As the Arizona Republic reported, "It may be years from ever happening, but even the thought of extending the Valley's light-rail system from Mesa south into Chandler along Arizona Avenue is stirring strong opposition from a few key foes concerned that wording in a proposed planning document is a tacit endorsement of such a rail line."
There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of people in America: those with urban values and those with suburban values. The latter can sometimes "get it," how the health of an entire metropolitan area is dependent on a vibrant downtown — Oklahoma City is a good example. More often they don't, and the two tribes can't even speak the same language.
One of the biggest points of controversy is transit. Those with suburban values, especially "conservative" ideologues, have made a fetish of opposing any mode of travel that is not based on the automobile. Armed with seemingly economically invincible talking points regarding costs and often backed by Koch brothers money, they have defeated numerous transit measures nationally. They also speak in code to suburban whites, that transit will bring Those People to apartheid suburbia.
This is what makes Phoenix's light rail such a miracle. In the face of hysterical and often thuggish opposition, the starter line was completed and has now been expanded, with more growth on the way. It is highly popular. None of the predictions of doom happened. Even left turns are easy. We built it, you bastards (WBIYB).
Chandler won't. Never fear.
I don't know if this is ultimately a good or bad thing. On the one hand, we won't have to put up with Chandler's suburban values delaying or distorting decisions of Valley Metro. Funding will go to the places that "get it." We won't be derailed by the bus rapid transit rope-a-dope.
On the other hand, it's Chandler's loss. Typically, transit corridors see property values increase, something the likes of Pollack would understand if they got out more. Or if Phoenix were not dominated by short-hustle suburban developers.
A further complicating factor is that employment centers in metropolitan Phoenix continue to be build far from transit. This is a result of heavy subsidies from freeways, as well as no meaningful land use planning and policies that would price in the enormous externalities of car-dependent greenfield sprawl. So the region basically has a transportation system out of 1970.
Dallas, by contrast, enjoys the largest light-rail system in America. The usual suburban opposition changed when the first line opened, and soon suburbs were clamoring to have their own light-rail connections. Now one can take light rail from downtown Dallas to Plano, Garland, Rowlett, Carrolton, Irving, as well as other parts of the city itself and DFW airport. Critically, these lines reach to major employment centers such as Las Colinas.
One last point: Phoenicians don't get out much, so it's important to know that even in ideal circumstances — say a major headquarters or two on LRT and support by the Real Estate Industrial Complex for transit-oriented development — light rail is only one mode for a metro area of Phoenix's size. Outlying suburbs, and even Chandler, might be better served by heavy rail commuter trains. Into the 1960s, six passenger trains daily stopped in Chandler on the Southern Pacific Railroad.
I've told this story before but it's worth repeating. In the mid-2000s, I was involved in a session where Buckeye was trying to envision its needs if it became a populous "city." I put that in quotation marks because an assemblage of "master planned communities" connected by wide highways ("streets") can never be a real city — see the experience of Mesa. But polling was done of Buckeye residents. Of these white, suburban-values people, their top priority was commuter trains to downtown Phoenix.
So Chandler, like Scottsdale, will proudly reject light rail and preen about its relative prosperity and abundant walls. They won't build it. Pro tip: Those People drive cars.
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