Phoenix pedals forward for bicyclists

BICYCLE BOULEVARD: The Street Transportation Department of Phoenix has proposed building bike lanes from Glendale and Tempe to downtown Phoenix in order to increase accessibility and to attract bikers to the area. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

The city of Phoenix is undertaking several new initiatives to make the downtown area more bicycle friendly.

Joseph Perez, the bicycle coordinator for the city of Phoenix in the Street Transportation Department, said the department is working toward building a “bicycle boulevard” to connect Glendale and Tempe to downtown Phoenix. He believes this will bring in many new bikers to downtown Phoenix.

The “boulevard,” a bike lane, would connect Gateway Community College near Washington and 40th streets to downtown Phoenix — a distance of less than 5 miles. The light rail stop across from Gateway Community College would allow for the bike boulevard to be accessible to residents of Mesa and Tempe as well.

“People in Tempe will be able to bicycle on the Grand Canal to Roosevelt Street and then head west into downtown,” Perez said. “People in Glendale will be able to bicycle on the Arizona Canal to 15th Avenue and then head south to downtown.”

The boulevard would also allow downtown ASU students to travel through the area easier.

“What I hate about downtown Phoenix is that it doesn’t have bike lanes,” journalism junior Bianca Harris said. “In Tempe, it’s easier because there are lanes and signs, but downtown it’s kind of a free-for-all. The boulevard would make biking down here much easier.”

Bicycle Subcommittee

The newly formed Bicycle Initiatives Committee meets once a month at City Hall to discuss ways to make Phoenix more accessible to cyclists.

Perez organized the first Phoenix Bike Summit that was held in March. Attendees discussed opportunities to improve conditions for bicyclists, resources and possible long-term projects.

At their February meeting, the subcommittee discussed the need for more bike racks in downtown Phoenix. Perez said it is hard to attract bicyclists to the downtown area without bike racks.

The landlord of the Phoenix Public Market, a popular eatery and grocery store for Downtown students, has requested the city put in bike racks in place of the parking meters on Pierce Street, where the store is located, Perez said.

Biking using the light rail

The light rail system, which runs throughout the metro Phoenix area, has drawn bikers into downtown. The light rail has racks on each train where bicyclists and commuters can store their bikes.

“The light rail has made it a lot easier to bicycle from Mesa, Tempe or Glendale to downtown Phoenix and vice versa,” Perez said. He said the light rail has increased the distance a bicyclist could cover.

The light rail is popular for ASU students who need to commute to the Downtown campus for class.

Harris, 21, uses both her bicycle and the light rail to get to class on the weekdays.

“It’s easier because I don’t have a car, so I commute using the light rail,” Harris said. “I ride my bike from my house to the light rail station and then store it while I travel downtown. Without the light rail, I don’t know how I would get to class.”

Valley Metro is conducting a study that focuses on the number of commuters who use the light rail and bikes to get to work and school.

“We don’t have the exact number at this point in time since the light rail is still fairly new,” Valley Metro spokesman John Farry said.

Farry added that the number of commuters using bicycles has gone up exponentially since the light rail started running.

In the mean time, Valley Metro releases monthly ridership reports that feature statistics regarding bikers on the light rail. In January, 64,106 bicycles were used with the Valley Metro transportation system in Phoenix alone.

The canal system

Phoenix is home to an extensive canal system, which bicyclists can use to ride throughout the city.

The Grand Canal path runs directly through the heart of downtown Phoenix. The path currently runs 21 miles. Bicyclists can ride from 75th Avenue and Camelback Road all the way to Papago Park.

The city recently refurbished the Grand Canal path in an attempt to draw bikers into the city. However, Bob Beane, the president of the Arizona Coalition of Bicyclists, felt the refurbishing was a minimal effort from the city because of budgetary constraints.

“They didn’t really address the cracks and raised heat-buckling,” Beane said. “Had this path been brought up to the standards of the Arizona Canal path that goes northwest from the Biltmore area, for example, it would have provided a much more significant commuting and recreational venue.”

Kinesiology sophomore Drew Albert, a competitive cyclist, said the canals have made it much easier to get around the area.

Despite minor issues with the Grand Canal path, it still presents bikers with the opportunity to ride through central Phoenix with several recreational stops along the way.

Reach the reporter at mcmccar3@asu.edu