By Don Hadder
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.
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.)
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.