Is It Really Possible?
Sedona, AZ (December 5, 2011) – A solution to Uptown Sedona’s traffic woes seem to be a distant hope. Merchants, locals and visitors alike would like to see a way to reduce the delays entering uptown from Oak Creek Canyon. Sedona Police Chief Ray Cota conducted 3 separate evaluations over the past year, searching for the magic key to unlock the gridlock box. “Is this not solvable?” asked Councilor Barbara Litrell. “Do we have to live with this?” The answer might be up to you and me.
On the City Council Agenda recently was discussion and possible action on Uptown Traffic Management. Chief Cota gave the council a very comprehensive analysis of the situation. He admitted it was not a scientific study, but rather evaluations based on the department’s observations.
The first evaluation in December 2010, was to examine how the thru traffic flowed from Apple Road to Forest Road, traveling south using a dedicated lane. Traffic cones divided the through traffic from the local traffic. Driver confusion, autos turning and buses were unplanned problems. In July, 2011, an artificial center barrier was created for pedestrian crossing control. In August, 2011, 89a pedestrians crossing 89a was restricted and volunteers assisted managing. This third observation seemed to provide the best improvement. “Volunteers are needed” states Chief Cota, “however constant staffing needs will soon exhaust the volunteer force”.
The middle part of the Uptown district is the busiest. Trolleys, pedestrians crossing, motorists seeking a place to park, driveways and center turning lane conflicts all contribute to the congestion. “Too much happening in a short area” said Chief Cota.
This isn’t new to Uptown. Any sunny afternoon, especially on holidays and in the summer, will find cars backed up into Oak Creek Canyon. 89a coming down through the Canyon has been the same 2 lane road since the forties. Widening Oak Creek Canyon is not on ADOT’s radar with steep grades on one side and Oak Creek on the other. A few years ago the city took over ownership of 89a in Uptown. About 20 parking places were lost, and pedestrian control landscaping was scuttled. The traffic problem was left un-addressed.
The topography in Uptown does not suggest a viable alternative. The Uptown area, as it has grown over the years, has not found possible solutions. The gridlock Sedona now sees has been there for years, however in the past 20 years Uptown traffic has steadily grown. Day tripper numbers from Phoenix are up. Flagstaff population has grown from approximately 46,000 in 1990 to over 68,000 in 2010. The Verde Valley grew from 46,000 in 1990 to 77,000. Looking at traffic circulation in the Uptown area, no obvious solution presents itself. Street layouts in the residential areas provide no options for an alternate route. Schnebly Hill road has been examined. That route is located within the Coconino National Forest, most of it within the Munds Mountain Wilderness. Funding and environmental issues prevent that route from ever being completed. An alternate route from Lower Schnebly Hill Road, spanning Oak Creek, into Uptown has been explored.
Uptown merchants need the tourist traffic to maintain their businesses. Even if there were a way of changing traffic flows, any decrease in traffic could spell disaster for local merchants. Every parking space in uptown has value to merchants.
Breckenridge and Estes Park in Colorado have similar traffic challenges. They are also option challenged and face the same future as Sedona. Their solutions have been to utilize the existing parking, use additional traffic personnel in managing traffic, and getting aggressive about traffic law enforcement. Additional Signage has not helped.
“It almost seems insolvable” says Councilor Dan McIlroy. His suggestion is to post 3 traffic directing officers or volunteers at choke points, communicating by radio to coordinate efforts.
Councilor Dennis Raynor suggested a portable message board at the top of the canyon warning motorists of delays entering Uptown Sedona.
Mayor Adams feels that signage could reroute traffic onto local streets as well as detour signs marked with parking directions. “Long term solutions will have to be multiple implementations here” states the Mayor. Creating a bypass starting across from the leather shop up to the Jordan Road area was also suggested.
“I’m not usually one with solutions…but flare guns to keep the people moving…” states Councilor Mark DiNunzio. “Jeep Tour drivers create chaos.”
While many suggestions were made by the Councilors, it was the personal approach that seemed to be the most viable. City Manager Tim Ernster concluded the meeting saying he will bring a decision package to the budget process this spring, which would involve some funding for a pool of people to provide this service to the Uptown problem. Alternate routes, signage and parking all help the gridlock situation in Uptown, but ultimately people will solve the problem. Perhaps each traffic assistant can also have ambassador training, which could soothe impatient motorists and add a friendly atmosphere to Uptown.