Water Flume Line: Bicyclists, pedestrians celebrate historic trail restoration

Bicyclists and pedestrians joined City of Tacoma officials during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday to mark the completion of the second phase of work to restore the historic Water Flume Line Trail near South 74th Street and South Cedar Street in Tacoma.

The trail—formerly known as the Water Ditch Trail—was originally part of a 110-year-old system that crossed Tacoma and extended to Mt. Rainier. The City broke ground on the first phase of the restoration project in 2008, and, one year later, completed that phase, which included rebuilding a section of the historic trail to modern bikeway standards featuring a 10-foot asphalt path with two feet of crushed rock shoulders. Later phases will link South Tacoma with the Tacoma Dome area, downtown Tacoma, and Thea Foss Waterway.

The project is part of the City’s effort to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along the South Tacoma Way Corridor by restoring the 6.5-mile trail.

The recently completed 1.8-mile segment is anchored at both ends by parks and includes construction of ADA accessible curb ramps, traffic signals for safer crossings, reconstruction of hazardous sidewalks, interpretive and wayfinding signs, energy conserving LED lighting, benches, and bike racks.

According to City of Tacoma Project Manager Said Seddiki, the Water Flume Line Trail is being restored in four stages. Phase One (2.7 miles / $1.6 million) — Completed in 2009, this phase included trail improvements along South Clement Street between South 60th Street and South 72nd Street, and between South 47th Street and South 56th Street. Phase Two (1.8 miles / $2.25 million) — Completed this year, this phase includes trail improvements between South 72nd Street and South 80th Street, between South 56th Street and South 60th Street, and from Washington Street at South Tacoma Way to South 47th Street. Phase Three (0.83 miles) — Currently unfunded and in the design stage, this phase will include trail improvements on South Tacoma Way between South Pine Street and South M Street. Phase Four (1.17 miles / estimated $2.86 million) — Currently in the design stage, this phase will include trail improvements on South Tacoma Way between South M Street and South C Street. Construction is anticipated to begin in November.

Several stakeholders spoke about the historic trail, the restoration project, and the importance of trails for bicyclists and pedestrians during the ceremony this week. Their comments have been edited for clarity and abridged for publication.

Dana Brown, Assistant Division Manager, City of Tacoma Public Works and Engineering Department

I thought it would be prudent to start off with a little context of where we have been with this trail. Over 130 years ago, this right-of-way was used as a trail and it contained a wooden flume to convey water for citizens of Tacoma. This newly constructed trail honors the past by restoring this [nearly] two-mile segment for the benefit and enjoyment of all users.

This journey started in the mid-1990s with a plan created by the City of Tacoma and two people—one was my co-worker, Scott Pierson, and one was an engineer for the Water Department named Bob Myrick. They were both very avid bicyclists. They created a spine of a trail system in Tacoma. There were really four trails and this just happened to be one of them. What that spine became was the future connections for all non-motorized activities in Tacoma. We’re still using that boilerplate today. The first focus really was on the trail that was developed adjacent to State Route 16, which was eventually named the Scott Pierson Trail in honor of Scott after his unexpected passing in early 2000. Shortly after that, I volunteered to continue the efforts of the trail system. Unfortunately, due to shortage of funding and—at that time—limited support, we really didn’t make much progress. But over time, with support and funding from Tacoma City Council, Phase One of this planned trail was completed in 2009.

Through that process, we learned a lot about citizen support and collaboration with our partners. I want to thank the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council—specifically, Mr. Skip Vaughn—for their unwavering support over the years. When we needed a letter of support for a grant, Skip and his team delivered. No questions. They just delivered. It was really instrumental in [grant] funding [for] Phase Two. When it was time to discuss important design elements, the [South Tacoma Neighborhood Council] provided us a venue in which decisions were made. One of those key guidances was the overhead LED lights, which go through the wooded area of Oak Tree Park.

The Tacoma Wheelmen’s Club [has] also been a key supporter of grants awarded to the City. And the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Action Committee volunteered to ride the trail twice so that—from the user’s experience—we could find out where the deficiencies were along the trail. What they reported to us has already been part of this project and integrated into it.

Lauren Walker, Tacoma City Councilmember

My funny story I always tell about the work on the Water Flume Line Trail is that my predecessor was known for taking his shoe off, pounding it on the table, and saying, “Put money aside for the Water Ditch Trail!” I came [on council] after him and probably have been more diplomatic over the years, but have been just as ardent—as a cyclist—to get this trail finished.

It took 30 years to get Ruston Way where it is today. It was just absolutely horrible. I think about the new Point Ruston site, which has taken so many years to make that place beautiful. When my late husband and I moved to Tacoma, we always talked about wanting to be able to ride our bikes along the water all the way to Point Defiance, and now you can do that. I talk about Thea Foss Waterway and that it took 20 years to get that where it is. And it’s taken a lot of years to get the Water Flume Line Trail to where it is. But it’s been really good work with so many people that have been insistent that we do this, that have been patient, that have been working hard to make this happen.

Just two years ago, there were a lot of neighbors that were kind of kicking up the dirt a little bit. They didn’t know if they wanted this [trail] to be going through the neighborhoods. We had to point out a little bit that it was people like me that were going to be riding their bikes with their families through the trail, and that it was really going to be a great improvement to the neighborhood. You look at these cute little houses along here with this wonderful trail that’s here, and you can take [this trail] all the way to downtown Tacoma—it’s really quite a lovely thing.

So this is a spine, as Dana said, that will connect up with the Prairie Line Trail. It will get us all over the greater Tacoma area. It will connect us down to Point Ruston. It’s really a beautiful thing with how far we have come within the last 10 years to really make improvements with our bikeways for residents of Tacoma and people who are visiting here.

Mark Lauzier, City of Tacoma Assistant City Manager

[This trail began] with a public service to bring water to the community, which ended up in the Water Utility in the 19th Century—not the 20th Century, but the 19th Century—and then was repurposed as a bicycle route in the late 19th Century. I just find [it amazing] that here we are—115 or 117 years later—dedicating this beautiful facility. I don’t make the decisions on money, but whenever there is a multi-use trail or a bike trail or something like that that is going to be an asset for the community, I’m always there trying to do what I can to get it through. So enjoy the trail.

Bryan Flint, Greater Metro Parks Foundation Executive Director / Tacoma Public Utility Board

Tacoma Public Utilities is here as a partner in these projects. It has been a partner, it is a partner, and—as long as I’m on the board—it will continue to be a partner to make sure that these projects go forward. That includes the Cushman Trail out in Gig Harbor [and] the Pipeline Trail on the east side of the county. When it’s finished, [the Pipeline Trail] will actually connect the waterfront in Tacoma up through McKinley Hill, South End, Puyallup, all the way up. So you can get from the water to Mount Rainier on that trail once it’s finished.

I’m from [Anchorage] Alaska. Back in the 1980s, we had a trail system that circumnavigated the city and you could get to every major neighborhood on a trail system by bike or walking in the summer, or on skis in the wintertime. I actually learned how to fund-raise doing bike-a-thons on that trail.

A couple weekends ago, I got on the train and went down to Portland with my bike. I got on my bike and into traffic and actually had to merge with about a dozen bikers that were commuting for the day.

What we have is not yet a trail system. We have trail segments. We need to do more. We have accelerated the creation of these trails in the last few years, but we need to do more. My fear is that we will meet our goals for reducing carbon emissions before we finish our trail system. I hope we all double down on this and connect these trails so that we have a system of trails throughout the city because it’s good for our economy, it’s good for real estate prices, it’s good for our health, and it’s good for the climate.

More information about the Water Flume Line Trail is available online here (Phase Two) and here (Phase Three and Phase Four).

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the historic Water Flume Line Trail, click on the following links: