The Grand Avenue Rail Project will do all this and more. GARP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration of an historic streetcar line on lower Grand Avenue as the first phase of a comprehensive modern streetcar system around downtown Phoenix. The project is intended to promote economic revitalization of the area, an appreciation for Phoenix’s history, and support a walkable urban lifestyle in the central city.
Revitalizing Lower Grand Avenue
Lower Grand Avenue is a unique commercial strip in downtown Phoenix. Grand Avenue originates at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Van Buren Street, and cuts diagonally toward the northwest across the urban grid to Glendale, Peoria, Sun City, Wickenburg, and ultimately Las Vegas. The first mile of Grand Avenue from the 7th Ave. & Van Buren intersection up to where Interstate 10 crosses over, just north of the 15th Ave. & Roosevelt St. intersection, retains a quirky yet uneven urban commercial feel. This area, now known as Lower Grand Avenue, has in recent years been colonized by artists and small businesses and is in rapid transition to becoming an arts and retail destination for the entire Valley.
Lower Grand Avenue’s property owners and tenants are represented by the Grand Avenue Merchant’s Association (GAMA). For information on some of the businesses and activities occurring on Lower Grand Avenue, see the Grand Avenue Arts and Small Business District website.
GAMA has been active in working with the City of Phoenix Planning Department to build a consensus for future development of the area. Planning efforts to date have coalesced around the general idea of a walkable, vital, and exciting streetscape experience, focusing on preservation and rehabilitation of the existing building stock while allowing enhancement of the street with the addition of compatible new features. Most recently, lower Grand Avenue was the focus of a “complete streets” sustainability planning effort funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. View the full report here.
The first phase of the Grand Avenue Rail Project will run along lower Grand, connecting the future light rail station at 7th Avenue and Washington Street with the State Fairgrounds. In providing permanent, pedestrian-oriented transportation infrastructure on lower Grand, the project enhances and complements the Greening on Grand plan and will encourage sensible redevelopment of the area. GARP will be an anchor and focus for revitalizing Lower Grand.
Promoting a Walkable Downtown
One of GARP’s goals is to enhance walkability in downtown Phoenix.
Today, few people would regard Phoenix as particularly “walkable.” The city has been engineered since the 1950s primarily for automobiles. This has left city streets that are hostile to pedestrians. The buildings and developments that grew with the transportation grid likewise accommodated autos by providing them with highly visible and plentiful parking areas, also anti-pedestrian.
Walkable cities put pedestrians first — providing them with safe, protected routes of travel; shade; open, inviting facades; and transportation options that conveniently get them where they need to go without having to drive.
To move Phoenix toward walkability, we need to develop areas of the city have these characteristics, and we need to link them together with pedestrian-oriented transportation such as streetcars. A streetcar system can be considered a “pedestrian accelerator” – not intended to move large volumes of people long distances, as commuter rail does, but making it possible for people to get to a number of destinations that are a little too far to walk conveniently.
The Grand Avenue Rail Project will initially serve lower Grand Avenue but in its eventual form will serve all of downtown Phoenix, making a giant leap toward walkability.
Car 116 today exists in a nearly operational condition. Costs to complete the restoration are estimated at $20,000.
The Phoenix Trolley Museum has received an offer from the Arizona Railway Museum of Chandler, Arizona, to merge operations. While such a merger would eliminate the Phoenix Trolley Museum’s fiscal difficulties, the result would be that Car 116 would for ever more reside in their Chandler rail yard. It would forever be lost to Phoenix, where it operated on city streets for 20 years.
The Grand Avenue Rail Project would preserve Car 116 for Phoenix. In the first phase of the project, the restoration of the car would be completed, and it would be run along Grand Avenue for events and special occasions, such as First Fridays, Art Walk and the Grand Avenue Festival.
Rescue the Phoenix Trolley Museum
The Arizona Street Railway Museum, also known as the Phoenix Trolley Museum, is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation based in downtown Phoenix. Incorporated in 1977, ASRM is devoted to the acquisition, restoration, exhibit, and interpretation of historic streetcars, and specifically Phoenix’s streetcar system. ASRM’s museum and workshop are currently located on the grounds of the Ellis-Shackelford House at 1242 N. Central Avenue, bordering the north side of Hance (“Deck”) Park. The group currently owns and restores 2 historic streetcars, including the mostly-restored “#116,” a Brill Safety Car that was part of Phoenix’s streetcar fleet after 1928. The museum’s facilities include a small exhibit space inside the former Shackelford dental office building, a “trolley shed” used as a workshop that appears roughly like an original corrugated metal Phoenix trolley shed, and a short length of track (approximately 100 feet) that allows the streetcars to be moved out of the shed for occasional display and interpretation. For more information, see the Phoenix Trolley Museum website.
ASRM has desired for years to expand their operation and operate their restored streetcars in an appropriate setting. One recent proposal has been to lay track alongside Hance Park on the shoulder of Culver Street for a block or so. The group has also considered relocating to Papago Park. None of these dreams has come to fruition due to lack of funding.
The City of Phoenix, who owns the Ellis-Shackelford House property, has put the museum on notice that they must relocate to accommodate the pending rehabilitation of Hance Park. For now, the museum’s lease runs through September 2017 but the group could be homeless after that date.
The Grand Avenue Rail Project could relocate the museum to Grand Avenue in the first phase of the project. A site has been identified and has been acquired and held by a GARP supporter while funds are being raised. The site would be adequate for a new museum location in the rehabilitated historic house and a new trolley barn. The Grand Avenue location could be a good location for the museum, since the trolley might be run on the historic Grand Avenue trolley route, which was active from the 1890s through 1937. The Grand Avenue location could provide the Trolley Museum with the opportunity for stable operation for the future while enhancing the Grand Avenue business community and surrounding neighborhoods.