Phoenix Capital Improvement Program

Much is made, and rightfully so, about transportation departments relative lack of funding for facilities to improve cycling and walking. It’s a bit of a tricky balancing act to look at funding and apply broad-brush assumptions to any budget. Drainage and re-surfacing projects positively impact cycling by maintaining a safe and smooth riding surface. Included in the construction of [most] new streets anymore are standard AASHTO bike lanes and sidewalks.

At the same time it’s important to pay attention to how those facilities are integrated. A re-surfacing project that only paves fog line to fog line creates a dangerous ledge that people riding bikes can crash on. A bike lane along a 45 MPH arterial designed for 60 MPH is better than nothing, but still keeps interested but concerned people off their bikes and reinforces sprawled out land use. Even as money is spent on a new road, some of that money is [usually] spent for the additional right-of-way required to install a bike lane and the construction materials for sidewalks. I don’t put a huge emphasis on monetary budgets because culture change and best practices are a more sustainable change, but money spent cannot be nor should it be neglected.

It’s a reflection of culture change when instead of transportation departments saying they don’t have enough room or money to add bike lanes to a $20 million, six-lane arterial widening project [generic, stereotypical example], the street is re-designed to allow people to safely navigate by bike before proceeding with the project. It’s a reflection of culture change when money budgeted for a road with projected volume of 35,000 in 15 years but no demand today is re-allocated to design and construct safe cycling and walking facilities on important existing roadways such as Thomas and McDowell. Money’s not an end-all, be-all, but it is a useful tool we can use to improve bicycle options on key arterial corridors.

Now that I’ve wasted all that time setting the stage, the Phoenix Street Transportation and Drainage Capital Improvements Plan for 2014-2018 was provided to me via the Phoenix.gov website (actually, the Phoenix Streets Twitter handle sent me the 2013-2017, so I’m editing this post on the fly), and I’ve got notes! The total 5-year program cost of $565,039,198 UPDATE WITH 14-18 FIGURE: $581,931,335 which is divided into general categories such as ADA compliance ($718,813 or 0.1% of the total budget), Street Modernization ($13,719,168 or 2.4%), and Major Street, Bridge, Pedestrian and Bikeway Construction ($336,970,613 or 57.91% of the total program). It’s difficult to get a good feel for what is included in these budget categories because everything is an improvement or modernization or rehabilitation. Traffic Calming Improvements likely mean adding traffic-calming infrastructure, but if there is a low LOS because of an existing traffic calming measure, removing this would also be considered an improvement in engineer-speak. The Highway Enahcement for Safety Project at 32nd Street and McDowell (ST89320023) is $2.5 million of $10 million 5-year program budget for traffic calming, but without any design plans we can’t tell how the project improves traffic.

It’s a little lot misleading to entitle a $337 million category with “pedestrian and bikeway” in the name. Within that category is a $29.2 million budget for on and off ramps for Black Canyon Boulevard to SR-51 and $59.8 million to construct a section of Rio Salado Parkway. Every project in that category to improve bicycle or walking facilities totals $13,268,335, or 3.9% of the Major Street, Bridge, Pedestrian, and Bikeway Construction total. Unfortunately, and this is something Phoenix is getting pretty good at, a good chunk of it is being spent on a project that does more to appease calls for active transportation equity than make meaningful change. In year five of the program, $6.1 million is designated to build a pedestrian bridge across 7th Street between the Science Center and the Children’s Museum. It is a grand example of what appears to be the mentality among many of our municipalities that people are simply an obstruction to be eliminated instead of making meaningful change and actually making our streets safer on which to drive or ride a bike, cross, or walk along.

I think the people making these budgets mean well to put something like this together, but it’s ultimately a failed attempt to appease a group of people pleading for safety and human-scale improvements rather than having any interest in making any meaningful change to the status quo.

I went in to this document expecting to see $50,000 of bike funding buried in this budget somewhere and came away pleasantly surprised that almost 3.9% of the new construction budget is slated to be spent improving walking and cycling facilities and another 1.6% of the total program is spent on traffic calming. Unfortunately, this is not enough. The amount of harm being done with the money spent to widen, straighten, and otherwise increase traffic volume and speed does much to negate every dollar spent on actual street improvements. Whether too much or not enough money is spent directly improving bicycling and walking infrastructure need not be the focal point of our voices.

3.9% of the budget isn’t enough because there is so much to catch up on, but we can make significant headway by changing the way we build our streets. If we can leverage the money currently spent on roads in general to slow the streets, integrate bike lanes and on-street parking, reduce the amount of right-of-way dedicated to moving vehicles, and other traffic calming methods we can essentially turn the budget for biking and walking from 3.9% of the budget to a much, much higher percentage while simultaneously improving conditions for people in cars. We need to focus on updating our engineering and design standards to promote active transport modes in every project, and instantly the budget for cycling and walking shoots to the moon.

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