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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 https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/boards/citizens-bond-oversight-committee

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 donh@scottsdale.com

Setting The Record Straight 9/1

September 1, 2020
01 Sep 2020
setting the record straight scottnow.com

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.

I like Scottsdale as Scottsdale

August 25, 2020
25 Aug 2020

By Jim Derouin

There is an old song that includes the line: “Dance with the one that brought you and you can’t go wrong.” 

My family and I moved to Scottsdale in 1985 and, by luck, found a house ready to move into on Scottsdale Ranch. The part of Scottsdale north of Deer Valley Road had just been annexed to the city – a  large portion of which, at a cost of $1 billion, became the 45-square-mile McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which is about 25 percent of the entire area of the city. That single act reduced Scottsdale’s potential population by some 200,000 residents.

Photo by Dru Bloomfield via Creative Commons.

Always conservation conscious, Scottsdale’s growth boom occurred prior to 2000.  Scottsdale has about 118,000 square acres in total of which 30,000 are dedicated in the Preserve. Something less than 15,000 acres are left elsewhere in the city for residential development.

Scottsdale is a great place to live and raise children and send them to school in the city’s 38 public schools with more than 25,000 students. Some people argue that Scottsdale is a retirement community, a “bedroom” community and a place where people who have made their money elsewhere come to isolate themselves from others.  Some people even say they want Scottsdale to be Palm Springs. Well, fortunately, Scottsdale is none of the foregoing.

Scottsdale is home to 18,000 businesses at which 180,000 people work – 150,000 of them commute to Scottsdale daily. 

Scottsdale is a center for tourism – 4.5 million tourists visited the city in 2018. Scottsdale is the home for major resorts, health care, finance and technology firms.

It is known as a place with low property taxes and high property values; more than half its budget is paid by non-residents because our lifestyle is mostly paid for by sales taxes from visitors to the city. And oh, by the way, those 180,000 workers need buildings to work in; people who work in the high-paying jobs we seek do not work in tents.

So when people tell me that they wish Scottsdale were Palm Springs with its decayed downtown, closed golf courses and deteriorating property values, I say to them: “Bless you.” Palm Springs sat on its laurels, rejected renewal, thought the good times would last forever and now is a figment of its own imagination. Its glory dates back to, and ends, with the writing of the “Wizard of Oz.” People who made their wealth elsewhere, commonly in Los Angeles, moved to the desert to live in an isolated fashion separated from other people. Phooey. I don’t want that for Scottsdale.

Indian Bend Wash

I like the fact that Scottsdale has the highest median housing price of any of the large Valley cities. I like the fact that we have a real downtown that, with care, can become a year-round magnate for economic activity while still protecting its historic area. I like our 42 parks and 72 athletic fields. I like the fact that we are a city with diverse age demographics including a vibrant segment with families that have children — they have the highest incomes of any segment of the city’s population by age group. 

In short, unlike Palm Springs, data shows that Scottsdale is a self-sufficient, economically diverse city, not one of those bedroom communities, retirement communities or one of those boring, failing, over-the-hill “I just want to be isolated from the world” cities.

In life we have to be careful what we ask for because, sometimes, to our disadvantage, we get what we ask for. I want Scottsdale to remain economically vibrant; to have more families with children because they add to our economic base; to continue to have low property taxes; to continue to have high property values; and to continue to get non-residents to pay most of the freight.

We have it good. Let’s not mess it up.

Jim Derouin is a long-time Scottsdale resident, attorney, and member of the city of Scottsdale’s Districting and Charter review task forces.

Setting The Record Straight 8/20

August 20, 2020
20 Aug 2020

Statement: Scottsdale is not serious about environmental sustainability.
Fact:  The record shows what the city has done on sustainability and some of the recognition it has received for its work….

  • Scottdale’s environmental roots are part of the 2001 General Plan that was designed around six guiding principles developed by citizens to implement the city’s vision; that principle is “Seek Sustainability” and is carried out by the city’s operational services.
  • Scottsdale’s sustainability initiatives include: water, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, parks and trees, waste reduction and diversion, energy and fuel and transportation. For more: Sustainability
  • Each year, the City Council reviews progress toward the principles’ goals and sets new goals.
  • The city earned its 38th consecutive designation as a “Tree City USA’ from the Arbor Day Foundation; criteria included having a community tree ordinance and spending at least $2 per capital on urban forestry.

Scottsdale was designated as a Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Community for 2019-2023 League of American Bicycles: criteria included creating transportation and recreational resources for all ages and abilities

Setting The Record Straight 8/18

August 18, 2020
18 Aug 2020

Statement: It’s too easy to make amendments to the 2001 General Plan
Fact: Making changes to the General Plan follows a strict process.

·      Since the 2001 General Plan was adopted nineteen years ago, there have been very few Major Amendments approved.

·      Arizona State Law requires that all requests for Major General Plan Amendments be presented at a single public hearing during the calendar year in which the proposal is made.

·      Of the 62 major amendment cases submitted since 2001, only 30 were approved and no major plan cases are active. Two cases were denied and 30 cases were withdrawn. Source: City of Scottsdale. 

·      The General Plan Amendment Criteria are available online.

·      There are four amendment criteria that explain how a request would be determined as a major or non-major amendment.

·      Scottsdale’s process for major amendments deals more with the size of the affected property and public involvement process than the substantial alteration of the planned mixture or balance of land uses described in the statute for a major amendment.

Tech helps Scottsdale’s economic recovery

August 11, 2020
11 Aug 2020

By Laraine Rodgers

Technology proved to be a critical enabler as Scottsdale dealt with a game-changing pandemic.

Welcome to Scottsdale sign

Over the years, the city invested in technology software, hardware and networks, a boon for its operations, police, fire and citizen services. Although the city immediately put its emergency plan into action, COVID-19 created a need to get information out to all stakeholders quickly.

Tech was a strong contributor as soon as the pandemic hit. Scottsdale’s technology and operations team quickly went into action that enabled non-front line staff to work at home, and for staff to continue communications with businesses, partners and citizens, all of whom were also affected by the pandemic.

Scottsdale increased posting to its website and social media to connect with the city at large — businesses, residents and other stakeholders. The city added Zoom video conferencing and webinars to their Channel 11 TV and streaming video services to engage citizens in public processes, such as council, board and commission meetings.

Perfect? No. Even using communication technologies, there was a feeling of isolation as in-person engagement was severely decreased. Ensuring public health needs were met affected many aspects of the economy locally.

At their annual strategic planning session in March 2019, the council set priorities based on the voter-approved 2001 General Plan and also the guiding principles developed through the CityShape 2020 process. Included in their priorities was a proposal that would use enabling technology for the benefit of the city as a whole.

Later in 2019 the council approved use of an IDA grant for development of a “Smart City” roadmap to “explore and identify ways that new technology could enhance the community’s quality of life.” For more: Nov 12, 2019 Council Report.

Once approved, the city invited the community via Scottsdale seeking input to RSVP for an information session. Residents, entrepreneurs, innovators, corporations, educators, and high school students attended the initial session and some also participated in smaller groups before March of this year to see an updated brief, discuss the concept and provide additional information. The initial report is in the works and will be available later this year for feedback and comments as part of the community input process.

The city’s 2020/21 budget adopted in June 2020 reflects adjustments to expenses and recalibrated revenue projections. Scottsdale’s major revenue source, tourism, was hit hard due to restrictions on travel and public health. There is a need for existing revenue sources to increase and for new revenue sources to emerge.  

The pandemic forced a quick response to stay afloat, not easy when you have to respond to myriad of changes all at once. Those entities with front-line workers, and critical jobs —health care, for example — were especially affected. Scottsdale’s education community, teachers and students, were also challenged. It’s hard to turn on a dime, though, when thrust into a situation that was unexpected.  

Some small businesses were about to expand or develop their e-commerce website so customers could find and order products to be mailed or picked up hands-free directly from merchants and restaurants. Many who already had incorporated technology into their plans and operations found it a little easier to continue some form of operations.

The city just announced a partnership with other groups to “Shop Scottsdale” and asked for us to spread the word that Scottsdale is open for business:

“Small businesses make up over 92% of the storefront and restaurant experiences in Scottsdale. Money spent locally generates sales tax to support municipal services from libraries to parks, and it’s no small chunk of change. Business and sales taxes account for 42% of all Scottsdale revenues.” https://bit.ly/ShopScotts

As we continue to work through the new- or now- normal, what we are learning will shape the city’s future. New processes, practices and enablers including technology will stay and former ones including in-person, social activities will return. The vision: Scottsdale returns to a robust economy and an enhanced quality of life.

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