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How Transit Spurred Downtown Growth, and Could Shape the Whole City

August 7, 2015 by Brandi Porter

Photo: Fara Illich

Photo: Fara Illich

It’s undeniable: The Downtown Phoenix of today is a dramatically different place from 10 years ago. A new ballot proposition argues that transit is at the center of that change.

On Aug. 25, Proposition 104 asks voters to either invest in a 35-year transportation plan or vote against the proposed tax increase required to fund it.

Over the last decade, downtown saw more than $4 billion in investments including Valley Metro light rail, which greatly contributed to the development of ASU Downtown and serves more than one million people who board the train at Central Station annually.

“We’re building this incredibly vibrant urban center, and a significant contributor to that is the transit system,” said David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc. “And you can see that every day when you look at the scale of the development and people that are on the street.”

Light rail, buses, and an increasingly walkable and bikeable central area have all had an immense impact. And now the City of Phoenix wants to continue the momentum seen in central Phoenix by enhancing transportation options here and citywide.

Funding the proposal requires extending the existing transit sales tax and raising it from 0.4 percent to 0.7 percent until 2050 – that amounts to 70 cents on a $100 purchase.

In a July 27 Prop. 104 debate, City Councilwoman Kate Gallego said the proposed plan would help meet the needs of residents in all parts of the city.

Gallego co-chairs the campaign in support of the proposition, also known as MovePHX, which she says will extend bus service in the northern and southern parts of the city; add roads for companies looking to open near the airport; and create more opportunities for Millennials, who would rather take transit, walk or bike instead of drive.

However, opponents argue that a low percentage of commuters use transit, particularly light rail, which they criticize as obsolete and too expensive.

Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said buses are a cheaper and more efficient mode of transportation. And in the future, he said self-driving cars could eliminate the need for all forms of transit, including buses.

But according to Krietor, the investment in transportation is vital to building an urban city, which in turn will create a healthier economy.

“We’re just in this brutal competition with the rest of the country in terms of attracting and retaining educated young people,” he said. “You are not going to do that with an exclusively suburban city — it’s just not going to happen.”

Early ballots for the August election went out July 30 and Election Day is August 25. Learn more about Phoenix elections here and find more information about Yes On Prop. 104 at