Tony Davis Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Monday, August 15, 2011
Heading north on Fourth Avenue at Speedway, you must now turn left or right – if you’re in a car.
That is one of many features that have been added for $300,000 in tax money to turn Fourth and Fontana avenues into Tucson’s first full-fledged “bike boulevard.” In the works since 2008, the three-mile bike boulevard runs from University Boulevard to Prince Road. It will get final touches in the next month but is ready for use, Tucson officials say.
Standard practice in Europe and popularized in Portland, Ore., bike boulevards are burgeoning in many U.S. cities as a way to promote safer bicycling on urban streets, says a national bicycling advocacy group.
But the outlook is unclear for future bike boulevards in Tucson because of stiff competition for limited funds, although a city transportation official said he’s optimistic about their prospects.
Some questions and answers about bike boulevards:
Q. What makes the Fourth-Fontana bike boulevard different from other streets?
A. At Speedway and at Grant Road, northbound motor-vehicle traffic must turn. Southbound cars and trucks at those intersections can’t turn right on red. The restrictions requiring turning off the north-south street exist in both directions on Fontana at Glenn Street.
Also, at all three of those intersections heading south, a section of pavement has been set aside for bikes ahead of where cars can sit – to make it clear the bicycles have first priority.
The bike boulevard has six new traffic circles and six new speed tables – longer, shallower versions of speed humps – aimed at slowing cars.
Q. Anything else?
A. At most intersections with streetlights, cyclists can press a “bike button” to speed up the normal light cycle. Northbound on Fontana at Grant, the city has installed in the ground its first “bike pucks,” which look like hockey pucks and can detect the metal of a bicycle, and trigger a green light for it.
Parts of the boulevard’s bike lanes are coated with reflective, bright green plastic pavement markings, clearly identifying bike lanes.
Q. Where did the money come from?
A. The Regional Transportation Authority.
Q. Why bike boulevards?
A. The purpose is to encourage more cyclists to commute to work, in particular, and to ride more in general.
“We need to have a safer way for people to get around by bike in Tucson,” said Tom Thivener, the city of Tucson’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager. “We have a lot of people interested in biking here, and we have about 900 miles of bikeways here in bike lanes and off-street paths. But they don’t want to ride on busy streets. They don’t feel safe riding there.”
It’s a way of attracting average citizens to cycling. League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke said recently during a visit to Tucson, “We need to be looking to try to attract people who buy bikes at Walmart.”
Q. What do officials hope will happen on this boulevard?
A. They hope to reduce cars’ use of Fourth and Fontana as a “cut-through” route to avoid busy streets, and to slow down traffic that stays there, Thivener said.
Q. What do neighbors think?
A. Six neighborhood groups along Fourth and Fontana pushed to get the Fourth-Fontana bike boulevard built. Fourth-area resident Martha Retallick said she rides the boulevard to and from downtown several times weekly, and has already noticed drivers’ behavior has changed.
“Used to be that I’d be awakened by the sound of cars blasting out of the Bronx Wash bisecting Linden Street,” Retallick said in an email. “These days, there’s a lot less speeding on Fourth Avenue. … I have a couple of neighbors who commute downtown to their jobs on their bikes, and they report that there’s a lot less automotive traffic on Fourth Avenue. Needless to say, they’re quite pleased.”
Six car drivers interviewed at rush hour last Thursday near Fourth and Speedway said they are comfortable with the bike boulevard restrictions.
Q. What’s next here for bike boulevards?
A. In a year, the city will finish upgrading its seven-mile Third Street-University Boulevard bikeway into a bike boulevard. By 2015, using a $750,000 federal grant, the city plans to finish a five-mile bike boulevard along South Liberty and San Fernando avenues from 43rd Street south to Los Reales Road.
A. The city has a plan for a total of 40 bike boulevards. But all the RTA’s available money for bike facilities has been allocated for three to four years, said Jim DeGrood, RTA’s transportation services director. The competition comes from the planned Urban Loop of bike paths, new bike lane facilities on city streets and the rebuilding of existing roads to accommodate bike lanes.
But DeGrood is an advocate for bike boulevards, and Thivener said he’s optimistic more will be built because of public support.
“This isn’t for the Spandex-clad cyclist,” DeGrood said. “This is for people not comfortable riding in a six-foot lane along Grant Road.”
Q. Can bike boulevards work in the car-powered Sun Belt?
A. Thivener says “absolutely,” since his agency’s research found that Tucson’s urban core had the same population density as Portland’s in the year 2000: about 5,000 people per square mile.
IF YOU GO
“Biketoberfest”: A five-mile bicycle tour of the Fourth Avenue bike boulevard, the five-block Fifth Avenue Greenway, the proposed Seneca Street bike boulevard and the Dunbar Spring traffic circles. Meet at 9 a.m., Oct. 1, at Seneca Street and Mountain Avenue.
BY THE NUMBERS
In Tucson, about 1.9 percent of all commuters bicycled to work in 2009, down from 2.2 percent in 2000, census figures show.