Driving in Tucson, Tucson
Driving around Tucson I must admit that I didn't have a lot of problems with finding a parking lot for my car. Surely it's not so easy to find a free parking in a downtown (there are parkometers with limited parking time at daytime in business days), but there are a lot of parkings around Tucson Convention Center. Look at my picture and follow the link below.
You will have to pay for parking at the University of Arizona; but it is not too expensive. The 2nd Street Garage is centrally located and costs no more than $7 for a full day. I think I paid $4 for about 3 hours. Remember to go to the cashier and pay the fee before returning to your car.
Many cities in the US have "secret" freeways that start from almost nothing, go to almost nothing and are normally not well signed and known only to locals. New Orleans has its Earhart Expressway, LA has its Marina Freeway and Tucson has its Barraza-Aviation Parkway.
The highway was originally supposed to be Interstate 710, running as a loop along the Union Pacific Railroad around the eastern side of Downtown. But, like several other Tucson area freeway proposals in the '60's, this ultimately died, but, unlike the others, was partially constructed.
The highway is signed as Arizona 210 East/West and begins on Alvernon Way about 2 miles north of I-10 and ends at Broadway just east of Downtown. An extension to Sixth Street is planned, but it may be twenty years before this happens.
This is also a weird freeway. The speed limit is 55 on most of it and there are several full interchanges, but there are also several traffic lights and grade intersections. But, why I mention it is because, since the exits on I-10 are now closed, it represents a viable and sometimes easier way of getting from the southeast part of the city to Downtown and beyond. And, the best part is that there's rarely much traffic on it.
- There is a rigid grid system which sometimes causes streets to change names suddenly. In actuality, the street has moved over enough to take the name of the next street over.
- The signs on the traffic signals have the cross street name but also the upcoming block number for the street you're on. These are very useful as the cross block is usually consistent and displaying it would be unnecessary.
- Unlike most other cities, the majority of Tucson's left turn signals are LAGGING (after the green). Therefore, you are expected to pull into the intersection during the green when making a left turn to wait for the signal and then go when the green goes red and/or when traffic is clear.
- Tucson also has right turn signals which, when flashing a yellow arrow, indicate that it is safe to turn right after looking for pedestrians (the opposing street has a green left arrow at this point). When it turns red, you can still turn right after stopping and looking for traffic and pedestrians.
- It is LEGAL in Arizona to turn left on red at a one-way on one-way street.
- School Zones: 15mph signs are placed in the road. Upon reaching this sign, slow to 15 (very strict and heavily enforced). Upon reaching the crosswalk (NOT the other sign as many would believe), speed back up to the regular speed.
- Crosswalks: Signaled crosswalks are popular in town. On SOLID red, stop and wait. On FLASHING red, stop at the crosswalk and, if no pedestrians are crossing, continue on. Yellow is treated like a yellow light.
- Bike Lanes: Watch out for bikes. Tucson is a bike-friendly city and a lot of people ride them. At a red light when you are in the right lane and not make a right turn, MOVE TO THE LEFT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. It is legal in Tucson to use the bike lane as a right turn lane for up to 50 feet from the intersection WHEN there is no bike present in that lane. If you're too far right and people behind you can't get by or are turning right and don't use the bike lane, you will definitely make people behind you angry.
The dynamics of Tucson driving change quite a bit throughout the year. The summer is absolutely the quietest as this is when the majority of the UA students are back in Phoenix, California or the Midwest and the snowbirds have not yet flown in.
The beginning of school (mid- to late-August) is one of the more hectic. From about 9am-4pm it's best to avoid the university area completely as the students are actually going to class on a regular basis and many of the parents are still in town hopelessly roaming the city.
Starting sometime in early November or late October the snowbirds begin to arrive. You'll suddenly see a much greater amount of out-of-state license plates on the surface streets (Alaska, Alberta, South Dakota, Minnesota and Ohio are all fairly common). These cars are typically driven by retirees who typically drive like...well, retirees. Don't get frustrated with them, they don't mean any harm and do help our economy. If you insist on cutting people off, wait for a California plate as they're the ones who drove up our housing prices.
In February, the gem show folks arrive. The west side of Downtown especially becomes more congested, but much of the city's general traffic absorbs the increase.
Otherwise, Tucson is a very easy city to get around.
Wear good glasses, enlarge my picture and look at this strange (for me ;-) traffic signs with left-bended arrows. It's written "center lane" above and "only" below the arrows. So, center lane on a street is designated ONLY for left turn traffic. It does mean that this center lane is for both directions but exclusively for vehicles which are going to turn left ----> don't drive this lane otherwise. Is it clear?
I was driving around Tucson just before (and after) sunset on business day. Streets were mostly empty or almost empty. It seems that rush hours were a few hours earlier. As I know they usually work 8am - 5pm.
Tucson is located on Interstate 10 (I-10)
I drove from Yuma I-8 and than I-10 towards Tucson (both were of two lanes in each direction). I took exit 236 in Marana that is 23 miles (37 km, 30 min.) northwest of Tucson. I drove southward to Saguaro National Park (western part) first. Then I drove to Tucson.
Driving without wearing your seat belt is forbidden in Arizona.
One of the first things you notice when getting to Tucson are the roads. 90% of driving will be in-city driving.
Tucson is a big fan of medians so you will constantly be doing u-turns to get to where you want to go. Be aware of others who may be veering in front of you as well. This can be a little jarring until you get used to it.
Another thing to be aware of is the traffic signals. When you are in the left turn lane it can seem like you will never be able to turn left. Remember that the turning arrow will come AFTER the regular green, giving you time at that point to turn. There are a few intersections that don't follow this standard, but most do.