Oak Street & 60th Street Being Made Safer for Cyclists

April 13, 2017 - As seen in the photograph below, Scottsdale has recently added a large Bikes May Use Full Lane sign on the pavement before the bottleneck in the westbound lane of Oak Street just east of 60th Street. This will be welcomed by those of us who frequently cycle from Scottsdale to Phoenix via Oak Street.

Oak Street was once a very safe street for cyclists riding over the hill from Central Scottsdale to East Phoenix. It is still a popular cycling route, although many years ago, Scottsdale decided to make the intersection at 60th Street safer for pedestrians crossing Oak Street to enter the desert of Papago Park. The problem is that the intersection is in a dip between two rises near the top of the hill. Motorized traffic approaching from the west is hidden by a slight rise. Pedestrians would start to cross the street from north to south only to realize too late that a speeding motorist was approaching from the right. The options were to stop in the middle of the street and hope not to be run down or to run across the eastbound lane, but many of us are so old that we can no longer sprint to get out of the way of traffic.

Scottsdale's solution was to put a traffic island, known as a pedestrian refuge, in the center of the street. Pedestrians crossing into the desert now have a safe place to stop in the center of the street to check for traffic approaching from the right before they cross the eastbound lane. This alleviated the pedestrian safety problem but created a new one for cyclists.

Space for the refuge had to come from somewhere. Instead of widening the street, the traffic lanes were narrowed with most of the space for the refuge coming from the westbound lane. As you can see in the photograph, the white line separating the roadway from the shoulder veers so far to the right that it is only inches from the curb where the lane passes the pedestrian refuge. There is no room for cyclists to ride on the shoulder while passing through this bottleneck.

Of course, experienced cyclists know that they have the right to take over the whole lane if the lane is not wide enough to safely share with motor vehicles. Most drivers do not know that, and some of them do not care. I have ridden across the Oak Street Hill for many years on my way home, and on several occasions I have had motor vehicles come within inches of me at high speeds approaching the traffic island, as I attempted to move out into the traffic lane. On one occasion, the offending vehicle was a large motor home operated by United Blood Services. In my experience, although most drivers are willing to share the lane with cyclists, a substantial minority step on the gas in an attempt to get through the bottleneck first, even though there is no room to legally pass.

Imagine my delight when I cycled over the hill this past Sunday and found the pictured Bikes May Use the Full Lane sign freshly painted on the street. I'm not sure that this sign will solve all of the problems of drivers' crowding cyclists out of the lane, but it does let them know that cyclists have a legal right to take over the traffic lane.

According to Susan Conklu, a City of Scottsdale Senior Transportation Planner who works with bicycle and pedestrian matters, the City is also studying the possibility of widening the westbound lane. Another thing that could be done would be to move the green Share the Road Sign. Can you see it in the photo? Neither can motorists. If you enlarge the picture, you will see a portion of a green sign mostly hidden by the palo verde tree on the right. In its present location the sign is invisible to motorists approaching the bottleneck. It needs to be moved to a location before the traffic island. I have mentioned that to Susan, and I believe that is one of the measures that is under consideration to make this intersection safer for cyclists.



Paradise Valley Police versus Cyclist Confrontation Continues

April 13, 2017 - The confrontation between cyclists and the Paradise Valley Police Department continues. Cyclists have few major problems with other Valley police departments, a notable excepting being when the Mountain View precinct officer Benjamin Carrow was stopping cyclists, runners, and pedestrians passing through the Biltmore complex and threatening them with tickets for violating some non-existent law. Officer Carro must have known that he was exceeding his authority, because he is not only a cyclist, he is a community action officer. However, he had the backing of then precinct commander Glen Gardner, who thankfully has since been replaced and placed under police investigation on an unrelated incident involving "allegations of neglect of duty and unprofessional conduct." Officer Carro unfortunately still has his job.

The Phoenix Police high handedness in the Biltmore complex has ended without the Mountain View Precinct's admitting it, ex-Commander Gardner, and Officer Carro were in the wrong. However, it seems that every two or three years Paradise Valley has a new police chief who starts a new crackdown on cyclists. To some extent, the police department's complaints about cyclists are valid. Cyclists do routinely run stop signs in Paradise Valley. However, in other cases, the Paradise Valley Police Department's treatment of cyclists has amounted to pure illegal harassment.

A few years ago, while I was riding on McDonald Drive, I yelled at a motorist whose car came far to close to me. The car turned out to be an unmarked police car driven by then Corporal Nigel Williams, since inexplicably promoted to sergeant. Corporal Williams pulled me over and began haranguing me for such imaginary offences as not riding on the sidewalk (there are few sidewalks in Paradise Valley) and moving to the right to allow cars to pass me. He seemed to me to not be completely sane, and he exhibited an appalling ignorance of traffic law. Finally, he demanded my driver's license. I explained to him that he had every right to demand that I show him identification and that I would gladly show him a government-issued picture ID card (my passport card). He then wrote me a ticket for riding a bicycle without a driver's license, writing down some imaginary statue number. I was looking forward to meeting Officer Williams in court and later publishing the audio recording of the hearing on the Internet, but someone in the Paradise Valley administration realized that the ticket was phony and quashed it. I also received a phone call with an apology from Commander Alan Laitsch. To this day, Sargent Williams has not apologized.

In an email to me dated April 3 of this year, current Paradise Valley Police Chief Peter Wingert (Paradise Valley police chiefs tend to not last long in their jobs) wrote that "The main concerns voiced to us are the bicyclists riding so many abreast that they impede traffic, including vehicle and pedestrian, and that the bicyclists run stop signs at high rates of speed. " Fair enough it cannot be denied that groups of cyclists do indeed run stop signs at high rates of speed. That is certainly a legitimate complaint.

One can picture dozens of drivers using their cell phones to call the police to report these outlaw cyclists. However, in an email to another cyclist, which I have seen but do not have access to, Chief Wingert wrote that to the best of his knowledge his department had not received a single complaint from a driver. The complaint(s?) the department has received came from (a?) pedestrian(s?). I can understand pedestrians' being intimidated by passing groups of cyclists, but their fear is not very logical. I know of no case of a cyclist striking a pedestrian in Paradise Valley, even though most of the pedestrians in Paradise Valley in the early morning wear dark clothes, walk with their backs to traffic, and if in groups, usually spread out across the entire traffic lane. Yes, it is wrong for cyclists to run stop signs, but it is also wrong for pedestrians to walk in such a manner that they put their own safety in danger. Paradise Valley needs to educate its residents on basic safety rules for walking the streets.

February 26, 2017 - Last Tuesday, the Gainey Ranch Group plus some riders from the Hour of Power were reportedly detained by the Paradise Valley Police Department after descending Mummy Mountain of the east side. According to emails I have received from several riders in the group, almost none of the riders were ticketed but all were detained while the police spoke with only a handful of them. I believe that the reason for the detention was the belief that many of the cyclists in the group had previously run the stop sign at Quartz Mountain road, although according to several riders in the group, most of them didn't run the stop sign on this occasion.

Was it illegal to detain so many people who were not accused of doing anything wrong? If so, it would only be one more in a long list of scofflaw behaviors by the Paradise Valley Police. I am planning a story on this event but still have to do some research before I write it.

To read an open letter that cyclist Rodney Riley wrote to the Paradise Valley Chief of Police, click here.

By the way, a few years ago a scofflaw Paradise Valley police officer wrote me a bogus traffic ticket. The town prosecutor later withdrew the ticket, and I received a telephoned apology from a police commander. The officer almost struck my bicycle with his unmarked police car while he was out supposedly enforcing traffic laws. In our subsequent discussion, it became apparent that he didn't even understand the basic facts about traffic law that one is supposed to know to obtain a driver's license. I also got the impression that the officer was not completely sane. At the time he held the rank of corporal. I have been told that he has since been promoted to sergeant. Is it any wonder than many consider the Paradise Valley Police Department to be incompetent?

To read the my letter to the Paradise Valley Police Chief in 2012, click here.

In a subsequent telephone conversation, Commander Alan Laitsch told me that he planned to train his officers in traffic law as it applies to cycling. From appearances, that has not happened.

Under two previous police chiefs, the Paradise Valley Police Department had a reputation for harassing cyclists who were riding legally. In both occasions, the reputation of the police department was tarnished. Now, history may be repeating itself.