Dick Thomas on Phoenix’s Transit Future February 19th, 1999
February 19, 1999
I agree with The Arizona Republic editorials of February 18 and 19, 1999 that expanded transit should be included in Phoenix’s view of the future. But the future is now, for it will take decades to produce a system that can play a substantive transportation role in the Valley. The key is local funding. Federal dollars earmarked for transit are on the table, but without local matching funds they will go to other cities already standing in line for their shareâ€”and Phoenix’s share, too.
Of course, transit advocates must prove to the skeptics that transit expansion is needed. Today it seems assumed that everyone will drive a car, the travel mode that reflects the freedom of movement most of us enjoyâ€”not including those who are not old enough, not able, and not affluent enough to be able to drive.
But let us not kid ourselves. Surely every commuter has seen that today’s freeways and city streets are already congested with stop-and-go traffic. It gets worse. Regional highway forecasters predict that every freeway inside the Outer Loop will be more congested 15 years from now than today. New freeways are highly unlikely. Freeway widening is already assumed in the over-capacity projections mentioned above. City streets have been widened to the maximum.
That is why transit expansion is needed. It represents the only chance for Valley residents to maintain the freedom of movement that characterizes our Southwestern lifestyle. It is the travel mode which will help maintain access to jobs, schools, shopping, and all of the other purposes for which we travel.
Adding more buses on evenings and weekends admittedly won’t address commuter hours’ congestion. Yet, there are many people who can’t drive and those added buses are their lifelines to reach essential travel destinations. Their needs require attention, too, so the next funding vote should assume added bus service.
But the single best answer to the problem of over congested freeways and city streets is to add high capacity transit. That will be achieved by building the initial light rail transit line that is being designed in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. That is the first step in implementing a network throughout the region, like San Diego, the nation’s leader, with nearly 50 miles of light rail lines in place. They began in 1978.
Light rail transit on reserved right of way is that transit choice which can provide travel in a manner similar to cars on freeways. Because light rail trains make regular stops to provide service to the communities through which they pass, they will not maintain the same travel speed as a car on a free flowing freeway. In peak hours, however, light rail trains will be quite competitive in travel speed.
In short, light rail transit must be built if we are to continue the kind of mobility we enjoy nowâ€”most of the time. There are 23 other cities in North America are already enjoying their light rail transit lines, and several more are under way. The sixth largest U.S. city, sadly, is far in the rear.
The year 2000 begs for another opportunity for Phoenix residents to consider the transit issue, especially in light of the closeness of the 1997 vote. Residents and business leaders need to assure Mayor Rimsza and City Council Members that they want transit expansion to happen. Please ask them to offer the 49.95% of the voters who said “yes” last time another opportunity for transit funding approval in 2000.
Dick Thomas retired as the City of Phoenix Public Transit Director in 1995. He continues to be active in the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s Transit Subcommittee and the Arizona Rail Passenger Association.