A brief history: The last time I posted regularly was in November, ironically around the 1-year anniversary of my bike crash on Rio Salado Parkway as I was crossing under the 101 Freeway. There were a couple notable events that I made sure to share, but a combination of a brief depression, a tumultuous time at work, and frustration at writing about “bad bike news” in Phoenix limited my desire and ability to write effectively. My goal when I began this was to produce quality writing that went beyond simply reporting on bike events and policies, and arm my readers with facts and information that allowed them to deliver better arguments in favor of improved bike ability and walkability in and around Phoenix. I do hope you all found that I, to some extent, achieved those goals while I was active.
I am not a Phoenix native. Furthermore, I embodied the nature that has been built in Phoenix over the past few decades: I lived in Mesa, went to school in Tempe, and worked in Phoenix. I have commuted by car, by bus, and by bike. I had a conversation about four years ago with a friend that I was struggling on whether I needed to stay in Metro Phoenix and help to generate an improvement in urbanism and walkability throughout the region, or the need to evacuate to a location that already had the improved infrastructure, and more importantly, a transformed mentality that embraced and emphasized active transportation. As I grew older, got married, and have started contemplating adding children to our family, I had to evaluate where Phoenix was as a region. The values I looked at were almost exclusively related to how likely I felt my children would be to grow up in a city where it was safe, comfortable, and stimulating to autonomously transport themselves if we stayed in Phoenix.
Starting with current infrastructure, the suburbs of Phoenix are actually quite advanced as measured by the League of American Cyclists. Scottsdale is a Gold Bicycle Friendly City, Tempe is silver, Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa are all bronze. There are important pathways such as the Indian Bend Wash, the Canal Trails, hundreds of miles of on-street bike lanes. These are calculated in the qualifications of whether a city is ranked or not, and are very helpful. However, I remained convinced, especially as it relates to on-street bike lanes in these suburbs, that these infrastructure are but a platitude in an attempt to quiet the voices calling for safer streets. We know that speed kills, that at 30 miles per hour 45% of all collisions with pedestrians result in death, and at 40 miles per hour 85% of these collisions result in death. All our arterials have 45 MPH speed limits with design speeds between 50 and 60 MPH, which drivers continually test. Then 4-foot bike lanes are haphazardly placed on these roads, obstructed by sewer grates, gutter pans, and debris. This is one example of the compromise that is typically made not just in Phoenix but across the country. Simply put, it’s bike washing. It’s creating the illusion of bike ability without actually creating transportation options, and it’s especially prevalent across Phoenix.
This can be changed, but when I was let go from my job I had to make a decision on whether to stay in Phoenix long-term or move. I was absolutely determined to move from my home in East Mesa this summer. Tempe’s most walkable community is the Maple-Ash neighborhood with a Walkscore of 69. The Phoenix Central City neighborhood has a walkscore of 60. (These are indicators, not the end all, be all). The lack of connectivity combined with the perceived mentality I have of politics and how difficult it is to make any positive changes to the land use and transportation convinced me that there is no place in the Valley that I will feel comfortable raising a family. A 5-10 year plan to remove one lane from each of the 7’s in Downtown Phoenix, the intense opposition and watering down of the University Streetscape Repair in Tempe, the 1-mile “fix” of Broadway are all examples of half baked, haphazard, and disconnected bike infrastructure that is common in these cities. I fear that even considering the best efforts of the community will result in at least 20 years, likely 40-60 years before there are affordable neighborhoods that allow for walkable, safe streets. As a result, we have decided to move to Denver.
We actually left Mesa permanently on June 23, and will be renting an apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I think it is important to note that Denver is very similar to Phoenix in many ways, and from a bike/ped posture it was in a similar situation in 1990 as Phoenix is in today. That is encouraging to see that an auto-centric, multi-nodal metropolis can evolve and adjust to a higher quality of life, and with groups like Tempe Bicycle Action Group and Phoenix Spokespeople Phoenix is on the right track. I highly encourage each of you to get involved with TBAG and Spokespeople in as many ways as you can. The bigger the organization, the more weight it pulls on our political leaders and the more you can get done collectively. There is a bright future for Phoenix, and cities like Denver and Portland provide great blueprints for how to make effective change in auto-centric cities with a strong downtown street grid in place. The dedicated leadership is in place, now it just takes persistence for those of you with a strong passion for the city, who deeply love Phoenix, to make a difference. I wish you all the best today and in the future, and I’ll have my eye on Phoenix; I’m excited to read about the great changes in store!
Anthony A. Avery