Traffic Thicket

Will Phoenix voters finally get onboard a transit plan?

Leaman says her organization supports the program and hopes more surrounding communities will join the system.

Of all new riders, Snoble says, two-thirds own cars that they choose not to use. He says people have adopted a new attitude toward their vehicles, one that he himself espouses.

"I love my car, but I'd just as soon keep it in the garage and keep it nice," he says.

SkyTran promoters say their futuristic system  --  which exists only in theory  --  will allow travelers to zoom overhead at speeds of 100 mph.
illustrations courtesy of SkyTran
SkyTran promoters say their futuristic system -- which exists only in theory -- will allow travelers to zoom overhead at speeds of 100 mph.

Other reported side benefits to the Dallas system have included: a 25 percent increase in property values along the rail lines (according to a University of North Texas study), new development and renovations of commercial and high-density residential properties along the route, and increased business at stores or recreational facilities (like the Dallas Zoo) that are located along the light rail route.

But will people really use buses or trains here? The cultural shift remains to be seen.

Other cities besides Dallas that have bolstered their bus service and added light rail have found that better systems do entice new riders.

Now, even with poor service, about 1 percent of all the daily trips in the Valley are on mass transit. In areas of sparse service, like along Bell Road, where a bus comes along every hour, only about 1 percent of all travelers get onboard. But in areas where buses run more regularly, like along Central Avenue during rush hour, about 25 percent of all commuters use public transit, according to the city.

So it stands to reason that if you add more, nicer buses to the mix, better service and the option of a light rail ride for those who don't like buses, some folks will abandon those cars.

How many people will do that?

Peggy Bilsten, Phoenix city councilwoman and chair of the Transit 2000 committee, says the number of yearly transit trips is expected to more than double, from 28 million now to 70 million once the system is in place. (The projections were made by the city transit department, based on riders per available transit mile.)

"Those people will not be on the road. They will not be congesting our freeways. They will not be polluting our air," she says.

Transportation officials estimate that every 28 miles driven by Valley motorists contributes a pound of pollution to our air. And they say motor vehicles are responsible for up to 75 percent of air pollutants. So cutting the number of miles driven by vehicles would undoubtedly reduce pollution. Using transit trip figures provided by the Regional Public Transportation Authority and ridership projections made by city officials, it can be estimated that the improved system could save nearly 7 million tons of pollution from being emitted into the air each year. Now, more than 400 million tons are discharged by vehicles into the air annually, according to RPTA figures.

Bill Pfeifer, head of the Arizona chapter of the American Lung Association, says advances like cleaner-burning fuels and stricter emissions testing have helped reduce pollution over the years.

"But it's not enough. We are at a level of combating air pollution in the Valley that is going to require us to implement virtually every type of control measure that we possibly can. And there is very little that's left on the table that we cannot try to implement. And mass transit has just got to be one of them."

Contact Laura Laughlin at her online address:

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