The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tacoma Streetcars tries to team up with Sound Transit

Streetcars pick up traction, but will Sound Transit listen?
Published: March 23rd, 2008 01:00 AM
If momentum counts for anything, the grass-roots movement to build a streetcar network in Tacoma has it now.

This month two more neighborhood councils, representing the North End and downtown, have allied themselves with Tacoma Streetcar’s simple vision: a citywide streetcar network connecting Tacoma’s neighborhoods.

Also this month, Sound Transit announced that its 2007 ridership jumped 12.5 percent compared to an overall U.S. increase of 2 percent. That means Sound Transit recorded roughly 1.5 million more trips on its fleet of express buses and commuter trains. Rising gas prices should drive those numbers up this year – and might drive more support for streetcars.

At its board meeting Thursday, Sound Transit representatives plan to discuss whether to present us voters with another package of transit upgrades later this year. The board also will mull over what transit expansions to put in that package. It’s scheduled to vote April 10.

Tacoma Streetcar, five neighborhood organizations and a downtown transit committee have written letters to Sound Transit asking that any package presented to voters include an intracity streetcar network for Tacoma.

I sat down last week with Morgan Alexander, who founded Tacoma Streetcar three years ago, to talk about his progress and what he expects next.

What would you tell Sound Transit before its decision on the next transit package?

We’re saying, “Yes, you should do it, and yes, it should have streetcars on it.” That’s been our big push right now. I think there’s an opportunity for Tacoma, if Tacoma would just seize it, to ask for something. To say, “We want this and we want this to be streetcars.” Instead of just kind of reacting later when Sound Transit proposes something we really don’t want. I see it as an opportunity for Tacoma to take a proactive stand.

During your public presentations, how do you describe the difference between downtown’s Link light-rail line and streetcars for the neighborhoods?

It’s really confusing. The easiest way I explain it, a standard streetcar system is a quarter the cost of a light-rail system. You get four times the bang for the buck with a standard streetcar. And people understand that.

Do you see a streetcar network in Tacoma starting out with a one-line extension from Link as a test before branching out from there or do you see it starting with multiple lines to various areas?

With Sound Transit’s involvement, I think there could be enough to extend both ways to start. The best-case scenario would be at least one line up to the Stadium District and the other way, since the city’s already done studies on it, out Portland Avenue up to Salishan.

Who do you see as potential partners in the financing?

Sound Transit, of course. The Puyallup Tribe, because they paid for the Portland Avenue study, they could bring a lot to the table. Then it’s a mix of federal grants, state grants, private money, local improvement districts.

What’s the main obstacle you face?

Right now, with the uncertainty in the economy and having people still think of the long view, that we still need to make investments. We can’t just sit down and not do anything. Because when the economy does pick up, we’re going to be left in the dust. Seattle just opened up their new streetcar line, and they’re already talking about six additional lines. Honestly, once we get a taste of it down here, when we get it out into the neighborhoods, I think people will be demanding more.

What arguments do you hear from people opposing streetcars?

It’s really just your typical voice about any public project: “Why is our tax money going to this?” “I don’t want to pay more taxes.” I really haven’t heard any fresh arguments.

I’m hoping that there’s enough civic-minded people, enough community-minded people who want to see more investment in their neighborhoods, to convince everyone else.

How has the progress you’ve made so far matched with what you expected when you started Tacoma Streetcar?

It’s been kind of bittersweet. I went into it thinking really long term – like 20 or 30 years. But I was really surprised and pleased at the initial response: the fact that I was able to twist Tacoma Councilman Tom Stenger’s arm enough last year that he proposed a resolution of support; now the city manager is working on a plan, and it’s being given serious consideration. It’s been kind of bitter because I want a streetcar now, and I still don’t see one. It’s hard to be patient.

Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785

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