This is one of the areas where developing a true Master Plan will help the most. Efforts to build a high-speed public transit system have been damaged by the failure of the current council to develop a comprehensive approach to public transportation, and a disastrous record of cost-overruns on light rail.
Phoenix is not Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco – or other places where rail works really well. The difference is fundamental, and historical: rail works incredibly well in cities that were originally built around the horse and buggy, when a twenty-mile journey took all day.
Phoenix, on the other hand, was built around the car. Unlike those older cities, no one thought much – or does today – about a twenty or thirty-mile drive across town. The result is that we have neither the density or distances to make rail functional here. But we’ve made it even less effective by building a disaster of a system that more often resembles a rolling homeless shelter than a transit option. Without controlled access points, that won’t change, and the current design does not allow for their installation.
So, what do we do?
We still need reliable, fast public transportation, and the answer is Bus Rapid Transit. Bus Rapid Transit, also known as BRT, combines the best features of light rail with much lower costs, greater flexibility, and – if necessary, for example when the Super Bowl or other major event comes to town – the ability to transport MORE passengers per hour than light rail. These are not buses in the way most people think of them – they far more resemble light rail cars with wheels than traditional buses – they ride better, accelerate and brake more smoothly, and can carry more passengers than standard buses.
The critical element will be developing the system in conjunction with the new Master Plan I mentioned above. BRT must serve as the skeleton of our transit system, be combined with local circulating routes, and focus on moving passengers very quickly between key areas of interest throughout the Valley. It must be done in conjunction with Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Chandler. Alongside these routes – by right – should come significantly increased zoning height, density, and variety of uses. (For more on this, please see my section on Smart Growth)
Additionally, new technologies in personal transportation – everything from e-scooters to self-driving vehicles – is evolving at breakneck speed. Phoenix needs to create a council made up of experts in these areas, and lean on them for guidance in how best to deploy, and regulate, these technologies safely.