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I have mixed feelings about the Phoenix Valley Metro Light Rail system. Over a billion dollars to build new infrastructure seems to me like a waste of money. You could buy a lot of busses with that cash and hire many more drivers to expand needed routes in the bus system on roads that already exist. However, I was outvoted, and construction started in March, 2005; operation began on December 27, 2008.
The light rail connects Phoenix, Tempe, and a tiny part of West Mesa. Though I’ve hardly ever used it, two of my children utilized it to get to school. For my daughter, a yearly rail pass was a fraction of the cost of a parking permit at Arizona State University.
Recently, the eastern end of the rail line was extended 3 miles into Mesa, finally reaching its vibrant arts district. Mesa was named by Money magazine in their October 2015 issue as one of the five best “big” cities to live in the country, hitting it out of the park for the Southwest. (Mesa has a population of 461,000; not really my idea of a big city, but what do I know?)
I decided to check out the light rail by taking it into Mesa. A single ride on the light rail costs $2, an all-day pass $4. It took me several tries to buy a pass at the kiosk. Technology 3, Andrea 1.
The light rail is bicycle friendly, and a lot of passengers brought their bikes along.
I’ve always wondered how the train turns around at the end of the line, so I rode all the way to the eastern end. I wasn’t sure where that would be, and I was daydreaming, so I didn’t notice when the scrolling message board on the train stopped functioning and almost everyone got off. After a while, I became aware that we hadn’t resumed moving. There were now only two other people on the train besides me. Two men. At first, I wasn’t concerned, but as time passed, I felt unprotected and wondered if I had made a very bad decision by not disembarking.
About fifteen minutes later, more passengers started getting on the train, and a driver arrived. He took his position in the “cockpit” behind me. (There is a driver’s compartment at each end of the train. He sits in the eastern-facing one to drive east, and in the western-facing one to drive west.) A few minutes later, the train started in reverse (that is, reverse from the first part of my trip, but forward for the return part). Shortly afterward, it came to a switching point and switched tracks to the west-bound one, easy peasy. No turning required—mystery solved.
In Mesa, the light rail runs along Main Street, the historic downtown area, home to quaint, quirky, and quality shops, restaurants, and attractions. I got off at the Center Street station, located right by the Mesa Center for the Arts, venue for concerts, plays, and performances of all kinds, art lessons, and an art museum. Then I headed west along Main Street and looked at some of the shops. At MacDonald Street I turned north to the Arizona Museum of Natural History. (I didn’t go in, but will someday soon, and I’ll post about it then.) After that, I walked back to Main Street and continued my trek to the Country Club station, where I got back on the train and headed home. This is what I saw along the way:
Next Saturday I’ll post a slideshow of public art in Mesa.