Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ride to Seventh Avenue Streetscape: What's Usable, What's Not

My road bike, enjoying the Seventh Avenue Streetscape

I needed a change of pace today to take my mind off the heat. So I tuned up the road bike, tried to remember how to maintain a higher cadence, and headed along the Grand Canal in Phoenix to go see the current series of art on display at the Seventh Avenue Streetscape. Every so often, approximately yearly now, it looks like, they swap new art into the light boxes that sit under the shade structures near the seating areas. Art, seating, shade: that seems like a formula that bears repeating. It may seem obvious that simple combinations of elements can change a barren cement zone into a livable place people might use, but usability must not be as obvious as it may seem. 

I'll put the freeway pedestrian overpass picture below just because I think it's interesting to look at and think about. It's pretty usable.

Passing over Highway 51 is a switchback exercise. How's your bike handling and broken glass avoidance?

I really want to show you the gates along the Grand Canal that are meant to exclude unauthorized vehicles, but--I don't even know how to ask such an obvious question. What the hell were they thinking when they installed these on a multi-use path? They couldn't have been thinking much about usability or what people need, I conclude.

First gate: everyone ride or walk through the dirt or mud, now! Completely unnecessary, as you'll see.

Second gate--are you kidding me? Everyone, swerve over through the dirt, next to the canal. Look at the beautiful smooth surface of that path! Look how screwed up that gate is!

Third gate: OK now you guys are just screwing around with me. Is there a hidden camera? The first step is to admit that you have a problem.

Fourth gate, west of Central Ave. The canal puppet master tries to break my will with this attempt to mollify me, implanting the idea that it must be possible to convert the first type of gate into this more usable type, giving me hope. But it won't last. It can't. False hope, thy name is gate-swerve.

Ha ha! No logical, usable bicycle-admitting gate for you! Back to swerving through the bushes, two wheeler! That is a nice bridge to connect with the neighborhood, anyway.

The first piece I came across at 7th Ave and Glenrosa Ave, a poem by Kathleen Winter

On the reverse side of the poem above is this

This gives an idea what this little art/poetry oasis looks like

A rare sight anywhere in the Valley: canal, path, yard, house, a continuous flow, no block wall, no chain link, no gates to swerve around. Just water, path, gravel, grass, community. Simple combinations of elements that make the whole more usable. See?

Phoenix Light Rail, zipping past the Grand Canal on Central Avenue. Good thing they didn't build gates for it to swerve around.

This is a sign on a marked route that runs down the spine of Phoenix, about 40 miles long

The road bike spinning along smooth asphalt on a hot summer day is nearly silent. That feeling of simple, effective, tuned-up usability may place unreasonable expectations for my fellow human beings into my head. I see a shady oasis of art and poetry on a city street and my hopes rise. I see gates like the series above that appear willfully unusable, and my hopes fall a little. On thing always gives me a recharge, though. It never fails. Get up. Go ride.



  1. Your rare sight is doubly rare because the P&R types resisted the urge to make it curvy for artistic reasons and it even lacks the useless faded yellow stripe. If clear, it looks like you could safely FLY on it.

  2. Despite the gates, that's still a nice ride.
    I really like that art oasis thing.
    I hate to bring this up again, but how does the city prevent vandalism?
    Is it located in a fairly busy area?

  3. Steve - That section of the path is smooth and sweet. Once you ride on a surface like that, the expansion-jointed sidewalk paths are a distant second place. It may have higher maintenance, though, even though we don't get frost here.

    limom - I'm not sure all the things the city does to deter or repair vandalism. It would be interesting to hear more about what they do. I'm sure it's a never-ending task, a small glimpse of which is the large number of painted and cleaned up walls around. I'm grateful there's not many walls around like that one I put a picture of in the recent Canalscape post a few days ago, but they are around.


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