City forgoes construction, chooses to renovate First Street with paint and plants

(Molly Bilker/DD)
A city council subcommittee meeting discussed the remaining renovations on First Street, which will include paint and plants rather than costly construction projects. (Molly Bilker/DD)

The city of Phoenix is set to complete renovations on First Street with paint and plants instead of heavy construction.

The city will forgo tearing up the street and relocating utilities by using paint, planters and other design materials to complete the design guidelines set by the First Street Streetscape Study.

Renovations are part of the Complete Streets program, which was created by a 2006 bond. The goal of the program is to create a “connected oasis” through downtown streets to connect Patriots Square, Civic Space and Margaret T. Hance parks.

The city of Phoenix Street Transportation Department estimates this plan will only cost $50,000 per block compared to the $1 million per block spent on the already completed portion of the First Street project.

According to Ray Dovalina, the assistant director of the Street Transportation Department, much of the cost was added because of downtown’s older infrastructure.

City officials see this lower cost as an excellent solution to a lack of funding to fully complete the project, according to Matthew Heil, public information officer for the Street Transportation Department.

“I’m really proud of the street department,” Phoenix city councilman Michael Nowakowski said at a city council subcommittee meeting Wednesday. “I know we talked about a pedestrian mall along First Street, but this is a happy compromise for those involved.”

Some community members have voiced their concerns with the plan.

“Bicycle lanes should be a part of the plan. (We) have advocated for better pedestrian and bicycle access in our downtown and we call on the city to include bike lanes in First Street,” said Edward Jensen, community member and secretary of Downtown Voices Coalition, in an email.

Dovalina said these projects are meant to be more focused on pedestrians than cars or bicycles.

“This is about connecting pedestrians downtown. Other modes of transportation are free to use First Street, but this is what the community agreed on to some extent,” he said.

Downtown Voices Coalition president Tim Eigo said he doesn’t see the plan improving the streets of downtown.

“Where has a sole strategy of paint-and-planters ever improved a situation?” Eigo said in an email. “Urban streets require more than mall food-court decor to energize them.”

The city plans to have the project completed by Oct. 18.

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