Wall hurts pedestrian access and view by Erik Bjornson

Thanks to local family lawyer Erik Bjornson for sending in the following post.

The City of Tacoma has issued a stop work permit on the proposed brick wall being erected at the end of the Bridge of Glass by the History Museum on Pacific Avenue which would block pedestrian access in that area.

The city was wise to issue such an order, as such a wall would impair pedestrian access to the Bridge of Glass, the Glass Museum and the Foss waterway.

Site of wall looking toward Pacifc - Photo by Erik BjornsonAdditionally, the wall would unnecessarily impair the view corridor from Pacific Avenue on and through the Bridge of Glass and obscure the Chihuly Bridge of Glass from Pacific Avenue.

The city should ensure that pedestrians have an open, inviting and direct walkway from the northern portion of Pacific Avenue by Union over the Bridge of Glass and oppose any efforts to block the path with a wall or fence.

Also, it is critical that the Chihuly Bridge of Glass be visible from Pacific Avenue, with direct access, as the Glass Museum is one of the most popular attraction in the city of Tacoma and a vital component in the efforts to revitalize the city.

The Wall would impair pedestrian traffic and success of Thea Foss Waterway

Tacoma City Planners have long recognized the difficulty of bringing people from downtown Tacoma on Pacific Avenue down to Thea Foss waterway due to having to cross over I-705 and the train track and the sheer distance involved.

Pedestrians are already required to pass over the 500 ft long Bridge of Glass to get to the top of the Glass Museum. They then are required to walk down a long flight of stairs and around into the museum.

If the wall were erected as planned, pedestrians would have to needlessly travel an additional 230 feet (approximately) by walking south around the coffee shop and through the archway and then back around to the Bridge of Glass, a large unnecessary loop.

Yet, every urban designer in the last 40 years has stressed the importance of pedestrian friendly walkways. Notably, Jane Jacobs recommended cities use "short blocks" in designing downtown areas to reduce the distance pedestrians are required to travel to access different areas in a city. See The Death and Life of Great American Cities, New York: Random House and Vintage Books, 1961. The recommendation to reduce the distances pedestrians travel through a "short block" was one of her pivotal 4 tenants for the success of the downtown of a city.

The walk required to get from Union Station down to the Glass Museum and Foss Waterway is already very significant, the bridge alone is 500 feet. Needlessly adding another 230 feet to get to the waterfront impairs the viability of the glass museum and the functioning of the commerce on the Foss Waterway which is struggling as it is.

The brick wall on Pacific would impair a major view corridor through the bridge of glass and obscure the bridge of glass from Pacific Avenue.

The Chihuly Bridge of Glass was built to give a straight unobstructed view to the Foss Waterway. A brick wall would impair the Pacific Avenue side of the view corridor.

Pedestrians that have a clear view to and from Pacific Avenue from the bridge of glass are likely to enjoy the view better and take the clear path to the waterway.

The University of Washington Tacoma worked very hard to make a clear open path through the center of campus down the stairs which has made the campus open and inviting for students and visitors. One can imagine the effect if someone placed a brick wall in the middle of the stairway on the campus and required students to walk 100 feet around it to pass up and down the stairs.

There should be an open pathway from the Chihuly Bridge of Glass to Pacific Avenue. This will increase pedestrian traffic and make the Bridge of Glass visible from Pacific Avenue and much more aesthetically pleasing. I doubt any urban designer associated with the design of the Bridge of Glass would suggest placing a brick wall at the end between the structure and Pacific Avenue.

The best resolution is to have the plaques placed in another location and have a large archway or simply an open area that opens to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass.

Erik Bjornson is a family law attorney practicing in downtown Tacoma. He writes frequently on urban planning and the health of cities in the Tacoma News Tribune.


To add my $.02, Jason Hagey's article in today's News Tribune points to a distinct lack of communication but also to an agenda by the WSHS Director. They want more business which is why they want to route people in front of their museum entrance. Bottom line. This has nothing to do with the donors, visitors, or people but, instead, money. There are plenty of other walls or more open designs for a place to display plaques that would easily avoid continuing to block a great passage to and from downtown and the Foss.

Plus, if the wall designer was so sensitive to his own creation in the Bridge of Glass, he would've made a "view hole" in the new wall bigger than the one shown in the following graphic from that same article:


Or why not avoid making it a wall at all but a pavilion with display no unlike displays in a museum that people can walk past and around? Oh, and the joke that keeps running through my head when looking at the diagram? "You must be this tall to get to the Bridge of Glass."

Previously here, here and here
Link to a Jason Hagey article in today's News Tribune

Update (8:32am)
I looked back into the Project for Public Space report issued in July from last May's meeting concerning events in the Plaza. Page 26 has a recommended physical improvement that reads

Open up the fence to create direct access to the bridge from Pacific.

posted Sep 28, 2006 under bridge of glass, century park, donor wall, downtown tacoma, wshs  


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