Setting The Record Straight 9/17

September 16, 2020
16 Sep 2020

Statement: Volunteers are unable to apply for a seat on Scottsdale’s boards and commissions.

Fact:  Though the Citywide Volunteer Program is currently suspended for health and welfare reasons due to the pandemic, the application process is active and openings are available.

  • There are 20 boards and commission and seven other ad hoc committees that are sourced through the city’s application process.
  • The process starts with completing an application that will be forwarded to City Council.
  • The City Council nominates candidates from the resident applications submitted; at a subsequent Council meeting, candidate answers to three questions are reviewed and those who get the most votes are appointed.
  • By the end of October there will be new appointments to over 15 boards and commissions; some may be appointed to a second term. .
  • There are additional vacancies; applications must be received by Oct. 30.
  • Ethics training is required for all new appointees and annually for each appointed commissioner.

Setting The Record Straight 9/15

September 14, 2020
14 Sep 2020

Statement: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts season has been suspended.

Fact: Although the facility is closed temporarily to stop the spread of COVID-19, it will be open for in-person events starting in late September.

  • The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts installed strong HVAC filters-Ionic air purifiers and  UV air scrubbers, and follows safety protocols, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and reduced seating.
  • The Center is part of Scottsdale Art, which includes the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) as well as public art, learning and innovation programs, the Scottsdale Arts Festival and Canal Convergence.
  • Many of Scottsdale Art’s offering and experiences have been available throughout the six-month facilities closure; others are transitioning to safe openings.
  • SMOCA has new artwork on view outside its building.
  • Scottsdale Arts Learning and Innovation continues to offer exhibitions, programs and events virtually via platforms including Zoom and Facebook Live.
  • Outdoor Permanent Public Art continued to be available and new virtual exhibitions were added for remote viewing.
  • Scottsdale Public Art Canal Convergence Water + Art + Light will return Nov. 6–15 with changes due to the pandemic, while still bringing the enchanting, light-based artworks from around the world

Scottsdale, it’s time to show more leadership

September 10, 2020
10 Sep 2020

The challenge for the new City Council will be to understand what has happened in the past, what is truly happening in the economy now, and what the real assets and inadequacies of the community are so that it can boldly develop ways to re-invent the Scottsdale of the future.

By Don Henninger.

Those thoughts from Don Hadder, a SCOTT contributor, should be the central theme of this year’s campaign for Scottsdale mayor and City Council.

Learn and respect the city’s past, recognize the city is at a critical economic crossroads that will determine its financial fate long into the future, and create a vision and new ideas for ways the city can progress and sustain the high standards we have come to expect, including great amenities and low property taxes.

Our past:

The heritage and charm of the six-acre “Historic Old Town,” the creativity and will power to build the Indian Bend Wash, the willingness of residents to invest $1 billion to create the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which protects more than 45 square miles of the city.

Those are among the achievements and qualities of the past that benefit us today. There are others. The widening of Hayden Road, the development of the “Cure Corridor,” the airport and the creation of economic power centers in the broader downtown and Airpark areas.

What’s next? What are we going to do to enhance that legacy?

Our fiscal condition:

COVID 19 has muddied the city’s financial future. Tourism and its revenue dominoes are tumbling. The city is facing an economic downturn deeper than the Great Recession of 2008.

At that time, Jim Lane was just beginning his first term as mayor. Among the strengths he brought to the office was his financial acumen, based on years of finance work in the private sector.

Turns out the timing was good from a financial perspective. As his third term comes to an end, he gets credit for helping the city recover quickly from the recession and stay healthy over his 12-year reign. If it weren’t for COVID, the city would be in solid financial shape for his successor.

With Lane leaving in a few months – coupled with the retirement next month of city treasurer Jeff Nichols – our new leaders, mayor and council members alike, will need a thorough understanding of the financial issues they’ll face through this fiscal turbulence

Our vision:

This may be the city’s weak spot.

A group of private- and public-sector leaders along with the Morrison Institute at ASU issued a groundbreaking report at the beginning of the century that challenged everyone to come up with a vision for the city. Twenty years later, the issues largely are the same but there still is no consensus on where the city should be headed as it nears buildout and enters a stage of redevelopment in key areas.

What is the next big idea for the city? What is the vision?

It takes creativity, courage and perseverance to rally people around a vision; it’s much easier to find fault than it is to lead. It’s time to show more leadership. It’s time to develop a path for Scottsdale to recover its financial moxie, to build out it final 15,000 acres and to make downtown, McDowell Road, the Airpark and Bell Road corridor economic engines that will support our quality of life and low tax structure.

The current work to finally update the city’s General Plan is not the vision. It’s a tactical exercise, though it could offer suggestions to prompt our leaders to start thinking big with an understanding of what might satisfy and unite residents.

And that’s where residents step in. Challenge the candidates to respect our past, to understand the fiscal challenges of today and to create a vision for tomorrow.

We all can get started on that by voting in the general election for mayor and council candidates who espouse the vision and values to move Scottsdale forward.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

Setting The Record Straight 9/10

September 10, 2020
10 Sep 2020

Statement: The 2035 Draft General Plan Citizen Review Task Force has not met in months.

Fact: Meetings resumed after a summer recess Sept. 8, which was the first meeting planned after June 29, 2020.

The Transportation Challenge (Part 2)

September 9, 2020
09 Sep 2020

By Don Hadder

Part 2:

As detailed in the first part of this series, transportation is the lifeblood of our society and it is in everyone’s interest to have systems that are effective, well run and safe.

In Scottsdale, like any dynamic urban environment, the transportation system will never be perfect, yet we should always work toward achieving that goal.

As we look forward, numerous challenges and opportunities are appearing ‘over the horizon’ that we should plan for:

–Maintaining and replacing our transportation facilities

Most construction materials are rated for a 30- to 50-year lifespan. This suggests that after three to five decades, all we have built begins to deteriorate. This is true of transportation facilities as well as utilities, buildings, parks and related products and equipment.

Technology has an even shorter life. Proper and regular maintenance of transportation facilities can extend their life, but eventually they will need to be rebuilt or replaced. For much of Scottsdale’s existence as a city, its facilities have been relatively new. And in most cases, the standards used for their design and construction were at or above usual practices and provided longer effective life. 

Scottsdale now is approaching 70 years as an incorporated community and much of its transportation infrastructure is more than 30 years old. Will we age as gracefully as idyllic New England towns?

There is an increasing need to start rebuilding and replacing our transportation infrastructure. It is important that the community have an accurate inventory of these facilities, their current condition and their rate of deterioration. Also necessary is a long-term plan for the design, construction and financing of rebuilding the infrastructure. In many cases there are “fixes” that should be included, such as drainage facilities, water and sewer facilities and other co-located public infrastructure.

Photo from Wikicommons.

The magnitude of this extensive rehabilitation needs to be known for decisions and scheduling to occur before it becomes overwhelming. Fixing only what collapses now increases the magnitude of the problem and the ultimate cost. As was recently discovered with the Drinkwater Boulevard underpass at the Civic Center and the 68th Street bridge over the Arizona Canal, this can become a critical matter of public safety and can have impacts on businesses and neighborhoods that are difficult to manage.

–Another major issue is that recognizing Scottsdale’s location within the Phoenix metropolitan area, there is a substantial amount of traffic that drives through the city or comes and goes into the far ends of the Valley. 

In one-on-one surveys with business owners in the 2000s, we found that the bulk of employees in the Airpark area came from outside of Scottsdale. One business had a majority of their employees come from either Anthem, in the far north end of the Valley, or Queen Creek, at the opposite end of the Valley. Another business had a majority of their employees coming from the Glendale and Peoria area.

A large portion of Pima Freeway traffic in Scottsdale is pass through. This is also true of many internal roads, including portions of Scottsdale, McDowell, Thomas, Indian School roads, and Shea and Dynamite boulevards. This traffic cannot be controlled directly by Scottsdale and is difficult to accurately forecast.

Furthermore, there are processes in motion that will change where this traffic comes from and will add to the overall demand. For example, notice the businesses in Phoenix or on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community that have “Scottsdale” in their names and use our streets.  These businesses benefit without providing property, sales or fuel tax revenues.

Another example is the Sonoran Parkway in Phoenix, which is actually a downgraded extension of the Loop 303 Freeway. This will connect into Dynamite Boulevard and link the north end of Scottsdale and points east to the Black Canyon Freeway and the West Valley.

And there also is the area of Phoenix bounded by the CAP aqueduct, and Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Jomax roads. About 100,000 homes and 15,000,000 square feet of commercial development have been approved. This would equal a city half the size of Scottsdale. Again, driving on our streets without providing tax revenue for their widening, maintenance and repair.

In addition to Scottsdale not being able to control the zoning and planning in adjacent communities, it cannot control the streets in adjacent communities. For example, the disconnection between Greenway Road, east of Scottsdale Road, and Greenway, west of Scottsdale, is ludicrous, creating a forest of traffic signals where only one should exist. It is important for Scottsdale to be aware of these impacts and changes and to seek regional collaborative planning, decision-making and financing. The management of the transportation corridors on and near our borders is critical to our travel within our city.

–On the horizon are possible changes in the vehicles we use that could also affect how we manage transportation facilities. 

Although the initial attempts for self-driving vehicles have not yet been successful, there is too much promise and investment for this concept. Eventually, perhaps in the next 10 years, self-driving vehicles will replace human-driven vehicles, just as automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages. The first horseless carriages and the first airplanes were not instantaneously perfect. (The first self-propelled car was built in 1769, more than 100 years before Henry Ford built his first car. The first winged aircraft was also constructed 100 years prior to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight.) 

Photo from Wikicommons.

Such autonomous vehicle technology will provide for more efficient use of roadways by reducing conflicts and optimizing vehicle separation. Statistics reveal that 94 percent of vehicle crashes in the United States are caused by human error. Self-driving cars will eliminate these collisions. Autonomous semi-trucks have been driving regularly between Phoenix and Tucson for over a year.

There are other considerations that would have more radical effects on our communities. One is that those who otherwise are mobility-restricted by various physical limitations would be able to go to their desired destinations without depending on other people. This would achieve a level of independence and choice that has not been available to them. For many, the restrictions on mobility would be at the origination of their trip and at the destination. This would heighten the need for accessible homes, stores and places of business. 

The other ramification would be a great reduction of the need for parking spaces – although dedicated to drop-off and pick-up functions would be necessary. The growth of vehicular travel may no longer depend on personally owned vehicles, which could either mean less or more need to create more lane miles of roadway.

–There is an ongoing trend for vehicles that are not propelled directly by engines fueled by petroleum products. This likely will result in a major dilemma regarding the financing of roads and highways. 

For decades, fuel taxes have provided a major portion of the funds for road and highway construction and operations. As the proportion of petroleum fuel-based vehicles decline, traffic on our roads and highways will not decrease. On the contrary, traffic likely will continue to increase. This will create a need to develop new funding mechanisms for the construction and operation of roads and highways. This will not be easy. Those who drive electric vehicles have been able to avoid paying fuel taxes and have been contributing at a lower rate than other vehicles on the road.

It will be critical that the public is fully aware of this deficiency. Whatever solutions are developed must be understood, fair and relatively easy to implement and collect. Solutions include increased sales, property or income taxes; toll roads; and miles driven fees. There also will need to be full transparency in how these funds are used to improve and maintain our roads and highways. This will be a critical issue at all levels of government.

–The evolving economy of the 21st Century is one that relies on flexibility, resiliency and adaptability as change is becoming more continuous and less predictable. 

This is translating into employees who want to be able to relocate quickly. Many people of all ages prefer enjoying experiences over accumulating possessions and property. Many desire the opportunity to change their choices without undue burden. This is translating into transportation systems as well. Many young employees either do not own a vehicle or are delaying the purchase of one. They are tending to locate where transportation options are readily available. Similarly, many tourists and conference attendees wish to travel to locations where they do not need to drive or rent personal vehicles, where convenient pleasant public transportation exists.

The current pandemic may be slowing this trend to a degree, but the trend toward less dependency on individual vehicles is deep enough, it will likely continue and become dominant in the next decade. 

The ramifications for Scottsdale are that to attract quality young talent and tourists, there will need to be more transportation options available across more of the community. This may also mean differing choices of preferred transportation modes through the week or season – as well as by purpose. The marketplace may be able to provide some of these options, but it is most likely that local and regional government agencies will need to participate in a strong manner.

This is an evolving condition that will require ongoing and regular data collection and analysis, and most importantly, a willingness to experiment with new ideas and products. Critically, public agencies and the general public will need to tolerate such actions, if they are not completely successful. Both the public and public agencies will need to be prepared to devise and attempt other solutions. 

For example, some cities have abandoned their local bus systems and have paid ride-share companies similar to Uber and Lyft to provide door-to-door service. Vouchers can be provided for people needing this service – similar to vouchers used currently in Scottsdale and other Valley cities. Driverless six to 10-passenger shuttles have been implemented experimentally in Peoria and elsewhere. In this type of changing condition, waiting could put a community so far behind that it may not be able to catch up.

There are many challenges facing Scottsdale regarding transportation and there are not always obvious and ready solutions available. Scottsdale will need to be aware of the changes occurring in transportation systems and public demand. City officials and citizens will need to be prepared to do things differently than what has been done in the past. 

This will require the active participation of many groups and interests across the community and will require strong public communication and commitment to solutions. Simply pretending the past will be the future is both counter-productive and silly.

Don Hadder is a retired city planner, long-time resident of Scottsdale and a local historical resource.


Setting The Record Straight 9/8

September 8, 2020
08 Sep 2020

Statement: There is no oversight of Scottsdale’s voter-approved 2019 bond projects. 

Fact: The city’s Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee is made up of seven Scottsdale residents whose role is to make sure city bond projects, contracts and spending are progressing properly.

• This committee provides citizen oversight of the city’s bond programs.

• It’s in place to provide safeguards and make sure the city is spending voter-approved money properly and wisely.

• The committee received reports on the city’s progress in implementing the bond program, reviews any proposed projected changes, asks questions and provides comments that go to the city council.

• Ten of the 58 projects are in progress, per plan, as of Aug. 27: Three in Parks, Recreation and Senior Services, two in Community Services and Infrastructure and five in Public Safety and Technology. 

• Committee public meeting videos, reports as well as names and term dates for committee members are available at

It’s Time for Scottsdale to Refocus Priorities

September 8, 2020
08 Sep 2020

By Don Henninger

Scottsdale Fashion Square

It is not business as usual for the city of Scottsdale and won’t be for a long time to come.

Two of the city’s largest revenue sources – tourism and retail sales taxes – are in a deep hole, and it may take years for businesses in those sectors to dig their way out. Some never will.

As August ends, the City Council returns to work and the campaigns for mayor and council hit a fever pitch, what should we expect as city residents?

Here’s one idea, and it’s not a lot to ask. We need our leaders – and those who want to be our leaders come January – to acknowledge the challenges and move forward with open minds. They need to be open to change.

The city’s dynamic and fiscal conditions are upside down from where they were when the year started. When we recover – who knows when – from the COVID pandemic, we will not suddenly return to conditions that existed before the virus invaded our lives. The city’s revenue sources, our lifestyles and our schools all will be substantially changed, perhaps permanently.

The city’s revenue lifeblood – tourism – has been hammered. Hotels and resorts are now running at 30 percent occupancy levels and insiders’ best guess is that may improve to 50 percent over the next couple years. Fifty percent. Couple of years. That’s hard to swallow.

Bookings by groups, critical to this industry, may never return to the levels the industry has relied on for so long.

And then comes news that Scottsdale Fashion Square, the sales tax bedrock of the city’s core, is facing serious financial challenges. Macerich, its owner, is working to make good on $6 million in deferred loans for the mall, which was the victim of terrible timing. First it spent $200 million in a luxury makeover that made it one of the premier malls in America. Then COVID shut down shoppers’ traffic and looting and rioting on May 30 caused millions of dollars in damages.

There’s every reason to believe the mall, which generates 70 percent of the sales taxes downtown, will eventually recover. But still in doubt is the future of in-store retail sales overall due to changes in shopping trends fueled by technology and the increase in online retailing. The COVID disruption accelerates those trends.

Over 40 percent of Scottsdale’s revenues comes from sales taxes, which is why property taxes have remained low. The city’s fiscal dynamics have fundamentally changed, and that should change the way our leaders look ahead.

Now is the time to refocus on priorities. The previous hot buttons of height, density, transit, parking and even the failed Desert Discovery Center — all still being used in campaign platforms – should be in put in the rear-view mirror and put to rest. It does no good to dwell on the past.

The evolution of downtown is vital. What does that look like? We need leaders to talk about how they are going to recruit private-sector investment downtown. We’ve heard enough already on what they want to prevent from happening. It should be about what they want to start; not what they want to stop.

What other parts of the city could be centers of employment, education and healthy growth that fits the character and high standards we expect in Scottsdale? Who’s talking about that now? Who’s leading that vision?

The council’s approval this week to invest in Axon’s plans to expand its headquarters in the city was encouraging. It means quality jobs and a source of significant tax revenue for the future. The fact that the council voted 7-0 is even more impressive.

That positive collaboration and willingness to invest in the city’s economic infrastructure is critical now and into January when new council members take over.

We need to know how our leaders plan to move the city forward in conditions that will be more challenging than ever. Potential investors in the city should be embraced and encouraged to present ideas that are can be vetted in public view and approved when appropriate.

We like to say Scottsdale is open for business. We better make sure we mean it.

Don Henninger, executive director of SCOTT, can be reached at

Setting The Record Straight 9/1

September 1, 2020
01 Sep 2020
setting the record straight

Statement:  Scottsdale’s property taxes are higher than other Valley cities.

Fact:  Scottsdale’s property taxes are among the lowest in the Valley.

•  Property taxes in Scottsdale are less than those for Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Tempe.

•  Of each dollar in property taxes paid by Scottsdale property owners, 49% is attributable to education; 16% to community colleges; 19% to Maricopa County; 6% to special districts; 5% to the Scottsdale general fund; and 5% to pay off bonds issued by Scottsdale.

•  Primary property taxes are used by the City of Scottsdale to pay for city services and operational expenses and comprise about I0% of Scottsdale’s General Fund operating budget. 

•  Secondary property taxes based on limited assessed property values ore restricted to pay debt service on voter-approved general obligation bonds for such things as parks, libraries. streets, and police/fire stations.

Setting The Record Straight 8/27

August 27, 2020
27 Aug 2020

Statement:  Historic Old Town Scottsdale includes Scottsdale Fashion Square.

Fact:  Scottsdale Fashion Square is in the area designated as “Old Town Scottsdale.”

•      “Downtown Scottsdale” is commonly confused with what is called the “Historic Old Town District” of downtown Scottsdale.

•      “Downtown” runs from, and includes, Scottsdale Fashion Square on Chaparral on the north to Earl Drive on the south; and, more or less, runs from 68th Street on the west to Miller Road on the east. Source: City of Scottsdale

•      Downtown consists of ten districts, but, because of a “character area plan” adopted several years ago, it is commonly referred to as “Old Town.”  “Old Town,” however, is not the same thing as “Historic Old Town.”

•      Downtown (aka Old Town) consists of approximately two square miles out of the 185 square miles (or about 1,280 acres of the 118,000 acres) that make up the city.

•      Historic Old Town consists of approximately 4 – 5 acres.

•      In 2015, based on presentations made to the City Council, Fashion Square produced about 70% of the sales tax revenue generated in the Downtown while only about 6% was generated by Historic Old Town.

•      The development projects proposed for the Downtown in 2019-20 did not include Historic Old Town, but, rather, other parts of the Downtown.

The Transportation Challenge

August 26, 2020
26 Aug 2020

First of two parts

By Don Hadder

Transportation is the blood that sustains the life of an economy. Without the movement of goods and people, there is no basis for an economy to function. In some cases, this may be highly localized, but in much of our 21st Century world, it is global in scale. This movement of people and goods translates into the movement of value, hence money. This is the lifeblood of our society.

Transportation issues have been integral to the formation and growth of Scottsdale throughout its existence. Winfield Scott was only able to homestead a square mile of land that would later become the core of our city because the railroad was extended to Phoenix in 1888 and 1892.  Otherwise, he would not have been able to have a marketplace to sell the products of his land.  One of his last efforts to support the growth of the fledgling community of Scottsdale was to build a rail trolley line (much like the famous “Red Line” in southern California) from Phoenix to Scottsdale. Obviously not accomplished before he passed, or since.

Scottsdale, unlike most of the older communities in the Valley, did not have a direct rail connection. It was not on a major highway crossing the state. The road connections at times were tenuous, including a canal bank and a winding trail through the nearby Papago Buttes. Local hotels early on bought special open-air “limousines” to bring customers out to the remote community.

Scottsdale’s mid-century growth occurred with the creation of the major highway and freeway systems of the 1950s and 1960s, and the expansion of air travel for residents and tourists. What had been remote became accessible. Even as transportation advanced, most streets in the downtown area were dirt until the early 1960s, a remnant of its agricultural roots.

Early on as Scottsdale was being organized as a town and then city, transportation issues were recognized. In the earliest plan for the city (prepared by Maricopa County in 1960-1961), downtown parking was identified as a major issue and road connections were deemed inadequate to handle growth.

The 1961 freeways plan prepared by Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix caused a great stir in Scottsdale. It proposed a “Papago Freeway” just south of Belleview Road in southern Scottsdale, the “Indian Bend Freeway” along either the Indian Bend Wash or Pima Road, and the “Paradise Freeway” to be located just north of Lincoln Drive. This would have sliced Scottsdale into many small pieces and hindered the sense of community, in many cases taking out neighborhoods that had just been built. Since there was virtually no local input and this plan would have eliminated neighborhoods that literally had just been built, Scottsdale residents were in uproar.

When Scottsdale prepared its first home-grown General Plan in 1967, the plan did not include any “freeways.” Instead, it included an “expressway” along Pima and Bell that would not have access along it but would have at-grade intersections at each mile point. 

Loop 101 in Scottsdale

At a Scottsdale City Council meeting in the late 1980s, a council member adamantly said “there would never be a freeway in Scottsdale.” The “Belleview” corridor was shifted south into Tempe to the Salt River. The north-south route shifted one-half mile east to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. The Bell Road alignment was moved north to the Union Hills alignment. This particular change was beneficial to the large swaths of property owned by the Arizona State Land Department. In the mid-1990s, the “Paradise Parkway” was eliminated from consideration. 

This push against freeways was supported by the owner of the Arizona Republic, who wrote a full-page editorial against freeways, believing that this would keep the Phoenix metro area from becoming another “Los Angeles” (a chant that still echoes across the Valley).  For almost 20 years, Scottsdale avoided any discussion regarding “freeways.”

The 1967 General Plan was the first comprehensive plan for transportation systems and policies in Scottsdale that was driven by local interests. It included early concepts for trails and paths, landscaped medians in major streets and other “new” concepts.

By the early 1970s, there was concern that the plan was not adequate. In 1974 a special group of the Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program (STEP Forums) convened on the subject of transportation. This effort resulted in a new right-of-way standards / streets plan as well as the first true bikeways plan.

When the Northeast Area Plan (NEAP) was developed in 1976, pre-computer hand-generated traffic projections and distributions were employed. This plan also recognized the importance of Shea Boulevard, the need for Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, and the need for the Thompson Peak Parkway crossing over the Central Arizona Project Canal (CAP). 

By 1978 and into the development of the first Airport Area Plan, Scottsdale was working with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and their computer-based traffic modeling to test and evaluate transportation plans (one of the first communities in the Valley to do so).

By the late 1980s, it became apparent that not having freeways would diminish the quality of life in Scottsdale. Growth continued and even expanded, despite two economic turn-downs, and Valley streets were choking with congestion. The intersection of Scottsdale and McDowell roads was the most heavily trafficked intersection in the state for most of the decade.

Finally, ADOT and MAG developed and promoted a freeway plan that involved local interests and would receive Valley-wide support. The current freeway corridors that relate to Scottsdale were established by the late 1980s.

Also, in the 1980s, Scottsdale was developing its first Downtown Plan as well as plans for newly annexed areas north of Deer Valley Road. Continued regional modeling was used to assure that those streets that carry traffic through the city were adequately sized. Because of continued and increasing congestion in Old Town, the initial plan included widening Scottsdale Road north and south of Indian School Road to six lanes. This plan would have eliminated numerous vital landmark Scottsdale businesses. 

The Downtown Plan created the Goldwater and Drinkwater couplet to remove long-distance regional traffic from the heart of Old Town. This critical roadway change allowed the downtown area to continue to thrive with only local traffic. Transit planning in Scottsdale came of age during this period, as well, including both regional and local bus service.

When the freeway system in and near Scottsdale was completed in the early 2000s, traffic patterns were substantially modified, with regional traffic diverted out of the heart of the community. Previously, the dominant congested streets were the north-south streets of Scottsdale, Hayden and Pima roads. The new dominant streets were the east-west streets connecting to the Pima Freeway of Indian School Road, Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road. 

Even though Camelback Road does not connect to the freeway it also became congested because of its direct connection from Scottsdale to Phoenix and the western suburbs. One change that had not been fully anticipated was that drivers increasingly drove more often and for more miles. This is the main reason traffic volumes on many major roads were much greater than predicted.

Valley light rail transit planning in the early 1990s led to service beginning in 2010. Due to intense local special interests, Scottsdale chose to stay out of the system. The 101 and 202 freeways have dramatically benefitted Scottsdale from the late 1990s through today and into the future. Light rail would have equally benefitted commuters out of and into Scottsdale and would have enhanced Scottsdale’s reputation as a tourism and convention destination. Current opposition to light rail transit is one of the few unifying opinions of Scottsdale residents.

State Route 51

Other non-motor-vehicle or non-personal transportation modes in Scottsdale, primarily cycling and buses, function reasonably well for the resources and effort that has been made to support them. Cycling, in particular, is better supported and more accessible in Scottsdale than in many communities across the Valley. The greatest issue often experienced is lack of continuity with adjacent communities. Local bus service functions reasonably well but likely could serve more demand with greater support and resources.

Scottsdale depends on tourists who visit hotels, restaurants and shops, which all depend on service workers. Service workers need to live in Scottsdale or have bus service from their homes outside of Scottsdale. Most cannot afford to live in Scottsdale. From 2011 to 2018, Scottsdale offered free trolley service between Scottsdale Road hotels and Old Town. While the route was intended for tourists, over half of the riders were hotel employees. For Scottsdale’s economy to thrive, tourism service workers need bus service.

For bus service to be utilized, it must be frequent, from early morning to very late evening, and citywide. Would anybody drive on a road system that was only open twice an hour, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and only served one-quarter of the city?

Approximately 70 percent of the cost of operating a bus is driver pay. A frequent complaint is that the buses are too large and smaller buses would be more cost-effective. The driver requires the same pay whether they are driving a long or a short bus.

There is angst across the community over the existing transportation systems, particularly regarding streets. Surprisingly, this concern has been consistent since the early 1960s. There never has been a period when local streets have been considered adequate. For a brief, few years when the 101 and 202 were first opened, they were considered acceptable. However, the 101 has been widened from its initial six total lanes to a minimum of 10, with many segments at 12 total lanes. It remains congested four to six hours daily.

In the greatest part, the current local street system handles traffic demands well. The capacity issues tend to occur during peak hours and in particular at links that access the Pima Freeway.  Freeway accesses have traditionally been bottlenecks. Of the 20 highest congested Scottsdale roadway segments in 2018, 10 are within one mile of the 101. The two highest congested street segments are Scottsdale Road, immediately north of the Pima Freeway, and Shea Boulevard, immediately east of the Pima Freeway. Further widening of each of these segments is prohibitively expensive and would likely never become wide enough to eliminate congestion.

Certainly, not all streets in Scottsdale are adequate. Several are not yet fully improved per the 2008 Transportation Plan, which was updated in 2016. The November 2016 sales tax increase approved by voters includes 19 identified roadway segments, with 70 percent of the funding provided by MAG. All of these improvements will occur by 2026, with most in the next three years. However, in most cases, the current streets are adequate to manage current traffic demands. Of the 323 Scottsdale major roadway segments analyzed with 2018 data, 10 percent are over capacity, 30 percent are between capacity and half of capacity, and 60 percent are below half.

Compare Scottsdale streets to those of other communities. Contemplate living in Los Angeles for two weeks, driving several times daily. Contemplate living in Gila Bend for two weeks. So, if the Scottsdale street system is Goldilocks, functioning well, better than in many communities, why is there general dissatisfaction with the streets? 

A large part of the answer focuses on expectations. A great number of drivers expect to drive at or above the speed limit at all times, to get through every signal on the first cycle when they arrive at an intersection, never wait to turn left, never be delayed by following a right-turning vehicle and have no other interference in their path. These expectations are appropriate for a rural or exurban area – not an active major metropolitan area.

The challenge is managing expectations. Providing the public consistent information about the transportation system is likely part of this management. Another part may be clearly communicating available options in providing and managing transportation facilities along with their effectiveness, their costs – both initial and long term – and all associated advantages and disadvantages. Transportation services and systems are highly complex and difficult to comprehend. The more pertinent and reliable information available, the more the public can appreciate the difficulty of improving and operating transportation systems.

For example, we all bemoaned the delays caused by the Pima Freeway widening between Shea and McKellips when the construction was occurring. Now we scarcely remember those 10 months. Currently we are irritated by the construction of the Pima Freeway, west of Hayden, even though there are usually three lanes-per-direction. Eight months from now when there are five lanes-per-direction, we’ll be happy.

In addition, there are impacts of our transportation systems across our communities that need to be kept in consideration:

  • Slow and congested travel increases the amount of air pollutants that are generated.  The Valley has had issues with air quality over a half century, and the health problems resulting from air pollution add costs to individuals and businesses, reduce productivity and in some cases may influence business location choices.
  • Transportation congestion can also lead to other health concerns, stress and less time for people to spend with their families and friends.
  • Ineffective transportation systems can also reduce business productivity, increase direct costs and lessen ability to discover and take advantage of opportunities that arise.

It is in everyone’s interest to have transportation systems that are effective, well run, well maintained and safe. In a dynamic and interesting urban environment, constancy and perfection will never be achieved. Nonetheless, there should always be a focus toward achieving these goals.

Next: Planning for the future

Don Hadder is a retired city planner, long-time resident of Scottsdale and a local historical resource.

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