Making Boulder streets safe is an issue of equity

My comments below to Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board on June 8th, 2015.

Boulder’s debate on reconfiguring its streets is centered around how we use our scarcest resource – land – for transportation. We need a just transportation system that gives equal opportunity to all users regardless of wealth, age, or physical ability. Making Boulder streets safe is an issue of equity.

We need increased equity of space. Biking and walking use land much less intensely than automobiles to move people around. And Boulder’s auto-oriented street design prioritizes peak-hour traffic, leaving our streets less safe and inefficient the other twenty hours a day.

We need increased equity of safety. The benefits of reconfiguring our streets flow across all users, but particularly help the young, the old, and the less confident who walk or bike. People in Boulder should not have to own a $25,000 piece of property to transport around town safely.

We need increased equity of affordability. Housing is the most expensive part of living in Boulder, but transportation often consists of the next highest cost. We must provide safer means to use varied modes of transportation so that Boulder families with less income can consider making these tradeoffs.

As someone who advocates for getting more people on bikes, our request for equity is simple: one safe travel lane in each direction through direct routes in our city.


Why I Support Right-sizing Boulder Streets with Living Laboratory

Boulder’s debate on reconfiguring its streets centers around how we use our scarcest resource – land – for transportation. We need a just transportation system that gives equal opportunity to all users regardless of wealth, age, or physical ability. I’m writing in support of right-sizing all four streets in Phase 2 of Living Labs.

Comments on the particular corridor plans:

Folsom Street / Iris Avenue:
As higher-trafficked corridors, both streets represent a challenge to right-size. However, Folsom and Iris also show the most benefit as central arterial roads in Boulder which function with few or no other direct routes to use on a bicycle. A right-sized Folsom could become easily the best north-south bicycle route in the city and a beautiful street.

Looking at the analysis for each corridor, I believe the staff recommendations are appropriate: to maintain both turn lanes at Iris/Broadway, and provide a limited treatment on Folsom between Canyon and Arapahoe. If the Living Laboratory project on Folsom is successful, I’d like to see further discussion on how capital projects may improve the corridor between Canyon and Arapahoe.

55th street off-peak (Saturday June 6th around 2:30PM).

63rd Street / 55th Street:
63rd Street through Gunbarrel and 55th Street through East Boulder are a different usage case than Folsom/Iris, as each traverse industrial/office park zoned areas, but are quite similar themselves. Both have substantial (but workable to right-size) peak-hour automobile traffic, but very low off-peak and weekend automobile traffic. Please see my attached photos/links of each corridor below, taken on Saturday June 6th around 2:30PM. At this time, the cars in view were approximately equivalent to the number of lanes (only 3 to 5 on the entire stretch of the corridor), which suggests highly overbuilt roads on these corridors a majority of the time.

63rd street off-peak (Saturday June 6th around 2:30PM).

For 55th street particularly, I have read the many concerned letters from the TAB packet which center around the train crossing. A train crosses 4-6 times per day, occasionally falling during peak periods. Many drivers understandably complain about the delay when a train passes and fear that right-sizing the corridor would make the delay worse.

But the crux of complaints are due to waiting for the train itself, which is separate from right-sizing. Yes, right-sizing will marginally increase the amount of wait time due to a train crossing. But the delay will still be primarily due to the train, not a change in the street configuration. Let’s not forego ways to make great streets by only designing for peak periods, and let’s not forego even the *testing* of this project for a rare occurrence.

We cannot build successful streets by compromising their design to address an edge case (train crossing) of an edge case (peak-hour traffic). Right-sizing these streets now will help steer a walkable, bikeable vision for these corridors into the future.

Final Thoughts

Based on the analysis from staff, I urge the Transportation Advisory Board and City Council to move ahead with right-sizing on all of the proposed streets. We need to re-emphasize that these are pilot projects, and readily embrace public feedback to continue improving these streets over time.

We need right-sizing projects in order to build a functional on-street bike grid covering the city. These four corridors will provide a great base from which to build an on-street system with powerful network effects: the more streets we can connect, the more useful the system becomes for the typical person.

Right-sizing is critical for the city to extend beyond Boulder’s current plateau as a “confident cyclist” bike city; we can no longer rely only on indirect routes or multi-use paths to get us there. And if successful, we may even reduce the current load on our path system to allow slower, more leisurely purposes while the on-street bike network functions as designed – to efficiently and safely move people where they need to go.

I leave you with this image and quote: