It Pays To Study Light Rail Stations

So, there is apparently some decent money in doing transit studies. Remember back in July when we talked about METRO coughing up a half million dollars to see if it made $ense to extend light rail to Gilbert Road? That seemed like a pretty sweet gig for someone to get, right?

Fast forward to December 9th and our friend Sean mentions a $70k study to see if it might make $sense to add a couple of light rail stations to the existing line at 16th and 48th streets. While Sean clearly isn’t a fan of adding 2 more stations, his tweet did make some fun / interesting conversation. While the $70k might sound like a lot of cash for a study, it falls far short of what the paper reported a few days later.

In a story titled “City may study adding light-rail stops” we see that the city council was to vote on spending $120,000 to find out if adding two light rail stations would be beneficial. ( I’m pretty sure they already voted, I guess I should confirm? )

This study already has people for and against it. Some say it will slow down the service too much, some say they are pandering to developers, some say there is a great need in the area to serve underutilized sections of the line. And that’s just a small example of the pros and cons.

With a large transit hub coming to 44th Street and Washington in the future and with the area falling within the so-called Discovery Triangle, there may be some argument for adding a couple of stations along this stretch. If you look at a map of our current light rail system, it is pretty easy to see that this section of the line is where the stations are the most spread out, but it is also an area where there really isn’t a TON of stuff happening. Would the extra couple of minutes added on to a 20 mile trip really make much of a difference to most riders?

Why here, why now?

Let’s look at 16th street and Washington / Jefferson. Yes, this is an area where the track is split into east and west bound lanes which would call for 2 stations instead of one. METRO estimates that each station would cost between $8 million and $13 million to build. This figure does not include anything for maintenance or operations. Currently, there are stations at 12th and Jefferson and 12th and Washington, 4 blocks away.

By looking at a map, you can see a lot of vacant land / empty lots in the area. It’s kind of an interesting mix of residential and commercial properties but it’s far from the lap of luxury. During the past 6 months, there have been 4 homes sold within approximately 1/2 mile from 16th and Washington with prices being $33k, $39k,  $52k and $114.5k. Go ahead and try to find that price point anywhere else along the line.

44th St/Washington Light Rail Station

When you head east to 48th street, the line is no longer split into two sections. Looking at the area map you will see a LOT more vacant space. You have a commercial area near a large post office and some business parks. I guess it would be nice to take the train to the Stockyards restaurant, but I don’t see a ton of area draws at this time. Given the fact that these studies can take years to complete and the build times for most light rail related projects never seem to set any speed records, I guess the area could be a mini Manhattan by the time it would open.

With all of the land available near 48th street and given the close proximity to freeways, the airport, outdoor recreation, etc., I guess there is an opportunity to do some great infill development at 48th Street.

The map below shows the “street view” of the area in question. Go ahead and poke around, do your own transit study of the area, it’s kind of interesting. Besides, I’m sure METRO would like to hear your thoughts… You can also leave a comment here or join us in the discussion on Google+.

View Phoenix Valley METRO Light Rail Map in a larger map

So, here’s some food for thought.

Should they add stations to the existing line?

Is the potential $30+ million construction cost justified?

Would the extra few minutes of travel cause you to ride less?

Will the stations have enough economic benefits for the areas?

Who benefits the most from this? Who loses?

Comments

  1. Bruce Nourish says

    Does Arizona allow Local Improvement District taxes, or Tax Increment Financing? Infill stations in underdeveloped areas on existing rail lines are the perfect use cases for those tools. If local landowners really want something, they can tax themselves to help pay for it.

    While I appreciate the difficulty the Disability Empowerment Center’s clients have in getting there on light rail, this whole area would need to see some serious development to draw in enough new riders to be worth delaying existing riders.

    If neighboring property owners would commit to redeveloping unused properties and paying (say) half of the costs of new stations, I think it would be great. Otherwise it doesn’t really make sense.

  2. David Bickford says

    The consideration of infill stations shows just how successful light rail has been. People want more of it, and that’s a good problem to have, regardless of opinions and decisions surrounding these two proposed stations. The 48th Street station may make sense in light of recent office construction in the area, although the low passenger volumes at the nearby Center Parkway station might argue the other way.

    In looking at 16th Street, there’s another consideration that should be taken into account: Service to transit-dependent populations and bus transfers. The lack of a station at 16th Street is a gap in light rail because it results in no connection with the 16 bus, a popular route that serves a lot of passengers who have no other option. While it’s great to talk about light rail in terms of economic development, we also need transit that serves those most in need of it.

    Increased travel time is a potential downside, but its importance depends a lot on how people use light rail. Are most passengers traveling just a few miles, in which case a few extra minutes might make no difference, or are most passengers traveling a long way and therefore sensitive to anything that might lengthen their journey? While I see regular monthly ridership statistics, I’ve never seen anything about average trip length.

    Finally, I hope this study or a companion study can look at any potential ways of offsetting increased travel times attributable to these infill stations or any others that might be proposed in the future. Can traffic signals be optimized to favor trains any more than they already do? Could new station construction include the creation a second set of tracks, enabling a differentiation between express and local trains? These are all questions worth asking.

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