Little Canyon Trail

Giving Little Canyon Trail and Little Canyon Park to the private Grand Canyon University because they asked nicely is a bad idea.

There’s a very bad plan that’s being considered by the City of Phoenix: to hand over Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail in northwest Phoenix to the private Grand Canyon University (GCU) because, well, they asked nicely? GCU says that they’re going to rebuild the park and trail on land they currently own and will then give that over to the City of Phoenix.

Earlier today, I did a site visit of both Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail. While I can’t speak for the history of Little Canyon Park, I can speak a bit on the history of Little Canyon Trail. It was a 2010 City of Phoenix Public Art project that is built alongside the historic Salt River Project Lateral 14.4, or along where 31st Avenue would be between Camelback Road and Missouri Avenue. Veteran Phoenix public art artist Laurie Lundquist worked with the community to transform an abandoned and forgotten piece of infrastructure to a well-loved community treasure that transports non-auto users from the residential neighborhoods north of Missouri Avenue to the commercial and transit corridor of Camelback Road. This was a $1.2 million public investment in that part of Phoenix.

Fast forward to 2015. Grand Canyon University has expanded from a small campus to a major presence in northwest Phoenix and wants to block off part of the trail for students to access residence halls on the east side of the 31st Avenue alignment to the campus on the west side. Everyone at that time agreed that preserving the continuity and artistic integrity of the trail is of paramount importance. Even GCU seemed to agree with that assessment.

And fast forward, again, to today. I’ve learned about a series of public meetings to discuss the latest threat to Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail, which is why I’m writing this essay. There is a final public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday September 6) at 6pm at the Helen Drake Senior Center at 7600 N 27th Avenue and if your schedule permits, you should listen.

In 2015, City of Phoenix voters approved the latest revision of the City’s General Plan. The overriding theme of the plan was Phoenix as connected oasis.

The Vision of the Connected Oasis was derived from all the major themes from PlanPHX participants’ ideas; it is a concept that has been around Phoenix for some time. Most recently it was utilized to describe the “big idea” of creating a vibrant pedestrian path and open space network for downtown Phoenix as part of the Downtown Urban Form Project in 2008. But the concept of the Connected Oasis goes well beyond a pedestrian and open space network. It is an ideal with deep roots in Phoenix’s history and one that provides a simple, yet intriguing direction for the city to follow into the future. [Phoenix General Plan 2015, p. 15]

Little Canyon Trail is the perfect embodiment of that connected oasis and of all of the major themes of the General Plan. It connects people to places; it celebrates water, that most precious resource for a desert metropolis; it is an open space in the midst of a university campus and thriving neighborhoods.

It would be a great shame if the City of Phoenix allowed Little Canyon Trail to go to private hands that would destroy the continuity and artistic integrity of the trail just because GCU asked nicely. Fiscal hawks should lament this as it is a loss of a $1.2 million investment that the City made in northwest Phoenix. The historic preservation community should lament the loss of one more of Phoenix’s historic laterals. And all of Phoenix should lament this loss as the erosion of its core principles in its 2015 General Plan.

The City of Phoenix should say no.

Continue reading “Little Canyon Trail”

Transit to Trailheads

An easy fix to alleviate parking problems at Phoenix’s most beloved parks and preserves: create a Transit to Trailheads program.

There’s been much debate and political posturing over the discussion to make parking at Phoenix’s mountain preserves paid instead of free. While, certainly, this is to look at making up some much needed revenue in Phoenix (something economic development would do much better, but that’s a different essay), it’s also to look at alleviating parking problems at some of the more popular preserves, like Camelback Mountain and Echo Canyon.

transit to trailheads exampleI’m in favor of this plan at some of our most popular preserves, like Piestewa Peak and Camelback Mountain.

One of the criticisms of this plan is that residents of the City of Phoenix already pay for these preserves so we shouldn’t be charging to access them. The logic is flawed because while we pay for most city-maintained infrastructure like water or trash, we have to pay an additional monthly service fee for what we use. Parking at a popular preserve is just that: paying for what we use.

There is a way around this, something that hasn’t been mentioned in the discussion: How about giving Phoenix residents a free or discounted season parking pass for these preserves? It is, after all, Phoenix residents and property owners footing the bill to help maintain these spaces, not the residents of Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, or anywhere else.

But here’s my ideal solution, and one that I have suggested to the Phoenix City Council: Create a Transit to Trailheads program that connects our local bus and light rail system to the trailheads, which includes rethinking the METRO light rail South Central Avenue line to extend into South Mountain Park. Right now, the main trailheads and park welcoming facilities are removed quite a bit from the nearest bus stop. Some examples:

  • South Mountain Park – walk 2.1 miles from the Route 0 stop at Central Ave & Dobbins Road
  • Phoenix Mountains / Dreamy Draw – walk 1.3 miles from the Route 80 stop at Northern Ave & 16 Street
  • Piestewa Peak – walk 1.3 miles from the Route 70 stop at Lincoln Drive & Squaw Peak Drive
  • Echo Canyon / Camelback Mountain – walk 0.3 miles from the Route 44 stop at Tatum Blvd & Rovey Ave

It’s a shame that as other cities around the world are starting to think about connecting places without the need for cars, we can’t think that far ahead yet here in Phoenix.

Three words: Transit to Trailheads. Write your Councilperson to have them support this plan.