In its continual search to be known for something other than its scorching temperatures, the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, also referred to as the Valley, has undertaken many ambitious projects. New resorts and golf courses are continuously being constructed to establish the region as a vacation and retirement destination. Several cities in the region have even invested tourism dollars in order to claim the title of “The West’s Most Western Town.” Though one of the most promising foundations for the Valley’s rebranding has been the Valley Metro Light Rail.
Launched in 2008, the transit system got off to a slow start. Daily ridership numbers were low, cooling the trains during the summer heat proved to be an expensive endeavor, and several jurisdictions refused to allow light rail within their borders. However, upon the system’s six-year anniversary, it is hard to overlook the many positive initiatives that have sprung from the light rail platform.
The most visible impact has been the increase of transit-oriented development constructed along the line. Apartment complexes, mixed use developments, and business plazas have been built around several light rail stations. Although many developments may struggle at the onset, their actions point to a future in which Phoenicians can rely less on their cars and more on public transit. One leader in transit-oriented development is Light Rail Connect, a regional organization that helps residents and businesses connect themselves to transit by advertising vacancies in apartment communities, brokering real estate properties, and promoting business along the light rail.
Another exciting outcome of the light rail’s establishment is the continued support of local businesses in the Valley. As extensions are being made to the existing light rail, Valley Metro offers a reward program, Metro Max, to residents who shop at businesses along the planned rail line. The initiative reflects the already robust local support of area businesses, led by Local First Arizona.
At a regional scale, the light rail holds promise for connecting multiple cities across the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. As an example, the light rail system allows Mesa residents to easily commute into Tempe to see an Arizona State University football game, as well as provide students who are living in Tempe better access to classes at the ASU downtown campus. The connectivity between the region’s municipalities supports a cohesive identity for the region’s future development.
The success of the light rail is expected to continue with five light rail extensions planned over the next twelve years. With its help, Phoenix is headed toward a new identity that is sustainable, locally grown, and strengthened by residents across the metro area.
How can your local transit system support your community’s identity?
Credits: Image by Lynn Coppedge. Map and data linked to sources.