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February 17, 2009

Comments

"...but there are very few places in Phoenix America in which it isn't incredibly hard to get by without a car."

Amended for accuracy.

I lived in Phoenix (actually, the suburb of Glendale) for my entire childhood, from 0 to 18. That whole time I had no car. If you don't have a car in Phoenix, you just have an impossible time.

At one point (in 2006) I was teaching in Scottsdale but had to stay at my Mom's house in downtown Phoenix. It took about 2 hours to commute. This is bad enough, to spend 4 hours out of your day on a bus, but the lines closed at about 9pm -- so if you weren't out of school by 7, you had to call on a friend or a cab (and 10-mile cab rides are far from cheap).

I could continue for a long while but I think you get the idea. Who knows how much more social and economic mobility people in Phoenix would have if they just had some public transportation?

To Phoenix's credit, they did install a light rail system downtown. But that's small comfort for people in Mesa, Glendale, and Northern Phoenix.

Let's Go had, at the time, incredibly low per diems -- if memory serves it was $34/day for this leg of my travels

Ha ha -- I work for a company that is one of two major leaders in its industry, with a market share of just under 49%. Our meal per diem, in 2009, is $35/day: $7 breakfast, $11 lunch, $17 dinner. Fuel charges are reimbursed at $0.13 under the Federal rate.

Otherwise, what Jay C. said.

Phil: but does your job involve going to an enormous number of places that you have to cover, many of them in parts of the world (i.e., rural New Mexico) where the bus is really not an option? It was a total per diem, including lodging.

[/end who has it worse sweepstakes]

The $34 was for the SW USA. It was, of course, much lower in other countries I covered, e.g. Greece, Mexico, Israel, and Egypt.

It doesn't provide any information about scale, but Google indicates that the distance between 7th St. and 7th Ave. in downtown is about a mile.

Think that's more like two miles. Phoenix lays out streets in a straight grid, one mile to a side.

"It was horrible: there were very few bus routes, and most buses ran about once an hour, so if you missed one, you had to wait (in the Phoenix midday sun) for an hour until the next one arrived -- after having walked forever just to find the bus stop. If you had to change twice, the round trip could easily consume half of your day."

Welcome to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Welcome to Raleigh, North Carolina.

try getting a bus to Apex...

I was born and live just under 10 miles from Philadelphia City Hall. I lived in Phoenix from age 7 to 13 and have, until the last 5 years or so, visited Phoenix more or less annually, still having family there.

Phoenix was built for cars. It's about the easiest city you can imagine driving in. You can get almost entirely (in terms of distance) from any given point A to any given point B by making one turn at the right intersection. But you can't do sh1t on an adult scale in a resonably modern fashion without a car.

When I go into Philadelphia, 90+% of the time I park my car and leave it there until I'm ready to go back to Jersey. This gives me relatively easy access to hundreds of points of interest while my car sits. I plan to move to Philadelphia when I retire partly because of this.

The irony, or at least an irony, is that Philadelphia has a popular car-share program. I doubt Phoenix does. When you rarely need a car, you can afford to share one with a bunch of other people who rarely need a car.

Sorry, hilzoy -- I just meant that, if you thought that that amount was cheap way back when, there are still companies that are that cheap! But yeah, if that was to cover EVERYTHING, that's bonkers.

Lived in Phoenix for 5 years, moved to Glendale the last 3 years and the place was useless without cars. Even going down the street to the nearby mall (2 blocks) took forever without a car. Several streetlights didn't have crosswalks.

And yes, taking the bus was a 2h30min trip from one side to get to my job on the other side of the city. I was gone before the light rail got there, don't know if it helped.

If memory serves (I was only in Phoenix once, probably 12 years ago), another problem with walking in Phoenix is the lack of sidewalks and distance between crossings on many large roads. I remember Ellen and I stuck out like a sore thumb -- there just wasn't anybody else walking.

(Just recently I was in Burlington, MA and it reminded me of Phoenix for this very reason. (And for this reason alone.))

Actually, Phoenix is the least of it. My mother-in-law, her daughter and her husband moved from Phoenix to Snowflake (in the White Mountains).

Snowflake has NO public transportation - not even a taxi cab company. Neither my mother-in-law nor my sister-in-law ever learned to drive. My brother-in-law works and drives every day and when he's off, he must drive to the store and whatever else needs to happen.

Because of Arizona's voter ID law, when we came in from Greece, we had to rent a car just to get to Snowflake and then drive both the mother and daughter to the Drivers' License office several towns away so they could get state photos and then vote.

When they lived in Phoenix I used to walk an hour a day, very early in the morning, and walking was dangerous and difficult.

I guess I'm lucky. Like Atrios I live in a city where it is easy to get by without a car. Liveable, actual neighborhoods and the buses aren't too bad, I haven't had a car in years

When they lived in Phoenix I used to walk an hour a day, very early in the morning, and walking was dangerous and difficult.

Once you've left the smaller streets within a housing cluster, you're walking along or crossing what is more or less a highway, except for the aspect of traffic lights, which are very far apart. Yes, pedestrians are weird in Phoenix.

A fourth possibility (in addition to cars, buses, walking): THE MIGHTY BICYCLE.

Not sure if anyone else clicked, but the "Philadelphia" map looks suspiciously like Boston, MA.

As public transportation goes, busses are by far my preference. I have used busses daily in Philadelphia and Seattle, and find them to be a very reasonable method of getting to and from work.

I would like to see an expansion of busses instead of light rail in Seattle, because with busses you can get rid of your car (or have only one), whereas with light rail, you still have to get to the station.

Even in Seattle, if you are not commuting at rush hour you can end up waiting an hour to get a bus. It just seems to me that with the alternative fuel fleet and the electric trolley downtown bus service (that can leave the trolley lines and run other routes with propane) that bus service is much more flexible, able to get to where you actually live, does not have to add to the carbon footprint, and not have the huge infrastructure costs of light rail.

Unfurtunately in Seattle, we seem to be going the light rail route at the expense of an expanded bus service.

As a side note, whenever I head back to my home town of Milwaukee, I can't help but be impressed by just how comprehensive the bus system is, especially as compared to Memphis (where I live now) and Cincinnati (where I lived for about five years in between). I know buses aren't "sexy," but it's amazing just how well you can get around Milwaukee by bus alone.

In fact, when I was a teenager, that's how I got everywhere I needed to go that wasn't within easy biking distance, including seeing my girlfriend at the time, who lived on the other side of town. It takes about twice as long as by car, but you can still do it today. And the relatively new "public transit" option on Google Maps is uber-cool, as a side note. The linked route starts less than a quarter of a mile walk from the house I grew up in, and ends less than half a mile from where my high school girlfriend lived. And it's actually easier today than it was back then; I used to have to walk about 1/2 mile to the bus stop, but they've apparently extended the route.

hilzoy:

I guess I didn't realize that Philadelphia looked so much like Boston. :)

I would like to echo the loathing of Phoenix's excuse for public transit and the reasons for it. This is possibly one of the most unfriendly major cities you can imagine to get around in without wheels of your own.

Seattle's bus system used to be held up as a national model to emulate--until Tim Eyman got his claws into it. It's never been the same in the wake of the major revisions they had to make to account for the loss of revenue.

I used to commute from Northgate to my work in Bellevue, about 16 miles and less than half an hour in decent traffic. On the bus, this took over an hour and a half. To put this in perspective, in the time it took me to commute via bus I could've commuted via car from Bellingham--over 90 miles to the north.

jrudkis:

It's too bad it has to be an either/or choice. Right before I left Cincinnati, there was a ballot initiative to do a major expansion of public transit, with high-speed rail lines along the major routes, plus expanded bus service (especially lateral bus routes, which the city sorely lacks) feeding the rail stations and other transit hubs. It would have used smaller buses for more efficient service on lighter-traveled routes, to funnel people into the transit hubs. And it would have cost the county's taxpayers next to nothing extra -- 90% of the funding would have come from existing budget items in the state and federal budgets, leaving the taxpayers of Hamilton County with just 10% to pay for.

The Hamilton County voters, being morons, voted against the measure by a two-to-one margin. (These are the same voters that happily passed a tax increase to spend nearly a billion dollars on two new stadiums for the Bengals [1 winning season in 9 years in new stadium] and Reds [zero playoff appearances in 6 years].)

(Sorry about the double-post on the map kvetch. I thought my other comment got eaten somehow.)

Tgirsch,

The conspiracy theorists would argue that if the bus service were efficient and expanded, there would be no need for the light rail. At least that is what the bus drivers tell me.

But I agree that light rail makes the most sense with reliable feeder busses that get rid of the need for two car families.

One of the problems I see with the light rail is it provides an incentive for people to live further from work, and enables urban sprawl, whereas a well funded bus system that allows people to get rid of cars and reliably walk to the corner for a bus does not (or at least less so, because presumably the train is faster and can take people from further out in a timely fashion).

When I moved from one side of town (where I could get the bus at the corner) to the other side where I have to drive to a park and ride, I stopped using the bus. For me, the benefit of not driving at all was the bonus (especially for afterwork drinks) so if I had to drive anyway, I might as well keep going the extra 8 miles to work.

Isn't this all essentially an indictment of sprawl?

Aside from Chicago and, to a certain extent San Francisco, I'm not aware of a single US city of any significant size west of Philly with a credible (read: credible) public transit system. OK, maybe Seattle. But that's about it. And the reason is that public transport doesn't make a whole lot of sense when people are so spread out.

I'm with Yglesias that fixing the problem of sprawl is a critical component to providing good public transport. That requires cities with densities a lot higher than Americans have heretofore been willing to stomach. (Heck, I'm living in Indianapolis right now, one of the top 25 or so largest cities in the US. Until very recently, we had at least one working dairy farm within the city limits ... and may, for all I know, we still do. Dense that ain't.)

It all depends on the city re: bus vs rail transit. (Light rail is a specific type of rail that is not comprehensive of all types of passenger or even commuter rail.) People don't want to sit at a bus stop when it's too hot or cold if it can be avoided, which it can if you can sit in a climate-controlled train station instead. And if you're commuting into a city like Philadelphia (or NYC for fncks sake!), driving the last few miles would be the worst part were it not for the lack of parking, which is the worst part. Given those conditions, rail is preferable to bus for those who can get to it. Well placed stations in existing, dense communities also allows many to walk to the rail station as easily as to the bus stop.

"Welcome to Raleigh, North Carolina."

good to see there's a few more of my kind around here.

of course i've lived in durham for about six months now.

I grew up on the outskirts of Albuquerque. I just wish we had had as good public transport as Phoenix did.

"Seattle's bus system used to be held up as a national model to emulate--until Tim Eyman got his claws into it. It's never been the same in the wake of the major revisions they had to make to account for the loss of revenue."

I'm sorry to hear this; during the period of 1978-1986 I lived there, it was an excellent system, and I got around fine with it whether I lived in Belltown, the U. District, or Capitol Hill, including commuting at times to Bellevue. Of course, it didn't go everywhere, but the difference between there (or Boulder, or NYC, or Boston) and Raleigh, is astronomical.

Aside from Chicago and, to a certain extent San Francisco, I'm not aware of a single US city of any significant size west of Philly with a credible (read: credible) public transit system.

This is generally accurate, but I'd add Portland, OR to the "credible public transit system" list.

This was edifying (to someone interested in Washington State politics, but out of touch for many years); thanks for giving me the idea of looking, Catsy.

I can't really back this up, but I'd add that I think part of Phoenix's problem regarding mass transit has been a longstanding defiantly libertarian and anti-urban, and in some ways anti-modern culture. I think it's now outgrowing that mindset, but there's a lot of catch-up to be played following so much development under that mindset.

RE the upthread suggestion of the bicycle:
I commute and shop by bicycle, in a place well-suited to the practice, so I'm sympathetic, but it's worth keeping in mind that Pheonix has a very large retired community of people who could walk to a reasonably-placed bus stop but can't as easily ride a bike, and that Pheonix is very hot and so regularly biking longer distances may be less comfortable than biking in more moderate climes.

Also keep in mind that for distances of more than a few miles many people might want to use some combination of biking to a bus stop and then riding the bus, so it still matters whether the buses run frequently, whether the bus network offers good connections to get around the area once you're on the network, whether your bike can reliably be left locked up at a nearby bus stop, and how far you might have to travel from the bus stop to your destination at the other end.

In Philadelphia, you can use public transportation as your default method of getting around. In Phoenix, you'd have to be a masochist.

or not have a car. Lots of people can't afford one.

===================

I haven't been there in years, but I loved the Atlanta system. Spokes leading into the city and plenty of buses forming rings. From my place in N Atlanta to the airport was a straight shot.

====================

My 12 mile commute in Los Angeles is at least an hour (more if my **ONE** connection is late). And trying to get from Southern LA to Irvine is pretty much impossible. There is a train, but few buses feeding it, and it only runs extremely limited hours.

Pheonix is very hot

And Los Angeles is extremely hilly. Have fun biking around the arroyos!

tgirsch: gack! I was clicking around to several cities; I was looking at Philadelphia, but somehow the link must have gotten stuck on Boston. Will fix asap.

And Phil: any snark in my comment was only directed at me, for what struck me as the lamenting tone of my own response. ;)

I <3 NYC

The conspiracy theorists would argue that if the bus service were efficient and expanded, there would be no need for the light rail.

I'm not sure that's true. For starters, buses share roads with cars, and very few places in the US have congestion pricing, roads tend to be very congested which makes it very hard for buses to keep a reasonable schedule. Secondly, if you want to make it easier for people to live without a car, then you need to encourage higher density development. Bus service does not do that whereas rail service does: developers look at rail and see fixed infrastructure that is not going away so they have a lot more confidence about building high density (read: expensive) development since they know that there will be a guaranteed clientele. Because buses are so flexible, developers can't trust local governments to keep bus service at the same level. In fact, right now, as local and state budgets are crashing, bus service is getting reduced all across the country.

One of the problems I see with the light rail is it provides an incentive for people to live further from work, and enables urban sprawl, whereas a well funded bus system that allows people to get rid of cars and reliably walk to the corner for a bus does not (or at least less so, because presumably the train is faster and can take people from further out in a timely fashion).

I don't think this is true in general. It might be true in some specific cases though. The term "light rail" describes a lot of different systems....

"I guess I didn't realize that Philadelphia looked so much like Boston. :)"

When it's not looking like New York, that is. {sighs, shakes head sadly}

von:

It makes me very uncomfortable when I agree with you about stuff. Please stop it. :)

jrudkis:

I don't see why rail necessarily has to involve urban sprawl. Take a city like Boston, make the subway a light rail system, and you've got a fairly compact yet comprehensive high-speed transit system. Or, what hairshirthedonist and Turbulence said. :)

Looks like I live in a mass transport paradise (Berlin, capital of Germany) despite it being a favorite pastime here to complain about the bad service ;-)
Berlin is essentially an aggregation of villages that have grown towards each other (but the original separations are still visible in many places).
Mass trasnport is a mix of underground, above ground city trains (light rail?), regional trains (stretching out about a hundred miles in each direction) and buses (and a few ferries). During the night buses cover for the closed underground.
One has to learn though where and when a bus should not be used due to street congestion (hint: don't try to use the X9 bus near the Zoo on Thursdays and Fridays after 4pm. Use the underground 2 and 7 and catch it at Jakob-Kaiser-Platz instead, if you want to reach the airport in time).
If you do not want a car, you do not need one here. Shops tend to be within walking distance and large malls have inevitably public transport nearby.

I was very impressed by the transport system in Dresden and Berlin when I visited them last year - also by the intercity trains. (Especially being able to book a couple of months in advance and buy a 1st-class ticket half price, decidedly cheaper than the standard price of a standard-class ticket... wonderfully comfortable big seats.)

The UK transport system has its flaws, I'd be the first to admit - but in any city that had a predominantly Labour council during the 1970s/1980s, service tends to be pretty good - and even in the cities that were under Conservative control during that period, bus services are generally equivalent to the best US city public transport systems I've visited.

With the exception of New York, which I admit is just outstanding, and San Francisco (though I fell flat in love with San Francisco the only time I was there, and therefore may not have noticed any particular flaws...)

Bus / train transport in rural areas of the UK can be at least as bad as what Americans describe in Phoenix, though... (I was only in Phoenix once, and that briefly, but yeah, it didn't strike me as a very pedestrian-friendly city....)

In Phoenix, getting around by public transportation is an ordeal. In Philadelphia, it's a whole lot easier. There are a lot of bus lines, so you don't have to walk forever just to get to a bus stop. They run more frequently, so you don't have to wait forever every time you miss a bus. In Philadelphia, you can use public transportation as your default method of getting around.

There’s actually another layer here that amplifies your point. There is a lot of light rail between the suburbs and Philly. It’s quite easy to get on the train, even from outlying suburbs, and be in Center City in less than an hour. That’s frequently less time (and much less aggravation) than driving. Considerably cheaper as well when you add parking. Purchase a monthly pass that covers both rail and buses and it is very easy and pretty cheap to commute between the ‘burbs and Philly. I did it for several years. And being a city, there’s plenty of entertainment value thrown in at no additional charge.

I had a lot of issues with Philly but public transportation was never one of them.

Hmmm. On re-reading my comment I realize it is far too agreeable and leaves little for anyone to jump on. Can’t have that. Think. Think. Think… Ah, got it. I can slip in some gratuitous union bashing…. I had a lot of issues with Philly but public transportation was never one of them, except when SEPTA was on strike and shut down the city yet again.

There. Much better.

OCSteve: There. Much better.

*inserts pro-union anti-OCSteve rant here* *gratuitous reference to same-sex marriage and abortion*

It’s quite easy to get on the train, even from outlying suburbs, and be in Center City in less than an hour. That’s frequently less time (and much less aggravation) than driving. Considerably cheaper as well when you add parking. Purchase a monthly pass that covers both rail and buses and it is very easy and pretty cheap to commute between the ‘burbs and Philly. I did it for several years.

That's exactly the point of light rail systems and integrated public transport: it's exactly where (IMO) the UK just falls over. You can commute fairly easily between many cities by train - I lived in Reading and in Basingstoke and commuted to London on a semi-regular basis for several years - but with the big exception of London, you cannot buy a rail ticket which then converts to an incity transport ticket at your destination.

Part of that is thanks to Thatcher's wrecking privatisation ball in the 1980s, but it's also due to the lack of joined-up thinking back when buses and trains were both in public ownership - but councils owned buses and British Rail owned trains and the two just didn't meet.

I'm not sure that's true. For starters, buses share roads with cars, and very few places in the US have congestion pricing, roads tend to be very congested which makes it very hard for buses to keep a reasonable schedule.

How about the impact, if there is any, of bus-only lanes? Instinct tells me it has to be pretty marginal but I honestly don't know. Cleveland did that recently with their Euclid Avenue Redevelopment Project, adding a dedicated bus lane and platforms in the center of the street from downtown to University Circle; and doing some traffic calming/congestion reduction by making the car lanes one lane, each direction, 25 mph.

The project is too recently completed to have any real data on impact, but the buses I see do always seem to be full, so that's a good thing.

It is possible to live in Cleveland without a car, as long as you're willing to wait a long time for bus connections, or live very close to one of the few heavy rail lines.

Hartmut: I lived in Germany (Darmstadt) for three years as a child, and I know OCSteve was stationed there as well, and we have nothing but good things to say about public transport there. I also lived in Frankfurt for a month for work in 2002, and never needed a car -- I had a flat in Sachsenhausen, and commuted into the northeastern part of the city every day by U-bahn and bus. Did all my shopping on foot. Loved it.

Phil: How about the impact, if there is any, of bus-only lanes?

I used to commute across a busy UK city by bus. Before bus-only lanes were introduced (bus and taxi), the commute would take me about 75 minutes: afterwards, it took me about 50 minutes. Car-drivers loathed the change because their lanes got more congested, and their views got more publicity in the media, but the difference to bus-commuters was striking.

Phil: Agreed. I didn’t need* a car to get anywhere in Darmstadt, or even to easily get just about anywhere in central Europe (Berlin being the exception back then). Public transportation there is fantastic. Shopping can be a hassle if you insist on doing it American style (one big load once per week) but if you just adjust to doing it daily and getting small loads it’s no problem.

*I didn’t need one, but there was no way I was going to pass up driving a beamer on the autobahns.

When I lived in Seattle in the eighties I didn't have a car and didn't need one. Seattle is a city of neighborhods. I grocery shopped on foot during my walk home. Everything i needed was walking distace from my apartment. There are many, many neighborhoods like that in Seattle.

Later on when I moved to Tacoma, I made the decsin to live inside the city in an old established neighborhood that had the same characteristic: everyting essential in walking distace. Except my job, which I got to easliy by bus. In fact, instead of buying a second car, my husband and I bought me a topnotch winter coat.

One of the failings of suburbia is the lack of anything but houses. No shops, post office, jobs, movie rental, library, restaurant...Since I didn't live in a suburb I went though my thirties and forties without a car.

I now live in a semi rural area and, remarkably, there is a very good public transportation system even extending out on the islands and up to the foothills. The problem is that the buses respond to calls, rather than a schedule, which makes them fine if you have all the time in the owrld to get down to the grocry store and back but means they don't help at all as a means of getting to work. Still I cose to live out here, so I'm not complaining. I just have to have a car now for the first time in my life.

I spent most of 2007 working at the airport in Indianapolis, and had to use the bus system.

Nightmare.

Many routes were far apart, and the usual "one bus per hour" thing made changing buses into an ordeal. A thirty minute car drive turned into a three hour odyssey at some points.

Being a Transgendered woman, I was twice "read", and had to flee from bus stops in fear of my life after being threatened with assault. (Indiana is a Red State, to be sure...)

I am not so enamored with public transportation anymore,, and I will have to consider getting a CCW if I am ever to use it again.

This was edifying (to someone interested in Washington State politics, but out of touch for many years); thanks for giving me the idea of looking, Catsy.

Oh wow, you missed out on years of quality Eyman-hating. The man is a cancer on this state and probably one of the few people in the country I would not hesitate to encourage to immediately reincarnate in a karmically appropriate fashion.

The part of I-695 that was preserved was the part that changed car tabs from a value-adjusted amount to a flat $30. This mortally wounded public transit in the Puget Sound area, as vehicle licensing fees were a significant source of revenue. I-776 was the nail in the coffin.

Tim Eyman is basically a Norquistian anti-tax jihadist who is extremely effective at exploiting WA's deeply flawed initiative system in order to write legislation without having to run for any public office. Rather than eliminate popular public services, what he does is identify their source of revenue and attack it with bread-and-circuses initiatives that offer people the shiny candy of lower taxes without explaining what would have to be cut if those taxes went away.

Unlike the poo-flinging dittoes in Congress, who simply bleat about tax cuts as a general panacea, Eyman is dangerous precisely because he targets specific and critical sources of state revenue. He seems to have it in for public transportation in particular--see also the failed and toxic I-985 from last year.

Finally, you should check out David Goldstein's I-831.

"Oh wow, you missed out on years of quality Eyman-hating. The man is a cancer on this state"

Yes, the Wikipedia entry was fairly lengthy and clear.

It's tragic to see what a destructive force he's been, particularly in the context of how progressive Seattle historically can be, when left to its own governance, and not tied down by either the rest of King County, or the eastern part of the state.

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