Friday, June 26, 2009

Public Transportation

Phoenix is a good place to indulge an interest in urban design. There is a lot of interesting late Twentieth-Century architecture downtown, and new buildings are always on the way up. I think the place is particularly appealing for me partly because downtown Albuquerque is such an architectural disaster area. Also, it is about as easy to get around in Phoenix as in Albuquerque, even though the Arizona city is much the larger.

Phoenicians probably thought the traffic jam on Central due to the light rail construction would never end. Now that it is operational, however, one of the most impressive aspects of the new system is the way it fits so seamlessly into the city grid. The trolleys have their own lane down the middle of the streets and the rate of travel is well-coordinated with the lights and traffic flow to interfere very minimally with the vehicular traffic. The sleek design of the trolley cars and the minimalist stations fits very nicely with the look of the city.

At present, the ticketing system is largely symbolic. The saguaro-enhanced tickets are dispensed from machines near the stops at a reasonable rate of $2.50 for all-day transportation. Nobody bothers to check if riders actually have tickets after boarding, but I suppose that will change once the ridership is firmly established.

Electronic parking meters and ticketing machines like those in Phoenix have recently become nearly as ubiquitous as the ATM. The previous generations of such devices, while based on mechanical designs, nevertheless incorporated many of the same concepts for managing service delivery currently in use. There is a very fine article on the development of ticket-dispensing to be found at the Design Observer blog.

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