Phoenix Transit Exploration #fail and #success

I wanted to take the #136 north on Gilbert, transfer to the #40, and then transfer to the light rail.  I studied the schedule for the #136 and could not determine when it would arrive near where I was staying.  I would have been happy to just go and wait for it if the bus arrival times where every 15 minutes, but the frequency was 30 minutes.  Strangely I almost went to wait for 30 minutes considering the temperature at 10:30am was an awesome 72 or so degrees.  That temperature however wouldn’t last long, and since I’m rather sun intolerant, I decided a car was unfortunately in order.

I got a ride from Jo’s soon to be married friend Cubers (pronounced “CUBE-ERZ”) to Enterprise Rent-a-Car and picked up a POS automobile.  I then drove directly to the nearest light rail transit park & ride and ditched the POS Chevrolet Cobalt.  That was the end of that turmoil, I could now focus on life, people, architecture, and my surroundings instead of driving.  With the car ditched I walked myself through the expanse of parking spots, filled with automobiles.  Through the parked buses, one a BRT oriented ride, one a normal hybrid bus, and then onto the platform where an LRV set awaited my embarking.

The Phoenix Bus System Fails but the Light Rail Rules

I’m going to clause this next section with my assumptions, thoughts, and ideas about Phoenix.  I figured it was a right leaning, socialistically auto transport oriented catastrophe of pavement ala Los Angeles.  I assumed that there would be no real density, and the downtown would be a corpse with partially sullen people.  I thought the light rail would be at 20-30% occupancy even though I had read the ridership statistics.  I thought all these things, how could this famously inefficient city harbor an intelligent process of zoning and growth.  How could mile long blocks, as inhumane as that is, allow for dense development, beautiful architecture, and above all – intelligently operated and built transit?

Please excuse my excursion in vulgarity, but holy shit did I just get sideswiped into a new consciousness.  Thank you Phoenix.

Mesa, Gilbert, and Bulldozing

I boarded in Mesa.  In my previously stated stereotype of Phoenix.  Mesa, is simply …  well, most of it should just be bulldozed.  Same with Gilbert.  Probably a lot of the outlying suburbs.  These areas are expanses of non-communication, human un-involvement, a faceless expanse of human development without any humans.  Sure, there were plenty of people around, but they were hiding in their cars, in their homes, and away from any actual community.  The sprawl was beyond destructive to the surroundings, but to any human being with a soul that desired community, life, culture, ideas, thoughts, or other elements it was not the place to be.  I’m sure there are some in the burbs’ that would argue this, but sit me down with them and they’d walk away either realizing this and a high likelihood of planning to move inwards toward the city.  Simply put, the surrounding suburbs are a dirge.  Pure death of the soul, no authenticity, no art, no originality.  The suburbs here are the archetype of American mindlessness, allowing corporatism to feed us the majority of our thought, the grand slice of our ideas, from our religion to our diets.

But this ended within just a few stops on the light rail system.  By the third stop the train was full of human beings.  Smiling, some talking to each other, checking their phones for the latest text or E-mail.  The train was primarily college students, young and beautiful.  There were a few people heading to work or other errands, but mostly college students at this time.

By the fifth and sixth stops the train was even more packed.  Even once we reached ASU and unloaded a ton of people, a ton more got on.  We kept rolling at a good speed down the center street alignment.  In about 10 minutes we where downtown, rolling through the streets with cars and people everywhere.  Strangely though, and this is where my idea of Phoenix rapidly started to change.  I thought to myself, wow, “this is enlightening”.

There were people wandering around outside heading for lunch, EVERYWHERE.  This of course is just one test of a city, a good lunch crowd.  I also realized that citizens, regular ordinary citizens, were walking around with their second amendment rights squarely planted in armaments upon holsters on their hips.  Unfortunately for the staunchly anti-gun blue crowd nobody was gunning down each other – hmmm, the twisted irony of that.  On the note of the staunchly anti-transit red crowd, which I thought polluted Phoenix too, the transit was indeed full of riders and even the bus stops garnered decent numbers of people waiting for a ride.  I was, being the Libertarian middle of the road advocate that I am, euphoric to see high transit ridership and armed, proud, happy citizens all over the place.

American Citizens in Phoenix

Speaking of Phoenix citizens, I honestly thought there would be much more grumbling and aggression.  In the suburbs it seemed that this might just be the case.  I saw 3 arguments taking place, heard about a botched robbery and the robber being shot, and other various forms of aggressive crimes.  But here I was downtown being greeted by complete strangers as I walked the sidewalks.  At first I figured it was the camera, so to see I took it off and stowed it in the backpack – but it ALL continued.  People, in full honesty, were greeting me with hellos.  Of course not every single person, but a solid 2 dozen people greeted me with hellos and smiles.  I was, shall I say shocked.  I had not seen this in any city except Portland.  But really, most American cities do seem to be picking up this spirit of camaraderie among each other.  I have to admit, that it has improved even more amid Obama being elected.  His victory truly has made an impact in city life, just by the air of change.  Regardless of what is functionally occurring with the administration, his presence versus Bushy Boys presence has changed the attitudes of millions of Americans.  Phoenix seems to be no exception, except that it has bucked my idea by exponential degrees.

Sandwich Factory

I jumped into the sandwich factory and got an excellent New Yorker Sandwich.  The shop had a great attitude (and armed employees also), and just gave me even more of an exuberant boost.  I gave Tony (of Lightrailblogger Fame) a call, got popped into voice mail.  I then tried to give my coworker from a job in another land, Aendenne a call, but my phone ceased to cooperate for a moment.  After about 15 minutes though Tony txted me back and we had a short txting exchange, which ended with me asking where a good wifi establishm
ent, preferably with coffee, would be.  He pointed me to Lux.

LuxCommunityCoffeeArt

I mapped Lux on my iPhone and found it without much effort.  I fortunately knew where the light rail went, because I looked at the map and hit the “transit button” which failed to work.  I checked and came to the unfortunate conclusion that Valley Metro has not provided their transit information to Google.  I had a message for Valley Metro, GET YOUR INFORMATION TO GOOGLE!  Even without the transit directions I knew where it was, walked over to the light rail and checked the station stops.  A few stops north would land me almost at the front door of Lux.  An LRV arrived and off I went for a coffee surge and some electricity for my montage of devices.

I arrived, and was puzzled at first where Lux was, but then in short order with a tip from Tony, realized the located and stepped inside.  At first, walking into Lux was disorienting because of the darker lighting compared to the excessive sun outside.  My eyes adjusted and I moved forward in better clarity.  Stepping up to the bar I realized there was a roasting machine in the back.  Absolutely a good sign for coffee of credibility.  I got a smile on my face while I set my pack down beside the bar.  I ordered an ice mocha, figuring it would be a good default to jump into after the heat.

The girl at the counter asked, “want whip cream” to which I replied, “no thanks.”  She then got a sad puppy look like I’d hurt her feeling, which she then told me kindly, “we make the whip cream home made…”, to which I quickly changed my tune.  I received my mocha and must say, very tasty whip cream.  The mocha was good too, with a solid rich chocolate flavor and a slight bit of espresso bite.  I’d suggest one.

Lux was pretty packed when I got there, with only 3 seats empty in the whole place.  I was able to snag one after inquiring with one of the beautiful people seated aside me, “may I snag this seat?” to which I received a reply of “oh no, please do” from the young lady seated there.  I took my pack and set it aside, pulled forth my camera, laptop, iPhone, and all requisite cords to plug em’ all up and get juiced back to full batteries.  The pretty gal aside me plugged in my gadgetry for me, since I was across from the plug.  With the zappy electric flow going I commenced upon completion of this blog entry.

Needless to say, if you haven’t been to Lux and live in Phoenix, you should probably go.  You might kick yourself for not having been, especially if you actually like coffee of the higher quality (i.e. Not Starbucks burnt roasts & sugar induced comas).

The Ride to Lux, Light Rail Style

As I stood upon the LRV rolling north out of the heart of downtown Phoenix, I marveled at a number of things.  One of those things was the smoothness of the ride.  Because of the straightness of the alignment, the LRV could really scoot and still sustain a smooth ride unlike some of the twisting, turning, and raised embankments the LRVs in Portland and Seattle ride along.  I’ve come to find that the best riding light rail is planted firmly in cement along straight corridors.  The ride was absolutely chill, I dug it.

The second thing that outright shocked me was the level of development along the light rail.  Of course some was pre-existing and some is new.  But much of the pre-existing has now become transit oriented development (TOD), and garnered options to the lifestyle that being TOD provides.  There where shops, businesses, and massive apartment, condo, and other living complexes along this northern branch.  Every inch of what I had seen so far along the light rail line was in good maintenance, and the entire line tended to run through areas where the buildings where beautiful.  At least in the facade of beauty that many buildings exist hidden inside of.  This level of development continued extensively with only a couple blocks along that line being undeveloped or under-developed.

The other notable thing I noticed, was the continuation of people riding on the light rail.  Not just old, or poor, but everybody.  There was an older guy in a suit, a 30ish old suited man, some young kids in the tweens, some young ladies carrying on about some cute guy toward the middle of the car, probably in their early twenties, and a few single people interspersed in age range, lifestyles.  Also stood gazing into the distance a skate boarder, pondering what no one really knows, or possibly nothing at all.  One thing in common among all of us, was that everyone on the train was relaxed, chilled out, unlike the drivers I had seen earlier in the day in Mesa & Gilbert.

Packed to Crush Capacity

My last comment in this entry, is that while I sat in the wonderful air conditioned space of Lux.  I sat there watching each light rail vehicle make its way by.  When I got off and entered Lux around 1:30pm the trains going by were at about 95% seated occupancy.  By 2:15pm the trains coming by had 100% seated occupancy and had 10-20% standing occupancy.  By 3:15pm the trains coming by had reached 90% of crush capacity.  Each LRV set was going by with approximately 190-200 people each.

I’ll have a lot more to say regarding Phoenix, the architecture, design, zoning, layout of the city, and much more.  But for now, I bid the intertubez farewell for a bit and am off to wander the line a bit more.  This last photo I depart with is a shot of the city from the Lux Light Rail Station.

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6 Comments

  1. I can’t quite understand from this post why the bus system fails…

    Is it because the bus didn’t show up when you expected it to? Or that it wasn’t scheduled with the light rail?

    I was in Seattle last weekend and aside from having lunch and meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in seven years, we (my son and I) went to ride Amtrak up, the monorail, the S.L.U.T. and the new light rail system. And maybe a trolleybus if one showed up (unfortunately Metro had motorized all the trolleys) or a DE60LF in the tunnel (we ended up riding LRVs).

    Well, our LRV trip got cut short by a motor vehicle accident in south Seattle and we were bailed out by buses. Fortunately we had no long wait for a bus and a friendly seatmate helped us get on the right buses sans planning – as we weren’t expecting to ride any buses. The buses were busy (one had a few standees, the other not but it was an artic) but we got where we needed much faster than expected.

    And with regards to your comment about the three fights in the suburbs, we had a nice walk to Pioneer Square and we didn’t remain long after I saw two men trying to beat the crap out of some woman. I didn’t want my five-year old in the middle of it. The last time I was in Seattle we saw a huge fight at Westlake Center. Fights are not limited to the ‘burbs, nor are unsavory folks. They exist everywhere and just as much on light rail trains (or buses for that matter), in the burbs or right in front of my work downtown.

    Reply

  2. Erik –

    You’d FREAK if you saw how they run the buses on most of the lines here in PHX. Basically they have the main stops, 6-8 of them, over a route that is about 5-10 miles. Each of those stops has a time, the bus may be a few minutes early or later. The miles and miles of stops between those primary stops do not hold a schedule time – most of the bus routes are in traffic, and thus don’t always have a good solid and reliable frequency between the time points. So to put it simply I’d have to guess how long it would take the bus to get to where I’m at from the time point before it. I don’t know if I should guess at 15mph average or 30 mph average. Depending on that my range may be 5-15 minutes AFTER the time point before where my stop would have been. Being that the bus that I would have had to board first runs on 30 minutes, I would have somewhere between a 5-35 minutes wait based on if my guess was correct when it would arrive.

    In addition Google Transit nor any other services are available for bus tracking like TriMet’s Transit Tracker – which makes all but the most frequent routes useless to a visitor to the city.

    That’s why the bus system was useless. The buses, even on the outer routes like what I was trying to catch, were pretty nice.

    "The last time I was in Seattle we saw a huge fight at Westlake Center. Fights are not limited to the ‘burbs, nor are unsavory folks."

    That is exactly why I point it out. People often have this mythic idea that suburbs are this grand safe place. As stated, it is a myth.

    Reply

  3. I’ve heard from plenty of relocated bus passengers how awful the Phoenix transit system is, specifically the bus service, which is basically non existent.

    Arizona is one state that doesn’t even recognize Martin Luther King as a holiday.

    That’s all you need to know to make judgments about the state of Arizona.

    Good place to retire, if you got $$$, but don’t expect any government services, including transit.

    Rail, as we all know, serves the "gentrified class", which basically rules this entire country.

    Money is the God of Americans, anything that makes money or facilitates the production of money does fairly well, anything that doesn’t is scorned and ignored.

    And the world spins.

    You can go over to my blog or you tube site and listen to the Trimet financial officer painting this dire picture of finances, along with the multi million dollar plans for light rail expansion.

    Interesting dichotomy isn’t it?

    Reply

  4. Way to be super positive Al. You could draw the negatives of winning a million dollars. 🙂

    btw – Are you attending all the TriMet meetings now or something? I might try to start attending more but I often have little time to dedicate to such. Plus it is mostly politics, which I find detestable on a good day.

    Reply

  5. The problems with the transit system here in Phoenix (spoken by someone who has experienced it over 3 decades) include various issues:

    – First and foremost, there is no true regional transit system here. Yes, there is the "Valley Metro" identity. This is purely a smokescreen for the regional agency, the RPTA who is pretty much the marketing squawk box for transit in the region. RPTA does fund some routes (EXCEPT WITHIN THE CITY OF PHOENIX).

    – Each local city funds and controls the transit within their city. This is why you see some cities with a higher level of transit (Phoenix, Tempe) than others (Peoria, Gilbert). This is why you see routes stop at the city limits.

    – The City of Phoenix Public Transit Department thinks they control everything still. They were the true controlling agency until the RPTA was established by voters. The problem is there’s a lot of functions of the regional system that the city of Phoenix will not let go of.

    – Transit in the region is based mainly on sales tax revenue with a small amount of funding coming from the lottery. With the economy in the current situation, the sales tax revenue is just coming in and all of the cities are planning more service cuts in their communities. City of Gilbert just got rid of non-ADA dial-a-aride.

    – The light rail system in Phoenix is overall, very mediocre. We do not have any kind of real time display at stations that gives the estimated number of minutes a train is coming. Yes, there are announcements at 5 and 2 minutes, but sometimes, it does not work. There is very little fare inspection, mainly due to lack of funding.

    – Phoenix has a smart card technology for fare insturments. They are deciding not to do it except for larger businesses.

    – There is no oversight for contractors. Very bad customer service by the drivers. No one cares.

    – Overall, the City of Phoenix finally needs to back down. All of the other cities will do so too. Make this a truly reasonable system.

    Reply

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