That's a Nope on a Proposed New Bike Lane in Garfield

A diagram of the proposed upgrades along the Villa/Filmore "bike boulevard."
A diagram of the proposed upgrades along the Villa/Filmore "bike boulevard." Screenshot via City of Phoenix
Bike advocates are criticizing a proposal from Phoenix transportation officials to add road markings for cyclists instead of new bike lanes in the Garfield and Edison-Eastlake neighborhoods, arguing that it will make cyclists less safe.

Ryan Boyd, a spokesperson for the Urban Phoenix Project, an urbanist advocacy group, said the road markings and signage, known as "sharrows," won't be seen or respected by motorists.

"It’s kind of like second-class citizenship," he said. "If you don't have a car, good luck, you can't go on the big streets."

In October 2020, Street Transportation Department Director Kini Knudson announced in a memo that the city was axing a longstanding plan to build bike lanes along East Van Buren Street between 7th and 24th Streets as part of a larger project to redevelop the thoroughfare — a bitter disappointment for cycling advocates who supported the proposed bike lanes.

In an effort to appease biking advocates, Knudson pointed to a spin-off project that would improve the "bike boulevard" that runs primarily along Fillmore and Villa Streets between 7th and 24th Streets. The bike boulevard currently consists of sharrows that mark the route. Knudson noted in his October 2020 memo that city transit officials "understand an east-west bicycle path is desired in this area," and bike advocates took his statements to mean that the city wanted to build a new bike lane project along the route as an alternative to the axed bike lanes on Van Buren.

But at a virtual meeting last month, city officials made it clear that they won't be building new bike lanes as part of the upgrade to the existing bike boulevard. They just want to add more road markings and signage to help guide cyclists along the route.

"It doesn’t provide separated space for bicycles," Marielle Brown, a program manager at the Street Transportation Department, said at the meeting.  "But it does provide a high-quality and low-stress comfortable bicycle route."

"Bike boulevards are not just about improving bicycling," Knudson said during the meeting. "They can also improve safety of the roadways by slowing down car traffic and directing longer distance car trips to major streets."

Stacey Champion, a consultant and activist who works on urbanist issues, such as advocating for bike infrastructure, said that the city's proposed upgrades to the bike boulevard aren't safe for cyclists, who would still be exposed to vehicle traffic.

"I'm sorry, just because there is a green arrow painted in the middle of a lane, I'm not going to ride in that traffic," she said. "I don’t trust drivers here."

click to enlarge A rendering of what East Van Buren Street could have looked like. - SCREENSHOT VIA CITY OF PHOENIX
A rendering of what East Van Buren Street could have looked like.
Screenshot via City of Phoenix
To some bike lane proponents, the city's recently revealed position felt like a slap in the face. Boyd said that while his organization supports the concept of bike boulevards generally, the decision not to pursue new bike lanes along Filmore and East Villa Street is disingenuous.

"I'm waiting for [the city] to show that they are serious about bicycle infrastructure and sustainability and multimodal transportation because I'm not seeing it," Boyd said. "It’s been a pattern. 'We can't build a bike lane here, that’s not appropriate. Well, we can’t build a bike lane there because it’s not appropriate.' Well, where can you actually build a bike lane in Phoenix?"

During the July 21 virtual meeting, Brown argued that the streets along the bike boulevard route were too "narrow" to add protected bike lanes.

When contacted for comment by Phoenix New Times, Ashley Patton, a spokesperson for the Street Transportation Department, did not respond directly to bike advocates' criticism. Instead, she wrote in an emailed statement that the Street Transportation Department is "excited for the opportunity to propose a new type of high-quality infrastructure."

"Introducing new types of infrastructure, especially when there are not examples in the region, is always a challenge," Patton wrote. "Pursuing Villa/Fillmore as a bike boulevard that meets or exceeds national design standards is a proposal that works with the existing neighborhood streets to make them great bikeways."

The Street Transportation Department's decision not to propose new bike lanes as part of the bike boulevard upgrade also comes after the agency walked back a different bike lane plan along a section of North Central Avenue. After local property owners complained that the bike lanes would inconvenience motorists, city officials spiked the project. Meanwhile, over 100 pedestrians and cyclists die in metro Phoenix every year due to collisions with cars, according to the Arizona Republic.

The Street Transportation Department is currently seeking feedback from the public on the project until 11:59 p.m. on August 29, 2021. The agency's online survey can be found here.
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Josh Kelety was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety