Phoenix Traffic: What to Know About Driving in the Valley of the Sun
People love Phoenix for a lot of things: the abundance of warmth, year-round outdoor activities, and beautiful sunsets, to name just a few. But when it comes to traffic, Phoenix has a bit of a bad reputation. Here are six reasons why, along with some tips for keeping you and others safe when driving in the area.
#1 A NEED FOR SPEED
For some reason (and not a legal one), Phoenicians drive fast, and many of them drive well over the posted speed limit. This can be true in any part of town and on any type of road, whether it’s a surface street or freeway. People from other parts of the country often remark that the mean streets of Phoenix feel aggressive, scary, and certainly unsafe. Another bad habit around here is red-light running (which is why you’ll see a lot of red light cameras in town).
#2 A COMPLEX FREEWAY SYSTEM
The freeway system in Phoenix is a complicated set of looping, criss-crossing, stacked multi-lane roads and interchanges that add up to almost 1,500 miles. To the uninitiated, navigating these freeways can seem intimidating and overwhelming. Here’s a quick overview of Phoenix-area freeways.
I-10 is a transcontinental route running from California to Florida. Where it cuts through Phoenix, it actually runs north and south through much of the city, which can be a little confusing to both newcomers and natives. It’s also the most heavily traveled freeway. Parts of I-10 through the western most parts of metropolitan Phoenix are referred to as the Papago Freeway, while the sections in the eastern suburbs are known as the Maricopa Freeway.
This interstate was the Valley’s first freeway, and it runs north and south, and enters the Phoenix area from the north as the Black Canyon Freeway. Parts of I-17 are also part of the Maricopa Freeway. This often congested freeway interchanges with multiple others, including I-10 and Loop 101.
U.S. Route 60
Also known as the Superstition Freeway, this east-west route crosses both Pinal and Maricopa counties and the western suburbs of Mesa and Tempe. It intersects with Loop 202, Loop 101, and I-10.
State Route 51
This state route is called the Piestewa Freeway in Phoenix. The short route takes drivers north from the interchange with I-10 and Loop 202, into north Phoenix and Paradise Valley before ending at Loop 101.
State Route 143
The Hohokam Expressway is a very short north-west freeway east of Sky Harbor International Airport.
This loop comprises three freeways: Agua Fria in the northwest, through the cities of Glendale and Peoria; Pima, which runs north-south through Scottsdale; and Price, through Tempe and Chandler.
Three freeway segments also make up this loop: the Red Mountain Freeway connecting parts of Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and Mesa; the Santan Freeway covering the southeast suburbs of Gilbert and Chandler; and the South Mountain Freeway extending from the Ahwatukee suburb of Phoenix to the west and then north, eventually connecting with I-10.
This is the Valley’s newest freeway, and it helps connect areas in the far northwestern tip of the metro area (including Surprise, Peoria, Glendale and northern Phoenix) with I-10.
#3 CONGESTED ROADWAYS
Phoenix is a car-dependent city, and it’s not just the freeways that are packed; surface streets surge with traffic, too. Even though public transportation does exist, its infrastructure was built much later than the earliest population boom, and it just doesn’t provide coverage for this mega sprawling metropolitan area. Even if it did, Phoenicians love their cars.
Evening rush hour in Phoenix can start as early as 2:30 p.m., and morning rush hour can start at 5 a.m. and go past 9 a.m. The influx of people moving to Arizona from out of state started in force in the 1990s, and it hasn’t let up since. The more people move to the area, the more crowded the roads get. Also, thanks to Phoenix having two major interstate highways, semi-trucks are common and add to the business on the roads.
#4 OUT-OF-STATE DRIVERS
Nearly 100,000 people moved to Arizona in 2021. Between those new to the state and our big tourist population, that means we have quite a few drivers in the area who aren’t familiar with our roads.
While Phoenix is known for its dry heat, when a weather system does roll into town, it can be very disruptive to traffic. Rainstorms in particular (and especially in the summer) can be difficult for drivers, because it makes the roads slippery. Dust storms and monsoon action reduce visibility, and for those who aren’t used to driving in these conditions, it can be tricky and even dangerous.
Because Phoenix continues to grow, the network of roads and freeways must be expanded to accommodate the rise of vehicles on the road. It can seem like there’s always construction happening in the Valley, pretty much because there is. Weekends in particular are known for closures, which can clog up surrounding roadways.
Staying Safe in Phoenix Traffic
Check your route in advance. Be prepared for whatever traffic conditions you may encounter by using an app, such as Google or Waze, to let you know in real time if there are any closures, accidents, or heavy traffic patterns.
Don’t rush. Fast driving isn’t safe driving. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
Expect the unexpected. Don’t expect other drivers to be fully familiar with Phoenix driving patterns and roads, and realize that in a city as big as this one, there’s bound to be traffic somewhere, even if you’re not anticipating it.
Have patience. Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt and practice patience as you share the road.
Be careful at intersections. The city has a few notoriously unsafe intersections. Take extra care when navigating these unpredictable spots.
Never drive distracted. Between heavy traffic, stop-and-go situations, and road users other than drivers (such as cyclists and pedestrians), there’s a lot going on. Never use your cell phone or allow yourself to be distracted when behind the wheel.
Drive defensively. Always be alert, scanning the road constantly to be prepared for the maneuvers of other drivers and unpredictable driving situations, so you can prevent accidents.
Another way to stay safe on Phoenix streets and freeways? With expert driving instruction to teach you the rules of the road, and boost your confidence driving in our packed metropolitan area. Learn more about what we offer at Stop and Go Driving School.