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10. How transit improves quality of life
Episode 1013th June 2022 • Storylines • Valley Metro
00:00:00 00:21:44

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You don’t have to be a transit rider to experience all the benefits of public transportation. Join Brittany and Madeline as they speak with Valley Metro transportation planners about the Quality of Life study and get a snapshot of how Valley Metro impacts lives in Maricopa County.

Visit valleymetro.life to see the results of the Quality of Life study.

Don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode of Storylines.

Transcripts

Brittany:

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

Madeline:

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.

Madeline:

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

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman.

Madeline:

And I'm Madeline Phipps.

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.

Madeline:

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

Brittany:

Welcome to Storylines.

Madeline:

Hey Brittany.

Brittany:

Hey Maddie.

Madeline:

Okay I have a question for you. How would you rate the quality of your life on a scale of one to five?

Brittany:

Currently a four. I think things could improve. I'm always optimistic things could improve. As we approach summer in the Valley though, it could go down to a three. It gets a little warm here.

Madeline:

Ouch. Okay you're not wrong about that. And I know that's kind of a silly question, but it’s easy to answer that question for yourself. Imagine trying to answer that question for everyone who lives in, works in Maricopa County. How would you do that?

Brittany:

How would we do that? That's what we've undertaken here at Valley Metro. We have taken a deep dive into a look at the region and how Valley Metro is affecting and impacting people here in the Valley for the better. Obviously, there's always room for improvement, but we wanted to take a look at how transportation is giving people opportunity and mobility throughout the Valley.

Madeline:

Well, we can't take all the credit because there's actually a couple of people here at Valley Metro who have been really dedicated to this project for the past year…

Brittany:

Mhm.

Madeline:

…Or more. And they are in our planning department, and they have been studying all the data, the statistics looking at where people live, travel, work, go to school, enjoy tourist destinations. So today we are talking to two of the experts behind our new Quality of Life study.

Peter:

My name is Peter Valenzuela. I'm a transportation planner here at Valley Metro. I work on the capital development projects and I have been with the agency for five years.

Marty:

My name is Marty Ziech. I'm a Planner III here at Valley Metro in the Capital Development division. I have been with the agency just about five years and I work on projects ranging from annual fact sheets and reports all the way up to alternatives, analyses, and large capital studies.

Madeline:

Well, today we are talking about the Quality of Life study, which is a really big project, a really big undertaking that both of you have been involved in. So could you each tell us a little bit about what the Quality of Life study is and how you are involved in it?

Peter:

So to me, the Quality of Life study is an opportunity for us to talk about our performance, to highlight our efforts, but also note the changes in the region that have created opportunities for improvement and for growth and service that we currently provide. And it also highlights why we need to continue to support, from the region to make those improvements.

So it's an opportunity to kind of show the Valley what we've done, where we've come from and where we would like to be.

Marty:

Absolutely Peter. And just to add on that, it's something too that we, as an agency, felt is an important thing, both for our riders and people that actively use the system, to show here's what we're doing and here's all of the benefits that we're providing, but also for those in the Valley that don't use our system to show them that even though they're not active transit riders, Valley Metro still provides them benefits.

It really does benefit everybody regardless or not if they're, you know, riding a bus or a train every day.

Brittany:

Like Peter said, we're taking a snapshot of what the agency and the region looks like now, and then we're taking it one step further. Every few years, analyzing those goals or ideas that we've set into motion. What do we want to improve upon? Have we accomplished that? Is there more growth for us to do as the Valley continues to grow? So, I think this is a great opportunity for our agency to look at what we've accomplished, but also really set those goals and projections for the future that we want to continue to provide transit and transit options in the Valley.

Peter, Marty, we've gotten really close working on this project together. And I know that this is the second iteration. Can you take us back to Quality of Life 1.0, and tell us how we're expanding and growing upon the initial release of the Quality of Life report we did?

Peter:

our years ago, it came out in:

Kind of highlight some of the highlights and also discuss some of the lowlights and just really bring attention to the project overall. And what happened was our 10-year anniversary started to come up right around the time we were looking to release this Quality of Life report. So, we kind of pivoted a little bit and we started to say “Okay, how about we just talk about light rail?”

Let's talk about 10 years of light rail. Where we were 10 years before and here we are 10 years after. For the new study that we're doing, we wanted to follow up on that, but expand it to include our transit network system and really take a deeper dive into the region as a whole and kind of what's happening in the region and how transit is affecting that.

Marty:

The first Quality of Life was really an effort to showcase light rail. It was new to the Valley, it was new to this region and something that people who had lived here for a long time likely had never seen, unless, you know, they'd traveled to another city to experience such a thing.

And so, it was really, here's something that was a transformational once in a generation investment that came into Phoenix. We're the agency that built it. We're the agency that operates it. And so, as we came upon ten years, we really wanted to show here's all of the benefits that this is provided and here's how downtown Phoenix has grown Tempe, Mesa, all throughout the corridor.

It really is a dramatic shift. And so, as Peter had said, this next iteration, what we're calling the Quality of Life 2.0 and as Brittany had said, which is going to be something that is updated every three to five years. Because we're not looking necessarily at one of these large milestones, like a ten-year anniversary of light rail coming into the Valley, we really did want to bring it to everybody that lives here, regardless if they're living right next to a high capacity transit route, or if they're in some of our further out suburbs. Just to show that we are beneficial to the entire region.

Madeline:

I wanted to go through the study and talk about a few of the key points I thought were really interesting. And one of them has to do with the evolving travel patterns and how job creation and job growth plays a role in where people are making their trips, transit or not. So could you talk a little bit about how you collected the data that leads us to determine what those travel patterns are now?

Peter:

The simplified way of explaining it was just kind of looking at where jobs grew over the last, I think we even went back maybe 10 years just to see where jobs were growing in general. And that's measuring employers and employees and seeing where those people are working.

It was interesting what we find, you know, sometimes when you do these studies, you have a thought in mind of okay, I know where the jobs are, so that'll be easy. And then once you start doing the research, you find you’re surprised, like Surprise, Arizona was something that came up.

We noticed there's large job growth there and we noticed that the service doesn't quite match what we have in job growth there. People work in Surprise means they need to get to Surprise somehow. So how can we better serve those people?

And that's something that we took on. That's just a small tidbit from that study. But, really it's just looking at where jobs are and the highest job growth and by job growth I mean number of jobs that have grown because we would look at things like Phoenix is a large area and Phoenix has a large urban core and a large employment core.

Now overall, Phoenix has the higher number of jobs, but what we were trying to measure is where are those other job markets and other transit markets that maybe we're not hitting because we're definitely hitting Phoenix pretty good. So we want to look out a little bit further on the edge.

Madeline:

Marty, since you work a little bit more on the service planning area, how much does data from this Quality of Life study now inform how we plan where transit is going to go? Is that part of the planning process at all?

Marty:

So, this report is really looking at our performance and how we've adapted to past events, meaning that in areas where we see a lot of growth, certainly there have been conversations with member cities about how to address that and if different types of transit would be appropriate or maybe looking more towards what we call TDM strategies.

So that sharetheride.com, vanpool, carpool, those types of efforts to just reduce people's dependency on single occupancy vehicles. And we certainly can serve a lot of different communities, but there's that age old question. We have a limited funding stream. And do we focus on providing frequency of service in busy corridors, so people are not waiting a long time for vehicles or do we expand the area that we provide service in? Which means that we're not going to be able to run as many buses on any given route at any given time, but we can serve more people that way with just less frequent service.

So, there's kind of those different pieces that go into it as well as just our geographies are massive. One of the places that we saw the largest amount of job growth in terms of percentage, and again this gets into that nuance, Gila Bend, actually we do provide transit service to Gila Bend through the 685 rural route. And Gila Bend is one of the top five in terms of percentage job growth. Of course, there is not that large of an employment base in Gila Bend to begin with. So the actual numbers is quite a bit less than you would see in terms of jobs gained in a Tempe or a Phoenix, but we did look towards Gila Bend and just seeing how the service that we do provide out there is able to help them grow their economy and provide just different options for residents there, as well as people that are looking to get in and out of that community.

Brittany:

What is the one thing you want people to take away from the Quality of Life?

Peter:

Our region is growing, and communities have changing travel needs. The region put its faith in us 20 years ago with the approval of Prop 400 to create a high-capacity transit network with long-term impacts that go beyond mobility alone. You know, the people want transportation dollars to generate jobs and housing and business opportunities and to be connected throughout the region.

So, to make sure that we're continually making good on that investment and to recognize the ever-changing needs of our community, we're looking at all the factors that affect the region and transit through the lens of the Quality of Life study. So that would be my hope is that we're able to capture just a piece of that, but it is a very nuanced and varied region and transit has its part, but there are many parts to any region. So, if we can shine a little light on what transportation does and what it could do better, that would be my main goal.

Marty:

In terms of my main takeaway from just completing this study, especially, but, you know, even going back to that initial study that really focused on rail in this region… It was something when I first moved to Phoenix, you know, flying in you see when the city starts and you see all the gleaming pools and you see all of the residential streets kind of winding around everywhere.

And I was thinking to myself, how on earth do we provide transit to this? It just doesn't seem like the type of place that would be necessarily conducive to transit service. But, what the Quality of Life report shows is that we actually have quite a bit of ridership. Our rail system competes against other light rail systems in U.S. in cities that have a lot more density than we do.

People choose to utilize our system. And I know this, being a planner working for the agency and looking through all of the data day to day. But something that I really wanted to make sure became known through this report is that it can be publicly accessible knowledge that we really do provide a service that's not just for people that live on the exact alignment of the light rail system. There are many, many different services we provide. We outline a lot of these in the report and by the time someone reads through all of this, especially looking at some of the more interesting data points and one that pops into my mind in particular is we actually just compare here's what it costs to drive around versus here's what it costs to use our system. And I think that that combined with a lot of the other aspects that we show in this report makes a pretty clear case to anybody reading through it that yes, they might live, you know, on one of those residential streets that doesn't have a bus running right along it, but our system provides ample opportunities for people to access where we do operate fixed route service. And we also provide multiple different ways to get people around that don't include just our core light rail and bus network. So, if we can really show to the public that we're benefiting them and that we do have the ability to provide this reliable and convenient service to a lot more people that are currently using it, then that would be a great takeaway.

Madeline:

Well, that's a lot of information to consume. So we're going to take a story break and we get back we'll take a deep dive into some of the numbers and data points that support all this information.

Peter C:

Check out the newest and coolest ride in Tempe! Streetcar is now in operation and serving locations on Mill Avenue, Rio Salado Parkway, and Apache Boulevard. Rides are free for the first year of operation!

Alex:

Pardon our progress! From April 16th until July 2nd, light rail trains will arrive every 20 minutes, system-wide, due to construction on the Downtown Hub in Phoenix. View the full schedule and learn more at valleymetro.org/pardonourprogress.

Peter C:

Your fare on Valley Metro Rail is covered when you have a ticket to any event at Footprint Center. Just keep your event ticket handy if you are asked for proof of fare by a fare inspector. Find out more by visiting valleymetro.org/railride.

Madeline:

Looking through this report, we have a lot of really impressive statistics and data points. So, I was just wondering if there's one big talking point or number or thing that really surprised you when you were putting together the study.

Marty:

There's a lot of data and a lot of research that went into this report and a lot of really, really interesting statistics and different data points to pick through. But the one that really stands out to me, and this is something that is exciting because our system's growing and so each iteration of Quality of Life that will come out in the future will have this number updated so we can see how that growth is continuing. But essentially, I think a misnomer with a lot of people with our construction projects, the assumption is if you're building light rail, you're building light rail.

And that's what it is. It's a transit investment, done. In reality, a large portion of our budget that goes into any rail construction project in this region is not actually related to the provision of transit service directly. It's everything else around it. As an example, at the time of this speaking with the projects that we currently have underway, $1.2 billion have been spent on improving non-transit infrastructure.

So what I mean by that, we look at utilities along South Central is an example where we're putting in the South Central Extension Downtown Hub. That road has quite a bit of very, very old utilities, including lead water pipes and just other infrastructure that isn't really feasible now that we're, you know, midway into the 21st century.

And so, as a part of this project, Valley Metro, and the costs that we put together for our project also included upgrading all of this infrastructure. It also includes upgrading pedestrian experience. So putting in trees, shade-type structures, new crosswalks, pavement upgrades, new roads, no more potholes, protection for pedestrians as well as for cars.

And I think one piece also that really needs to get mentioned more and to me as a really great draw to our system is public art. Every single one of our rail stations, as well as infrastructure along the alignment, contains public art. And we have a really robust program that puts forth a lot of unique projects that bring to the Valley, something that is just fun and whimsical, and really just helps create and cement that sense of place at each one of our stations.

Brittany:

So, what I'm hearing you say Marty is you don't have to be a transit rider to be able to get all the benefits from transit, right?

Marty:

You are absolutely right Brittany. You do not have to be a transit rider to gain all of the benefits. However, we would hope that if you were to go along the system and see some of our art, see some of the benefits that have been provided, that maybe you consider going into a park-and-ride and taking the train downtown or taking the train wherever you want, or a bus or whatever it may be just to experience the system.

Madeline:

Thank you, Marty. That is a great answer. A great thing to highlight in the study. So, Peter, what about you? Is there a number or a data point or statistic that really surprised you when you were putting this work together?

Peter:

Everything Marty said, I completely agree with. I think, as I was doing the research and kind of gathering this all together, the larger picture started to really come together for me in that the population here is just growing so fast. It's just so many people coming here. Anybody who lives here knows that when they see the housing market or any other indicator of a large population growth.

And for me, as a transportation planner, it puts me a little bit uneasy to know that all these people have to get around our big city, as we sprawl further outwards. And transportation investments are just that much more important. I feel like what we were able to do with the funding available to us 20 years ago got us to a certain level and where we are today, and where we're going to continue to go it's just going to require more support from the community. And that's the thing that I would take away largest from the Quality of Life study is just… we served people during the pandemic who really needed to use transit and it showed. And there's more people out there that, other than, you know, what we would designate as essential workers and things like that, there's large portions of the population that need transit, and also, there are going to be larger populations, or portions of the population that need transit as we continue to grow. There’s less highway investment moving forward in the future then there will be anything else. So, I don't like being in traffic. I don't think anyone else enjoys being in traffic. And that's just a large indicator to me that something else needs to be done. Something else needs to be implemented. And there are other options like transit and maybe people need to kind of pay attention to that a little bit more.

Brittany:

Peter, you brought up a really good point because obviously working in the Communications team, we know about the vehicles and how they do not create many emissions and by incorporating more people on our buses we're still only contributing the same amount of emissions so we can continue to move people, more people, without creating more emissions.

Even if we put more service on the road, our impact is still so much smaller than people in their single occupancy vehicles. As we look at the temperature rising over the next few years. Climate change is going to happen whether we like it or not. So let's do our part to not participate in making those temperatures go higher and get more people on the buses. I think that, for me, was the biggest takeaway was realizing how much we are not contributing to the emissions and what we can do to help our environment for decades to come.

Madeline:

Wow. Well, I certainly learned a lot from you, Brittany and from our guests, Peter and Marty, about all the ways Valley Metro is making an impact on people who live, work, play in the Valley of the Sun.

Brittany:

You're right. Maddie. It's so important to look at our quality of life, not only for the next five years, but for the next 30 years. And so, I think we've really started to do that here with this study. And I'm so excited for what the future looks like. Not only in the Valley, but for public transportation too.

Madeline:

As always, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Storylines. If you have a question about Valley Metro or about transportation or transit in the Maricopa County area, send us an email at podcast@valleymetro.org. We'd love to dive into your question on a future episode of Storylines.

Brittany:

And don't forget, you can subscribe to Storylines where you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe, don't forget to rate and review our podcast as well. We love hearing from our listeners.

Madeline:

For Valley Metro I'm Madeline.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany.

Madeline:

Thanks for riding with us.

Brittany:

We'll meet you at the next stop.

Madeline:

Storylines is produced by Peter Corkery, Alex Tsotsos and Dane Ryals. Taylor Dunn is the executive producer. I'm Madeline Phipps with Brittany Hoffman. Thanks for listening.

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