Sunday, December 28, 2008

I Survived Light Rail

12272008476Yesterday was the grand opening for Valley Metro's new light rail service here in the Valley. It's a project that's been years in the making. My dad and I decided to head to downtown Phoenix to catch an exhibit at the Arizona Science Center and we figured that it would be a great opportunity to check out the new light rail system. We headed down to the Apache & Dorsey station because it was designated as a "Park & Ride" stop. We were greeted with a carnival-like atmosphere as there were a number of celebrations going on at several stations.

12272008478While I anticipated that people would come out on the first day, I hadn't realized that turnout would be as heavy as it was. While I heard reports of 2.5 hour waits, we managed to get the first train that stopped. That said, we were greeted with a train that was absolutely packed. It was a very un-Phoenix-like experience. Still, the riders seemed to be in good spirits -- the conductor would announce that he was closing the doors and would count down from 5 to 1 and the riders began counting down with him. The high point was crossing Tempe Town Lake and hearing the oohs and ahs as we glided over the water. Once we crossed into Phoenix, it became an actual clown car experience, as a clown made her way onto our already overcrowded car. I overheard a few passengers around me wishing physical violence on the wayward clown.

12272008480The trip back was a little more trying. I had hoped that perhaps things would settle down later in the day. I miscalculated. We headed for the 1st Avenue and Washington station after lunch. There were many more people than at the Apache & Dorsey station. The first train came and was full, I overheard some riders saying that they had seen several trains come and go and hadn't been able to get on. Officials at the station said that there was another train following in 5 or 10 minutes, but it ended up being around 20 minutes to the next train. Valley Metro was also running special buses along the light rail route for those who didn't want to wait, but as we saw those buses pass us by, they seemed as crowded as the light rail cars.

12272008481Fortunately, we were able to get on the second train, as I was determined to push my way on and make the trip back home. The trip back was less comfortable than the first -- the cars were more crowded on the way back, it seemed like everyone was tired and ready to get back home. I remember someone remarking that we were being herded like cattle, but I reminded him that because of a recent initiative passed, farm animals are required to have much more space for them to move.

HandsOverall, I was very pleased with the experience. I'm glad they had so many people come out in support and I hope that people use it. I'm interested in seeing what the ridership is like once regular service starts. I'm also hoping they come to their senses and extend service on Friday and Saturday nights for people who want to hit the bars. I'm also interested in seeing how the areas around the line develop -- I'd have to believe that the land use around it is going to change quite a bit. It was a great start and I'm looking forward to seeing how things come together.

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