LivAbility Magazine
The Ability360 center's sign is lit up after the sun sets. The light rail goes by in the background.

By Jennifer Longdon
Photos by Johanna Huckeba
Illustration by Barbara Grygutis

Construction of the 50th St light rail station that will bring visitors to the Ability360 Center has begun in earnest with the official groundbreaking on Wednesday, June 7.

Fast Facts:
-During construction, access to all businesses will be available
at all times.
-At least one lane in each direction will remain open.
-Bike lanes will be closed.
-Sidewalks may be restricted temporarily – alternative routes will be provided.

“Phoenix continues to move forward by making smart, long-term investments in ourselves. This project is one of those investments and that makes this a great day in the City of Phoenix,” said Mayor Greg Stanton.

The groundbreaking ceremony was described as nontraditional because it took place on the Ability360 Center roof instead of between the existing tracks on Washington Street. Participants each signed a commemorative plaque that will be placed at the site upon completion.

A photo of a lightrail stop. There is a train stopped on each end of the platform.

“It really says good things about Phoenix that of all the light rail projects we could have begun with, we’re starting here today,” said Councilwoman Kate Gallego. “We’re sending a message that Phoenix values inclusivity; that we want everyone to feel welcome riding on our rail. And it’s a design that welcomes people and makes it easier to operate. It says good things about Phoenix that we value our community and partners.”

This infill station is the first of its kind; no light rail system in the nation has attempted to add an in-line stop along an existing line. The stretch between 48th St and Priest, the longest stretch without a stop, has seen tremendous growth since the building of the Ability360 Center in 2006. “50th St addresses the large service gap between 44th St and Priest. The optimal gap is ¾ mile. This is a 1.9 mile gap,” said Valley Metro project design team engineer,Harvey Estrada, “The traffic at Ability360 was a big draw for this stop.”

Early in the process, designers sought the input of Ability360, various stakeholders and community members for their vision and suggestions. The need for wider walkways and shade came out of that early community input. In response, the platform area –
typically 4’ 10” of “walkable” area; free of benches, drinking fountains, etc. – is planned for 6’ at this station.

An artists rendering of the planned stop. A wheelchair user waits at a crosswalk leading toward a lighrail platform.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton chose the design of the 50th St station and streetscape as the project for the PHX Innovation Games Transit Design Challenge in 2015. Dig Studios’ design won that competition. “[Dig Studio] offered an innovative and sustainable idea to make our transit system more complete,” Stanton said. Dig’s accessible design incorporated shade at crosswalks, gradual slopes and minimized obstacles among other design aspects. “We put a lot of thought into the sidewalk’s relationship to the road” said Brandon Sobriech of Dig Studio. Sidewalks have been lowered to be on level with street and the grade at crossings is planned at 2% rather than the typical 5%. Additionally, wherever possible, landscaping has been placed to provide a buffer between the sidewalk and Washington St.

Development of the final design fell to Gannett Fleming, Inc., who incorporated additional innovations into the design including larger, easier to operate buttons at the pedestrian crosswalks and a camera that detects human presence and automatically activates the crosswalk.

Dig Studio’s design also addressed another unique feature of this station. “This is the only stop in nature on our light rail system.” Sobriech said. “The other stops are all in very urban areas with views of buildings. This stop has open views of the mountains. Our design includes a green screen of espalier creosote to create shade and keep the feel of the surrounding desert.”

Concept art for the 50th Street light rail station. Arches with creosote leaf patterns frame a wide sidewalk.

The creosote theme continues in the shade structures designed by Tucson artist Barbara Grygutis. Her installation, titled “Creosote Lace,” features large curved steel panels laser cut with delicate patterns inspired by desert creosote. She chose creosote for her design in part for its traditional healing properties and because of its “beautiful, tenacious growth in the harsh environment of the desert.”

Such symbolism is eloquently appropriate outside of the state’s largest center for independent living.

Jennifer Longdon

Jennifer Longdon

Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.