We took the light rail to downtown Phoenix last Saturday. No event to attend, nothing we needed to do, no particular sight we wanted to see. We were simply conducting an experiment.
If it took us between 50 to 60 minutes to travel from our Airbnb in Queens to Manhattan, and once there we never lacked for interesting things to do, and after doing said things, we never lacked for good things to eat, we intended to find:
- Is the Phoenix Light Rail an efficient and reliable form of transportation for reaching our downtown area?
- Is there an interesting assortment of things to do in downtown Phoenix, enough to settle my post-NYC trip blues?
- Can we find an eatery with not only good food, but in an interesting building with charming atmosphere like every, single, flippin’ place we ate at in Manhattan?
Here’s what we found:
Procedure: I should admit that we cheated somewhat. In Queens, there was a bus stop right outside our Airbnb and we took it to Jackson Heights, where we caught the subway. Our total trip into lower Manhattan was 12 miles. (Keep that in mind – it took us 50 minutes to travel 12 miles.)
For our Phoenix trip, we drove to the nearest light rail station rather than use a bus. Is that cheating?
It’s just that nearest light rail station is 12 miles from our house, and taking a bus would have required a 1/2 mile walk plus a transfer. Oh, and it was supposed to reach 95 degrees that day. So, yeah. We drove.
First impressions upon entering the train:
- Empty! Oh, wait… okay, three others in the compartment we entered. Nearly empty.
- It’s really clean. Granted, far fewer people use it than New York’s subway, but also our light rail is only 10 years old, so the trains are in good shape.
- Also, they’re air-conditioned. Nice touch.
The train stops every 1/2 mile, each stop we gained more passengers. By the time we reached downtown, the compartment was full and some people were standing.
I allowed Husband to choose our stop, so it shouldn’t have surprised me we got off at the ballpark.
Total Travel Time from Our House: 1 hour, 12 minutes
Total Length of Trip to Chase Field: 20.8 miles
Driving Time According to Google Maps: 34 minutes
Back to Question 1: Is the Phoenix Light Rail an efficient and reliable form of transportation for reaching our downtown area?
Most Phoenicians would say they prefer the speed and convenience of their own vehicle. But if there’s any way to use the light rail, I still say it’s a better option. There’s no hassle with parking, no danger of accidents or traffic problems, it’s better for the environment, and it offers ample reading time and/or chatting the breeze with spouse.
Plus… How shall I put this? It’s gets you out of that privileged bubble you live in and see how other people live. We saw many walks of life on the train, both to and from downtown. Nearly all looked very accustomed to using the light rail.
(This is something that pisses me off every time there’s a referendum on the ballot asking for more funding for public transit. Invariably someone will say, “Phoenix isn’t made for public transit! Everyone drives!” What they’re really saying is, “I never use public transit; why put money into something I don’t use?”)
From what I saw last Saturday, the light rail gets used and some people depend upon it. Even when there’s nothing going on downtown.
Seriously. Nothing was going on downtown. When we got off the train, this is what we saw:
The streets were empty. The sidewalks were empty. It was like a sci-fi flick where all earthlings were snatched from the planet and we were the only ones left.
We walked a few streets until we came upon the Convention Center. According to the sign outside, the Phoenix Comicon starts May 25th. Meaning we missed it by five days. Not only would we have seen people, many of them would have been wearing costumes. (We couldn’t decide if we were happy or sad to miss that.)
We went inside the Convention Center to use the restrooms.
Oh — here’s a bonus over NYC: it’s much easier to find public restrooms in Phoenix. There’s even signs for them.
So yeah. We got potties.
In fairness, I should point out that we’re hitting the off-season for Phoenix. After the Comicon and our triple digit temperatures begin, our event season turns into a desert.
We continued walking. It looked like the Catholics had something planned at St. Mary’s Basilica, but not being Catholic, we didn’t think it right to join them.
They do have a beautiful building and grounds though; if you ever make it to Phoenix, it’s well worth a tour.
Another must-see of Phoenix — honestly, a trip downtown just isn’t complete without seeing the Herberger’s naked dancers.
After walking a few more empty streets, we saw some tents. Something was happening!
Every Saturday morning — all year long, even in triple digits — there’s the Phoenix Public Market. And while it was warm, there were plenty of people in attendance.
Only their summer hours began May 20th, the day we were there, meaning they closed at noon. We arrived at 12:10. So as we walked around admiring the local honey and homemade salsas, the smoked meats and locally grown produce, people were folding up tables and packing up their wares.
As to Question 2: Is there an interesting assortment of things to do in downtown Phoenix?
Answer: Well, if you time your visit right, yeah. But even during the summer you can visit museums or the library, and in the evenings you can catch a game or a show.
Most people are wise enough to stay inside when the hot weather hits, though I was glad to see the Public Market is still a thing. As we watched the tents being taken down, Husband turned to me. “Now what?”
I pointed to the building behind the market: Phoenix Public Market Cafe. “Let’s check it out,” I said. It was lunchtime, and we still had our third Question before us.
The cafe bills itself as a “casual urban hangout.” It had a cool, hip vibe to it, but very friendly and cheerful. On one wall was painted the words, “Building Community Through Food.” The place was crowded, we found a table near the bakery case.
Husband and I shared Tito’s Cubano: a grilled pork sandwich with a side of fries. It was fantastic. Best sandwich I’d had since… you got it: New York.
As we ate, we looked over their pastries.
I selected three macarons for the trip home: Chocolate Espresso, Salted Caramel, and Pistachio Raspberry Rose.
Question 3: Can we find an eatery with not only good food, but in an interesting building with charming atmosphere?
Answer: You betchya. Actually, if you avoid the chains, you can find interesting places most anywhere.
Will it be just like in New York? Well, duh. Of course not. There’s only one New York. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good in its own way.
Conclusion: This little excursion was just the thing I needed to banish my post-trip blues. It reminded me that even when our streets are empty, when little is happening and our temperatures are rising, downtown Phoenix is darn pretty.
In truth, this is a fine city in which to live. Our light rail system works (and should be expanded), and we have some damn fine eateries.
Plus, we got naked dancers. There’s just no beating that.