By Colleen Sparks
A proposal to reduce part of Central Avenue to one lane in each direction and add a center turn lane and bike lanes is drawing concerns from neighbors, who fear it could cause safety issues and more traffic congestion.
The city of Phoenix drew about 500 people to its online/virtual meeting on May 20 to talk about the proposed changes. This proposal would transform Central Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane between Bethany Home Road and the Arizona Canal (between Northern Avenue and Dunlap Avenue). City officials say center turn lanes help to decrease traffic conflicts by allowing drivers to turn left to wait for a gap. They add that the bike lanes and buffers would provide space for bicyclists while also separating the popular Murphy Bridle Trail from motor vehicle traffic. The changes also would align with the voter-approved Transportation 2050, as well as fit with the city’s Complete Streets policy.
Phoenix officials say Central Avenue already is going to be paved from Bethany Home Road to Northern Avenue this fall and then from Northern Avenue to the Arizona Canal in the spring/summer of 2022. They want to decide after the paving is done how they will restripe the street.
“One of the things we always look at is safety aspects of a four-lane roadway,” Carl Langford, Traffic Operations Engineering Supervisor in the city’s Street Transportation Department, said.
Langford added that research revealed a 47-percent reduction in collisions when streets’ lanes are decreased to two lanes, with one in each direction, and a center turn lane is added, based on national traffic engineering research.
“It does provide dedicated space for people bicycling and turning left,” he added.
Meeting participants were asked to fill out a survey online with multiple choices indicating if the proposed design for Central Avenue meets their priorities and how much it would address their objectives, among other questions. The survey revealed the majority of people said the new design is “very different” from their priorities for the road.
Many residents said during public comment time that they were concerned the new design would create more traffic congestion, would prompt drivers to cut through their neighborhoods to get off Central Avenue and it could cause safety issues for children riding bicycles to schools in the area. A few residents said they frequently ride their bicycles and like the idea of the bike lanes.
“I am an industrial engineer,” said John Hathaway, a resident on east Maryland Avenue. “If you cut the capacity of Central Avenue by 50-percent, those cars still have to go where they have to go. This is a perfect storm.”
Michael Stenner, who lives on east Griswold Road, said drivers already frequently cut through his street, often speeding.
“When are you going to take us serious?” Stenner said. “We have an issue with speeding. We have an issue with too much traffic in rush hours. Come and take a look for yourselves instead of looking at these models.”
Kini Knudson, director of the city’s Street Transportation Department, said officials are unsure about the “level of diversion of traffic” that will occur if this new design is implemented but “there might be greater efficiencies with having a center turn lane.”
“What we try to do is focus on these impacts and what they would do to travel delays on Central,” Knudson said.
A decision on the proposal will be made by fall at the latest. The Street Transportation Department will decide whether to go forward with the changes.
Anyone can answer a survey about the proposed lane changes through 11:59 p.m. on Friday, June 11 by visiting https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LaneChangesCentral.