Our group is first-and-foremost focused on Tempe issues. That being said, the interconnectedness of the Phoenix Metro Area means following issues in our neighboring cities that have an outsized impact on Tempe.
It’s hard to think of an issue more impactful than transit.
What is Prop 105?
Prop 105 is a Phoenix ballot initiative that would end the South Central Phoenix light rail expansion currently under construction.
That’s right, a “yes” vote would mean the end of the expansion which is currently funded and being built.
The text of the proposition also bans the construction of ALL new rail transit systems in Phoenix. Additionally, its wording outlaws improvements to existing light rail lines.
“Yes” on 105 would mean voting “yes” to economic stagnation, to increased sprawl, to decreased mobility, to increased congestion, and to worse air quality and health outcomes.
All this despite light rail expansion being voted on three times with solid majorities.
Picking winners: The cost of cars
A common refrain for the “yes” on Prop 105 camp is that the government shouldn’t be “picking winners and losers”.
The government has long been picking winners and those winners have been cars.
From parking minimum requirements which force businesses to use more of their land for parking than might be needed to the massive amount spent on highway and road expansion. The government has been picking the winners.
Not only that, the winners picked (cars) have been chosen with a hefty and hidden cost.
The Phoenix area has been ranked one of the worst metro areas for air quality. Phoenix is ranked #15 in the country for traffic congestion, and by 2026 the estimated economic cost from these traffic congestions is estimated to reach $9.5 billion.
Phoenix has some of the highest rates of pedestrian death in the country. Failure to expand our light rail system won’t have its cost merely in dollars, it will have its cost in lives.
But what about the lanes and road funding?
One rallying cry of anti-transit advocates has been “Four lanes or no trains!”
It has been known for some time that increasing lanes on a road doesn’t help to reduce traffic, it simply increases car use.
And remember the pedestrian fatalities from earlier? They almost always happened on roads with more lanes.
This argument is misguided at best and potentially dangerous at worst.
Another argument, that light rail is too expensive and the money could be better used on other projects ignores the fact that only 23% of the funds could actually be redirected to another transit purpose.
The vast majority of the funds (77%) for the South Central expansion come from either the county or federal government and can only be used for this specific expansion or rail.
Voting for 105 is voting to turn away the federal dollars that fund 61% of this project. This money would be lost and given to other cities.
Proponents of 105 would rather see other cities get money already designated to a Phoenix project.
Light rail’s benefits are clear. Along the light rail corridor, pedestrian and bicycle crashes fell by 50% after the light rail was put in.
With the light rail providing a great alternative form of transportation, cars are taken off the road. This eases both congestion and harmful pollutants that cause the smog that plagues the valley.
In the 2015 Valley Metro Origins survey, 57% of respondents said they had access to a car but opted for the light rail. That’s 27,000 car trips taken off the road daily, or 8.2 million per year.
That’s a lot.
Even those who don’t regularly use the light rail reap the benefits from cleaner air, decreased congestion, and fewer traffic incidents. With fewer cars less stress will be put on the road meaning less maintenance.
In areas along the light rail corridor, there has been significant increases in employment density. We in Tempe particularly benefited from this, with a 45% increase in employment density in Downtown Tempe.
That means more jobs, closer together, all accessible via public transit.
What this means for Tempe
A failure to expand the light rail means limiting transit options for Tempe residents who rely on the light rail. It also decreases options for residents of south Phoenix to gain access to new opportunities in Tempe.
Continuing to expand light rail is a win for Tempe residents and those who live outside the city, providing more transit options to more places.
A better way to think about the light rail
The light rail has been a large investment, but focusing merely on the dollar amount spent directly on the project is a simplistic way of viewing it.
The positive externalities, the indirect benefits light rail provides, are numerous.
Things like cleaner air, safer streets for pedestrians, economic development, and reduced congestions are all tangible benefits for everyone whether they ride the light rail or not.
Yes, good public transit costs money but it comes with significant benefits.
At the end of the day this is about choice. Light rail expansion gives individuals the freedom to choose how they get around the Phoenix Metro Area.
How can I help stop this?
If you’d like to help you can visit https://investinphx.org/, the website for the campaign leading the fight against Propositions 105 & 106.
The good folks over at The Urban Phoenix Project are also fighting to keep the light rail in Phoenix. They have several events coming up to help reach out to voters. Give them a hand if you can!
Finally, talk to your friends and family in Phoenix and encourage them to vote NO on 105.
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