Phoenix’s Mass Transit

by Justin on December 21, 2008

Phoenix’s new light rail line opens this coming Saturday (12/27), but there is already talk and plenty of plans underway to look at where to take the line next. An Article on AZcentral.com today talks about how they are looking at how to integrate the light rail with bus service and where buses should be used instead of light rail. It also talks about getting residents to use the light rail and switch to buses when needed to get to a destination instead of taking their car.

In my opinion the idea of integrating the buses with the rail line are good, but I think that they are looking at it from the wrong angle. They are looking at the light rail as method of augmenting the bus lines, when they should be looking at it as though the light rail is (or will be) the dominant method of transportation and build bus service, roads, and freeways around this service. For me, I will never set foot on one of Phoenix’s buses again. I have been on one a few times in my life, and each time was a bad experience. I was subject to the same traffic jams as the rest of the traffic, they were dirty, and they simply stopped to often to be efficient for me.

I really think that we need to sit down and look at all of our transportation and see how it could be made to serve the light rail better. Three cities that are doing a great job of this are Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Getting anywhere in Portland, OR is easy using the MAX and through the Portland Street Car. They use these two services complementary and give each priority over traffic to ensure efficiency. San Francisco uses the Bart, Cal Train, and Muni to get people effectively around the entire region. Finally Los Angeles is using their Metro service to connect this massively spreadout car country. What do these areas all have in common they are designing their entire transportation network around their real mass transit, not buses.

Some areas where Phoenix is going off the tracks is by building car pool lanes where they used to have some spare room for trains in the middle of the freeways, Los Angeles realized that it was cheaper to expand their Metro line down the center of their freeways to get it started than to plow through their streets on the first go. Don’t get me wrong, eventually they will need to do this, but they needed to get a big Rail network in a hurry to get people to even consider it. Scottsdale needs to stop considering “Express Bus Service” as an effective alternative to placing Rail down the center of Scottsdale Road. This is not an alternative, it is a joke. Finally, Phoenix needs to get the Light Rail really connected to the Airport. Right now they are planning to use Bus service to connect the light rail to the Airport. If you want people to choose rail over their cars then you need to make it seemless.

Finally, now that Phoenix has a light rail starter line, we need to start looking beyond light rail and look at Heavy Commuter Rail that could serve the long runs in the valley like taking a train from Anthem to Chandler with minimal stops. On an even larger scale Tucson to Flagstaff with only a handfull of stops. Finally Arizona needs to get into talks with California about extending their High Speed Rail to Phoenix and Tucson.

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