Debate rages over Scottsdale’s road diets

Scottsdale broke down the broad spending categories for  the fiscal year beginning July 1. (City of Scottsdale)

On May 16, Scottsdale City Council spent about an hour listening to a presentation on and mulling over a $2.5 billion budget.

And then the elected officials churned through two hours debating, nitpicking, bashing and defending the city’s “road diets.”

“To diet, or not to diet?” seems to be this city’s real billion-dollar question.

Whether or not to continue down the path of removing some motorized lanes in favor of bike lanes continues to be the most debated topic in the city.

The six council members and Mayor David Ortega swiftly agreed on the jumbo jet of a budget, unanimously saluting it for takeoff.

But the 4-3 split vote two months ago over a 68th Street road diet seems like a street crack that keeps widening.

On one side are pro-road dieters Ortega and council members Solange Whitehead, Tom Durham and Tammy Caputi; on the no-road diet side are council members Kathy Littlefield, Betty Janik and Barry Graham.

At times it seemed like a traffic jam of ideas, with tailgating politicians cutting each other off and practically blowing their horns to talk.

Like driving on a roundabout, it seemed like everyone pretty much finished where they started when the jam session – by design, all talk and no action – ended.

After Fire Chief Tom Shannon and Police Chief Jeff Walther said "repainting" some motorized lanes with bike lanes would not hinder response times, Durham spoke up.

“I’d just like to reassure everyone that your city is not run by morons,” he said with a scowl.

Before road changes, Durham continued, “The police and fire (departments) were consulted before any of these plans to make sure everything would work right.”

He countered claims of secrecy with counter-claims of conspirators.

“The notion we have not been transparent on this subject is insane because we’ve spent more time on this subject than anything I can think of,” Durham said.

“I’ve received emails over and over that police and fire are not able to get through,” Durham said.

“I hope we've put a stake through this ridiculous claim that our police and fire department are incompetent and not able to drive over paint stripes.

“I hope I never hear again ‘this is an excuse for light rail’ or we’re forcing people to take buses or forcing them to get on bicycles …The divisions are results (of) a small number of people who are sending out emails … repeating misinformation.”

Caputi seconded Durham’s descriptions.

“Political agitators and even some council members are using false facts … to try to control our agenda,” Caputi said.

Janik’s applause line from the no-road dieters in attendance: “We’re waiting at traffic lights longer and longer.”


The concept of road diets is deeply embedded in the city’s recently-approved Transportation Action Plan.

Arguing that many streets were built too wide, the plan states:

“In all, 32 lane miles can be converted to non-auto uses by restriping or narrowing the street.”

A “work-study session” analyzing the “Roadway Reclassification (‘road diets’) in the 2022 Transportation Action Plan” began with five citizens expressing their views.

This is hardly to say that only five people in the city are curious about this topic. Indeed, there was a line to chime in at the March 21 meeting on 68th Street’s slimdown. But following work study guidelines, only five citizens were permitted to speak.

Four of the public speakers were road diet bashers; one was an avid bicyclist who defended road changes.

Mark Melnychenko, the city’s Transportation and Streets director, ran through some of the highlights – or lowlights, depending on one’s perspective – of the transportation plan.

Whitehead, while defending the plan and general idea of road diets, said the plan contained some misleading wording that should be changed.

Ortega tried to spike that idea, stating, “I don’t think we’re ready to rescript anything.”

Taking the 2022 transportation plan into the shop would be tricky, Melnychenko said.

“It’s problematic when we look at reworking a recently approved document,” he said, defending the plan as “a well-vetted document.”

But while Whitehead, Caputi and others insisted the number of roads to be “completed” (dieted, in another word) are minimal, Melnychenko perhaps fueled the fire of those who see a citywide conspiracy to take away motorized lanes.

“We have miles and miles of center turn lanes not being used,” the transportation director said.

Though he didn’t provide context for that quote during the meeting, conspiracy theorists might want to pump the brakes.

Cristina Lenko, a Scottsdale transportation spokeswoman, noted underutilized “turn lanes are evaluated, and sometimes eliminated, as part of city roadway restriping or reconfiguration projects. The additional roadway width is often repurposed as bike lanes or buffered bike lanes.”

But she made a distinction between “turn lanes” and “travel lanes.”

“No travel lanes are recommended for removal on these roadways,” she said. “The Transportation Action Plan lists more than 30 sections of roadway where center lane use will be evaluated as part of cities repaving and roadway restriping projects.”

Before the road diet “jam,” Council unanimously approved a tentative – final version still to come – budget of $2.533 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Sonia Andrews, the city treasurer, noted this is a bit less than the $2.54 billion budget she presented April 25.

“It is a balanced budget,” Andrews stressed.

Highlights include a $44 million increase in the city’s General Fund – a 13% jump from $331 million in the current fiscal year to $375 million – and a whopping $1.4 billion for capital improvements projects, up 27% from the current fiscal year’s $1.1 billion.

The total proposed city budget is up 20% from the current $2.11 billion.

A big part of the increases are inflation-driven overruns of many big-ticket items approved by voters in 2019.

Along that line, city council unanimously approved another $9.2 million to procure “long lead materials and equipment as required to modernize and expand the Police and Fire Training Facility.”

In 2019, voters approved this project, which they were told would cost $4.2 million.

Changes have doubled the size of the training facility – and rocketed the price tag up to $20 million.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.