Why Did the Boulder Road Diet Project Stir Up So Much Opposition?

By Dom Nozzi

January 18, 2016

I’m not sure that the City handled the road diet project on Folsom Street (called “Right Sizing” in Boulder) wrongly. A huge number of cities all over the nation handled their road diet projects much, much worse than Boulder and still made them happen.

I think an important problem in Boulder is that there are a large number of wealthy people in Boulder (who therefore have an enormous sense of entitlement – they have a RIGHT to do whatever they are doing!). Also, many in Boulder are very intelligent, which means that people are smart enough to intelligently tell local government why something won’t work. In less educated communities, the arguments tend to be dumber and therefore easier to disregard.

I think Boulder has also been making a huge mistake, through its plans and rhetoric over the past several years, to suggest that bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements can happily coexist with making motorists happy (the idea that it is a arapahoe-in-boulder-co“win-win” game). It is NOT a win-win. It is zero-sum. When conditions are made better for driving, conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit always worsen – largely because improving conditions for cars means oversizing streets and intersections, and
spreading origins and destinations far from each other.

Similarly, Boulder continues to make the awful mistake of stating that it will keep congestion from getting worse. That is an excellent recipe for making cars happy and making non-car travel very unlikely.

Boulder’s reputation for being friendly to bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users comes almost entirely from having a lot of money (due to Boulder’s wealthy population), so the City fools a lot of people into thinking we are discouraging car use by building lots of paths and providing lots of buses. Politically easy to do that. But not effective in reducing car use. If we are talking about effectively getting more people to travel without a car, my mantra is that it is not about providing shiny new toys or techno-wizardry or facilities for those not traveling by car. It is about the Four S’s: Reduce Space (parking and roads) allocated to cars, reduce Speeds cars can travel, reduce the huge Subsidies allocated to those who drive cars, and Shorten the distance one must travel to get to destinations (via compact development).

Boulder does not do much of anything regarding these four tools.

There are a relatively large number in Boulder who bicycle, walk, and use transit (in terms of America, but pathetic when compared to Europe). But the higher numbers are significantly due to self-selection. People who ALREADY like to bicycle, walk, and use transit move here due to the city reputation. Many of those people would be bicycling, walking, and using transit (for utilitarian trips) even if the city provided mediocre sidewalks, buses, and bike paths.

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Filed under Politics, Town and Transportation Planning

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