Between 7:45 and 8:15 Tuesday morning, only four people were waiting for a bus on the northbound side of Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard.
While that may appear to hardly represent the demand needed during weekday rush hours to support either a light rail line or dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit, Valley Metro is looking ahead and trying to anticipate future needs.
It recently released a report discussing the possibility of some sort of rapid transit option along Arizona Avenue.
“It’s a long-range study, we’re looking out 20 to 30 years,” said Jason Crampton, the senior transportation planner for the city.
The study did not make many recommendations. The few it did are:
Arizona Avenue is the preferred location of a rapid transit line.
If light rail is in the future for Arizona Avenue, Valley Metro would likely have the service stop at Pecos Avenue.
If a rapid bus line is the preferred path, then that service would end at the Park and Ride station next to Tumbleweed Park on Germann Road.
If Chandler is serious about pursing a mass transit project of some kind in the future, then it needs to develop high-pedestrian centers that would be ideal locations for future transit stops.
“Without federal funding assistance, it’s very, very challenging to build" a high-capacity transit system, Crampton said.
Deron Lozano, who was the project manager for the Arizona Avenue study at Valley Metro, agreed.
“Federal funds, it’s very competitive,” Lozano said. “They look at how their investment will effect local communities.”
So, this is not a which comes first, chicken or egg scenario. Lozano said to get the kind of federal dollars needed to build a rail line or dedicated rapid bus line, the city will need to develop high-pedestrian areas that would rely on that system.
He said the reason there’s a rail line outside Chase Field in downtown Phoenix is because they know they will have 30,000 people who need to get in and out of that area.
So, to have the best chance to get the federal dollars needed to build a rapid transit system, the city must first supply the demand for it. Crampton said that decision will be up to Council and its vision for Arizona Avenue.
Crampton said one of the difficulties in doing this study is trying to understand where personal transportation is headed.
A future of autonomous vehicles is coming. Will people give up their cars and subscribe to services where a car picks you up, drops you off and then goes on to the next customer? How will that impact mass transit? Will that lead to more cars on the road as all these driverless vehicles are navigating the streets to get to their next client?
“If you have that level of people moving, you need to move them quickly,” Lozano said. “There will always be some type of demand.”
Valley Metro Manager of Capital Planning Omar Peters said there are some things you can count on in the future.
“There’s uncertainty, but there’s some assumptions we can make,” he said. “(Mass transit) is still the best way to move a lot of people.”
To adjust for where the transportation industry could be heading, Crampton said they used four different scenarios to plot out the needs and demands along Arizona Avenue.
The first is to assume nothing changes. They called this the baseline.
The next scenario assumes most people will own their own autonomous vehicle in the future. The study predicts there would be a four percent decline in ridership if this is the case.
Then they looked at a mix of personal and shared autonomous vehicles, including the use of some micro transit by driverless cars. In that case, they predict a 14 percent increase in mass transit ridership.
The final scenario looked at personal and shared autonomous vehicles with a high-capacity transit system on Arizona Avenue, plus additional bus service. It predicts a 35 percent increase in ridership.
If they build it, however, is there room for a system on Arizona Avenue that doesn’t impact traffic for everyone else?
Crampton said yes, they’ve got the space to add dedicated rail or bus lines on Arizona Avenue.
“Where there are three lanes going in one direction, that would go down to two,” he said.
However, he said that he does not think there will ever be less than two lanes in one direction, saying there are things they can do to make it work on the areas of the road that only have two lanes now.
The final report is out and the study is complete. It offered a blueprint for the city if it wants to pursue a major mass transit project in the coming decades.
According to the experts, the city now must create hubs where there are high pedestrian traffic with its economic development plans.
Without that, getting the federal dollars needed to build a rail line or dedicated bus lanes would be challenging.