Biking and accessibility in Tacoma

Biking in Tacoma is neither safe nor accessible, but it has room for improvement.

A city swallowed in glass. One rolling hill after another. On my bike, I can watch the whole world go by. There’s another apartment complex being built off Broadway, a jackhammer sound fills the empty Tacoma streets. Vines cover the brick-faced apartments, brown leaves scatter across the street. There’s art on some of the walls here. Two chained arms meet, the bread in their hands covered by graffiti, paint chipped and decayed.  

There’s a bike lane here, one of the few. It’s hard not to feel like you’re in the way when biking these winding roads. As green as it is, it will never be our sustainable future, not in this city, not in this weather. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it safer for those that do.  

In Washington state, you are allowed to bike on the sidewalk. You’re allowed to bike on any street besides state highways, regardless of whether or not the pavement has a picture of a bicycle on it.  

A person on a bicycle, on the UW Tacoma campus, on a cloudy day.
A cyclist on the UW Tacoma campus. | Photo by Cameron J. Berrens

In Tacoma, every street is a bike lane. That being said, demarcations in the road can go a long way in promoting safer streets for bikers and pedestrians alike, but it can also cause confusion. Marked bike lanes in Tacoma are intended to outline a preferred biking network for bicyclists rather than represent the only roads you are allowed to bike on.  

The city of Tacoma doesn’t need to spend a lot of money to make biking safer. Extra lines of paint for bike lanes or more signs for shared streets wouldn’t cost the city a fortune. Some ideas like bike boulevards or an increase in sidewalk size to incorporate a shared bike lane would be a bigger investment for a city where less than 8 percent of the population rides a bike for commutes. But perhaps these changes would lead to more widespread bike adoption.  

In the City of Tacoma’s Transportation Master Plan, which was amended in 2018, a heavy emphasis was put on South Downtown near UWT and the Prairie Line trail. I have been biking to campus for two years now through the hills of a downtown deep in construction. You can add lanes and paint, you can try to stretch and bend these concrete streets, but that ride will never get easier. It’s a tough five mile climb back up Hilltop, down Sixth Ave, through Stadium and Proctor. I won’t say you can’t do it, but I can’t tell you that it’s easy, no matter where you live in relation to campus.  

Bike lanes are few and far between and will end abruptly or trail off into a busy freeway. Many motorists don’t understand the concept of a shared lane and will often not see you biking. Signs can help, but this cannot be our only solution. Not to mention, it gets worse in the rain with wet tires and steep hills.   

I love to bike. I love biking to class and watching the city change and morph from old brick to shiny glass. I’d love for it to be safe and easy for everyone, but it isn’t yet, and I would just recommend taking the bus until it is.