing it will run out of money by the time it gets to around the Stadium district. Once again Hilltop will get the short end of the stick.

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/15/2009 @ 8:29pm
I like the idea of the streetcar going down 6th... except for the nightmare that will happen during the construction. I sometimes wonder if the businesses there are robust enough right now (and near future) to survive construction.
I think phasing it that direction after the Stadium/MLK is a good call.

If they build a loop on MLK through hilltop, that would be one of the most awesome things ever. I'd totally ride it to my folk's house.

This is a great idea, and MLK sure needs that LID. We talk about "density" and "mixed use" and "stuff", yet it seems Hilltop gets ignored. With the preexisting business district on MLK, along with the neat old houses, preexisting density and TWO (soon to be 3) grocery stores, Hilltop is a diamond in the rough. A LID and getting some business life there would go a long way to making the hill a desirable place to be again.

I grew up in the hill in the 80s when the Bloods and Crips owned the streets. There are few things I'd love to see more than the hill living up to it's potential.

by Chris.Tacoma on 11/16/2009 @ 8:31am
A couple of issues
Can we please stop calling our system b-Link? What we have right now are streetcars running on light rail track, with 750 volt electrification, switchable to central link style 1500 volt DC. Tacoma Link cars are exactly the same Skoda cars Portland uses for its streetcar system. Central Link has proven itself to be amazingly expensive and it requires a lot of right of way that Tacoma just doesn't have. The Kinkysharyo cars are very nice, but their minimum curve radius is too large for at least one turn in the Tacoma Link system.

We need a long range plan that will blanket the city with streetcars - linking neighborhoods and business districts together. MLK needs its line connecting it to Stadium and Downtown, but the addition of 6th Avenue, the Lincoln District, and Lower Portland would make an initial system have enough reach to have substantial economic and social impacts.

The alternatives analysis being conducted by a Sound Transit next year, at present, may or may not include all of the lines evaluated in the streetcar feasibility study, residents and staff worked on back in 2007.

In conclusion
There are so many moving parts working right now - the Pierce Transit redesign, ST alternatives analysis, federal transportation policy, etc. that we need someone on Council who knows these issues inside and out.

by tacoma1 on 11/16/2009 @ 9:23am
Thankyou, and I agree wholeheartedly. I find that term extremely denigrating and insulting myself. I have only used the term T-Link or Tacoma Link in my postings. I can't help but perceive it's use as anti transit in sentiment. And yes we need someone on the council with transit planning experience. These systems are expensive to put in. We need to make every effort to route them where they will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, for the longest time.

Now, a comment on circular routes......generally not a good idea IMO. A circular route will almost always guarantee that a person will have to travel farther and longer than they wish. Streetcars have to compete for passensgers with buses, cars, feet. They need to be as direct a route as possible. Without seeing the route maps, it may be too early to weigh in too much on this issue, but I know of no city (Disneyland doesn't count) that has a successful circular streetcar route. I am willing to be wrong if someone can come up with some examples, but I haven't seen any in any of my travels.

Streetcars and Lightrail are very good and handling density and volume. That is what they do best. That should be their main focus. The will spur TOD too, but that takes awhile. The first segments should be in dense areas, and relieve pressure off of or totally replace the busiest bus routes. Once built, streetcars tend to have a better farebox return than buses, so it is a wise investment. Seattle is eliminating some of the Metro routes (194 for example) and has added some shorter feeder routes to get users to Central Link. And they have banned park and ride lots within the city limits. All and all, very smart and efficient us of transit infrastructure.

RE: Park and Rides. Assuming that I wanted to go to the Tacoma Mall, if I walk 5 or 6 blks to a street car stop, and then can go directly to the Mall, I would do that. If were to hop in my car to drive to a park & ride lot, I might as well just stay in my car and drive to the mall. Bottom line, park and rides for streetcars are self defeating, and should have no place in our streetcar system. It would be much better use of our transit dollars to extend the system than spend transit dollars on parking structures.

I strongly feel that it would not only wise to connect our multi use districts (i.e Proctor, McKinley) to Downtown with streetcars, but also our Universities. If we want to add vibrancy to our DT, and make our Universities even more appealing, run a streetcar or lightrail line from DT to PLU, and to UPS, and operate it till the wee hours in the evening. Maybe we can even get these schools to chip in a little.

by Lance Kagey on 11/16/2009 @ 9:25am
I think an MLK line to Point Defiance and the downtown Line up Sixth to the Narrows Bridge would be the perfect starting point for a comprehensive system.


by dltooley on 11/16/2009 @ 9:53am
Good transportation planning should be inclusive of all alternatives, modifying them until they fit together into a prioritized whole. Extending the current line to Division and MLK will serve as a foundation for both a Sixth Avenue and Hilltop expansion.

At this time there is little call for any development in Tacoma, TOD or otherwise. (The Thea Foss as a pedestrian TOD should be as important as Hilltop.) This is all the more the case with the failure of both the MLKHA and Allen.

On that basis we should be looking to increase service on 6th. However there are safety concerns as well, and the feds are just now stepping into the street operation arena.

There is a role for rail, but short segments of dedicated bus lane might be better, combined with intelligent signalization, etc. For the money of Streetcars we can likely build a bus network and mixed use center park and ride structures.

The MLK loop should definitely stay on the table and near the top of the list. One big question - is it a two way loop or just a one way extension?

Personally, I'd like to see this MLK loop be joint bus and rail, serving as the foundation for continued citywide expansion.

Oh, and FWIW, I bet the pedestrian TOD on the Thea Foss is the most profitable!

by fredo on 11/16/2009 @ 10:03am
While we're dreaming about these exciting routes and modalities it would behoove our financially strapped city and other similarly struggling cities to appeal to the state legislature to waive the prevailing wage laws with regard to mass transit.

I would rather see a a comprehensive system built by the low bidder than a piecemeal system built at prevailing wage.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/16/2009 @ 12:16pm
I'm not sure i want to ride a system where it was built by sub minimum wage employees.

by Erik on 11/16/2009 @ 12:21pm
I though it would be easier and cheaper for the first line to be from the current LINK to Stadium.

by fredo on 11/16/2009 @ 12:39pm
"I'm not sure i want to ride a system where it was built by sub minimum wage employees." Crenshaw

Did someone suggest that? You'd probably rather dream about a transit system that will never be built in your lifetime because of the staggering construction costs.

RE: transit systems built by low wage laborers. I've traveled through other countries and had the pleasure to be transported on many systems built by low wage labor. It never harmed me one bit. Interestingly, the people in other countries don't stigmatize low wage workers like Americans do.

The suggestion that people who don't earn union scale are somehow going to turn out an inferior product or will not take pride in their work is both elitist and regrettable.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/16/2009 @ 12:50pm
I'm glad you are looking out for the downtrodden, fredo.

by The Jinxmedic on 11/16/2009 @ 1:34pm
Or how about the lower Portland line linking the Dome District transport hubs with the Puyallup Tribal EQC area and the Salishan projects. That's a transit money maker, right there. And it's all straight, with only one 90 degree turn, and a single grade.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 11/16/2009 @ 1:39pm
I think there have been talks with the Tribe in regards to extending the link to the new casino. I think this could be an excellent partnership especially if the Tribe were to front some of the money. I don't think this can be ruled out. I'd say the odds are 8 to 5 in favor.

by dltooley on 11/16/2009 @ 2:42pm
Connecting to EQC is on the table and the tribe has offered to participate.

Once crucial issue is how you (eventually) connect to the North. Though no alignment has been planned yet it will likely on 99 through Fife, probably from the rest area or so on down. This means you have to cross I-5 twice, once to get to lower Portland, and then back to the Dome District.

Probably necessary, but not cheap.

by dltooley on 11/16/2009 @ 2:48pm
On extending to Stadium, yes it's relatively short and inexpensive. I know routing's been discussed and I've walked the route. Not understand the full discussion to date, it does seem that there would be some benefit in crossing from Stadium Way up to Broadway, at one of three potential properties - **possibly** even at the McMenamims adjunct garage.

One issue that needs to be worked out is the need to retrofit the existing line to be compatible - with the main link, addition of second tracks, station floor heights, etc.

by dltooley on 11/16/2009 @ 2:52pm
Brainstorm here - what about connecting to Lower Portland via a daylighted First Creek on the north end, then recross via Bay street or Portland Avenue?

by Jesse on 11/16/2009 @ 7:59pm
I've been lurking here for a while but just had to jump in on this topic...
I love the idea of streetcar going down MLK as a next route instead of down 6th avenue as long as it connects to or comes near the Stadium/current route. I think having it to the 6th avenue hot spots (the suburbs) is the wrong solution because much of the point of building a streetcar system has to be it's ability to draw people into the spots that it resides. Sixth ave is already a great area. See, without it going down 6th avenue, you'd have to (or WANT to --- get it?) move into the core of Tacoma.
How can you build onto the center with outreaching routes when the center is incomplete? So all streetcars would lead to the center of town without a system there to get you around to your locations? It doesn't make sense. All streetcars built after the center is complete should lead to downtown and it's commerce... a COMPLETE streetcar system to get to any location in the core.
I would love to see this route loop onto Tacoma Ave as well and a cable car up 15th to complete DT. THEN move onto 6th... or Lincoln... or McKinley... or Proctor... Transit is the glue that holds a city's neighborhoods together. You can see how it did just that when you drive around Tacoma today. You can almost tell exactly where the stops and tracks were by where shops are and small business districts popped up.

by inbloodyrise on 11/27/2011 @ 12:28pm

by L.S.Erhardt on 11/27/2011 @ 11:09pm
What is the status on this anyway?

by Jake on 11/28/2011 @ 7:02am
"Sound transit is planning to begin the streetcar extension alternatives analysis in the fall of 2011. The alternatives analysis is scheduled for completion in November 2012 at which time the City will know the proposed streetcar alignment and whether or not a streetcar line will be included on MLK."