In 2000, Phoenicians voted on a four-tenths of a penny increase in taxes to pay for expanded bus service and the first 20-mile segment of light rail. At the same time the Citizens Transit Commission (CTC) was created to “assure public input and accountability on all transit and traffic improvements.” Next month, on August 25, Phoenix voters have the opportunity to approve an additional three-tenths of a penny increase to make city-wide street improvements, expand bus service throughout the city, and triple the number of miles covered by light rail.
Dubbed an “all of the above solution” MovePHX, aka Prop 104, is designed to offer an array of transportation options that will help accommodate the expected growth in our city over the next 35 years and enable everyone to travel more freely throughout our city. The detailed MovePHX plan grew out of direct input from more than forty public meetings throughout the city held by the CTC. The input was clear – people wanted more transportation options; improved streets; more landscaping; safer bike lanes; city-wide bus service; and increased connectivity to light rail and the central corridor.
Not everyone has a car or wants one. Even those who regularly drive can benefit from the increased opportunities to leave their car at home that rapid bus service, safer bike lanes, and light rail provide. As District 8 Councilwoman and chair of the MovePHX committee, Kate Gallego knows from personal experience no one is immune from the vagaries of fate that may impact our ability to drive. When she experienced a seizure at City Hall, Gallego learned that if you have a seizure in Arizona, you temporarily lose your license.
She found herself relying on bus and light rail to get to her follow up doctor’s appointments and various meetings, and came to appreciate in a very personal way how much having reliable public transportation options meant to her ability to do her job and take care of herself. “I was lucky that I worked at City Hall and was being treated at St. Joseph’s,” said Gallego, “A lot of people don’t have that option. That’s why we need to build out the entire city and give everyone public transportation options.”
One key element to the MovePHX plan will be the increased connectivity to educational institutions throughout the city. Access to efficient public transportation means that wherever students may live in Phoenix, they will have an easier time getting to and from their school of choice, making it possible for more young people to take advantage of higher education opportunities. Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner talks about the necessity for the Phoenix community to support students who are increasingly mobile.
“Every day, students get to their classrooms via bus and light rail,” said Dr. Scribner. “In fact, 1 in 3 transit riders are on their way to or from high school, college, vocational or job training classes. A yes vote on Prop 104 supports our schools and the students working hard to transform their lives.”
ASU student Peter Northfelt speaks to his own experience. “Most of my English classes are in Tempe and my Public Policy degree is located on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. I use the light rail to get from Tempe to Phoenix at least three times a week. It’s a big part of being able to get the education I want and need.”
The current light-rail system has been a tremendous boon to our central corridor. Every day students, executives, families, older citizens, tourists, and fans headed to Suns and Diamondback games, or patrons headed to museums, the ballet or theater use the system to get to work, class, meetings and to attend events. The success of the light rail has brought increased pedestrian traffic, spurred economic development, and created new energy and a distinct sense of place in our central core. Also, increased rapid bus service has given downtown workers who want to live in more suburban parts of the city an efficient and less nerve-wracking way to get to work.
Downtown has gone from nearly deserted streets to something approaching a truly bustling city center, which is great for business and takes us closer to creating a sustainable city for the future. According to Gallego, the MovePHX investment in our transportation infrastructure will be transformational.
“We’ll look back in 30 years and recognize that this plan will have changed the face of Phoenix. It will solidify our core, and help us accommodate the estimated growth expected during the time, which will be an increase of about 1 million people, equivalent to the population of Denver.”
A sustainable city is one where people of all ages and abilities can readily access what they need and want, both in services and amenities. What “access” means can shift and change at every stage of life. An “all of the above solution” takes into account all manner of students, workers, families, and daytrippers at every stage of life who will use transit for both work and play.
Both millennials and boomers are flocking to denser, more urban, walkable neighborhoods in cities throughout the country, helping to underscore the perspective that a sustainable 21st century city is one where people of all ages and every walk of life can get where they need to go to be productive and take care of themselves and their families.
We’re still in the midst of the lazy days of summer, but we mustn’t be lazy about this coming election. Everyone who cares about the future of our city needs to take responsibility to cast your vote. Early ballots are going out this week, or you can go to your local polling place on Tuesday, August 25.
Photos courtesy of Valley Metro
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From restaurants to residential development, more than $8.2 billion in private and public capital investment has been built near the initial 20-miles of light rail that extends from Phoenix and Tempe into Mesa. Another $346 million in commercial and residential building is being planned, most of that from private developers.
“Big things are happening in Phoenix because of light rail, and big things are going to continue to happen,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “Light rail has been transformative for our downtown and our economy. With it we’ve linked jobs, education, arts and culture in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.”
Phoenix and Tempe mayors made announcements on Tuesday at Phoenix’s DeSoto Central Market, an adaptive re-use bar, market and food court that intentionally chose their site due to proximity near the Roosevelt/Central Avenue light rail station.
“Investment in transit does more than improve neighborhoods; it improves lives,” said Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell. “More than $3.4 billion has been invested in Tempe around light rail since construction began in 2005. Everyone benefits from public transportation.”
Economic Development along 20-Mile Light Rail
Number of Projects: 204
Capital Investment – Private: $ 5,989,639,864.00
Capital Investment – Public: $ 2,241,737,632.00
Total Investment: $ 8,231,377,496.00
SF Commercial/Office: 10,327,168
SF Public: 938,737
SF Education: 4,698,902
SF Residential: 5,666,863
# Residential Units: 15,328
# Affordable Units: 1,300
# Hotel Rooms: 2,948
Economic development within one-half mile of the system has been stimulated by ridership that has exceeded original projections. Valley Metro began compiling development activity since construction started in 2005 as part of an economic development database. The original $7 billion investment had included projects that were proposed. The updated $8.2 billion includes projects completed or under construction. With the 3.1-mile Central Mesa Extension set to open in less than four weeks, there is an added $90 million in private and public development that occurred since construction began in June 2012.
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Now A Little About You . . .
David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix, Inc., offers his take on MovePHX – Prop 104, the ballot initiative that proposes a comprehensive transportation plan for Phoenix.
Traveling from Tempe into Downtown Phoenix last week I counted nine large construction cranes. A number of factors are contributing to this urban building boom. One of the most important is that more people—across the nation and around the globe—want to live, work, go to school and play near public transportation. This makes passage of Proposition 104 in Phoenix critical to our future as a vibrant urban city.
While suburban Phoenix is dependent on the vast public investment in freeways, urban Phoenix is thriving because of the multitude of transportation options. Many residents in urban Phoenix can go to work, attend a major sporting event or festival and fly anywhere in the world without opening the door to their car. How cool is that!
More and more people are referring to Downtown Phoenix as having a great emerging “vibe.” I tend to view it more in the context of building an increasingly connected community where business leaders, artists, students and people of multiple generations and ethnic backgrounds live and work side by side. Committing to a well-balanced transportation system by supporting Proposition 104 is good for everyone who cares about having a vibrant city. It maintains our streets, creates bike lanes, and supports our bus and light rail systems. Please consider supporting it in next month’s election.
How does MovePHX propose to improve Phoenix’s transportation infrastructure? Here are a few of the included items:
- Up to $240 million to fund new roads and upgraded bridges
- 2,000 new street lights will be added throughout Phoenix
- Paving for 135 miles of new sidewalks
- Improved connections between major commercial and employment destinations in downtown Phoenix
- 1,080 miles of new bike lanes throughout Phoenix
- Improved bike infrastructure and deliberate planning to improve the bikability of Phoenix
- MovePHX will triple the number of miles covered by light rail
- The light rail has generated more than $7 billion in economic development activities along the light rail and MovePHX is expected to spur an additional $40 million in economic development along the light rail lines
- Local bus service with extended hours on weekdays, weekends and holidays
- Upgraded facilities and technology, included shaded bus stops, customer service technology upgrades and accessibility upgrades
On October 26, 2014, Christine Mackay started as the Director of Community and Economic Development for the City of Phoenix. It’s a big job overseeing several large divisions. She served in the same role for the City of Chandler for six years, but a city the size and complexity of Phoenix is a whole new challenge. We sat down with her to discuss her first ten months on the job and to learn what’s next.
DPJ: How do you see your role within the City of Phoenix?
CM: My role is to recruit companies and recruit the workforce that attracts those companies. My job is to help create the quality real estate that they want, a workforce that they want, an educational system that they want, and then they can’t say no.
For me, first it’s been about cataloging all of the assets that exist and really understanding those assets. I grew up here, I’ve been here my whole life, but I only came into Phoenix to go to GPEC meetings or a basketball game and then I went back to my suburb. No joke.
Two weeks before I got the call from Paul Blue asking me to coffee, my city council in Chandler was interested in looking at adaptive reuse on some of the old buildings in Chandler. Phoenix had done such a brilliant job with their adaptive reuse that we took a bus tour to see what had been done. I got to see Angels Trumpet, the Vig, Cibo, the Duce, and Luci’s Market. I got to see all this stuff and I went, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life, how did I not know this was here?’
Now, all I can think about is Phoenix. It’s a dynamic, exciting, cool market, and it just needed help telling its story. So many people are beginning to understand and tell the story: brokers, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, etc. and doing a remarkable job. It’s become much more than just a local story, it’s getting national play and national attention.
DPJ: What is your approach and what steps have you taken so far?
CM: My approach is to ‘take no prisoners.’ This is a big, bold, vibrant city and it needs to take big, bold, vibrant steps. This is the sixth largest city in the country and it wasn’t competing as the sixth largest city in the country. So, in the beginning it was about getting a marketing plan done, getting our website done, and getting our strategy set.
This isn’t a ‘fire, ready, aim’ situation, this is very strategic. We got our website done so that it was more attractive to site selectors, corporate real estate executives, thought leaders, and decision makers. We also made it very attractive to that knowledge workforce that wants to find a new place to live.
DPJ: Tell us a little more about that knowledge workforce and what’s attracting these people to Phoenix.
CM: I represent all 517 square miles of Phoenix, but the central city is our unique environment, it is the heart of metropolitan Phoenix. When you look at the way things are going, where a workforce wants to live, where a workforce wants to be, where they want to evolve – it’s in an urban environment. The days of a large house with a pool and a backyard in a suburban market are few and numbered. People want to connect in lifestyle. They’re tired of spending their weekends taking care of their yard and their house. The central city offers an incredibly vibrant lifestyle that the suburbs can’t duplicate.
DPJ: How do you see the connection between Downtown and other parts of the central city, for example, Midtown?
CM: Let’s look at Midtown. When I started, the commercial vacancy rate in Midtown was 38% and now it’s 23%. It’s a nine million square foot market, so that means we’ve brought in 1.3 million square feet of tenants in just 10 months. By the end of the year we will be into the teens.
Midtown has been a kind of ‘red-headed stepchild’ of the central city. Downtown has sports, the central government, CityScape, the Orpheum, etc., but no one had really cataloged the assets in Midtown. It’s just as unique as Downtown, and just as cool as Downtown. Where Downtown is hip, vibrant, cutting edge, thought-leading, sports-minded and fun, Midtown is just a little bit more sophisticated. It’s arts, culture – the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Opera. The two areas complement each other incredibly well.
DPJ: What are the city’s plans for Midtown this next year?
CM: We have money in the city’s CIP (Capital Improvement Program) budget for 2015-16 for Midtown to really engage and connect with Central Avenue, and with the 3rd Street Promenade. Currently the buildings along Central, which were mainly built in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, turn their back on Central, but that’s not the way buildings succeed today.
The city is looking for ways to make those connections, including public sidewalks that go right up to the entrances of the buildings; crosswalks in mid-blocks so people don’t have to go all the way down to the next light to cross to the other side; small landing places with shade; and comfortable seating spaces. For the 3rd Street Promenade, which is anchored by Steele Indian School Park on the north, we’re focused on creating shade and trees and making it both walkable and bikeable.
DPJ: What about the northern end of Midtown and into Uptown. How would you describe what is happening there? Where do you see the boundaries?
CM: Any developer would say Midtown goes between the 7s from McDowell to Camelback. So to me, Midtown stops at Camelback and then Uptown starts on the north side of Camelback. When you go into Uptown, you go into a much more suburban market that includes single story houses, and ranch houses with big lots and mature trees.
But look at the area around the Camelback and Central intersection, with all the activity that’s going on there today, like Vintage Properties (Uptown Plaza), the Newton, the BMO building. There’s just so much.
The city owns a little strip of land in that area near the light rail station, on the western side of the empty triangle parcel at the southwest corner of Camelback and Central. We’re going to put out an RFP to dispose of it. Starting in July and August we’re going to hold neighborhood meetings in that area to let everyone know what will be happening on that site.
In addition, the developer who owns the southwest corner is looking at some new development plans for there. The neighborhood had some opposition to what he’d wanted to do before, so he’s really scaled it back to make it more palatable, but the neighborhood will need to have their input, so we’ll see what they say.
DPJ: We’ve heard that there is a comprehensive parking concept being developed. Can you tell us about this?
CM: When I got here the thing I kept hearing from the brokers and the building owners was that they couldn’t bring companies down here because they couldn’t park them. These buildings used to have 300-500 square feet per person and park at two to three per thousand. But, today, even the financial institutions only have 170 square feet per person in their new model and you’ve got to be able to get five to seven per thousand in your parking to make it work. And, until the central city is the favored darling of urban development, we’re still competing with places like Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Austin, Denver, and Salt Lake City. Places where they can surface park for free.
We have a lot of vacant space – 2.6 million square fee. of vacant space between Midtown and Downtown. And we don’t want to just fill the buildings, we want to bring the right companies with the right work force. To attract these companies we need temporary solutions until public transportation becomes more common place. We’re getting closer and closer to that, but in the interim we have to provide places for these people to park within four minutes of their building or the companies won’t look at you.
We decided to catalog all of the parking in Downtown and Midtown: everything from Buckeye to Camelback and between the 7s. Now, when a building owner calls and says ‘I can do this lease but I need 200 parking spaces for five years,’ I can say ‘here’s six places within a four minute walk where you can buy parking and here’s who you can call.’ And they do.
We’ve now done six transactions where we’ve helped people find parking. We’re going to the city council in September to ask permission to post private transaction information on a public website. Then we will be able to post all of the contacts for all of the buildings, along with rings around the buildings to show a four minute walking distance, and information on who to contact to lease parking in those areas.
Over time we won’t need as much parking, because people will get so used to mass transit that it will do what it is intended to do. But, we’re not there yet because we don’t have all the mass transit connections. As time goes on and we finish making those connections, everyone, or at least a great proportion of people, will move around by mass transit.
DPJ: Are you taking a similar approach to parking in the Roosevelt Row/Evans Churchill area?
CM: In Roosevelt Row for certain….I’m working with Councilman Nowakowski to identify some city-owned sites where we can get some parking up for the next three-to-five-year term while we figure out a structure and what needs to go there. Businesses will die if we don’t get them some parking by end of summer; it’s a ‘now’ priority.
DPJ: What are the main challenges/opportunities you see coming next?
CM: More parking is the challenge that we need to overcome first. It will be a game-changer. Then, I believe what you’ll see next is downtown pushing to the south. When you look at the Warehouse District…that’s the next cool, hip place. The development of the Warehouse District is going to be amazing. Absolutely amazing.
DPJ: Any final thoughts about your first ten months on the job?
CM: I am so excited. There’s so much opportunity. The city has done an amazing job since 2007-2008 in driving downtown development, but the vibrancy of downtown really changed with the Super Bowl. Our own citizens in metro Phoenix got on light rail to come downtown for the Super Bowl events and figured out how cool that part of town is.
So, that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 10 months: setting the stage for what we want to accomplish and putting the tools in our tool belt to say ‘now we’re ready, let’s go!’