Greening at the Speed of Light: Phoenix to Unveil METRO Light Rail System
Posted Oct 07 2008 7:19pm
I live in the suburbs of Phoenix and work from home, so I rarely experience the congestion downown. Yet, no matter where you live in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, if you look off in the distance toward the mountains that surround this valley, you can almost always see a haze in the air. Get close enough to downtown Phoenix, and that haze thickens into a light brown cloud.
We have High Pollution Advisory days now and then, advising limited outdoor activity, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Four years ago, Phoenix began construction on part of the solution.
The Phoenix METRO light rail system is 20 miles of steel rails with cars that will run on electricity from overhead wires, in a lane separated from traffic. It will connect central Phoenix to Tempe (big college town), Mesa (biggest suburb in the country, and also my home) and the airport. They started construction four years ago, and it's scheduled for completion by December 2008.
Though getting around downtown during this construction period has been a real headache for drivers, once it's finished it has the potential to take thousands of cars off the road -- the Phoenix METRO light rail system can carry 3,000 to 5,000 passengers an hour!
Of course, the key to it all is getting the public to ride it. The cost is comparable to riding the bus -- $1.25 per ride. It runs 20 hours a day, 7 days a week -- arriving at each station every 10 minutes during the day, and every 20 minutes nights, weekends and holidays.
The Phoenix METRO light rail system is a smooth, quiet ride, with air-conditioning, tinted windows, security cameras, bike racks, wheelchair accessibility, intercoms for passengers to talk to the light rail operators, and the cars are flush with the street for quick and easy on-and-off access.
There is a downside, though, when it comes to the Phoenix METRO light rail system's carbon footprint. Though more than half of the parts for the light rail vehicles are American-made, they're being manufactured in Japan. That means long, carbon-emitting trips back and forth -- delivering parts to Japan, and them delivering the final product to us.
As part of the public outreach campaign, there's a free-ride weekend on the Phoenix METRO light rail system the weekend of December 27th and 28th. I'll plan a trip and report back on the experience.