Phoenix Drivers Confused by Light Rail

The light-rail line in Phoenix has been running for a year now. But automobile drivers are still having trouble getting used to dealing with the ...
by | December 11, 2009

The light-rail line in Phoenix has been running for a year now. But automobile drivers are still having trouble getting used to dealing with the trains. In the past 12 months, there have been 51 accidents involving the trains.

I was in Phoenix in May 2008 to report a Governing story about the city's inaugural attempt at rail transit. One of the biggest concerns the city had was how to get residents -- almost none of whom have ever had to deal with mass transit -- to pay attention.

Here's what I wrote then:

There's also the challenge of building and operating a rail system in an area where drivers and pedestrians simply aren't accustomed to sharing the road with a train. That was a huge problem in Houston when that city opened its first light-rail line several years ago. The first train-car collision occurred during the testing phase, before the system was officially open. By mid-2004 -- six months into operations -- Houston's METRORail set a new record for most accidents in a year. Critics dubbed the Houston lines the "Streetcar Named Disaster" or the "Wham-Bam-Tram."

Since then, Houston and other cities have put more of an emphasis on educating drivers and pedestrians. Phoenix actually overhauled its blueprints in response to the accidents in Houston. "We were 65 percent into our design process and we went back to the drawing board," says Maria Hyatt, assistant to the Phoenix city manager. The city redesigned many of the intersections where trains and automobile traffic would meet. New features were added, such as large sidewalk planters to discourage pedestrians from walking into the path of a train. "All of the changes were a result of going to Houston and seeing where their accidents were occurring and why they were occurring."

Looks like, despite the best efforts in Phoenix, this is still an issue.

Zach Patton  |  Executive Editor
zpatton@governing.com  | 

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