Some Phoenix residents grouse about L.A.-style traffic, but in reality there are only a few terrible times and places to be out on the freeway here. Most of the time you’ll find trips even to the far corners of the Valley reasonably efficient. Ditto for the main east-west arteries, though of course they get more crowded during rush hour.
MAIN ARTERIES & STREETS: I-10 runs to Phoenix from LA and then heads southeast to Tucson. The I-10 is not pleasant during rush hour; don’t, for example, stick your kids in the car in Scottsdale and head for Los Angeles at 4pm. But otherwise traffic moves well. Ariz. 51 (Piestewa Fwy.), “the 51,” heads north from I-10 through the center of east Phoenix to U.S. Loop 101 and is the best north-south route in the city. Ariz. 202 (Red Mountain Fwy.) shoots off east from I-10 and the 51 and is the quickest route to south Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa, and points southeast, the burgeoning “East Valley.”
U.S. Loop 101 circles the top half of the Valley. It can get slow at rush hour over its many miles, but is your best route to the north Scottsdale resorts, Cave Creek, and Carefree. I-17 (Black Canyon Fwy.), “the 17,” runs up the west side of town, connecting Phoenix with Flagstaff, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon. It’s an older truck route and feels narrow and chaotic until you get north of U.S. 101. Residents take the 51 if they can. East of the airport, little-used Ariz. 143 (Hohokam Expwy.) connects Ariz. 202 with I-10.
The vast majority of the Valley’s tourist attractions and major hotels are on the east side of the city, which is to say east of Central Avenue (which runs north from the heart of downtown) in the direction of Scottsdale.
Phoenix and virtually all of its surrounding cities are based on a grid system. On the Scottsdale side of town (east), numbered streets run north and south; on the Phoenix side (west), you have numbered avenues. Every eight streets is a mile—and every mile you have a big street (16th Street, 24th Street, etc.) with only a few exceptions. Scottsdale’s main commercial artery, Scottsdale Road, is where 72nd Street should be. On the west side, the arteries are odd-numbered but on the same eight-street grid: 19th Avenue, 27th Avenue, etc. Two other major arteries are 7th Street and 7th Avenue in central Phoenix, which are respectively a half-mile east and west of Central. Please note: Both use the center turn lane as an extra traffic lane during rush hour—south in the morning, north in the evening. This can be a little nerve-wracking, particularly during winter months when the sun sets early. Left-hand turns at most major intersections are not allowed during these times.
The main east-west commercial arteries in central Phoenix are set a mile apart too: Getting more upscale as you go north, they are McDowell, Thomas, Indian School, and Camelback roads. The city’s major shopping thoroughfare, East Camelback Road, begins at Central with a cluster of stores and nice restaurants, heads east to the tony shopping districts of Biltmore and Arcadia, then curves around its namesake Camelback Mountain to the intersection of Scottsdale Road in central Scottsdale, home to the ever-expanding Scottsdale Fashion Square mall and many other shopping destinations.
An important note for drivers: The high-end suburb of Paradise Valley, centered in the valley behind Camelback Mountain in east Phoenix, has two main through streets, Lincoln Avenue and Tatum Boulevard, which is where 48th Street should be. Traffic laws in this small ritzy community are implacably enforced with a network of cameras, and tickets are pricey. Follow the locals, who drive no more than 5 miles over the speed limit.
In the East Valley, a well-laid-out grid system of freeways will get you where you want to go. Secondary highways in the Valley include the Beeline Highway (Ariz. 87), which starts at the east end of Ariz. 202 (Red Mountain Fwy.) in Mesa; it’s the scenic route to Payson and the Mogollon Rim, and ultimately the Petrified Forest National Monument and other sites in the state’s northeast corner. Grand Avenue (U.S. 60), just about the only diagonal street in the entire Valley, starts downtown and heads due northwest to Sun City, Wickenburg, and ultimately, Las Vegas.
FINDING AN ADDRESS: Central Avenue, which runs north to south through downtown Phoenix, is the starting point for all east-and-west street numbering. Washington Street, also in downtown Phoenix, is the starting point for north and south numbering. The key thing to remember: North-to-south numbered streets are to be found on the east side of the city, while north-to-south numbered avenues will be found on the west. In other words, W. Camelback Road will intersect with numbered avenues, while E. Camelback Road will intersect with numbered streets. Odd-numbered addresses are on the south and east sides of streets, while even-numbered addresses are on the north and west sides of streets.
Most tourist sites are on the north and east sides of town, so in practice you’re going to be dealing mostly with streets. Keep an eye out for addresses with a numbered avenue or a “west” street name, and make sure you’re going in the right direction. For example, the Arizona Cardinals football stadium and the attached malls are at West Glendale Avenue and 91st Avenue on the far west side of town. That’s a long way from 91st Street!
A Name Change
In 2003, the official name of Phoenix’s Squaw Peak was changed to Piestewa Peak (pronounced Pee-ESS-twa) to honor Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, a member of the Hopi tribe and the first female soldier killed in the Iraq War. The peak in north Phoenix has long been a popular hiking destination. If you hear people referring to both Squaw Peak and Piestewa Peak, it’s one and the same place. Ditto for the Squaw Peak Parkway, Ariz. 51, which is now Piestewa Freeway.
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