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Paseo de Luces:
Downtown Tolleson, Ariz., Redevelopment

Jeffrey Velasquez, RLA, ASLA, and Denise Dunlop, ASLA
J2 Engineering & Environmental Design, Phoenix

Tolleson, Arizona's main street, Van Buren Street, was four lanes of two-way traffic and a median turn lane with little shade and few pedestrian accommodations. The design team put Van Buren Street on a road diet. The roadway thinned to two-lanes separated by a median of pavers. The road diet allowed the addition of bike lanes, on-street parallel parking, shorter crosswalk distances and wider sidewalks.

J2 Engineering & Environmental Design, LLC was the prime design consultant for a one-mile urban revitalization project that set out to create a true sense of place for downtown Tolleson, Arizona. The objective was to develop a pedestrian-friendly destination that would serve as a long-term economic driver for the community. The J2 Team and city staff focused on the principles of economic, cultural and environmental sustainability to develop an environment that reflects the city's history, culture and spirit.

The Community
Tolleson, Arizona is a community of just 7,000 people located 11 miles west of downtown Phoenix. Historically, Tolleson was a farming community, once known as the "Vegetable Center of the World." It was located along the old Yuma Highway (now Van Buren Street). The quaint downtown was a central hub of activity and heart of the community. However, construction of Interstate 10, an east-west thoroughfare running just to the north of downtown Tolleson, effectively bypassed Tolleson's central hub, a common story for many smaller American communities. As urban sprawl grew throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area, the surrounding farm fields were slowly annexed and developed by other communities.


An existing drainage basin was adapted for a community green space. The turf is 'Midiron' hybrid bermudagrass. Extension turfgrass specialists consider bermudagrass the best overall adapted grass for the low desert valleys of Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma, particularly adaptive to high temperatures and shallow soil conditions. It also stands up to heavy use.

Through the latter part of the 20th Century, Tolleson developed into a commercial distribution center via rail lines and trucking. Today, many fortune 500 companies have regional distribution centers in Tolleson. Through the years this agrarian community slowly evolved into a small urbanized municipality, but was able to maintain the original spirit of community. Tollesons' main street, Van Buren Street, was a wide 5-lane asphalt highway with very little shade or pedestrian accommodations. The downtown lacked new development. The city began exploring ideas for revitalizing the downtown. In 2011 the city selected the team of J2 Engineering & Environmental Design and Dibble Engineering to evaluate concepts and a feasibility plan for the downtown redevelopment.


Centered underneath the fabric shade structure is an interactive water feature (Vortex) of spouting water jets lit by programmable LEDs.

Project Approach
City staff and the design team realized any revitalization effort needed to build upon the city's rich history, tradition and culture, but also include a wide, publically owned right-of-way (mostly asphalt paving) and available open space in the downtown. The team was determined to develop a unique sense of place for the downtown. The approach needed to include extensive public outreach. This resulted in numerous interviews, presentations and charrettes with a wide variety of Tolleson residents, business owners, local historians, elders, students--including a teen council, and the mayor and city council.

A vital factor was the long-term economic health of the city. Because downtown redevelopment needed to be a catalyst for long-term growth, the project was co-managed on the city side by Paul Gilmore, city engineer, and Paul Magallanez, city economic development director. The team recognized a cohesive blend of engineering, economic development and placemaking would be critical to the project's long-term success.


The barren Tollson sidewalks along Van Buren Street ranged from 4-6' wide. The new sidewalks are 15 to 22' wide. The sidewalk width increases to 28' wide at the two intersection 'bump-out' corners (N 94th Street and Van Buren Street pictured) to reduce crosswalk lengths. The crosswalks are colored stamped asphalt with a reflective coating to reduce surface temperatures up to 22 degrees lower than the roadway paving. The extra sidewalk width makes room for 'Smoothie' Cascalote accent trees and custom bike racks (a bus stop is nearby).

A "typical streetscape" was not the desired end product. The goal was to revitalize and transform the downtown, but also to develop a meaningful destination brand and image. The team worked with local firm Urias Communications to assist in creating a branding strategy. The result was the birth of "Paseo de Luces"--the "Promenade of Lights." This title, which reflects the strong Hispanic culture prevalent in Tolleson, was central to the overall project's development.

Design Solutions
The design team incorporated a "road diet" to Van Buren Street that balanced vehicular, pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit traffic to develop a safer multimodal, pedestrian-scale downtown. The overall roadway cross section was reduced from 5 lanes to 3 (including the middle turn lane). This transformation provided the space to include the addition of bike lanes, on-street parallel parking, shorter crosswalk distances (via corner "bump-outs"), and wider sidewalks or "pedestrian zones." The sidewalks, ranging from 4 feet to 6 feet wide, did not provide a comfortable pedestrian experience along the Van Buren Street corridor. The design team worked to provide a pedestrian zone that ranged in width from 15 feet to 22 feet wide. In areas where bump-outs were designed at intersection corners to reduce crosswalk length, these pedestrian zones increased to as much as 28 feet wide to accommodate placemaking and public art features.


The design team and the city of Tolleson worked closely with the West Valley Arts Council's Gallery 37 program to implement the Paseo de Arte program. The custom sculptures, wayfinding signage and monument designs were produced by E2 Innovations, Inc. A December 2014 block party kicked off the grand opening of Tolleson's new downtown streetscape. The 'kiosk' artworks all have tiered gabions with river rock. Each sculpture has a labeled theme: "Family Tree" (night shot), "Evolving" (near seated man) and "Unity." In March 2015 the artwork received the Governor's Art Award.

The pedestrian zone along the corridor incorporated a variety of social seating scenarios, custom tiled coffee tables, signage, wayfinding, custom bike racks, space for on-street dining, seat walls, and pedestrian and roadway LEDs.

The dynamic paving is concrete unit pavers with a bold pattern that symbolize the spirit of Tolleson. During the multiple stakeholder meetings the character of the city and its people was frequently described as "strong", "generous" and "loving." The stakeholders recognized the backbone of the community had been and remained the men who worked hard for their families to provide them with a better life. They also recognized that the women of the community, through their love and generosity, were the fabric that kept families and community together. Those words and themes evolved into the paving design for the Paseo de Luces corridor. The strong, vibrant paving design represents the men of the community. To complete the representation there are nine elegant yet spirited medallions located along the streetscape to represent the women of Tolleson. The medallions reflect aspect of Hispanic culture that continues to be prevalent and celebrated in Tolleson. Other critical elements of the project included open space improvements, a central plaza and water feature with flush-mounted jets; an illumiated shade structure; a dense street tree program with structural soil system connecting the tree grates; tree lighting; a downtown Wi-Fi network; vending kiosks as new business incubators; a streetscape sound system; roadway and pedestrian LED lighting with accent banners; freeway signage; and branding for the downtown district. At the crosswalks, a stamped and colored asphalt treatment was employed to replicate the themed sidewalk unit pavers and pattern. The asphalt crosswalk has a reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 22 degrees lower than the adjacent roadway paving.

The branding component of the project, much like the themed aesthetic elements, was inspired and based upon the many interviews and workshops held by the city and design team during the public outreach stage. An extensive creative process was undertaken, led by Urias Communications, to capture the essence of the Downtown story - and the name "Paseo de Luces", or "Path of Lights" was selected. The metaphor was emblematic of the community's value on education, mentoring, and the enhancement of its youth through the decades. The young people of Tolleson had always been encouraged to seek a path of education and enlightenment by the older generations. In addition, "Paseo de Luces" was also seen as reflective of the courageous step that the city was taking to enhance its downtown - and the new path that was being envisioned for its revitalization. And finally, the city and the design team literally wanted "light" to be a key component of the aesthetic experience at night in the downtown. This desire led to the dazzling LED display at the central plaza water feature and shade structure; the intricate LEDs at each of the wayfinding elements and entry monuments; the LED festoon lighting over the roadway; and the year-round LED twinkle lights provided to each tree along the corridor.


The new sidewalks incorporated 42,000 sq. ft. of concrete unit pavers (Pavestone) with an Aztec influenced pattern. The 2.375" thick pavers were installed over a 6-8" thick compacted base stone, and 1" of sand. The tapered steel light poles (Cem-Tec Corp.) have a 'Drylac' metallic powdercoat finish (Tiger Coatings) and decorative arms. The street and pedestrian 'Oden' LED luminaires are from Visionaire Lighting. The primary street trees are 'Red Push' Pistacia chinensis.

Art Program
An exciting art program was included in the project that reflects the city's proud culture, heritage and traditions. The design team and the city of Tolleson worked with the West Valley Arts Council's (WVAC) Gallery 37 Program that works with local young, aspiring artists who are mentored by a master artist to design, develop and install permanent public art. The students attended several stakeholder meetings to gather information about the history, culture, and traditions of the community that inspired exquisite design ideas that evolved into seven vibrant works of art. This outstanding teamwork resulted in the "Paseo de Arte" (art walk).


The entry monument is a powdercoated steel structure, a 23' tall frame with a 33' cantilevered cross beam. The fully enclosed 6" deep reverse pan channel lettering is finished in a 'silver star' metallic. Accent medallions and the Paseo de Luces logo are directly printed onto a translucent acrylic substrate. The illuminated lines are LEDs within 1" by .5" steel channels and meant to represent crop rows. The monument base has a river rock veneer. The date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) are uplit with LEDs and have LED twinkle wrap lights. The tree grates and trench grates are from Ironsmith.

Role of the Landscape Architects:
The multidisciplinary design team was lead and managed by J2's landscape architects from planning and conceptual design through final design and construction. This design team structure ensured that the economic development, placemaking, pedestrian scale and aesthetic aspects of the project would be addressed with the same attention and focus as the engineering aspects. This blend of multi-disciplinary teamwork - including the vital day-to-day city staff involvement - coupled with the robust public outreach efforts, resulted in this exciting iconic public space. The Paseo de Luces project was constructed by Valley Rain Construction, using the construction manager at risk delivery method. The project opened to the public in December, 2014, with a closed-street block party that featured live entertainment on two stages.


The custom wayfinding directional signage has aluminum flat bar panels on two sides. It incorporates the powdercoated steel frame and decorative lines of the entry monument. The structure stands 13'9" tall. Like the entry monument this signage also incorporates bands of LEDs. The base is a 3'8" tall, 2' wide decorative woven steel gabion filled in with river rock. The top of the base houses the electrical junction box for the LEDs, connected by flexible steel conduit.


Downtown Tolleson Redevelopment Team
Project Cost: $10.5 Million
Client: City of Tolleson, Arizona:
Reyes Medrano, City Manager;
John Paul Lopez, City Assistant Manager
Paul Magallanez, Economic Development Director
Paul Gilmore, City Engineer
Jason Earp, Public Works Director
Dale Crandall, Building Inspector
Frank Aponte, Field Operations Superintendent
Randy Babchuck, Parks & Recreation Manager
Freddy Cavines, Executive Assistant
Prime Consultant, Project Management, Landscape Architecture, Stormwater Engineering:
J2 Engineering and Environmental Design
Roadway and Traffic Engineering: Dibble Engineering
Lighting & Electrical Engineering: Wright Engineering
Stakeholder outreach, Public Involvement:
Makinen Professional Services (MakPro)
Wayfinding, Monumentation, & Signage: Lisa Ranzenberger
Planning, Zoning District Code Document: ReSeed Advisors
Structural Engineering: Structural Grace
Branding, Marketing, and Public Relations:
Urias Communication
Geotechnical Engineering:
Ricker, Atkinson, McBee, Morman & Associates (RAMM)
Construction Estimating: Marc Taylor, Inc.
Gallery 37 Students and Artists: West Valley Art Council
General Contractor: Valley Rain Construction
Roadway Subcontractor: Hunter Contracting Company
Electrical Subcontractor: Kimbrell Electric
Signage, Wayfinding, and Art Construction: E2 Innovations


The site artwork includes 9 streetscape medallions with Hispanic culture motifs. All farm workers of Tolleson's past had to work in the sun, so the sun-stamped concrete was a way to express this important part of Tolleson's past.

Site Amenities / Manufacturers
Bus Shelters: Tolar Manufacturing
Chairs and Litter Receptacles: Landscape Forms
Concrete Unit Pavers: Pavestone
Custom Artwork, Monuments, and Signage: E2 Innovations, Inc.
Custom Concrete Planters: Kornegay Design
Flag Poles: L.P.H. Bolander & Sons
Irrigation: Rainbird, Cresline West, Lasco
Lighting: Visionaire, Cem-Tec Manufacturing, Accurate Electric, Lumascape and Solid State Luminaires Manufacturing
Porcelain Talavera Tile: Latin Accents, Inc.
Shade Structure: International Tension Structures
Stamped Colored Asphalt Paving: Decorative Paving Solutions
Street Banners: Big Ben Graphics
Structural Soil: CU-Structural Soil / AZ Best Materials
Tree Grates & Trench Grates - Ironsmith
Tree Lighting: Holiday Lighting Company
Vending Kiosks: Merchandising Frontiers, Inc.
Water Bollard and Drinking Fountain: Most Dependable Fountains
Water Feature: Vortex

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November 13, 2019, 7:16 pm PDT

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