Paradise Valley bicycle master plan planning process at municipal impasse

Paradise Valley Planning Commissioner Richard Mahrle addressing town council during the Oct. 12 work session discussion on the pending bicycle and pedestrian master plan process. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The Town of Paradise Valley is continuing to struggle with how both elected and appointed leaders of the municipality can develop a pedestrian and bicycle master plan anyone can live with.

Paradise Valley Town Council Thursday, Oct. 12 hosted a work study session at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, to develop or revise a Statement of Direction on how its Planning Commission — an advisory board to the local governing body — ought to go about evaluating the townwide proposal.

However, town council had already issued an SOD to its Planning Commission regarding the consultant- and staff-driven pedestrian and bicycle master plan, which had already been a part of the advisory board’s purview.

In August 2016, Paradise Valley Town Council authorized a contract with Coffman Studio at a rate of $143,695.02 for the development of a bicycle and pedestrian master plan. The motion carried 5-1, with then-Councilwoman Maria Syms dissenting, and Mayor Michael Collins absent.

Since that time a tremendous amount of resident feedback has been received at Town Hall — both negative and positive — regarding how the local municipality can better accentuate the avid cyclist experience along with an effort to belay concerns of residents who allege certain groups whip through affluent thoroughfares.

Since contracted work has commenced on the bicycle and pedestrian master plan, efforts have included: making contact with residents; hosting seven open houses; the completion of three digital surveys; and the hosting of two town events.

While resident input includes wanting emphasized pedestrian facilities, the most popular complaint amongst residents is outside competitive bicyclists who train within the neighborhoods of Paradise Valley.

The idea of a bicycle and pedestrian master plan appears to have been envisioned internally by town staff with the Paradise Valley Planning Commission pegged as a starting point for the evaluation, Commission officials contend.

However, last June Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins offered an abridged version for the plan that appears to have been met with chagrin from the council’s advisory board. On June 22, Paradise Valley Town Council issued an SOD that appears to have been met with push-back from the Planning Commission, which was the topic of the Oct. 12 work session discussion.

The proposed plan devised by town staff and Coffman Studio includes:

  • In-Street: bicycle and motor vehicles share the roadway, with no designation or signage for bicycles;
  • Bike Route: distinguished by vertical signs or lane markings, reduced motor vehicle speed, and no bike lanes;
  • Shared-Use Path: for non-motorized users, may be striped, off-street paved path;
  • Buffered/Separated Bike Lane: pavement markings or specialty paving creating a buffer, distinguished by signage and/or pavement markings.

However, portions of the proposed plan devised by town staff and outside consultants did not fall in-step with provisions outlined in the 2012 General Plan update, which is widely regarded as a keystone document for the community.

Much of the General Plan, town leaders say, is to not encourage cut-through traffic, motorized or non-motorized. Largely, Mayor Collin’s bicycle plan iteration has one major contemplation: a resort loop that can be used by both pedestrians and avid cyclists.

Mayor Collins envisions a plan where bike lanes are formed east and west along Doubletree Ranch Road within town limits and a north and south route that would extend from Mountain View to Chaparral roads.

Also, it appears Mayor Collins envisions a series of roundabouts to naturally calm traffic as transitions between roadways when making the east and west journey across Doubletree or the north-and-south jaunt from Mountain View to Chaparral roads.

It was a full board room at Paradise Valley Town Hall Thursday, June 8 as residents came to learn more about how new bicycle routes will play a role within town limits. (File photo)

Statement of Direction reloaded

Members of Paradise Valley Town Council seemed to not understand the purpose of the work session discussion.

“I know this is controversial — we discussed this — and I don’t know why we are seeing this again,” said Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace during the onset of the public discussion. “Didn’t we say that this was out? Why are seeing this again. I don’t understand. What happened?”

For Councilwoman Pace much of the issue around the second SOD discussion was the purpose of forcing a new layout on McDonald Drive to make bicycling a better fit along the arterial street.

“I thought we were clear on McDonald Drive? I can’t support extending McDonald,” she said. “There is too much congestion already there.”

Jerry Bien-Willner

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, a former member of the Planning Commission, called into question a lack of an explanation of costs for desires defined by both consultant, planning staff and Commission members.

“I respect you guys and I respect the work that you do, but I am confused what we are doing here,” he pointed out during the public discussion.

“I said this very early on, the map we are talking about is totally meaningless to me — this is the worst kind of exercise of planning, if you want to call it that — talking about lines on a map that nobody is going to look at doesn’t do anybody any good.”

Vice Mayor Bien-Willner clarifies his stance that no one is trying to not allow bicycling — competitive or otherwise — within town limits but without a sense of cost the exercise could become a fools errand.

“I didn’t think anyone on this council wanted to have any lines on a map without some costs associated with it — we don’t know any of that,” he said. “The whole conversation has gone off-track.”

Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow says he wants to see costs now.

“To me, this is completely impractical from a time-usage standpoint,” he said. “We need to have a working idea of costs, maybe not completely hammered out but so we know what we are talking about, but you are not giving us the opportunity to have that discussion. It could have been a bad SOD but coming back and showing us things we don’t want to do is just incredible to me.”

Paradise Valley Senior Planner Paul Michaud says long-range planning often comes without cost estimates — especially a far-reaching planning document typically housed by the Maricopa Associations of Government.

“When you are looking at doing long-range planning you don’t really look at costs,” Mr. Michaud told members of town council. “We think that costing is really your issue as a council. These are all optional — I do think you need to have a map.”

‘The rainbow and unicorn plan’

Paradise Valley Planning Commissioner Richard Mahrle says he and his colleagues had been working diligently to bring the best bicycle and pedestrian master plan mankind has ever seen.

“At the Planning Commission we felt that we were being tasked with creating the most excellent pedestrian and bicycle plan for the town,” he said during the public discussion.

“If you are working on a clean slate how would make this a pedestrian and bicycle plan? Our whole approach from the beginning was to develop the best possible plan.”

Mr. Mahrle contends the June SOD provided to the Commission was a bit of a surprise.

“It was like we were wasting our time for a year and a half,” he said. “That’s why I was so upset with the Statement of Direction. Frankly, you guys can do what you want with the Statement of Direction, but at the Commission I am going to want to create the best plan possible. I may be the only voice but that’s what I want to do. That has always been my goal and I felt like you were derailing our goals.”

Mayor Collins says the Planning Commission and town council at odds is actually a good thing because that’s the mark of a good democracy.

“We don’t have the baseline numbers for the approved SOD strategy until we get the cost estimates,” Mayor Collins explains.

“It’s a policy document. I think there’s is a little bit of issue fatigue. But tension between the council and Commission is a good thing. Having disagreement is fine, I think where we are is perfectly acceptable but how are we going to do get this to the finish line?”

Michael Collins

Mayor Collins says he acknowledges — and understands Commissioner Mahrle’s frustration — the sharp change in direction regarding the pending bicycle and pedestrian master plan, but also says it is what it is.

“You are absolutely correct,” he said. “From the council perspective, yes we did, and that is still the case.

Designing the plan to be the best plan — the rainbow and unicorn plan — is going to cost more than this council and future council are willing to allocate.”

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke said he saw the veering nature of Planning Commission discussions and wanted to bring the item back to town council.

“That’s what I was asking, this is a change in direction, and to spend any time or staff time that is not what council wants … we don’t want to waste your (the Planning Commission) time on something that the council hasn’t directed,” he explained to council.

“That’s what this was intended to be. I think we can do a better job of bringing the cost estimates at the appropriate time. But we need an up or down from council and I realize that is hard without all the information and that is on me.”

The Paradise Valley Planning Commission will continue its deliberations of the proposed plan Tuesday, Oct. 17 at Town Hall.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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