Phoenix’s 3-mile, 3-station, Northwest extension opens the same day as U Link, March 19. This is their second extension to open. Last year Phoenix voters approved funding for 70% more bus service and 42 new miles of light rail.

68 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Northwest Phoenix Light Rail Extension”

    1. If you go talk to 80% of Seattle metro residents about light rail, they’ll want to hear about parking too. Luckily, sound transit spares no expense in building free parking to serve pay by use transit.

      1. Current Link ridership is about 40,000 per day. A parking lot that size would consume much of the Rsinier Vslley.

        Park and rides are useful, but they can’t be the primary source of ridership.

      2. There are 4,000 parking spaces along Phoenix’s rail line. The line’s ridership is 43,400/weekday. So the vast majority of ridership does not come from park-and-riders.

      3. Which shows it would be more interesting to hear an interview with people actaully living near it.

      4. Just a note on the math: 4,000 spaces at full capacity is 8,000 trips if every driver is alone. Add in a 1.1 auto occupancy and add in a modest 10% turnover and that creates 9,680 riders.

      5. The SeaTac parking garage is 13,000 spaces and not nearly the size of RV. 1.2 per car times round trip is just over 31k boardings, 34k with a modest turn over. Clearly you don’t need a parking space for every rider. Some of those people will hop on the train for lunch or other trips during the day. Plus P&R lots are also a major kiss and ride access point. But unless you’re in a real metro area where car ownership is not the norm light rail won’t make the numbers without it. Figure those trips are also very high contributors to the passenger miles stat. I do however believe they should charge. The public hates the idea yet 99% of the same people would look at you as if you were daft if you asked why they charge to park at SeaTac. The obvious reason is, “because they can.” ECON 101, which I’m guessing the majority of the public never took.

      6. Structured parking costs tens of thousands of dollars per spot, are almost always rented below cost, and are almost always an expensive subsidy to a minority of riders who are arrive by car

        Structured parking consumes some of the best redevelopment land near stations where instead could be built developents generating all-day, all week ridership, induces station area traffic congestion that can slow down connecting buses and add discomfort to walk-to pedestrians.

        It would seem that in general, park-and-ride facilities should be limited to stations where development is unsound or inadvisable, such as flood planes. In general, transit agencies would be advised to be *more like Translink* and *less like BART*

      7. Kiss and ride is much cheaper to accommodate than park-and-ride, since it doesn’t require giant parking garages costing tens of thousands of dollars per space.

    2. Phoenix sure seems like a sprawling mess, that’s for sure. When I look at the census maps, it is very difficult to find clusters of population density. There are some, but very few, and they tend to be surrounded by not very dense areas. Serving Phoenix with walk up passengers seems very difficult to me.

      The good news is that a very good transit grid seems possible. Bus service from surrounding areas should be able to interact with the system quite well when all is said and done. The park and rides seem superfluous, especially for this area, which seems like it is more densely populated than most of the line. But since Phoenix is so sprawling, I doubt you could get this built without it.

      1. Even with the sprawl, Phoenix’s light rail manages to achieve a comparable boardings per mile to Central Link, about 2,400. The new extensions last year and in March will push that figure down and U Link will likely surpass it in both daily boardings and per-mile boardings.

      2. Yeah, but so far Seattle has managed to avoid the densely populated areas. Beacon Hill and to lesser extent Rainier Valley, but that is it. Phoenix is quite comparable in that regard. That will all change very quickly.

        But I think the biggest difference is again the connection to bus service. Looking at a map, it sure looks easy to make a really good grid serving the area, where the trains become a very good part of it. Our system (so far) just isn’t built that way (and even with the next extension it isn’t built that way). Some of it is our more challenging geography, but a lot of it that we seem to have different priorities.

      3. It’s true; Phoenix replaced one of their busiest bus lines with light rail. The grid bus lines already exist but need bumps in frequency and span, which the proposition is aiming to fund.

      4. Phoenix has ASU on the rail line and it travels through Diwntown to provide service from two directions. A comparison to Link isn’t fully valid until U-Link opens. I suspect Link will be at 65-75K by October.

      5. A comparison to Link isn’t fully valid until U-Link opens. I suspect Link will be at 65-75K by October.

        I’m keeping my 2011 predictions, which included station boardings, under wraps until after it opens. I think you’re a little high but we’ll see.

      6. Probably Bernie. I always forget to deduct those people bound for Capitol Hill or UW that are already on Link and as transferring. Maybe 60K is better?

    3. I’m glad that useful transit is finally starting to catch on in middle America. Light rail in Phoenix? And 42 miles; isn’t that more than half of the predicted ST3 network?

      What bothers me is that the vice mayor spoke only of the employment opportunities along the line. Is the city thinking only about getting to work? While there are shift workers, will the line mostly be used only during peak hours? DId the city forget that people can use transit for non-work purposes and downsize their number of cars if it goes between all-day destination centers? Or did the city just not mention it in this ad because it’s targeted to suburbsn commuters?

      1. I think they do recognize non-commute use of transit. The light rail service ends around 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights. It also seems popular for getting to events from baseball, basketball, ASU football, performances, museums and nightlife.

      2. Their night owl service is better than ours?!! That I wouldn’t have expected. Way to go, Phoenix. It’s like how Swift knocks the socks off RapidRide E in both stop spacing and transit lanes.

    1. Got to consider the real danger the man is fighting, Sam.

      Look at that pile of future carbon emissions! Time is approaching when one more ticket will kill the last tree on Earth, after which global warming will turn the whole world into a Hell almost as bad as I-5 at rush hour.

      Also finally giving New Yorkers something to really complain about. Got to say, though that us five remaining Prairie Home Companion listeners finally know what Guy Noir really looks like! Thanks for the public service!



  1. You notice, Glenn, that Phoenix is adding bus service as well. But the problem is that in Arizona, where a pedestrian who forgot his water bottle has ten minutes to live, the wildlife authorities have had a serious concern about people who refuse to drive to transit causing dangerous weight-gain in the buzzard population.

    At least when they fly, these birds are a classic reminder of inevitable mortality. However, when they start waddling around like penguins, they lose all respect. Especially since they’ve now they’ve been issued deputy’s badges by Maricopa County’s fascist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and actual law enforcement from England to North Korea is afraid to set foot there.

    Even worse, the prestigious NVA (National Vulture’s Association) now has a permanent ban on conventions in Phoenix, a real slap in the face for the new light rail system considering the length of linear perching wire they’ve recently provided.

    So be patient, Glenn. Eastsiders, NIMBY’s, and the Joe Arpaio wannabe’s now in control of our State Capitol are nothing compared to life in a solar parking lot all the way to the horizon. Though it at least lets them relax about snow-pack.


  2. Observation:

    If pot users are stereotyped as lazy slackers, and coffee drinkers as energetic, then how come with all the road construction in the central district causing havoc on businesses, it’s the coffee shops that are hurting, and the pot shop often has a line out the door? Something to think about.

    Please clap.

    1. Considering coffee’s usual effect on the human body, Sam, isn’t it pretty likely that people in line at the pot store are waiting to use the bathroom since the (usually) one at the cafe is already in use?


      1. There is no limit on the number of coffee houses permitted. There is an artificial limit on pot, insufficient to meet demand.

    2. If anyone’s still watching this thread… Perhaps all the coffee drinkers are quickly walking elsewhere, while the pot smokers are just standing in line or waiting in traffic longer?

  3. Now, speaking of buzzards, fascists, and public transit. Along with the 5-4 Supreme Court decision that left us Citizens United, I wonder if anybody is noticing how small a margin cost Chris Peterson her job.

    What I’m seeing is that these last years of Government have not in fact been a stationary gridlock.
    We’ve been in a very closely-fought arm-wrestling match against an opponent with a serious weight advantage over us.

    So I’d seriously like some advice from someone with experience in any form of wrestling except WWF- though I wonder how much of that we’re really dealing with in Olympia? Fact we haven’t been pinned ’til now gives me some hope.


    1. To continue the wrestling metaphor, the right-wing opposition has been using barred holds, and they’ve bought the refs. This is one of the major problems we’re facing. Perhaps the only option is to go no-holds-barred, even though that may increase the chances that they die during the match. Metaphorically speaking.

  4. With all of that street running-ness of their extension, it feels more similar to the FHSC than than ULink…

    1. For most cities the attractions of light rail is that it can run at-grade, so lower capital costs. Tunnels are not politically possible. Portland and Dallas have only one tunnel with a single station where it goes under a hill or highway. Elevated segments have become more common because their cost is closer to surface than tunnel, but those are mostly heading toward suburbs. City-center segments are almost always at-grade.

      1. It all depends on what is needed.

        Portland could have built the yellow line in a tunnel, but its purpose is to be something better, faster and cheaper per passenger than was happening with bus route 5. If you are replacing a surface bus, the station spacing is going to be frequent. This means speeds are going to be somewhat limited anyway. So, the advantage of a tunnel isn’t that great. In fact, there is a time penalty for transferring to the local bus routes.

        Downtown streets are much more congested and the streets are not very fast. There can be huge advantages to a downtown tunnel. Seattle really went the right direction on that.

  5. While searching for the 106 timetable at Metro’s website I noticed a banner announcing that Metro is working on a new format for the online timetables. I clicked the link and liked what I saw–a cleaner presentation that holds the timepoints as I scrolled down. Metro is seeking feedback on the new format.

      1. That’s only if you view it on a phone or small window. make the window wide enough and it switches to the traditional format.

      2. My “small window” is a desktop browser taking up more than half of a 1923 pixel screen. I hate it when sites require a thousand pixels or more more to switch to full-size mode. It’s all the fault of the tablets.

  6. I’d like to ask what people think is a reasonable number of years ahead to plan and build a transit system, regarding things like parking, land use, politics and other points that aren’t strictly technical?

    From what I’ve seen of pavement and time, after less than a year, weeds and grass start to eat any paved thing left unattended. Including busways. I’m already starting to miss both the parking and the taco truck that used to be across from the Station Cafe on Beacon Hill.

    But a lot of parking lots- and, unfortunately taco trucks- can be pre-densified with a grader in a couple of hours. In addition, from the quality of residential construction I’m seeing on both sides of the Nisqually River, hardly anything built lately has any “bones”. Meaning the ability to be either an obstacle or a pillar over time.

    So through so many STB discussions, I’ve been curious. When we think of transit’s future- what’s a good working length of foresight?


    1. Depends on the needs and area and what is being planned.

      Too far in advance is never far enough. MAX green line planning essentially started in the 1960s when I-205 included grading and tunnels for a transit way. Union Pacific construction along the Coumbia Gorge line left bridge abutments wide enough so that, in 100 years time, they may be easily have a second track added.

      Right now, The Puget Sound region is playing catch up because if the lack of planning during the highway only years. Don’t forget he 100 year plan though.

      1. Thanks, Glenn. But another aspect of time on my mind this last while is how to look at the going-on 26 years that the DSTT has been in operation, and the going-on seven years of joint operations.

        From the beginning of the project, a very short time after I signed on at Metro, it seemed to me that every driver in the company and me had been handed the greatest present in the transit world.

        We’d have a system that we ourselves could grow out of a combination of the trolley and diesel buses we already had, with trains to be phased in, and running mixed with the buses for a certain period. Evolving into a railroad which could never be automated.

        I most looked forward to the period of joint operations, because it would have been a terrific chance to show how we as operating personnel could work as a team to handle a system that automation never could. At least for my working life.

        A lot of work went into the signals and communications that would have made this possible. All left to gather dust about two weeks into DSTT operations. The training program that the necessary coordination required? Guess somebody’s been too busy to get back to us.

        At least two ways to view this matter. One: Plain cheapness and laziness made a slowly lurching mediocrity out of something that should have been swift, smooth and excellent.

        But also: If in 1981 I’d had the choice of two systems to work for- one an updated faster BART, and our own hand-built and -operated experiment?

        Even if I’d known exactly what was going to happen in the next 30 years, only choice for me would have been the one I made. Not fair but also not too far off: “Everybody knows how to build BARTS.”

        And another viewpoint developing out of DSTT experience. Within the time-frame I can see ahead- which could as easily turn out to be either too long or too short-the years September 1990 and now is about the right space of time for a working experiment on a system in progress.

        With enough years ahead of it to make our first experiment very unlikely to be the last.


      2. “Right now, The Puget Sound region is playing catch up because if the lack of planning during the highway only years. Don’t forget he 100 year plan though.”

        Good Lord, the Puget Sound region is in the middle of tearing up viable rail corridors in support of highway only infrastructure now. (re: Woodinville Sub, Lynnwood Link following I-5 instead of the old Interurban route when possible, South county extensions too close to I-5).

        This ship has yet to turn around.

        and the payback isn’t 100 years, it’s actually closer to 40.

      3. Payback time is one thing. The time required for a long range plan is something else.

        Some of the MAX lines on the map won’t be built within my lifetime. However, TriMet can at least have a vague idea of where the line should go so that stuff like high pressure pumped sewer lines or what have you are not put in places where they will interfere.

        The payback for doing that kind of planning now rather than having to relocate a bunch of stuff when the line is built can be huge.

      4. It’s on the map but not very clearly. It seems to show a line in east Portland on Powell Blvd meeting the existing line in Gresham. And two lines in south Portland, one on Macadam Ave to Lake Oswego, and one on Barber Blvd to Tualatin partly overlapping WES (which reminds me of BART and MUNI overlapping between Glenn Park and Balboa Park).

        When were these lines proposed? Were they part of the original MAX plan?

      5. At the very least, the line to Tigard appeared on a map of proposed transportation priorities sometime in the 1980s that was published in the Oregonian. At the time, that was something like #3 on the regional transportation priority list because there are only so many roads over the West Hills, and all of them are crowded and very expensive to expand.

        It won’t get built anytime soon because a couple of years ago they had a tea party takeover of Tigard city government, and the city now has an official anti-transit improvements clause in its city charter. It’s bad enough the city council is required by city charter to send an anti-transit improvements position letter to TriMet and the Metro Council every year.

        Yes, they are so anti-transit spending that they actually now have to waste money showing how anti-transit they are.

        So, while it’s still there on the long range map, everyone knows traffic will have to get much, much worse until Tigard changes its mind.

      6. Glenn,
        Tigard may come around yet. Alpharetta, GA is currently begging for a MARTA extension something hardly imaginable back when it was first being planned and built. For that matter look at the Dallas suburbs who didn’t want anything to do with DART who are all begging for extensions as well.

      7. Glenn;

        Being one Friday in late April, I’m going to be getting on or off the WES (Trimet’s version of Sounder) in Tigard… I’m upset Tigard made this choice.

        One should have asked Tigard if they want to give up (sadly seemingly inefficient) high capacity transit in WES as well… because from what I read the City of Tigard can make no plans for either light rail or BRT to prep for a ballot measure. Without the ability to even plan for high capacity transit, Tigard – even with a major transit hub of Trimet buses + Trimet WES + Yamhill buses – is now locked down.

        But of course, the vote was held in the dead of winter when moderates & progressives don’t bother to turn out. I’m sure that was no coincidence.

      8. The whole thing was also bankrolled by the owners of a lumber mill. I don’t really have an explanation for that. Their ads made it sound like evil MAX trains would wait in the bushes and run over unsuspecting drivers at the slightest provocation.

        I’ve not figured out the lumber family motivation for being anti-transit. They live and work way out in the coast range.

    2. The interesting thing is that both Portland and San Jose began thinking about reinstating rail just ten years after they ripped out the streetcars. Even if it took another ten years to commit to it, that’s still just one generation or less. So it’s partly kids having different values than their parents, but also the parents changing their minds. And in Santa Clara County’s case, a tripling of population between 1950 and 1980. San Jose’s Diridion train station has an exhibit about BART and light rail planning in the 1950s, and how the population and votes changed over time. Seattle ripped out the streetcars earlier and approved modern rail later, so we had a longer gap between them.

      1. In the case of Poetland, it was also a transition from a private company to public operation.

        They got rid of the steetcar lines because that would be cheap. They got rid of the interurban lines because as freight only operations they could be sold at a quick cash crop to the mainline railroads (Portland Traction Compny still exists as an entity fully owned by the Union Pacific.).

        Except, after the conversion to buses, they still couldn’t make enough money and eventually it had to be publicly owned.

        The interurban passenger service was gone in 1958. MAX opened in 1986. Forget the kids. There were drivers and office staff that were in their 30s when the interurbans ended and near retirement when MAX started. One of the reasons MAX happened was because people involved knew what could be done with rail since they had direct experience early in their careers.

        As to planning ahead? I imagine one reason UP keeps Portland Traction around is the street trackage franchise. Who knows? In another 100 years maybe oil prices will be so high that there will be a demand for freight trains through city streets too. It’s hard to say, but the UP must see somebody of very long term value to the company papers.

      2. San Diego Blue Line: lost passenger service 1951, reopened 1981. California is frankly ahead of the Pacific Northwest on restoration of rail service.

        But at least you’re ahead of Texas, right?… for now. Texas is catching up.

      3. Texas?

        El Paso kept a streetcar line open until 1974. Tandy’s “subway” (used PCC streetcars with steel piano crates welded on in random spots) operated from the 1970s until recently.

        Whatever gap Texas has without operating rail transit is very brief, if it exists at all.

    3. OK, these may not be the best examples to work with, because they definitely show some significant defects. However, they at least show some potential advantages to a long range plan:

      When the city of Portland rebuilt the Bybee Street overpass of highway 99E in southeast Portland some 12 or so years ago, TriMet could show them that they planned to build the Orange line. When the Orange line was actually built, the overpass already had structural elements in it that allowed the handrails and sidewalks to be removed and an entire bus pull-out lane added to the summit of the bridge. If the long range plan had not had the Orange Line there, most likely TriMet would have had to pay for the rebuilding of the entire structure a second time.

      One station further south on the Orange Line is the Tacoma Street park and ride lot. This overpass was rebuilt even earlier – with parts of it ranging to the 1980s and parts of it happening a bit later. It’s unfortunate that the planning for this overpass in the 1980s didn’t include even better planning for the MAX line than it did, but it included enough planning for the MAX line that they were able to figure out a way to cram the thing above a cloverleaf and below the overpass so that at least they didn’t have to rebuild the entire overpass. It looks like the whole thing was put together by a giant weavers loom and it results in two curves that are far too tight for post 1980s rail transit planning, but at least there was some space allowed for the line.

      Now, a counter-example: downtown Beaverton, Oregon has been mostly demolished and replaced by horrible, busy roads and several huge parking lots. One small bright spot in the middle of this horrible mess is just south of the highway tangle. However, when the MAX routes were being proposed there was no economical way to get there. On the surface, it would not have been that bad to just plow through several acres of parking spaces. Under the surface, there is at least one large diameter (somewhere around 4 feet in diameter) water line that connects two major water districts and maybe two high pressure pumped sewer lines. In the end, the one place in downtown Beaverton that is worth serving with transit wasn’t worth trying to serve with transit because the of a lack of planning several decades prior to MAX.

      Several hills in the Portland area were purchased by the Portland Water Bureau in the 1880s with an eye towards required reservoir capacity 100+ years in the future. Last year they were able to expand the capacity of the Kelly Butte reservoir to meet current and future water needs thanks to the foresight of a plan more than 130 years old.

      If our city’s transportation planning more closely resembled the Portland Water Bureau planning, MAX lines would be cheaper to build and when finished would more closely meet the needs of passengers when they were completed.

      The same, unfortunately, can be said about transportation infrastructure in most places. The real long term vision that, say, a water agency requires just isn’t there to the extent that it needs to be when it comes to transportation.

  7. If they can rebuld the line to LA and bring daily sevice between there and Tucson, they’d really be cooking with gas.

  8. I just noticed that Denver will be DOUBLING its number of track miles in 2016 alone (hooray for service to DIA!). Kudos to them. Hopefully they get their system completely built out before the current influx of Seattle transplants reaches critical mass and throws it into perpetual disarray.

  9. Now recently Bill Bryant’s policy people released this statement:

    Bill Bryant drives in Puget Sound traffic every day and knows traffic jams are choking us. They keep us from getting to work on time. Traffic congestion keeps us from getting home and spending time with our families. A traffic jam can turn a quick errand into a nightmare.

    . . .

    Bill believes you deserve a government that will make the elimination of traffic jams and increasing the efficient movement of freight, the Washington Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) top priority. We should measure the reduction of traffic congestion and travel time, and hold WSDOT officials accountable for getting travel time down.

    . . .

    Prioritize funding and operations to eliminate traffic jams, so people can get to and from work and spend time with their families.

    We know the truth – transit IS congestion relief. That’s the truth. Let’s go ON OFFENSE and defend transit as a means of mobility AND congestion relief.

    Now it’s up to good folks to educate Bill Bryant and his people of this. Who’s with me?

    1. Transit is not congestion relief. It is congestion avoidance, at least for grade-separated transit.

      1. aaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, that’s a good idea. Congestion avoidance.

        Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwww damn that sounds good. Let’s fight back against Curtis King’s Government Motors Silverado 3500 HD!

    2. [ot] when your Savior Bill Bryant tells you he doesn’t give a rodent’s hindquarters about “Bus-only lanes” on freeways. The dude is a Highwayman and those lanes are for his poseur “base” to drive on in their Navigators and Beemer 7 Series.

Comments are closed.