Friday, January 8, 2010

Transport: Riding Valley Metro


A Valley Metro light rail train sat at the end of the line, Sycamore and Main in Mesa, Arizona, on 8-January-2010.

TEMPE, ARIZONA - Continuing my tour of new light rail systems on the west coast that included Portland's MAX Green Line and Seattle's Sound Transit Central Link, the first thing on my agenda today was to ride the length of the Valley Metro system here in the Valley of the Sun. The light rail system opened on 28-December-2008, just after my last visit, so this was my first chance to ride the 20-mile system. While the 50 vehicles in the fleet looked quite distinct in appearance with their silver and bridge green paint, upon closer inspection I realized that the Kinki-Sharyo cars were actually of almost an identical design to those I had just experienced on Central Link in Seattle. An attractive paint scheme and well-designed skirts go a long way toward creating a nice image.


The interior of the Kinki-Sharyo cars used on the Valley Metro light rail cars was observed from the raised end seating on 8-January-2010

The best comparison for the Phoenix light rail system is likely that to the one in Portland. Most of the line runs in the middle of major streets, with no apparent priority signaling. Stations are spaced reasonably far apart, except perhaps at the far northwest end of the line, where they seemed closer together. So, the speed advantage of the system is mainly at rush hour, not when I rode at mid-day.


Two Valley Metro light rail vehicles were noted at the northwest end of the line, 19th and Montebello, in the middle of the street in Phoenix, Arizona on 8-January-2010

The most annoying thing about the system is that most of its stations, particularly in suburban areas, are located in the median of major streets. Often, reaching them requires crossing in two crosswalks, and vehicles making left-hand turns are usually given the right to make their turns first in the cycle, before pedestrians can proceed. It leaves the impression that pedestrians and transit riders are just an afterthought, as they take up to three minutes just to get across the intersection to their platform, potentially missing their train in the process.


This view of the Tempe Town Lake was taken from a passing Valley Metro light rail train on 8-January-2010

Still, with a day pass costing just $3.50 (compared with C$10 in Toronto) and well-placed stations in the downtown core and at the Arizona State campus in Tempe, the system seems to be doing its job, and I appreciated the scenery at Tempe Town Lake and the views downtown and along Central Avenue. A sign on a new residential unit on Apache Boulevard touted that it was "on the rails," implying some degree of popularity of the system.


The Campus Suites advertised their "on the rails" status in Tempe, Arizona on 8-January-2010

Future expansions of Valley Metro light rail are planned to the northwest, northeast, west, south farther into Tempe, and east farther into Mesa, but only a four-mile extension to the northwest is currently proceeding, with an expected opening date in 2012--but if I visit Phoenix again, I suspect I'll be riding it before then.

1 comment:

David Bickford said...

Nice post about our one-year old light rail line in Phoenix. A few comments:

-- Supposedly, there is some priority for the trains at intersections. How much priority is debatable, and to my knowledge, the "secret sauce" of that prioritization has never been shared.

-- I agree that pedestrians need greater priority at intersections. Although I think light rail has been a huge net positive in Phoenix, it may have increased jaywalking because people see a train coming and don't want to miss it.

-- The northwest extension is actually on hold right now. The City of Phoenix made the mistake of trying to build that 3.2-segment completely on its own without federal help. Now that local sales tax revenues are down, the project must be suspended until they pick up again. The extension that is likely to be built sooner goes from the eastern terminus into Downtown Mesa. That segment has qualified for federal assistance and is now being designed.