Along 32nd Street, Hope For Renewal

August 05, 2013

On August 27, Phoenix residents will elect four people to the city council. As part of a series called "Phoenix Votes," a look at one of the neighborhoods around District 2. 

32nd Street and Bell One corner of 32nd Street and Bell, a major intersection along this stretch, is dominated by an abandoned gas station. (Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)

A five mile stretch of North 32nd Street was once one of the busiest corridors in the city, but things are not looking so vibrant anymore. 

Standing outside 32 Shea restaurant, the scene is harsh and noisy. Cars zip past at 40 or 50 miles an hour. There are not many pedestrians walking by, and there is no shade to be had on the sidewalk, but step inside the restaurant, and you are surrounded by dark walls with bright flashes of color and the din of people talking and eating.

“My whole intention was to take downtown and bring it into 'Up-Uptown,' and to really create a cool vibe in an area that had once been thriving and died," said Rebecca Golden, 32 Shea's owner.

Rebecca Golden Rebecca Golden owns the restaurant 32 Shea, located at the intersection of -- you guessed it -- 32nd Street and Shea. (Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)

32nd Street in Up-Uptown, as Golden calls it, used to be a huge traffic corridor from Shea up to Union Hills, but when State Route 51 was extended, that diverted so much traffic away from this street that businesses died off left and right.

The street is really wide, and most of the stores are set back from the sidewalk. Golden’s restaurant is one of the exceptions. She is in a tiny standalone building at the outer edge of a strip mall. She gave a tour of its kitchen.

“As you see, we use every inch of space that we possibly can from bottom to top. We’ve even started stacking units on top of units in here to get everything to fit," Golden said.

That efficiency could be a model for Golden’s neighbors. A report from last year found on average nearby shopping centers are 20 percent empty. This stretch of street straddles Districts 2 and 3.

Leaders from both have come together for the 32nd Street Revitalization Project. They hope to tackle problems like desolate strip malls and a street that is far too wide.

Ray Dovalina is Phoenix’s assistant street transportation director. He said at its peak this corridor carried a little more than 40,000 vehicles a day.

Ray Dovalina Ray Dovalina, assistant street transportation director for the city of Phoenix. (Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)

"At this point, it’s carrying roughly between 15 and 18,000 vehicles per day," Dovalina said.

So the city is putting 32nd Street on a road diet. That means just what it sounds like, shrinking the number of lanes to make it more bikeable (more on that in a little bit) and more walkable. Except for bus shelters, there is hardly any shade on the sidewalk. Dovalina said fixing that can be tricky.

“We need to be able to not only implement, but also we have to operate and maintain that in perpetuity, basically," Dovalina said.

Joseph Perez Joseph Perez, bicycle coordinator for the city of Phoenix. He rides that bicycle to work every day, rain or shine. (Photo by Nick Blumberg - KJZZ)

To that end, the city’s pursuing public-private agreements and grant money to add trees and shade structures. Another focus for the 32nd Street revitalization is adding bike lanes.

City Bicycle Coordinator Joseph Perez said when it comes to biking, people fall into several categories. The largest covers about 60 percent of the population and it’s called “interested but concerned.”

“And they want to have bike lanes, they want to feel safe, they want to feel like when they ride people know where they are," Perez said. "We can greatly expand the numbers of bicyclists by providing those bike lanes and shared lane markings and other infrastructure.”

To start capturing that kind of rider, the city has budgeted $1 million for bike infrastructure. Some of it will be closer to the center of town where Phoenix plans to roll out a bike share program at the end of the year, and some of the money is for farther out areas.

That is good news for Josh Schoville. He lives at 26th Street and Shea Boulevard and often bikes down 32nd Street which he laughs is, “a little hairy. It’s, uh ... not fun.”

mapThis map shows the vacancy rates of the shopping centers along 32nd Street between Shea Boulevard and Union Hills in Phoenix, according to the 32nd Street Revitalization Project report. (Map graphic by Amanda Berry and Julie Levin-KJZZ)

But for Schoville it is worth it, especially to come to 32 Shea.

“You can sit outside with your dog, and you can bike here. Get a breakfast burrito and some coffee for breakfast, come in in the evening after work and get a cold beer on a hot day," Schoville said.

Schoville wants his neighborhood to have more places like this, locally owned, unique, easy to bike and walk to. Golden is happy to be a part of the changing 32nd street, and she wants to see more, but as every business owner knows...

“It’s going to take time and money, as with everything," Golden said. "Time and money.”

Development on 32nd Street is moving forward. The revitalization project’s working group will likely meet next in September after the council elections are over, and the city hopes to start road work as early as spring of next year.

Further Reading: Check out this report on the North 32nd Street Corridor by the Urban Land Insitute Arizona Technical Assistance Panel.

Updated 8/5/13 at 11:52 a.m.