Thursday, April 15, 2010

‘Bigger than an Average Humpback Whale’ Trains Attracting Higher Ridership Amid Safety Concerns

Comparing the size of Phoenix’s year-old light rail train with a humpback whale might not mean much to Arizona residents, so the safety video narrator continues:

“Do not – and I really mean – do not stop or park on the tracks! Bad idea. These trains can’t stop on a dime. They take a while to stop.”

That’s the warning in the “Our first stop is safety” video produced by Phoenix’s Valley Metro system to help drivers co-exist safely with the city’s at-grade rail system. Unfortunately, the message hasn’t gotten through to too many of them.

Metro racked up 52 crashes by in its first year of operation as drivers failed to follow instructions on how to navigate around these “humpbacks" on rails. We often mention safety here because there still are some on Oahu who think at-grade rail is a plausible option for Honolulu’s new system.

The comparative safety of elevated rail is just one reason to favor the existing plan for Honolulu – along with reliability, speed and increased mobility that also compare favorably with at-grade rail.

And Now, Phoenix’s Good News

Despite the accidents and service interruptions they cause, Valley residents continue to use METRO beyond expectations. The Arizona Republic reports today that ridership last year was 34 percent above expectations. Among its findings:

“Metro doesn’t experience a sharp drop in riders between morning and evening rush hours. Many people ride it off-peak to sporting events, museums and restaurants for riders typically shorter than 8 miles.”

City planners are now envisioning an expansion of Phoenix’s rail system to “define the city’s development goals.” They see light rail as a partner in spurring redevelopment of outlying urban villages.

The Republic’s story also reports on age group transportation preferences:

“…the Millennial Generation, those who reached adulthood after 2000, are coming to prominence. A recent in-depth study by the Pew Research Center showed that Millennials are eco-conscious and urban. Pew found that 32 percent live in central cities, compared with 23 percent of children of the Depression. They also don't want long car commutes.”

Phoenix’s 16-month-old rail system is worth watching for its “lessons learned” value for Honolulu and our own rail program, including how to meet the transportation needs of a generation that’s likely to be much less dependent on the family car than earlier ones.

But we’re already far ahead of Phoenix in some respects. Our grade-separated system will make car-train crashes impossible here, and that’s a difference we’ll continue to emphasize.

1 comment:

Jarrett said...

Doug. The international blog Human Transit just did a post on the Honolulu issue. Have a look.

(Sorry to leave this as a comment, but your site doesn't seem to have an email link)