Phoenix Rising: Complete Streets provide safety for all instead of speed for suburbs

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An image of a sidewalk along Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix
Complete Streets are designed with the bus rider, the bicyclist and the pedestrian in mind, but face suburban automobile-related opposition. (Emily Mudge/DD)

Straddling the demands for suburban speed and urban safety, the Complete Streets Policy sacrificed ambition for acceptance and showcases the immense amount of work it takes to make a multimodal Phoenix.

What is a Complete Street? Well, the loose definition that currently exists is a major part of the problem that has befallen the multi-year effort by the City of Phoenix and various stakeholders.

Groups like Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition defines it as “Streets for everyone” while Complete Streets for Phoenix implores citizens to “Reclaim your right to accessible, convenient, safe, comfortable and dignified transportation options.”

Advocacy groups such as the Urban Phoenix Project promote the concept of Complete Streets in their vision statements to create a downtown where “walking, biking, and public transit are just as convenient and comfortable as driving.”

With the passage of Phoenix’s Prop 104 in 2015, this dream can now be funded and brought to life with the influx of funds to redesign and improve streets.

Board-approved-CS-Policy-2-23-17

However, the practical nature of creating a multimodal city is far less appealing to some than the lofty dream espoused by its supporters.

Complete Streets entail narrowing streets and using the public right-of-way for all members of the public, which means designing them with the bus rider, the bicyclist and the pedestrian in mind.

These views do not match the view from a car speeding down Seventh Avenue or Seventh Street to enter downtown at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m.

Ultimately, the safety of the bicyclist or pedestrian will come at the cost of drivers being forced to be more cognizant of their environments and slowing down.

Suburban opposition has dampened the original optimism of creating a Complete Streets Policy in a single year as automobile-based opposition has mounted in neighborhoods throughout the city.

We are approaching three years since the City Council approved Ordinances S-41094 and G-9537 to establish guiding principles and the 11-member Complete Streets Advisory Board on July 2, 2014. Before that, it took years of work from St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (now Vitalyst Health Foundation) and the Phoenix Complete Streets Working Group.

However, even after an earlier policy was turned away at the Planning Commission layer in order to consult more with the developer community, the Valley Partnership still testifies that they want an expanded role in the future regulations of the policy.

The Complete Streets Advisory Board is not afraid of negotiating with these parties and has shown that by going over numerous development examples to demonstrate what a Complete Streets Policy would have done to projects throughout the city.

Concerningly though, the results of these discussions have been that projects would largely not have changed.

I would wager that the vast majority of development does not include Complete Streets.

In fact, here in downtown where we have the Downtown Code, the ability to ride a bicycle is hindered by a lack of bicycle lanes and the safety consequences of two notable bicycle-automotive accidents in the past six months (SUV collides with two bicyclists in Phoenix & Downtown Phoenix rallies for hit-and-run victim on Roosevelt Row).

RELATED: Phoenix Rising: Biking toward a better future (hopefully)

As major projects begin with the influx of the Phoenix Transportation 2050 money, the presence of an ambitious and enforceable policy for Complete Streets will become paramount to the urbanization of Phoenix in and around downtown.

Presently, the Complete Streets Policy is the vague product of multiple compromises. Its guidelines and its performance measures must add real weight to the idea of making streets enjoyable for all people and not just those fortunate enough to own a car.

Only when this has been achieved will the stress of high-pitched battles as seen in the Missouri, Oak Street and Third and Fifth Avenue redesigns be pitched in favor of a multimodal downtown and Phoenix.

Contact the columnist at raboyd2@asu.edu.