By Maritza Cruz
Tucson City Council members voiced concern over the price of a $37.3-million Bicycle Boulevard Master Plan during a study session at City Hall Tuesday. The purpose of bike boulevards is to reduce speed and volume of automobile traffic and to steer bicyclists and pedestrians to safer, dedicated routes.
In 2016, Tucson earned a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists. The plan is meant to encourage people to ride bikes or walk by improving the safety. According to a Department of Transportation presentation by Andy Bemis, lead planner of the bicycle and pedestrian program, 51 percent of bike riders are interested in commuting but concerned to ride their bikes on busy streets.
A bicycle boulevard is a roadway often parallel to major streets that is designed to enhance safety conditions by reducing the speed of traffic. The current bicycle boulevards are located on Fourth and Fontana Avenue and Third Street.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he was concerned where the Tucson Department of Transportation (TDOT) would get the money.
“You indicated that it would cost $193,000 per mile,” Rothschild said. “I would suggest in the future that a lot of drilling down go into that because that’s going to limit you a lot. I think we just need to be realistic about the funding sources.”
Rothschild said in the past the Federal Highway Association and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program have been helpful, but he thinks they won’t be a reliable source of money for this project.
He said the Community Development Block Grant Program probably would not prioritize the bike boulevard program.
David Bachman-Williams, chairman of the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee, said implementing bicycle boulevards would be in Tucson’s best interest because it would reduce automobile traffic. He said in 2011, Seville, Spain, decided to build 87 miles of protected bicycle routes, and the percentage of people who commuted with bikes increased.
He said that automobiles require space: residential parking, roads to drive on and commercial parking.
“If you take an aerial view of downtown Tucson, 40 percent of the surface area of [it] is dedicated to vehicles,” he said.
The plan identified a prioritized list of bicycle boulevard projects across 193 miles of proposed networks along 64 residential corridors, according to a memo from Assistant City Manager Albert Elias.
Ward One Councilwoman Regina Romero said vulnerable communities should be part of the bike boulevard prioritization.
“I really feel that vulnerable communities need to count for something, and that something is that many of the vulnerable communities – high stress, low income – in our community don’t have an option,” she said. “They need to walk, ride, or take the bus to school or work or the doctor’s offices.”
The plan has received support from the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Tucson Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
The resolution for the formal adoption of the Bicycle Boulevard Master Plan is scheduled for the council’s consideration on Wednesday, Feb. 22.