Bike-lane beef draws a crowd

A cyclist heads north on McClintock during lunch hour. (Wrangler News photo)

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By Joyce Coronel

So many residents poured in to a meeting at the Tempe Public Library to discuss proposals for the realignment of McClintock Drive that city workers scrambled to wheel in stacks of additional chairs.

The McClintock Drive repaving project that added a bike lane to each side of the street and removed at least one vehicle lane has spurred an outcry among a number of residents who packed the room, where renderings of possible modifications to one of Tempe’s main arteries were on prominent display.

Don Bessler, public works director for the city of Tempe, opened the meeting by calling on attendees to try to work together to come up with solutions. “We’re talking here about something controversial,” he said. “The purpose of this meeting is to come back with collaborative solutions to present to the City Council and mayor.”

The reconfiguration project began “several years back,” Bessler said, as part of a paving plan and “relates to a master plan that includes bike lanes… there’s been a lot of public involvement that has preceded this meeting.”

Tempe repaved McClintock from Guadalupe to Broadway in 2015. Some 7.5 miles of bike lanes were added, and speed limits were dropped in some segments to 40 miles an hour from 45. At that time, about 1,000 people weighed in on the changes before they took place, Bessler said, with about 40 percent opposed and 60 percent in favor.

At the most recent meeting, Bessler and other city officials explained newly considered alternatives for segments of McClintock that would improve traffic flow, decrease congestion—and keep the bike lanes. A similar meeting was scheduled later in the week, and those unable to attend either session still have the opportunity to submit their comments in an online forum.

It’s all part of Tempe’s plan to solicit community input so that a recommendation can be made to the City Council by June 29. All the options offered to solve the snarled traffic involve keeping the bike lanes, with the decision focused on whether these will be standard, buffered or separated. Each type of bike lane requires a different amount of street width.

“We want to make sure we’re giving you as many alternatives as possible,” said City Traffic Engineer Julian Dresang. From moving curbs to widening sidewalks and roadways, modifying landscape and planter boxes, the alternatives presented also had cost implications.

Attendees were given a comment card to fill out that detailed a sample reconfiguration. The scenario included three travel lanes southbound and two northbound, plus standard bike lanes both north- and southbound. This option was presented as being the one with the least impact to neighbors and the right-of-way landscaping. Total cost for the scenario is estimated at $5.07 million, according to planners.

Even though Bessler and others asked for comments and questions to be held until the end, many at the meeting were eager to jump in. At one point, a woman asked, “Where is all the money for this coming from?”  Another called out, “What’s wrong to going back to the way it was?”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” murmured Julie Varholdt. She’s been living near McClintock Drive for 22 years, she said. “It’s (the reconfiguration) added time even just getting out of the neighborhood. Coming south, it’s almost impossible to get anywhere after 2:30 in the afternoon. You have to find an alternative route.”

One man asked why bicyclists can’t just ride on the sidewalks. Dresang pointed out that cyclists have the same rights as any other vehicle under Arizona law. “Providing a bike lane adds a separate layer of safety,” he said.

In an interview with Wrangler News, Bessler noted that “There is lots of research that traffic engineers rely on that shows there is a higher frequency of accidents and injury to cyclists when they ride on sidewalks that have a proliferation of driveways. There could be long reaches where there is just no driveway. That may ultimately be part of the solution.”

One person at the meeting asked about studies regarding motorists cutting through neighborhoods to avoid snarled traffic, to which a collective groan rippled through the crowd. Patrick Valandra, president of the Tempe Bike Coalition—bicycle helmet in hand—said he had not yet examined all the proposed modifications but “knowing that we have HURFA (Highway User Revenue Fund) money in the city budget to accommodate even the most expensive design that keeps bike lanes is encouraging to me. I think that’s the most important thing we can do here is accommodate all users.”

HURFA is a source of revenue for cities to use for roadway improvement. Basically, it’s gas taxes plus registration fees, vehicle license taxes and the like.

“There are people who would say that bikes never use the bike lanes and there are people that would say that bikes use them all the time. The reality is, the truth is somewhere in the middle of that,” Bessler said. Any changes in transportation take time to grow into, he offered, adding that “If somebody is somehow thinking that you’ll have the same number of bikes as cars, that’s not going to happen any time in our [immediate] future.”

It may take decades, Bessler said, but as urbanization continues, “people will start changing their mode of travel. That’s why the city is so committed to public transportation and the whole multimodal [concept].”

Wrangler News asked Dresang about why bike-lane proponents seemed to number far fewer among attendees at the meeting. “In my experience, when we host meetings like this, generally, you tend to get more people who are in opposition or just feel strongly about the condition.” He emphasized that the city wants to work with residents to come up with solutions.

Although no general agreement was reached by the end of the Saturday-morning meeting, Bessler was hopeful. “There was consensus that people finally were able to get to a place where they had renewed appreciation for each other’s position,” Bessler said. “I heard people who were strong advocates for vehicular movement talking about how it’s important to create a safe environment for our bikers and vice-versa. That’s not something that we’ve had previously.”

Joyce Coronel
Joyce Coronel has been interviewing and writing stories since she was 12, and she’s got the scrapbooks to prove it. The mother of five grown sons and native of Arizona is passionate about local news and has been involved in media since 2002, coming aboard at Wrangler News in 2015. Joyce believes strongly that newspapers are a lifeline to an informed public and a means by which neighbors can build a sense of community—vitally important in today’s complex world.

Comments

  1. In my 149,000 miles of Bicycling, I’ve learnt a few things. I know from experience that 99% of Drivers pass my Bicycle with seven to ten feet of clearance. Bike Lanes were built to handle the “other one percent”.
    I want to thank the 99% of drivers who pass properly. We all know about the “other one percent” .
    When I first looked at the picture accompanying this article, I did think the Bike Lane was a bit wide, but then I read further and it says the speed limit is 45. Or, if it was lowered to 40, there will still be some drivers going 5 over, or 45 anyway. Given the speed, and the need for cyclists to go around debris and other bicycle riders, the Bike Lane might be a bit narrow in places . (I looked at the Google street view; there are parts of the Bike Lane that are narrower than the stretch shown in the picture).
    Cycling as a Sport, and Bicycling as a form of Transportation are two completely different entities. Cycling is mainly taught as a Sport, by a Physical Trainer , a Gym Coach, or a Physiologist. Cycling requires many months of training rides, before any race. Speed is emphasized, and the number of gears the bike has is paramount. Timing of shifts is important, as is drafting in the aerodynamic wake of other cyclists, and any truck or van that may be passing by. Cyclists on training rides typically aim to ride about 60 miles in a day , in under two hours, without stopping. Any red lights or stop signs would make it difficult to do the 60 miles in under 2 hours. That is Racing. Enough about Racing-
    Touring Bicyclists carry camping gear and are going hundreds or thousands of miles. Coast to Coast typically. Some do the Southern Tier one year and the Northern, following the Canadian border a year and a half later. Touring is still a Sport, but it’s quite different than Racing.

  2. Transportation Bicycling – When I started Bicycling in 1972, there were No Helmets (There were Helmets, but they were only available in California…) With the lack of Helmets, I campaigned to get Helmets. We couldn’t get Helmets on the East Coast, so I suggested we should wear Football Helmets, at least. “Whatever your for, I’m against it.”, must’ve been their battle cry. People were actually against Helmets at first. Nowadays , everybody says “wear a helmet” …
    Tail Lights are important, but back before the LED Lights of today, a Tail Light would eat up batteries. Most people could only afford to have a headlight, because of the batteries going dead. You could Not rely on a Tail Light to stay lit, and if the batteries went dead, you wouldn’t know , because you couldn’t see it. At least with a Headlight, you can see when the Batteries die. Some Cyclists used a Generator for the Lights, instead of Batteries, But there were two drawbacks, 1) If you stopped, the Tail Light would go out, and you’d get hit from behind by a car, and 2) It wouldn’t work on “knobby” tires, you needed smooth-tread tires, which didn’t have any traction in mud.
    Rear View Mirrors are great, but we didn’t have any until 1994. In 1991, Cyclists started using Video Camcorders to watch their rear. Then someone must’ve asked why they don’t just use mirrors? Someone figured out that there was a market for Bicycle Rear-View Mirrors, because if they are willing to spend $1,000.00 on a camcorder , there would surely be people willing to spend $40.00 on a Mirror, and save $960.00. Do some math, you’ll figure out how people make money…

    Cell Phones are a great advantage for Cyclists, because it can be used to call the Police. Just dial 911 and report a drunk driver. Maybe the call will be ignored, but if 7 or 8 cyclists call 911, all reporting the SAME car, they will send some officers out looking…

    My best advice is Pace Yourself. If you pedal all-out fast like the racers, doing 60 miles in 2 hours, you rely on your speed to prevent getting hit from the rear. The main problem is that one percent of drivers who show no consideration for anyone else , ingrates… They don’t appreciate the Effort being put into keeping a Bicycle moving at 30mph. And the cyclist is leaning too far forward over the handlebars to see the rear-view mirror, if he has one.

    Get a convex Rear-View Mirror, and rely on the Mirror to keep yourself from getting hit from behind. Don’t rely on your own speed.
    My2¢

  3. $5 million gets you an extra traffic lane that will fill up within a couple of weeks. The problem of too many cars in too small a space is not resolved.

  4. Yes, any additional lane will immediately fill with traffic. North and southbound traffic during rush hour has overwhelmed the street system throughout Tempe. Rural Road, Mill, Hardy, Priest–all busy. The bikes are not the problem.

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