News Ticker

AIA Arizona: METRO Light Rail Spurring Transportation Solutions

By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Jonce Walker talks about Pedal Craft2 while (from left) Curt Upton, MarkRoddy, and Kevin Kellogg watch. Photo Credit: Eric Jay Toll / Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Phoenicians like to gripe about two topics – the summer heat and the daily commute. Transportation was the final topic in the AIA Phoenix Metro chapter’s four part Transformation Phoenix series. The gist of the sessions are being compiled for a panel at AIA Arizona’s joint regional conference, “Transformation 2012,” October 10-13 at Lowe’s Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson. Transportation solutions were the capstone to the series.

Carl Upton, Phoenix Light Rail Station Area Planner; Jonce Walker, Sustainability Manager for Maricopa County and leader of Making Phoenix Bike-able; Kevin Kellogg, Kellogg + Associates , Architecture/Urban Design/Planning, were panelists along with moderator Mark Roddy, AIA, from SmithGroupJJR. Gridlock or transportation relief was the focus of how the metropolitan area is evolving from freeway-centric to multi-modal opportunities.

The recession, said Upton, has helped generate interest in multi-modal transportation. “Phoenix is planning its six light rail districts,” he explained. The zones are designed as walkable half miles from light rail stations rather than concentric radii. As the city planning efforts continue with a major federal grant, developers are snapping up the vacant and underdeveloped sites in the districts for transit-oriented development. More than 40 percent of the land in the light rail districts is undeveloped or underdeveloped.

“Mayor Stanton is backing livability principles to create an attractive investment environment,” he said. Upton talked about some of the projects going in now and potential development that can occur along the light rail routes and its expected expansions in Phoenix.

Jonce Walker was concerned with the lack of implementation for previous plans, but he showed how light rail has spurred increased interest in walking and cycling. Economic studies show that transit-oriented development (TOD) has major economic benefits to those living in its corridors. “Suburban living forces families to spend around 25 percent of their budget on transportation—commuting, multiple vehicles, extra insurance and vehicle maintenance. On the other hand,” he said. “Living in a TOD drops that budget share to 9 percent.”

Walker encouraged participation in Pedal Craft 2, a central Phoenix event to encourage bicycle use. Last year, more than 500 people came out for the premier event. The second event, September 28th, drew more than 1,500 participants.

Too much undeveloped space sits in the metro, according to Kevin Kellogg. “One hundred percent of Phoenix’ long-term growth can take place in TODs within one-half mile of light rail stations,” he told more than 75 AIA members in the audience. Within a ten minute walk of light rail stations, says Kellogg, there is 12M SF of office space, of which over 3M SF sit empty.

“With as few as four stories,” Kellogg projected, “TOD development can accommodate between 6,000 and 10,000 people living inside that half-mile district around each light rail station in Phoenix.” He displayed on a map the volume of undeveloped and underdeveloped lots in those areas.

Energy savings is another major benefit of TOD. A typical suburban home uses 250M BTUs of energy each year; a TOD-based residence uses 50M BTUs annually. Combined vehicle cost savings and energy cost savings—two of a family’s biggest expenses other than housing—are as high as 80 percent. “Typically,” he said, “a TOD family saves $7K to $12K a year in expenses.”

Mark Roddy questioned conventional wisdom about business subsidies, “Taxpayers help offset many costs associated with large-scale business that are not direct incentives.” Extended infrastructure, municipal parking, tax credits are some of the benefits. “In a TOD,” says Roddy, “most new businesses are locally owned and operated small businesses. Many open without benefit of any special incentive from cities.”

Previous Transformation Phoenix sessions covered adaptive reuse, urban infill and open space.