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. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer In Phoenix

Don't Fear It!

I've been a Phoenician now for almost 20 years.

Taking a moment to let that sink in....

I grew up and lived my first 18 years in a house my dad built in Oakland. Then at 19 pure wanderlust kicked in. Over the next decade I lived in Coeur d'Alene and Moscow Idaho, Seattle, Anchorage, San Jose, and Hawaii before eventually relocating to the Valley of the Sun.

Now, I should point out that I have loved every place I have ever lived. But....perfect year round weather in the bay area actually became kinda boring....

And in Seattle I got tired of rationalizing why I was enduring 11 months of crap weather for that one amazingly beautiful month each summer (Hint: always around SeaFair).

In Coeur d'Alene summers could be really nice or week upon week upon week of grey dreck.   

In Alaska summers were short but came with 21 hours of daylight and enormous mosquitos. 

So here I am living in a place where summers replicate the surface of the sun.... 

But, after all these years I find summers here fall into kind of a nice cycle.

In May as the heat returns we start making mental notes where the shady parking is.

By June our beloved winter visitors are long gone, and our best restaurants suddenly have reasonable wait times for a great table under a mister. City streets are much less crowded (and much more sane) and evenings offer a perfect time to take a dip in our warm backyard pools to ponder the stars.

By July we are experiencing our amazing summer monsoons. These are electrical storms of epic proportions with lightning chains that fill our summer skies. They typically deliver rain in sheets and afterwards the fragrance of creosote fills the desert air.

In August our European visitors arrive. Mostly German and French they stay only briefly usually on their way to rent a houseboat on Lake Powell. By August 6th or so many of the kids in Phoenix are beginning to  return to school. And when Labor Day arrives (signaling the close of summer for everyone else), Phoenicians are kind of going a bit crazy. So we try to make a desperate weekend trip to San Diego, Payson, Flagstaff or Prescott.

But summer clings on getting the last digs in and our 100° plus days roll right on until around October 15.

So for those that are adventurous (or a contrarian traveler like me - I love Alaska in winter hoping for a view of an aurora borealis) consider summer in AZ!

Moonrise Over the Red Rocks of Sedona
A 4 or 5 star resort room costing $300 in winter is $120 (or less) in summer. The pools are splashy, many offer family barbecues, water slides or lazy rivers. At night there are dive-in movies!

And while here, you can visit indoor delights with bulletproof air conditioning (which was invented here) there is the Arizona Science Center, the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum or the amazing new MIM Musical Instrument Museum.

The Phoenix Zoo has misters and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum just outside of Tucson offers special evening programs showcasing their nocturnal critters. For sports you can take in a D'backs game. Many just use Phoenix for a home base to go visit the Grand Canyon, gaze at the stars at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, or go spend a day or two in a jacuzzi surrounded by the red rocks of Sedona.

There is Only One Grand Canyon
So, scratch skanky old Las Vegas off your list. Be bold, bring sunscreen, come visit Phoenix or Tucson in summer!

Enjoy a big loud monsoon!

Your wallet will thank you.

And after two or three days in a big old pool, making new friends, so will your kids.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013