Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2019

Currently: 78° — Complete forecast

SUN EDITORIAL:

Light rail is the winning option for Las Vegas transportation

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Regional Transportation Commission

A rendering of a proposed light rail system along Maryland Parkway.

The future is yours to shape, Las Vegas.

RTC public presentations

• 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, RTC administrative building, 600 S. Grand Central Parkway, Las Vegas

• 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fourth St., Las Vegas

• 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, Cambridge Community Center, 3930 Cambridge St., Las Vegas

Starting this week, the Regional Transportation Commission will hold a series of meetings to gather input on plans for mass transit along the Maryland Parkway corridor into downtown Las Vegas.

Three options will be on the table. But only one will take Las Vegas where it needs to go, and that’s light rail.

This is about way more than transportation infrastructure. The decision on how to move forward on the project will have major ramifications for the city’s ability to compete for tourism and convention business, the development of the valley’s inner core and the quality of life for Southern Nevada residents.

That’s because light rail, unlike the bus options that also are under consideration, is transformational.

As proven in city after city where systems have been built, light rail is a development magnet and a major asset in attracting visitors.

It also offers a check on urban sprawl by encouraging development upward instead of outward, says Brookings Institution transportation expert Adie Tomer.

Residential development near light rail tends to come in the form of multistory structures, Tomer said — not necessarily skyscrapers, but low- and mid-rise condominiums and apartment buildings.

RTC open houses

• 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Boulevard mall, 3528 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas

• 11 a.m. to 3 pm. Tuesday, Feb. 26, UNLV Student Union, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas

The combination of upward development and mass transit development would produce consequences that would be felt valleywide, Tomer explained. If the community continues to grow outward and remain car-focused, he said, residents’ time in traffic will increase as more and more cars crowd onto more and more miles of roadway.

Look no further than Southern California, with its near-constant traffic congestion, for the logical conclusion of Las Vegas’ status quo.

Meanwhile, as Tomer and many others have noted, bus rapid-transit systems like those also being explored by the RTC simply don’t spark the same kind of development as light rail. Put yourself in the shoes of a developer who, say, plans to construct a mid-rise condo building with restaurant/retail space on the ground floor. Would you rather build it along a bus route, which can change, or a set of steel tracks that have been laid into the ground?

That’s a no-brainer, which is partly why so much development has happened in cities that have invested in light rail systems. Since Phoenix’s system came online 10 years ago, the city estimates that $11 billion in private investment has sprung up within a half-mile of the lines.

But in Las Vegas, the economic consequences go well beyond new development. Cities that compete with us for travel and convention business, such as Orlando, Fla., and regional metros like Phoenix and Denver, long ago recognized the value of light rail and are using it to their advantage.

The Maryland Parkway system wouldn’t directly help Las Vegas make up the distance, but it would be an important first step toward establishing a line to serve the Strip.

That’s a vital need. For a community whose marketing strategy revolves around the richness of our visitor experience, it’s an absolute must to make travel as convenient and carefree as possible for tourists and convention-goers. Being stuck in a taxi or ride-hail car for hours isn’t the kind of thing that will keep people coming back.

And while critics will argue that self-driving vehicles are the 21st-century solution, don’t believe it. Those critics may be right in predicting that the onset of autonomous vehicles will result in more ride-sharing, with drivers signing up for services as opposed to owning their own cars. But it would still take a flood of vehicles to provide drivers with the immediate service they would demand. So that’s not the answer to congestion.

Critics will also howl about the cost of light rail, which is substantially more expensive than bus options.

But there’s a cost for staying with the status quo, too, and it’s a heavy one. Our quality of life is on the line in the form the torturous travel times and environmental damage that come with sprawl. Also at issue is the health of the tourism industry that drives our community and our entire state.

So we’re going to pay one way or another.

Let’s invest in a proven winner, Las Vegas. Let’s commit to light rail.