Roadway plans unveiled at open house

Main focus of South 12th Avenue road improvements is on public safety

Planning display at the South 12th Avenue road improvement project open house held on Thursday, June 13, 2019, at El Pueblo Neighborhood Senior Center.

City transportation officials and consultants from Kimley-Horn and Associates, LLC. unveiled the latest iteration of road improvement designs to South 12th Avenue between Irvington and Drexel Road at Thursday night’s open house at the El Pueblo Senior Center.

Project leader, Brent Crowther, said the primary motivation of the improvements is public safety. “I think it’s an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how we can transform streets,” Crowther said. Crowther worked on the design for the Grant Road project in 2007 and 2008.

Crowther said an infrastructure assessment study conducted in 2017 considered road conditions as far north as 40th Street, however, funding secured to date will only cover Oklahoma Street, a block north of Irvington, to Drexel Road. The improvements will be a test-case of sorts and construction is estimated to take between four and six months.

Planning display at the South 12th Avenue road improvement project open house held on Thursday, June 13, 2019, at El Pueblo Neighborhood Senior Center.

City Project Coordinator Jesse Soto said that speeding along 12th Avenue has been a longstanding complaint from the public. The improvements will enhance the overall feel and mobility experience, according to Soto, and will address the speeding issue through the new design.

One major change to the targeted stretch of road will be converting the five-lane road to three lanes —one northbound and one southbound with a middle turn lane. Crowther said narrowing the roadway addresses the speeding issues. Bigger, more open roadways generally experience higher rates of speeding.

Mobility improvements include adding sidewalks and a protected bike lane. The number of parking lot access points will be reduced and remaining entry and exit points will be constructed to promote safe pedestrian crossing of those points.

Jesse Soto, project manager for the city transportation department, explains proposed changes to South 12th Avenue to attendees of the open house held on Thursday, June 13, 2019.

Attendees of the open house were urged to share their thoughts and concerns with design consultants and city transportation personnel. Approximately twenty to thirty residents, not directly affiliated with the project, attended.

Deborah Martinez, who manages a homeowner’s association in the area expressed concern for the elderly and the flow of traffic. She had concerns that planned on-street parking coupled with lane reductions would pose risks to parking motorists and cause delays. Martinez thinks many of the elderly that live in the area will not utilize the sidewalks or bike lanes.

Martinez also expressed concern about the safety of kids that may utilize the improvements, “If my kids were little, I still wouldn’t let them go out.” She said there’s a homelessness problem in the area.

Martinez wasn’t completely against the improvements and agreed that something had to be done to improve the look of the corridor and pedestrian safety.

Other attendees expressed support and advocated for the improvements, such as Vanessa Gallego, a member of Families United Gaining Accessibility, and self-proclaimed Fuguista.

“I think it’s doing mobility justice,” Gallego said about the project. FUGA members have been working since 2018 to promote the use of alternative forms of mobility including bike-riding in Southside communities.

The group hosts community rides regularly as a way to change perceptions towards bike riding within communities that may not currently have supportive mobility infrastructure in place. Safety is always an issue involved in changing that perception according to Gallego.

“If you don’t see yourself safe,” when riding, “you’re probably not going to do it,” Gallego said. By riding in large groups, they hope to help break any mental limitations reticent would-be cyclists may have. And it works according to Gallego.

She said the group has gained in membership and will be celebrating their one-year anniversary with a ride on July 26 from the El Pueblo Center to American Eat Co. on South Fourth Avenue, you can find details on the group’s Facebook page.

Krista Hansen, a lead planner for the bicycle and pedestrian program in the city’s transportation department, said that every resident should have a safe option when accessing roadways regardless of their mode of transportation.

Voter-approved funding, over $100 million, and shifts in leadership at the transportation department are helping to increase safety throughout the Old Pueblo, according to Hansen.

The South 12th Avenue project area divides Ward 1 and Ward 5 and both Councilwoman Regina Romero and Councilman Richard Fimbres have been advocates for the road improvements. Steve Arnquist, chief of staff for Romero, said public safety along the 12th Avenue has been a high priority for Romero for some time.

In February, Mayor and Council approved and adopted a “Complete Streets” policy which will direct all future city transportation projects through six key guidelines in the areas of safety, accessibility, equity, land use, environment and health and economic vitality.

Stay tuned to Tucson Del Sur News for future developments on the South 12th Avenue improvement project.