By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Traditionally, when one thinks of growth and expansion, particularly in car-centric areas like the Valley, one thinks wider roads and higher capacities.
In recent years, that has not always been the case in the metro area, where development and growth visions have focused largely on mixed-use and live/work/play efforts to enhance the appeal of targeted economic zones. Here, roads have been narrowed, while walkways and bicycle-accessible routes have expanded.
According to Kim Moyers, Chandler’s downtown redevelopment manager, narrowing has been an important part of the city’s ongoing efforts to modernize and redefine the district. The drive for new urban development means more pedestrians and bicyclists, and that means reconsidering traditional street development to let those users more safely access and navigate the area.
“Where you see road narrowing, it’s in areas where we want to reduce the speed,” Moyers said. “We want to encourage pedestrians to feel safe. When crossing the street we want them to feel like they can get from one side to the other pretty quickly and pretty easily. By narrowing the street, it not only allows traffic to slow down for safety concerns, but it allows putting in wider sidewalks and bike paths so you have more alternative modes of transportation than just four wheels.”
A Chandler traffic study released late last year shows the speed reduction goals have been successful. In 2008, prior to undertaking the road narrowing efforts on Arizona Avenue, the median speed around city hall was 38 mph. After construction was completed, that number dropped to 29 mph in February 2011 and was still at 29 in September of last year.
Moyers said that as development moves to create more urban environments, relying on cars is no longer the sole consideration. Other cities in the Valley have taken similar approaches to walkability and multi-use accommodation.
When Mesa published its implementation plan for the Fiesta District in 2011, narrowing Southern Avenue from six lanes to four between Dobson and Alma School was a high priority project. Redevelopment called for using the space freed up by the lane reductions to install wider sidewalks and new street fixtures, such as pedestrian lighting, bike racks and amenities.
According to Ray Dovalina, Phoenix’s street transportation director, “The city’s traffic patterns are changing due to land uses related to economic development or revitalization efforts. These new economic developments are creating new transportation patterns that encourage walking, biking and transit use.”
Phoenix has been engaging in “road diet” and other repurposing efforts for years. Among the city thoroughfares that have had car lanes reduced, bicycle lanes added and other multi-use improvements implemented are Roosevelt Street, Central Avenue, 15th Avenue, 12th Street, Indian School Road and 32nd Street. 32nd Street, in particular, serves as an example of what cities aim to accomplish in repurposing streets to revitalize areas.
Dovalina said, “Traffic calming creates more attractive environments, reduces auto speed, and increases safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and other users of the street, which is good for business. As an example, North 32nd Street in Northeast Phoenix once held the traffic now on State Route 51, a major north-south freeway corridor.
“Because traffic volumes were severely reduced on this street, Street Transportation collaborated with other city departments, City Council, adjacent business owners and residents to downsize the street and take the first step in area revitalization, creating a simple bike lane in both the north and south bound directions,” he said.
Improving walkability and multi-use access has also been a key consideration for Phoenix in all of its redevelopment efforts, to the point of becoming part of the zoning code. In July of last year the city council approved a walkable urban code as part of its Reinvent PHX guidelines. Those rules specifically target districts along the light rail and take into account pedestrian, bicycle, public and private vehicle transportation in planning going forward.
Chandler’s Moyers is proud of the efforts and changes her city and others in the Valley have implemented, particularly the expansion of safety and accessibility options.
“In an urban setting, you have to look at as many modes of transportation as you can get for people to move from point A to point B,” Moyers said. “And those things are all accomplished by narrowing the roads.”