Complete streets accommodate all varieties of transportation: from cars, to buses, to bikes, to pedestrians, to those in a wheelchair or even roller skaters. But they are sparse in Phoenix, Arizona. Complete streets demand a certain type of urban design with special emphasis on street design. Phoenix, instead, has chosen to invest heavily in stroads (a combination of a street and road, coined by Charles Marohn), with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour, an extremely dangerous environment, and an extremely high build cost.
The question is, can Phoenix retrofit its streets to accommodate all modes of transportation so that people feel safe walking and biking, and cars can react to the presence of a cyclist or pedestrian because they are encouraged to travel at a less dangerous speed?
Pedestrian Injury Rates
Studies have shown that the risk of death or severe injury to pedestrians greatly increases as automobile travel speed increases. The tendency to speed is often due to street design. In his state of the practice presentation – Reid Ewing (no, not the actor) highlights some of the best methods for traffic calming. Phoenix has implemented few of these methods, and only in its central city neighborhoods. Elsewhere, like Ahwatukee, its stroads remain prominent, and cycling and walking are uncommon events. Though the City of Phoenix has a bicycle and pedestrian safety plan, I would argue that the built environment does not necessarily echo the policies stated in the plan.
It would be in the best interest of the City of Phoenix to conduct a study to understand the costs of the bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. How do the costs of building and maintaining 8-lane stroads compare to the costs of a one-time road diet, especially with projected reduction of accidents? Where the budget allows, the City should implement a road diet. This would enable the City of Phoenix to attract more cyclists and pedestrians, and further reduce accidents.
So go ahead, Phoenix; add some bike boxes, speed tables, bike lanes, and more sidewalks. It may cost more in the beginning, but your citizens will thank you for it, by being more active, less likely to injure each other, and by reducing their automobile use, which is something this city desperately needs.
Have you seen any successes with complete streets in your community?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.