January 17 2013

Is Phoenix Catching Up to its Counterparts in the Transportation Game?

Phoenix Light Rail Stop

The Phoenix Metro area has seen a steady increase in ridership on the Valley Metro Light Rail.The surge in riders to almost 50,000 a day has prompted Phoenix Metropolitan area policymakers to accelerate the engineering, design, and completion of extensions, in some cases by seven years. Phoenix has made a valiant effort to provide access to bus and light rail passes at local businesses, including grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores. For a city whose urban sprawl competes with cities around the world, urban planning efforts with a sustainable transportation focus are a must. With America’s commute time climbing steadily, and car ownership following suit, Phoenix must focus on public transportation in order to compete.

The Census shows that less than 5% of Phoenicians used public transportation to commute to work. That puts us at 32nd in the list of the nation’s metropolitan areas. We have a lot of catching up to do. The City of Phoenix has taken a step in the right direction by studying two new stops for the light rail, as well as expansions of the system. Another innovation under construction in Phoenix is the PHX Sky Train. The PHX Sky Train replaces the existing airport shuttle that completes the last-mile journey from the light rail to Sky Harbor Airport.

Phoenix Valley Metro Transportation Planning

Phoenix is not the only city in the Valley to have an innovative public transportation program. Tempe has created a fantastic branding scheme for their bus system – The Orbit. The Orbit is a free bus system whose lines are named after planets. The Orbit is a circulator bus that provides neighborhood service, is handicap accessible, caters to cyclists with bike racks on front of buses, and is planned to be alternatively fueled in its next replacement cycle. Recently, the Valley of the Sun has begun moving in the right direction with its public transportation. It is a sprawling metropolitan area with many planning problems, but the regional collaboration has proven to be a great asset.

Does regional transportation planning make sense for your city?

Credits: Photo copyright of James Gardner. Image and data linked to sources.

James Gardner

James is a graduate student in Urban and Environmental Planning at Arizona State University. Growing up in a small, sprawling town in Arizona, James became attracted to the field of planning and design by taking a critical look at his surroundings, and realizing there is a better way to live. With a Bachelors in Public Planning from Northern Arizona University, James has received extensive education in planning, and has worked as a Planner for Yavapai County, Arizona. James is currently focused on the health effects of the built environment in the Phoenix Metro area, and the integration of this focus into topics of transit, transportation, and bicycle and pedestrian planning. James hopes to become a Planner who advocates for a healthier built environment in order to make the cities we live in more vibrant and habitable. James blogged for the Grid with a focus on Phoenix, Arizona projects.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2013 at 9:05 am and is filed under Engineering, Infrastructure, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “Is Phoenix Catching Up to its Counterparts in the Transportation Game?”

  1. Keep Houston Houston Says:

    The way I see it, y’all and us and Los Angeles all share a lot of very similar traits. We’re all flat, we’ve all got top-notch freeway infrastructure and a coherent arterial grid that lends itself well to transit. The difference is mostly in density.

    Much of Los Angeles was built out during the streetcar/interurban era, and has continued to see growth since those tracks were ripped up. So even without massive upzoning there is nonetheless a built-in ridership once those lines are in the ground.

    Houston is almost entirely post-WWII, but Houston also has NO ZONING which means most of the urban fabric is about 20-30% more dense than sprawl of similar vintage elsewhere. It also makes it a lot easier to redevelop once the LRT lines go in.

    Phoenix… well, you’re postwar like us, but you’ve got Euclidean zoning like Los Angeles. So the big determinant on transit is going to be if you can upzone those single-family neighborhoods and low-rise retail/commercial areas to allow mixed-use blocks, garden apartments, and the like.

  2. James Gardner Says:


    Thanks for the insight. Having never been to Houston, I learned a lot from this post. I was under the impression that most of Houston was sprawling, much like Phoenix, but I am perhaps ignorant! I have another blog post coming up in the next few months about the “upzoning” of the area around the lightrail. The idea is to increase ridership, but also remove the Euclidean zoning in that area and replace it with a form based code, or something in that vein. I am certainly excited to see how it will turn out. Meanwhile, keep the insights about Houston coming, I hope to visit someday soon. Thanks.

    James Gardner

  3. Phoenix Metro Area Plans for Transit Oriented Developments | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] been making changes from its suburban, single story, sprawling past. The inception of Phoenix’s , light-rail system, METRO, has acted as a catalyst for the proliferation of transit oriented developments (TODs) along [...]

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