Central and 1st Avenue Should Get a Bikelift

Jeff Speck prefers cities turn their one-way streets into two-way streets in his massively popular book, Walkable City (if you haven’t read it, do so immediately. I couldn’t put it down), and he makes a convincing argument to do so based on the economic response in Savannah and the safety record in Minneapolis. Here in Phoenix we have only a few one way streets unlike, say, Seattle or Portland. But unlike those cities, the one-way streets we do have are massive and fast, which makes them prime contenders for shifting to two-way designation. Of course I’m talking about Washington, Jefferson, Central, and 1st Avenues, the four main streets that intersect the very core of our city. Jefferson and Central each have five lanes of traffic in some places and would be perfect candidates to re-purpose. Central Avenue north of Roosevelt is a two-way street with two general purpose lanes in each direction bisected by the light rail line. South of Roosevelt it is split into 1st Avenue and Central Avenue. Central has two lanes and a center access lane between Roosevelt and Van Buren, and is three northbound lanes south of Van Buren. 1st Avenue is three southbound lanes between Roosevelt and Lincoln.

I’ve been kicking around this idea for a couple days now as part of a larger preparation for the next two weeks bike master plan meetings where we remove one of the lanes of general purpose traffic from each of Central and 1st Avenues, and turn the right lane into a Bus/Bike/Right Turn Only lane. The idea reinforced itself as I was headed back to work today after going outside for a walk and I took this picture:

Looking south on Central Avenue at 3:30 PM on a Monday

Looking south on Central Avenue at 3:30 PM on a Monday

That’s 3:30 in the afternoon on Monday looking south from Central and Washington. Crickets. Not a car in sight except that one parked outside the left lane just south of Jefferson. During rush hour the right lane is jam packed with express and local busses, so nobody really even drives in that lane unless they’re making a right turn anyhow. During mid-day it’s obviously a ghost town. This is what I envision this section of street looking like:

Central Avenue painted for a bike/bus lane only

Central Avenue painted for a bike/bus lane only

What you have is a solid white line separating general traffic from a bike/bus only lane. Approaching intersections where a right turn is allowed, the solid white line will turn to a dashed white line and a sign indicating right turns are permitted will be present. At the intersections there will be a green bike box and “Bikes Only” lettering in the box. No right turn on red shall be permitted and cars are required to stop behind this bike box at all times, and people driving cars must turn right from this lane; they cannot continue straight. If this becomes an issue with drivers getting in the right lane to jump a queue, bollards may be placed at the far end of the intersection with a generous clearance for bicycles but provide a deterrent for drivers to try to squeeze through the intersection ahead of general traffic. Furthermore if general traffic attempts to utilize this lane, traffic bollards may be installed for a small additional cost where traffic is not allowed to merge.

SB 1st Avenue painted at an intersection for bike/bus lane

SB 1st Avenue painted at an intersection for bike/bus lane

On Central Avenue north of Van Buren where the road shrinks to two lanes, I’d propose to continue the bike-lane aspect in the access road to the left of the light rail tracks. At Van Buren, this would include utilizing a queue jump signal priority for bikes and busses to allow a clear, worry-free crossing from the right lane to the far left lane. In the event a bike rider reaches Van Buren during a green light signal, they may perform a “Copenhagen Left” maneuver by crossing to the far side of the intersection and waiting in the bike box in the right westbound lane on Van Buren, and proceed to cross to the left side of Central Avenue once the Van Buren light turns green. This is an atypical utilization of the Copenhagen Left, but allows the rider to cross the two through traffic lanes safely and with minimal stress.

NB Central at Van Buren bike/bus lane shifting to access road

NB Central at Van Buren bike/bus lane shifting to access road

To the north of Van Buren, the initial left turn lane remains a bike/bus lane for busses accessing Central Station, and north of Polk remains an access road but serves as the primary cycling route on Central until Roosevelt. I’m open to suggestions to the type of surface to be installed on this access road, but my initial thought was to place pavers here. The shortcomings of that, of course, are skinny-tire bikes would be just as uncomfortable to ride here as cars would be to drive, but the goal with this is to implement a speed limit of 15 MPH so as to allow people driving full left-turn and business access and let drivers know this space is for bicycle travel and walking, first and foremost, and taking a car here is to acknowledge it is a shared space. At Roosevelt, bike traffic would be allowed to turn left or right; signalization, signage, or other design elements should be implemented to minimize the probability of people turning right onto Roosevelt across train or car traffic moving northbound.

Central Avenue access road re-paved for bike access

Central Avenue access road re-paved for bike access

This is one idea I have for making Downtown more bike-friendly. Anecdotally I don’t feel that traffic would be hindered hardly at all based on my observations of traffic behavior along these streets as well as based on the right lane of 1st Avenue being closed during the YMCA/SRC expansion/construction. So what do you think of this idea? So crazy it might actually work? Carmaggedon waiting to happen? Or maybe you can improve on the idea to make an even better solution to moving people north and south through Downtown by bike.

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