June 20 2013

Can Complete Streets Compete in Phoenix?

Complete streets accommodate all varieties of transportation: from cars, to buses, to bikes, to pedestrians, to those in a wheelchair or even roller skaters. But they are sparse in Phoenix, Arizona. Complete streets demand a certain type of urban design with special emphasis on street design. Phoenix, instead, has chosen to invest heavily in stroads (a combination of a street and road, coined by Charles Marohn), with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour, an extremely dangerous environment, and an extremely high build cost.

The question is, can Phoenix retrofit its streets to accommodate all modes of transportation so that people feel safe walking and biking, and cars can react to the presence of a cyclist or pedestrian because they are encouraged to travel at a less dangerous speed?

Pedestrian Injury Rates

Pedestrian Injury Rates

Studies have shown that the risk of death or severe injury to pedestrians greatly increases as automobile travel speed increases. The tendency to speed is often due to street design. In his state of the practice presentationReid Ewing (no, not the actor) highlights some of the best methods for traffic calming. Phoenix has implemented few of these methods, and only in its central city neighborhoods. Elsewhere, like Ahwatukee, its stroads remain prominent, and cycling and walking are uncommon events. Though the City of Phoenix has a bicycle and pedestrian safety plan, I would argue that the built environment does not necessarily echo the policies stated in the plan.

It would be in the best interest of the City of Phoenix to conduct a study to understand the costs of the bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. How do the costs of building and maintaining 8-lane stroads compare to the costs of a one-time road diet, especially with projected reduction of accidents?  Where the budget allows, the City should implement a road diet. This would enable the City of Phoenix to attract more cyclists and pedestrians, and further reduce accidents.

Road Diet

Road Diet

So go ahead, Phoenix; add some bike boxes, speed tables, bike lanes, and more sidewalks. It may cost more in the beginning, but your citizens will thank you for it, by being more active, less likely to injure each other, and by reducing their automobile use, which is something this city desperately needs.

Have you seen any successes with complete streets in your community?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

James Gardner

James is a graduate student in Urban and Environmental Planning at Arizona State University. Growing up in a small, sprawling town in Arizona, James became attracted to the field of planning and design by taking a critical look at his surroundings, and realizing there is a better way to live. With a Bachelors in Public Planning from Northern Arizona University, James has received extensive education in planning, and has worked as a Planner for Yavapai County, Arizona. James is currently focused on the health effects of the built environment in the Phoenix Metro area, and the integration of this focus into topics of transit, transportation, and bicycle and pedestrian planning. James hopes to become a Planner who advocates for a healthier built environment in order to make the cities we live in more vibrant and habitable. James blogged for the Grid with a focus on Phoenix, Arizona projects.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013 at 9:57 am and is filed under Engineering, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Can Complete Streets Compete in Phoenix?”

  1. Fossil Fuel-Funded Foundation Not Very Good at Predicting Rail Ridership | Streetsblog.net Says:

    [...] Paris has replaced a section of expressway on the left bank of the Seine with a pedestrian walkway. Global Site Plans wonders whether Phoenix can successfully convert its many stroads into complete streets. And Urban [...]

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