Detourist Trap

John Wilson can't go straight home in the morning. The city of Phoenix won't let him.

He lives just blocks from where 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard dump all of north Phoenix, north Scottsdale and Paradise Valley's rush-hour traffic into the north end of the Squaw Peak Parkway. Three years ago, at the request of local residents honked off by the parade of cars cutting through the neighborhood while looking for a quick way onto the parkway, the city plastered the side streets with signs forbidding left turns, right turns, all entry during the morning and evening rush hours. And this was fine, because the locals could still get in through several nonarterial east-west streets.

More than a year ago, however, those backdoors into the neighborhood were slammed shut by the excavation to extend the Squaw Peak Parkway north to Bell Road. The cut-through traffic stopped. The signs stayed up.

And the police stayed on to make sure that no one disobeyed the signs. Wilson lives three doors from the no-left-turn (6 AM to 9 AM, Monday-Friday) sign at Desert Cove Avenue and 33rd Place. And he has been ticketed there for turning left.

Because of the highway diggings, Desert Cove ends at 33rd Place. It is impossible to make a right turn onto Desert Cove because there's no road from which to turn right. So any unfortunate driver who ends up there either has to turn left or make a U-turn.

To get home from dropping his daughter off at school in the morning, Wilson has to drive another mile along two clogged major arterials before he can circle back to his house.

Wilson doesn't want to go the extra mile.
"These signs went up because of neighborhood traffic control," he says. "Any reasonable person would see that I am local traffic. When you cause people to drive in excess of one mile, it's not reasonable."

Wilson had already been displaced by the Squaw Peak Parkway. The house his family had lived in for years stood right in the path of the soon-to-be-completed road. By the time he moved to 33rd Place, the traffic-control signs were already up.

On the morning of May 26, Wilson was driving home from an errand, and before he turned left off of Desert Cove he saw a motorcycle police officer lying in wait, 40 or 50 feet into 33rd Place. He started to make a U-turn, but the officer waved him through, according to his account and that of his next-door neighbor, Peggy Beswick. Then as soon as Wilson got through the intersection, the officer ordered him to stop and wrote him a $40 citation.

"I've talked with other officers and said that anyone with common sense probably wouldn't cite me because I live right here," Wilson says.

Beswick, the neighbor, lived on 33rd Place before it was cut off by the new parkway.

"Then it was a cut-through street," she says. "People would cut through from 32nd Street instead of going down 36th Street and sitting at the light. Once they started digging the big hole out there, traffic stopped."

On that same morning, Beswick's ex-husband was ticketed while bringing their son home. So was the truck driver delivering a mattress for Beswick's newborn. And so were other neighbors.

"Usually the reason you have laws is for safety's sake, not to appease a bunch of people who want the streets for their own private property," says Wilson, who was not party to the original petition to keep nonlocals out and doesn't care much for the concept. "Without drive-through traffic on this street anymore, whose safety are you protecting? Now the city's writing out tickets to residents of the area, people that live here, local traffic."

Because it's not a through street, there's no reason to drive down 33rd Place unless you live there or have business there. Or unless you're a police officer looking for a good spot to use up a book of tickets.

Now when Wilson or his wife return from driving their daughter to nearby Shadow Mountain High School, they have two choices for getting home: They can try to cross bumper-to-bumper traffic on Shea at 35th Street, where there is no traffic light, or they can go the extra mile to 36th Street, turn south to Shea and wait at the light to turn right, then turn right again on 35th Street. It's an extra 10 to 20 minutes on a bad day, and, as Wilson says of the 36th Street intersection, "Sometimes you might be there for three or four lights."

Wilson's wife got into an accident there because frustrated southbound drivers swerve into the northbound lanes trying to get around the back-up.

"I'm saying what's most expedient at this point in time is to get this sign down so that people can come to their homes in the morning," Wilson says. "Some of our children have summer school and have other needs in this area that we need to return home."

But what seems expedient is not always easy. There are two intersections within a mile of Wilson where, in recent years, much-needed traffic controls weren't installed until children were killed there.

Wilson called the city.
"We went out to the neighborhood and did a field review, and we determined that each sign does serve a purpose," says Sara Elco, a traffic engineer with the Phoenix street transportation department. "And the purpose of that sign, even with the understanding that the Squaw Peak cuts Desert Cove off, there's still the impetus for traffic to travel down 34th Street and use 33rd Place as a means to get to Shea Boulevard."

Never mind that 33rd Place doesn't go to Shea Boulevard.
"This is a resident-driven program," Elco continues, "so if the residents want these signs removed, what they need to do is go through the petition process again."

Wilson has already received the petition forms. He goes to court for his ticket this week. Rules are rules.

"As far as the police are concerned, this is a sign that is up and it's illegal to disobey those signs," says Elco. "They're doing their job, and if anybody disobeys the signs, they will be penalized."

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: [email protected]

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Michael Kiefer