Fed Up With an Apathetic City Hall, Phoenix Complete Streets Volunteers Resign En Masse

A design guide developed by Phoenix's Complete Streets Advisory Board would make bike lanes a default feature on many streets, but city officials haven't approved it. Photo:  Sean Sweat/Twitter
A design guide developed by Phoenix's Complete Streets Advisory Board would make bike lanes a default feature on many streets, but city officials haven't approved it. Photo: Sean Sweat/Twitter

Seven members of Phoenix’s Complete Streets Advisory Board resigned in disgust this week, frustrated by the lack of action from city officials to make streets safer for walking and biking.

The 11-member committee was charged with developing implementation guidelines for the city’s complete streets policy, which passed in 2014. After the mass resignation, only two people remain on the committee.

Under Mayor Greg Stanton, the city has not made significant progress redesigning streets with pedestrian and cyclist safety in mind. Drivers have killed about 300 people walking on Phoenix’s streets since the complete streets policy was adopted, with Stanton and the City Council displaying a complete lack of urgency to address the problem, the resigning members say.

The advisory board spent three-and-a-half years developing new street design policies for the city, drawing from the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide. They worked alongside city officials and representatives from private developers, as well as holding public forums.

But for more than a year, various city authorities refused to approve the recommendations.

Advisory board member Connor Descheemaker petitioned the City Council in April to compel a vote. Instead, council members punted the decision over to entities lower down the totem pole, including the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which itself delayed a vote until at least August.

In their open letter to Stanton and the City Council [PDF], the resigning advisory members say they’ve lost confidence in the city:

Your passage of the Complete Streets ordinance in 2014 and policy in 2017 gave the appearance of progress and made for good headlines. But, as acutely stated in a CSAB meeting (April 2016) by the Planning Department’s liaison, “the policy cannot be implemented without design guidelines.” So here we sit with an ordinance and a policy that do us no good without design guidelines, and those design guidelines are not seeing enough support from those we most need support from.

The city’s Street Transportation Department was a significant barrier, proposing a series of alterations to the street design guidelines that watered them down until they were meaningless, say advisory board members. Their letter cites public records that show the department even tried to have the advisory board disbanded last year.

  • Jonathan Krall

    Wow. Good for them. No matter how many people answer surveys to show the demand for decent bike lanes and walkable places (1/2 of the US wants walkable, only 10% of the US is walkable), no matter how many people come to public meetings to speak up, no matter how many people build guerrilla bike lanes, the traffic engineers keep building brand new shiny infra that prioritizes speeding cars. Yes, bike lanes and sidewalks are often included, but they seem to be designed by someone who assumes no one will use them.

    Multiple-lane arterials with a thin striped bike lane shoe-horned in. Slip lanes that cross biking/walking paths. Sharrows. I’m so tired of brand new shiny infra that seems to be designed to kill me that I could scream. If I had a magic button that would erase the mind of every traffic engineer in the USA, I’d press it in a heartbeat. Human beings cannot be expected to put up with endless abuse.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t just blame the traffic engineers. Also blame a schizophrenic general public which will say they want something, but then refuse to go along with what needs to be done if it requires even minor changes in their lifestyle. Half the US may want walkable/bikable streets, but only if it means they don’t have to give up parking or travel lanes. Same thing with energy efficiency. They may say they want more efficient vehicles, but only if it means those vehicles aren’t much different than the SUVs or pickups they’re driving.

    The bottom line is that people don’t understand what it takes to get from A to B. Even Vision Zero in NYC was done in such a way as to cause minimal inconvenience to motorists. Basically, we were happy to say all we needed to do was lower the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph (with no more enforcement of the new speed limit than the old one). In reality we need to radically redesign streets, and most importantly drastically reduce motor traffic volumes. But we never did that because we have a populace which thinks you can have your cake and eat it too. Painless “solutions” to major problems never work.

  • KJ

    They should protest with 300 headstones for the people who have been killed SO FAR… I wonder if they could get 300 people to carry big cardboard headstones and walk in a line together, stretching across all those dangerous streets… they could walk around en masse to get some publicity for the inaction of the city council. Like a Critical Mass of headstones.

  • onlineNetizen

    I been to phoenix, some are due to jaywalkers and others due to the lack of sidewalks in many areas of phoenix where you have to walk in the street. the sidewalk issue is something you can fix easily. the jaywalking in south phoenix, not so much

  • Mike

    Where in this articles does it state that traffic engineers are the source of the problem? Sounds like it is a lack of political will by the City Council and Mayor Greg Stanton. The roadways in Phoenix are massively wide – it would be so easy to redesign them to be safer if they decided not to design for the peak 30 minutes of traffic each day.

  • fdtutf

    Where in this articles does it state that traffic engineers are the source of the problem?

    From the article: “The city’s Street Transportation Department was a significant barrier, proposing a series of alterations to the street design guidelines that watered them down until they were meaningless, say advisory board members. Their letter cites public records that show the department even tried to have the advisory board disbanded last year.”

    That’s traffic engineers, to a near certainty.

  • BortLicensePlatez

    jaywalkin is a bullshit word.

  • Guy Ross

    +1 I lived through the process of deciding for billions in interstate highway widening or a metro system for the city of Milwaukee. There was overwhelming support for trains. The reason was nearly everyone sitting in traffic jams felt the train would make their drive easier, not that they would actually ride the train themselves.

    They, of course, built more roads and Milwaukee still sucks.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Am I reading this correctly, there have been 300 pedestrian *fatalities* from drivers in 3.5 years? That’s insane.

  • Brent Hugh

    Yes, another way of saying it would be places with significant pedestrian demand where streets are designed to be utterly unaccommodating for pedestrians.

    We spend a lot of time talking about who is to blame, but unfortunately assigning blame doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. In the Vision Zero philosophy they replace the idea of “personal responsibility”–which is a way of assigning blame and avoiding our responsibility as a society to make any needed changes–and instead use concepts like public health, the systems approach, and the data-driven approach.

    All of those approaches give concrete, effective steps that can be taken to reduce pedestrian (and motorist) injuries and deaths in places like south Phoenix where there are many pedestrian fatalities.

    https://visionzeronetwork.org/how-does-vision-zero-differ-from-the-traditional-approach-to-traffic-safety/

  • Augsburg

    Just as many pedestrians and bicyclists are killed in AZ each year as die from the “opioid epidemic”. The difference? With opioids, people stopped blaming those that died from overdose by saying things like “well they are just druggies and got what was coming to them (meaning an O.D).”. Today, we are addressing the threat opioids pose to public health – we have gone beyond blaming the victim and started to look at how opioids are dispensed and promoted by Big Pharma.

    Not the same here in AZ when it comes to the deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists. City officials and police departments still blame the victims. For example, “They should have known to cross the road at a light (a half mile away!).” Like people are going to walk a mile out of their way to cross the street. Obviously, we need to factor in human nature, and not present street designs no one will comply with.

    It is not rocket science. Major cities across Europe have made their city streets safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. Time to wake up and smell the coffee, City of Phoenix (and Tucson). People are dying.

  • onlineNetizen

    it may be, but i seen people cross a street about 20 feet from a crosswalk. not much you can do to stop those folks. in other areas, you can put in crosswalks so people don’t have to walk 1/2 mile to cross the street

  • Jonathan Krall

    I stand by my comments. I will continue to blame traffic engineers as long as they keep signing off on the absurdly dangerous “bicycling facilities” that I find myself navigating every day on my bicycle.

    When someone proposes to speed up right-hand turns across a biking/walking trail by adding a slip lane, the traffic engineers need to refuse to sign off on the design. When someone proposes to shoehorn an unprotected bike lane into a 6-lane arterial road and then, as a bonus, have that lane disappear and become sharrows when the road narrows to go under a bridge (so the cyclist is suddenly in the traffic lane and less visible at the same time), the traffic engineers need to refuse to sign off on it.

    Politicians hide behind traffic engineers all the time (“the traffic engineers say these are best practices”). The traffic engineers need to stop supporting terrible, dangerous roads. If they did so, the politicians might be enabled to vote for safe roads by hiding behind the traffic engineers.

    In any case, no matter what the public says and no matter how much hot air comes billowing out from the politicians, these dangerous roads don’t get built without a traffic engineer saying “yes, I will design another dangerous street today.” Eff that.

  • Joe R.

    Not really disagreeing with you that engineers have a lot of the blame. I’m simply saying the engineers unfortunately often have a choice of signing off on crappy bike/ped infrastructure, or being replaced with someone who will. You’re correct that bike infra especially often seems like an afterthought, although this is often due to engineers being given the impossible task of “add a bike lane but don’t eliminate travel/parking lanes or slow down cars”. So the end result of course is crap. I think what the traffic engineers should do when given an impossible design task like that is to show their final design with NO bike lanes. When asked why, the engineer can rightly say there was no safe way to add bike lanes given your stipulations, and I’m not going to design something which makes cyclists think they’re safe, but in reality places them in more danger. If you really want bike lanes, then you have to let me have freedom to remove parking/travel lanes and do whatever else is necessary. If nothing else such a blanket refusal might make headlines, perhaps force politicians to realize they can’t get something without giving up something else.

  • Camera_Shy

    We lived in PHX in ’89/’90 and at that time the law was that as soon as a person sets foot into the roadway (on either side of the street) all traffic was required to come to a stop. Didn’t matter if the person was in a crosswalk or not. And it didn’t matter which direction/lane the traffic was in. All traffic was required to come to a stop for as long as a person was in the roadway.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Cite the code section please. I know of no code anywhere that prescribes that. People will often say it (the classic “pedestrians always have the right of way”), but it is universally a urban myth.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    False. Opioid deaths far outstrip bike and ped fatalities (orders of magnitude).

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had members of the public say something to the effect of “I’m all for bike lanes, but this project makes no sense”. It is the classic NIMBY bullshite. I love it, but just don’t inconvenience me with it. I want it, but make someone else bear the brunt of the impacts and implications. And weak-willed politicians ultimately often are the make or break on this stuff. With no political will or a directive, then it won’t happen.

  • neroden

    WRONG. I looked up the statistics.

    “According to the US Centers for Disease Control, in 2016, there were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in the United States. The CDC further estimates that of those, 42,249 deaths involved any opioid”

    “National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 2016 data shows 37,461 people were killed in 34,436 motor vehicle crashes, ”

    “US motor death statistics reported by government only include those on
    public roads, and do not include parking lots, driveways, and private
    roads.”

    So the motor vehicle crash death rate is about the same as the opioid death rate! 42K vs. 37K, about the same number.

    Certainly many of the deaths on public roads are of people in motor vehicles, however the statistics show that about 10% of the casualties, and about 15% of the fatalities, are people not in motor vehicles. So that is not “orders of magnitude”. Walkers and bikers killed in motor vehicle crashes in the US are about 15% of opioid deaths.

  • neroden

    You probably don’t realize that that is in fact the law EVERYWHERE.

    It’s called the “yield the right of way” law. You are REQUIRED to yield the right of way to anyone who is in the roadway ahead of you, *whether they are in the roadway legally or not*. The pedestrian may not be in the roadway legally, but you are STILL required to yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian after they have illegally entered the road.

    Likewise, if a car enters an intersection illegally by blasting through a red light, you are REQUIRED to yield the right of way to the car which is already in the intersection. Even though the car got there illegally.

    Standard law. Everywhere. You must yield the right of way to anyone who’s *already in the road*, regardless of how they got there.

    This is the law for pretty obvious safety reasons.

  • neroden

    Well, that was a political decision by the Republican Party, which hates trains for no rational reason.

    If it had been left to the actual city of Milwaukee, they would have built the trains and they would have been used.

  • Camera_Shy

    I cannot cite any specific law but I will say that I only lived in PHX for three years and this was one of the first things I learned while there. I witnessed it happen on many occasions when first driving around PHX. I thought it was strange that both directions of traffic came to a complete stop for the whole time the pedestrian was in the roadway! They didn’t start moving once the ped cleared their lane, nope, they stayed stopped until the ped stepped onto the sidewalk on the other side of the road. It was surreal. And even more surreal was that no one honked at the drivers who remained stopped even though there was no longer a ped in their lane!

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