Imagine this: a few years from now, you’re enjoying happy hour at your favorite new wine in the vibrant Warehouse District just a few blocks south of Downtown, with a shiny new light rail line just a block or two away on Central Ave. As you consider whether you have time for one more glass—or, if you’re anything like us, one last email—you check an app that tells you your train home will arrive in 3 minutes and 15 minutes. You decide to take the extra time to fit in that one last email and, as you’re walking to the station, you use an app to reload your fare card instead of waiting in line at a kiosk. The train arrives on time! On the short ride home, your app tells you what bars, restaurants or theaters you could hop off and visit. A few minutes later you’re home—without having to deal with parking, traffic or delayed trains—and you have a few ideas for how the city can incorporate more and even smarter technology into its daily operations. So you share your idea online, and City Hall actually listens. And responds. And gets it right!
If everything goes according to Mayor Greg Stanton’s plan, that’s the kind of Phoenix we could see in just a few years. The Mayor last year championed Proposition 104, which institutes a small sales tax increase to pay for a $31.5 billion (with a B!) overhaul of Phoenix’s transit and road system. New light rail lines, bus routes and streets will connect disparate parts of the Valley, which is slated for a 45% population increase in the next 24 years. How refreshing: a city actually planning ahead rather than playing catch up (looking at you, LA!)
Public transit ridership is already skyrocketing, with a 40% increase since 2001. While that ridership is diverse, one of the fastest growing user groups are millennials looking to get out of their cars and reconnect with the urban environment. Their employers and the city are both taking notice. The Mayor told The Atlantic’s CityLab that: “The companies and entrepreneurs that provide the highest-quality jobs—technology, science, etc.—the employees of these companies won’t come to a place that doesn’t have a great bicycle culture or a great walkable culture. None of those things are going to happen by accident. They’re going to be smart policy choices made by leaders who understand how important it is.”
Sounds about right to us.
Mayor Stanton, who was handily reelected last year in large part because of his leadership on this issue, clearly realizes that transportation and a growing technology sector are inextricably linked. Without a doubt, a strong transit network enables the tech community’s physical growth. But the Mayor and his team also seem to understand that technology can help inform and improve the transit systems they build.
We had the opportunity to speak with Maria Hyatt, the City’s Transportation Director, about how technology is supporting transportation and vice versa. She told us that the Mayor has been focused from the start on including the tech community in his goals.
“One of the Mayor’s early efforts was to bring the hackers in interpret real-time, open data, starting with transportation data,” said Hyatt. “He has been very focused on using technology to build a better city.”
Stanton, Hyatt and their team realized almost immediately that, to truly connect with millennials, they had to expand planning conversations beyond City Council hearings and town halls meetings that—let’s be honest—aren’t the most exciting way to spend a night after work. So they turned to sites like talktrasportation.org and My Sidewalk to gather community input and make sure that all PHX residents had a say in the future of our city. Stanton and Hyatt reached out to tech community and millennials especially, asking what they’d like to see the city’s transit network become.
The result was a transportation plan with an inclusive, high-tech vision of the Valley’s future, with buses and light rail connections to the places people want to eat, shop, work, live and play.
Innovative ideas from the private sector have added tremendous value to the City’s planning efforts. “At the end of the day,” says Hyatt, “government can’t do everything, nor should it. So we continue to listen, engage and partner with the community.”
You can learn more about Mayor Stanton’s Phoenix Transportation 2050 plan here: https://www.phoenix.gov/publictransitsite/MediaAssets/T2050_flyer.pdf
So, what do you want the City to know as they continue to reinvent Phoenix? Tell us in the comments and we’ll let them know. Speak up!