Monday, January 3, 2011

Crosscut Canal Path: Navigating Isolation, Disorientation, and Disconnection

The path ends, but the trip does not. The Arizona Canal is up ahead, across that busy street.

Scottsdale and Tempe have continued to make improvements along the Crosscut Canal, most recently the $1.7 million phase 2 project which included this great two-lane path along the canal, cool lighting, and artwork along the side. As a path it is fast and excellent, and every time I ride it, it seems like I see more people enjoying it. In addition to the path itself, it has some excellent tie-ins or connections with some of the neighborhoods along the way.

Example of how to connect a canal path with a neighborhood. Excellent!

There's even an example of a sign of local historic interest, which is canal-related, but shows what could be done.

Camp Viejo (first home of the Yaquis of Scottsdale, 1924-1942, who worked on this canal)

But when it comes to presenting information in the form of signs to orient, guide, explain, or connect this path with the cities and everything around it, that's about it. This path is hobbled by its lack of information, and lack of critical connectedness at its end-points and important cross-connecting routes.

For example, and this one really bugs me, the path skirts the east border of the Desert Botanical Garden, yet there's no sign, no entrance posted, no tie-in with one of our great local treasures. Also directly ahead, through those bushes, seen on the satellite view, is some sort of ruin or maze. It could be Hohokam ruins, but you have no orientation or connection to it from here, now.

The Desert Botanical Garden is around here somewhere. Don't know if you can get in this way, though.

Down at the south end of the path, it runs into College Avenue. If you found yourself at this spot, you can actually ride to many amazing local destinations. It does, or could, connect up with routes to take you there. Instead, though, the path doesn't even connect with the northbound bike lane (see second photo)!

This is actually the southerly end of what could be a major bicycle connecting artery in the valley

But currently, the artery does not even connect with the northbound bicycle lane (median with spiky plants)

While stopping here at the border of the park to take these photos, I started a list of destinations you can ride to from here. I chose this list because it came readily to mind, and because these are actually quite straightforward to get to from this spot. Yet, you would have no idea, sitting here, because there's no signage whatsoever to orient  you. No indication of what routes connect here, or how far it is to various destinations, or where the nearest bathrooms or drinking water are. Here's a brief list of just a few of the places it would be logical to ride a bicycle to from this spot:

  • Phoenix Zoo
  • Desert Botanical Garden
  • Arizona Historical Society Museum
  • Loma del Rio Hohokam Ruins 
  • Lopiano Mesquite Bosque Habitat
  • Nearest Light Rail station (hint: it's close, bike lane all the way)
  • Papago Park Hiking, Mountain Biking, etc
  • Mill Avenue to Downtown Tempe
  • Washington Street to Downtown Phoenix
  • WWII Prisoner of War Camp Site
  • Gov. Hunt's Pyramid tomb
  • Tempe Center for the Arts
  • Tempe Town Lake and the new bridge being built across the dam
  • ASU
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport 
  • Pueblo Grande Museum (Hohokam ruins)
  • Scottsdale Greenbelt
  • Arizona Canal
  • Indian School bike lane eastbound
  • Future Thomas Road improvements?
  • And a few longer rides:
  • Scottsdale Oldtown, Civic Plaza, Performing Arts, Library, SMOCA
  • Taliesin West
  • Mountain biking at South Mountain or Phoenix Mountain Preserve
  • Scottsdale Water Mark (giant aluminum horse sculpture)
  • Phoenix Public Market
  • Phoenix Public Library
The new bridge being built across the dam at Tempe Town Lake needs a route which clearly connects with this path, since that would give direct access to the Center for the Arts. At the same time they did that, they could also straighten out the pedestrian and bicycle access from Tempe Town Lake to the Mill Avenue bridge crossing. With those done, then there would be some further logical improvements to make along the 64th Street / Crosscut corridor, in order to create a truly wonderful connective route for pedestrians and cyclists. These suggested improvements, which would probably require regional coordination, are:

  • Connect the Crosscut Path with the Arizona Canal at 64th Street (no more "path ends" sign)
  • Extend the Indian School Bicycle Path westward from 64th Street to 40th Street
  • Bridge the AZ Canal at 64th Street to connect the neighborhood and 64th Street north

I'll finish with a few more photos to illustrate the current situation. Like I said at the start, this is a great path. I've read that more improvements are planned. As a puzzle, there's one common facility present in several of the photos that has been implemented both widely and consistently. I mention it as a model example of a clear, consistent, and widespread systematic element that could serve as a model for other systematic elements that would address some of the concerns raised here, in my guest post that will be on Blooming Rock. Can you see what it is? Get up. Go ride.

The horses know the secret path to the shady oasis with water and shade

One of the nicest, and most hidden, signs in the Valley

10 OSG bonus points if you can locate this sign

Re-leaf project, another hidden gem: shade, seats, attractive rock features. Didn't even know it was here.

Sign announcing the bridge across the Tempe Town Lake Dam. It needs to connect with the Crosscut path.

View of where the bridge will be

I may be ready for anything, but I couldn't bunny hop up to this bridge across the Crosscut Canal. Usability?
I can imagine if they did something like this with cars.
There's your bridge, just four-wheel through this mud to get to it.


  1. Apart from the signage and lack-of-connectedness you mention, it does seem that your area is definitely making an effort to accommodate bicycles, which is always a plus, and although frustrating for now, will no doubt smooth itself out over time. Do the citizens protest about the amount of funds being directed to the pathways? If not, consider yourself to be very lucky as when there is a lot of opposition, it makes it tougher to get the missing "links" and features added. As an outsider, I'm quite impressed with the pathways you feature, it seems Scottsdale, Tempe etc., are quite forward thinking. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. You might consider contacting the folks who manage the trail - you bring up many valid concerns which the designers may have never thought of. While public officials deal with many emotional citizens everyday, they will appreciate a rational, logical list of reasonable suggestions.

    What is the canal used for? Does it deliver surface water to the water utility? Water is a draw, and it's always nice to ride next to water. You've got a very nice trail there, and something that could be made even more special with some additional connectivity and recognition of nearby attractions.

  3. The people designing the paths don't use the paths or else the connections WOULD be there.

  4. I've seen too many paths like this, and can only conclude that they aren't designed for transportation, they are designed for recreation limited to the path itself. It's a real shame. I hope you get the improvements you're talking about. In the meantime, just be glad that *you* know all the places you can get to from there.

  5. I used to live in Mesa, decades ago. That was like taking a bike ride through a greatly changed, yet still familiar landscape.

    Thanks for that.

  6. PaddyAnne, there's definitely an effort being made and dollars being spent. We have some great pathways and I appreciate every foot (well, except for the foot when they die out in the middle of traffic). As separate, distinct projects, they are very good. I am pointing out their faults as a system for transport, or even for encouraging cycling.

    Big Oak, the paths along our canal banks are a great and underused resource. The canals themselves carry water for power and irrigation. This particular one carries water down to a power plant, I believe. One of the challenges of the issues I see is that many are cross-jurisdiction, cross-city consistency issues. If we can do it with the dog poop bag signs, though, we can do it with bicycle connectivity! We have the power! :)

    Steve A, a five mail radius around a path and its endpoints would be a great starting point to a) ensure connectivity with other routes and neighborhoods, and b) put a few signs up indicating directions and distances. In a consistent manner across the system.

    Apertome, your comment sparked a lot of thoughts: these very much resemble linear parks, places to ride around, maybe, but not elements of a transportation network. Great comment. Still thinking about it. I love parks by the way. I also ride my bike for tranport every day, though. Including through some lovely parks. But lovely parks don't support cycling transport, or encourage novice cyclists to get out and ride around to explore and see new things.

    Clowncar, thanks for stopping by! You might also check out my guest post over on Blooming Rock, which recounts an actual ride in Phoenix:

  7. At least for that last bridge, go find yourself somebody in a wheelchair and have them raise a stink.

  8. KD5NRH perhaps it is a canal fixture of tremendous use during high water or something like that. Sometimes, the canal boffins work in mysterious ways.

  9. Joe/Unknown, thanks for you comment, if you have questions, please feel free to email me at the address listed under my profile in the upper right hand of this blog.

  10. If you want to get to Tempe Town lake from there, take 64th St all the way down past the 202 (bike lanes the whole way). From there just take a right and that path rolls all the way to the new bridge. They've also been working recently on a path on the South side of the Salt river going all the way to Priest.

    1. Thanks Thomas. The north end of the Crosscut has also experienced connectivity improvements since this post was written: the Arizona canal path is now paved from there to Scottsdale. Although crossing Indian School there often requires waiting for two lights since you have to cross to the east first, then cross I.S.. Some day they will put a pedestrian bridge across the AZ Canal there, too, but not today, not yet. 64th to Galvin Parkway to Priest is an alternative to Crosscut, which does get you to Tempe on a street route, farther to the west than this path. If I was going to ASU, for example, that way would be out of the way for me west.

  11. I see that there has been some changes to this trail since I last rode it in the 1990's. The McDowell road path connector has been completely rerouted. The old connector was kind of dangerous as it was an intersection that was next to the trail underpass. That intersection has been moved further south now with a new connector trail. The part of the path that runs behind the botanical garden and entered Papago Park appears to be in the process of being rerouted onto the canal bank. Kind of a shame really. That segment of the trail was the best part of the trail. While it is still there, it is useless as the Hole-in the Rock trailhead has been moved inside of the park and the path trail ends at a dirt area where the trailhead parking used to be. I can't say that I'll miss the part of the old trail where it passes behind the zoo though. That part of the trail was just too steep. The new trail that has been constructed to replace it is much better. As for the segment of the trail above Thomas, it didn't exist back in the 1990's. I would love to see this trail have better connectivity to the Arizona Canal path and see that path connected to the other Arizona Canal path which it isn't. at least not paved.

    1. They recently (this past summer, I think) cut down all the old pine trees that lined the canal bank south of Indian School. What a shame. Overall I do appreciate the improvements, and ride the path often.


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