Development rush in Paradise Valley may spur Scottsdale and Lincoln gridlock

A view of Lincoln Drive, facing east, that is being considered for median improvements. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

With a handful of development projects happening within a stone’s throw of each other — and the municipal border of Scottsdale — the Town of Paradise Valley is finding itself in a bit of a pickle.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, Paradise Valley Town Council discussed improvements to the median that runs east-west along Lincoln Drive from the town’s border near Scottsdale Road to Mockingbird Lane.

The area coined by town officials as the South Lincoln Development Area includes Lincoln Medical Plaza and SmokeTree Resort, both of which are in the midst of going through a special use permit process to redevelop their properties. Additionally, the Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley community — across the street — has an agreement with the town that road improvements will be taken care of by the municipality.

Thirdly, an area town officials call “South Lincoln Development” could become another resort or residential area in the future and is to be considered in this discussion.

Town Engineer Paul Mood says the municipality has been approached by developers for the area, whether it be residential or resort.

“We don’t know at this time, but we’re looking at it assuming something will develop there,” Mr. Mood explained.

And, finally, properties that are within the city of Scottsdale — AJs Fine Foods and Scottsdale Lincoln apartments — which line the entry point to Lincoln Drive on the north and southside both have left-in, left-out driveways that don’t appear to be changing any time soon, town officials say.

“Unfortunately, we can not control what happens in Scottsdale,” Mr. Mood said. “That full access, as far as we know, will remain.”

Mr. Mood and Kim Carroll of hired consultant Kimley-Horn, presented three options for possible driveway, traffic turn lanes and median options that would meet tenants of the General Plan, the agreement with Five-Star Development, engineering standards and safety aspects for the small area.

Town Council did not lean one way or the other toward any of the options presented, but stressed the importance of safety.

“What creates the challenges are the other driveways that are to the east there that start getting closer to the signalized intersection and getting closer,” Ms. Carroll explained to Town Council of the AJs and apartment entries. “That creates some additional challenges in an area that’s open. Basically it’s a two-way, left turn-in there, there’s no median restricting them from making any movements in that area.”

Ultimately, the problem lies with limiting motorists from turning left out of the properties along Lincoln Drive to the south; and if so, where and how could drivers turn around to head west?

According to an existing traffic study from 2015, there are 13,870 vehicles per day along Lincoln Drive, which is estimated to rise to 20,000 vehicles per day in 2025.

A sign warns motorists not to block the driveway in to AJs Fine Foods. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

No clear choice to move forward

Paradise Valley Town Council discussed the small stretch of roadway at length, but there wasn’t a clear choice, town officials contend.

While Lincoln Drive is considered one of Paradise Valley’s main roads, it would be considered a minor arterial by the city of Scottsdale, Mr. Mood noted, which Scottsdale defines as having a preferred .25 mile spacing between breaks in the median, and should be no closer than one-eighth intervals.

“That’s what Scottsdale’s procedure is, what we’re talking about tonight is possibly allowing full median breaks closer than the 660 (feet),” Mr. Mood said. “Other design standards we’ll be discussing is left-turn storage lanes and the taper lengths that go into those storage lanes.”

Because the town doesn’t have its own traffic engineering standards, it is following standards set by the city of Scottsdale, Maricopa County Department of Transportation and a national organization coined AASHTO, or American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association representing highway and transportation departments in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It represents all five transportation modes: Air, highways, public transportation, rail and water, it’s website states.

Elements required to be incorporated in the development agreement with Five-Star, the entity responsible for building the Ritz-Carlton Paradise Valley, includes:

  • Westbound Lincoln Drive left hand turn and right hand turn lanes at Mockingbird Lane; and
  • Signalize the intersection of Quail Run Road and Lincoln Drive, modify median east and west for 150 linear feet of storage.

Storage lanes are the part of roadway that vehicles wanting to turn left or right merge in to prior to their turn.

Observations, Ms. Carroll says, included eastbound traffic backing up past both the Lincoln Medical Plaza entrances and the eastern SmokeTree Resort entrance.

“Three of these events were observed in the A.M. peak hour and five were observed in the P.M. peak hour,” Mr. Mood said.

Additionally, traffic backup occurred in the inner most eastbound lane of Lincoln, with the righthand lane free flowing with traffic. The eastbound traffic that was backed up provided gaps for left-turning vehicles which caused “near miss collisions,” the engineers stated.

“The near misses that I observed were associated with people who can speed down that outer drive isle, they can come down faster when those people can’t see around a car going — it’s blocked to their vision — they start to go, you end up with those near misses,” Ms. Carroll explained.

Mr. Mood and Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace commented they observe the same dangerous practices happening regularly.

The three options presented to council were:

  1. Full access: Full median access for SmokeTree Resort and Lincoln Medical Plaza;
  2. Shared full access: Shared full median access for SmokeTree Resort and Lincoln Medical plaza;
  3. Right in/right out access: Right in/right out only access for SmokeTree Resort and Lincoln Medical Plaza.

All the options include a full median access for the Applewood Pet Resort at their western driveway, staff noted.

Staff presented option 2 as their recommendation, but Ms. Carroll said option 3 would really be the most safe choice.

“Really option 3 is the best option, restricting access to right in right out because you only have 660 feet of spacing, but the problem as Paul mentioned is the U-turns,” Ms. Carroll explained. “Because if they can’t gain access they’re either going to have to re-route or they’re going to be making U-turns that will cause safety concerns also to gain access to the properties.”

Ms. Carroll says option 2 was found to be a balance of both operations and safety to provide access to shared access as a win-win if Lincoln Medical Plaza and SmokeTree Resort can see that benefit to the shared access.

(Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

A real problem

Paradise Valley Town Council had several questions about their options, and asked Mr. Mood if he’s had discussions with the city of Scottsdale regarding these updates.

“I do think it’s a good time to approach Scottsdale with this even to share these plans and say, maybe, you don’t know what way council’s going with this — get their input,” Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner said.

“I do think that stretch of road is dangerous. There’s a lot of cross traffic. Maybe it worked 20 years ago when it was designed like that; I think it’s pretty bad.”

Ms. Pace brought to point these changes will address current conditions, hardly taking into the future of the area.

Julie Pace

“We’re also looking at that traffic count is super high — going from 14,000 to 21,000, that’s a huge amount at a busy intersection, which we’re already seeing going on out there now,” she said.

“That also seems to indicate that we as council have to be careful about increasing retail there or decreasing it, or keeping it status quo there on density. There’s a huge problem here and I don’t even think — I’m not understanding that option 2 even addresses that problem.”

Ms. Carroll confirmed the plans are looking at current conditions and when the identified developments come online.

“So you’re right when you say that as the property to the north develops and starts to add traffic to this area your volumes will go up, and your queue lanes and stacking lanes will get larger too,” Ms. Carroll said.

Ms. Pace, a lawyer by trade, brought up the legal issues that could arise based off of this traffic area.

“So, if we get in a situation, because Paradise Valley didn’t cause that problem and Paradise Valley can’t control that problem, and it is a problem, if there are accidents there is that possible they can sue the city of Scottsdale? Is that more of a Scottsdale issue if that occurs?” Ms. Pace asked.

“So these lawyers can bring claims for traffic design, they can sit out there, and if they drag us into it we would be deferring that and hindering that to Scottsdale?”

Mr. Mood says that is the reason Paradise Valley wants to design them to engineering standards.

“I get it, now I see even more so, we’re not drug into this because this is a mess not caused by us that’s really causing a problem right now for the applicants on the Paradise Valley side,” Ms. Pace said.

“Listening to it, looking at it, the density we’re being asked to approve, is there any merit in having any kind of discussion with Scottsdale about the safety and a better way to do the whole section even though they’ve already approved something? It seems to me this is the moment to make the decision otherwise we’re just pushing the can down the road for another council, people, lawsuits and issues.”

News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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