Since starting in 2011, we've made an impact on Phoenix. Below are some of the highlights, often achieved alongside other allied community groups.
Won Protected Bike Lanes on Fillmore, the "Bicycle Boulevard"
Despite being designated as a bicycle boulevard in 2012, Fillmore has had little in the way of bicycle improvements beyond a giant green sharrow. After the tragic death of Hans Hughes on this very stretch, people across the downtown Phoenix community rallied to win protected bike lane infrastructure to make this vital stretch of downtown from Central to Seventh Street safer and hopefully prevent another tragedy.
Passed a Vision Zero Resolution in the City of Phoenix
Three years after the original push for Vision Zero was defeated, the new City Council overwhelmingly adopted a Vision Zero Resolution after months of organizing. The prioritization of the safety of ALL street users leaves no excuse for not adding protected bicycle infrastructure, tools to provide safety for pedestrians and ultimately design the Complete Streets called for in 2018. This is an example of the fruits of long-term urbanism organizing both at the community level and at the Council level.
Amended the Landscaping Text Amendment
In 2021, the landscaping text amendment first initiated in 2015 as part of the tree and shade conversation was finally brought to the Village Planning Committees. UPP worked with other allies under the leadership of arborist Nicole Rodriguez to pass a meaningful amendment that added tree protection zones into the ordinance. This language was adopted by the City Council in a major victory and a rare mid-process amendment with true stakeholders discussions.
Phoenix's First Two-Way Cycletrack
Following up on the first protected bike lanes in 2015, the 3rd Avenue cycletrack was installed in 2021. This comes after years of community meetings and design workshops, but Phoenix finally has truly protected bicycle infrastructure as the fifth largest city in America. Now, the push continues as the 3rd and 5th Avenue north project receives final approval and hopefully budgeted funds in 2022.
Won Promised Bike Lanes on Roosevelt West of Central
In late 2019, the Streets Department announced that it did not intend to add bike lanes on Roosevelt, connecting downtown along this key street. This is despite prior plans calling for the installation of bike lanes. After immense public pressure, the bike lanes went in temporarily and then were made permanent as you see them today.
Defeated Criminalizing Pedestrian Proposal
In early 2020, a proposal to criminalize jaywalking by issuing a $250 fine on first offense and placing the person in jail on second offense. Many of those who are injured or killed on Phoenix's deadly streets don't have a safe crossing option in the first place. Penalizing them does not make our streets safer and only further discriminates against pedestrians.
Saved the Light Rail
The voters City of Phoenix spoke loudly in support of light rail in response to this targeted effort by Councilor DiCiccio to kill the light rail in the only yes-or-no question light rail. After months of door knocking and calls, Phoenix voters affirmed they wanted light rail in a landslide 63% to 37%. This vote paved the way for the continued construction and expansion of the light rail you see today.
Almost recalled Councilor Nowakowski
Councilor Nowakowski oversees the majority of downtown Phoenix, yet has proven to be an opponent of urbanism, not the least of which includes his attacks on light rail expansion. We launched a recall campaign against him and submitted all the necessary signatures with over four dozen volunteers. The recall election was even scheduled by the City Council until the Arizona Supreme Court cancelled it on a questionable technicality.
Zoning victory for mixed-use
A zoning officer inexplicably refused a business a use permit to operate a bar in the South Roosevelt neighborhood, despite the zoning ordinance calling loudly for a mixed-use area. We appealed this to the Board of Adjustment and lost in the first BOA hearing. Thankfully, the business operator asked for reconsideration and was able to win in the second attempt.
Zoning victory to uphold Downtown Code
A hotel developer wanted variances that would have allowed suburban setbacks with a porte cochere running over the sidewalk and into the massive setbacks.
The design didn't belong anywhere in an urban environment and was exactly what our Downtown Code tries to prevent. But unsurprisingly, the hearing officer still granted their variances, so we appealed it to the Board of Adjustment, where we won.
The hotel developer has since redesigned their concept to better conform to the Downtown Code.
Zoning victory for reduced parking
Every now and then, a developer asks for a variance that makes their zoning MORE urban! In this case, a couple guys owned an old building right on the edge of the Warehouse District. The zoning code said they needed 112 parking spaces, which basically would have required them to tear down the building.
We were excited to see them apply to reduce that to just the 6 on-street parking spaces adjacent to their building, but sad when their request was denied. So we appealed that decision to the Board of Adjustment. We won, which essentially eliminated the off-street parking requirements for this site. This became our first win at the BOA.
Phoenix's first Citizen Tree & Shade Committee
City Council adopted the Tree & Shade Master Plan in 2010. Since then, they'd done virtually nothing with it -- including the basic and fundamental step of creating a Citizen Tree & Shade Committee. So, after seven years of inaction, we did it for them (along with Rogue Green).
About 20 community members spent numerous evenings debating and drafting guidelines for better tree ordinances. The committee included people with expertise and passion and did phenomenal work in just a matter of months.
We used a Citizen Petition to force our work onto Council's agenda the following spring. Council refused to enact any improved ordinances to protect Phoenix trees, but did create a subcommittee to continue the discussion and appointed a few of our members to it.
Urban Dinner Discussions
Inspired by Atlanta's Civic Dinners, we began hosting Urban Dinner Discussions on various topics to provide informal settings for fellow urbanists to meet each other and discuss things that matter both to them and to the city we call home. We continue to host a couple every year. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to learn when our next one will be.
More shade trees along 4th Ave
Shade is essential in Phoenix for walkability. Through AmeriCorp VISTA and the City of Phoenix, we received a Love Your Block grant to plant five trees that shade the sidewalk and west walls of two small apartment buildings along 4th Avenue.
Affordable housing in GPLETs
GPLETs are a tax subsidy that City Hall gives to large developers. Theoretically, the people of Phoenix get a public benefit in return for funding these developers' projects, but that wasn't actually happening.
In 2016, a developer asked City Council for a GPLET on their 19-story apartment building (Derby Roosevelt). We demanded that there be some lower rents in exchange for this GPLET. In the end, we were able to achieve reduced rents for 5% of their apartments.
Unfortunately, the entire project was scuttled by a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute and Angel's Trumpet Alehouse. But fortunately, due to our work, requiring reduced rents in 10% of housing projects that receive GPLETs has become a standing precedent.
Alley Abandonment Criteria
In 2015 we began working with the City of Phoenix and other downtown stakeholders to create criteria and notification requirements for abandoning alleys in downtown. (Previously, there really hadn't been any criteria and no notifications.) The work was completed and approved in 2016.
More comfortable streetlights
City Hall initially had plans to replace every streetlight in the city with 5000K LEDs. The problem is that 5000K is a very harsh, sterile color that is not appropriate for night outside of the Vegas Strip. Even the American Medical Association advises against these lights.
We built a coalition and convinced City Hall to change to much softer, more comfortable 2700K LED lights. These are now what you will (usually) see on Phoenix's streets today.
Bike lanes on 1st St north of McKinley
When the City rebuilt 1st Street from Fillmore-to-McKinley in 2010, they designed massively wide 14-ft vehicular lanes and failed to include bike lanes.
When they came back to finish 1st Street, this time from McKinley up to Hance Park, we demanded bike lanes and narrower vehicular lanes. This is why you'll notice the street design changes today at McKinley.
Community Benefits Agreement with eBay
Per state law, variances are zoning adjustments that are very difficult to get. In reality, the City of Phoenix grants them fairly easily.
EBay came to town and asked for a few anti-urban variances along 3rd Street near Indian School. We opposed and eventually negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement with them through which they would contribute $150,000 to improving 3rd Street in ways that offset their variances. We were all happy with the results.
But the City's hearing officer used a "stipulation" at the zoning hearing to appropriate these funds, instead taking them for City Hall so that both eBay and the community lost control over how they would be spent.
Our first Jane's Walk
Jane Jacobs is considered by most to be the mother of American urbanism. Trained as a journalist, she battled the powerful Robert Moses to prevent a highway from destroying Greenwich Village and lower Manhattan. She then wrote a seminal book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She passed away in 2006.
People around the world host Jane's Walks around her birthday in the first weekend of May every year, where neighbors explore their neighborhoods and reflect on her principles and insights into street life. We held our first Jane's Walk: Phoenix in 2012 and have continued the tradition every year since.
Defeated a gas station expansion (initially)
Circle K wanted to expand from just four pumps to 16 at Roosevelt & 7th St, in what amounted to a massive expansion of vehicular infrastructure. Alongside other community groups, we fought them for months until they finally withdrew their application.
Unfortunately, this was only a temporary win, because they came back a year later, just before Kate Gallego took over council district 8 (where this was happening), and pushed it through the suburban-minded Council.