Tempe to Close Travel Lane on Broadway

The City of Tempe is running a simluation to get an idea of what to expect when Broadway Road is re-positioned between Rural Road and Mill Avenue. Between September 16 and September 30 the outside eastbound lane will be barricaded off and the city will conduct traffic counts on Rural, Mill, and Broadway, as well as traffic counts and speeds on Alameda, Encanto, Dateland and College. According to the department’s Public Information Officer, Sue Taaffe, the city will conduct similar counts September 10 through 12 to establish a baseline data set. She also said that in instances when a traffic lane is barricaded off, such as this, bicycles are not technically allowed in the lane.

Broadway Redesign

This is all in preparation to expand Broadway Road from five through lanes of traffic to six. The re-design will replace the existing design of three eastbound, two westbound, and one center turn lane for motor vehicle use. The new design will include two lanes of through motor vehicle traffic in each direction, one lane of bicycle traffic in each direction, and a landscaped center median. The project will also enhance existing facilities for walking traffic along the corridor.

Upon conclusion of the simulation the existing lane will re-open to traffic and the city will host a public meeting to discuss the results on October 17 from 6:00 to 7:30 PM at Community Christian Church, located at 1701 South College Avenue. Citizens are also encouraged to submit comments and concerns online at http://www.tempe.gov/broadwayroad through October 28.

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Phoenix Complete Streets Policy

There is a scene in the Hollywood classic film, Spaceballs, where the main antagonist, Dark Helmet, is searching for our hero’s amongst the desert sand from a hovering vehicle. He declares it’s time to move on because the subjects of his search are nowhere in sight. Helmet’s number two, Colonel Sanders, orders the driver of their vehicle to prepare to move out. This causes Helmet a bit of frustration, upon which he exclaims “What are you preparing? You’re always preparing. Just go!” This is a problem because Helmet is standing in the vehicle, so when the driver accelerates he gets thrown to his seat violently. Government is like Colonel Sanders: always preparing.

Phoenix has drafted a Complete Streets Policy in an effort to move the city toward a more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit-friendly future. It is important to remember that this draft amounts to little more than a memo to guide future directives and decisions. It’s not a technical manual or planning document so there are very clearly important items missing from this document that will be needed to move from preparation to implementation. Many of us are much like Dark Helmet, we’re sick of preparing. But without the preparation, we’ll end up getting thrown onto our butts as one of the many unintended consequences from a lack of preparation.

The first three paragraphs of this document are the standard buzzword-laden vision, intent, and policy parts of most planning documents. It reads like the LinkedIn profile of a job-searcher where they jam as many keywords in so as to show up on as many searches as possible. Basically it doesn’t tell us anything; it just lets us know that they want us to know they’re interested in the things we’re interested in.

The What

The Complete Streets guide will have a positive effect on the street network and connectivity of the city. Paragraph D is something completely different from what we’ve experienced in the region over the past thirty years: “The City shall require large new developments and redevelopment projects to provide interconnected street networks with small blocks.” This will be a drastic departure from the cul-de-sac subdivisions we have become accustomed to seeing built and will, in theory, prevent the 2-mile walk to an elementary school three hundred yards away that is common in new development.

The document will apply to “every transportation improvement and project phase as an opportunity to create safer, more accessible streets for all users.” I read this to say that any re-surfacing, any new construction, any major utility work will result in a complete streets analysis to determine if an opportunity for improvement to bike/ped/transit is available. It doesn’t mean every street will go on a diet every time it’s re-surfaced, but if an opportunity is there to improve multi-modal access, the city will be guided to take action. It will apply to every department of the city and apply to the City Manager, Street Transportation, Planning and Development, Fire and Police, among others.

Exceptions

The City protects itself by identifying exceptions to the rule that a complete street design will be applied in all instances. Some of them make sense, such as to restrict pedestrian movement on interstate freeways or vehicular movement in pedestrian malls. In this case, the document directs a greater effort to be made to accommodate the excluded user elsewhere in the vicinity, such as at crossings or a parallel route. I would like to see better wording in Paragraph C. Paragraph C allows the Director of Street Transportation and Director of Planning and Development to jointly issue a documented exception if complete streets principles is unnecessary or unduly cost prohibitive in proportion to the need or probably use. It is important to remember that this would apply to both the use of motor vehicles as well as bike/ped infrastructure. The unfortunate part is traffic models that are typically used to determine future use can essentially spit out whatever information you want it to. Maricopa Association of Governments, the entity primarily responsible for modeling projected transportation growth, has historically used a traditional suburban traffic model to determine the need for infrastructure such as the Loop 303, primary arterial traffic volumes (which provide guidance to municipalities on how wide to build streets), and doesn’t take into account pedestrian or bicycle traffic. What this means is the models that were previously used to determine what kind of road to build always predicted a massive need for automobile throughput while bike/ped rights would need to be argued primarily anecdotally. MAG has recently published a Special Events Study that measures the rate in which people take transit, drive, or take non-motorized transportation to events based on location and type. It’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure that requiring the Director of Planning and Development to sign off on an exception will be enough of a safeguard against a “volume-first” engineer from arguing that there wouldn’t be enough bike/ped volume to justify removing or modifying motor vehicle lanes.

Paragraph D appears to be directed toward restricting motor vehicles. Road projects that might otherwise pass the standard EIS would now be required to give greater consideration to neighboring land uses, wetland, or waterways.

The Culture

The Complete Streets designs will be incorporated into all city operations, and provide well-designed pedestrian and bicycle accommodations along all streets. The goal is to permeate all things within the city so the designs that the Streets Department prescribes are compatible with what the Planning Department is doing, which is in concert with the Parks Department, and so on. This is key as appropriate planning from a land-use perspective will be required to reduce the need for automobile travel and increase the likelihood of non-motorized travel on newly complete streets. Continuing on with Euclidean zoning principles will only result in further perpetuating the automobile culture if daily trips to the grocery store are two miles and a 7-lane arterial street away.

The Goals

On the draft copy, specific numbers for things like boarding’s at a bus stop haven’t been declared. There are legitimate and attainable goals such as a 40% year-over-year increase in the percent of children using active transportation to get to school, 100% of bus stops with x number of boarding’s will have May-September shade from 2 to 7 PM, and a year-over-year decrease in bike/ped fatalities both city-wide and project-specific.

The How

Complete Streets Principles will be incorporated into all relevant departments and into all existing plans, manuals, regulations, and programs such as the Phoenix General Plan, Capital Improvement Plan, and the soon-to-be-a-reality Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans. The streets department in particular will be required to amend their design standards and even replace the existing Street Classification and Design Guidelines with a new Complete Streets Manual. There will be a comprehensive inventory of existing infrastructure so as to prioritize projects to eliminate gaps in the networks and support land use patterns and public demand. Funding and staffing will be actively managed to achieve the most desirable results.

Conclusion

The City of Phoenix has taken huge steps forward in creating a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly city. In 2011 and 2012 the city’s bicycle budget was a mere $50,000 which is, quite frankly, pathetic for a city of its size. Fortunately, 2013 saw a drastic move in the right direction allocating $1.5 million for bicycle funding. The size of the hole we have to dig out of is much, much bigger than $1.5 million per year will be able to fill, but the truth is throwing $50 million per year at the deficiencies we have will only do so much. Instead, investing in smart programs that will lead to a culture change like the Phoenix Bike Share and an inter-departmental Complete Streets Policy will have far-reaching effects to redistribute the priority of our public spaces from cars to people.

Anger and Frustration with Car Culture

I get angry. There is enough bad news out there being reported at a higher frequency and in more types of media than ever before, and I can get caught up with it. Like the cabbie who severed the foot of a British tourist, then blamed it on a bicycle while holding a press conference saying he’s the victim right outside the hospital where the young woman who lost her leg was laying. Things like this story out of Chandler. Look at the headline. “PD: Man struck, killed by car while attempting to cross Chandler street.” He was killed by a car. Not by a man or woman driving a car. Not by a motorist. A car is to blame.

I’m reasonably confident this person in Chandler feels absolutely terrible for having killed someone. I can’t imagine having to go through that and hope I never do. What I’m angry about is the car culture, that this is an acceptable cost to let make people go fast. I’ve been in arguments with people who accuse me of hating cars. I’ll say I don’t like cars, and suddenly I get thrown into accusation alley about ruining capitalism and killing democracy and a bunch of ignorant stuff. That’s where I start to get irked. I sold my car in January, but my wife and I do still own a car and find it useful to go to Coyotes games or visit family in Cave Creek. The car has a purpose.

But our culture has made the personal automobile the ultimate idol. Maybe accumulated wealth is a bigger idol, but the automobile has affected our culture and physical landscape more in the last 70 years than anything else during that time. I was heading south on Signal Butte crossing University on the way to meet up for a group ride. I pushed the beg button and waited for three minutes for the light to change before it finally did because a car showed up driving northbound. As our group left the shopping center at which we met, we were turning left off Baseline onto Signal Butte; about 10 of us, all in the left turn lane. The signal skipped over us leaving us with a red left turn arrow which we decided to ignore once it was safe to proceed*. I’m working on a post on the history of bicycle law (I’m not a lawyer) but somewhere in the 1910’s and 1920’s those laws that were created to regulate cyclists in the late 1800’s started to shift toward being for cars. More to the point, engineering specifics followed suit and the vast majority of our public space is restricted either by design or by law from use by people unless they’re in a motor vehicle.

Roads have been engineered and designed solely for cars for 60 years; to move as many as possible as quickly as possible. In the last twenty, we’ve seen some engineers start to embrace bicyclists and pedestrian**, but even when they do design something well enough for cyclists, they still forget how bikes operate. Signals are timed for motor vehicle traffic, sensors at lights don’t pick up bicycles, and the beg button is there for a pedestrian to push to cross but doesn’t actually do anything to change the signal until the cycle’s run its course. Today is a day I’m choosing to vent. I’m mad about how much work there is to be done and how much resistance we face pushing for those changes. But I choose to vent here so when I am around traffic engineers and designers and government officials, I’m able to maintain my composure a little better and have a constructive dialogue as we continue to build Phoenix and the surrounding cities into something livable for people, one street at a time.

*The looks we got were standard “arrogant bicyclists” looks, of course. Furthermore, I don’t have a problem doing this because of my interpretation of A.R.S. 28-645 and considered the traffic signal to be inoperative (I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice).
**Okay, like one or two

Bike Lanes are Good Except They’re Not Except They Are

One of the cycling community’s most visible successes in recent years is the inclusion of bike lanes in all new arterial streets throughout the Valley. Because of the bike lane, if I have to choose between taking Union Hills and Bell, I take Union Hills every time. At the same time, I’d much rather ride on Fillmore than Union Hills and there aren’t any bike lanes downtown. The difference isn’t that there are or aren’t bike lanes, and it’s only minimally about the traffic volumes. It’s about the speed.

Major arterials in Phoenix have design speeds of 55 or 60 MPH. The FHWA gives a range of design speed for urban arterials at 30-60 MPH. Phoenix’s Street Planning and Design Guidelines illustrate that the six-lane major arterials (Design A and Design B) have a 60 MPH design speed. Considering design speed is much more relevant to any conversation than speed limit because people prove daily that they’ll drive how fast they feel comfortable driving. I consider myself a pretty strong cyclist, part of the “Strong and Fearless” group anyway, and I can travel pretty comfortably between 20 and 25 mph on flat ground. If I’m going 20 MPH and a vehicle is going 60 MPH, that’s a 40 MPH difference. What that mostly means to me is that if a motor vehicle is 500 feet behind me, the driver has roughly 8.5 seconds to see and respond to me, at which point I would be passed at about a 3-5 foot distance by a piece of metal traveling 40 MPH faster than me. I know we’ve all seen this chart already, but there’s a reason it’s used so much (Source: NHSTA Literature Review on Vehicle Travel Speeds and Pedestrian Injuries, Figure 1):

Image

At a 40 MPH difference in speed between a pedestrian and a motor vehicle, the odds of receiving an incapacitating injury or being killed stands at 62.6%*. While relatively few collisions occur simply by a driver hitting a cyclist from behind, the implicit threat of catastrophic injury due to the high-speed difference deters many casual riders from taking that chance. Remember: this is the speed difference between design speed and a fast cyclist. Someone on a beach cruiser going 10 MPH has less than seven seconds of exposure to the motorist from 500 feet, and the 50 MPH speed difference increases the percentage of crashes resulting in death from 22% to 36%**.

Staying with that chart, the chance of incapacitating injury of a pedestrian hit by a motor vehicle increases most significantly between the <20 MPH range (20.5%) to the 21-25 MPH range (35.7%) while the risk of death approximately doubles with each 5 MPH of speed difference. Most casual bicyclists don’t know the statistics, but they intrinsically know that being too close to cars going too much faster than them is dangerous, and the greater the speed difference the more dangerous it is.

The great debate on whether a bike lane is actually safe, however, typically lies in the turning movements. Do bike lanes “hide” you from cars making turning movements; do they give the cyclist a false sense of safety so they let their guard down? In writing up this post I wasn’t able to find any research that would confirm or deny those arguments***, but from my own experience: it doesn’t matter. The two most dangerous movements I face every day are when I approach a car who suddenly turns right without a signal and being in the blind spot of the last car through an intersection when a vehicle traveling the opposite direction is turning left. I don’t have too many motorists pass me then suddenly turn right in front of me and cut me off, though that may be a bigger worry in an urban environment like Downtown Seattle where there is much more stimuli for a motorist to be aware of****. Sharing a 10-foot road would preclude the motorist being able to pass and subsequently cut a cyclist off, but a 14-foot road would allow the exact same movement with or without a marked bike lane. The left hook would be a worry in most instances regardless of road position except when cycling in the most left portion of the lane, something that is discouraged and probably could be argued to be in violation of the “as far right as practicable” verbiage in state law.

Ultimately, bike lanes do appear to encourage more cyclists (good), less sidewalk cycling (good), a defined space and predictable movements from cyclists (good). But they clearly have limitations on how much they help. I will advocate consistently and vociferously that there is no place for a 45 MPH speed limit / 60 MPH designed roadway in our cities. But, expecting that even the most progressive city won’t eliminate all these urban highways in my lifetime, identifying appropriate facilities for each road design would be a compromise worth discussing. Segregated bicycle facilities are at work in Chicago and DC and have been in play across the pond for decades, so we have best practices to guide us how to disallow motorists from making right turns on red lights, giving cyclists and pedestrians a jump start from a signal queue, or even their own dedicated signal to create a “green wave” for cyclists. Completely segregated facilities should be available on major arterials with design speeds at or above 45 MPH. Wider bike lanes, or a set of pavers separating cyclists from motor vehicle traffic would keep cyclists close enough to the roadway for motorists to see, a physical barrier to separate modes, and the space to reduce the physiological response you get from nearly getting hit are necessary for streets with a design speed between 35 and 45 MPH. From a comfort standpoint, standard bike lanes as we know them should be most prevalent on roadways with design speeds between 25 and 35 MPH. These are speeds at which motorists have an adequate amount of time to observe and respond to a cyclist, and motorists are moving slow enough to effectively reduce the fear factor for most cyclists. At or below 25 MPH it is not unreasonable to expect both types of vehicle to interact positively with one another with gentle reminders that all users are entitled to the roadway by using sharrows or signage.

With so much of our public budgets being poured into transportation and roadways, there is an argument to be made that cyclists (and by extension, pedestrians) should have the same equity in the public right of way. I’m not arguing for a monetary equivalent (can you imagine how many full-on cycle tracks we could build for the same $1.2 billion South Mountain Freeway budget?), but an access equivalent. With so much effort and time spent to reduce the number of motor vehicle collisions through segregation (medians, signals, additional lanes), why are cyclists left to be protected by three inches of white paint on the ground?

*For my argument, I’m choosing to use difference in speed rather than absolute speed because the difference in speed is the relative impact your body would feel if it were hit by a car; it doesn’t take into account the greater stopping distance by the vehicle if you’re trapped underneath or the velocity in which a cyclist would hit the ground or a fixed object as a result of the initial collision. I consider these events to be circumstantial and event specific.

**Of the cyclist; there aren’t too many deaths by people in cars when they hit a bike

***Lots of conflicting anecdotal internet pieces. Robert Hurst’s The Cyclist’s Manifesto really doesn’t care much for bike lanes, but it also largely ignores the young or especially vulnerable cyclist, and [I’m paraphrasing here] tells able-bodied would-be cyclists to suck it up and get over their fear. He may be right, but psychologically many people just don’t work that way.

****My own Seattle cycling experience is limited to the Burke-Gilman Trail (quite possibly America’s premier multi-use trail) and some smaller neighborhood streets through the U-District and Kirkland.

Baby steps

My wife and I don’t have children, but the running joke in our circle of friends is to give us a participation ribbon for everything we do. Good job eating most of your breakfast, you get a participation ribbon! You see, this is because we think participation ribbons are dumb. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try your best even when you’re out-manned, that you shouldn’t explore your limits by giving it all you’ve got. It’s just that we’re not going to give our future children an entitlement complex by congratulating them on achieving basic expectations.

So it goes that any time a city or government entity does something good, I’m faced with the dilemma of whether to praise them for doing their job or not. MAG’s Twitter account sent this out yesterday:

In summary, both Carefree and Cave Creek will each contribute a little more than $9,000 to study and create a bike lane along Cave Creek Road and Tom Darlington Drive by 2015. This is kind of a big deal as the FY2014 engineering budget for Cave Creek is $175,000; the $9,000 equates to about 5% of that engineering budget. For the two towns they were highly incentivized to come up with the local matching funds with grants from ADOT through MAG are matched at 9:1. These funds are supplied from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) run by the FHWA, and supplied to the state DOT for distribution: 25% to MAG, 25% to PAG, and an additional 50% to use at their discretion.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cave Creek Road, here is a picture from Google Street View of Cave Creek Road just east of town:

Cave Creek Road

This road is currently the best east/west route through Cave Creek/Carefree going to and from Bartlett Lake. Adding a bike lane will add a layer of separation between drivers and cyclists that should welcome more people to utilize their bicycles for utilitarian trips between the two towns. It’s a small 4.5 mile sample of turning the public realm back over to people, but it’s most welcome news in two communities with large cyclist populations but zero bicycling infrastructure. Most importantly, it’s good to see two outlying communities working together for the betterment of all.

PHX Bike Blog Launch

I grew up in Richland, a medium-sized city in Eastern Washington in an area known as the Tri-Cities due to the proximity of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. All told the area is home to approximately 190,000 people though you wouldn’t know it if the observation were based on cooperation between governments. The area is auto-dependent by any measure, but WalkScore gives Richland a score of 39, Kennewick a 41, and Pasco has spiraled to a 35 thanks to having plenty of farmland to sprawl over on the western side of town during the past 15 years. No matter what you think of WalkScore’s imperfections, it’s pretty unanimously considered that not having a car here is pretty crazy. Under less than ideal circumstances I went carless for about two months just after high school and never left Richland during that time. This is a long segue to get to the point: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest about a 2.5 hour drive from both Portland and Seattle and grew up loving my car.

It’s because I grew up there that I still pay attention to what’s going on in Seattle and Portland and try to contribute like anyone there cares what somebody living in Mesa, Arizona has to say. While my interest in Seattle sports, urban design, and public transportation in both cities has always been an interest of mine, bicycling has been on my radar only since 2010 when I began riding my bike regularly. Eventually since then I’ve latched on to Bike Portland and Seattle Bike Blog, from which this blog is inspired.

Before I get too far, I want to acknowledge that great work is being done in the Phoenix area by Tempe Bicycle Action Group, Phoenix Spokespeople, and the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists. Arizona Bike Club, Pedal Craft, and The Bicycle Cellar also provide an outstanding presence from the bicycling community into the public consciousness. They’re led by established leaders much more outgoing and sociable than I am and deserve much credit for the improvements that have been made in the infrastructure and the public disposition toward cycling. Each of them have their own blog which I encourage you to check out.

What is lacking in the Phoenix area, and what Bike Portland and Seattle Bike Blog provide in their cities, is a consistent source of publicly accessible bike news and information. By providing a central location for news and information to flow through, we can expand the reach of our existing outstanding bicycle advocates and be heard as one much louder voice. That’s the void I look to fill with this blog. I will, by my nature, touch on pedestrian and transit issues from time to time, but the bulk of the content on here will be bicycle-related news. This is where I ask for your help!

I’m looking for people who would like to provide content for this site and contribute to making it a community asset. I will provide quite a bit of the content myself, but I don’t expect to be able to produce quality content on a daily basis. So I’m looking for a group of writers and researchers who would like to be involved, who have a desire to inspire a culture change in Phoenix and the surrounding area, and are willing to volunteer their time because I mean look, I’m starting this up on a free WordPress account, there’s no money here. Please e-mail me at PHXBikeBlog@gmail.com if you are interested in writing stories, covering public meetings/events, researching statistics, or providing visual content such as a logo, pictures, or info graphics. If there is any bicycling information that needs to be shared, please Tweet that information to me to share: @PHXBikeBlog.

Phoenix has the terrain and the weather that famous American cycling cities Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis don’t have. There is no reason we can’t be a world-class bicycling city, and there’s no reason we should settle for anything less.