Continuing this week of guest posts by top-notch Phoenix writers and thinkers, today’s post is by the Light Rail Blogger, Tony Arranaga.  Since 1995, Tony has worked in television newsrooms around the country. Tony started his career on the assignment desk at the West Coast Bureau for ABC News in Los Angeles. He then spent several years covering politics in both Tampa and Washington, D.C. before landing in Phoenix where he helped ABC 15/KNXV-TV grow a morning show audience.

Tony’s new passion is mass transit and alternative transportation. He is the publisher of Light Rail Blogger – which talks about the light rail system in Phoenix and his carfree experience in the desert.

There are some areas along the Phoenix light rail that are so close, yet so far away.

The merchants in the Lower Grand Avenue District, west of downtown, are a perfect example of the “so close…” situation. The light rail station at Central and Van Buren could serve Grand Avenue, but in order to get from the station to the main part of Grand, one would need to walk or bike nearly 10 blocks.

A loosely organized group called the Grand Avenue Rail Project (I sit on the board) is trying to win support for a do it yourself rail project. The proposed plan would connect a historic streetcar with the modern light rail system at Central and Van Buren. The streetcar could pump new life into Grand Avenue by bringing light rail riders (and their spending dollars) to the area.

While Grand Avenue has a plan, other areas along the line do not. As it turns out, I discovered an inexpensive solution for those areas, a fix that would cost a fraction of the price to expand light rail, take months instead of years to install and it’s eco-friendly.  The best part is YOU can help make this happen with the click of a mouse.

A bike share program called Bcycle is asking ‘who wants it more.’ People in cities across the United States are voting online to become the next location for a bike sharing program. More on that right after I explain how the program provided me with a better downtown experience in the Mile High City.

I first became aware of Bcycle while attending the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Conference in Denver, Colorado earlier this summer. Turns out the city has one of the largest bike sharing program in the country with 500 bikes and 40 kiosks.

In my free time during the conference, I would head to the Bcycle kiosk located outside the front door of the Convention Center. The kiosks are also near major light rail hubs and popular landmarks. The rental process is easy, the locations are convenient and the bikes are comfortable to ride and have everything you need to run an errand day or night. You can see all the bells and whistles in this post The Bikes of Denver Bike Share. After you read the entry, I want you to sit back, close your eyes and imagine a Bcycle kiosk outside the Convention Center in Phoenix. Picture a kiosk at our Central Station at Central and Van Buren or maybe near the Arizona Science Center. Think of all the places you could go. People powered transportation could extend the reach of our current light rail system. Think of the convenience. Think of what this could mean for the city of Phoenix.

I mentioned a short time ago that Bcycle is looking for cities to install the next bike sharing program. You can vote online here and use the zip code 85004 for downtown Phoenix. The Bcycle map shows current standings and while I couldn’t find the city in first place, Rochester is in second with more than 142,000 votes. Currently (at time of post) Phoenix is in 36th place with 359 votes.

While the race is between Rochester and Phoenix is further away than close, we could still win this competition! (Maybe?) Optimism aside, even a strong showing is a sign to our elected officials that we believe in and want a sustainable Phoenix.

If you would like to see where you can take Bcycle along the light rail, be sure to check out my Phoenix Light Rail Map which points out restaurants with bike racks near light rail stops.

Photo Credit:
LightRailBlogger.com visited Denver in June 2010 and discovered the benefits of the bike share program ‘Bcycle’.  Photo by the author.

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6 Responses

  1. Valerie Porter says:

    Great post Tony! Riding the lightrail is indeed a great way to explore the many attractions that downtown phx has to offer. But as I started using the rail more, I realized how many places are “just out of reach,” such as Grand Ave. I recently ventured out there for my first time but it was a bit of a walk. Your blog has showed me how a bike is the perfect complement to a car-free commute. You don’t have to be an avid cyclist in order to enjoy the benefits of zipping around town easily. I’m certainly not an accomplished cyclist, but I’m having a lot of fun bringing my bike downtown venturing out to lunch spots I wouldn’t have been able to walk to before.

    I really hope that Phoenix starts to catch onto alternative transportation and how much fun it really can be. I voted – I’ll spread the word because I’d love a bike-sharing program in our urban core!

  2. It is impressive how many people use bicycles as a rail extender, but that’s not practical for everyone. In my situation, when my family takes rail on the weekends, we have two children with us who are too young to ride bikes. Often we have a stroller with us. Of course, we could get one of those trailers that bicyclists use to tow little kids, but try fitting one of those on the train. I already complain enough about bad etiquette on the part of bicyclists who take up three seats on the train, so I don’t want to become part of the problem. Of course, I’ll admit I’m also wary of bicycling due to bad memories of seemingly endless injuries and flat tires when I had a bike many years ago.

    While bicycles work for some, there are a variety of other rail extenders to consider:

    — The bus. The plain old unglamorous Valley Metro bus connects to most rail stations and accepts the same passes as rail. I use the bus for the last two miles of my commute to work.

    — Neighborhood circulators. The City of Phoenix has cut back on these lately, but I’d love to see more of them running routes that begin and end at rail stations. The key is that they have to be simple to use. Both the Downtown Evening Express and the recently discontinued DASH Downtown Loop have been much too complicated for passengers to figure out. Instead, we need straightforward connections between major rail stations and business districts that are just a bit too far for some passengers to reach on foot. In fact, I’d love to see a bus or faux trolley shuttle connecting Central Station to the Grand Avenue business district. I think doing something like that via Ollie the Trolley might be a realistic short-term solution until the proposed Grand Avenue Streetcar can be built.

    — Taxi. This is one area where I think both Metro Light Rail and the taxi companies are missing an opportunity. At park-and-ride stations, there are designated 30-minutes spaces where motorists can drop off or pick up passengers. Right now, most of those spaces go unused. Ideally, Metro Light Rail should reach an agreement with a cab company allowing it to park taxis in up to two spaces at each station. That way, passengers arriving at a station like Central and Camelback can be reasonably confident a cab will be available for them without having to go through the awkward process of calling ahead and trying to estimate when they’ll arrive.

    — Shade and walkability. The walk from Central Station to Grand Avenue isn’t so much long as it is unpleasant. The stretch of Van Buren from Central to 7th Avenue had minimal shade and is dominated by auto-centric businesses. Redesigning streets to be more welcoming to both pedestrians and bicyclists would go a long way here.

  3. Will Novak says:

    Tony, at the Grand Ave Fest I went down and checked out the GARP project at Motley Design. It looks like the current plan is actually to have the Trolley bend south on 7th Ave and hook up w/ a future LRT stop at 7th Ave/Washington. Because 7th Ave is wider, with a turn lane, and it would be easier to do.

    I really hope they find a way to go back to the Van Buren alignment though. Hooking up to the Central Station would be huge. Additionally, it could help spur redevelopment of the street fronting warehouses along VB.

    Remember that section of VB is zoned for the tallest stuff in the City and in the Urban Form plan is slated for large scale retail (department stores) if it ever returns to downtown. If Phoenix is to ever have a shopping street a la Michigan Ave, it would be West VB between Central and 7th. Having a trolley running down VB would be awesome and help that potentially happen.

    David, I TOTALLY agree that Phoenix needs more circulators. I lived in Tempe for 2 years and I used the Orbit all the time to go to Mill Ave, ASU sporting events, it was great. The circulators Phoenix has had have been very successful, we need more of them.

    Id like to see more neighborhood circulators through Central Phx that have connections to the LRT line to make them true LRT extenders. For instance here’s an idea for a circulator in Garfield I had the idea for:


    It would connect to the LRT, the BioMed campus, multiple parks, schools, lots of retail, St Lukes, etc.

    Unfortunately now that I look at it, its kinda shaped like a gun, oh well. 😛

    (sorry for the super long post everyone)

  4. Michiko Ota says:

    Here in Phoenix, we are a victim of our own history. Prior to the creation of the Regional Public Transportation Authority and the Valley Metro identity, the main bus system in the area was ran by the City of Phoenix under a City of Phoenix identity (remember Tico?). Scottsdale did their own thing, Tempe did their own thing and so did Mesa. All the Valley Metro identity do is add a single identity to the existing patchwork infrastructure of transportation management in this Valley. Now bring in Light Rail, which is now a totally independent agency to each of the city agencies. While some bus routes cross city limits, you will notice that some cities have more service along a particular route than others. This is because transit continues to be funded at the local level in a pre-1980’s-era concept.

    In order for any transit system to properly work in this city would be to bring the administration of the transit system as a whole to a TRUE regional agency. The regional agency would oversee transportation for the region as a whole with input from citizens and the local municipalities. I would even go so far as to suggest the Denver solution where transit board members are elected offices, not appointments from each RPTA member city like it is today.

    Once this structure is in place, transit resources can be spread over the region without regard to city boundaries. Denver has a regional sales “RTD” tax that helps funds transit in the district.

    Once everything is under one roof, everything can be coordinated.

    This Valley needs to get their head out of the box where it comes to being creative with scheduling and route planning.

    There are a few roads that would be good candidates for peak hour limited stop services such as Thomas Rd., 19th Avenue and Scottsdale/Rural. All are very heavily traveled routes with nasty running times and huge on-time issues.

    Our transit is being “over-marketed” here in the Valley. This is being done to the determent of the regular rider, especially the low income rider.

    Myself, I am getting sick of some bicyclists on the trains. Between people riding their bikes on platforms, blocking doors, not lifting their bikes into the racks (mainly because they have all of their junk on board), the bikes are sometimes a nuisance. Not all bicyclists are like this.

    Many transit systems prohibit bicycles on the trains during rush hours or they require bicyclists to have permits to bring their bikes on the train.

    Perhaps if we had a better underlying bus system here in Phoenix, there would be less of a need for someone to have to bike to a train.

  5. Valerie Porter says:

    I completely agree with the above comments. I live one mile from the Center Parkway lightrail stop and therefore need a bike or ride to my stop – walking takes too long. For a long time I just drove my car to the First Solar garage and parked my car then took the rail to downtown. However, in trying to eliminate the car from the equation I started biking to my stop. I have heavy stenography equipment I need to transport, therefore making the bike a difficult proposition at times. I think bikes are great, but don’t always work for my situation. I have a basket for holding extra items I need, making it very difficult to hang my bike on the rack. I agree that too many people standing with their bikes on the rail clogs up the entry/exit ways.

    So I would love to see clearer explanations of what my options are with regard to riding the bus/orbit. I realize a lot of my ignorance is self-imposed, but I have tried to study out the routes and they are not easily understood or clear. Biking is not an option for everyone, so I second the notion that we need to improve shuttling people to/from lightrail stations in order to make it sustainable and easier for more people to ride.

  6. Sean S says:

    great write-up, Tony – it seems to have generated lots of great comments 🙂

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