Tucson transportation officials say money from the voter-approved Proposition 407 is at work with ongoing improvements for bicycle safety.
A portion of the $225 million bond package labeled “Tucson Delivers Parks and Connections” is mainly funding bike boulevard projects for safer city travel. The bond package was approved in November 2018.
There are at least nine established bicycle boulevards, with more on its way in 2020, according to the Tucson Department of Transportation.
Officials said bike boulevards provide a low-stress biking network by using calmer residential streets as alternatives to major thoroughfares.
“We want to provide a lot of options for people, so right now we have a lot of major roads that have bike lanes on them, (but) not everybody’s necessarily comfortable with riding their bike on a busy road,” said Ryan Fagan, a project manager with the Tucson Department of Transportation.
“So this is one way of providing an alternative to that and providing a calmer, more relaxing route for bike riding.”
The use of traffic calming features, such as High Intensity Activated Crosswalks for busy roads and traffic circles, will help the city meet its goal of making biking safe for people of “any ability or inclination to feel comfortable to travel within Tucson,” Fagan added.
Tucson transportation officials are exploring improvement projects to the Third Street and Treat Avenue bicycle boulevards and are seeking public comments about desired features. There are three more infrastructure planning events in the near future.
“There’s already tangible evidence to providing these calmer routes,” according to Fagan.
“We see a lot more bike ridership on Third Street then we see on Speedway or Sixth Street and that’s because people are more comfortable riding there.”
These projects are part of plans to complete over 100 miles of bicycle boulevards as part of a citywide network that will take bicyclists to schools, parks, libraries, stores and other destinations.
Glenn Furnier, who’s primarily used a bike in his 20 years in Tucson, said he is looking forward to the proposed improvements.
“We have a good infrastructure right now, but it could be better and they’re taking it to an even safer level,” said Furnier after attending a transportation open house Thursday about bike boulevard projects.
“I’m very comfortable biking. I don’t get nervous if I see traffic at all, but there’s a lot of people who won’t get on their bikes unless it’s much safer and that’s what this will do.”
Furnier, now retired, said the benefits of the safer bike boulevards are twofold.
“It’s not just the physical peace, which obviously is good on a bicycle, but the mental peace. You come into work in a whole different frame of mind,” he said.
Tucson ranks eighth among U.S. cities for bike riders per capita, according to a Move.org report.
The report, which was compiled from 2017 Census Bureau data, said 2.5% of Tucson’s 535,676 residents were cyclists.
The Huckleberry Loop was highlighted in the report as a benefit in providing bicyclists with “a paved trail that stretches over a hundred miles, which cyclists and pedestrians can use to get around Tucson without worrying about cars,” the report said.
Could a similar project happen in the city? It’s not as easy as one would think, according to Kylie Walzak, program manager for the Living Streets Alliance, a Tucson organization that advocates for safer roads.
“It’s really hard for us to think about making a multi-use path like ‘The Loop’ through the city because it takes a lot of land and a lot of right of way and we can’t do that everywhere,” Walzak said.
Not only is infrastructure being addressed, but officials also recognize there should be more opportunities for residents to try an alternative mode of travel.
The city’s bike-share program, Tugo, has recorded more than 12,000 trips taken so far in 2019. Officials claim the program has accounted for 24,500 miles traveled, and 2,300 fewer pounds of CO2 emissions, a Tugo news release said.
Officials recently announced the program is expanding, with four more stations at Presidio, Catalina and Reid parks as well as the Lost Barrio.
Fagan said with the city’s approach to increase bicycle ridership, increasing the visibility of shared bikes is important.
“When you see people who look like you who are riding ... their bikes to work or to the store,” Fagan said. “I think that counts for a lot. That sort of plants a seed in people’s minds like, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that too.’”
Over the past 10 years, Walzak said she’s seen city officials recognize that a different approach is needed than only providing painted lines to separate bikes and motorists, especially if they want to encourage people thinking of joining the ranks of city riders.
“As people have more and more distractions in front of them while they’re driving, be it their phone or these fancy new dashboards, a painted white line is not giving anybody any kind of confidence that they’re going to be safe out there on the streets,” Walzak said.
Down the Road
Gas pipeline project continues on downtown’s Main Avenue: A pipeline replacement project will continue to close southbound travel on Main Avenue between Alameda and Sixth streets.
Southbound motorists will be detoured from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays until November.
Motorists may find brief full closures of Main between Alameda and Paseo Redondo and between Franklin Street and Paseo Redondo.
Parking will be restricted to the west side of Main throughout the construction area.