Tuesday, November 27, 2007

City Council Eyes Sidewalk Vending Rules

The Tacoma City Council's Economic Development Committee will review proposed changes to Tacoma's sidewalk vending ordinance at their meeting this afternoon.

The BIA has worked with City staff to generate a number of changes, including:
  • Reducing the number of businesses and/or property owners who must grant permission for vendors to operate;
  • Simplifying and clarifying design standards for sidewalk vending units;
  • Allowing vending from more than one location;
  • Allowing vendors more opportunity to "cluster" their units;
  • Loosening restrictions on height and prescribed type of vending unit;
  • Adding a 30-day notice requirement for removal of permission by abutting property owners;
  • Maintaining the $500,000 insurance requirement--most other jurisdictions require $1 million or more.

While those involved in the proposal believe that these changes will make it easier for vendors to operate, they do not constitute any "magic bullet" for sidewalk selling. The insurance requirement still poses a barrier for fledgling vendor, and significant issues still remain with requirements placed on food vendors by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. City officials have asked the BIA to consider service as the master vendor, holding licenses for all sidewalk sellers in downtown.

Ultimately, the potential volume of customers on downtown sidewalks will drive the deployment of vendors--"more feet on the street," the focus of so much that the BIA does. The tweaks set out for review today will help lower the cost for those deployments.

Monday, November 26, 2007

City Council Addresses Noise, Curfew, Sounder Routing Tomorrow

Members of the Tacoma City Council will address several issues tomorrow that are of interest to downtown stakeholders.

First, the Council will hear a presentation on alternatives for routing Sounder service through the Dome District--an issue that's generated plenty of controversy during the past few months.

Later, the Council will hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to Title 8 of the Municipal Code that may help control noise. During that same evening meeting, city leaders will consider whether or not to continue the curfew--originally put in place back in 1994--that regulates activities of juveniles from 12:01 to 6:00 a.m.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Demand Remains High for Tacoma Office Space

While lease rates remain largely flat around the South Sound (despite a continuing decrease in available space), demand is highest for spaces in the greater Tacoma area, according to Colliers International's third quarter real estate report.

Downtown Tacoma and Gig Harbor tied for the highest average rental rates for full-service Class C office space; both markets reported rates at about $19 per square foot. Higher-end Class B spaces were going for up to $23.50, with the highest rates found in Fife and Gig Harbor. Puyallup and Sumner posted the highest rates for professional-grade Class A office space at $28.25 per square foot.

One big factor in the rate increase has been an increase in medical offices siting in the area.

Friday, November 16, 2007

'D' St. Overpass Nears Completion

The 'D' St. overpass project--connecting Puyallup Ave. to Dock St. over the Burlington Northern rail right-of-way via a new bridge--is beginning to take its final shape.

The support columns are in place with the bridge deck on top. Half the soil earth walls have been constructed to meet the elevation of the bridge deck and the roadway surface is beginning to be placed on the southern approach from Puyallup Ave. Streetscape improvements have occurred along Puyallup Avenue, including new curbs, utilities, asphalt, sidewalks and trees. MidMountain Contractors, Inc. is currently creating traffic barriers for the overpass in the shape of tugboats to pay homage to the Thea Foss Waterway. Three overlooks will also be constructed to include interpretive panels that describe the history, geography and cultural richness of this area.

For the remaining months of this project, the contractor will work to open the first half of the overpass, two lanes of traffic going north and south, by the end of December or January. Once that has occurred, the contractor will begin final construction of the second half of the overpass, two more lanes, leading to completion.

Once completed, the $24.5 million project will separate train and motor vehicle traffic by raising the roadway over the railroad tracks. The overpass will provide for realignment of the railroad tracks to ease the curve around the end of the Thea Foss Waterway—allowing train traffic to move at a higher speed. Vehicle traffic, which includes trucks carrying freight, no longer will need to wait for the trains that presently close off 'D' St. to traffic. The project also will create a pedestrian connection between the Dome District and the Thea Foss Waterway esplanade and parks.

Can You Hear Me--Not!

One of the concerns noted during the recent 9th & Pacific Community Forum was in regards to nighttime noise impacts; currently, the City of Tacoma has limited options for managing noise pollution.

On Tuesday, November 27th, beginning at approximately 5:30 p.m., the Tacoma City Council will conduct a public hearing on proposed amendments to Title 8 of the Municipal Code that may help control noise.

This hearing will take place in the City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St. Those wishing to submit written comments may do so at the public hearing or by submitting them to the City Clerk’s Office at 747 Market Street, Room 220 by 4:00 p.m. on November 27th. For further information or additional questions on the proposed amendments, please contact Charlie Solverson at (253) 591-5017.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is There Light at the End of This Tunnel?

Earlier posts here have examined the continuing controversy around Sound Transit's plans to route Sounder through the south end of downtown Tacoma. The route through the Dome District is part of a larger plan, approved by the region's voters in 1996, to extend commuter rail service to South Tacoma and Lakewood. This extension was originally scheduled to be finished in 2001 but has been delayed now to debut no sooner than 2011 or early 2012. Construction is already under way on the Lakewood Sounder station, and construction will begin early next year on the South Tacoma station.

Despite the delay, Sound Transit continues to face controversy over the 1.2-mile segment between the Tacoma Dome Station and 'M' St. where the agency must build new track. The route decision has struggled through numerous community meetings and various proposals and counter-proposals, culminating in the two latest proposals
  • Crossing Pacific Avenue on an overpass, displacing six businesses, lowering Pacific and several lesser streets;
  • Crossing Pacific at street level, displacing seven businesses, and raise Pacific and several other streets.

Both options would involve closing part of 'A' St. between 25th and 26th.

Sound Transit’s board is due to select a final route through downtown Tacoma on December 13th, and pressure is mounting to move ahead with the decison. Continued delay not only impedes the onset of service to Lakewood but further tarnishes the agency's reputation for delivering projects on time--arguably, a lack of public confidence in the agency may have contributed to the recent failure of the Roads & Transit proposal.

Timing is not the only factor at risk. Track and signal work on the Tacoma Dome to Lakewood extension originally was estimated to cost $148 million; however, because of the debate over the route and construction delays, the cost is expected to rise $65 million to $75 million.

Those opposing the recommended options believe that an extenuated public process will bring out better ideas for what will be a "once in our lifetimes" decision.

Sound Transit will hold an open house Thursday to answer questions about the Sounder route and other proposed service changes. The open house will run from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Phoenix Room at Freighthouse Square (440 E. 26th St.).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Portland Offers Smarter Parking Via Technology

In an earlier post, the BIA Blog explored how several cities across America are using new technology and new approaches to effect what amounts to a virtual revolution in parking. One of those cities--Portland, OR--is deploying cutting-edge technology to help alleviate its parking problems and the congestion associated with the search for parking spots.

SmartPark, Portland's parking contractor, is preparing to launch a pilot program that will track and relay real-time information about parking locations at three city-managed locations downtown. The new system will use sensors to track use of parking spaces and relay the information to electronic signs on the front of each parking garage, as well as to a temporary sign addressing drivers headed downtown on the Morrison Bridge.

Portland's system is based upon mature technology. Earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration released a study showing how real-time parking systems benefit downtown businesses. In 2002, the German Ministry of Education and Research released a report demonstrating how real-time parking space information can drastically reduce traffic congestion. Several systems operating in different parts of the United States seem to offer greater customer satisfaction, as well as increased revenues through better utilization of parking facilities.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Three Ways to Improve Transportation Downtown

Getting into and around Tacoma's City Center may get easier in the near future due to three initiatives announced during the past week.

The Transit & Parking Committee organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber has released the latest version of its white paper offering stakeholder suggestions on how to improve transportation services downtown. This report augments the recommendations made last week by City Manager Eric Anderson.

The Committee is also working with the Chamber to launch a new program: Destination Downtown Door-to-Door. This program will build momentum—augmenting current CTR programs that already promote use of excellent local and regional transit services—to promote awareness and utilization of commute options. A long-term goal for this project is to establish the organizational foundation for a sustainable transportation management program serving downtown Tacoma’s various stakeholders, envisioned as a cooperative effort between the Chamber, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, and individual businesses and property owners.

One key commute option for downtown employees, residents and visitors--and one that has enjoyed record-breaking success since its deployment--is the Link. One of Link's weaknesses, however, is that it has stopped running by 8:00 p.m., making it a poor choice for students (classes generally run until 9:00) or for patrons of restaurants, bars and/or cultural centers.

Until now, that is. Earlier this week, Sound Transit announced that it is looking to expand the light rail system's hours until 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Public comment is needed to secure this service change.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Protestors Promise to "Shut Down" Tacoma's City Center

Next Friday, November 9th, several loosely-organized groups plan to stage a protest regarding the Northwest Detention Center in the Tacoma Tideflats. Beginning around 11:00 a.m. in Tollefson Plaza, activities are expected to continue through the next day (Saturday). Although the official protest will occur at S. 17th and Pacific Ave. as permitted for this activity, information distributed by some groups participating in the event promote “other forms of protest and resistance [to] start when ever and where ever those who plan them decide"--often a code for disruptive, even violent behavior. Some of the groups involved in this activity may have been involved in the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization a few years ago.

"We plan on shutting down the downtown area of Tacoma to send a very clear message that will be heard by the powers that be, that we do not want this detention facility anywhere near us and our communities,” information posted by protest organizers states. "We plan on sending a very visible, clear message by not allowing business as usual to happen on these days.”

A rumor has begun making the rounds that merchants and others downtown should close for the day and board up windows--this is decidedly not the case. What is recommended by Tacoma Police and other security professionals is for stakeholders to be especially aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious happenings to Tacoma Police at (253) 798-4721 or the BIA at (253) 383-1131. Stakeholders should also report any suspicious items that may be laying around--such as lumber, pipes (especially pipes with bolts inside), chains, or weapons; protest preparation may be hidden downtown up to a week in advance of the scheduled activities.

TPD specifically asks that loose items such as sandwich boards, signs, tables and chairs, be put away during Friday and Saturday to alleviate any opportunity for destruction.