See the comments section for an open thread on the vote.
Phoenix's Proposition 104 promises to extend light-rail and bus service, as well as make street improvements. Everyone who wishes the city well should vote for it.
Now that's out of the way, let's examine some lesser-explored aspects of the issue. I say "issue," because the debate has been won. WBIYB. Phoenix light rail is highly successful, as I predicted when advocating it — and getting death threats from the Bs in the latter B of WBIYB — as a columnist at the Arizona Republic.
A quick note on costs. With the $2 billion the state wants to flush down the toilet on the South Mountain Freeway, we could more than double the original 20 miles of light rail. That Arizona is still building freeways shows this racket for what it is: a way to keep spec construction going and enriching the Real Estate Industrial Complex.
Costs? Freeways destroy cities and farmland, spread pollution and emit enormous amounts of carbon into the global commons called the atmosphere. That these costs are hidden "externalities" does not mean they don't exist. Transit is a bargain. Enough said about the "light rail costs too much" Big Lie.
If we could go back in time with supernatural powers, we would highly limit the street widening begun after World War II; take advantage of the 1973 defeat of the Papago Freeway inner loop — successful anti-freeway revolts also happened then in Portland and Seattle — and build a robust transit system; defeat the 1985 freeway sales-tax; approve ValTrans in 1989, and connect I-10 as the Durango Curve, sparing 3,000 center-city houses.
Of course, we can't. But knowing these points of lousy decisions is important.
I have to trust the "process" that created the proposed light-rail extensions. Like the original line, they must be on highly traveled transit lines to qualify for federal funding. Also, they have to be spread out to satisfy the mini-mayor city council members. The south Phoenix and Maryvale make eminent sense and should be fast-tracked.
Unfortunately, we're left with a system that doesn't reach the employment center of 24th Street and Camelback or the future ASU medical school at the Mayo Hospital. (If I had my way, the isolated ASU campus would be closed.)
The lack of regionalism, a priority of Mayor Greg Stanton, is most regrettable. Blame the Kooks who have made opposition to transit, and especially rail, a fetish.
Dallas has the most extensive light-rail system in the United States. Yes, car-crazy Dallas. The suburbs opposed it — until the trains began running. Then they were clamoring to be included. Salt Lake City has a large system, built with the support of the LDS, that covers the entire Salt Lake Valley.
Southern California, especially Los Angeles, has been transformed by passenger rail over the past two decades. LA is essentially rebuilding the needlessly destroyed Pacific Electric. It offers light rail, as well as commuter trains, from Oceanside to San Luis Opisbo to San Bernardino. The "subway to the sea" is being built. And all this is on a speedy construction schedule from which Phoenix could learn. SoCal isn't building freeways anymore. It's building rail transit.
Another set of best practices comes from Denver's FasTracks, light rail and commuter rail. All the lines converge on a wonderfully restored Denver Union Station.
Transplanted to Phoenix, this would mean heavy-rail commuter trains northwest to Glendale, Peoria, Surprise, Sun City and Wickenburg; west to Tolleson, Goodyear, Litchfield Park and Buckeye, and southeast to Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert. In the 2000s, when I participated in a planning group for Buckeye, a survey said residents most wanted commuter trains to Phoenix.
Also, build a rapid-transit rail line on the Price Corridor, linking employment centers from Chandler to north Scottsdale.
Phoenix needs Amtrak and Amtrak regional service such as the Cascades in the Northwest. Rebuilding the northern main line west to Yuma would revive long-distance service from Phoenix to LA lost in 1996. There need to be multiple daily trains between Phoenix and Tucson (we had six in the 1960s).
Rapid buses are fine in their place. They really only work when they have dedicated lanes. Transit supporters should always beware. Anti-transit forces advocate rapid buses to kill light-rail proposals, then somehow the rapid buses never get funded. Phoenix needs more and more frequent standard bus service. It is a scandal that lines such as the one on McDowell stop running at 10 p.m.
Union Station, now used to house telecom equipment, must be part of Phoenix's long-term plan. For one thing, it is a lovely building. But it should be a hub for commuter and intercity trains. It is critical that the south Phoenix light-rail line be engineered to jog over to Third Avenue so it can pass beside Union Station, then swing back to Central.
So please vote. Even though the opposition seems light — "Better Call Sal" and the hand lettered signs, recall that the Koch brothers and other Kook big-money groups pour money into killing transit measures.
Dealing with the unmanageable 518 square miles of Phoenix is difficult in the best of times. But the future is not in 1970s-style freeway systems.
We will built it, you bastards.