The Valley Metro’s meeting to discuss light rail expansion in South Phoenix was met with mixed emotions by the public last month at South Mountain Community Center.
The meeting began with a presentation by Eric Bailey of Bailey Innovation Group, who stressed the importance of conversation and answering questions. Bailey’s goal for the meeting was for the public to produce questions that would be answered by City Council in a report available to the public on September 21st before the voting at the council meeting on September 26th. However, the main topic of the meeting was the debate to reduce Central Avenue to two lanes for light rail or keep it at the current four lanes when construction begins in late 2019 and opens in 2023.
The two-lane plan that was originally introduced by the Valley Metro promises a design with a “pedestrian-friendly environment that includes sidewalks, shade, and dedicated bike lanes.” This plan will also create 21 bus pullouts and 17 dedicated left-turn lanes for cars all at no additional cost.
Executive Director David Schwartz of Friends of Transit, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on the benefits of mass transit, agrees with the expansion of light rail and the 2-lane plan proposed by the Valley Metro.
“When you look at the engineering and how it goes it [2-lanes] looks like it moves traffic better but not just that, you also have the bike lanes…and you have more landscape. I think it will have a better aesthetic.”
The four-lane plan was introduced shortly after protests from South Phoenix residents. This plan will allow no bus pullouts, mix bicyclists with automobile traffic and create four dedicated left-turn lanes as opposed to the 17 in the original plan. This plan is estimated by the Valley Metro to cost $7 million. South Phoenix residents like Matthew Hernandez prefer the 4-lane plan and think that the original plan will make Central Avenue more congested.
“I think with two lanes there will be more traffic jams,” said Hernandez.
Some South Phoenix residents also oppose light rail expansion because the introduction will derail customers, take down local businesses and raise the cost of living.
“I think it will affect our property value in the long-term and might not make it affordable for people that have lived in the community for generations. It’s a low-income community and that has been established for a long time. They’re all on fixed income, the majority of the people that live here,” said Hernandez.
Despite the residents’ stress over the loss of work, Valley Metro assures that businesses will survive the expansion project. The Transit Oriented Development grant agrees to guide businesses through the process of the construction and give them guidance through their expertise.
“We’re going through the business community and making assessments on their needs and then coming up with solutions as a way to get ahead of the curve before light rail comes,” said Carlos Velasco who works as a partner to Valley Metro.
Flor Mason, who is part of the community outreach of Valley Metro, establishes the goal of helping businesses stay afloat after construction. They do this through media and marketing campaigns.
“Sometimes businesses have to reinvent themselves. If construction has business owners worried about customers coming to them, we can revamp and do a delivery service like Uber Eats in order to continue staying in business, thriving and succeeding,” said Mason
The informational meeting also explained the plan to some South Phoenix residents that were not aware. 91-year-old Thelma Barnett, who has lived in South Phoenix since 1961, had not yet attended a meeting on the expansion and was open to listen to every side of the debate.
“I will listen to their opinions but whether I believe them or not is different.”