Municipal politics is generally a practice of the mundane and the relentlessly boring for the typical outsider (and many insiders). Meetings are often inundated with procedure and are full of subjects such as zoning details; not exactly Mr. Smith Goes to Washington material. But sometimes even the mundane, such as the topic of bike lanes, can get spicy in its own right.
Enter the concept of “road diets”: this amounts to a re-classification and re-purpose of a road, in this case 68th Street from Indian School to Thomas Roads. This reclassification entails a reduction of the driving lanes (from four to two), the addition of a bike lane, and improvements for walkability. And just like that, a sleepy and relatively boring subject became a hot-button political issue with people on all sides of the issue heading to council to make their opinions known.
In all fairness, the ability to drive in as unimpeded a manner as possible is an issue of nearly Constitutional importance in Arizona. The open road is a right of nearly God-given status, and anything that creates more traffic and impedes that open road has been enough to kill many a project before. While many cities focus on walkability and bike-ability, we prefer drive-ability. It’s the Arizona Way.
As the Scottsdale Progress noted, even a procedural vote last week got extremely chippy, with a split 4-3 vote and complaints as to why observers couldn’t spend more time commenting on it. Noteworthy also is that the tone of the Progress has seemed to become a bit more combative against Mayor David Ortega recently, but in this case, adherence to the agenda was probably a wise move. Procedural votes shouldn’t be derailed by inflamed tensions.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of how the votes lined up is where Betty Janik is lining up. Generally seen as one of the more left-leaning members of the council and usually a strong ally of Mayor Ortega, she is calling for a five-year moratorium on road diets, citing the will of the people. Bike lanes and walking improvements have generally been more the political domain of those left-of-center, so this flip is somewhat notable.
Clearly, this issue is nowhere near over. There will be more votes, more public comments, more hyperbolic charges of how people will die due to slower response times if the city goes on a road diet, and similarly hyperbolic charges of how it will positively transform Scottsdale. And frankly, we welcome the content and hope for more chippiness going forward, regardless of which side of the topic you’re on.