Coffee heat rising

Maybe I’m too extreme about this…?

It’s not really the money. It’s the principle of the thing.

Yesterday I drove down to the dentist’s office to get a cleaning and also to discuss building a new night guard, mine having been rendered questionably useful by a couple of recent crowns. Dr. D’s practice is housed on the sixth floor of a midtown high-rise. His office is nice, but what’s really  nice is Dr. D, whose taste in procedures is minimalist and who is personally a very charming man.

Driving down there is a bit of a pain, because you have to cross over the train tracks, which involves an endless wait at the left-turn light to get onto the side street where the parking garage is located. The lightrail pretty much destroyed Central Avenue as a viable road, something one finds peculiarly annoying when one contemplates the millions and millions of taxpayer dollars’ worth of beautiful, exquisitely tended landscaping and public art torn  up and replaced with ugly railroad tracks and overhead electric lines.

To get to Dr. D’s office, you have three choices: drive down Seventh Avenue to Indian School, then over to Central and down to Catalina—a process that entails not one but two tedious left turns across the train tracks, where the light stays red for half your lifetime; drive down Central Avenue to Catalina, which puts you into a lot of slow traffic but requires only one time-consuming left turn; or drive across one of the main drags north of the train tracks on Camelback all the way to Seventh Street, then across Indian School or McDowell to Third Street, then over Third to Catalina, then across Catalina to the parking garage on Central, a round-about route that takes you more than two miles out of your way and adds four extra miles to your round trip. Not one of these strategies is ideal, but except for the latter, it takes about 15 minutes to get there.

Okay, so I get parked, ride the elevator up to Dr. D’s office, and bound into the reception area brandishing my parking ticket to be validated…and what do I see but a sign on the receptionist’s desk:

Due to a change in the building management’s policy, we can no longer validate parking. Parking fees are $1.00 per half hour.

Well, hell and damn. I don’t carry money with me! So, I didn’t have a dollar to get my car out of the parking garage! Or more like two or three bucks, because a cleaning takes about an hour by the time you sit around waiting to be seen. Maybe three or four bucks if he decided to fit me for a new bite guard, because that process takes for-freaking-ever!

I said, “It would have helped if you’d told me about this.”

She said, “I’m on the phone!”

I said, “I know,” and turned around and walked out.

When I got downstairs to the garage, the attendant would not let me out, even though my car hadn’t been in the garage longer than about eight minutes.. He proposed to write me a bill, for which their collection agency would come after me. I had to scrounge up a dollar out of quarters, dimes, and pennies, some of which fell on the ground as I was handing them to the clown (honest—I didn’t do that on purpose. But on reflection now wish I’d dumped the whole mess of them on the ground and driven off, since he certainly could have let me out of the garage under the circumstances).

I refuse to pay for parking in Phoenix. Here’s why: There’s no viable public transport. Much-vaunted lightrail notwithstanding, there really is no practical way to get around this city other than by car. My feeling is, if you want to do business with me, you provide a place to park. If your place of business makes me pay to park, I don’t patronize your place of business.

Consider: To get to Dr. D’s office on the public transit, I would have to walk from my house to an intersection with a signal where I could cross 19th Avenue, a dangerous main drag and a conduit of blight. Then I would have to stand outside a run-down tenement, famed for its incidence of crime. Within a day of the last time I picked up the 19th Avenue bus, a young woman was abducted from that bus stop and raped.

Okay, so realistically no one is going to abduct and rape an ugly old bat. What they’ll do with me is mug me. Robberies are not uncommon—thugs will stop their cars at intersections, get out, grab someone standing on the sidewalk, belt him one, and steal his wallet. No joke: this happened outside the Albertson’s just down the street.

The temperature outdoors was 105 degrees yesterday. Nineteenth is under construction, so to get across the road you have to navigate holes in the road and heavy equipment, all the while enjoying the serenade of jackhammers and diesel engines. A typical wait at a bus stop here is around 20 minutes; however, the city in its penury has cut back bus service, so chances are the wait is even longer.

Once on the bus, I would have to ride down to Spectral Mall, stopping at every corner allll the wayyyy down to 19th and Montebello. Once there, I get off the bus on the wrong side of the street and again have to cross a six-lane road through murderous traffic. The ambiance there is even more grungy than it is in my neighborhood, which at least has the vestiges of a middle-class neighborhood on one side of the road (even though the city is busy tearing out our homes.

Now I buy another ticket and wait for the train. This will entail another 15-minute stand in 105-degree heat, likely fending off the odd panhandler. The train will drop me off within several blocks of Dr. D’s office building, after another unbelievably time-consuming milk-run, first backtracking up 19th Avenue to Camelback, then across Camelback to Central, then allllll the wayyyy down to Catalina. The round trip will cost me $3.50…about what it costs to pay to park long enough for a dental appointment.

And—here’s the corker—the trip will take about an hour, one way! Yes: for $3.50, you, too, can kill a full hour making a trip that should take you 15 minutes.

So I spend two hours in 105-degree heat, round trip, standing around on the street in sketchy areas and riding elbow-to-elbow with strangers (some of whom are strange!) and pay as much as it would have cost to make a 15-minute drive and pay to park. Nothing about this system—either the vaunted and costly lightrail or the obnoxious parking fee, which the city parents think will encourage people to ride—makes me anxious to use the public transport. It’s expensive and it’s excruciatingly time-consuming. It is, in short, totally impractical, another of America’s steps along the way of its progress into Third-World living conditions.

If I lived in a city that had real public transit, the way San Francisco did when I lived there many years ago, then I would use it, or I would pay to park without hesitation. We used the buses and trolleys all the time; on the rare occasions that my mother and I drove to shopping, we expected to pay to park, and we paid to put up her car in the apartment community’s parking garage. That was part of the natural order of things.

But here we don’t have such a city. Here we have a city that, like Los Angeles, was quite deliberately designed for the automobile and that, with its city parents in the pockets of developers who have a vested interest in sprawl, continues to be designed that way. For this reason, demanding that people pay to park is unreasonable.

So, I’m in the market for a new dentist. Alas. I like Dr. D and I hate changing dentists. It’s hard to find a good dentist who won’t rip you off by trying to scare you into unnecessary procedures. It’s hard to find a skilled dental technician who doesn’t hurt you when she cleans your teeth. And getting a new dentist is going to be a pricey proposition, now that I’m no longer on Delta Dental. I could barely afford Dr. D, who proposed to give me a 10 percent discount. How I’m going to pay for some new doc, I have no idea. Probably I’m not.

But there is no way I’m going to pay to park as I go about my normal, unavoidable day-to-day errands.

Is that totally over the top?

This bit of sprawl covers 16,573 square miles!

Image: Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Light rail is AWESOME!

So yesterday as a lark SDXB and I rode the city’s new light rail train from uptown Phoenix to the end of the line in Mesa; thenon the return legdropped off in Tempe for lunch at the Great Desert University’s new “local foods” café. What a hoot! The trains, being brand-new, are clean and shiny. The ride is smooth and surprisingly fast: from Tempe to our stop was about 40 minutes, no longer than it takes me to make the drive in moderate traffic. And it was great fun.
Check it out:


Starting Monday, I am going to park my car near AJ’s (my favorite purveyor of overpriced foods) at Central and Camelback and ride the train to campus. That will save about 30 miles of wear & tear on my car plus almost a quarter-tank of gas per trip!

Buying tickets

As an old folk, I can get a round-trip ticket for $1.25, somewhat less than the cost of gasoline for a round-trip drive. They have various packages that save a little, but unfortunately the tickets are for consecutive days, and I don’t necessarily go to Tempe five consecutive days a week. Ditto the university’s cut-rate package: you have to buy a full year’s worth; they take it away from you when you’re canned; and it covers consecutive days. So any day that you don’t ride represents wasted money. With the senior-citizen fare, the best deal seems to be to purchase a ticket from a vending machine for each ride.

But it gets better!

Presently, the end of the line on our side of town is in a shopping center with a Costco and a Target, within walking distance of M’hijito’s house. On days when I need to do make a significant shopping trip, I could leave my car in the Park’n’ride there and, on the way home, hit Costco and Target. This would save an extra trip for supply runs.

Also along the way are a Safeway, a Walgreen’s (both in reasonably safe areas), and the wonted AJ’s. In other words, I could combine about 98% of routine shopping with light-rail trips!

It would cut the use of my car by a good 75 to 80 percent. And once The Hartford hears about this, it will cut the cost of auto insurance: they specifically ask whether you commute on public transport.

In about 18 months or two years, this train is going to run right up the main drag just to the west of my neighborhood. I will be able to walk to the station—or ride Xoot the Xooter, or, as I get more decrepit, ride an electric scooter.

So! In retirement, I will barely need a car.

Good thing, since the amount of savings I’d earmarked to buy the new car was incinerated in the Bonfire of the Bush Vanities, and so I’ll have to make do with my ten-year-old van. Chuck the Mechanic Par Excellence informed me that its next scheduled service, at 90,000 miles, will set me back $1,200. Great timing, eh? I really need a twelve-hundred-dollar bill just as I’m about to lose my job. Well, it’s a lot cheaper than a new car.

And if this light rail system actually works to cut mileage by, say, 60 to 75 percent, the old clunk may survive another ten years.
Frugal and green!

Cost-effective ride?

lightrailexteriorlgOur brand-new light rail system is already raising its price per ride. Hasn’t been running two months, and the price is going up a buck, from $1.25 (one way!) to $2.25. I’m sure that won’t be the first increase.

The other evening one of my RAs, who doesn’t own a car, rode the train up to M’hijito’s house to meet me so I could chauffeur him to an Arizona Book Publishing Association shindig. He said it took an hour to get from lovely downtown Tempe to the corner of Seventh Avenue and Camelback. That’s a 20-minute drive in your car.

At the current rate, would it be cost-effective for me to ride the train, once the city has torn down an entire row of homes and trashed the property values in my neighborhood so they can run the train tracks up the road that demarcates this neighborhood from the bland slums just to the west? Assuming the rate stays the same, at $5 per round trip?

Let us calculate:

My house is 18 miles from the campus. Coincidentally, my car gets about 18 miles a gallon if I’m not hypermiling. (If I drive very carefully, I can push it up to around 25 mpg, but let’s assume I’m keeping up with traffic and not driving my fellow homicidal drivers crazier than they already are.)

Assume gas prices stay at $1.70 a gallon. Assume the train ride stays at $2.25 one-way, $5.00 round trip. Because I have a disabled parking sticker, I can park in any metered space in Tempe for free, so I do not pay GDU’s $780/year parking fee. Let’s also assume I go out to campus 5 days a week and I take 3 weeks of vacation time.

Thus: The cost of gas for a round trip is $3.40 a day. I commute 5 days a week for 49 weeks, or 245 days a year.

$3.40 x 245 = $833 a year: Cost of driving for a person with a disabled sticker.
$833 + $780 = $1,613 a year: Cost of driving for a person who has not discovered you can park for free with a disabled sticker, or who buys a parking space within a mile of the office

Okay. If the train costs $5.00 per round trip:

$5 x 245 = $1,225 a year: Cost of riding the train

Not too bad: only $392 a year more than I’m presently paying. That doesn’t take into account the wear and tear on my car. However, my car, being a Toyota, does not cost anywhere near $392 a year for upkeep and repairs.

It also doesn’t take into account the two hours you would spend in transit: 80 minutes more time wasted in transit than you would kill sitting in an automobile each day. That’s 19,600 minutes a year, 326.67 more hours of your life wasted in a train than in a car!

Does anyone seriously think people are going to ride this train for real commutes from the outer reaches of the Valley? If I bought a house in one of the now-bankrupt new suburbs out by the White Tanks or halfway to Prescott, the number of miles I would have to commute would triple. So would the time spent in transit.

In the unlikely event that the train fare stays constant, clearly the longer your commute the more you would save on gas. However, the end of the line will be about six blocks from my house. If you lived out at the White Tanks or up in Anthem, you’d have to drive all the way into the middle of town, anyway. By the time you get this far, you only have another 20 minutes to drive. Your air-conditioning has made the car nice and cool, and the Park-&-Ride will sit smack in the middle of a high-crime area where your car is likely to be broken into or stolen.

What would you do: park your car in a dangerous lot in 115-degree heat and add another hour to your commute, or keep on truckin’?