Sunday, July 10, 2011

Maryland Asks Phoenix for Rail Lessons: Better Service, Quicker Commutes, TOD and No Gas

Phoenix's new rail transit trains share surface space with vehicles.
Yesterday’s Washington Post caught our eye after Maui resident Jim Loomis brought it to our attention. (Check out Jim’s Travel and Trains and Other Things blog.)

Under the headline “Phoenix offers lessons for Purple Line,” the paper examines lessons Phoenix might have for Maryland suburbs and their plans to build a new rail line.

Phoenix’s 20-mile transit line went into service in December 2008, and we’ve referred to the system numerous times to compare its at-grade traffic and accident issues with Honolulu’s future elevated system, which will be immune from those issues. But that’s another story.

Maryland’s Purple Line also will be at street level, so Phoenix’s experience is especially pertinent to what the Washington, D.C. suburbs may experience during and after construction. Frustration along the route during construction is one lesson Phoenix passes along, especially since streets had to be widened to accommodate both the new Phoenix transit line and vehicle lanes. (Honolulu’s trains will ride 30 above the middle of most streets along its route.)

But there are plenty of positives that have lasted longer than temporary inconvenience during construction. The Post writes that “Arizona light rail passengers rave about their trains’ reliability and convenience.

“’I love it,’ said Guy Carpenter on a recent Monday morning as he stepped off a train near the Phoenix airport to walk two blocks to his engineering firm in a new office building near a chic new hotel. ‘I wish it were more extensive, but I love it.’”

Carpenter said driving to the train station and taking the train adds 15 minutes to his commute time, but he uses the 25-minute train ride to get an early start on his email. He also avoids fuming over traffic congestion.

Phoenix’s system offers what Honolulu’s will offer – an alternative to driving and expending ever-increasing amounts of money to maintain that habit. Among the differences between the two cities is their geography; Honolulu’s layout is long and narrow, a perfect fit for a rail line, while Phoenix has grown in every direction over the decades.

Along with Maryland residents, Honolulu citizens might well read the Post story and glean lessons from Phoenix’s rail transit experience.

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