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Phoenix, Arizona, successfully stopping freeway construction since the 1960s

If you've ever sat in a gridlocked traffic jam in Phoenix, you may be wondering why Phoenix didn't build more freeways? For example, why isn't there an east-west freeway that would take you from the west side of Phoenix all the way to Scottsdale, say at about Camelback Road? And why isn't there a loop around Phoenix that would allow traffic from Los Angeles to Tucson to bypass the downtown area? I'm sure that you can think of more, especially if you're in bumper-to-bumper traffic, either on a freeway in Phoenix, or on one of the surface streets.

If you're an old-timer, or a Phoenix history buff, you know that stopping freeway construction is something that the people of Phoenix have successfully been doing for over 50 years.

I've been living in Phoenix for a long time now, and the most common thing I've heard about freeways is that it would make Phoenix like Los Angeles. That is, if freeways were built, it would make a lot more people move there, and it would get crowded, like Los Angeles. And the solution that I've hears from old-timers is to just somehow stop new subdivisions from being built.

Of course, people have been moving into Phoenix at a rapid rate since 1870, and there really is no way to stop them, or to stop new subdivisions from being built. And so Phoenix has been struggling with its transportation infrastructure for a very long time!

Image above: 1960s recommended freeway map for Phoenix.

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  1. Also an additional story (also heard verbally at the North Mountain Visitor Center).

    The third 'Dot' was confined to a wheelchair, but very actively opposed development in the North mountains. When their efforts had failed, and construction of a housing project was set to begin, she got up in the pre-dawn dark, managed to get to the construction site, and parked herself in front of a bulldozer. And stayed there until after dark in the evening! She did this day after day until the bulldozers were removed!

  2. (Please forgive this long reply) Re: Grateful for those who fought to make the Phoenix Mountains a preserve. I heard this story verbally after a long hike (I don’t carry paper and pencil with me, so this is my memory of what was said. In other words, not exactly history.)
    In the 1960’s (I think) there was a big push by developers to build roads and housing projects in the mountains. The people opposed to this idea included ‘the three Dots’ (three ladies all named Dorothy). They attended many, many Phx City council meetings, and did as much lobbying as they could think of, to oppose these projects. When it seemed like their efforts were totally in vain, they invited the Mayor to a fancy picnic lunch – on horseback – into the mountains. The Mayor accepted. They presented their arguments to the Mayor again, and asked him to sign a proclamation designating the mountains as a preserved for posterity area. The Mayor’s response was: ‘Well, now, my dear ladies, you simply do not understand the economics of progress, blah, blah, blah.’
    They finished their luncheon of petit four sandwiches, ice cold lemonade, and many delicacies, all of which the Mayor ate wholeheartedly. When they finished, they calmly loaded the remains of the luncheon, the fancy tablecloth, the embroidered napkins, etc., packing it onto the third horse. Then they mounted their horses, ready to leave. The Mayor realized there was no horse for him to mount. ‘Wait, how am I to get out of here?’ he cried. (There are many places in the mountains where no vestige of civilization is readily apparent.) They whipped out the proclamation: “Sign here”. The Mayor signed.
    Now isn’t that the most delightful ‘this is Arizona, there must be a way to get this done’ story. I am grateful to these ladies!

  3. PMPC (1-18-2014)
    Terry Horn talk
    At the time of statehood (1912) Phoenix was not seen as a good place to live. After WWII, Phoenix started to grow.
    In 1959 the city of Phoenix acquired North Mountain and Squaw Peak. Prior to this, the main activity in these areas was mining. (Population of Phoenix at this time was about 350,000)
    In 1963 Phoenix planning commission adopted an open space resolution. See the Van Cleve Report (in the reading room at North Mountain visitor’s center. Dotty Gilbert was very active in promoting this report. Also Ruth Hamilton (wheelchair bound). Also Maxine Lakin.
    1972 Save Our Mountains Foundation was formed. Norm McClellen (Shamrock Foods) was president. Lou Grubb was also very involved.
    1973 SOM realized they needed to raise funds. Prop 14 was passed in 1975
    SOM is a 503c organization, and as such cannot be political
    PMPC was formed (Phoenix Mountains Preservation Council). It is not 503c, they are very political.
    Early 1980’s 350 tons of trash was hauled out of the North Mountain Visitor Center area.
    Tice McClee – re: South Mountain
    The Sonora Preserve has been added in 2013