The Blueprint 2040 Regional Transportation Plan has been developed and published by the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization (FMPO). This plan will guide transportation investments over the next 20-25 years for Flagstaff.
The FMPO has published a draft Plan, and is requesting comments from the public by March 28th. You can comment here.
F3 sat on the steering committee for the development of this plan and advocated for an emphasis on multi-modal planning, such as bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and expansion of the Mountain Line bus system. We are excited to see this plan after many months of hard work by the FMPO and the many agencies it collaborated with.
Summary of F3’s Comments on Blueprint 2040
We applaud the plan’s intent to support multi-modalism, relieve pain points for Flagstaff residents and follow through on the Flagstaff Regional Plan’s goals of a livable community. Yet the plan has room for improvement related to alternative modes, road-widening, and community participation. The plan is just a draft, and the MPO has asked for the community’s comments to continuing shaping the direction of our transportation investments.
We believe the prioritized projects to be overly focused on new roads and road improvements, and especially on road widening. The aim of such projects is to ease congestion, which is consistently identified as a problem by Flagstaff residents. However, transportation research shows that increasing capacity on roads through widening usually doesn’t solve congestion. When capacity is added, the new road space simply gets filled with more people driving – a phenomenon known as induced demand.
We would like to see less focus on road widening and increased focus on activities and projects that will truly increase our non-car modeshare (trips not made by car). Strategies for doing this and additional analysis of the plan are included below.
Your comments are critical to the plan evolving to reflect Flagstaff’s values – please comment today. We have outlined some positive elements of the plan and areas where we have questions or concerns below.
Overall Project Balance
Of the ten projects listed, seven are for roads, and four of those are for road widening – with $68 million for road widening and $100 million for new roads, interchange design, and the Lone Tree railroad overpass. While pedestrian and bike projects are included (“extensive sidewalk program” and “grade separated and other pedestrian crossings”), we fear there is danger of these projects not being prioritized due to the lack of specificity.
Fighting Congestion: Is the Answer New Roads?
The Plan repeatedly cites the public’s wariness about widening roads: “Creating new roadway connections is preferred to widening. Generally, people are wary of widening roads as disruptive to businesses, homes and the pedestrian environment.” Also, in a poll on citizen priorities for future spending, residents, on average, felt that 40% of our budget should be spent on preservation, 31% on modernization and just 26% on expansion. Yet of the almost $270 million allocated in the plan, 63%, or $170 million, goes towards new roads or road widening.
The FMPO has a very difficult job, since Flagstaff residents identify congestion as one of the biggest problems in Flagstaff. It identifies areas where roads can be modernized, intersections added, and discusses the lack of arterial roads that connect different parts of the City, particularly on the south side of the City. The J.W. Powell extension is one such project.
Flagstaff’s residents have it right, and their inclination against widening roads is good policy too, since wider roads don’t mean less congestion: Transportation research shows that increasing capacity on roads through widening usually doesn’t solve congestion. When capacity is added, the new road space simply gets filled with more people driving – a phenomenon known as induced demand. (Excellent explainers on induced demand are available from Wired and CityLab.)
While the Plan acknowledges this phenomenon – noting that several areas will be persistently congested regardless of the solution (page 75) – we believe that the Flagstaff community needs to have a larger community conversation about congestion and the effect of transportation investments.
One specific project stands out: the widening of Milton Road was ranked the most impactful, positive project. While the specifics of the project will be developed as part of a separate process, this raises some big concerns. Milton is already a terrible place to walk, bike, or take the bus. Widening it would increase crossing distances and further reinforce the car-centric atmosphere of the corridor. The project does include complete streets elements, but increasing the space allocated to cars by creating a 6+ lane road through this important community corridor would signal that this road is truly for cars. While the plan specifies that the project may include either widening or intersection improvements, and project details will be determined during the separate, project planning phase, the project is still called Milton Road Widening. This would not lead to more biking and walking, regardless of how good the sidewalks are, and may only temporarily relieve congestion.
The Plan makes a strong commitment to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, including $25 million for Bus Rapid Transit Operations + Capital. This would be a bold step forward to enhance transit in key corridors.
Yet questions remain about the BRT option: Why was this route chosen over routes that could have given more access to the Route 66 corridor and the many potential development opportunities there? Will bus rapid transit or high frequency transit service routes be more thoroughly vetted with the public?
While the Mountain Line provides excellent service to some areas of town and the new phone app has made taking the bus much easier and more enjoyable, there are also important gaps in the network and many places with infrequent service. People won’t take the bus if it is not frequent. What about other Mountain Line Routes that now only have buses every hour and limited service hours? How will we invest in other lines and corridors?
The plan notes that Flagstaff non-car modeshare (trips made in ways besides in a personal automobile) lags behind Western peers with similar sizes and universities: Flagstaff residents take non-car modes for 16.6% of trips to work, while peer communities with similar climates are much higher (in Boulder, almost 30% of people take non-car modes to work; the figure is 25% of trips in Santa Cruz and17% of work trips in Bozeman.)
We would like to see a plan that sets more aggressive goals for modeshare for walking, biking and transit. Access to all modes of transportation is key to achieving greater environmental and social equity across our community. People who are able to bike, walk, or take the bus for more of their trips have greater financial freedom, better physical health and even better mental health. The benefits of non-car travel extend to one’s neighborhood (fewer speeding cars down neighborhood streets), one’s social community (walkers, bikers and bus riders interact more with their fellow travelers and can have stronger community connections), other drivers (fewer cars on the road is good for those who are driving), and the environment.
Flagstaff could choose to become a model for ensuring equal access to alternative modes of travel, where residents have access to multiple options when deciding how to get around town. While the plan sets a goal of 30% modeshare for non-car trips, the model chosen by the plan – Hybrid (Recommended) – predicts walking, biking and transit modeshare increasing from 14% to just 16% of trips in 2090 (see page 74).
Flagstaff residents support improved options for walking, biking, and transit because they want to use these modes more often and more comfortably. We believe that the plan should choose steps that significantly improve our alternative modeshare – not hold steady while other cities are moving aggressively forward to reduce car trips.
The plan does an excellent job of supporting complete streets in its narrative, and noting that all new roads and widening projects would convert roads to complete streets. One significant project is the 4th Street multi-modal improvement. However, the plan is not clear about what criteria the public can use to evaluate a street’s completeness: does a complete street include simply bike lanes, or protected bike lanes? Sidewalks that are adjacent to the street, or wide sidewalks with a barrier between heavy traffic and pedestrians? When road projects are deemed complete streets, it is unclear what is being promised.
Related to accommodating all modes through complete streets, the Plan does an excellent job at reviewing potential Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies, in Chapter 17. However, there is no money dedicated to TDM programs in the budget. We feel this is an important regional transportation need and should receive a significant financial investment. As the plan mentions, TDM strategies include programs from vanpool for outlying communities to expanding participation in the Mountain Line Eco-pass program.
Bike & Pedestrian Projects
While the plan states that the citizens support all modes of travel, the projects advocated in the plan do not reflect Flagstaff residents’ desire for better transit, walking and biking. We recommend that our spending be proportional to our modeshare goals.
There are individual projects that deserve a greater deal of public conversation, from widening Milton to an extension of J.W. Powell to the airport and Country Club. It would be helpful if the online survey could be reconfigured to allow comments to be made on individual projects. At present, members of the public are asked if they support some, most, all, or none of the projects. While a comment function is available where citizens can list the projects they do not like, there is no systematic way to vote on or grade each project. While the plan promises public engagement on individual projects when project decisions need to be made, there should be greater public engagement now around whether or not those lines on the map should exist at all.
Read the plan and submit your comments here.
These are the projects recommended in the plan (road projects are bold):
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and/or High Frequency Transit (HFT)
- Milton Road widening (MIL_54): Phoenix to Riordan
- Fourth Street Bridge at I-40 widening (FOU_22)
- Fourth Street widening (FOU_23): Soliere to Butler
- W. Powell – Airport (JWP_37): I-17 to Lake Mary Road
- High Country Trail Extension (HCT_27): To J.W. Powell – Airport
- Lone Tree Road widening (LTR_42, 43): Butler Ave. to J.W. Powell Blvd
- Butler Avenue Widening (BUT_6): I-40 to Fourth Street
- Extensive sidewalk program
- Grade Separated and other pedestrian crossings
- Reserve Fund for partnering & contingencies
- Safety, Travel Demand Management & Technology Programs
 The plan cites two different current modeshare rates (14% and 16% in two different places). Either way, the plan does not predict a significant change in modeshare given the current project priorities.