Last night’s meeting to discuss the Tempe South High Capacity Study had many interesting components. I’ll cover more in the future, for sure. One of the more interesting ( to me ) components had to do with the recommendation of a fairly recent idea of the Mill / Ash loop with a Modern Streetcar. A Modern Streetcar isn’t some cheesy little trolley like many envision. It is similar to a light rail car in that it rides in a fixed guide way. The Modern Streetcar is said to carry 130 passengers with 35 seated and 95 standing. These cars typically have more frequent stops than light rail cars and travel with traffic instead of dedicated lanes like the current light rail cars we have here in the Valley.
This idea and recommendation of a Mill Avenue loop, with a connection at University to head south to Southern Avenue, sounds like an effort to create more development opportunities and a way to stretch the Mill Avenue District out over a larger area. If approved, this 2.6 mile, $163 million project is scheduled to begin operations in 2016 with an annual operating and maintenance cost of $3.1 million for the City of Tempe. One of the handouts mentioned that their study “determined that for every $1 invested in rail transit, you can expect $1.30 in return in other community benefits.” I took a photo of one of the drawings METRO had at last night’s meeting that shows the proposed loop. Further below, I have a map that I made of the area. Eventually, I’ll add some of the area points of interest to that map and talk more about it.
We were told that with a loop around Mill, there is more flexibility with larger events. For instance, when Mill is closed down for New Year’s Eve or another large event, the Ash portion can be used to get people from one end to the other.
The Q&A session from last night’s meeting had many people asking why the expense is necessary and asking about the popular city circular bus services. Obviously, some of the planners and city employees feel the economic benefits and impact from a fixed guide way system far exceed that of a “rubber tire” route. Hopefully, I can get some of the slides from their presentation to show where much of their proposed growth can come from. The route along Mill Avenue has a large mix of commercial and residential properties. There was talk of possibly making some zoning changes to further enhance the areas. Of course, it will be fun to watch the effects of Tempe real estate prices along Mill as we get closer to the 2016 opening.
They said the Tempe City Council meets on October 21st to discuss this recommended route. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment below. You might want to contact METRO or your favorite council member to voice your opinion, as well.
View Tempe Modern Streetcar Map – Stretching the Mill Avenue District in a larger map
David Bickford says
Was there any mention of park-and-rides near the proposed terminus at Southern? Urban purists disdain park-and-rides, but they’ve been vital to the success of the 20-mile light rail starter line because they attract discretionary riders who could drive to their final destinations but choose not to. They also extend the reach of rail far beyond its actual route.
If there are to be no park-and-rides, I wonder if studies indicate enough of a passenger base within walking or biking distance of Mill to support the streetcar line. I’ll be eager to read more of the research as time permits.
My feeling, as I’ve said before, is that the situation would be fundamentally better if Scottsdale were interested in light rail along Scottsdale/Rural Road. With Scottsdale’s participation, Chandler would most likely come on board, and we’d have critical mass to build a north-south line as long as the current east-west line. The potential ridership would probably even be enough to justify the substantial expense involved in bringing light rail over the Salt River on Rural Road.
With Scottsdale’s mayor and most influential council members still resistant to rail transit, however, Tempe is left to go it alone, and the streetcar may be the best that one community can sustain on its own. That being said, I wonder if there has been any consideration of modern streetcar along Rio Salado Parkway. It seems like a natural route would connect the various office parks with tenants like US Airways, the Tempe Center for the Arts, and Tempe Marketplace. Those are all destinations just a bit too far from existing track to be considered within walking distance of light rail.
Rail Life says
There was some talk about a Park and Ride near Southern and Mill and I believe it will be included.
Rio Salado appears to be in the works for a future extension. In fact, they mentioned building a portion of the connecting point while they were constructing this phase. I don’t recall all of the details but Rio Salado is something that is being discussed.
Scottsdale? Still not sounding very likely…