View Full Version : Combatting transit ignorance

Jan 7, 2007, 4:44 AM
While on the bus yesterday, I had a conversation with an older woman who seemed typical of the area's closed mindedness.

The route I take generally follows the path of the light rail set to open in December 2008, but has torn up endless stretches of the city in the meantime. Sure, construction is annoying, but as I thought this is something that most slightly informed people, especially bus riders, tolerate in anticipation of its future benefit.

The system here is mostly "center reservation", which involves trains running down the center of the area's notoriously wide boulevards. There are no elevated sections along the 20 mile route. This was chief among her grousing, that government somehow failed for not having twice the amount of money to build it that way. She had the bright idea that we should have built a subway instead, nevermind the lax density and the 20-fold cost per mile. She complained that it wouldn't go to the airport, ignoring the reasons (cost, time) that would make this impractical. The planned 3-mile airport tram with a terminus at the light rail station would be just another clunky bus. Regarding passenger safety: "What are they going to do, put a cop on every train?"

As a result, the inevitable crashes from cars turning in front of the tracks will doom the system, so much in fact that the planned extensions and future replacement for the bus line we were all on would be cancelled, resulting in well over a billion dollars spent so far sent down the drain. She even had some choice words to say about a minor scandal involving a design and construction administrator pressuring a contractor to hire her boyfriend for no more than tens of thousands of dollars for work. Of course, these minor details were ignored and the premise of the story was blown into epic proportions.

What else would be expected, she reasoned, from politicos in this state?

And all this from someone on the bus, among the very people the system is trying to help.

She is not alone--from others on the bus, random people I meet, the innumerable trolls on the local newspaper's discussion boards (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0104traffic-contain0104.html), all are utterly convinced that the system is flat out doomed. In reality, there is no way of predicting this until it opens, and the best we can do is look to the models of other cities where transit is successful and emulate as best we can, learning from past mistakes. To that end, Valley Metro Rail has hired as CEO who I believe to be among the best of the best, Rick Simonetta.

Transit's continuing struggle is educating the irrational, unenlightened voting public to fund and build systems we can be proud of. Given the idiocy here, I doubt we would have had our recent round of extensions approved unless they were tossed in with disproportionately expensive freeway and road projects. Indeed, the ambitious ValTrans proposal failed miserablly here in 1989, which would have built 100 miles of elevated rail for a half-cent sales tax.

How do you fight this ignorance? What are the one-liners, stories, anecdotes you can use to convince blowhards that transit projects are a good idea?

Jan 7, 2007, 10:48 AM
Transit ignorance is everywhere. When the first train was running in Germany in 1835, the people believed that the "break-neck" speed of 30 km/h would cause serious mental illness.

When the LR in Phoenix is already under construction then it will probably open soon and after some time convince even the "non-believers" that it really is a good thing.

Jan 7, 2007, 11:14 AM
Agreed, it is everywhere.

I had a small conversation with a few people on the CTrain in Calgary this past summer, after I'd heard one of them griping about how stupid it is for Calgary to have stations every 2 or 3 minutes on the track. And how much a waste of time it is, and a waste of money it is, all due to how the system caters only to those who work downtown. And on, and on, until I finally decided there was no way to talk sense to a person who's convinced that there is no way that enough people take transit in Calgary for it to be worth it, so I got up and found a new seat shaking my head at what had been said. I never did find out if the person had actually ever used transit before then, or even was from Calgary, in a way I hope the answer to both things was no.

Jan 7, 2007, 11:03 PM
I don't think you try and fight the ignorance. When I talk to folks like this I usually just try to get a sense of her perspective. I also don't feel like I need to be the defender of the transit agency.

She might be right about the failure to go to the airport being an achilles heel for the system, and why should you be in the position of defending a sleazy public official? Either way the first part of the system is being built, and she might come around after its finished.

I might say something like "I understand a subway would have cost X times more than surface - do you think folks would have been willing to spend that kind of $$?"

Jan 7, 2007, 11:43 PM
combusean maybe what the women says is valid in some ways.

LRT just in the middle of the road can't compete well with a car, and I can see why people would have an issue with it.

If a city wants rapid transit, LRT in the middle of a road is not the answer. And I think you can understand her view of that.

Jan 8, 2007, 12:30 AM
As a former but longtime Phoenix resident, I too have severe doubts as to whether or not this system will be a success. I will say this though, building a downtown university campus is the best solution I've heard for making this system a viable one.

I don't think anyone from Metro would argue that this system will compete with the car (so keep your opinions to yourself Mr. Toronto), but I do think that the "center reservation" system is going to be a complete cluster. The city ROW's are simply too large on the arterials and thus people drive way too fast. The notion of putting a train (running either direction) in the middle of that? Phoenix is already the number 1 city for running red lights and most dangerous to drive in (in terms of traffic deaths) in NA. I have my suspicions that the train in the middle of the road is not going to improve this.

A few other things...

The stations are too far apart. On Central in order to be viable, the stations should be no more than 1/4 mile apart. They originally were, but were scaled back for cost issues. People won't walk 1/2 a mile in 115 degree weather. The ineffectual bus system has proven this (there are exceptions of course).

The Washington alignment is wrong. Why not Van Buren...where people actually live? I realize that Washington is a mere 3 blocks further down, but there aren't any houses on that stretch past 16th Street. It would also allow a Zoo/Botanical/Muni/Papago stop.

The Airport alignment is wrong. I get the Air Train and why the LRT doesn't go through the terminals (to some extent). But the notion that people will ride the Air Train all the way out to 44th Street, get on the lite rail and ride it all the way back downtown to the Convention Center or elsewhere when they can take an 8 minute taxi ride for the same price (in 1/3 the time) is laughable.

The alignment through ASU-Tempe is just plain ridiculous. I know why they didn't put it through the central portion of the campus (future lab vibration...you can mitigate such things...this isn't a subway we're talking about)...but it completely misses a huge portion of the campus (Education, Business, Architecture and Art, Nursing, Communications, Music, Hayden Library, Memorial Union, Computer Commons, among others).

A couple of other things...

No 'extensions' of lines past 15 miles from downtown. Beyond that it has to try too hard to be commuter rail...and LRT will never subsititute for commuter rail (which is a system that 60+ mile wide Phoenix is well suited for). Unfortunately now that Phoenix isn't the 800lb gorilla within county government in relation to the size of its suburbs, somehow I see future extensions to places like Gilbert, Sun City and Avondale taking precedence over more viable routes like South Phoenix, South Scottsdale and Camelback.

No LRT lines in freeway medians. LRT is not a congestion reducer...it's an alternative mode for people who can't necessarily drive. LRT lines in freeway medians do nothing for their surroundings except necessitate the need for large surface parking lots (something the Valley certainly doesn't need any more of). Don't make the Sacramento mistake.

So...that's my 10cents. Will the LRT in Phoenix be a success? I hope so. I hope it does everything that it has been promised to do. But unfortunately I'm fairly skeptical that it'll be anything more than a way for students to get from DT Phoenix to ASU Tempe (along with park and ride for sporting and civic events).