Navigating the streets of Tacoma and Seattle

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Like most of us, I would guess, my orbit of places I go to work, shop, see friends and family is pretty small.

I spend most of my time along familiar routes and neighborhoods.

Tacoma is small enough, and my schedule is limited enough to keep me in essentially the same cycles at least 90% of the time.

Yes, I venture to outlying areas in the county some, and even hit the wilderness for a hike or Sea-Tac airport for a flight now and then.

But every once in a while business or pleasure requires me to leave Pierce County and venture into the unpredictable buzzing hive we all know as Seattle.

Downtown Seattle, with its dense traffic, maze of one-way streets, bus lanes, bike lanes, pushy pan-handlers, over-priced parking (if you can find it) and surging pedestrians on every corner, can be a paralyzing experience for those of us accustomed to the relatively mellow pace of Tacoma.

Maybe it is the staggering steepness of Tacoma’s downtown hills that limits our pedestrian traffic, but the maze and frenzy of downtown Seattle foot-traffic is startling to those of us accustomed to a slower tempo.

Downtown Tacoma is also far more compact. It is fairly easy to find a parking place (relatively) walkable to almost any downtown destination.

In Seattle, unless you have a parking pass for your destination, parking is not going to happen – and as you find yourself circling the blocks looking for a parking place – or even a parking garage – you have the sinking feeling that at least half of the cars on the densely packed streets of Seattle are also looking for that one elusive available parking place.

Even a glimpse of sky is a rare sight from street level in downtown Seattle. Photo: Morf Morford

Even a glimpse of sky is a rare sight from street level in downtown Seattle. Photo: Morf Morford

And then there are the streets. Tacoma’s Commerce, Broadway and Pacific Avenues are easy to keep straight, and the cross streets are few and consistent.

Seattle, as usual, is a different experience. Yes, Seattle has numbered streets, but it is the named streets that are the problem.

Fortunately someone came up with a mnemonic memory trick to help us (and even the locals) keep downtown Seattle streets clear in our minds as we navigate the always clogged and tricky streets of the city.

“Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest”  (or “Pressure”) helps us remember the order of street names as you make your way north from Pioneer Square.

J  — Jefferson Street and James Street

C  — Cherry Street and Columbia Street

M — Madison Street and Marion Street

S  — Spring Street and Seneca Street

U  — University Street and Union Street

P  — Pike Street and Pine Street

The streets are clearly signed, and as you probably already know, your progress through the streets will be slow enough to easily monitor your movement through these central streets of downtown Seattle.

Once you make it past Pike (or Pine) – or find your destination, you are on your own. It is up to you and your GPS guide to get you further or on your way home safely.

I don’t know about anyone else, but no matter how good or productive of a time I have had in Seattle, I am always glad to take that turn on south bound I-5 through Fife and, as the Tacoma Dome drifts into sight, I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that home is within reach.