The End of the Line

We did discover one way to get people to ride the bus: Give the rides away. Following visits by representatives of City Hall, businesses like US West Communications, Snell & Wilmer, Valley National Bank, and Jennings Strouss & Salmon agreed to pick up one-half to two-thirds of the cost of their employees' bus tickets.

If you think Valley business leaders will continue with this sort of benevolent socialism, you probably believe that 30 percent of the downtown work force is already riding the bus during rush hour.

Exaggerated claims for future riders of mass transit are just as consistent as the absence of passengers once the rail lines are in place. From Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, from Buffalo to Portland, San Jose to Sacramento, there is one clear pattern: No one rides the rails the way supporters had hoped they would.

But even if ValTrans finds riders at predicted levels, the two unbiased studies done to date suggest that the reduction in Phoenix's air pollution will be negligible.

County air pollution authorities admit that no one should look to ValTrans to clear the air.

The problem is that the entire Valley economy is geared toward growth. With the outer loops of the freeway system we are opening up yet more tracts of desert to homes with three-car garages. As long as we encourage and subsidize unregulated growth, air pollution will be our constant shadow, with or without ValTrans.

If we opt for ValTrans, what sort of political leadership can we expect in the three decades of construction that will follow?

For the last ten years, local citizens have shed blood attempting to stop developers from tearing apart neighborhoods in behalf of "progress." It has been the longest running and most bitter civic issue in the Valley.

Subdivisions, freeways and high-rises have all slashed through established neighborhoods. Now residents must ask themselves if a yuppie pipe dream, rapid transit, will be the next menace to bulldoze homes and lower property values. And when businessman and homeowner disagree about the routing of ValTrans, as they surely must, will the city fathers protect the average voter?

Larry Miller's behavior shows why City Hall cannot be trusted. RPTA director Miller told New Times that he and his staff convinced Central Avenue business leaders to keep ValTrans off the Valley's principal thoroughfare. The businesses wanted the elevated rail line on Central, but Miller said he convinced them it would be better to route ValTrans through the established neighborhoods on First and Second Avenues.

Miller lied.
Although Miller's fairy tale takes responsibility for destroying the neighborhood west of Central Avenue, it also leaves the impression that bureaucrat Miller and his staff are in charge and leading the way.

What actually happened was that the business leaders on Central demanded that ValTrans be kept off their boulevard. The merchants want the benefits of mass transit only as long as it is routed through the nearby neighborhood.

In a secret agreement, Mayor Terry Goddard and the city council ratified this route, and the big banks and utility companies of Central Avenue continue to be major contributors to the pro-ValTrans compaign.

This surreptitious method of routing rapid transit does not bode well for other Phoenix neighborhoods worried that ValTrans might be rammed through their backyards.

This newspaper should support mass transit for greater Phoenix. But it cannot.

New Times, with its history of support of progressive issues, was expected to editorialize in favor of the March 28 public vote on the $8.4 billion in sales tax funding for ValTrans.

Instead, we must shoot the unicorn.
There is something about the term "mass transit" that swats people dizzy just as surely as if they'd been struck by lightning.

Normally intelligent people simply will not question mass transit in Phoenix. For an entire generation weaned upon the sober milk of MacNeil-Lehrer, NPR, Montessori, sun-dried tomatoes, Lamaze, pledge drives and personal computers, mass transit is synonymous with good government and an urban landscape atwinkle in white wine.

The local opposition to ValTrans is that same cast of predictable tiny heads who think that quality of life refers to gold hoarding, weapons collecting and fevered outbursts about the dangers of fluoridation in water supplies. In this camp, the watchword is cost. If mass transit costs anything at all, then it costs too much for this group which simply believes taxes were conceived by the anti-Christ. Their spokesman, Senator Pete Corpstein, prides himself on wearing suits cut to accommodate a prehensile tail. (In fact the cost of ValTrans is a green herring. Freeways are expensive as hell even before you account for the hidden costs of maintenance and air pollution.)

The ValTrans debate, pro and con, is rich with the sort of practical wisdom one finds dispensed by chaplains in prison yards.

Rapid rail advocate Mayor Terry Goddard suggests parents could reduce skyrocketing auto insurance premiums by having their teen-agers date on buses instead of taking the family car. Mayor Goddard has never married, never fathered a child, and never talked sternly to an adolescent except when shaving. Only a doofus could suggest that teen-agers would date on city buses.

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