November 28, 2011

A Car-Free Thanksgiving Weekend in Phoenix

by: Taz Loomans


Thanksgiving is a nice day to get together with friends and family and celebrate everything that we’re thankful for. The three days after are great for shopping, recreating and running errands. But how do you do all that without a car?

Paul and I found out.

Thanksgiving Day

We figured out a way to get to my parents’ house in Chandler, who live on Ray and Alma School, from Indian School and 11th Avenue. How did we do it? We planned our car-free trip with the combination of Valley Metro’s online Trip Planner and the Transit Book which is available for download.

We had to contend with the fact that the Light Rail and bus were running on a Sunday schedule on Thanksgiving day, which meant that they were not running as often, and if we missed one train or bus, it would be a full half hour or more before the next one came along.

Luckily, we gave ourselves plenty to time, because it turned out that it took us a full 2 hours to get from Central Phoenix to Chandler that day. Our trip consisted of a bike-ride to the Light Rail station on Indian School and Central from Red Mountain. We rode the Light Rail to the end of the line in Mesa.

There are bike hooks inside the Light Rail, though as a woman with a heavy bike I find it almost impossible to hang my bike on those high hooks and I usually end up just standing with my bike in the aisle.

From the Sycamore Light Rail Station, we caught the 96 bus all the way to Dobson and Ray in Chandler. The bike racks on the bus are easier to use, but you can only fit three bikes, sometimes two on each bus, so if the racks are full, you’re SOL and have to wait for the next bus.

From Dobson and Ray we rode our bikes on sidewalks and bike lanes 1.8 miles to my parents’ house. What I found in that part of Chandler is that the sidewalks were very pleasant to use, much nicer that what I’m used to here in Central Phoenix. They were wide, meandering and had a decent landscape buffer from the busy street. People in that area appeared to use these nice sidewalks a lot, ranging from joggers and fellow cyclists to couples walking a stroller or walking a dog.

Black Friday

On Black Friday we decided to check out REI for good sales on some very cool bicycle helmets I had seen there previously. (Sidebar: REI isn’t local, I know! But I checked out some local bike stores and none had the helmets I was looking for. Next best thing, though a national chain, REI is still a good corporate citizen.)

This time, we were able to find a bus line, the 39, that took us from Camelback and Central, a short bike ride from Lux Coffeebar, our breakfast hangout, all the way to the Paradise Valley Mall Transit Center – with no transfers! It was a beautiful route, we didn’t have to do the driving, and it was only about a forty minute trip.

While we were in the Paradise Valley Mall area, we rode our bikes from store to store. We found that riding bikes was the last thing that the mall was designed for. Motorists that we encountered were startled and found us annoying, and we had to be extra vigilant to get around safely.


On Saturday I had a commitment to sit on a review panel for a Capstone Class at the ITT campus near Baseline and the I-10. Paul accompanied me and hung out at the nearby Arizona Mills Mall. This time we took the Light Rail, with our bikes in tow, to the Tempe Transportation Center (the Valley’s most beautiful and usable transit center in my estimation), where we caught the 48 bus going south to Baseline.

Unfortunately, the bus dropped us off on the east side of the I-10 and the ITT campus is on the west side, which meant I had to do one of the most onerous things a cyclist ever has to do – cross the freeway. The facilities for crossing were so bad and so unsafe, I swore to myself to never cross the I-10 in this area on my bike again.

Crossing a freeway isn’t like crossing any other street, no matter how wide. With the various on and off-ramps going different directions, it’s more like you have to cross the street four times to get to the other side of the freeway. And in this case some of the 4 streets I had to cross had pedestrian crossing signals and some didn’t. In fact, on the few that did, the signal didn’t seem to work. And keep in mind that when cars are exiting off the freeway, the last thing they look for are bicycles and pedestrians, so the freeway-crossing experience can be especially treacherous.


On Sunday, I stayed close to home and didn’t really need to ride the Light Rail or the bus. I was able to get around on my bike to get to Lux Coffeebar in the morning, then to my yoga studio, Urban Yoga, south of Osborn on Central and then even to my ritual Sunday lunch spot – Pho Thanh on Camelback and 17th Avenue.

Lessons Learned

1. You can get to pretty much anywhere in the Valley without a car, thanks to the Light Rail and our Valley Metro bus system. There is no reason to think you can’t take advantage of the wonderful things available throughout the Valley because you don’t have a car.

2. Our Valley Metro bus system is surprisingly workable, even if it could stand to be better serviced, with shorter wait times and more routes.

3. You have to allow for plenty of timeย (I mean hours) to travel regionally within the Valley without a car.

4. With all the tools available, from hard copy books and maps to online trip planners, you can master the public transportation system, like Paul has, and easily figure out a transit route to your destination.

5. People on the bus tend to look sad and downtrodden. The bus, as I experienced it, is definitely not the realm of hipsters yet. It’s more a mode of transportation for people who don’t have any other choice but to take the bus. But since the bus is such a great option to get around, especially in conjunction with the Light Rail and bike, I hope the stigma of the bus will disappear as more and more people start to use it.

6. A lot of people who can afford to drive, have their own car or a multiple of cars, take the Light Rail by choice. That means you see a lot more happy people on the Light Rail than you do on the bus. Thankfully there is no stigma to riding the Light Rail. But, if you want to go car-free, you can’t just rely on the Light Rail to get around the Valley. The bus system is a necessary supplementary mode of transportation and that’s why it’s important to make it trendy and cool (and easy and safe and pleasant) to ride the bus.

7. I overheard a few hard luck stories and conversations on bus stops and on board buses. Even though it’s sometimes downer, sharing the transit experience with people who are struggling is enlightening and highlights the economic disparity between people who drive and people who don’t. It also makes you grateful for what you have, which seemed especially poignant on Thanksgiving weekend.

This long weekend was my first foray into traveling far into the depths of various suburban areas of Phoenix without a car. I learned a lot about how bike/ped friendly different areas of the Valley are. More importantly, I faced my fear of traveling relatively long distances to visit family, shop at a particular store or eat at a particular restaurant that is far away without a car. Now that I know I can do it, I feel that much more of the freedom in car-freedom.

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6 Responses

  1. Hi ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am so glad to read your story. I really want to ride my bike to school, only a few miles from my home but am scared to take the sidewalks. I was hit by a car in Tucson while in the bike lane, but still feel like sidewalks are more dangerous. What do you think? I’d rather not drive so often and get a little exercise too. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks Taz!


    • Taz Loomans says:

      Hi Tina, all the bicycle safety people say it’s safer to ride on the road than it is to ride on the sidewalk. I personally ride on the sidewalk when there is no bike lane because it’s unnerving to ride on the street along zooming cars. As long as I ride with the traffic on the sidewalks, I feel quite safe. Also, know that it is not illegal to ride on the sidewalks here in Phoenix. Make sure to wear a helmet, be alert and go out there and give cycling another try!

  2. I ride both buses and rail, and I agree completely that buses are more stigmatized than trains and far less likely to attract discretionary passengers. While we should work to destigmatize all modes of transit, there are realistic limits to how much we can do to overcome bus avoidance. That’s why I strenuously favor light rail expansion over BRT, which still suffers all the stigma of a bus no matter how much we dress it up to be more like a train.

    One idea that I was discussing with someone this morning: I think the two light rail termini would make good locations at which to park cars for short-term rental. There are some destinations beyond the reach of buses and some people who will ride rail but not buses. Imagine if one option were to take the train to the end of the line and then pick up a vehicle from Zipcar or one of its competitors for the rest of the journey.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      David, I think the idea of having a car sharing facility at the end of the terminals is a really good idea. This is one of the ideas that is being talked about more in the community now that more and more people are willing to take the Light Rail and are looking for options to get further into various cities and neighborhoods while leaving their car at home. Check out this vendor that offers Smartcars available to go for a one time membership fee:

  3. One other comment: I know the 39 bus well since it connects my neighborhood to light rail. I usually drive to the park-and-ride rather then riding it, however, because the Phoenix Public Transit Department does not operate the route efficiently. The 39 runs only once an hour, even on weekdays, and it runs only minutes apart from the 50 on Camelback Road, resulting in a needlessly slow journey as it picks up and discharges passengers traveling short distances along Camelback. Those passengers could just as easily take a 50 bus a few minutes later.

    If the City is serious about the 39, it needs to do one of two things:

    1) Make the route nonstop or limited stops from the Biltmore area to Central/ Camelback, resulting in a faster connection between northeast Phoenix and light rail.


    2) If there is a need for additional local service along Camelback between Central and 24th Street, then run the 39 so it is 15 minutes separated from the next 50, so that the routes complement each other rather than being redundant.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      David, thanks for your comments about the buses. I’m going to make sure someone at Valley Metro sees them and maybe we’ll see some of the changes you’re looking for become reality!

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