Vote No on Question 2 in Mesa’s Special Bond Election

One of the worst things about writing a Phoenix Bike Blog is I live in Mesa. Mesa has maintained its suburban mentality even as the world around it is changing. 60 mph arterial streets, 40 mph residential street designs, and 10-foot walls surrounding our “neighborhoods” are still being built. They may be building light rail for three miles and have a cycle track in the bicycle master plan (hopefully it gets built?), but they’re still allowing Eastmark to be built as-is right next to a brand new freeway they issued $77 million in bonds to fast track. Ugh.

Separately I’ve always been extremely excited about being able to vote. Maybe it’s because of my military service, maybe it’s because I feel like I really am able to make a difference, but I love voting in local elections. I could care less about the President just because living in Arizona my vote will always be Republican, just like when I lived in Washington or California my vote was always Democrat. It really holds no value to me. So when I got my voter’s pamphlet in the mail last week, I got really excited. Then I read the pamphlet.

There are two bond measures: Question 1 is a public safety bond for fire, police, and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t pertain to this blog. Question 2 is “Streets and Highways”. That’s not a good way to start a “vote yes” argument with me. But I was hopeful that, like last year’s parks bond, there will be some improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure. Question 2’s wording is as such:

“Shall Mesa, Arizona, be authorized to issue and sell General Obligation Bonds of the City in the principal amount of $79,100,000 to provide funds to plan, design, acquire, construct, reconstruct and improve the City’s streets, highways, bridges, street lights, pedestrian improvements, multi-use path and trail improvements, other vehicular and multi-modal transportation improvements, and acquire land and interests in land therefore…”

and then a bunch of technical stuff about repayment and interest rates and maturity. This question doesn’t give us any real information, so I decided to look at the city’s website to get some information. This is a list of the projects to be paid for with the money from the bonds: 10th Street (Multi-Modal), Arterial Reconstructions, CityShare, Economic Development, Fiesta District – Phase II, Gateway Airport – Design/Environmental, Mesa Drive – Phase II, Right-of-Way Improvements/1st Ave, Rusted Streetlight Pole Replacement, and Streetlight Improvements.

10th Street (Multi-Modal)

10th Street between Date and Alma School would receive traffic calming infrastructure on about a ¾ mile stretch of roadway. This is a little-used street that I’ve ridden my bike down on multiple occasions when moving from the Tempe Canal Path to the Crosscut Trail because there is no connection between Alma School and Country Club. It is a low-volume street, and while I’m not intimately familiar with cut through traffic speeds, it doesn’t seem to be any more or less important from a traffic calming perspective than any other half or quarter mile street in Mesa where drivers treat these neighborhood streets as their own personal freeway. Conclusion: A good project that will likely end up looking and feeling like 13th or 5th Street in Tempe and serving a similar purpose to slow similar cut-through traffic.

Arterial Reconstruction

This appears to be a general maintenance issue where major arterial street sections have fallen into disrepair by way of cracks and potholes. Large sections of Broadway, Southern, Val Vista, and Greenfield are included. Broadway and Southern serve bicycle traffic; in fact they’re two of the highest collision streets in Mesa, and they don’t have any bicycle facilities. While improving on-street conditions would be beneficial for those people who choose to ride bikes for transportation, there is no mention of re-purposing these streets to provide safer travel for our active mode users. Conclusion: Conditionally not in support. I’m programmed to think “safety” in terms of Mesa’s streets means “remove obstacles for drivers” so unless they show me otherwise, this project is a massive missed opportunity for needed infrastructure improvement and traffic slowing on dangerous roadways.

CityShare

Supplementing developer’s fees to “improve” roadway and utility infrastructure over minimum required improvements to be provided by the developer. Conclusion: Not in support. Just like anything, we can interpret some of these things to be beneficial. For example, “oversizing” utilities can provide opportunity for higher densities and better communication connections in the future, but taking Mesa’s history into account it just means “you have to build a two lanes each direction road and we want to build three lanes.” No.

Economic Development

Discretionary funding for street improvements associated with significant economic development projects. Conclusion: Trusting to use the city to use this money wisely when one of the examples they give of previous funds used is the Ray Road “improvements”? No thank you.

Fiesta District – Phase II

Enhanced bus stop facilities, re-striping Southern Avenue in the immediate area, planting landscaping in the city right-of-way along the Fiesta Improvement District. Conclusion: Depends on how you feel about the Fiesta District, but not a bad project. Me? I view it is a placating attempt at “we’re improving the street to make a complete street” but still putting bicycle traffic immediately adjacent to 60 MPH vehicle traffic, pretty brick crosswalks, and a raised median. There are good and bad with this project, but I’m not fully in favor of it because I feel it’s half-assed as they’re not touching Alma School at all and I have no idea what they’re doing to increase bicycle connectivity with the rest of the city beyond the future-looking, largely un-funded bicycle master plan, so I’m not in support.

Gateway Airport – Design/Environmental

Design and environmental assessment of the East Terminal for Gateway Airport. Conclusion: An overall benefit to the city and they’ve already built the freeway. I’m neutral on this one because the economic benefit potential is great, but they’re not pushing any transit or cycling connectivity to minimize traffic impacts and it’s building yet another node in our already spread out city, taking away much of the benefit of light rail and form-based code in Downtown. In fact they already built a freeway here, so the negative effects are already being felt without even breaking ground.

Mesa Drive – Phase II

Bike lanes from 8th Avenue to Main Street and dual left turns at Broadway Road are included. Conclusion: That seems a little contradictory. “Let’s increase car volume and speed AND add bike lanes on an already high speed road.” Another case of one step forward and two steps back.

Right-of-Way Improvements / 1st Avenue

Provides landscaping improvements for 1st Avenue from MacDonald to Lesueur within the Downtown Planning Area. The figures on the website depict median landscaping. Conclusion: Mature trees and well maintained landscaping correlate with high property values. I’d rather see the city narrow the street footprint by adding landscaping on the street side of the sidewalks in the neighborhood to enclose the street, make the street more narrow for people walking to cross, and provide separation from moving traffic and people. This isn’t a terrible project, but could and should be done better.

Rusted Streetlight Pole Replacement

Older base mounted streetlight poles have begun to rust and are structurally unsound requiring replacement. Conclusion: As a possible safety issue, I’m obligated to say it’s an important thing to spend money on. But this should be included in standard maintenance and if needed taken out of the streets capital budget. The lack of funding to pay for regular maintenance and replacement is a direct result of sprawl that doesn’t pay for itself, just like the Arterial Reconstruction project above.

Streetlight Improvements

Adding streetlights to low-light areas. Conclusion: Important, yes. Should be included in the existing capital improvements plan in place of widening streets. If it weren’t bundled in with the rest of these “improvements”, I’d be likely to support a bond on this expenditure.

Why I’m Voting No

As I’ve mentioned in a few of these, this bond is being used to make up for deficiencies in past development patterns. We’re borrowing money to fund public safety against future development of which will fail to pay for itself and thus require further borrowing to make up for the deficiencies until Mesa is landlocked and forced to grow in a sustainable fashion. It’s also being used to supplement existing poor planning and development requirements. Even the money being spent to improve pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure is a half-assed appeasement to provide the bare minimum standards without actually improving conditions for people traveling outside a motor vehicle, or even the safety of those traveling inside a car. I know my skepticism of the city is a little depressing; I have to live with it after all, but it’s well earned after living here for seven years.

Until Mesa actually is committed to improving the quality of life for its residents through a comprehensive overhaul of its dangerous and singularly focused transportation infrastructure, I’m not willing to support any financial expenditure to continue operating status quo. $79 million in REAL change could transform this city from a desolate wasteland of high-speed arterials, spread out strip malls and grocery anchored centers, and towering prison walls surrounding subdivisions into a place people actually want to live, work, and play in a matter of a couple years. That amount of money can provide an opportunity to connect to the new light rail line, promote new mixed-use development within the city’s existing built environment, and keep our highly educated millennial generation graduating from all the new education options in Mesa from leaving to the cities in which we actually want to live and raise a family. Until a transportation bond measure comes along to make a difference in how people living in Mesa move around town, I’m inclined to vote no. As it stands, from my rough estimations there appears to be about $50 million in poorly spent money, $28 million in “barely acceptable, should be in the regular budget” spending, and $1 million in only okay spending. That’s not an acceptable burden to place on the citizens of Mesa or any city.

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