Rail Alternatives

This op-ed appeared in the Arizona Republic this morning. It’s worthy of reprint because while it mentions light rail, it also outlines some really good steps that could be taken independently of light rail to improve transit…as opposed to facilitating high-density development and profits for developers, which is what light rail is really about.

Investing in infrastructure is vital to Valley’s future growth

The American Society of  Civil Engineers recent­ly  released its “report card” on the state of American infrastructure. Frankly, the results aren’t good. As a coun­try,  we received a D+, and in Arizona, the infrastructure merited a C.

No other part of any indus­try  in the world is competing and winning with machines, technology or systems that are even one-third as old as the national infrastructure in the U.S.
Our nation is equipped with roads, bridges and ports from the early to mid-20th century, and pipes and rail lines from the 19th century.

But the news isn’t all bad. What these rankings show us is that we have an enormous opportunity to make infra­structure  improvements that will help create our compet­itive  advantage in the 21st­century  global market and increase economic growth in our cities.

The Valley is one region especially poised for this op­portunity.  It has a light-rail system, which has been ex­panding  since its introduction in 2008. But, as one of the fastest-growing states in the country and as a member of the 15 largest metro areas in the U.S., the need for infra­structure  that can support quality of life for its citizens and economic growth is para­mount.

And, the opportunities are here and ready for action. From its “Reinvent Phoenix” initiative, a planning process for five “urban” districts around the light-rail system, to the proposed citywide bike­share  program to lessen traf­fic  congestion and reduce CO2 emissions, Phoenix and the Valley are ready to lead the way.

One key to realizing this potential is a focus on mo­bility.  The report card  stated cur­rent  road infrastructure in Arizona is costing motorists $205 a person per year.

The International Munici­pal  Signal Association is host­ing  its annual meeting in Scottsdale this week, specifi­cally  focused on intelligent, safe mobility technologies for a more sustainable trans­portation system. These solu­tions  can allow buses to deliv­er  riders to their destinations faster, offer drivers mobile applications that indicate open parking spots and centralize a city’s mobility infrastructure in a single control center.
There are five practical solutions that could have a significant impact on metro Phoenix’s infrastructure:

  • Intelligent and adaptive traffic signals that can reduce congestion daily and during special events. 
  • A GPS-based bus rapid ­transit  system that uses “vir­tual”  detection zones and a fleet’s on-board computers to automatically request a green light when behind schedule.
  • A centralized control center that manages infra­structure  technologies within the city to ensure solutions are working in sync. 
  • Smart mobility that in­tegrates  public transportation with bike and car sharing to support adoption of alterna­tive  transportation.
  • “Connected vehicle” tech­nology  that allows mobile devices and navigation sys­tems  to wirelessly communi­cate  and warn drivers in emer­gency  situations to help avoid collisions.

There always remains the question of how to make these projects happen. There is funding available for infra­structure.  Unfortunately, it often only gets released dur­ing  emergencies or disastrous events, or simply when infra­structure  is already crum­bling.  Though no one is ad­vocating  that this reactionary funding should not exist, there is a case to be made that proactively installing technol­ogy  that increases efficiency will help mitigate future chal­lenges  and lessen the increas­ing  costs of fixing something that’s broken.

Also, when the private and public sectors work collab­oratively  to develop solutions, it is a win/win situation. These alliances can encourage the free market to respond more resourcefully, not only to to­day’s  problems but also to tomorrow’s.

Collaborations between the sectors can allow cities to address both challenges to and opportunities in infrastruc­ture  development.

Phoenix has the opportuni­ty  to build and invest in infra­structure  that will be high tech, integrated, reliable and resilient. Smarter infrastruc­ture  will make the Valley more competitive and worthy of its citizens and America.

Peter Torrellas is chief technology officer for Siemens Mobility and Logistics Division within the Siemens Infrastructure and Cities Sector.

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