Already a safe-haven for cyclists, Scottsdale looks to improve

There have only been 279 bicycle accidents in Scottsdale since October 2012. (Photo by Terrance Thornton)

There have only been 279 bicycle accidents in Scottsdale since October 2012. (Photo by Terrance Thornton)

In a little over 100 years, Scottsdale has evolved into a fully developed flourishing metropolis housing residents and employees who walk, bike, ride and drive through the city day-in and day-out.

The city of 250,000 residents has been considered a bicycle-friendly community since 2005 and strives to maintain and improve upon the title.

It has received silver- and gold-level awards in past years for its demonstration of being bicycle-friendly by the League of American Bicyclists. The league recognizes bicycle-friendly cities with five levels of accreditation: diamond, platinum, gold, silver and bronze.

As the hobby and sport continue to grow, several cycling events have thrived throughout Arizona, including the annual Tour de Scottsdale, which recently brought thousands of athletes into the city at the beginning of October. With road space shared between automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians inside a hustling-and-bustling city, safety is always a top concern.

The city of Scottsdale has yielded 279 bicycle-vehicle related accidents from Oct. 1, 2012 to Oct. 1, 2015. Of these, only two resulted in death, according to records provided to the Independent by the Scottsdale Police Department.

The statistics do not include whether or not the cyclist was riding in a bike lane at the time of incident, because it is not included criteria on a statewide “accident form” filled out by officials, said Scottsdale Police Public Information Officer, Sgt. Ben Hoster in an Oct. 27 phone interview.

Cyclists have approximately 134 miles of bike lanes to take advantage of within Scottsdale, according to Scottsdale Senior Transportation Planner Susan Conklu, in an Oct. 22 e-mailed response to questions.

There are 13.42 miles of bike lanes on roads that have a posted speed of 25 mph; 50.23 miles of bike lanes on roads that have a posted speed of 26-35 mph; and 71.18 miles of bike lanes on roads with a posted speed of over 35 mph.

Today, there are about 4,300 reported collisions in Scottsdale per year, said Ms. Conklu.

“The percentage of vehicle-bicycle collisions is small compared to the total collisions on an annual basis, but our goal is always to have no collisions,” Ms. Conklu said. “We try to provide both on-street and off-street facilities so that bicyclists have options depending on their skill level and preferences.”

A time before the automobile

Before sharing the road with cars was a concern, bicyclists just wanted a road.

Bicyclists — not motorists — were the first to improve the road system and take precautions to better protect bicyclists, according to “Good Roads Everywhere: A History of Road Building in Arizona” produced by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

After the invention of the “safety bicycle” and the pneumatic tire in the 1880s, a bicycle craze spread across the country, including Arizona. When conversations started in the 1890s, “good roads” meant graded dirt roads for wagons and bicycles. Motorized vehicles were only a curiosity before the turn of the century.

According to the report, cross-country cyclists who were relatively wealthy and politically connected began fighting for better road conditions. Their voices carried weight, and a group called the League of American Wheelmen emerged as a powerful political lobby for better roads.

Although bicycle riders and advocates for rural mail delivery were the original supporters of road construction, it was the automobile-boom in the 20th century and a push by numerous road associations that resulted in federal action on a larger scale.

By the time Congress passed the Federal Highway Act of 1921, the term had come to mean paved, all-weather roads for motorized vehicles.

One safety improvement the city of Scottsdale has installed is bicycle detection at signalized intersections. This allows bicyclists to be given a green signal to cross and longer crossing times than vehicles, said Ms. Conklu.

Sgt. Hoster, a cyclist himself, admits the rider is sometimes at fault. Although Sgt. Hoster lives in Mesa, he frequently rides in Scottsdale for training and exercise.

“(Bicyclists) run lights, or don’t stop for stop signs out of convenience,” he said. “The law states that they have to obey the law just as a vehicle would.”

Specifically, Title 28 chapter 3 article 11 law states in part, “a person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title.”

Sgt. Hoster believes statistics show a positive number because the amount of accidents results in a very low amount of fatalities.

“As a road rider I choose roadways that have a bike lane for safety,” said Sgt. Hoster. “When a bike is in a lane of traffic, cars try to squeeze by because they’re trying to be patient. They don’t leave as much room as they should.”

“Bike lanes do provide that distance and buffer; any amount of space is going to be safer for the rider.”

The law states that “a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet.”

Crosscut Canal Path at McDowell Road Tunnel (photo by city of Scottsdale)

Crosscut Canal Path at McDowell Road Tunnel (photo by city of Scottsdale)

The Scottsdale perspective

Shawn Shackelton, a cyclist who has ridden in Scottsdale for years, says safety conditions vary on where you’re riding.

“People are texting too much on Pima and Scottsdale Road,” she said during an Oct. 20 phone interview. “The laws are the other thing people need to understand.”

She says drivers — even police officers — will think the cyclists are impeding traffic. She blames accidents on the fact that drivers become impatient.

“They don’t care if they buzz by you really close,” she said.

Sgt. Hoster said that in personal experience, he doesn’t put headphones on while riding so that he can be aware of the cars approaching him from behind.

“When I know big vehicles are coming, up I’ll give them that girth,” he said.

City staff has been following the development of alternative bikeways such as bike boulevards, green bike lanes and separated/buffered bike lanes, according to Ms. Conklu. In May 2015 the Federal Highway Administration completed the Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide, and the staff attended a webinar on the new guide.

“We plan to further study how these newer types of facilities are functioning as they become more common regionally and nationwide,” she said. “Over time, we want to examine the data for bike use and collisions on these new types of bike lanes. If we feel they are appropriate facilities for our community, Scottsdale will add some of these elements where warranted.”

For now, the city is focused on adding bike lanes to areas in need, in addition to the already 134 miles equipped with a bike lane.

The Nov. 3 bond election addresses “adding bike lanes on McDowell Road” at an estimated cost of $3.1 million. Ms. Conklu says the project will design and construct the unfinished segments of bicycle lanes on McDowell Road in order to provide continuous bike lanes from 64th Street to Pima Road.

To create these bike lanes the width of the median and travel lanes will be reduced, she said.

“This project is important because it will connect cyclists to nearby destinations like Indian Bent Wash Path, Crosscut Canal Path, Eldorado Park, Eldorado Aquatic and Fitness Center, Granite Reef Senior Center, Papago Park, connections to Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo, seven transit routes, businesses including restaurants, stores, and major employment centers like General Dynamics and Skysong,” Ms. Conklu said.

Scottsdale includes bike lanes in all new construction of major streets, and the city has added bike lanes to streetscape projects as well.

Ms. Conklu said the city reapplied to be named a Bicycle Friendly Community and will receive the results in November. The application is judged on five categories that create a well-rounded bicycle program.

“To achieve more of this, we have been working on strategies to enhance our current bike infrastructure such as wayfinding signage for paths, self-guided interpretive bike routes that tell visitors a story of place, and the feasibility of bike share such as the GRID system underway in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa,” said Ms. Conklu.

Sgt. Hoster says drivers can attempt to be safer by getting rid of distractions and focusing on the road. For cyclists, he said lighting in the front and back is helpful.

“Lighting, not just what’s required by law, but it just gives that much more of a chance for a vehicle to see them,” Sgt. Hoster said. “New lights are out, LED, that are super bright.”

He said new LED lights are relatively inexpensive and recommends a flashing red light in the rear and a white light in the front.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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