Next Tuesday, METRO will have an open house to talk to the public about the Tempe Streetcar alignment, proposed station locations, system operations and more.
While there have been talks about the Tempe South extension for quite some time, we have recently started hearing more on the dynamics of how the stations can effect our transportation choices and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“METRO received local and regional approval in 2010 to move forward with 2.6-miles of modern streetcar in central Tempe. The Tempe Streetcar will run in a one-way loop between Rio Salado Parkway and University Drive, going north on Mill Avenue and south on Ash Avenue. It will continue to travel north/south on Mill Avenue between University Drive and Southern Avenue.” – METRO Light Rail
Garin Groff from the Tribune recently wrote a really good article about the future project titled, “Tempe hopes streetcar will help spur economic development.” While the economic development side of the Tempe Streetcar has long been a big focus of politicians and transit planners, it was Groff’s interviews and explanations of some of the things that will be discussed on Tuesday that I enjoyed most.
Streetcar is NOT Light Rail
While there are similarities between the vehicles, the modern streetcar is smaller, the construction process is less disruptive to business owners, it has smaller “stations” and shares traffic with cars. These people movers are much more permanent than a bus line, in that they really do help create a sense of place and will help spur economic development, similar to what we have seen with light rail.
Yes, it is too soon to tell how the funding will work for future expansion of the streetcar system, but there is already talk of demand for line extensions off of the current streetcar proposal. As we have mentioned, transit funding is scarce and could get even more elusive if things don’t change. While transit geeks like to dream of a more robust system reaching to the TCA or to the Chandler mall, more areas in Mesa or ( gasp ) into Snottsdale, we are faced with the very real realities of politics and posturing for funds that need to magically appear.
A Sports And Entertainment District?
Another idea that has been kicked around is a streetcar extension heading east on Rio Salado that heads past the Tempe Marketplace and towards Mesa Riverview and /or a possible new ASU / Chicago Cubs baseball facility. The current proposal for the Tempe Streetcar line makes a loop at Rio Salado and Mill Ave heading west, but I’ve heard that a “stub” or connection point for an eastbound line will be in place when the current phase is built. When you talk about potential for growth in an area that could see significant change in the future, you might want to think closely about Rio Salado. With a potential move for Packard Stadium and a need / desire to upgrade Sun Devil Stadium, the days of Karsten Golf Course could be numbered. While losing Karsten would suck, there are some who feel the University could get more revenue from commercial opportunities. Obviously, there is a TON of vacant or “under-utilized” land along Rio Salado. Given our economic landscaping, it isn’t likely that we will see any real changes along the proposed line any time soon, but the possibility of linking two malls, a baseball stadium, a new football stadium, Mill Avenue, and Tempe Town Lake together is enough to make more than one urban planner starry-eyed.
For now, we are probably wise to just hope the current Tempe Streetcar proposal gets underway sooner rather than later. Stop by Tempe High School on Tuesday at 6PM to learn more.
View Tempe Modern Streetcar Map – Stretching the Mill Avenue District in a larger map