Changes to Pecos intersection underway after cyclist fatality

Phoenix traffic engineers are modifying a popular cycling road in Ahwatukee where a car fatally struck a Valley cyclist.

Pecos Road near 17th Avenue in Awhatukee once required riders to merge from a bike lane that breaks off and changes positions in the road just as a right-turn lane for cars appears near 17th Avenue. The design caused cars and bikes to criss-cross in front or behind each other. 

Now the westbound bike lane at 17th Avenue has been moved from between the traffic lane and the right-hand turn lane to the right curb. Green pavement markings in the bike lane have been applied, and the speed limit has been reduced to 45 mph on westbound Pecos Road about a fourth of a mile east of 17th Avenue.

“I was out for the first time in three months with a couple of buddies, and I had not ridden the intersection in either direction post-changes, so I was seeing it for the first time,” said Steve Elwell, a member of a group of concerned cyclists and residents called the Pecos Action Group who worked to make the changes. Elwell is also the founder of SteveBay, a local Facebook group for buying and selling cycling-related gear.

“It was, in a word, flawless,” Elwell said. “I did not hesitate, nor did I have any fear of a collision at the intersection. It was obvious what I needed to do as a cyclist and I was very comfortable in doing so.”

The intersection is the site where Dwayne “Highly” Falkner, 60, was killed in November by a reportedly intoxicated driver as he was attempting to cross a right-turn lane to continue westbound on Pecos Road near 17th Avenue, police said.

Falkner, who was an avid cyclist, mountain bike racer and philanthropist, was halfway into the right lane when the driver, 24-year-old Diego Ivan Venegas, hit him.

Police arrested Venegas, 24, on Christmas Eve after toxicology tests from day of the crash found heroin, morphine, codeine and marijuana in his blood stream, according to police reports.

Phoenix city traffic engineers, officials and the Pecos Action Group worked together on changes to make cycling safter near the intersection until it is replaced by the upcoming South Mountain Freeway, which is due for completion in 2020.

According to the Pecos Action Group, further improvements agreed upon with the city include :

  • Designating Pecos Road west of Desert Foothills Parkway as a bike lane in both directions, including pavement markings and vertical signposts (partially completed).
  • Installing radar speed feedback signs in both directions on Pecos Road near the approach to 17th Avenue (ordered, not installed).
  • Installing two new street lights on the north side of Pecos Road on the approach to 17th Avenue (city changed plans saying expense not justified due to new freeway, Pecos Action Group asked for more information).
  • Paving the shoulder on the north side of Pecos Road on the approach to 17th Avenue (city changed plans saying expense not justified due to new freeway, Pecos Action Group asked for more information).
  • Repairing longitudinal cracks along the entire length of Pecos Road (in process).
  • Trimming of overgrown vegetation along entire length of Pecos Road (scheduled for completion this week).

“It’s satisfying to see the results, but also a bit overwhelming to realize how much can be done to increase cyclist safety,” said Joe Struttman, a leading member of the Pecos Action Group. “It’s a tragedy that it took the life of Highly Falkner to get a fundamentally flawed intersection changed to a safer design. The positives are that it has inspired our core group of individuals – the Pecos Action Group – to organize and pursue other projects to help communities increase cyclist safety and mobility.”

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee, said he pledges to keep working with community members like those who participated in the Pecos Action Group to “identify and improve situations that have the potential for another tragedy.”

“These improvements are meant to heighten awareness of all traffic to the intersection and eliminate any confusion that may have existed as to the flow of bicycle traffic at the intersection,” DiCiccio said. “It is my feeling that this is only a start, and going forward the city needs to work to identify and correct those streets that present a danger to motor and pedestrian traffic.”

Photos by Dan Coley, Joe Struttman and Fox10

Sarah Muench