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To the streets

Tacoma streetcarTacoma has become one of the most interesting cities in the Northwest for urban redevelopment and creative initiatives. It’s not that all of them work, and it’s not that the results so far are necessarily impeccable. (Touring around central Tacoma is an exercise in mixed realities, jowl by cheek.) But the efforts the city is making are noteworthy all over the place.

Like the streetcar effort.

Other cities have streetcars – Portland, for one, with a small network operational and possibly headed for expansion. Seattle, Yakima and even Astoria have systems of generally small size – they’re interesting and maybe fun for visitors, but not major cogs in the system.

Tacoma seems to be looking toward something a bit grander. Like some of the other systems, it would be intended to link up with existing mass transit. Unlike them, it would apparently become an extensive and intensive network of routes, one that would serve the city in ways other than as a transportation curio or a museum piece.

One public meeting, billed as a grassroots effort (not explicitly linked to a city initiative), was hels early in June at the city library. More may be coming.

Here’s the group’s statement of intent:

VISION: Tacoma is undergoing a long-overdue revitalization. The next two decades will add thousands of new jobs, households, and retail establishments to the city — so good transportation will be key.

Streetcars are a proven catalyst in rejuvenating urban neighborhoods, providing quick, accessible transport to the resources and amenities that attract people to those districts.

PROPOSAL: This proposal is for a fleet of vintage or replica streetcars running throughout the city. The proposed routes would connect with the Sound Transit regional light rail, the downtown Link, and would connect neighborhoods together in a way that currently does not exist. Routes would be developed in phases to spread out the cost over time.

HISTORY: In the early 1900s, streetcars boosted development in Tacoma business districts such as Fern Hill, Proctor, Stadium, and “K” Street. These neighborhoods grew up and flourished because of their streetcar lines, bringing in commerce, a larger labor force and new residents. Today, streetcars reinforce the historic character of older neighborhoods and spark growth for new and existing businesses, making new jobs at all levels accessible to a variety of people.

NEED: A streetcar line will provide an important, easy-to-build connection to regional transit systems, allowing the redevelopment of business districts as pedestrian-focused neighborhoods. Moreover, streetcars will reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips throughout the city. Fewer cars mean less pollution.

This is a different sort of animal than even Portland has tried up to now. Tacoma’s progress on this – and some of the early efforts already are underway – will be worth watching.

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