Light Rail Light on Facts

In this My Turn column in the Scottsdale Republic this morning, light rail promoter Jim Derouin–an otherwise decent fellow who got hoodwinked into this fight-by-proxy courtesy of City Councilwoman Virginia Korte–has reached for the snake oil to support his arguments. My comments are inserted in bold.

Railing against regional transit ignores benefits to Scottsdale

Mike Fernandez, a self-declared guardian of Scottsdale even though he is not a Scottsdale resident, objects to the Scottsdale Re­public referring to him as “paranoid” when he told the mayor and City Coun­cil that light rail is a “crime delivery system” that will bring rape, murder, assault, theft, arson and drug peddling to Scottsdale. Well, sometimes words speak for themselves.

It is curious to me that Derouin has never in my memory even once criticized for their residency Scottsdale developers who don’t live here, nor other non-resident “stakeholders”–the term preferred by the Chamber of Commerce for Scottsdale business owners who live in other cities. As Derouin says, ‘words speak for themselves.’ So do shoot-the-messenger arguments. Derouin conveniently ignores the fact that Fernandez owns one of the oldest businesses on Scottsdale Road. See also a previous ScottsdaleTrails article about crime in Bloomington, Minn.

The thrust of the petition presented to the City Council by Jerry Gettinger and me on May 7 asked that the city undertake further evaluation of the transit recommendations included in, and unanimously approved by the may­or and City Council, in the Transporta­tion Management Plan in January 2008.

A Phase I alternatives study was done as part of the 2008 TMP; the pet­ition simply asked staff, in effect, to proceed with further study of the al­ternatives recommended in it. For the record, the TMP specifically recom­mended against light rail through downtown Scottsdale [emphasis added] while, at the same time, considered a wide variety of al­ternatives to connect Scottsdale to the Val­ley- wide Metro transit network that now ex­tends from the far side of Phoenix (approach­ing Glendale) through Tempe and into Mesa.

The sentence in bold above is really the linchpin of the argument against light rail in Scottsdale. Even if proponents could defeat all the arguments against light rail (that it works no better than the buses it will cannibalize, that it is ten times more expensive per rider and no faster, etc.), there’s no point in doing it here if we can’t go through Downtown.

Fernandez argues that the regional transit system, which has become so important to Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa and which carries 13.5 million riders annually, is being promoted by two polar interests: developers and “big­ government liberalism.” That’s a strange combination and ignores the fact that small-government conserva­tive mayors in Glendale, Tempe and Mesa have supported regional transit and that it is taxpayers who benefit from it.

I didn’t read anything about the “regional transit system” in Fernandez’s column. Whether that system carries 13.5 million riders is completely irrelevant to Fernandez’s concerns. I can tell you that the portion of that 13.5 million carried by light rail is paltry. And while I don’t know the mayors of Tempe and Mesa very well, the former mayor of Glendale was anything BUT conservative…which is why Glendale is in so much financial trouble right now.

While the construction cost for the light-rail portion of the Metro was $1.4 billion, private investment along its route in the last five years alone has been more than $5.4 billion. Regional transit is an investment multiplier and the beneficiaries of that investment are the cities that have seen their property ­tax revenues increase, their sales-tax revenues increase, their employment increase and their congestion decrease.

First of all, I’d like to see the source of Derouin’s ‘data’ on private investment, property tax revenues, and sales tax bump. I’d also like to see the often- and conveniently-ignored economic loss suffered by businesses during construction of the light rail line, many of which were family-owned businesses that had been there for decades.

Derouin also conveniently ignores the fact that the TMP consultant said specifically that light rail is about development, not about transportation. Or maybe that’s the self-defeating argument he’s trying to make?

The animosity toward “modern street cars” is also perplexing because that option, while also on tracks and electric, is smaller, cheaper, allows cars to use the same lane of traffic and is quicker and less disruptive to con­struct. For these reasons, it is the tech­nology that ASU plans on designing into the new 2 million square-foot State Farm project at Tempe Town Lake so that this huge new development, and its 8,000 new employees, can be tied into Tempe-proper as well as connected to the regional transit system.

“Modern street cars,” are better than light rail like shooting yourself in the foot with a .22-caliber slug is better than a .44-caliber. Tracks are extremely hazardous to two-wheel vehicles…and downtown Tempe is FULL of two-wheel vehicles. Modern street cars also do not ‘connect’ to anything else, any more than a light rail train will ‘connect’ with a bus. Riders still have to transfer. Transfers and ‘the last half mile’ kill the effectiveness of any mass transit, especially light rail.

The unanimously approved 2008 Transportation Master Plan and the Phase I high-capacity transit-alterna­tives evaluation were based on more than a dozen other studies and sub­jected to broad public comment. Fur­ther, the high-capacity transit issue was subsequently considered in the five-­year review of the city’s tourism plan and in the General Plan visioning proc­ess.

Regional transit is not a conspiracy by developers, liberals, arsonists, mur­derers, rapists and drug lords. This is foolishness and should not be accepted as an excuse to prevent Scottsdale from realizing the increased economic bene­fit and employment opportunities that other neighboring communities are deriving from partaking in a modern, metropolitan-wide, integrated regional transportation system.

James Derouin is a lawyer who has lived in Scottsdale with his family for almost 30 years. He was previously involved in the adoption of the city’s ethics code.

In closing, calling your opponent a conspiracy theorist is no substitute for facts, Jim. And opting out of light rail is not the same as not “partaking in a modern, metropolitan-wide, integrated regional transportation system.” We already participate strongly in this system.

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  1. They all need to catch up with the MAG Transportation Admin., Regional Transit Authority, citizens (especially those who ride public transit and live in southern Scottsdale, and BRT. Where have these people been?

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