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Has the time for a
Sedona shuttle finally arrived?

by Diane Raab

Bikes in SedonaSedona architects Mike Bower and Max Licher have a vision for Sedona’s future, in which the community is served by a clean, quiet, efficient transit system. Licher is convinced this system would reduce pollution, congestion and frustration.

Bower said anyone who travels with open eyes and an open heart will see that many successful visitor-destination communities like Sedona are pedestrian-friendly. Walkways, plazas, parks and arbors, paved trails and pedestrian links are just some of the design possibilities for a community to embrace.

Bower envisions pedestrian connections at the intersection of Highway 89A and major cross streets, such as walkways leading under the road, landscaping, and meandering links between businesses that allow a resident or visitor to conduct errands or sightseeing on foot.

As Sedona looks to the future - especially in light of the current update of the Sedona Community Plan and compliance with the state’s Growing Smarter legislation passed in November - it may be ready to embrace transit as a desirable element of the community.

Bower and others, especially a citizen activist group called the Action Coalition for Transportation Solutions (ACTS), have been working diligently behind the scenes to bring the idea of public transportation to the forefront as a viable option for reducing traffic, pollution and general aggravation in Sedona. After more than 10 years, it’s an idea whose time may have come. City officials, county planners and state transportation departments are now looking at the feasibility of transit in Sedona, and putting up funds to study the possibilities.

At the same time, the community is in the middle of updating the Sedona Community Plan, in which traffic circulation is one component of future planning.

Bower’s latest theory - one supported by community planners and traffic academics - is that circulation is the key component in any development plan. It is the skeleton, or infrastructure, upon which all future elements depend.

“Circulation decisions have a way of weaving together all aspects of the community,” he said. “Our city has done well, but we can’t be expected to generate what other cities have by spontaneous combustion,” he said.

Whereas developing frontage roads and thoroughfares invites strip-style development, creating shuttle stops encourages business clusters and allows a more pedestrian-friendly development pattern.

Bower is critical of Sedona’s seeming reluctance to embrace transit.

“Our town continues to shy away from the viability of a transit system,” Bower said. “It’s not intelligent to continue to think that way. It borders on negligence to the health, safety and welfare of our economy.” He said city officials continue to pretend there’s a debate, whereas he said there is no debate whatsoever: transit is necessary and long-overdue.

Bikes are nice  but not the answer

Bower is an avid bicyclist, but when it comes to alternative transportation in Sedona, he said bicycles are not the answer.

“Transportation, in my opinion, is the only meaningful alternative to focus on,” Bower said.   

“Me riding my bike to work doesn’t address the tourist issue, or the elderly issue,” he said. “It’s a mere “ping” in trying to make a dent in the increasing traffic congestion.”

Groups of bicyclists have met in a “critical mass” to create awareness of bicyclists on the road and to lobby for bicycle lanes. However, even the cyclists are aware that bicycles are not the only answer to the traffic problems.

Bower said he is thankful that circumstances allow him to ride his bicycle - he has his health, despite an accident years ago that left him debilitated for eight months. Bower lives and works within a reasonable riding distance, and Sedona’s weather is conducive to bicycling all year round. But Bower said a shuttle system is the key to keeping Sedona livable and maintaining the quality of life residents desire.

Transit makes Sedona a

desirable destination

Because Sedona is a visitor-based economy, with no coal mines or dot-com companies, Bower said it is vital for Sedona to continue to work to be a desirable place to visit. If other red rock communities, such as Springdale, Utah, provide a higher-quality visitor experience, he said it could overshadow the Sedona market.

“They have the same red rocks, only taller. Springdale is a place that could usurp our market,” Bower said.

Visitor destinations such as Cancun, Mexico, Zurich, Switzerland and even the Grand Canyon National Park are heading toward a shuttle-based future. Zurich banned automobiles from its center and created pedestrian walkways, outdoor restaurants, and a sense of tranquillity because tires are not hitting the pavement.

Copenhagen, Boston and Denver have all closed off streets to cars, discouraging the use of autos in what have become thriving pedestrian areas. Redirecting traffic and revitalizing warehouse areas so that people can walk or move via shuttle creates a healthy atmosphere in a man-made environment, Bower said.

Buses are for other people?

Those who favor transit or a shuttle in Sedona are reluctant to use the word “bus.” That word may conjure up images of large, noisy, diesel-burning monstrosities carrying society’s unwashed masses. Transit for Sedona, as envisioned by members of the Action Coalition for Transportation Solutions, is clean, quiet, efficient, and desirable.

Bower acknowledges that cars are, and will remain, the dominant means of transportation. However, residents do not have a choice, and are almost forced to drive a car.

“We have zoning ordinances that require way too much pavement that ensures we will have an auto-dependent community. If we were really transit oriented, we wouldn’t need acres of parking,” Bower said. “We’re forced into an automotive environment.”

It is the lack of a choice that is addressed in a 1998 report published by the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). The report, titled “Ensuring a Livable Future: Transportation and a Strategic Vision for the Greater Sedona Community,” states: “The proposed Sedona transportation plan envisions that both local residents and visitors have choice in how they travel within the community - to shopping, to work, to recreation, and to a variety of other destinations.”

Bower agrees with creating options. As much of Sedona’s business is along Highway 89A, a main thoroughfare with businesses along both sides, its linear layout of the main area of commerce is ideal for a transit system.

Banks, post offices, grocery stores, the library, and numerous local businesses are located on both sides of the main corridor, which lends itself well to a shuttle system that travels in each direction on a regular schedule. While not eliminating the automobile entirely, a shuttle can reduce short drives within the busiest section of the highway. Residents and visitors alike would have a choice.

“I’m not the radical fringe. I’m not opposed to driving a car, but in Sedona a shuttle system would serve us well,” Bower said.

Government consortium to spend $100,000 on transit study

In April, the Sedona City Council agreed to contribute $20,000 toward a transit feasibility study. The Arizona Department of Transportation has given Sedona a $70,000 planning grant, and both Yavapai and Coconino Counties have kicked in $5,000 each toward the study. The consortium of transit planners includes the Forest Service and the ACTS group, as well as the city, counties and state transportation department.

But it doesn’t take a tenth of a million dollars to see that transit does work in some communities. Recently, the two Sedona architects invited members of the Sedona City Council to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in Utah to see first-hand the state-of-the-art transportation system that has been put in place there. Closer to home, the city of Flagstaff is expanding its current transit system, and the Grand Canyon has used battery-operated shuttles along the South Rim for many years.

David Raphael, an independent transportation consultant based in Portland, Oregon, is working with the city of Sedona to find a transit planner and a transit provider to design and implement a shuttle system. Raphael was instrumental in researching and writing the CTAA study, and is familiar with Sedona’s challenges.

Sedona’s long-range planner Mike Raber said a request for proposals should be published no later than August. Raber said the public will be involved in the process.

“We want to look at things like ridership scenarios. We expect 25 percent of the ridership to be visitors, but is that realistic?” Raber asked. He said the study would help answer those questions, and look into using a shuttle for forest service destinations, highway parking concerns and perhaps be tied in with the Red Rock Pass fee system.

ACTS member Catherine Moore said the city, county and state commitment to a feasibility study reflects the changing climate in terms of transit. Having worked for many years to bring the idea of transit to the forefront of the community, the ACTS group is encouraged by the plans.

Raber said the feasibility study would determine if community sentiments have become more favorable toward transit.

The Sedona Growth Committee, a group of citizens and city officials who studied Sedona’s growth for a year, recommend pursuing transit in Sedona and throughout the region.

Sedona Community Plan encourages

shuttle transit system

Sedona is in the midst of updating the community plan, a document intended to serve as a vision for the community. Under the heading of “Traffic Circulation” residents have noted a lack of alternative transportation modes such as transit, bike lanes, pedestrian paths and sidewalks. There are 11 elements of the plan, with five new elements to be added in the update to bring it into compliance with the state’s Growing Smarter directive.

Bower said the community plan currently does not have an overall binding vision, but rather, has disjointed elements created by different subcommittees. He said that all of the elements - from land use or open space - are dependent on the traffic circulation element, which serves as the “glue” binding the plan together.

One of the goals of the current Sedona Community Plan is clearly stated: “Establish a shuttle transit system in the Sedona area and support a regional commuter system to serve the needs of residents, employees and visitors.” 

It will be up to city planners and concerned citizens to see that the goals are achieved. The updated plan will be voted on by citizens in May 2002.

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