Riding the Phoenix Light Rail System

What with its lack of water, dependence on air conditioning and endless sprawl, people like Jim Kunstler don't think Phoenix has much of a future. That doesn't stop the people there from trying to be greener; an example is their great new light rail system, previously coverd by Mike in Video: Phoenix's Brand New Light Rail Has 60% More Users than Expected.

When I left supposedly transit-oriented Toronto for Greenbuild I had to pay fifty bucks for a limo to get to the airport; I paid 10 bucks to get from Phoenix Airport to my hotel in a hotel shuttle. The smoothest, coolest ride back to the airport by Light Rail: $ 1.75.

The stations are well designed with shading from the sun and lots of seating. Having the tracks at the curb instead of in the middle of the road as I am used to certainly gives them a bit more room to do the job right.

At night they are very brightly lit.

But the most remarkable feature is the section of the train devoted to bike storage. They understand how important it is to support multi-modal transport. Phoenix and its suburbs are so vast and the population density so low that a light rail system cannot work without some other form of transport feeding it, and Americans don't like buses. By acknowledging bikes as part of the system, they make it easy for people to move from bike to train and back to bike again. I interviewed a rider who tells me that during rush hour it is almost impossible to find a space.

riding the phoenix rocket from Lloyd Alter on Vimeo.

The Light Rail people are trying to promote transit oriented development, "to make access to and from the transit station walk-able and accessible in an environment that is human-scaled and provide for a mix of compatible and complementary land uses which facilitate transit ridership." They are looking for development that has:

  • Walkable, tree-lined streets (shade)
  • Buildings built up to the street
  • Buildings with frequent windows and doors
  • Diverse, complementary uses that encourage people to stroll, shop, meet, greet and eat
  • A variety of compact housing in an assortment of styles
  • Strategic parking strategies (Reduced parking, shared parking, more land for development)

But they have a long way to go, it all looks pretty much like this. Nonetheless, it was fast, cheap, effective transit and everyone I talked to about it loves it. As Mike noted in his earlier post, it is hugely popular, and a great lesson for other cities.

Tags: greenbuild

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