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Levitt: More to consider in discussion of ‘road diets’ that will narrow Scottsdale streets

Tori Levitt, owner of Doolittle’s Doghouse in Scottsdale. (File Photo/DigitalFreePress.com)
By Tori Levitt | Digital Free Press

What do you know about “road diets” and Scottsdale’s plans to NARROW our streets?

Scottsdale City Council is moving forward with an aggressive campaign to REDUCE the number of lanes on our streets to (basically) make more room for bicyclists and pedestrians, in the interest of safety for all. 

Their blueprint was designed in 2016 and is described in a mind-numbing Youtube video, which includes 15 targeted areas to control the flow of people and goods.

While an admirable facet of this far-reaching goal is to make our streets safer (wider) for bicyclists and pedestrians, the overhaul of our existing streets may NOT take into consideration the proposed high-rise projects that haven’t yet been developed yet are approved.

NOTE: A standard rule of thumb = 2 cars per household. This soon-to-be-experienced added traffic on many Scottsdale roads is in addition to current traffic in already-congested corridors.

For savvy Scottsdale residents looking to avoid high-congestion areas, many arterial and connector streets are used (taking the back roads if you will).  It’s those lanes, I worry about, that may succumb to City Council’s penchant for road diets.

Future road diet plans must factor in the added response time for fire trucks and emergency vehicles (due to fewer lanes) including the fact that these larger vehicles require greater road space to navigate safely and swiftly.  I sincerely hope that city staff is presenting current statistics and valid traffic studies for City Council review. Councilmember Thomas Durham was transparent enough to admit he’s a “rank amateur” in matters of road development and reconfiguration and relies on city staff presentations (and his personal visits to the 68th Street/Thomas Road corridor, which has already been voted on and approved). 

As I understand it, the main argument for road diets is to make our streets safer and wider for bicyclists and pedestrians. This will allow Scottsdale residents to walk and bike more comfortably. This also assumes that Scottsdale residents who don’t own a car do not avail themselves of local bus transportation (or light rail in those limited areas currently serviced). The 68th Street project is a concentrated “yield” specifically to pedestrians and bicycle enthusiasts, which will certainly enhance safety for them.

It is of special mention that I include a warning to motorists who may inadvertently cross over a bike lane: this is a fine and if flagged (caught), could mean a penalty up to $380. Of course, all motorists are encouraged to be mindful of pedestrians and bicyclists, as it is our imperative duty to drive responsibly.    

City Council recently approved the narrowing of a one-mile stretch on 68th Street (between Indian School & Thomas roads) in the heart of downtown Scottsdale. The project may significantly enhance this small stretch of road with added bike lanes, turning signals, restriping and flashing pedestrian signals. According to Councilmember Tammy Caputi, slurry sealing was needed and will be included in the improvements. In her email reply to me on April 11, 2023, to support her YES vote, she wrote: “Finally, the city had to slurry seal and do other maintenance on the road to ensure ADA compliance. By taking advantage of a federal grant for this project (which was NOT available only to slurry seal), we saved the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Furthermore, Ms. Caputi stated: “It is my understanding that the data used to determine which lanes might be considered for restriping was collected over the last few decades showing decreasing or flat traffic patterns on this section of roadway (and citywide overall), despite increased population.”

“Yes, we factor future development in all our decisions … A large percentage of approved projects will never get built, or will take many years to start. We have approved less than one handful of projects in the 2.5 years of the current council and we have very few projects coming forward.”

Why is the City Council approving large-scale developments if the expectation is that they will never be built? Or, that it will take many years before construction begins?  In the interim, let’s carve up the roads now to get ahead of the curve. Makes sense to me.

Councilmember Caputi also stated: “Our population grew far slower over the last 10 years than any other decade in our history and has come in below estimates the last few years.”  

I agree that Scottsdale residents deserve to be properly represented in these matters, yet estimates are not available for the last few years due to Covid. The current population estimates for Scottsdale is available only to April 2020.  Due to Covid, census takers have not been able to knock on doors and update this data.

I agree with Councilmember Solange Whitehead when she stated in an email: “Lane reductions – road diets – are very uncommon in Scottsdale. In the past 20 years, these roads have had lane reductions. None of these road changes had public opposition and none have created more traffic or complaints since … One of these roads – 96th Street north of Shea – is one of the city’s most beautiful roads. Being on the list for consideration does not equate to approval”.

Thank you, Ms. Whitehead!  I agree with you, so can we take that one off the list of proposed streets targeted for road diets?

The main bullet point for the 68th Street Bike Lanes project approval was based in large part on the availability of federal funds to cover the majority of the expense.  It’s not clear how many contractors bid on the project, yet it was awarded to AJP Electric. Taxpayers are funding approximately $200,000, with the balance from federal funds — $1.4 million for a one-mile stretch of road — and construction is slated to start this spring and take five months to complete.

Who voted and how re: 68th Street project:

  • Barry Graham: voted NO.
  • Kathy Littlefield: voted NO.
  • Betty Janik: voted NO.
  • Solange Whitehead: voted YES
  • Thomas Durham: voted YES
  • Tammy Caputi: voted YES
  • Mayor David Ortega cast the deciding vote as YES.

Targeted Streets for road diets: (COMING SOON TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD)

NOTE: This list is copied from the City of Scottsdale Youtube video:

  • Hayden Road: McKellips to Indian School: (Reduce 6 current lanes into 4).  
  • Goldwater & Drinkwater (heart of Old Town): (Reduce 5 current lanes to 4).

Reduce from 4 lanes to 2:

  • Westland Drive from Scottsdale to Hayden
  • McDowell Mountain Ranch Rd-105th St to Bell
  • 92ND Street: Raintree to FLW
  • Raintree: Thompson Peak to FLW
  • Redfield: Raintree to FLW
  • Thunderbird: 89th St to FLW
  • 100th St: FLW to FLW
  • 96th St: Via Linda to Shea
  • 130th/132nd St: Shea to Via Linda
  • Legend Trail Pkwy: Pima to Stagecoach Pass
  • McCormick Pkwy: Scottsdale to Hayden
  • Osborn: 68th St to Scottsdale
  • 64th St: Jomax to Dynamite

I encourage everyone to send an email to your City Council and voice your concerns. I have found them to be very receptive and believe they sincerely want to hear from you!

Councilwoman Tammy Caputi: TCaputi@scottsdaleaz.gov

Councilman Barry Graham: BGraham@scottsdaleaz.gov

Councilwoman Betty Janik: BJanik@scottsdaleaz.gov

Councilman Tom Durham: TDurham@Scottsdale.gov

Councilwoman Solange Whitehead: Solangeforscottsdale@gmail.com

Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield: KLittlefield@Scottsdaleaz.gov

Mayor David Ortega: dortega@ScottsdaleAz.gov

Editor’s note: Tori Levitt is a Scottsdale resident since 1984 and is a small business owner of Doolittle’s Doghouse in Scottsdale.

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