Thursday, December 20, 2007

Business Comes to the Commute Redux Table--Big Time

As Downtown Tacoma experiences an overall tightening of parking supply due to office and residential growth, municipal leaders have initiated broad-based community discussions about mobility and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber has empowered a broad stakeholder group—the Transit & Parking Committee. In 2008, City and transit officials are planning to launch a new push to get daily commuters out of their own cars and into alternatives.

Local business leaders are also coming to the table with a new program--Destination Downtown Door-to-Door (DDDD or "D squared"). The program takes its name both from Tacoma’s current urban center plan (“Destination Downtown”) and from a repeated observation by City Manager Eric Anderson (derived from the ongoing series of public forums he has been facilitating around downtown parking and transit issues) that an effective transportation demand program will provide downtown stakeholders with a variety of travel choices “from door to door.”

Between now and May 31, 2009, Destination Downtown Door-to-Door will help eliminate 300 daily commute trips to and from downtown Tacoma. The new program will be coordinated by the Chamber but is a collaborative effort with Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, and individual businesses and property owners. Funding for the program is derived from the Trip Reduction Performance Program (TRPP) of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Destination Downtown Door-to-Door augment the resources of city government and local/regional transit agencies already dedicated to commute trip reduction with currently unavailable or underutilized resources from the private sector. The new program will add to existing commute trip reduction efforts in these ways:

  • Provide incentives and transit subsidies to more downtown employees and residents;
  • Build excitement and awareness through new venues such as monthly “Commuter Club” socials and educational meetings;
  • Engage “buy in” from business leaders at the highest levels;
  • Broaden the appeal of alternatives through use of highly visible promotions and expand marketing efforts to include non-affected employers.


  1. In 2008, City and transit officials are planning to launch a new push to get daily commuters out of their own cars and into alternatives.

    All good ideas. However, a city program requesting people to use alternative transportation when the city mandates car use for every trip to their home, office or restaurant is going to have little effect.

    The first step the city should make is to enable people to be able to choose alternative transportation based on their personal preference and cost.

  2. The bus route that serves my neighborhood would be perfect for trips downtown, except that it only runs every half hour, is always late, and forces one to wait at the least-savory spot in downtown Tacoma.

    I am always hammering on this point, but if the city wants to increase bus ridership, it absolutely must do something drastic to improve Commerce street.

    Closing the d-town market and removing the problematic phone booth are both great steps, but what is needed now are some legitimate businesses located at regular intervals along commerce (that empty stretch from 9th to 11th is horrible) even if it means street vendors with espresso carts and magazines. Piped in music might help, as silly as that sounds. It's been used at the Tacoma mall transit center and has apparently proven something of a deterrent.

    Commuters won't take the bus if the bus seems like the last resort of scary people. They just won't. It doesn't matter how hard the city tries to present it as good for them.

    The buses have to run more often (and not just the number 1, the buses serving neighborhoods like the 16 and 11) and they have to be accessed from somewhere people don't mind waiting a few minutes.

  3. Here's a bit of a clarification through an analogy. The city currently requires a parking space for every person at their residence, place of work and their restaurant.

    Thus, attempting to have people take mass transit when the city mandates car use is counterproductive.

    The analogy is like trying to get someone to become a vegetarian yet forcing them to buy a steak dinner at every meal. Once they have the mandated steak dinner in front of them, they are unlikely to incur the extra costs of buying a vegetarian one (a second dinner) no matter how persuasive you are.

    People will use mass transit options when they have a meaningful choice and are able to save the money for driving and parking by using mass transit. If they deprived of that choice and are forced to incur the cost of a mandated parking space at their residence and place of work, they have no incentive to use mass transit.

    By the way, I finally broke down and started my own blog:

    Tacoma Urbanist

    There are urban design issues. But I have have a good shot of the phone booth removed from 9th and Commerce as well. My most popular subject was the comparison of different coffee shops in Tacoma.

    Feed Tacoma has a good blog template that Kevin Freitas has set up that allows people to use to set up a blog.

  4. Erik, Good points. This reminds me of the catch-22 of the state gas tax which I harp on quite a bit. We are spending a bunch of money to get people to get out of their single occupancy vehicles, which is great. At the same time gas tax revenues fall and we can't complete highway projects because we are dependant on one form of funding, which is dependant on people driving a lot per the status quo. It is a crazy catch-22.

    One problem I have with some downtown Commute Trip reduction programs is that they call driving to the Dome, parking, and then taking in the LINK qualifies (i.e. I know it does at Russel). This is not a true Reduction of CO2 or vehicle miles traveled, it is just free parking that the large employers can benefit from. The city needs to make sure that commute trip reduction programs actually get people out of their single occupancy vehicles for the entire length (or at least 75%) of their commute.

    I agree with Jen that more 15 minute bus routes and well as a clean up of commerce are important steps with this. I also think a public image campaign from Pierce Transit can help as well. An integrated streetcar network would also do wonders.


  5. The city needs to make sure that commute trip reduction programs actually get people out of their single occupancy vehicles for the entire length (or at least 75%) of their commute.

    Thanks for the feedback Andrew. You are sort of an expert on transportation issues.

    Here, the marketplace really offers a great solution by allowing people to choose a variety of transportation choices.

    Once they experience the true cost of each, they will choose mass transit at a much greater rate and we will start being able to build buildings again in Tacoma.