Published by the Colorado Daily 3/5/92
THE TIGHTROPE by Evan Ravitz
What is the future of Boulder? As the area with the eighth-highest
per capital car registration in the nation (American Demographics
Magazine, 12/3/84), are we driving our once "laid-back"
city into the hole that is suffocating Los Angeles? We who regularly
climb the foothills above town know that "Denver's"
famous Brown Cloud actually extends as far as the eye can see-
from Golden to Fort Collins- about half the dirty days of winter.
Does Boulder deserve its reputation as E-Town, or is it really
Boulder also has a reputation as a bicycling town- more world class cyclists live here than any other city in the world. There are about 100,000 bicycles for 85,000 people, yet only 10% of us use our bikes for transportation.
At the February 4th City Council study session on the proposed Downtown Plan, the stickiest issue was a North-South bike path to link the Broadway and Creek Paths to the Mall and North Boulder. The Indian Peaks Group of the Sierra Club, the CU Environmental Center Board and Bolder Bicycle Commuters' preferred plan is to close 13th Street from Walnut to Spruce Street to motor vehicles, and build a pedestrian Mall there with a bike path down the center.
These groups consider the '13th-14th Street couplet' option favored by downtown businesses unacceptable- this is essentially the status quo, with a few signs and perhaps a reversal of traffic flow. It doesn't work- about half the cyclists ride the 'wrong' way South on 13th or the sidewalk, rather than take the 14th St. Detour. At a City-sponsored Open House in September, more people favored the closure option than all others put together- 57%.
Councilman Greenlee posed the best question of the night: Are we just connecting up the bike path or are we trying to encourage alternate modes of travel? If the latter, he said, let's see a package of incentives.
Here's my list:
1. Close 13th St downtown, and create obstructions every several blocks further north to discourage through traffic while encouraging cycling and permitting resident auto access. Neighbors have been complaining of drivers using 13th as an alternate to Broadway and speeding. Eventually this pattern could extend the length of 13th, making a Bike Parkway from Chautauqua Park past Beach Park and connecting via the Broadway Bike Path to Central Park and North Boulder Rec Center.
2. Permit cyclists to treat a red light as a stop sign, and a stop sign as a yield sign. This would legalize the natural behavior of cyclists in avoiding the crush of traffic and pollution at intersections, as well as provide an incentive to cycle. Municipal Court Judge Richard Hanson supports this- he says any law that can't get 85% voluntary compliance is wrong. It is noteworthy that Mr. Hanson bicycled regularly until the last few years- he says it's too dangerous for him now.
3. Lower speed limits by 5 mph citywide- a further incentive to not drive. Why race to the next red light anyhow?
4. Change City financial priorities. An example is the Department of Public Works 1992 maintenance budget request for $450,000 for medians versus only $191,000 for bikeways and $142,000 for sidewalks. A median is largely a poor excuse to install an expensive sprinkler system to water Kentucky bluegrass, the pavement and pesky cyclists. $450,000 could free the on-street paths of gravel and ice and encourage winter cycling, as well as provide needed signs and fix dangerous areas.
5. Change City law to limit parking built for new construction instead of forcing builders to pave plenty of the paradise left here for parking lots. San Diego and Portland both set maximum parking versus our minimum requirements.
6. Get the University to discourage new students from bringing cars- CU has just spent 8.4 million dollars on 2 huge garages, while CSU in Fort Collins plans to phase out campus driving altogether.
7. Free the City Bicycle Program to really advocate for cyclists: Why must they remain neutral in the downtown struggle while the Planning Department and Downtown Management Commission advocate the 'couplet', even though closure much better implements Planning's own 9 strategies for improving downtown?
Can Boulder avoid suffocation and gridlock? You bet- in a single year bus ridership went up 42% with the Eco-Pass and Student Pass programs. But this still represents only 3% of all transportation 'trips' here, while cyclists already comprise 10%. A Harris poll in 1990 showed 10 times more Americans would cycle if facilities were improved. Seattle, a huge rainy city, is doing it. Compact, dry, young and athletic Boulder should too!
We need to work together- cyclists, pedestrians, roller-bladers, wheel-chair users and skate-boarders must become allies and stop fighting over the crumbs while cars hoard the cake, space-wise.
Now is the time to write letters to newspapers and the City Council, which has a study session on Alternate Modes Feb 25 and one on the 13th St issue March 31. Please also attend upcoming hearings of the Downtown Management Commission, the Downtown Design Advisory Board, the Planning Board, and finally, City Council hearings in April. You can always talk to me at 444-3596.
Evan has 2 bikes and no car. He looks forward to the day when he'll have more time to walk.