September 10, 2013

Phoenix is Making Way for Bicyclists

by: Paul Loomans

5 Comments

Today’s post is by guest writer Paul LoomansPaul was raised in a small town in Wisconsin and got his  MBA at UW-Madison.  He helped design new products for John Deere in the Midwest and then moved to Phoenix in 1998.  Paul is a LEED accredited marketing and development professional , with a focus on community and seniors.  He serves on the Administrative and Strategic Planning Committee and the Research and Legislative Committee of the Phoenix Spokes People, a bike advocacy organization. He is car-free, relying mostly on his bike and transit to get around town and he wants to help build a sustainable and vibrant Phoenix. 

You may not realize it, or perhaps you do – that Phoenix is in the midst of a cultural transformation of sorts – one that gives the bicycle greater visibility, safety, and access for all Phoenix residents and visitors.

About 2 years ago I made a fairly smooth transition from full-time motorist…to a car-light (Saturdays only) driver…to car-free bike enthusiast. Since then, I’ve had no second thoughts, and have discovered a bit of evangelistic zeal about biking. You might see me zipping up and down the new bike lanes on north Central Avenue, or rolling my 1968 Schwinn Collegiate on and off the light rail.  Often, the baskets on my bike might be filled with groceries or books. Biking is more than recreation to me, it is my chosen lifestyle.

That’s why I am so excited about the ongoing and upcoming changes to the bike infrastructure and the bike culture in this city.

Like most impactful change, strong efforts have come from multiple directions. Mayor Greg Stanton’s emphasis on greater connectivity and sustainability in the Phoenix Master Planning process, and his focus on transit oriented development have been key factors. In this receptive environment, the grassroots voices of Phoenix bicyclists have been heard , and have effectively helped to raise awareness of bicycling initiatives as best practices to improve the fabric of our city.

I’m proud to belong to one such group, the Phoenix Spokes People, whose mission is “to inspire bicycling as an alternative form of transportation in Phoenix.” Thus far we’ve seen great success in our interactions with the city to make improvements in bike infrastructure, and look forward to playing an integral role in the culture change ahead. Our membership reflects the spectrum of casual to avid cyclists, including commuters — all working on our shared vision of greater access and improved infrastructure for people on bikes! Our membership has blossomed, and over 600 people now look to our group site for the latest news on biking in Phoenix!

Lisa Parks is an interior designer, and principal of Little Bungalow Studio. She is a key leader of Phoenix Spokes People, and most often rides the streets on her classic folding Raleigh bicycle, loaded with books and materials for her next meeting.  She also manages the online information and presence of PSP.  Lisa has seen the impact a group of dedicated voices can have in the planning process of our city. “It’s wonderful to see the tables and chairs filled every month at our meetings with people passionate about making Phoenix a great place to ride a bike. We had just formed a few months prior to the annual budget hearings in April and representatives from Phoenix Spokes People stood up and asked for more money for bicycle infrastructure. That was our introduction to the folks at City Hall and we made quite an impact! We’re lucky to have such a supportive Mayor and a dedicated Bicycle Coordinator, Joseph Perez. Bicyclists in our city now have a lot of positive changes to look forward to and we’re excited to be a part of it.” Budget resources available to support new bike lanes and infrastructure in Phoenix have seen encouraging growth,   now estimated at about $1.5 million!

John Romero is also a key member of Phoenix Spokes People, and the driving force behind PHX Bike Lab, a non-profit umbrella organization that has opened a cooperative space near Seventh Avenue and Grant. The Bike Lab supports bicycle related projects, events and nonprofits in Phoenix, and its expansive open space is filling quickly, with the recent arrival of the Rusty Spoke Bicycle Collective, and the possible addition of the operational office for the Phoenix new bike-share program, managed by Cycle-Hop. In addition, PHX Bike Lab hosts the monthly general meetings of Phoenix Spokes People. After finding a following with the Bicycle Cellar in the Tempe Transit Complex, John’s focus has shifted to Phoenix.

Since 2010, Joe Perez has served as the official Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Phoenix, and is at the heart of most key biking issues currently on the table.  While admittedly short on staffing at the city, he is optimistic about the changes afoot, saying, “bicycling is an engine of economic development, a way to reduce traffic congestion, and a path to a more pedestrian friendly street.  Bicycling improves health and community while reducing pollution and fossil fuel consumption. I look forward to installing many bike lanes, routes and paths in Phoenix.”

So you can hope to see a host of great changes to our cycling environment, including:

– A bike-share program in Phoenix, with tentative launch in December of this year.

– A push for approval of a city-wide Complete Streets Policy, which can bring forth a vision of safe, shared access on city streets to vehicles, pedestrians, transit users, and of course bikes!

– Major upgrades to key gathering spots in our city to improve bike access and bike safety, including Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Street and possibly the enhancement of the bike lanes in the heart of downtown, on Washington and Jefferson Streets.

– Development of a volunteer force of Phoenix bicyclists to help identify areas of needed maintenance or improvement, working with city staff.

– More opportunities for collaboration with Valley Metro, in their strong support of a diverse biking public.

– Continued efforts to improve our bike infrastructure, through the ongoing development of a Phoenix Bike Master Plan.

In the near future, two key changes will be worth a look.  The addition of bike lanes and street features to Grand Avenue (along with improved lighting!) is slated for completion before the Grand Avenue Festival in mid-October.  And a temporary rework and narrowing of First Street, indicative of a complete streets environment, will run north from downtown all the way to Moreland near Hance Park.  The First Street Project is intended to provide a glimpse of a more pedestrian and bike friendly environment, with greater opportunities for dining and merriment! This is estimated to be in place for October 15, in time for the hosting of the NACTO conference.

Many of you reading this blog may be in other cities, and I hope you can relate to this excitement – no matter how far along your city is on this path.   Collectively, we bicyclists draw inspiration from each other as we look to transform our communities.  Certainly, we look to each other for best practices and support!

The energy behind my story is personal, about the power of bicycling to transform my life.  What’s your story?

Photo Credit: Photo from Phoenix Spokes People

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5 Responses

  1. Sue Tormala says:

    Great introductory blog — you will have to tell us more about the First Street narrowing – sounds like a wonderful and beneficial improvement to Phoenix, and great for bike-only commuters between downtown and north mountain.

  2. Paul Loomans says:

    Thanks, Sue! I love to spread the word about biking, and we hope upcoming infrastructure upgrades will inspire more people to join in. The First Street project, as recently outlined by the Street Transportation Department, will give us a glimpse of upgrades that might be utilized if a Complete Streets policy is enacted in Phoenix… Where cars, bikes, pedestrians and transit users can safely and peacefully share the street!
    Some changes to lanes, curbing, parking configuration, and street decoration will encourage a great environment for casual downtown strolling, dining (street side seating), and biking. We’d like to see bike lanes as part of this project, but haven’t seen them as part of the plans so far. Bike commuters will also be important to address, but will more likely be using the more established north-south bike lanes; which we hope will get major improvements!

  3. Lisa Parks says:

    Thank you for talking about one of the most important topics in Phoenix right now, Paul! It’s so exciting to see more and more bicyclists riding everyday and that’s going to increase by a lot in the next few months. This is such an exciting time to be in our city!

  4. Haley Ritter says:

    Definitely!!!!
    I’ve been epileptic without a car my whole life! With a pair of roller blades as my very first mode of transportation… A bicycle, along with Valley Metro, has been getting me all over the Phoenix Metro area for the past 14 years, so I’ve been attending City Council, Budget, and SubCommittee meetings for the past 7 of them :). It’s important for me to bike around this city safely, so they recently included a bike lane in my neighborhood, along Indian School, as they were doing an overlay, thanks to my request and persistence. Way to go, City of Phoenix!!!!! I can’t wait to see WVEN FURTHER improvements!!!! Thank you! 😀

  5. Haley Ritter says:

    Whoops! *…EVEN FURTHER…*!Lol 🙂

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