Phoenix Rising: Biking toward a better future (hopefully)

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The city of Phoenix has invested in the Grid Bike Share program but has much more to build to create a bikeable city.
The city of Phoenix has invested in the Grid Bike Share program but has much more to build to create a bikeable city.

Despite a seemingly popular belief shared by most motorists and many governing bodies, bicyclists should not be worth only as much as the $100 my bicycle cost me.

Shell out a few grand on a used car and you will enjoy the fruits of what Phoenix’s favorite architectural son, Frank Lloyd Wright, dubbed the Broadacre City, where each family could lord over its own rural acre stretching out as far as the eyes could see.

But fail to afford a car, insurance, registration, maintenance, gasoline and parking and life is a lot different for you.

According to the 2013 US Census American Community Survey, there are a total of 271 bicyclists out of 4,955 people (5.5 percent) age 16 or above working in downtown Phoenix between Census Parcels 1130, 1131, 1141 and 1142, which stretch from McDowell Road to Buckeye Road from Seventh Street to Seventh Avenue, and Parcel 1129, covering the Grand Avenue area from McDowell Road to Van Buren Street and Seventh Avenue to 19th Avenue.

For us, the commute may be quicker and friendlier than a standstill on crowded downtown streets or freeways, but it is a choice between swerving through angry pedestrians on often still narrow sidewalks or braving the asphalt, where drivers seem to suffer from a selective blindness of vehicles that aren’t their own.

If you’re as unlucky as me, you might be forced to an abrupt stop as two drivers park in the Seventh Street bike lanes so that they can open their car dealerships up for business and then nearly get taken out head-on while a car drives over a sidewalk into the parking lot of a garage.

For too many though, their stories have not been heard by the community. While some think of caricatures of leisure-seeking elites riding to and from high rises in a sterilized downtown, many bicyclists come from economically vulnerable populations. According to the Kinder Institute for Urban Research in a post they wrote in Governing Magazine, more than 40 percent of commuters in the cyclist community made less than $25,000 per year in Phoenix and several other Southwestern cities.

Likely because of these factors, it is not a surprise that there are so few bike lanes that criss-cross the streets of downtown Phoenix. Officially, there are only eight bike lanes in the traditionally zoned McDowell Road to Buckeye Road area between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments Bikeways map.

Many of these surface-level issues of infrastructure have been recognized before, though. The city of Phoenix Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan reported out in November of 2014 recommends a variety of solutions to the issue, and Transportation 2050 promises 1,080 miles of bike lanes. The Street Transportation Department even testified at the December meeting of the Central City Village Planning Committee that new bike lanes will be placed along with pavement maintenance.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped what appears to be a culture that continually ignores bicycles as a form of transportation in planning. Design plans for Third and Fifth avenues were almost derailed over the removal of bike lanes from Fifth Avenue.

The reason for this proposed change? Allegedly there was not enough space for bike lanes.

However, there has always been enough space for cars to drive and park where they please. There have usually been sidewalks for individuals to walk and they have even been mandated for things like bus stops to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But so long as bike infrastructure is tied to optional, special funding then we are just as likely to see comics showcasing the grim results of our commute rather than the bikeable city our Mayor has demanded.

It should no longer be enough to be proud of one new bike lane or a new business with a bike rack. Real change must come through a design process that mandates bicycle infrastructure be built into our urban future alongside all other modes of transit.

Clarification: January 29, 2017

An earlier version of the story stated there were eight separated bike lanes in Downtown Phoenix. These bike lanes are technically on-street bike lanes according to the definitions provided by the Federal Highway Administration, which defines separated bike lanes as being physically separated from motor vehicle traffic with a vertical element.

Contact the columnist at ryan.boyd@asu.edu.

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