Friday, June 14, 2013

Phoenix Sky Harbor SkyTrain

Roadboy Gets a Tour

One of the primary reasons I relocated to Phoenix can be summed up in two words: "Sky Harbor". Sky Harbor allows me to fly to meetings all over the western US and return home the same night.

Based on 5 minutes of google research I now know that Sky Harbor is busier than Toronto's Pearson, Amsterdam's Schipol, Boston's Logan, and both New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports.

Yet, as much as I appreciate Sky Harbor, and I do, it has always felt like it is two steps behind. Such a big airport, whose passengers always have to take a bus to get anywhere (except its dog parks!)

Terminal 4 waited a decade after completion to finish its parking garage that is built, wait for it, above the terminal!

Yes, finishing the garage years after the terminal was complete, made a project that would otherwise have initially cost a lot and made it cost five times a kings ransom!

Plus, only twenty years after construction, Terminal 4 is getting lots of new escalators including (finally) "down" escalators linking floors 2 and 3.

But no worries, all increased costs, caused by deferring improvements, don't cost Phoenix taxpayers anything.....unless they fly. Airport improvements are financed by passenger fees.

Today, Phoenix's architectural community was provided a very nice tour of our SkyTrain automated people mover system linking the 44th St. Metro light rail stop to the East Economy parking garages and Terminal 4. 

The SkyTrain begins in sort of a big shiny elevated Oscar Meyer wienermobile you enter from a big concrete outdoor space with kind of odd blue aluminum ceiling that, we were told, looks nice at night when lit by LED's. By day, not so much.

The Entry Plaza
"Blue Stratus" Ceiling Art 

The peoplemover itself was very, very cool. Although traveling at only 28-35 MPH it felt pretty zippy. The whole trip from light rail to Terminal 4 takes 5 minutes. But what is neat is that along the way the train rises up to glide over an active taxiway via a bridge as long as a football field that is elevated high enough to let a 747 with an elevated tail (due to a flat tire in its nose gear - No, I am not making that up) pass under it!

Aboard The Automated People Mover

Yep, right here in Phoenix we have the only elevated train over an aviation taxiway in the world!

View Approaching the Taxiway Flyover  

Gliding Over a CRJ 
(Camelback Mountain Beyond)

The SkyTrain stations are designed to be consistent with the current modernist aesthetic: "corporate sensory deprivation" executed using grey metal panels and fritted glass. Signs of life in the building are provided by the clothing worn by the passengers themselves, the lovely epoxy terrazzo floors and the glass art wall.

The Bright Terrazzo
in The Link From Light Rail to SkyTrain

Arizona Artist Daniel Mayer's Stunning "Trace Elements"

Despite being the sixth largest city in the US, and full of amazing architects (many on the tour) the airport selected architects from somewhere else. The materials they selected and design they created make no attempt to relate to Phoenix Arizona. The new SkyTrain terminal could be picked up and moved pretty much anywhere.

The Aesthetic: Steel Over Grey With Fritted Glass

To the contractor I extend kudos, some of the finest concrete work I have seen in Phoenix! The concrete columns are as smooth as a baby's butt.

Some fine print:
1. You cannot ride SkyTrain to Terminal 3 until 2015 and you will never be able to ride SkyTrain to what is today known as Terminal 2 as T-2 is destined to become a memory.
2. You can check a bag and get a boarding pass in the SkyTrain terminal.
3. Airport baggage crews are now required to park personal cars near the SkyTrain station. Being used to pushing passengers out of the way (whether at elevators, through TSA lines and now SkyTrain, a shift shoved their way on the train with us treating passengers with the same gentle courtesy they give our luggage.....
4. There is a cell phone lot available at the 44th St. SkyTrain terminal.
5. SkyTrain operates 24 hours a day. (But I'd be very wary of connecting to Metro at night at that station unless you are part of a group.)  
6. SkyTrain is "free" (i.e. paid for by passenger fees).
7. The project certified as LEED* Gold

Someday SkyTrain will extend all the way to the new consolidated rental car facility. Till then......keep paying those Cactus League surcharges and enjoy those shuttle buses.

Now that SkyTrain is running lets all pray it (and its wonderful landscaping) gets maintained better than the already tragically dismal, yet almost new, and formerly lovely, Metro light rail station that it serves.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

* LEED is the acronym for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design sustainability rating system. Think of it as sort of a sustainability board game. LEED is completely voluntary. Building owners who elect to participate must hire LEED certified designers and pay a LEED "certification" fee to prove that their completed project met LEED sustainability goals. LEED was created, and is operated by, the US Green Building Council. 

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