Nice place for a stroll. Credit: Google

At the last Sound Transit Board meeting, on April 25, WSDOT head and Sound Transit Board member Roger Millar caught my attention when he mentioned the potential of East Tacoma or Fife stations as something other than freeway-limited park and ride stops.

Millar proposed making the East Tacoma station the end of a bike trail connecting Link to Puyallup—and the raised the possibility of transforming the area into a walking and biking hub. Millar even suggested that funds or planning resources from the Gateway Project, a highway expansion megaproject, might be available to build the trail.

Some background: the walksheds of the potential Fife and East Tacoma sites are mainly industrial or low-rise commercial, though there are residential areas that are a bikeable distance away. Several major highways intersect with I-5 in the area, and the Port of Tacoma’s truck freight enters and exits the highway system there. So, as anyone who’s traveled on I-5 knows, Fife and East Tacoma are constantly congested already. (And the widening probably won’t make a big difference.) In short, it’s not the most pedestrian- or bike-friendly area. (Frank covered the Level 2 Tacoma Dome extension options in more detail when they were released in April.)

Hearing the head of WSDOT—an agency that is heavily focused on building and maintaining highways—propose an urbanist-flavored mobility solution was very encouraging.

“The distance from the City of Puyallup to Fife—it’s five, six miles—which, on a bicycle, particularly on flat terrain like that is nothing. And the opportunity to create a whole new travelshed is something that we’re excited about. …We are looking at alignments that might work as part of our Gateway Project,” Millar said, citing the work of Pierce County elected officials for bringing the issue to his attention. “At the very least, maybe we could minimize the number of park and ride spaces we need to have for people coming in from Puyallup, because they can get on their bikes and ride.”

Sound Transit’s project lead, Curvie Hawkins, said the agency is open to the idea, but was understandably cautious about committing to anything.

“We have a river we have to get over between Fife and East Tacoma,” Hawkins said. “So we have thought about ways to incorporate multiple modes in our design, and [be] able to make that connection work. I can’t tell you we’re going to build a multimodal bridge at this time, but to respond to your question, we’re thinking about it.”

Millar (who has a strong transit background) pressed Hawkins further, raising the possibility of reimagining the Tacoma and Fife station areas as walkable, bikeable urban villages.

“That’s good news, and I’m not hoping for the Tilikum Crossing—but, y’know, that wouldn’t be bad—over the [Puyallup] River there,” Millar said. “But the other direction, we need to think about active transportation accesses from those stations to the Port of Tacoma. Is there conversation going on about bicycle and walking connections, transit shuttle connections, those kinds of things? …I have this vision of longshoremen on scooters.”

Hawkins again hedged, saying that planning was early, but Sound Transit is working closely with the Port of Tacoma and Pierce Transit.

After the exchange, Fife Mayor and Board member Kim Roscoe added her support for Millar’s multimodal ambitions.

“I really appreciate you pulling this up to top of mind for us,” Roscoe said, turning to Millar. “I share the strong sentiment on keeping a focus on bike and pedestrian access.”

In earlier iterations of Link planning, particularly in suburban and industrial areas like the stations in question, multimodal access has seemed like an afterthought. It’s refreshing to see leaders outside of Seattle working to leverage Link as a catalyst for green, human-scale transportation.

19 Replies to “Fife, Pedestrian Paradise?”

  1. I’ve often felt that a major flaw in East Link was not to have added a trail next to the I-405 crossing. It is encouraging to see that partnering projects with pedestrian and bicycle modes is more conscious these days.

    1. I would encourage you to look at Bellevue grand connection. Also there is great bike trails around Mercer slough

    2. I think the Bellevue Grand Connection is a great idea! It’s however only been a solid idea for about the past 4-6 years. The omission of a trail crossing 405 is related to the East Link planning 8-12 years ago.

      I think the intent was to use a NE 6th sidewalk to go all the way across (or people were expected to use Main or 12th). The problem is that it would still mean that crossing at 4th, 6th and 8th — the middle of Downtown by the Link station — would mean that all pedestrians would have to cross freeway off and on ramps.

      1. Yeah, and I think honestly I-405 is not a great place for a trail, at least for crossing the freeway (there is a trail parallel to I-405 that is closed until July for East Link construction.

        I think for getting across I-405, taking a one-stop hop on East Link to Wilburton station is probably a better experience anyway.

      2. There’s a lot of new retail that’s sprung up around 4th St. and 116th, including a Best Buy, Trader Joes, REI, and Home Depot. Taking Link for one stop over 405 doesn’t help – Wilberton Station is too far north, and is not actually any closer to the destination than Bellevue Transit Center where you started. 4th St. has a pedestrian sidewalk, but it has freeway on ramps, which means lots of turning traffic and lights that take forever to change. We really need a pedestrian crossing at 6th.

        The Grand Connection is great, but I can’t tell at this point whether it’s actually going to happen, or whether it’s simply an unfunded dream.

      3. Bellevue’s biggest failing is that there are only two streets between I-90 and SR-520 that cross I-405 without having to deal with freeway on-ramps.

      4. 3 streets actually: Main, 10th (if you walk on the south side of the street), and 12th.

  2. The great opportunity in the Tacoma extension is that the parcels around many station sites are larger and the current buildings are often just one floor. That includes the big retail properties in South Federal Way and the non-residential parts of Fife and East Tacoma. While it is possible to see these sites as a “waste” today, market forces will likely create some development that will be more active than in places with existing single-family residential inside Seattle.

    1. I think TOD near suburban Link stations is key, especially as Seattle has a housing crisis. Getting people moving out to the suburbs in theory is a way to have “affordable” housing without trying to artificially force rent prices in Seattle. The problem of course is everyone drives everywhere, but having a good suburban light rail spine with constant travel time combined with TOD brings enough urbanist transportation options to some suburbs that it starts to get feasible to have an urbanist lifestyle in the suburbs. The problem is that bus service isn’t that great or in high demand everywhere, and you’ll want to go places other than Seattle. Here things like Lime cars and Uber helps, at least while we are building out light rail and BRT/RapidRide lines. If you take the full ST3 buildout combined with Metro’s full RapidRide alphabet, then living car-free in places like Federal Way would seem to maybe work.

      1. It had better work. Otherwise we’re going to be talking about “Blood Cobalt”, and “Blood Lithium”. EV’s are, unfortunately, not “the answer”. They’re great for reducing ghg’s, but unless some non-metallic storage is found, they simply can’t be universal.

      2. “I think TOD near suburban Link stations is key”

        Vancouver, Vancouver, Vancouver!

        If Five is willing to upzone and build a TOD neighborhood, then by all means. It’s an indictment on closer-in cities like Seattle and Des Moines.

        Although raise you hand if you think these apartments will have less than 1:1 parking per unit.

      3. Electric cars also don’t solve the problem of manufacturing the cars or the space they use. I wrote to the governor abut his “electric cars for clunkers” proposal and said that any plan like that must be accompanied by a major increase in transit. Converting cars to electricity is good, but making cars unnecessary is even better. We complain about Metro, but most of the country does not have Metro’s frequency or span.

    2. It could be developed. Just look at Point Ruston. It used to be the Asarco smelter. Now it’s actually becoming something.

      1. The Asarco smelter was something. For many, it was a job. My great grandfather worked in a foundry, and that job helped raise a family of eight, including my grandpa. My uncle went to work in that same factory for several years, as did the parents of many classmates. The Asarco smelter helped refine metals that were used for decades in industry, helping build this country. Great Grandpa’s foundry made parts for farm implements that were used by farmers throughout the US to grow the food that was eaten by your parents and grandparents. Those smelters might have disappeared from view, but they still exist, mostly in Asia, contaminating the soil of the neighborhoods of working poor. As for the Port of Tacoma, that’s the type of facility it takes to offshore foundries and other “dirty” industry to Asia and import the products, instead of just producing them here. Either you have intense deep water ports, or factories spread across the country. You can’t get rid of both. The world doesn’t operate like Amazon, pal.

      2. @Engineer: That’s the kind of truth that’s often forgotten in American urbanism.

        Even Amazon, of course, relies heavily on the ports here and the factories, mostly in Asia. And mining operations all over the world. No city anywhere in the world can honestly talk about sustainability without considering its interdependence with all these systems.

    1. The Seattle line combined with the Puyallup spur closely matches today’s Sounder route aside from the shortcut through Milton. I find that interesting.

      It was two lines then, and I think that ultimately makes more sense than what it does today.

      1. To me it’s surprising that the old Interurban route went by Milton, considering the terrain! According to info on the map they even tunneled into the hillside on the east end of the shortcut! Sounder follows a much flatter route with fewer curves, so I’m sure it achieves much higher speeds…

        I’m not an expert on this stuff, but I’d guess building a Milton shortcut capable of supporting Sounder service would be very difficult. From the photos it looks like many parts of the old route were single-tracked. I’m speculating here, but I bet they had some passing tracks in flatter areas. It’s one thing to operate little Interurban cars that way, but another for much longer and heavier Sounder trains, which would need longer sections of passing track and would take longer to get in and out. On top of that, today there’s lots of developed land and highway infrastructure in the way of any shortcut route we could think of.

        Without a “shortcut” route, the route from Kent and Auburn to Tacoma… just kinda goes through Puyallup.

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