Projects like the Grand Avenue Railway Project, or GARP, give me cognitive dissonance. More people could be helped by an innovative economic development along the light rail corridor, and that’s where most of the city’s funding should go in its attempts to reinvent Phoenix. On the other hand, Lower Grand Avenue is one of the city’s most important and cherished artistic resources, a real up-and-coming community that the city could point to as a neighborhood to be proud of.
Robert Graham, principal of MOTLEY Design Group in Phoenix is the lead figure in GARP, a streetcar proposal with its genesis in the Phoenix Trolley Museum. hes been working for two years to bring a contemporary streetcar system to the city in phases. Its route would run along lower Grand Avenue, from Seventh Avenue and Van Buren Street to 17th Avenue and Interstate 10. Later it would stretch possibly into Central City South.
“There’s no need to widen the street. It would work in conjunction with the Greening on Grand project, essentially,” Graham told me, looking out the window of his offices on NW Grand to where the proposed streetcar would run. “It runs in the turn lane. It doesn’t require a dedicated lane like the light rail.
“The only infrastructure is to put the rails in the ground and, if it’s electrified, wire overhead. If it runs through intersections with drain swales it can get expensive but through this proposed way it wouldn’t likely hit them.” Solar or solar/battery options are also being considered.
Graham says GARP’s board, which includes local architect Will Bruder, as well as Terry Goddard and Don Gouth of the Phoenix Community Alliance, believes that rather than squeezing the project into the city’s Reinvent Phoenix plans, it should be part of its transportation plans.
“We’re looking at making it the first leg of a real urban or modern street car program,” he says about the phased proposal, “linking it up to Roosevelt Row where there is a light rail, for people need to get further out (of the downtown corridor).”
Who’s Gonna Use It?
The trolley might serve its highest populations during First Fridays. But we need more things going on that you would want to walk to. As the recession shows albeit slow signs of improving, so does Lower Grand Avenue, the development of which will bring more people who want to walk among the streets rather than seek parking at either end of the neighborhood from McDowell Road to Cibo Restaurant and the historic areas.
And the Funding?
Of course I have to ask him about money, especially if the city thinks like Jeff Speck when last month he said: “Street cars aren’t really transportation; they’re pedestrian expediting.”
Graham lets out a subdued laugh and admits he is in the process of reading Speck’s latest title. “I think Speck was talking about … a solution to the last mile. Your solution is that bicycle.”
Being transit-dependent myself, this is something I can dig. For instance, on that sandstorm day (my first ever such experience), I took my bike to the Tempe Transit Center, got off the light rail at Third and Washington, then biked across some godawful intersections. How much more convenient that streetcar would have been!
“The city just doesn’t have the staff. Through attrition and retirements (forced or not) there just aren’t the people there to put together the big projects like this neighborhood and the trolly system, which is why we’re doing it ourselves. We know the city has no money, so we’re trying to figure out a way to do it all non-profit,” Graham says.
Speck’s point even comes into play in this chicken-versus-egg scenario. To put GARP in gear means going after federal dollars. Still, that requires getting the city to do a feasibility study on the streetcar‘s people-moving stats. The city hasn’t budged.
“They’re afraid that they’re gonna be responsible for funding it.” Federal funds, however, would allow construction to commence. Trolley fares would fund maintenance.
Even the building across the street from MOTLEY reveals public interest in the placemaking and transit ideas fueling GARP. A donor who shall remain anonymous purchased it to serve as the Phoenix Trolley Museum.
This is indeed one of the city’s best chances of creating a viable walkable community. When Graham calls the neighborhood the “Before” of the “Before and After” photos, I see it. I see tourists coming to visit this area….far more frequently than they would come visit The Pin.
By the meeting’s end, my cognitive dissonance turns in his favor. It would create jobs. It would materialize placemaking. It would address vital transportation problems.
Projects like this require input from the public, just like Phoenix’s MyPlanPHX. Talk to your local city council member about this. meanwhile keep your eyes peeled in mod-October when GARP will host its first fund-raiser, held in conjunction with the Grand Avenue Festival.