Cyclists Protest After City Hall Nixes Roosevelt Row Bike Lane Plan

Steven Hsieh
A sign indicating a bike path at West Roosevelt Street and Seventh Avenue.

Phoenix's plan to scuttle a proposed bike lane in the heart of the Roosevelt Row Arts District is prompting outrage from cyclists.

Bicycle proponents say the move represents another example of the city prioritizing cars over other modes of transportation, even in one of the most urban areas in the Valley.

Beginning at Seventh Street, cyclists riding westbound on Roosevelt Street enjoy bike lane protection for half a mile. But after they cross Central Avenue, the lane disappears and they must veer into the street for another half a mile before a dedicated cycling path begins again.

Until recently, city engineers proposed connecting the two interrupted lanes, filling a gap for cyclists in one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in Phoenix. Moving forward with the proposal would require the removal of a center-turn lane on Roosevelt Street to create space for the bike lane.

But cycling advocates learned on September 18 that the city's Street Transportation Department nixed the proposed bike lane, claiming that removing the center turn lane would endanger pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Instead of a bike lane, the city would paint bike-shaped "sharrows" on the road to denote a path for cyclists.

In an interview, Street Transportation spokesperson Ashley Patton said other factors were also considered in the decision to nix the lane.

"Our traffic engineering team does a variety of things and look at a variety of metrics: traffic data, traffic count, and modeling," she said. "You can imagine the traffic backing up as someone is waiting to make a left."

Wes Ballew, transportation director for the nonprofit Urban Phoenix Project, said he learned of the decision to scrap the bike lane plan on September 18 while in a meeting with city transportation officials over another proposed bike lane on Earll Drive.

In the meeting, Ballew recalled, one official cited an intersection in south Phoenix, at 39th and Southern avenues, as evidence of the potential dangers of removing a center turn lane. According to Ballew, the official said motorists at the intersection have gotten frustrated by queuing cars, leading them to drive off the road onto a dirt pass to get around the vehicles waiting to turn left.

According to Arizona Bike Law, which chronicles cycling accidents in the state, one cyclist received an incapacitating injury in 2011 at that intersection after a getting sideswiped by a car.

The comparison confused Ballew, who previously worked as a bicycle coordinator in St. Louis. The Southern Avenue intersection in south Phoenix is an industrial and suburban residential area, while the Roosevelt Row area is commercial and urban residential. On top of that, the intersection allegedly cited by the city is surrounded by dirt paths, while Roosevelt Street is surrounded by sidewalk.

"The idea that the city is trying to plan on somebody who is willing to break the law and drive up on the sidewalk?" Ballew said. "It seems fairly absurd to me."

In addition, it would not be new for Phoenix to install bike lanes on a street without a center turn lane. Roosevelt Street already has a section with both a bike lane and center turn lane (see photo below).

click to enlarge DAVID TAPLEY
David Tapley

David Tapley, vice president of the bicycle group Phoenix Spokes People, said his group provided input as the city developed its five-year bicycle plan, which was published in 2017 and included the canceled Roosevelt Street connector. The news came as a surprise to the nonprofit.

"The whole central Phoenix area is very car-centric, and downtown in Roosevelt is the peak area where people are choosing other modes of transport," Tapley said. "If we can't get a continuous stretch of bike lane along Roosevelt, that wouldn't send a good message."

Phoenix City Council member Michael Nowakowski, who represents the district that includes the spiked bike lane, declined to comment.