Bicycle Culture

Phoenix Receives $10 Million Federal Grant to Renovate Canal Trail

On Tuesday, October 27, Phoenix Spokes People announced the news on Facebook.

“HUGE NEWS! We are thrilled to report that the City of Phoenix has been awarded a $10.3 million federal grant to improve the Grand Canal,” read the post. “Our canals are such an asset to our bicycling community, and we are proud that we could help support this project!”

The bicycle advocacy group had a lot to celebrate. In response to the country’s crumbling infrastructure, the Department of Transportation created a discretionary grant program called the Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery, or TIGER. The federal grants cover all kinds of surface transportation, and awards are highly competitive.

The city submitted its application earlier this year. A lot of folks were crossing their fingers, particularly members of pro-bike groups such as Spokes People. The intitiative is just part of the massive Reinvent Phoenix campaign, which aims to make the region more pedestrian-friendly.

So what's the money actually for?

Lest you confuse the two, the “Grand Canal” is separate from the “Arizona Canal.” The Arizona Canal Trail is 35.9 miles and spans the entire Valley. The Grand Canal is shorter and more central, covering about 20 miles from the banks of the New River in Glendale to the border of Tempe. For people living downtown, midtown, or even uptown, the Grand Canal is the most familiar artery.

At first glance, the Grand Canalscape is already very useable – it’s flat, straight, and paved with packed earth. Thousands of people walk, bike, and skateboard this route every month. In theory, you could watch a game at the University of Phoenix Stadium and bike all the way to the Phoenix Sky Harbor without much hassle.

There are some drawbacks: For one, it’s sometimes hard to get to, unless you drive, which kind of defeats the purpose of a car-free trail. But for many cyclists, the real deal-breaker is the lack of crosswalks: The Canalscape hits dozens of motorways, and riders either have to bike down the street to the nearest crosswalk or dart across the road in the middle of traffic.

That’s what the TIGER grant is for – providing better access to public transportation and installing traffic signals for safer crossing. This kind of signal is called a High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (or HAWK), and many are already scattered throughout Maricopa County. Ultimately, the city hopes to pave over the gravel sections and provide shelters, so the route is as smooth as the Greenbelt and travelers can rest in the shade. The city has already started improving the Canalscape, and the grant will support “Phase II” of this project, starting in late 2016.

Renovations won’t cover the entire route, but it will bolster a long segment between 23rd Avenue and 48th Street, roughly eight miles of multi-use trail.

“The Grand Canalscape project will provide Phoenix residents with a safer means of walking or biking to work or to school,” said congressman Ruben Gallego in a statement. Gallego wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in favor of the project. “It will also link members of economically-challenged communities to nearby schools, employment centers, and to vital services including hospitals and medical centers.”

Bikers will have to wait a couple of years to enjoy the fruits of this labor. But the TIGER grant has certainly put the project on the right track.
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Robert Isenberg