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26. Going carless with Culdesac
Episode 2628th September 2023 • Storylines • Valley Metro
00:00:00 00:22:50

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In this episode, hosts Brittany and Juliana speak with Erin Boyd of Culdesac about why the developer chose Tempe to build its first car-free community in the United States. Plus, learn how Culdesac helped expand Valley Metro’s Platinum Pass program for more inclusivity.

Transcripts

Brittany:

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your daily commute?

Juliana:

Or how transportation impacts the community you call home?

Brittany:

Maybe you want to explore outside your community and don't know where to start.

Juliana:

Well, you're in luck because this is where you hop on.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman.

Juliana:

And I'm Juliana Vazquez-Keating,

Brittany:

We work in Communications for Valley Metro. And together, we'll discover all the ways that public transit enhances lives across the cities we serve.

Juliana:

And we might even make some new friends along the way.

Brittany:

Welcome to Storylines. Julianna, this episode is a great example of why we started the Storylines podcast. We're going to take you and all of our listeners on a journey and share the story of Culdesac. How the car-free community is changing the East Valley and expanding Valley Metro opportunities.

Juliana:

To learn more about Culdesac creating new opportunities at Valley Metro, and that includes expanding our Platinum Pass program.

Brittany:

Erin:

My name is Erin Boyd, and I lead Government and External Affairs for Culdesac Tempe.

Juliana:

All right, Erin. Here at Valley Metro we’re already pretty big fans of Culdesac, but for those who are not familiar, can you give us a brief introduction about Culdesac and the vision behind it?

Erin:

Thank you, Juliana. So at Culdesac, we are building the first ever car-free neighborhood built from scratch in the U.S. And so that means that we're making a neighborhood for people rather than cars. And so in your typical apartment complex, there's at least one parking spot, if not more for each apartment. So if you think about your typical apartment, you walk into a hallway and then you go into a big parking garage. Or you walk out into a parking spot into your garage and then onto your street and off to your day. At Culdesac, when you walk out your front door, you see a friendly courtyard, your neighbors, and local businesses that are all right steps from your front door. So it's a whole different kind of design.

Brittany:

What are some of the key elements when you're designing a walkable community, no cars allowed kind of environment?

Erin:

Yeah, so by having zero residential parking, we have 55 percent open space. And so that means we have park space instead of parking lots. We have local businesses, including a restaurant, a bike shop, a coworking space, as well as a grocery store right outside the front door. So that's over 20,000 square feet of retail. And we have zero percent asphalt. So, especially in the Phoenix area, when you have no asphalt, that means that the temperatures here on site between the shade of the buildings zero asphalt. And then, all of the lovely landscaping means it's about 10 degrees cooler walking around Culdesac than in your average neighborhood.

Juliana:

Wow. You won me over with just it being cooler there with no asphalt.

Erin:

Exactly. So, in addition to having the aspects of the built environment, it also supports the social connection. So people want to be social and they just need a neighborhood that facilitates that. And so, at Culdesac we're building this walkable neighborhood and that means it's actually easy to walk everywhere and there's lots to do. So in addition to being able to go to your local restaurant where the bartender knows your name or your local grocer, who's going to have your favorite items in stock. We also have weekly markets. And so these are night markets every Thursday night, Little Cholla. And so this has over 20 local micro retailers so you can get your favorite socks, soap, farmers market items in addition to public events. And so these events, everything from free art nights, so arts and crafts for the family, to a K pop dance night, comedy nights. every week it's a different programming. And so you'll have to check out our social media, Little Cholla Market, for all of the updates on our weekly market events and programming.

Juliana:

Wow. So you've got your shopping, your restaurants, and your entertainment all in this community.

Erin:

All together and so, the key thing is the mobility connections. So not only can our residents appreciate and enjoy everything all in one place, but we are right on the light rail. So we're at the Smith-Martin/Apache light rail station. And so in fact, I just had a meeting right before this with a partner from Local First Arizona, and they support all of our local businesses at Culdesac, including a compost program that we have at the restaurant. He arrived on the light rail. He realized that that was the best way to get to Culdesac Tempe. And we want to encourage others to come by a light rail as well.

Juliana:

That brings us to our next question. While besides it being by the light rail, why did you choose Tempe as the first car-free neighborhood in the U.S.?

Erin:

I'd say Arizona is a great place to build and Tempe specifically. So Tempe mayor and council have a vision for a 20 minute city. And so where anyone in the city of Tempe can get by walking, biking, or by Valley Metro within 20 minutes, all of your basic daily needs. And so this fit right into that city's vision for that walkable neighborhood. And then beyond that, the city has invested on housing along the light rail. So they believed in our vision for being on the light rail station building amenities not just for our residents, but also for the broader community. And Tempe is a great city. It's growing fast. And so we knew that a lot of people actually wanted to move, from even out of state, to move to Tempe because of the amenities that it has here in town.

Brittany:

Yeah, I know that location is so great because you're right, it is right off the light rail and it fits into everything that Tempe is looking to do with their city in general, especially being so landlocked as they are.

Erin:

Exactly. And you think about the climate action plan as well. So, with Tempe being one of the first cities in Arizona to pass a climate action plan, it's very important to reduce congestion, get fewer cars on the road and so Culdesac is a key part of that vision as well. And for example, we are partnering with the city of Tempe as a mobility hub. And so, what that means is that we have a combination of different ways of getting around all in one place. So once again, not just for our residents, but also for the local community. So we have that light rail stop. We have pick up and drop off for Lyft and Uber, so your ride shares. We have electric vehicles to rent in the parking lot. We have a bike shop on site. Bird scooters that you can get those electric scooters up and running from this location and last but not least for now also a Waymo and Cruise autonomous vehicle pickup and drop off spot.

Brittany:

You have really got it all. You are the multimodal factory that, you know, Tempe is excited to explore. Those are all great options for transportation, but as you mentioned, we do have a light rail stop out there and this isn't our first partnership. So how have you been partnering with Valley Metro before you even opened your doors?

Erin:

I say there's three really important parts of our partnership with Valley Metro. The first is a new light rail crossing right into the neighborhood. So the light rail station was already here, the Smith-Martin/Apache light rail station. But we found that the connection points into the neighborhood at Culdesac and also across the street on the north side of Apache was lacking that connection point. So we built an entirely new crosswalk with a stop light actually timed to the light rail so you could be sipping your coffee at our coffee shop and then when the light rail gets there, that light will stop. You can cross the crosswalk and get right onto your train. And that's a really important partnership we did with the city of Tempe and Valley Metro. A second element that's very important partnership with Valley Metro, is actually a whole new ordinance that we were able to pass where multifamily housing can now provide the Platinum Pass to their residents. Which is incredible. So previously, the Platinum Pass was just for employers, and we said, hey Valley Metro, wouldn't it be great if all of multifamily housing along the light rail could also provide the Platinum Pass, which is unlimited rides on the light rail, as you know, to their residents to encourage, and support, ridership on the light rail. They said, absolutely, great idea. And so Culdesac is one of the first apartment complexes that will be Including that Platinum Pass as part of our rent package.

Juliana:

That is amazing. Any way we can increase ridership is great, and the Platinum Pass is a great way to do that, especially for a residential area being a first. That's so great.

Erin:

Yeah, and I would say we've also been partnering with the Valley Metro Commute Solutions team.

Juliana:

We love them too!

Erin:

We love the Commute Solutions team at Valley Metro. And so we are actually a smaller business So we're not required to participate in the TRP, which is a trip reduction program, but we voluntarily participate in the trip reduction program to encourage our employees as well as our residents to choose multi modes of transportation outside of driving alone in their own vehicle to commute to work. But beyond that, we also are very proud that we received one of the awards from Valley Metro last year for our Little Cholla events. We provide a $5 token to be used at the food trucks or any of the vendors for anyone who comes to Little Cholla, not in their own private vehicle. And so, we're actually also promoting alongside Valley Metro, a culture of multimodal commutes. 09:33 Juliana Wow, you guys have got a lot going on. You've got a lot figured out. But, what's next for Culdesac? Are there any upcoming projects or expansions on the horizon?

Erin:

So the expansion that we're planning right now is right here in Tempe. We will have 174 apartments open by March and 174 car-free residents coming to Tempe. And that's only the beginning. Eventually we'll have over 760 apartments in the Culdesac Tempe site. We're 17 acres. And so, we will be focusing on our growth of bringing on those new residents between now and March, and then the continuing construction to welcome more residents to the neighborhood.

Juliana:

Wow, so how many residents do you guys have at the moment?

Erin:

Juliana:

Erin:

It's a great start, and they are amazing residents, so we've had people following the project, and excited to move in. In fact, many even moving in from out of state, specifically to move at Culdesac. And out first building that opened was the market building, which is above our grocery store, and we want to welcome everyone out. So, this is early September, the first week. At the end of this week, our grocery store, Street Corner Urban Market will be opening, which will be the only grocery store in a few mile radius of Culdesac Temple site, and it's open to the public and can't wait to welcome the neighborhood here. To open the grocery store.

Brittany:

That's so exciting that Culdesac is really not only focusing on their residents, but the community as a whole. I think having all of these additional assets to the community as a whole is just a big, I think it's going to be huge, especially for that light rail stop and beginning that growth in the area. So where can people learn more about Culdesac?

Erin:

Please come to Culdesac.com. So on our website, we have information about our apartments that are open now. So we have Studio one, two, and three bedroom apartments. And those are all available on our website with pricing and anytime anyone would love to do a tour, you can find us at live.tempe at Culdesac.com. Email us and we would love to set up a tour to take you, along to see what car free living is all about.

Juliana:

So I saw something on your website. Are you guys offering like short stays to try it out? Is that still available?

Erin:

Absolutely. I'm so glad that you brought that up, Juliana. So yes, on our website, you can also find out more about stay at Culdesac. And so, whether it's a long weekend staycation to come and check out our Little Cholla events, which happen every Thursday night, or if people actually want to try it out for even up to a month to see what it's like to live without a car, looking to take the leap, but want to give it a shot. We'll have beautifully furnished, apartment rentals to come stay at Culdesac and give it a try.

Juliana:

Awesome. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Erin:

We would love to welcome the entire Phoenix community to come out and join us at Little Cholla. It's every Thursday night from 7 to 9 p.m. And don't forget to come by Valley Metro and you'll get your $5 token when you show up.

Brittany:

Juliana, I kind of want to move to Tempe now. I feel like Culdesac might be a place for me. How are you feeling?

Juliana:

I'm feeling good. I'm excited about Culdesac because we know the Valley is so car centric and they are working to change that.

Brittany:

They're not just changing the East Valley. Culdesac is also helping to change and expand programs at Valley Metro. After the break, you'll learn more.

Peter:

It's a great time to be a sports fan in the Valley. Your ticket to any Phoenix Suns game counts as light rail fare to Footprint Center. Not only that, but your ticket to any Phoenix Rising game is good for light rail fare to their stadium at 38th Street and Washington. Learn more by going to valleymetro.org/railride.

Alex:

October is Ride Share Month and all year round you can find information for vanpooling, carpooling, and taking public transit at ShareTheRide.com

Peter:

Electric buses are on the way. Learn about the benefits of the new vehicles by going to Valley Metro's Inside the Ride blog. Visit valleymetro.org\blog.

Brittany:

Juliana, did you know that you, me, and everyone else at Valley Metro is part of the Platinum Pass program? Yes.

Juliana:

Brittany I love being able to ride transit for free, especially if it gets rid of my long commute from Gilbert.

Brittany:

It's free for you, your employer's paying for it. So let's learn more about the Platinum Pass program and how it's expanding with the addition of Culdesac.

Karen:

My name is Karen Sypniewski, and I'm the Fare Programs Administrator for the City of Phoenix Public Transit Department.

Juliana:

What is the Platinum Pass and how did it get started?

Karen:

So the Platinum Pass program was developed as an account-based solution for school, companies and other organizations to support the public transportation needs of their students and employees and also to assist organizations in Maricopa County's travel reduction program, meet their travel reduction goals. If they subsidize at least 50 percent of the cost of the passes. The Platinum Pass, which is unlike the paper passes currently being used on the regional transit system, uses a smart card technology to operate somewhat like a credit card, where you use it throughout the month and you pay for it later. So we call it a post pay fare. And as cardholders ride transit, they tap the pass on the reader and the ride is recorded. At the end of the month, the rides are tallied up for each card. And the school or employer that the card is linked to receives an invoice for the total monthly usage on each of the cards they issued. The added benefit is the total invoice will never exceed the cost of the equivalent monthly pass. So we say the amount caps out at 64 on a full fare Platinum Pass that is used on local bus and rail. The cap is 32 for a reduced fare Platinum Pass used on local bus and rail. And the cap or maximum amount invoiced is 104 for a pass that's used on Rapid Express services.

Juliana:

How many members or organizations do you have currently in the Platinum Pass program?

Karen:

So right now we have about 250 organizations participating in the program. that number fluctuates every month. We have, you know, 1 or 2 drop off and we're always getting new inquiries and new customers signing up.

Brittany:

Awesome. Karen, this sounds like a fabulous program and obviously people would want to participate. How do they do that?

Karen:

Since the passes are not issued to individuals, if a transit rider is interested in the Platinum Pass program, I would recommend they reach out to their school or employer to find out if they participate in the program. If they do not already participate in the program, the school or employer can visit Valley Metro's website for more information on how the program works. And if they're interested in signing up or have more questions, the organization can always contact us here at the City of Phoenix Public Transit Department. And we would be happy to answer any questions and help determine if the program is a good fit for the school or organization.

Brittany:

So Karen, you told us how many organizations are participating in the Platinum Pass program. How many people do you think have issued a card?

Karen:

Oh, boy, that's a good question. we have about 100, 000 cards in circulation. But, not all of those are actually issued. So some of the organizations keep a stock on hand, you know, when they get new employees, they issue them. So, if I had to guess, we probably have maybe about 50,000 that are issued.

Brittany:

Oh, wow. That's impressive.

Juliana:

That's a great segue into the next question. You said that the Platinum Pass was previously for employers only, but how did Culdesac expand this program?

Karen:

So back in, somewhere around August of 2020, a representative from Culdesac reached out, at the time Culdesac was building a car free community steps away from the Smith-Martin/Apache Boulevard light rail station in Tempe. And they reached out to Valley Metro and expressed an interest in providing transit solutions as a benefit for their future residents. They were particularly interested in the Platinum Pass program, and it was a brand-new idea to have a residential community provide passes to their residents as the program was originally limited to schools and employers under, Phoenix and Valley Metro's fare policy. So in order for this to work, we actually had to amend the fare policy to broaden the eligibility requirements of the Platinum Pass program. So we brought the idea to our regional partners and transit committees, and there was overwhelming support to move forward with revising the fare policy to allow Culdesac and similar organizations the option to offer the Platinum Pass to their tenants or residents. And ultimately, Phoenix City Council passed the amendment to the Fare Ordinance and Valley Metro's board members approved as well. And Culdesac was there every step of the way during the process. And I was really impressed to see such passion and a commitment to support public transit.

Brittany:

They are big public transit supporters over at Culdesac, and so I'm really glad that they did this. I'm guessing that since the fare policy was amended, that opens the door for other kind of residential places as well, right?

Karen:

Oh, yes, absolutely. Since the Platinum Pass program was expanded, it does open the door for other residential communities to offer this benefit to their tenants or residents, and it's definitely a great transit benefit to consider, especially for communities like Culdesac that have great access to public transit right at their doorstep.

Juliana:

Yeah, Brittany and I were actually just discussing this. We said since there's so many, like complexes on our light rail alignments, it could be an extra perk that they could add for their residents. So what other changes are coming for the Platinum Pass and other specialty cards?

Karen:

So early in 2024, the City of Phoenix, in collaboration with Valley Metro, is modernizing the fare system, and the current passes will be replaced with new cards. With that transition, there's going to be some exciting changes to all the pass programs. One of the biggest changes is our customers will have access to a new online portal, where they will have the ability to manage their account and all their cards. So for example, they can deactivate cards, order new cards, print copies of invoices and make changes to their account, like update their address and contact information, currently, they send these types of requests to the transit team to handle, and we respond to confirm their request is processed. So we're excited to offer a more efficient and streamlined experience for our customers.

Brittany:

Karen, you and I work very closely on the fare project together. So this is exciting news for both of us. We're very excited about this.

Karen:

Yes, absolutely.

Brittany:

What else could you tell us about the fare project heading into next year?

Karen:

So we're also exploring additional options down the road, like adding the Platinum Pass to the Valley Metro app. So if anyone is interested in finding out more information about the overall Fare Technology Modernization Project, they can visit Valley Metro's website at valleymetro.org/faretechnology for project updates, timelines, and general information about the project.

Brittany:

Juliana, I was so excited to learn about the Platinum Pass program. Not only because we get to benefit, but because as part of the Fare Technology Modernization Project, I didn't know all the background history of the Platinum Pass and how it's going to evolve. So, I'm very excited to learn all about that.

Juliana:

I'm excited about how the Platinum Pass is expanding and improving the experience for our riders.

Brittany:

Anything we can do to enhance the lives of riders is a positive in my book. And the Platinum Pass is just one of the things happening with the Fare Technology Modernization Project. We're going to be talking about it more on the Storylines Podcast, so subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Juliana:

For Valley Metro, I'm Juliana.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany.

Juliana:

Thanks for riding with us.

Brittany:

We'll meet you at the next stop.

Juliana:

Storylines is produced by Alex Tsotsos and Dane Ryals. Peter Corkery is the executive producer. For Brittany Hoffman, I'm Juliana Vazquez-Keating. Thanks for listening.

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