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Phoenix Citizens Transportation Committee Fails to Explore Alternatives

January 22, 2015

As a current member of the Citizens Committee on the Future of Phoenix Transportation (CCFPT) I have been disappointed in the fact that we have nearly completed our scheduled meetings and almost all the discussion has been about mass transit and, of course, the inevitable tax increase to pay for it. This is backward thinking. We are just entering the dawn of individualized, point-to-point, on-demand transportation ideas like autonomous vehicles, Zip Cars, Uber, Lyft, etc. The time will soon be here when you can use your smart phone to pre-program a ride exactly to your destination and at the time you want to go. Under these circumstances why would anyone want to wait for a bus or the even less-convenient train?
The CCFPT should be examining ways that we can accommodate the future of autonomous vehicles and individual transportation. The CCFPT is, instead, stuck in the past. Most of the early meetings of the committee dealt with the light rail system and bus transit. The only discussion of roads was limited to how roads could support transit. This means that discussion about synchronized traffic signals or time-of-use pricing for the streets or zone systems or preparation for the latest advances in ground transportation were not addressed. The Committee spent almost no time on the areas of worst congestion in the city, namely the major freeways. Even though I am not one of the people normally stuck on the freeway parking lots (because I am usually going the opposite direction) my heart aches for all the people whose vehicles are stopped or traveling at a walking pace
What should the CCFPT be studying? How about adding a lane on each of the major freeways or building new freeways? Or, if that is too expensive, how about making one lane a toll lane on existing freeways? The tolls could be adjusted to keep the traffic moving at near the posted speed limit. That would allow high value travelers to get to their destination on time and would also provide additional revenue for new construction. Such a proposal employs this simple but basic concept called time-of-use pricing or congestion pricing.
This concept is already being tested in Phoenix in its regulation of parking meters. Meter pricing is being adjusted during the day to keep about 10% of all parking spaces open. This makes eminent sense because it allows the highest value users to count on being able find a parking spot and it also provides extra revenue during the peak use periods.
But why not look for even more innovative ideas. One of the proposals I advocate is to consider making a major north-south street, such at 7th Street or 7th Avenue, and a major east-west street, such as McDowell Rd or Thomas Rd, into a high speed thoroughfare during rush hour. This could be done with no additional construction by employing the same time-of-use pricing mentioned above. Drivers would be allowed to purchase an electronic sticker for their vehicle and use of these major roads would be restricted during rush hour to vehicles with these stickers. The fees charged could be adjusted to keep the traffic flowing and speed limits could be increased during rush hours in combination with synchronized traffic signals.
A common response to proposals such as those mentioned above is that they are not consistent with current laws. But what are groups like CCFPT for if not to recommend changes to laws that impede solutions?
Our CCFPT belatedly recognized that we must pay attention to our streets and appointed a sub-committee to do that. But the fact that this is an afterthought reveals where the CCFPT real priorities lie—getting more mass transit, mostly rail, and getting the tax increase to support it. Passenger rail is a 19th Century solution to a 21st Century problem. We need to change our priorities to reflect the changing world we live in. And most would agree that these changes are only going to come faster.

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