An illustration of an intersection showing the green paint that will show cyclists how to safely cross the tracks.

While no formal action was taken on the modern streetcar during the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday night, the BAC expressed interest in a future where Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard are car free.

The discussion about a car-free Fourth Avenue came after BAC member David Bachman-Williams, who has been the point person between the BAC and the streetcar design team, presented several notes from a recent meeting with the streetcar planners.

Former BAC member, Dave Boston suggested removing cars from Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard altogether, which would eliminate many safety concerns.

Bachman-Williams said the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association sees convenient car parking as essential to their success.

Boston said he performed unscientific counts and noticed between 20 and 30 cars parked on University between Euclid Avenue and Fourth Avenue and 120 cars during peak hours on Fourth Avenue.

He said it made sense to partner with the streetcar team to push for eliminating cars along the route because if cars were removed from the area, more people would utilize the streetcar.

Bachman-Williams said it was probably wise to look for a future where Fourth Avenue was car free, but said the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association sees cars and parking as essential to its success. He said removing cars would be a long term goal.

Several BAC members suggested opening a dialog with the Fourth Avenue Merchant’s Association to discuss moving car parking off of Fourth Avenue.

BAC member, Ian Johnson pointed to State Street in Madison, Wis. as an example of how businesses could be successful while being car free.

Boston said rather than make it a future goal, that the BAC should start trying to make it reality in the near term.

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Bachman-Williams said the streetcar team is pursuing design elements that strike a compromise between functionality and friendliness to cyclists.

A diagram of the rail being used for the project. This rail is the safest for cyclists.

He said they will be using a type of rail that poses the least amount of risk to cyclists because of the design. Bachman-Williams said it doesn’t mean there isn’t some risk associated with it, but it is the best possible rail available.

At all intersections where cyclists will be making turns, they are including green paint that illustrate where cyclists should ride to cross the tracks safely.

Along Fourth Avenue the design calls for shared lane markings which will be placed between the tracks and the parked cars. The markings will show cyclists where they should ride, but due to the width of the street and the track placement, the markings will be be four feet away from the parked cars.

The League of American Bicyclists says cyclists should ride five feet away from parked cars to stay out of the way of opening car doors.

Bachman-Williams said five feet put the cyclists too close to the tracks.

Several BAC members expressed concern about the placement saying that it could be dangerous and potentially harm the ability of the region getting platinum status from the LAB.

The design team is also looking at several options to make Congress and Broadway more friendly for cyclists, but because the streets vary widely in width, it will not be consistent throughout the stretch. Some areas may accommodate bike lanes, but other areas will not.

Bachman-Williams said the streetcar isn’t perfect, but he believes it will actually benefit cyclists by slowing traffic down.

Several BAC members suggested additional options including removing the left turn lane down Fourth Avenue to provide more room for cyclists.

Bachman-Williams said The Fourth Avenue Merchants Association opposed the removal of the turn lanes.

Another BAC member asked about lowering the speed limits on the streets where the streetcar will operate to 20 miles per hour, but state law says local governments can not create speed limits lower than the state 25-mile-per-hour standard.

Lastly, they asked about putting up signs along the route reminding drivers to look for cyclists before opening their doors.

Cyclovia in need of sponsors

Tucson’s second Cyclovia has been scheduled for March 27, 2011, but is in need of sponsors to make it happen.

According to Ann Chanecka, who is working on Cyclovia, they recently had to scale back the route because they don’t have the funds to pay for police officers at all the intersections.

She said they have gone from a five mile loop to a three mile out and back route.

She said the five-mile route had many more stop signs, which require and officer at each one. Last year there were less stop signs along the route.

She said they are still in need of a title sponsor and that is has been hard to raise money in the current economy.

16 thoughts on “BAC envisions car-free 4th Ave and University in the future”
  1. The parking isn’t as vital to business as they think. There’s lots of parking on side streets that cars can use since the city blocks are so small. They should try a scientific experiment where they have a no car day and see what happens. Just have a regular day and count customers entering stores. Then the next day keep the cars out and count customers again. Plus, I’m sure the steetcar will pass some nice parking lots somewhere won’t it? Fix up those lots and call it Streetcar Parking.

    On the other hand. More foot traffic doesn’t mean it’s better for bikes because I’m sure everyone will jaywalk.

  2. Denver also has it’s 16th st. pedestrian mall which is car free and has a street car that runs it’s length (bikes are allowed). I think Tucson should start looking to Denver for clues on smart infrastructure and development in general. It’s a western city of roughly the same size but they are like 20 years ahead of where we are… Vibrant downtown, good bike paths, good public transportation, pro sports teams… Why re-invent the wheel? We just need to start copying people who are getting it right!

  3. The issue is that FAMA (Fourth Ave Merchants Assoc) condradicts itself by taking this position. While I do not have actual percentages, “a significant” number of merchants along 4th Ave clearly define their core customers as those who live in the general vicinity and who walk/cycle/use pulbic transportation.
    If that is true, then parking along 4th Ave should not be “vital” to the success of businesses.

  4. With the large number of bike and pedestrian traffic on 4th, I’ve thought for a while that it would make a nice car free area.

  5. I used to live in Burlington, Vermont where most of the merchants are on a pedestrian street called Church Street (comparable to 4th ave in length). Between one garage and all of the cross streets, parking near Church Street is never an issue. And I would say the area is even more concentrated than the Fourth Ave area is in Tucson. And despite the fact that it’s population is 1/14 of Tucson’s, the Church Street is constantly packed with pedestrians shopping, walking, and enjoying street entertainment. I can only imagine that the same scenario in Tucson would be that much better.

  6. What about a one way 4th ave with minimal back in parking and a separated cycle track? Though, I had that idea before the street car alignment. I don’t know how that would fit in.

    I think a car free 4th would be great. But how about a cycle track to keep people safe from the streetcar and make it less hectic for cyclists wading through pedestrians?

    Also, parking on 4th is pretty bad in the first place. If I am in a car with people during peak hours and going to 4th there is no street parking anyway. Only during slow weekday hours is there parking available. Walking half a block is not a deterrent. Think about how far people walk from their cars during peak hours at a supermarket or box store.

  7. The street car tracks are a catalyst for bad things to happen. That point was reluctantly acknowledged at last night’s meeting which was a disappointment. I am not aware of any deaths resulting from the current trolley track location in the center of the street. Bicycles have the space (10-12 feet) to cross those tracks at an appropriate angle – with the exception of intersections where most incidences occur. The red flag has been raised early that if you encroach on the bicycle’s safe space of operation the odds of those bad things happening go up. 18 to 24 inches is not enough space to properly align a bike for a left turn at any point along that route. Also, none of us are perfect riders all the time. That margin of space lost needs to be given back….to the hundreds of daily bike riders that use that route.
    I don’t think cars operating on 4th Ave. and University Blvd. is a problem. As a multi-modal transportation scenario unfolds in this area, the involved partners need to accept the accommodations required to make it work.
    I feel the BAC at last night’s meeting failed to create a focus for maintaining as safe a bike route that can be had in that scenario.

  8. There are care free shopping districts all over the world that are thriving. People come to these places BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARS!
    I’ve read urban planning books that describe how the merchants are always against the change to restricting cars – a year after the change tho, they say their revenues have never been as high.
    Cars are great for getting to places but they suck to be around when you transition to pedestrian mode. People will drive for miles to stroll in a car-free street of quaint shops. The one catch is that adequate parking must be provided somewhere. WUNA will fight against having big parking lots in their neighborhood.
    The idea making those 2 streets car-free is great but there are key details to be worked out.
    I’m betting it happens in under 5 years.

  9. Interesting idea, but have definitely seen streetcar co-exist with other transportation modes in places like Portland, Ore. I’d be concerned about the lack of street connectivity in the vicinity of Fourth Ave. for use by autos as an alternative, due to the heavy rail line (which creates, and will continue to create more conflicts with other transportation modes than the streetcar). I’d love to see a serious discussion about creating more under/overpasses along the heavy rail line to improve connectivity (and to eliminate the noise!).

  10. Can I be the crackpot with the half-baked idea-to-solve-everything?

    Picture this: Angled back-in parking on one side of the street, alternating by block (e.g. between 7th & 8th street: west side, between 8th & 9th street: east side) with a mini bike corral at the end of each section of car parking. The center lane would be eliminated, except at intersections (for left turns) and streetcar stops; there would be no car parking in these spots to allow plenty of room for bikes. The roadway would be gently curved as a result of the parking switching sides of the street.

    Benefits: No door zone, greatly increased space for bicycles, roughly half of parking would remain, curvature of road would calm traffic. Capacity for cars would remain the same.

    Downsides: Curved streetcar tracks would be more complicated to engineer and build. Probably other things I haven’t thought of.


  11. Ryan, as I understand it, they are keeping the existing track of 4th as-is except for the new stops.

  12. They are keeping the track in the Fourth Ave. underpass. The track everywhere else on the route will be ripped out and moved into the travel lanes.

  13. I would like to add a point from the meeting:
    The El Tour rider who wrecked on Mission Rd. was reported still in a coma. He went down on a crack in the pavement parallel to the direction of travel possibly left there by careless maintenance. This crack is in the left lane where bikes don’t normally travel, but this one time when a bunch of bikes get in the vicinity of this crack it caused a very bad thing to happen. The similarity of that crack to street car track is there for us to learn from……or not.

  14. In my naivete’ I wander:
    Are City staff not allowed to, either by directive or unstated understanding, take a stance or make a statement that could be considered as contrary to the progress of the street car?

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