Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hidden Hills Feedback

I received the following E-mail today (May 31, 2011) about efforts to keep the non-motorized vehicle access open to Hidden Hills. I have not published his contact information to keep him from getting spammed by Web crawlers, but anyone who wants to contact him can get his info through me. -- JQ

Jack, you have done a wonderful job of describing the problems and the history of the easement. It is extremely important for Scottsdale to maintain the easement. For that reason, even a temporary closure would set a terrible precedent, and make it unlikely to ever reopen.

At the meeting last Thursday of the Trails Subcommittee of the Scottsdale Transportation Commission, no immediate decision was made. They agreed to have an open forum at the next meeting (in three months) to hear public comment on the issue.

We must convince the city that we, the "cycling community", can reasonably police ourselves to be good citizens. At the Saturday meeting, five cycling groups were represented and all agreed to participate in the following manner. We still need to include more groups.

1. Begin educating our individual groups, as well as all others we can contact, to obey the traffic laws and be respectful of the private community we are being allowed to enter.

2. Establish a "Courtesy Patrol" for peak hours during the week. Ideally, each cycling group will volunteer to take a week at a time.

3. Make contact with all levels of city government to insure the voice of the cycling community is being heard.

The city's plan and subsequent decisions have made this .7 mile the only way to connect to Fountain Hills and beyond. While we don't know when the remaining .4 will open, we must not lose what the city has planned and paid for over the last 15 years.

Preston Miller

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23, 2011 - Hidden Hills Heats up Again

The residents of Hidden Hills are once again trying to get cyclists banned from their gated community, and this time, it looks as if they might succeed, at least until the planned connection for non-motorized vehicles from Scottsdale via Hidden Hills to Fountain Hills becomes a reality.

For those of you who are not familiar with Hidden Hills, it is a gated community at the end of a street called Via Linda in North Scottsdale, just a short distance as the crow flies from Fountain Hills. It is a popular destination for individual riders and informal riding groups, especially on Saturday mornings. At one time, large number of cyclists used to cycle to the top of the hill inside Hidden Hills, regroup at the summit cul-de-sac, and then ride back. Some cyclists, a minority, also used the route to do hill repeats, a conditioning technique that involves repeatedly riding up and descending the same hill. In the past year, the number of cyclists entering Hidden Hills has greatly diminished, and the practice of doing hill repeats in the community has all but disappeared.

As a result of the decreased cycle traffic, many cyclists thought that the problem was solved, but in my opinion, as long as a single cyclist has access to their community, some of the residents of Hidden Hills are going to react as if they were being invaded by Mongol hordes.

Some history: Before the community of Hidden Hills was built, the City of Scottsdale and Town of Fountain Hills had planned that Via Linda would be extended to provide an alternative to Shea Boulevard for motorized travel between those two communities. That plan was abandoned, but both Fountain Hills and Scottsdale still want to use the route to provide cyclists a safe travel corridor between the two communities. The City of Scottsdale, in exchange for granting permission for the gated community to be constructed, obtained an easement for non-motorized vehicles (meaning bicycles) to travel between Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. When someone buys a house in Hidden Hills, that person agrees to the easement and should know that bicycles will be using the community’s main street.

The developer that built Hidden Hills and also controls the land in Fountain Hills just up the hill from it was supposed to build the bike route. However, the real estate crisis hit, and the developer put plans on hold. In the meantime, cyclists were given access to Hidden Hills, even though there is a dead end at the top of the hill, which means that cyclists who pedal up the hill have no choice but to turn around and ride back down.

Hidden Hills homeowners soon got sick of bicycles traveling on their private street and have spent years lobbying the City of Scottsdale to break the agreement and abandon the easement, which the City has so far refused to do. To address the homeowners’ stated concerns, the City paid for the installation of four speed bumps, which have dissuaded most, but not all, of the cyclists from riding the hill. However, those who still do ride the hill often descend at a higher speed than formerly in order to have enough momentum to “bunny hop” the speed bumps, and an occasional cyclist circumvents the speed bumps by riding on the sidewalk. Many cyclists now descend the hill at speeds approaching those of the residents in their cars and SUVs.

A squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the Hidden Hills Homeowners Association has done a lot of squeaking about even the smaller number of pesky cyclists who dare to ride past their houses, backing their complaints with a mixture of truth and fiction about the problems that cyclists supposedly cause. Cyclists do not play loud music, they seldom litter, and although many (perhaps most) of them do exceed the 20 mile-per-hour speed limit, they travel no faster than the residents themselves in their motor vehicles. On the face of it, we would seem to be nice people to have around, but in these days, hating groups of people (immigrants, liberals, politicians of the other party, just about anyone who is different) has become the socially acceptable substitute for racism. Among some people, the mere sight of a group of “spandex clad” cyclists raises the same ire as an Obama supporter at a Tea Party convention.

Point persons on the debate for the City of Scottsdale are Transportation Planner Susan Conklu and Senior Transportation Planner Reed Kempton. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with each of them on May 19 and came away convinced that the Hidden Hills bicycle access will be shut down, at least until the connection to Fountain Hills is built.

At the beginning of our conversation, Reed Kempton described himself as a “cycling advocate”, but as we talked, it became apparent that he is just as fed up with the cyclists who ride to Hidden Hills as I am with the whining, selfish, and boorish behavior of some of the community’s residents. Apparently, a number of cyclists treated Mr. Kempton with contempt when he was out at Hidden Hills during the height of the controversy, and that ill treatment has soured him on the whole lot of us. It may seem unjust to stereotype a whole group of people because of the boorish actions of a few of its members, but that is how human nature works.

To give Mr. Kempton his due, some of the things he says make sense. For example, he makes a persuasive argument for closing cyclists’ access to Hidden Hills until the Fountain Hills connection is built. Contrary to what I believed before I spoke to him, he has also convinced me that we may be doing ourselves more harm than good by continuing to ride Hidden Hills.

Stating his argument as well as I can in my own words, his reasoning is as follows: The only purpose of the easement through Hidden Hills is to permit cyclists to travel to and from Fountain Hills. Since there is not yet a connection to Fountain Hills, cyclists are not using the easement for its stated purpose, and therefore cyclists presently have no legal right to enter Hidden Hills over the residents’ objections. The logical action is for cyclists to stop riding inside the Hidden Hills gate until the Fountain Hills connection is constructed.

I am not skilled at searching for legal documents online, but I did manage to find the following sentence in a contract between the City of Scottsdale and the developer. To me, this sentence is unclear as to whether or not cyclists have access to Hidden Hills until the connection to Fountain Hills is built, but there may be other documents with more explicit language.

“The City [of Scottsdale] has acquired a public non-motorized easement through the Hidden Hills Subdivision which provides the only non-motorized alternative to She Boulevard between the City of Scottsdale and the Town of Fountain Hills.”

Mr. Kempton states that if cyclists continue to ride within Hidden Hills, the Homeowners Association is likely to approach the Scottsdale City Council to ask that the easement be revoked altogether. Given that the homeowners are well organized, articulate, and vociferous, he thinks they stand a good chance of persuading the City Council to do their bidding. His opinion is that the “cycling community” should accept the temporary closure of the access to Hidden Hills for cyclists in order to avoid a permanent revocation of the easement.

Of course, there is no “cycling community” that could make such a collective decision. Most of the cyclists who ride Hidden Hills do so as individuals or as part of informal, pick-up rides. There is no cycling organization that has a line of communication to more than a small percentage of the cyclists who ride Hidden Hills. Even Arizona Road Cyclist News, with a circulation of over 400 reaches on a small fraction of the cyclists in the Phoenix area.

It seems logical that if and when the connection is built, cycling traffic through Hidden Hills would increase by a large factor, and that would anger the Hidden Hills residents even more. However, the Hidden Hills Homeowner’s Association might find it harder to shut down a “transportation corridor” than it would be to shut down casual access to a gated community.

Reed Kempton and Susan Conklu are anxious to communicate with cycling groups about the situation. They say they don’t want to spring the closure on the cyclists by surprise, and they both requested that I publish their contact information so that cyclists and especially cycling groups can get in touch with them. Their contact information follows.

A final word: I hope that cyclists who read this do not stereotype the residents of Hidden Hills the way that some of them stereotype us. Not all of the residents hate cyclists, and not all of them approve of the attitude of the Homeowners’ Association. Some of them are nice people, just as we are. :)

Susan Conklu, Transportation Planner
City of Scottsdale
(480) 312-2308

Reed Kempton, Senior Transportation Planner
City of Scottsdale
(480) 312-7630