Mayor-elect Marilyn Strickland is a fierce advocate for Tacoma with a sharp and fresh understanding of where the city is and where we should be headed.
Yesterday morning, the Tacoma Streetcar Board had the profound opportunity to meet with Marilyn to discuss the future of Tacoma and the prospects of streetcar extensions beyond Tacoma's Downtown. And while I don't want to steal the Mayor-elect's thunder by giving away plans that are best left to press conferences and official Council meetings, I think that it's appropriate to share certain themes that became apparent as I reviewed my notes from the meeting.
Marilyn spoke a good deal about engaging the community in a series of community conversations to fashion a comprehensive transportation vision for the city that really integrates many different layers of mobility together - from bikes to streetcars to buses. Thanks to actions by Council in 2009, we have a new set of possibilities open to us as a city. The Complete Streets design methodology has been formally adopted by Council, the Mixed Use Centers upzoned, parking meters going in by April, and part of Downtown freed of off-street parking requirements for new development. Tacoma Streetcar conveyed that what we're missing now are the transportation alternatives that will connect Downtown to the neighborhoods and the neighborhoods to each other, and that streetcars can be a great tool for economic development as well as transportation.
About streetcars Marilyn had a number of really valid questions:
Why streetcars?At one point Morgan and Marilyn got into a "discussion" about initial routing beyond Tacoma General Hospital, with Morgan preferring a 6th Avenue route and Marilyn preferring an Martin Luther King Jr. Way routing. I was concerned at first, but after the meeting I realized that this was a good discussion to be having, although it would be settled at a later date. I remain convinced that the matching funds we come up with, added to federal, state and ST dollars will enable us to create extensions to 6th and Pine and to St. Joseph Hospital with a comfortable margin.
Would streetcars be different from Link?
How much is this going to cost?
How is this system able to help people with limited mobility and not just able young urbanites?etc.
The issue of parking garages came up many times in reference to the word "graveyard," which I believe plays on Mayor Baarsma's depiction of Park Plaza North as a "tombstone" in downtown. The Board encouraged this understanding of the City Manager's plan for satellite parking garages on the edge of Downtown. In our view it is a diversion of city resources from what we should be aiming for in 2010 and beyond.
There was a lot of discussion that centered around the bus system and how to improve it. I was pleased to hear that Marilyn clearly understood that simply requesting additional levels of taxes from Tacoma's voters to maintain the existing bus system with a few tweaks isn't feasible. To paraphrase what she said, "We have to hit the reset button on this antiquated system." I also recall that she said something to the effect of, "Pierce Transit should understand that transit in Tacoma can include both buses and streetcars." ... and she also said that the Commerce Transfer Center is being moved. Hip-hip hurray.
We discussed a few other topics like how to come up with the money to fix potholes and how to fill in the gaps of needed goods and services in each of the neighborhood business districts, but I'll leave those announcements to our Mayor-elect.
It was definitely a pleasure to meet with her. We wish her the best in this coming year.
In other news:
Light rail to Sea-Tac airport opened today about an hour and a half ago. A lot of people have been waiting for this for decades. Congratulations Puget Sound.