Phoenix facing hurdles in adopting 'Complete Streets' guidelines

PHOENIX - Four years later, some are wondering when Phoenix will ever officially adopt "Complete Streets," an effort to improve the design of roads to better accommodate those who are not behind the wheel of a vehicle. 

Frustrated over the perceived lack of progress, a majority of the advisory board tasked with creating the guidelines resigned just last week. You can view the letter of resignation HERE.

Complete Streets is a concept adopted across the country, such as in Boston and Denver. 

The city of Phoenix is working towards officially adopting design guidelines, but the effort keeps finding bureaucratic hurdles after the Phoenix City Council first adopted an ordinance establishing the policy framework in 2014.

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"Complete Streets really is, not only designing the streets to move cars effectively and efficiently but let's also think about the people who are walking and the people who are biking and move them with equal safety and respect," said C.J. Eisenbarth Hager with Vitalyst Health Foundation. 

Hager is also the Vice-Chair of the Complete Streets Advisory Board in Phoenix.

Complete Streets is based more on a concept than a hard and fast rule. Wider sidewalks, shade to provide comfort, crosswalks, and bike lanes are examples of Complete Streets elements. 

Parts of Grand Avenue exemplify some of those elements. On the other hand, 7th Avenue near Interstate 10 is an example of a road that is not a "Complete Street," as there are narrow sidewalks and no bike lanes.

Hager encouraged the Phoenix City Council Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee to adopt the Complete Streets design guidelines at a meeting in May. 

The subcommittee members decided to table the issue until later in the summer to encourage more research, public input, and a cost analysis. 

Several people, including some in the development community, opposed the current adoption of the design guidelines in search of more public input.

"I think if we could just do a cost analysis, I think we can get there," said Councilwoman Debra Stark at the subcommittee hearing. "I feel pretty comfortable. I just need a little bit more information."

Hager told ABC15 she is surprised it is taking so long to formally adopt the design guidelines.

"I think that we need to be a little more considerate about how we're valuing lives," Hager said.

According to Phoenix Police, 56 pedestrians were killed by a vehicle in 2017. Phoenix is on pace to far surpass that number this year.

While the Phoenix City Council has yet to formally adopt the design guidelines, city officials told ABC15 Complete Streets elements are already integrated into many new projects.

"That will be the major change, is that there will be more of an emphasis on consciously what are the elements that should be included on this street, on this private development, or public development, as we move forward," said Phoenix Street Transportation Director Maria Hyatt.

Hyatt told ABC15 it's best to take the necessary time to research, and review, the 'Complete Streets' design guidelines.

"I'm in favor of making sure the city council has the information they need to make a decision," Hyatt said.

While there are Complete Streets elements integrated into new projects around Phoenix, Hager told ABC15 until the guidelines are formally adopted, it is essentially up to each developer.

"By adopting the guidelines, it gives city staff more power in negotiating with developers," Hager said. "Right now, it's not in code, it's not adopted by the city council, so those are only suggestions with little weight behind them."

Frustrated with the lengthy process, and alleging obstruction from city staff, seven of the nine 'Complete Streets' Advisory Board members resigned last week.  (put letter here it is attached)

A spokesperson for the City of Phoenix Communications Office issued the following statement:

“We value and appreciate the hard work and important recommendations of the Complete Streets Advisory Board.  We have always had the same common goal - to provide safe streets designed to achieve a more sustainable, safe and accessible transportation system for all. We sincerely appreciate the Board’s dedication to advancing this goal and are sorry to see these Board members’ decisions to resign.

We will continue to finalize the Complete Streets Design Guidelines recommended by the Board by ensuring we gather the full input of all interested community members on the proposed changes. By the end of the summer, we will provide, as requested by the City Council, additional perspectives of impacted parties, as well as information on analysis of cost impacts. At that point, the Mayor and City Council will evaluate next steps with the Design Guidelines and the Advisory Board.”

The Complete Streets design guidelines are winding their way through various boards and commissions and could end up back on the table for the city council to consider in August or September.

You can read the full meeting files online here starting on page 39.

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