Changing the Regional Transportation Plan

Have you ever wondered why we build so many freeways? Why our roads are so wide and we’re always building more of them? Of course you haven’t, the answer is too obvious. Lots and lots of people drive here for everything. Going to work? Jump in the car! Going to the grocery store? Jump in the car! Going to the bar? Jump in the car! (hey, that rhymed!) Going to your neighbor’s house next door? Jump in the car! And we have lots and lots of money for building all these new roads, and have spent lots and lots of time planning for these new roads*. And people like to go fast because they hate being in a car. Seriously, think about that. If people loved driving so much, wouldn’t they want to spend as much time in the car as possible? As it is, people can’t wait to get out of the car, so they call for faster roads and fewer stops on those roads.

People often cite trips to work as a record of how much people are driving, and I think that’s because that’s the most frequent and publicly accessible data we have available. It’s very crucial information because the AM and PM peak hours test the capacity of any transportation system and the largest number of the people utilizing that peak capacity is commuters. But it doesn’t tell us anything about other trips. It’s commonly accepted that non-commute trips usually have more than one person in the car, while commute trips far too often have only one person per car, but the American Community Survey (ACS) only covers commute trips in its surveys. Another source of data is the National Household Transportation Survey (NHTS). This was most recently administered in 2001 and again in 2008, and Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) has validated and weighted the data for the region. Both of these data files are statistically significant but also have margins for error. One such example is on the 2008 NHTS data, 92% of people commuted to work by car, whether alone or with others. The total for the 2011 ACS is 88%. We have to be aware of the margin for error in the original data that exists with anything utilizing a sample size, and recognize that as such there is a greater margin for error in my own calculations below specifically because I’m using multiple data sources.

I touched on this the other day in my LOS post, but our existing transportation system is nowhere near capacity. There are certain times of the day and certain locations that certainly meet or exceed engineered capacity, but the system as a whole is not near capacity. This is especially true during non-peak hours, which only proves to solidify the importance of commute data. So while shifting modes from car to transit, bike, or foot at all times is important, for this exercise it’s most important during peak demand hours since all the congestion mitigation money we spend is going toward increasing that capacity.

The MAG Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) takes a look at broad revenue and expenses on regional transportation programs over the next 20+ years. The draft RTP being released this year has a horizon year of 2035 and takes into account population, employment, and travel projections. One of the things I did not see as I reviewed the 350-page document is a description of what the mode split of the models assumes (I note that it’s 350-pages because I speed read the document and the data may well be in one of the appendices). I’m working under the assumption that the mode split used in the traffic generation models is not significantly different from the NHTS survey.

Over the next 22 years the RTP has funding sources from ADOT which provides a Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) such as gas tax, license fees, and emissions testing fees, of almost $6 billion, Proposition 400 funds which are dedicated 56.2% to freeways, 10.5% to arterial streets, and 33.3% to public transportation, and federal funding from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) and the Surface Transportation Program (STP). All told there is up to $13.9 billion dedicated to freeway construction and maintenance (if we assume all ADOT money goes toward freeways, which it doesn’t, but I’m trying to keep things simple), $2.7 billion for arterial roadways, $200 million for bike/ped projects, $7.9 billion for transit, and $187 million for air quality enhancement projects for a total of $24.9 billion. That’s a lot of money!

What I’d like to do is re-allocate that money. Why, you might ask? Because this is a bike blog and I want to see more money spent on biking! Oh, a real reason? Besides the health benefits, high economic return on investment and improved safety of our transportation network? It increases the capacity of our road network to carry people. And for much cheaper than building a bunch of new freeways and widening arterial roadways or building new infrastructure in the desert.

In Portland, 1990 is a year the city chooses to point out as when it began investing significantly in bike infrastructure. At that time the commute mode share for bikes was slightly higher than Phoenix today (0.78%) at around 1% of commute trips, but still dreadfully low. Over the next 18 years the city invested roughly $60 million in bike infrastructure and an additional $7.2 million in a biking promotional campaign through 2012. The 2009 ACS shows the city-wide bicycle mode split at 4.8%. Digging deeper it shows that there are many census tracts within the “close-in” neighborhoods with more than an 8% mode split. The average of census tracts within what is generally considered by locals to be the close-in neighborhoods averages out to a commute split of 13.1% of people commuting by bike. These selected tracts hold approximately 20% of the city’s commuters and shows how targeted infrastructure improvements can increase the number of people utilizing a bicycle for their primary mode of transportation for commuting.

This has resulted in Downtown Portland avoiding traffic gridlock despite targeted economic and population growth. If you’re not familiar with Portland’s geography, the Willamette River bisects the city separating the close-in eastside neighborhoods from downtown. As a result there are five arterial bridges that carry people from the eastern part of the city and suburbs into the downtown core (and two freeway bridges). The Steel Bridge was built in 1912 and has a lower deck for heavy rail and bike/ped traffic, and carries light rail traffic and one general purpose lane in each direction on the upper deck. The Morrison and Burnside Bridges are similar to one another in location and type and are the busiest bridges in the city**, and the Broadway Bridge carries streetcar traffic with mixed vehicles and is anecdotally the most popular bike route into downtown. I’ll just cut and paste the PortlandOregon.gov press release linked in the previous paragraph for the money quote:

Between 1990 and 2008 the number of vehicles on these four bridges increased by 12%, which is consistent with both increased population and activity***. However, the entire increase was borne by the bicycle (which are defined as “vehicles” in Oregon). The number of motor vehicles crossing those bridges has stayed essentially constant since 1990. Thus, those bridges work as well for automobiles today as they did in 1990 despite the increased demand for mobility.

A similar bridge about three miles south of the Hawthorne Bridge (the south most downtown bridge) is being built to replace the existing Sellwood Bridge. The current cost estimate is $307.5 million and can be used as a low estimate for adding or replacing the downtown bridges due to the necessity of permitting large vessel maritime traffic via either height or mechanical opening that doesn’t exist at the Sellwood crossing. This is all only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Portland is planning on spending $600 million over the next 20 years with a goal of increasing its bike commute mode split to 20%.

That’s great for Portland, but what does this mean for the Phoenix area? It is an example of how committing to quality infrastructure, just as Phoenix has done for the past 50 years, can guide the transportation choices people make. We’ve invested hundreds of billions of [inflated] dollars to construct one of the best road networks in the country so it’s no wonder people drive. But what would it look like if we shifted some of that money from freeways and high-speed arterials to bike infrastructure? Let’s take a look at what the future could hold. I’ve taken the 2035 data directly from MAG’s RTP and loaded it into excel. The two sections on the right are ones I added, including the per capita amount for each scenario (2011, 2035 RTP, and 2035 No Build). Further right still I added the 2035 ATP (Anthony Transportation Plan) which is an exceedingly simple mid-point between the full RTP build-out and the no-build scenario.

RTP Congestion Findings and Alternative Suggestion

RTP Congestion Findings and Alternative Suggestion

One of the things we see between the build-out and no-build scenario is that the no-build projects fewer vehicle miles traveled but almost all of those miles are taken off freeways, presumably due to congestion. This results in higher congestion on arterial roadways. What I want to focus on, and the reason we’re spending up to $13 billion on new and “improved” freeways over the next 22 years, is the hours of delay. On a per trip basis the delay caused by congestion today is about 5 minutes. Spending all this extra money translates into 8 minutes of delay, which, why would we spend so much money just to get delayed even more? Well, because the models show 12 minutes of delay per trip taken in the no-build scenario. So what we’re really doing is saving everybody 4 minutes of drive time for each commute trip taken throughout the week.

What I’d like to propose… well, what I’d really like to propose is we de-fund all freeways except maintenance of some existing roadways, demolition of some existing freeways, and ITS measures including tolling… but what I’d like to propose for this exercise is a shift in the way we spend our money. As you’ve noticed, we’ve identified almost $25 billion in transportation expenditures over the next 22 years. Twenty-five billion, with a B. Yet, according to the RTP when discussing bicycles and pedestrians (chapter 12), “The cost to reconstruct existing roadways to accommodate the above plan is beyond the reasonable available revenues at this time.” The money is there. $25 billion is a big pie to share, but the reason there isn’t enough money to accommodate the bike/ped portion of the RTP is because it’s not a priority. The only commitment to the regional bike plan is whatever we can get from the federal governments and support that with a 5.7% match from our local municipalities.

There certainly are some restrictions in how we can use that $25 billion. Since the ADOT money comes from the HURF and the Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S. 28-6538) and Arizona State Constitution Section IX, article 14 prevents user fees from being used for non-highway uses. I haven’t the legal expertise to work around that to argue that expanded light rail or new commuter rail on freeway corridors would be considered as an appropriate expense because it effectively increases carrying capacity in the corridor. I think it may be because ADOT is running the show on the Passenger Rail Study between Tucson and Phoenix, but I’m not going to spend too much time arguing that HURF money could be used to add bike lanes on state roads like Country Club, or create bikeable shoulders on our rural 2-lane highways.

Prop 400 sets the allocated percentage of funds and distributes those funds between freeways, arterial streets, and transit. The language that I am familiar with on the arterial street element of Prop 400 is it says improvements and new arterial facilities a lot. I’ve been looking for the past several years for the actual legislative document for Prop 400 with no luck, so I stick with the annual reports like this for what knowledge I do have. What I’d like to do is shift some of the money spent specifically to create the opportunity for higher speeds and higher volume of car traffic on our arterial network to increasing the capacity and safety for people to bike.

For the remainder of the existing Prop 400 program I’d leave the freeway and transit aspects alone. I’d love to shift some of the funding for those, but politically it may be such a pain that we end up fighting about it until the extension expires at the end of 2024 rendering the entire purpose a wasted opportunity. Ultimately the money collected from Prop 400 and the inevitable Prop 500 are the highway funds I’d like to see used to improve cycling in and around our regional highways. Utilizing Prop 400 money to improve freeway crossings for people on bike, adding bicycle facilities to Country Club/Arizona Avenue, or widening the shoulder on Bush Highway or Rio Verde/Dynamite to improve safety for people driving and riding a bike would be especially helpful in connecting routes and improving access.

For the next 10 years I’d like to guarantee a portion of the arterial funding from Prop 400 to improving the bicycle facilities on arterial roadways. This would include adding protected bike lanes to 7th Street and 7th Avenue in Phoenix, building a cycle track on Thomas or Indian School all the way through Phoenix, placing (at a minimum) bike lanes on the entire length of Scottsdale and Rural Road, and countless other delayed or not-yet-planned projects to connect the region and enhance the cycling experience for many people. When Prop 400 expires and the inevitable Prop 500 goes to ballot, we need to ask for a shift in funding. Instead of wasting spending 56.2% of our funding on freeways, we shift the funds and dedicate a large amount to cycling and increase transit funding. Here is what the current allocation looks like with the assumption that Prop 500 is the same as Prop 400:

Proposition 400 Spending Allocation Through 2035

Proposition 400 Spending Allocation Through 2035

I have modified the allocations and added Bike/Ped to come up with the following table:

Modified Proposition 400 Spending Allocation Through 2035

Modified Proposition 400 Spending Allocation Through 2035

When we add ADOT, STP, and CMAQ funding to the picture, the total funding for projects from 2014 – 2035 looks like this:

Total Original RTP and Revised RTP Funding Through 2035

Total Original RTP and Revised RTP Funding Through 2035

When we compare these numbers to the “ATP” above you’ll notice that I cut new freeway miles and arterial miles in half but funding on freeways and arterial streets by about 15%. By shifting an additional $2 billion to transit and dedicating an extra $600 million in bike/ped we create an opportunity for greater infill development opportunity, thus reducing the need for new roadways. These road funds may be utilized to maintain our existing infrastructure as it begins to reach the end of its original life cycle, re-purpose and calm our arterial roadways, re-stripe arterials to better support mixed-mode transportation, and improve our ITS throughout the city. Eliminating the I-10 reliever and South Mountain Freeway would result in additional funding that could be used to provide grade-separated parallel bike facilities along freeways that turn a 10-mile commute from a slow, stoplight infested journey next to high-speed car traffic to a calm, peaceful, and quick bike commute that people of all skill levels could enjoy.

How much of a mode shift should we actually expect from all this re-allocation of money? Well, let’s take a look at Portland. They spent $60 million dollars over the 18 years beginning in 1990. To compare the cost and effectiveness across a geographic area I chose to take a look at their land area which is 133 square miles meaning they spent approximately $450,000 per square mile of land area in the city. The result of that spending was a 4.8% mode split city-wide. I measured the land area of what I typically consider to be “urbanized Phoenix” which is the area inside the loops, plus I added East Mesa, Apache Junction, Queen Creek, South Gilbert, South Chandler, and Ahwatukee, and ended up with 837 square miles of land. This means if we were to apply straight math with the same results per dollar spent over the entire region we’d have to spend $376,650,000 just to reach 4.5% mode share. But remember, there were some key census tracts that held 20% of the total city population and that mode split was 13.1%, so the money is being spent to strategically build new infrastructure where it is likely to make the biggest effect. So if we focus on the most heavily populated areas we come down to about 571 square miles and $257,950,000 needed. If the new distribution of funding is put into place immediately, and the results Portland has seen are matched, we can have 4.8% mode share by 2025.

My goal when I started this exercise is a 15% bike split by 2035. A lot would have to go right to make that happen; namely land use code would have to be changed and density would have to increase. Improving high capacity transit and making close-in neighborhoods where people want to live and where some density is promoted will do a lot to push toward achieving that goal, and that’s part of the purpose behind shifting $2 billion in freeway money to new transit investment. I would like to focus on building a streetcar network in Phoenix that ties to the light rail line for regional travel while strategically increasing densities along Camelback, 7th Avenue, 24th Street, 44th Street, Baseline, Grand Avenue, and McDowell, all contributing to an urban, vibrant, and diverse downtown core. While 15% mode share is a lofty goal, between the additional $2 billion in transit, the predicted increase in freeway congestion (again, regardless of whether we build hundreds of new lane miles or not), and the $830,000,000 in bike/ped infrastructure, it is an attainable goal. So what does that look like?

Working off the above scenario I’ve projected 45% single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) use, 12.5% carpool use, 15% public transportation use, 5% walking, 17.5% taxicab, bicycle, or other means, and 5.5% working from home in 2035. There are only six major cities in the country with an SOV rate below 50% for commuting, so I’m aware that this is ambitious… but it’s possible. And this is an exercise in potential, so I’m sticking with it. What does that future look like?

Actual, Projected, and Revised Projected Commute Mode Splits

Actual, Projected, and Revised Projected Commute Mode Splits

If we are able to successfully invest in other modes and make them more attractive to people and get them out of driving alone we end up with fewer SOV’s [read: cars] on the road. If we assume a current carpool rate of 2.2 people per car and assume a future carpool rate of 2.7 people per car (to account for an increase in parking costs in the urban core, increase in fuel cost, and ITS measures to promote higher occupancy), the net gain of people using cars to commute daily will increase by 10,578 by 2035. By strategically placing the 372 new lane miles I suggested earlier, we can pinpoint bottlenecks and improve traffic flow where congestion occurs instead of just laying down expensive mile after expensive mile of exurban freeway.

At the end of this exercise, we’re spending the same amount of money on the transportation system whether we implement the RTP or the ATP. We still get a few new lane miles of freeway, add some new arterials in the exurban areas to allow for new development in the already platted subdivisions, but we could continue to allow everybody to have the freedom to drive their own car if we implement the full RTP, right? I’d be remiss if we didn’t take the opportunity to look at the economic benefits of freeing people from needing to own their own car. In fact, if we take the 2011 ACS data table B08141 which identifies the number of cars in a household by mode taken to commute and project that data into our 2035 assumptions we can see that implementing the ATP could reduce personal vehicle ownership by 665,837.

2035 RTP Car Ownership and Modified RTP Car Ownership Projections

2035 RTP Car Ownership and Modified RTP Car Ownership Projections

AAA estimates the annual cost of owning a standard-sized sedan is $9,122 in 2013. Sources vary, but two numbers I found indicate that between 16% and 23% of funds spent on personal automobiles stays in the local economy. For this exercise I’ll use 23%. If we take these numbers and inflate auto ownership expenses at 3% per year, we see that households in the MAG region spend $11.6 billion less on car expenses with the ATP scenario than the RTP scenario. With $9 billion of that money being spent on cars leaving the local economy, by reducing our automobile dependence we keep those dollars flowing to local businesses (while simultaneously improving personal finances due to lower debt and greater opportunity for savings). At an average sales tax rate of 8.5% that means $762 hundred million of that spending is returned to cities and the state in the form of sales tax revenues every year. While not all of that tax revenue is a direct return from enhanced cycling infrastructure (as much of it is a return from transit investment), the sales tax revenue gained from this scenario is enough on its own to pay for all the cycling infrastructure improvements and then some.

Going beyond the sheer economics of being able to get rid of a car we get options. Look at the first table again. We can spend all this money on all these roads to try to speed up traffic, to get people places faster, but we still end up with more congestion than we have today. We literally cannot keep up with demand. By neglecting non-automobile modes of transit, we’re forcing our citizens to sit in traffic jams for an extra 8-12 minutes per trip. We’re promoting longer commutes and generally deteriorating the quality of life as 45-minute commutes turn to 60-minute commutes or longer. While the ATP doesn’t eliminate this congestion, it gives people options and maintains investment in the road network necessary to move goods. New light rail and streetcars promote strategic density and give more people an option to live in desirable neighborhoods closer to employment centers. Street calming and bike facilities make neighborhoods more habitable for families, slow traffic speeds, and generally make our existing urban centers more enjoyable to live and travel in. In either scenario people are free to sit in freeway traffic to and from work if they so choose. Only in a scenario where we shift the priority from moving cars to moving people can we honestly say we have transportation options. Why should we spend so much time and money building things that only make people unhappy when we could be improving people’s daily lives on a massive scale? It’s time for something drastically different, and it starts with changing our priorities and how we spend our money.

*Proposition 300 passed in 1984 and its extension Prop 400 passed in 2004 and dedicated a 1/2 cent sales tax to building the freeway loop system, major arterials, and eventually Metro Light Rail (among other things). South Mountain Freeway has been in the planning stages for over 30 years(!) as it was approved in both Prop 300 and Prop 400 and land use has been predicated on that freeway being built, making it very important in the models to “reduce congestion” which is why there are so many people committed to forcing that $1.9 BILLION project on us.

** Non-freeway division. They’re busier than the I-405 bridge, and since nobody really considers I-5 as being a bridge because the entire length of the freeway is a viaduct, they’re often considered the busiest bridges in the city by traffic volume

***Mr. Geller, the author of that paper, was referring to the four bridges with bike facilities. At the time those were Broadway, Steel, Burnside, and Hawthorne. In 2009 a protected bike lane was added on the Morrison Bridge giving all five bridges on the street network bicycle facilities.

Disclaimer: I interned at MAG in 2009-2010 in the transportation modeling division and have used all publically available data and sourced any data I received from MAG to their public site as well as data from the 2011 5-year ACS from the US Census. I have contributed work on some of this data previously, and am a contributing author on the Analysis of Add-on 2008 National Household Travel Survey. I have no current affiliation with MAG as an entity and all analysis and opinions contained in this post are my own. This is not an academic paper, and is not designed to withstand academic rigor; it is an exercise in potential and possibility. I have pulled a lot of data from a lot of sources, but some of the sources are disjointed and I am missing some data and have had to make some assumptions. For example, the NHTS data I used was from 2008 and the ACS data I used was from 2011; there was much that changed between those years, but it’s the best I have readily available. This was put together with about 20 hours of work over three weeks (and this is what I love to do and why I don’t blog very often, because this is the kind of content I like to put out). The actual Regional Transportation Plan is put together by MAG with thousands of worker hours over years of maintaining and creating new data sources. Many of the people working on it have multiple PhD’s and are using vast and complex models to project into the future. The work I put into this is in no way meant to discredit the work those people have done, it is merely a suggestive glimpse into something different. They are much smarter than I am, and I have learned a lot from people who have put the official RTP together. I would love nothing more than to perform a comprehensive analysis to determine the feasibility of this plan, but I certainly can’t do it from a volunteer position by myself before the data becomes completely obsolete.

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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.

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.

Want to do Something About Bike Funding?

Good news!  It’s not just a rhetorical question, but you can actually make suggestions and submit ideas for bike projects to your city.  What’s better is you can identify a source of funding for your favorite project!

MAG has about $4.4 million in Transportation Alternatives funding to give away this fall.  While Mesa has recently completed a bike master plan identifying priorities and estimated amounts, no such document exists for Phoenix and Tempe has 12 projects left to complete on its 2008 update.  The great and underappreciated thing about bicycle infrastructure is it’s crazy cheap to build compared to motor vehicle infrastructure.  $4.4 million can go a long way, and this is a great opportunity for you to share your next great idea with your city and ask them to apply for some of this funding to make your idea a reality.  After all, who knows the needs and wants of our cities cyclists better than those of us who ride our bikes every day?