Adventurer of the Week: State active transportation coordinator Diane Wiatr

Tacoma’s Diane Wiatr, in yellow, took a position as the state Department of Transportation’s active transportation coordinator after eight years in the same position for the City of Tacoma.
Tacoma’s Diane Wiatr, in yellow, took a position as the state Department of Transportation’s active transportation coordinator after eight years in the same position for the City of Tacoma. Courtesy

About a decade ago, Diane Wiatr was standing on a Tacoma street corner when she was surprised by what she saw. Or, more precisely, what she didn’t see.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “There is nobody bicycling in this town.”

Wiatr had just started working for the city of Tacoma and decided something needed to be done. She went to city manager Eric Anderson and made her pitch.

In 2008, Anderson created a position called the active transportation coordinator for Wiatr. With the job came the challenge of making Tacoma friendly for cyclists and walkers.

“The amount that has changed the last eight years is remarkable,” Wiatr said.

In that time, Tacoma went from a notoriously bad place to bike to a city with a growing bike infrastructure and community. Tacoma is now regularly designated a bicycle friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists.

She led the city’s effort to draft its current mobility master plan.

In May, Wiatr left her post with Tacoma and took a similar job with state Department of Transportation. Her new office is in Seattle, but she continues to live in Tacoma.

We recently caught up with Wiatr to talk a little bit about her success in Tacoma and her plans for the future.

Q: What was the first big project you completed?

A: I think the mobility master plan itself was the first big accomplishment. It took a lot of public outreach. We met for months and months and months. It was almost like starting from scratch. … At that time, Tacoma didn’t have all of the bike groups that exist today and make up the bike community that advocates for active transportation.

Q: How would you describe your responsibilities as the statewide active transportation coordinator?

A: My job function is to help WashDOT’s highways become more multimodal, which is the direction WashDOT is heading. Because it wasn’t too long ago that it was mostly concerned with moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible through a space. Now they are looking at all modes, the role of transit and why bikeways are important.

It’s a big state, and there is a lot going on in different regions. So part of my job is to build consistency between regions.

Q: What projects statewide are at the top of the priority list?

A: That is kind of a complicated question because I’ve only been here a few weeks. … There is really good work happening all over the state. And all over the state more work needs to be done. Both things are true.

Q: So what do you consider some of your greatest hits from your time in Tacoma?

A: The bike month (May) events that the community has come to expect, like the bike swap at the University of Puget Sound. UPS has been such a great partner. So many people come. And Downtown to Defiance, the open streets event. It was a really heavy lift. We needed help from everybody to make that happen, and I hope it continues. Also, there are the 13 miles of bikeways. … But there is nothing that I’ve done that I’ve done alone.

Q: What should be Tacoma’s next priority in terms of active transportation?

A: I think the priority should really be dedicating funding to implement the projects that are in the mobility master plan. Having a completely connected on-street bike network. … A connected, safe on-street bikeways network is critical to being able to bike every day.

Q: What is your favorite place to bike in Tacoma?

A: Of course, I love Five Mile Drive. I am going to be thrilled when the water walk at Point Ruston is connected to Point Defiance Parks, because I think that the water walk at Point Ruston is our prettiest trail segment. The other trail segment that needs to be looked at is re-examining Ruston Way, because we know that the demand there is much higher than the width of that trail.

And I love biking across the Narrows Bridge. It’s a thrilling ride no matter how many times you do it. I bike for transportation, and I love Tacoma’s neighborhoods, and I love being able to bike from where I live in Stadium to almost anywhere else I need to go.