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.”