Hot for the shade

Phoenix revs up its complete streets program

Bill Wilson / August 11, 2016
Phoenix revs up its complete streets program
Phoenix revs up its complete streets program

They will still make you stand and wait in Phoenix, but the chances of being offered a cool breeze are increasing by the year.

The southwestern city is embarking on a pedestrian-friendly street crusade involving a series of complete streets projects. Roosevelt Street was the first to feel it, and soon Third Street will undergo changes that will comply with Phoenix’s Complete Streets Initiative and Bike Master Plan.

“What is important to know is we are not widening our streets anymore,” Mark Melnychenko, special projects administrator for the City of Phoenix Street Transportation Department, told Roads & Bridges. “What you see is what you get. If we want to add capacity, if we want to add another mode of transportation we are working within the curb lines.”

Gunning for Third

Phoenix also wants desperately to add shade, especially at bus stops. Melnychenko said that goal is being accomplished on the Roosevelt project and also will be a priority on other projects. However, accessibility and safety rank ahead of shade with Third Street. The 2.5-mile-long project will convert a 2-1-2 lane configuration (two lanes in each direction and a turn lane) to a 1-1-1 (one lane in each direction and a turn lane) setup, and the speed limit will most likely be reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph. The lanes also will be narrowed to 10 ft. A section of this stretch is occupied by commercial and retail space before it switches over to a historic neighborhood setting. Third Street also offers connections to several schools, and the thought is to install flashing beacons at certain locations in an effort to create safer crossings.

Third Street is the No. 1 bicycle corridor in the Bike Master Plan, but currently has no bike lanes. The project would install 5-ft and 6-ft-wide bike lanes on both sides of the 2.5-mile portion, and these reserved strips will have a buffer area. How that buffer area will be formed is still in question. Officials considered using posts in certain sections, but the number of driveways prohibits such a move. Places where there are conflicts could be marked with green paint, and Melnychenko said officials are even considering stamped asphalt for the bike lanes, but street maintenance needs to be considered.

For the most part, sidewalks are about 5 ft wide on Third Street until you hit the historic neighborhood, where in some areas a sidewalk does not even exist. The Third Street project will address and rectify these voids and, in specific areas, sidewalks will be expanded to as much as 6 ft wide. ADA ramps will be rechecked and replaced where necessary.

The aesthetic improvements will be modest, but important. All of the streetlights will be converted to LED and where possible shaded areas will be created.

The amount that could be done aesthetically was reduced because utilities limited what could be done outside of the curb line. The original grid in Phoenix was drawn up and constructed decades ago when beauty was not factored into the plans.

“That is a problem with a lot of our streets, the utilities, whether [they are] public or private, and the distance you need to be away from water lines,” said Melnychenko. “It’s a big problem. I think we need to focus our efforts, because we don’t really have the resources to do a full corridor improvement. I think that is probably happening throughout the country.”

Third Street is part of a major transit corridor in Phoenix. Indian School, Thomas Road, McDowell Road and Roosevelt Street, all of which cross Third Street, are transit routes, and Central Avenue, which runs ¼ mile to the west, has the Central Phoenix/East Valley light-rail line. The hope is to create a strong pedestrian and bike connection over to the light-rail line in the near future.

When plans were presented to the public, Melnychenko said the feedback was positive, but most were wondering where all of the traffic from Third Street would feed into after construction was complete. Depending on where you are on Third, the average daily traffic ranges from 11,000 to 17,000, which is in the capacity range for a road diet. Seventh Street to the east and Central Avenue to the west also are capable of handling more traffic.

“We would rather have those streets being used for commuters coming into downtown than streets such as Third Street,” said Melnychenko.

Before renderings for Third Street were drawn up, crews were breaking ground on the Roosevelt Street complete street project, which was divided into two phases. The first, between Central Avenue and Fourth Street, is now finished and the second phase, between Fourth Street and Seventh Street, is nearing completion. The street is being narrowed (from a 2-1-2 configuration to a 1-1-1 configuration), on-street parking will be available, bike lanes are being installed and the speed limit will be reduced to 30 mph. Striping is being used as a “barrier” for the bike lanes and bicyclists will be able to travel between the on-street parking and traffic. However, Melnychenko said the city is looking at moving bike lanes between parked cars and the curb for more protection. Those lanes would be 2-3 ft wider to keep riders clear of opening car doors.

Widened sidewalks will allow businesses to “come out into the walkway area” on Roosevelt, which was dubbed by the American Planning Association as one of the most unique streets in the U.S., mainly due to its artist corridor. The area gives off a Bohemian feel, and due to the artistic influence a gateway arch was constructed where Third Street connects with Roosevelt.

Street lighting is being moved on Roosevelt and switched over to LED, and landscaping treatments and planters in select locations also will increase the aesthetic value.

Complete list

In 2014 the city of Phoenix set up the Complete Streets Advisory Board led by Melnychenko. The group is currently drafting a policy and working out design guidelines and performance measures for complete streets.

Two more projects are in the pipeline. Van Buren Street was viewed as a strong candidate to be converted to a complete street due to its average daily traffic (11,000-13,000) and lane configuration (2-1-2). The public participation process for the job will take place in August, and officials are looking to add a bike lane on both sides of the street and move to a 1-1-1 lane configuration.

“It is not a pretty street, at least portions of it are not, and there is high crime,” said Melnychenko. “But it is turning the corner with development coming in from the downtown and moving eastward.”

The Third and Fifth Avenue Multimodal Improvement Project, which deals with one-way streets from McDowell Road and Washington Street, also is in the works. Development is coming, but is hindered due to the one-way configuration. One possibility is converting the corridors to two-way routes. Hybrids also are a possibility, where the one-way turns into a two-way.

“There could be some spot improvements that increase safety because there are a lot of safety concerns with one-way streets.”

The consultant team, led by Aztec Engineering and Charlier Associates, had a three-day charette with the public to answer any questions.

“This could serve as a template with the community on how we are able to look at some corridors that may be controversial,” added Melnychenko.

About the Author

Wilson is Editorial Director for Roads & Bridges

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