Thursday, October 23, 2008

Complete Streets: What They Are and Why We Need Them

A national movement is gaining momentum calling for “complete streets” that are designed for all types of users of all ages and abilities, pedestrians, cyclists, transit, trucks, cars, wheelchairs, skateboarders etc.

In addition to accommodating all users, complete street designs incorporate landscaping, trees and other features which provide both aesthetic and functional benefits, ultimately creating a sense of place that attracts all the users it was designed for.

The City of Tacoma is currently engaged in a study to incorporate complete street principles in the 16 Mixed-Use Centers. Tacoma’s Mixed-Use Centers are areas (primarily the neighborhood business districts) that are planned for high density housing, commercial revitalization, pedestrian friendly development and frequent transit service.

A number of recent planning processes have highlighted the benefits of and need for complete streets including Angelou Economics economic development strategy, the Downtown Plan Update, Destination Downtown, the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan, and the Green Ribbon Taskforce.

The complete streets study identifies four street typologies, each with their own characteristics and uses. For more information on preliminary findings and designs here.

Main Streets (think McKinley, Proctor and 6th Ave.): High density people intensive retail uses oriented to the street. Street design emphasizes walking and highlights transit and bike access while promoting traffic calming. Two lanes streets (25 mph), short blocks with generous sidewalks.

Avenues (think S. Tacoma Way, S. 19th and Portland Ave): Commercial, office and mixed uses with buildings oriented to the street and parking in the rear. Street design emphasizes mobility and balances safety and service for all modes. Three to five travel lanes (35 mph) with on-street parking. Encourage mid-block crossings with medians and pedestrian islands on longer blocks (500’-600’).

Transit Priority Streets (think Tacoma Ave., Division and Pacific): High density people-intensive uses. Mixed use buildings oriented to the street. Street design promotes frequent transit service (bus and streetcar) and a high quality pedestrian environment with curb bulbs and regular pedestrian crossings.. Two shared travel lanes (25mph) with on street parking where appropriate. Bikes are accommodated on parallel streets.

Urban Residential Streets: Primarily Multifamily residential uses with limited commercial/ mixed uses. Street design promotes ‘livable streets’ with wide sidewalks, public art, seating, pedestrian scale lighting, attractive landscaping, bike lanes. Two travel lanes with slow travel speeds. Angled or parallel parking on street for visitors, residential parking in nearby lots/garages.

The purpose of the complete streets study is to inform a City Council policy discussion of the opportunities and challenges in Tacoma. The project will develop guidelines for complete streets that, if approved, would be used to direct future street improvements within the Centers.

California's Governor Schwarzenegger signed the Complete Streets Act of 2008 (pdf) into law on September 30. The law requires cities and counties statewide to incorporate complete streets when updating their general plans. Learn more at

Friday, October 17, 2008

City Leaders Bike to Work

City Council members, Planning Commissioners, and Public Works staff biked to work together this morning. Members of the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club joined the ride, as well as local media, Chamber and City staff. The event was organized by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the City’s mobility staff and aimed to encourage policy makers (and stripe painters) to experience first hand what it’s like to ride on Tacoma’s streets.

Nearly 25 riders met in Proctor, East Tacoma, and near the Scott Pierson trail off of Union during rush hour this morning. All three groups rendezvoused at the Tacoma Municipal Building, where riders faced perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the morning: Where to store the bikes.

These “uh-oh” moments were just what organizers had hoped for, and as participants chatted over breakfast, the conversation was rich with more observations and insightful perspective on how Tacoma can become a more bike-friendly city.

Here are some of the themes of what people noticed and suggested:
  • Road conditions were inconsistent and often dangerous. Riders often have to make sudden decisions about how best to avoid potholes, which is particularly tricky and unsafe when there are vehicles nearby (driving and parked). The danger factor of potholes and other wear and tear – and whether people even notice them – often depends on how many wheels you have underneath you.
  • Bulb outs are great for pedestrians, but not always for bikes. Unless they are incorporated into the street design properly with all transportation modes in mind, these devices aimed to improve walking can be detrimental to biking.
  • We need better signage for what we do have. Even when there were trails or bike lanes, it was hard for newer riders to know how they connected.
  • The Pierce County Bike Map needs help. Badly. Commuters also need a bike map that focuses on downtown and residential areas. Connecting modes (like public transit) is also necessary, especially for those of us looking for ways to get out of downtown without climbing Tacoma’s treacherous hills.
  • Vehicles behave differently when there is a herd of bikes. Let’s be honest: with 7-8 riders and lots of reflective clothing, we were pretty hard to miss this morning. When you’re a lone cyclist, it can be trickier to know how to behave in traffic and bike predictably (read: safely).

On that note, the overarching call to action for the morning was the need for not only adequate biking infrastructure, but appropriate education for cyclists and motor vehicle drivers. Casual and avid riders alike emphasized that the instances in which they felt the least safe were when they either didn’t know how to behave as a cyclist or when cars behaved unpredictably around them. Becoming a city that encourages biking as transportation, recreation, and fitness means that we need to adjust our collective mindset and behaviors to be predictable, legal, and safe as we build better biking amenities.

This is certainly only the beginning of the conversation, and it is an imperative one for Tacoma residents to be a part of. Talk your City Council and City Staff about biking in Tacoma. Encourage them to keep these comments and issues in mind as they consider a Bike and Pedestrian master plan next year.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Miss the Tour of Urban Livng This Weekend

Tacoma's downtown skyline is changing daily with the development of chic condominiums, stylish town homes and trendy apartments, and the annual Tour of Urban Living will be your chance to get inside 12 of these properties and be a part of the action!

This year's Tour of Urban Living will take place THIS WEEKEND, October 11th and 12th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

This free, self-guided tour promises to highlight the best that downtown Tacoma has to offer. Tour the urban lifestyle that includes Tacoma's world-class museum row, fabulous eateries, revitalized waterfront, eclectic shops, and the free Link Light Rail that will get you there.

Start your tour at the Pantages Theater. Stop by, pick up a map, grab some coffee and start your walking tour. There will be a guided tour of the Historic Pantages at noon both days.
We hope you'll join us! Here's more information:

Download the 2008 Tour of Urban Living Brochure
Look at Properties for Sale or Lease to view individual property contact information and website links
Get your Relocation Guide
Find out about Housing Tax Incentives

Filming in the Post Office Closes A Street

A permit issued to film in the old courthouse above the Post Office on A Street will close A street and restrict parking in the area from 10/13-10/22.

During this time:
  • Court A will be closed to traffic
  • There will be limited parking around the Post Office. The principal exception will be on the east side of A Street
The film crew will move in props and cameras on Monday, 10/13, all the large trucks, gondolas (with lights) and generators will be parked fro the duration of the filming on the streets adjacent to the Post Office.

All filming will occur inside the building. Filming itself will be on the third floor, so access to postal services and boxes should not be impacted.

Questions or Comments? email or call Nancy P. Grabinski-Young, Economic Development Supervisor, Tacoma Community & Economic Development Department 253.591.5394.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Downtown: On the Go! kicked off to a great start

The Downtown: On the Go! campaign kicked off Wednesday in Tollefson Plaza as downtown commuters gathered during their lunch hours to learn how they can (and why they should) Reinvent their Commutes. Despite whether you caught the hubbub in the plaza, you may have seen new billboards and ads on buses with this logo popping up around town in the last few weeks.
Downtown: On the Go! is a collaborative effort between the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, City of Tacoma, Pierce Transit, and Pierce County aimed at reducing traffic congestion in Tacoma and addressing parking challenges downtown by encouraging commuters to walk, bike, take the bus, and share rides instead of driving alone.

Wednesday's kickoff featured a range of transportation resources, from a newly decorated Pierce Transit bus to bicycle clubs and shops, information on trails and city plans in Tacoma, and even a water bicycle.

This fun event was even more enjoyable thanks to what looks to be the last day of sunshine in a while. The Harmon and Hub restaurants provided lunch, and Blackwater CafĂ© and Mad Hat Tea treated attendees to their great brews of coffee and tea. The Joe Baque trio from Olympia provided music, and one of Frost Park’s finest chalk artists livened up the cement with transportation-related cartoons. There were no SOVs, of course. Commuters won great prizes, and many signed up to begin logging their new commutes to be entered into drawings to win great prizes – you can too by visiting

This isn’t the last you’ll see of Downtown: On the Go! – we’re just gearing up. If you are interested in how you or your business can reduce your commute trips or set up a Commute Trip Reduction program for employees, contact Jessica Holden at the Chamber (, 253.627.2175).

It’s great for businesses, employees, and Tacoma.