Nov 7, 2023 - News

Petition urges Phoenix to abolish reversible lanes

A traffic sign hanging over a busy road.

A sign informs drivers about the reverse lane on Seventh Avenue north of Indian School Road. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

Community advocates and local businesses last week launched an online petition they hope will put pressure on the city of Phoenix to abolish the controversial reverse lanes on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street.

How it works: The reverse lanes, or "suicide lanes" as they're often called, use left-turn lanes as extra lanes of traffic during rush hour.

  • From 6-9am,the middle lanes between McDowell Road and Dunlap Avenue are for southbound traffic and from 4-6pm they're for northbound traffic.
  • Left turns are still permitted during rush hour at driveways and streets without traffic signals.

Flashback: The city created the reverse lane on Seventh Avenue in 1979 and on Seventh Street in 1982 to alleviate rush-hour traffic.

Driving the news: The petition calls for Mayor Kate Gallego and the City Council to "end the dangerous rush-hour reverse driving lanes."

  • Activist Stacey Champion, who launched the effort and has been advocating against the reverse lanes for years, tells Axios Phoenix the petition is supported by area neighbors and businesses.
  • The group plans to release a list later this week of business owners that support the petition.

State of play: The reverse lanes are designed for speed and are inherently dangerous, Champion says.

  • The lanes run through residential areas, she says, and even though Phoenix is a car-centric city, there are people who live near the sevens who don't own cars and have to walk, bicycle or use public transportation instead.
  • "Something needs to change because we're sick of having streets that function like highways running through our neighborhoods," she says.
  • Champion notes there's a lot of multifamily housing going up along the sevens as well.

Zoom in: It's not uncommon to see traffic backed up behind a driver who's making a permissible left turn during reverse lane hours, illegal left turns at major intersections, or even a driver going the wrong way during rush hour.

The other side: Gregg Bach, a spokesperson for Phoenix's Street Transportation Department, noted that a 2021 study commissioned by the city found the reversible lanes are "essential to accommodate the vehicular demand" during rush hour, and that travel times would increase by more than 40% without them.

  • Conditions would "deteriorate" on other nearby north-south streets if the lanes are eliminated, the report said.
  • The study recommended adding electronic signs that would inform drivers of travel directions and turn restrictions, along with intersection improvements and corridor restriping.

What's next: Department staff are considering how the recommendations can be implemented, Bach says, though no timeline has been set or funding identified.

  • The city's new street transportation director will start later this month, and Gallego will ask him to make evaluating safety improvements along Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue a top priority, she said in a statement provided to Axios Phoenix.

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