August 24, 2010

Plans for the First Bicycle Boulevard in Phoenix

by: Taz Loomans


Today is a continuation of yesterday’s post featuring an interview with Kerry Wilcoxon, the Traffic Engineer in charge of Safety in Neighborhood Traffic and Joe Perez, the Bicycle Coordinator at the City of Phoenix.  Yesterday’s post was about why Phoenix is so auto-centric and how the Light Rail has effected the urban landscape for bicyclists and pedestrians.  Today’s post is on a plan that Kerry and Joe presented to me that will enable bicycling to be a way to actually travel from destination to destination, instead of being primarily a recreational mode of transportation.

Below is the rest of our conversation:

Blooming Rock: What are future plans for the City to implement Complete Streets?

Kerry Wilcoxson: Joe’s our first bike coordinator who actually owns a bike and rides one.  The primary goal is connectivity.  The bike system we have in Phoenix is completely fragmented.  There are very few routes where you can go from neighborhoods to a commercial center on a bike that are a mile or two long, but everything else is broken up.  All the routes that aren’t fragmented may or may not be bike-friendly. They may have a bike-lane but they may not be bike-friendly.  So the number one goal is improving connectivity.

Joe Perez: There’s a Complete Streets plan working it’s way through Planning, through the Council, and it’s mainly for Downtown.  A lot of the areas outside of Downtown already have a Complete Streets angle.  We have a cross section that we design our streets to now which includes a bike lane and includes sidewalks.  That’s for streets that are being brand-new built.  Streets Downtown, like Roosevelt, or Osborn, or Oak St. those streets are decades old.

Kerry Wilcoxon: Not to put too rosy a picture on it, when Joe’s talking about building streets, primarily he’s talking about building streets more than 10 miles away from Downtown.  You’re talking about building them up in the North part of the Valley, South part of the Valley, or the hinterlands which are not bike-able distances from Downtown.  You may be able to get a new street with Complete Streets where you can bike from your neighborhood to the grocery store, but you can’t take it to work.

So the real problem is that 90% of our streets, roughly 5500 miles of our streets, less than 1% (of those) have bike lanes.  Out of 5500 miles of road, only 300 some odd have bike lanes.  So we have a long way to go.

But one of the things we were hoping to do is a concept working it’s way around the country.  It’s been adopted in certain places and we’re trying to see what interest there is in the biking community.  It would be good just to see what people think.

We don’t have the ability to (improve connectivity) on a lot of our collector streets, which are ½ mile streets where bike lanes are.  We’re interested in a concept called Bike Boulevard, which is basically a signed route that is designed for bikes.  Using existing roads and improving them in a sense that you put up signs, you put up pavement markings and you link one destination to another.

As an example, what we’d like to do is link up a destination in Downtown Phoenix, the best place I can think of is the Downtown Phoenix Public Market.  It’s in Central Phoenix, on one of the local streets, it’s a good destination for people to go.  (Our goal would be to) link that up with Gateway Community College, ASU and Spectrum Mall using a combination of existing bike lanes.  We’ve got a good bike lane network on 15th Avenue, a good bike lane network on Roosevelt, and we have a couple of freeway crossings where we can use existing bridges, and the rest of the way is on local streets, which are not signed or striped for bike lanes.  And you wouldn’t necessarily want to stripe them for bike lanes, what we’d want to do is put some directional signs, like they have in Tucson.  If you are a bicyclist, you can use the signs to navigate, just like you use the way-finding signs in Downtown Phoenix and freeway signs on the road, these are specific signs for bike boulevards.  They basically say if you’re on a bike and you’re going Downtown and if you follow this route, you’re x number of miles away.

To do that we can sidestep the fact that Roosevelt, which is a local collector street, isn’t bike-able over its entire length.  It’s only bike-able in certain parts of Downtown and beyond. Some of the other side streets like McKinley or Pierce, those are local streets.  We wouldn’t stripe them for bike lanes but we would direct people on to them, so that if you’re a parent and you want to bike somewhere with your kids, you don’t have to worry about taking them on a street like Roosevelt, you can take a local street.  The hallmark to that is that we’re going to have to get some money from federal sources, to build a few key crossings.  We need to be able to cross people on local streets, but at 7th Ave and 7th St. and 16th St., we basically have to cross some of the arterial streets on the local streets.

If we can do that, then we can form a contiguous path and someone could be able to work in Downtown, go to the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, bike down to ASU, or over to Gateway Community College.  Or if they wanted to, (they could) go up to Spectrum Mall on a bicycle, on routes that are signed and more bike friendly than what we have now.

If we can do that, it’ll probably be one of many that we would want to do.  It’ll be a great opportunity for us to link otherwise bicycle-friendly businesses and destinations with some neighborhoods that are family-friendly.  You’ve got a number of neighborhoods in this area that have pretty high density, a lot of families, a lot of kids.  I don’t have kids, but if I did, I would feel uncomfortable in a lot of cases sending them out onto the road as bicyclists.  This might be able to break some barriers down, and if it does, then we’ll see increased bike use, increased bike demand, and possibly the biking community being a better or more equal partner at the table when they talk about planning future Downtown development and planning future roadways.

So what we’re really trying to do is use the existing infrastructure that we have to provide the jumpstart for people using bikes more as a commuter or alternative means of transportation as opposed to a recreational means of transportation.

Blooming Rock: Can people on the Light Rail connect to this route?

Kerry Wilcoxon: They could.  We would have signs that would direct them to the route.

Blooming Rock: Is there a way to link up the canals to this Bicycle Boulevard?

Kerry Wilcoxon: You can.  Part of the Bike Boulevard is on the Grand Canal, you cross it at 15th Avenue.

Joe Perez: This bike route continues to Dunlap where we have the Arizona Canal, a much more developed canal that goes all the way to 80th Avenue.  We would need a bike bridge to cross the canal.

Kerry Wilcoxon: There is basically a marked bike lane from Roosevelt to Dunlap.  What we’re trying to do is connect it to something meaningful.  You know if you get on this (Bike Boulevard) it will lead you Downtown or it will lead you to Spectrum Mall or it’ll lead you to (Gateway) Community College.  What we want this to be is the way people get from point A to point B by bike.  And we want them to think of it that way and to feel comfortable with it.

Blooming Rock: So if this one (Bike Boulevard) goes into place, would you plan for more?

Kerry Wilcoxon: If the one is successful, we’d have more.  There are a number of obstacles we have to overcome, not the least of which is Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of money, and we’d have to get money for a certain number of signalized crossings.  There’s also, as with anything new, even though these are done in Tucson and elsewhere, is the tendency for people to feel uncomfortable with it and for people to reject it out of hand.

The Streets Department is extremely conservative when it comes to new things and they really have to be, just because traffic rules are hard for people to get used to. You can’t change things very quickly.  We have to overcome a lot of things, but if we can get one down, the first one is always hardest.  Once you get the first one down, then it will be self-propagating.  There’s no reason it would end at Gateway Community College, it could extend further to the east, it could extend further to the north, you could go south.  There are lots of opportunities for it to expand.  But the key is to get the first one down and show that people are going to be using it.

Blooming Rock: What can the residents do to show the Streets department that we want something like this?

Kerry Wilcoxon: There’s a couple of things.  The Citizen Bike Task Force was never formed, but you’ve got the (Environmental Quaility Commission Bicycle Initiatives) subcommittee.

Joe Perez: It meets on the 4th Thursday of every month, typically, not always. These are people who’re high motivated to make recommendations for biking in Phoenix.

Blooming Rock: Is it just those appointed people, or can everyone attend?

Joe Perez: It’s a public meeting.  It’s subject to all the notification rules that apply to open public meetings.  The person to contact is Jane Kennedy.

Blooming Rock: You mentioned you don’t have support for (the Bicycle Boulevard) yet.  Does this mean you don’t have support from the City itself?

Kerry Wilcoxon: The idea is at its infancy, it’s just been kicked around internally.  In order to get to the point where the City says yes, we need to show support from the public.  This is something that needs to be demanded by the public, and it needs to be something that is doable.  We can come up with a technical plan of how to do it and we can even find the money to do it.  It’s not that expensive to put one of these in.  What we can’t do is manufacture the support, which is going to have to be driven by the biking community.

Blooming Rock: Are there other bicycle advocacy groups that people can join?

Joe Perez: There’s the Tempe Bicycle Action Group.

Blooming Rock: Is there one in Phoenix?

Joe Perez: There are plans for one in Phoenix, the Phoenix Bicycle Action Group.  But this group doesn’t have any sort of core of individual leaders yet.  Then there’s the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists that’s a Statewide organization, most of the members are here in Phoenix, but they do have obligations and responsibilities outside of Maricopa County.  There’s a number of groups that ride, Arizona Bicylce Club has a lot of rides.  There’s a group called the Bull Shifters Bicycling Club (as well), they ride every Friday.  There are a lot of groups that ride, but they don’t advocate.


a.  The Bicycle Initiatives Subcommittee is meeting this Thursday, August 26th at 8am at Phoenix City Hall, 14th Floor West Conference Room.  This meeting, and subsequent ones, is a great opportunity to get involved and voice your support for the Bicycle Boulevard concept and other bicycle initiatives. *Update* This meeting is CANCELLED due to lack of quorum. Let’s not let this happen again!

b.  Check out this wonderful video by John Alpha Romeo of riding his bike down Central Avenue.  While you’re at it, check out his fantastic biking blog, One Speed: Go!

Photo Credit:  The Canal Cruiser (my bicycle) safely parked in its special spot in my living room.

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11 Responses

  1. Tony says:

    I love this interview! I wish some of these changes were taking place sooner than later, but at least there’s conversation taking place and creating a safer place for bikes is somewhere on the radar here in Phoenix.

    I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of a bike boulevard. To me, that says “you can ride here, but not here.” We already have that in Phoenix, and yes, the lanes provide a dedicated space to ride safely, but those lanes are no where near the places where most people need to go. Why can’t I ride safely alongside everyone? I pay the same taxes as everyone else and I should be able to commute on the same streets.

    I realize the interviewees said the bike boulevard program could expand to other streets, but as someone who commutes daily on a bike, we should fix the core of the city before we create lanes for the outlying areas.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Tony, your comments are really appreciated as you are on the pavement with your bike everyday. I think the Bike Boulevard might be a first step in actually connecting destinations people actually go to. But it is a pretty conservative plan because it will use our existing roads and just add signage. However, I think as a first step, it’s a good one. If there are tons of people riding on the Bike Boulevard, then hopefully other changes will come that you mentioned.

  2. Tony says:

    I understand. I’m just throwing my two cents in. 🙂

    It just feels like Phoenix already has those ‘destination’ routes. As an urban resident, I won’t use that type of routes on a daily basis. I need my daily commute to be a safe one, and that commute has me riding with the normal flow of vehicular traffic along busy streets like Central, Camelback, Indian School, Thomas…

    Forget it. I’m going back to driving a car. Kidding!

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Tony you’re a pioneer! The goal is to get more people to live the car-free experience like you’re doing now, even though the infrastructure is not in place. Your input is very valuable, please keep it coming!

  3. BB says:

    Here is a map of bikable streets.,+AZ&gl=us&ei=czF3TPGhHsndngfYmvSWCw&ved=0CCYQ8gEwAA&hl=en&msa=0&msid=117580905991182100199.00048ec588d9ae70981e8&ll=33.493594,-112.098312&spn=0.131131,0.439453&z=12

    I am not sure we need more routes, maybe focus on the routes we have which don’t qaulify as bikeable or continous.

    “There are very few routes where you can go from neighborhoods to a commercial center on a bike that are a mile or two long, but everything else is broken up. All the routes that aren’t fragmented may or may not be bike-friendly. They may have a bike-lane but they may not be bike-friendly. So the number one goal is improving connectivity.”

  4. Donna Reiner says:

    Wish Kerry remembered that Spectrum Mall is no longer. It’s back to Christown. Yeah for historic names of places!!! I still want to know how I will be “protected” from the crazy drivers.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Donna, I didn’t know Spectrum changed back to Christown. Let me ask Kerry how the Bike Boulevard will protect bikers from distracted drivers and I’ll get back with you.

  5. Kerry says:

    Taz and Everyone Else,
    This is Kerry from the interview here. Thanks for the great comments and your throughts. I did find out after the interview that the Spectrum is now Christown (again?). Anyway, the name of the route along with the actual route itself still needs to be finalized.
    We are planning a project kick-off meeting to start working out some of these details of the boulevard Thursday, September 16 (tomorrow night) in City Hall Assembly Room A (ground floor) from 6-7 PM. We have tried to invite as many people as we know to contact. Since this is all new we would really appreciate public input. Please feel free to join us.

  6. […] make biking infrastructure a main priority.  One encouraging move forward is the approval of the Bike Boulevard which is essentially a bike path connecting important destinations within the city using signage, […]

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