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$5M Phoenix Canal Upgrade Coming Soon

Walkers use the path along the canal near Fifth Avenue and Goldwater on Saturday, March 29, 2014 in Scottsdale. The city recently completed improvement of the canal path from Goldwater Boulevard to 60th Street at the Phoenix border. Photo credit: Stacie Scott/The Republic

By Dustin Gardiner for The Arizona Republic

Phoenix’s miles and miles of canal banks are a popular recreation and commuting route for pedestrians and bikers. But an increasing volume of canal-bank traffic has raised safety concerns and calls for aesthetic improvements, according to city planners.

To meet the demands of canal users, Phoenix has announced plans to pour nearly $5M into upgrades along the Grand Canal in the uptown area and near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The money would pay for crosswalks and stop lights where the waterway meets major roads, a paved pathway, lighting and public-art installations.

It is part of a broader vision to restore Phoenix’ blighted canals, once a focal point of community life in the city, as an alluring ribbon of oases in the Sonoran Desert.

City planners and advocates from Arizona Forward, an association of business and civic leaders, say improvements that attract more people to the Grand Canal are the first step toward creating a unique urban place. They say it is counter-intuitive for a desert metropolis to ignore an asset like flowing water.

Urban connector

For now, the project’s emphasis is using the canal as a corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists because the pathways provide an efficient route to navigate parts of central Phoenix without a car.

As part of the “Grand Canalscape,” the city would make crossings more visible by moving stoplights or adding a special pedestrian-activated traffic light mid-block. Less-prominent crossings will receive extra signage.

The first phase would focus on the Grand Canal in two areas: uptown Phoenix, from 15th Avenue to 16th Street, and Gateway North, from Garfield to Van Buren streets near the airport. Construction is expected to start in spring 2016 and could take several months.

Phoenix is selecting teams to design the crossings and create public art. Much of the $4.9M cost would come from the Salt River Project. The Valley utility company operates the canals and provides money for cities to make aesthetic improvements, in this case $4.2M.

The Grand Canal improvement effort is part of a major push by the city to reinvent its urban corridor along the light-rail line. Dubbed “Reinvent PHX,” the project includes plans to transform areas where the canal crosses rail lines, creating urban hubs that celebrate the iconic waterways.

Read more at The Arizona Republic