I met up with a new acquaintance the other night over coffee to talk about local planning issues, strategies for improving government coordination, and about our personal lives to get to know one another. One of the more concrete ideas brought up was the activation of a bikeshed. Without much discussion, it was agreed upon that a comfortable radius from which a node can attract people to travel by bike is 2.5 miles, and that a node should include all essential services for daily city living. Examples of these services would be a grocer, restaurants, dry cleaner, hardware store, bakery, and some clothing stores.
Phoenix’s history of terrible* land use and transportation policy has put us in a position where walkability is almost non-existent. While acknowledging the limitations of Walkscore, the neighborhood that grades out the best in Phoenix is Central City with a 63 followed by Encanto at 60**. This low walkability is one of the primary reasons why cycling should be the preferred mode of transportation to bridge the gap between automobile dependency today and the day when Phoenix is walkable. Unfortunately, these two neighborhoods also grade out as the highest Bikescores in the city, each scoring 68. In a nutshell, this means for people to walk or bike in even these most “urban” neighborhoods, it takes a very conscious and deliberate mindset to utilize active transportation modes in daily life.
One of the better conceptual ideas in Phoenix planning was to establish villages. These 15 villages are established geographically and by community character. Each of these villages also has what’s been coined a primary hub, and four of the villages have secondary hubs. Another term for these hubs in the planning world is a node. These are supposed to be the commercial and cultural center for each village, and serve the needs of its citizens. I decided to take a look at these village hubs to see what kind of opportunity there is for connectivity using the aforementioned 2.5 mile radius:
If we’re going strictly by the 2.5-mile standard, you can see there are gaps in the system that create longer distances to hubs, meaning it’s more palatable to drive than it is to ride a bike. So what would the city look like if the number of primary nodes were increased to fill the rest of the city? It would look like ten new primary hubs:
Just for funsies, I took one of my favorite walkable cities, Portland, and ran 1/3 mile radii around the hubs that I am familiar with:
And compared them to the Phoenix hubs I’m familiar with using the same scale and starting from the central city:
To be honest, it’s apples and oranges and we can argue about what a hub is or isn’t. But it should be pretty clear there is a difference between the cities. I feel I was pretty generous with Phoenix; For example, I’m not sure that Phoenix Ranch Market on 16th Street and Roosevelt would be considered a node but it does seem to be important to the neighborhood, but it’s primarily a single use whereas the nodes in Portland each provide multiple essential services. I also have no idea what kind of node(s) exist on the 7’s north of I-10 because I avoid those streets due to my mode choice. Likewise in Portland, I selected those nodes based on what I’m familiar with using transit or a bike to get around. All the space between the yellow circles is a result of many factors, but transportation preference and block size are two of the biggest. Those hubs in Phoenix are easy to get to by car, they’re a convenient travel distance by car, and they’re spread out enough where they don’t generate a ton of traffic. The Portland hubs I’ve highlighted have access to high-quality transit, small blocks, narrow streets, and a mix of uses. Parking is difficult to find (except Lloyd District) and there are always lots people walking or biking in those neighborhoods.
I don’t really have a point to make; I just thought it’d be a fun exercise to see what a 2.5-mile radius map would look like in Phoenix.
*Personal opinion based on my worldview of what a city should be, and not exclusive to Phoenix.
**By comparison, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington DC, Miami, Minneapolis, and Oakland are among the cities whose composite Walkscore is higher than 63.