Street-scapes in Phoenix
By Kelsey Zlevor
I was recently in Phoenix for the American Planning Association National Conference, and was already in a context to think about street-scapes, active travel, and the pedestrian experience. However, the sharp contrast between Phoenix, and what we touted at the conference as best-practices for walkability was pretty surprising. While Phoenix has made, and continues to make, strides in its sustainable development, walking the streets highlighted several key aspects of what walkability really means.
One interesting factor was the need for human-sized vegetation. With landscaping comprised predominantly of low shrubs, rocks, and very tall palms, there is little to no shade cover for pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. This results in a feeling of exposure and vulnerability, which makes pedestrians almost a spectacle as opposed to a normal part of the environment. This issues manifested itself most frequently as catcalling, where multiple APA attendees were shouted at by motorists as they walked down barred sidewalks. While harmless in theory, this type of behavior fosters uncomfortable and violating walking environments, which can deter pedestrians.
Additionally, the lack of bicycle infrastructure was noticeable. There seemed to be few public bike racks downtown, and hardly any designated lanes. Without these amenities, it may prove difficult for cyclists to find comfortable places to bike in Phoenix.
Phoenix is certainly not alone in terms of urban spaces that are struggling to achieve these features, and many of these issues are on their planning radar. However, physically being in a less-friendly pedestrian environment made me reflect on what makes a good space good, and made me consider how much work there is to do to achieve walkable cities, both in Phoenix and around the country.