Poses Growing Problems
By Joe Gold
Arizona Daily Star Staff Writer
For an increasing number of Tucsonans, just getting from
one place to another is a major headache these days.
You see it in the eyes of exasperated drivers trying to
get home at night. You see it in ever-lengthening lines
of cars waiting for that red stoplight to change. You see
it in traffic cones being used as makeshift direction markers
for reversible lanes.
And you see it in government offices, where solving the
problem is top-priority business, as well as in contracting
firms, where improving streets and designing freeways are
The planners are traveling a transportation tightrope.
They must solve the problem at a time when Tucson is perhaps
growing so rapidly that the proposed solutions cannot keep
With county auto registration county up 11.5 per cent this
year, the resulting increase in traffic is estimated to
be roughly equal to the daily traffic volume on East Speedway
between North Stone Avenue and North Kolb Road—about
294,500 car miles per day.
But they also face the prospect that the solutions might
encourage more and faster growth, which in turn would require
To anticipate where Tucson is growing, the Tucson Area
Transportation Planning Agency (TATPA) started charting
metropolitan development in 1960. Five years later, it reported
that the city would continue to grow outward, especially
toward the East Side. The predictions, it turns out, have
With those projections came a series of recommendations
for more than 1,000 miles of new or improved streets. Proposals
for a Catalina Freeway up Campbell Avenue and other changes
in the traffic system have been dropped because of adverse
reaction at public hearings in the past few years.
But five of the proposals make up the transportation plan,
which has been adopted by the city, the county, South Tucson
and the state transportation department. They are:
A Butterfield Expressway running from Kolb Road along the
northern edge of Davis-Monthan AFB, south along the Southern
Pacific tracks, then west to intersect with Interstate 10
between East Congress and 22nd Streets. The plan has drawn
some sharp opposition, but Blanton & Co., an architecture
and engineering firm, is making a route location study to
be completed by next year. Target date for opening the Butterfield
is now 1984.
-A Rillito-Pantano Parkway to run along a greenbelt adjacent
to the waterways north and east of the city. The route would
intersect with the Butterfield on the East Side. The two
routes make up the circumferential plan for traffic that
may be put to a city referendum on Sept. 18.
-Interstate 710, to begin at the Butterfield near Campbell
and run south to Tucson International Airport.
-Widening and improvement of arterial streets, which was
approved Feb. 6 in the city bond election.
-Beefing up the bus system, as the city did, purchasing
Tucson Transit Co. in 1969 and initiating expanded service
in July and September of last year.
That the proposed changes would speed traffic through the
city has never really been challenged. Instead, critics
of the plan said it was based on a projection of Tucson
sprawling over ever greater expanses of desert, which they
said it was not in the interest of the people. They complained
that the proposal was oriented too much toward the automobile
and not nearly enough toward more efficient mass transit.
The critics said that by TATPA's planning for a certain
version of Tucson's future, the agency might help bring
that vision to reality—a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For instance, building a Butterfield to southeast Tucson
will shorten the 30-to 45-minute drive from downtown to
Pantano Road to about 10 minutes. Providing such easy access,
the critics complained, only encourages more people to move
even farther out.
Don Bufkin, director of TATPA, admits the criticism is
valid, saying that the routing of transit facilities can
encourage growth in some areas and discourage it in others.
But the growth projected by his agency several years ago
has already materialized, he contends, so the Butterfield
is needed just to serve the people in the hundreds of homes
Bufkin says the Rincon Area Plan—which is designed
to limit the population east of Harrison Road—will
prevent the overflow of growth to the southeast that the
Butterfield otherwise might stimulate. Critics contend,
however, that the Butterfield would add impetus to eastward
growth to the point that officials would throw out the Rincon
Area Plan in favor of more eastside housing.
The city's pairing of one-way streets, adding reversible
lanes and widening major arterials are only temporary solutions
with congestion mounting so rapidly.
A more permanent answer may lie with the five-man Auto-Free
Zone Task Force. The rough outline of the group's proposal
Establishing parking lots on the fringe of downtown and
banning cars from the central business district
Building an east-west spine along 5th and 6th Streets
for a "personal rapid transit" line, which could
be served by express busses until the PRT system is built.
Forming a transit loop with parallel bicycle paths from
downtown to the University of Arizona campus, the Speedway-El
Rancho Shopping Center, El Con Shopping Center, Randolph
Park and back to downtown.
The plan—to be submitted in full to the city manager’s
office in May or early June—is designed to attract
federal tax money through the Urban Mass Transportation
Administration. Members of the task force express confidence
in the plan and Tucson’s ability to meet the requirements.
The first is one of cost. Although building a PRT can run
as high as $12 million per mile compared to the $10 million
per mile to build a freeway, the PRT cost will include the
vehicles and thus may save Tucson families from buying a
second (or third) car. The added expense from tax money
will save millions for Tucsonans in the personal cost of
the new car they might no longer need to purchase.
And Nizlek says mass transit "creates a sense of community
harmony." Neighbors and co-workers can sit and talk,
Nizlek says, instead of cursing each other as they cut each
other off from traffic lanes.
Although Nizlek does not mention it, another factor may
be that mass transit in part reflects changing social values.
For while TATPA's urban growth projections have been consistently
accurate, the planning agency could not forecast the less
predictable developments of social change.
Since the plan was unveiled in 1965, issues of urban sprawl,
automotive pollution and snarled traffic have climbed to
the top of the list of public priorities, as the first surveys
of the comprehensive planning process verified last year.
Changing values collided with auto-oriented transportation
plans and produced a backlash against freeways.
"There's an emotional response to freeways—they're
disruptive, they divide neighborhoods, they cause relocation
of people," Bufkin says. But when the critics reject
freeways on an emotional basis, he adds, "they at the
same time deny our dependence on the automobile."
That dependence is documented by TATPA statistics. In 1948,
when Tucson was a city of 120,000, bus transportation accounted
for 11.76 per cent of travel within the urban area. As population
and affluence grew, more people were able to afford more
cars until only .62 of one per cent of intra-city travel
was on the bus.
The city's purchase of Tucson Transit Co. in 1961 and subsequent
service improvements last year resulted in passengers doubling
from the 1968 figure to slightly more man one per cent as
of December. The rest is still via cars and trucks.
Is there a contradiction between public attitudes and behavior?
Bufkin says there is.
"People will say the automobile is an abomination
and we should ban it. Usually what he means is that the
automobile for my neighbor and he shouldn't use it, but
for me, it's a necessity."
The reason? Cars are still the most convenient form of
transportation. They are ready where and when needed and
make only those stops the user desires.
The contradiction, according to Bufkin, goes beyond transportation
to the whole issue of land use: "The people can’t
make up their minds whether we want urban sprawl or we don’t.
Urban sprawl is broadly cursed in the community, yet it’s
bought in the marketplace."
Or, he says, should the public decide to encourage satellite
cities, then roads or tram systems–or both–could
tie those satellites to the urban core which, if stabilized
by then might be conducive to an internal system of mass
If the decision is to stop growth on the edges of the city
and concentrate the inevitable population in the present
area, the higher density could more easily support public
transportation to prevent the streets from becoming chaotic,
Before any more specific decisions can be made, the planners
must await the public verdict, voiced through the comprehensive
planning process and the Sept. 18 referendum.
The fate of the Butterfield, the Rillito-Pantano and Interstate
710 will also hang in the balance.
But gaining a consensus may be more difficult than merely
asking the right questions and forming plans based on the
The community, Bufkin says, is hearing from opposite ends
of the opinion spectrum—those who say stop building
roads and force people to use mass transit, and the other
who say mobile access to all activity is the goal therefore,
freeways and more streets are needed.
Still, Bufkin says, the longer the community delays a decision,
the worse the situation will grow. The 1965 growth projections
were based on market values, which he says are not likely
to make any sudden shift without government pressure in
the form of rezoning.
"Even if we revolutionize the zoning ordinances, we
would have (financial) commitments which would carry us
at least five years. If we continue to wring our hands,
the forecast will come true, and that's what we have to
Dr. Robert C. Cauthorn, a UA economics professor, considers
the situation even more dangerous.
Present laws, financial institutions, methods of building
for more cars and the relative impotence of planning and
zoning could, in Cauthorn's view, lead Tucson to urban disaster
within 10 years.
"One way to break the momentum is to let it break
you. In 10 years, we won't have a city that's worth caring
about. By that time, we'll be spending half our time just
trying to restore the city to the way it is today,"
"The deficit in the community is in problem seeing,
not problem solving," Cauthorn says in criticism of
professional planners. The planners look only at the aspects
of traffic flow along the street rather than such matters
as pedestrian crossings, building setbacks and cross-traffic,
The Comprehensive Planning Process is meant to include
the social and aesthetic factors in proposed solutions.
If through that process a satisfactory growth plan can
be adopted, transportation planning will be counted on to
direct growth into the desired areas by providing access
to those areas.
This front-page article from the
Sunday Arizona Daily Star
was the first installment of a 13-part weekly series, The
Shrinking Desert, a broad overview of the decades-long problem
of rapid urban growth. The series won first place in Arizona
Press Club series writing competition and was nominated
for the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism.