Is Boulder Colorado Making Progress in Implementing its Transportation Plan?

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 1, 2016

I have served for over two years on Boulder Colorado’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). As I have noted in the past at TAB meetings, I believe Boulder’s transportation staff is extremely knowledgeable regarding transportation issues. They mostly “get it,” in my opinion.

However, I believe they have been consistently quite timid in their recommendations to Council, and a recent “progress update” issued by staff is an example of that. I believe staff is putting too much of a happy, optimistic face on the “progress” we are making on the TMP, and they are asking TAB to confirm that to Council. I, for one, do not wish to “confirm” that.

I believe staff is doing this because they are not being given PERMISSION by Council, supervisors, or citizens to offer effective, meaningful recommendations or findings.

There are four main categories in which communities can be effective in achieving transportation objectives (such as promoting transportation choices, reducing excessive SOV travel, promoting safety and quality of life, promoting environmental and financial sustainability, reducing GHG emissions, etc.). I call them the “Four ‘S’s”:

  1. Reallocate Space from motor vehicles to places for people (for example, repurposing travel lanes, reducing travel lane widths, shrinking intersection and parking lot sizes).
  2. Calm (reduce Speeding by) motor vehicles.
  3. Reduce the massive Subsidies motorists unfairly enjoy.
  4. Shorten distances to destinations.

Because of its wealth and because it is relatively easy politically, Boulder has a long history of spending money to provide infrastructure and services to achieve TMP objectives. But that approach is only able to achieve relatively trivial gains — particularly compared to the four items I mention above. As an aside, much of Boulder’s historic achievements regarding transportation are due to “self-selection,” where many people who ALREADY want to bike, walk or use transit move to Boulder because they have heard Boulder is a good place to travel in those ways. Relatively high levels of non-car travel in Boulder are much less due to the facilities and services provided by Boulder. Part of this self-selection is due to Boulder being a “college town.” College towns throughout the nation have relatively high non-car travel levels.

If we consider the above — and how little Boulder has done to implement any of the four effective items I mention above — it is clear that Boulder is either standing still or losing ground with regard to achieving TMP objectives. For example…

  1. Boulder is mostly failing to reallocate space from motor vehicles. The Folsom Street right-sizing (called a “road diet” in most of the nation) and other Living Lab projects have been rolled back. Boulder retains and in some instances continues to install arapahoe-in-boulder-codouble-left turn lanes at intersections. Boulder continues to maintain a large number of overly wide streets and travel lanes for cars. Boulder continues to require excessive amounts of parking space for motor vehicles as a condition for development approval.
  1. Boulder continues to avoid funding and implementing a traffic calming program, which means that speeding and safety remain problems on many of Boulder’s overly wide streets and overly wide intersections and overly generous turning radii at intersections. Staff recently noted that there is no evidence that there are safety problems on Boulder streets due to speeding (?), which suggests that calming is more of a “quality of life” matter than a safety matter. I believe that is misleading. First, I think that the large quality of life benefits that calming provides in and of itself is a justification for re-starting the calming program. I believe a large number of citizens continue to request calming for valid reasons (safety for their children, for example). I believe calming is an effective way to reduce aggressive opposition to development in Boulder (because much of the opposition to new development is due to the perceived danger and speed of new car trips delivered by new development). I would note that the chance of injury or death goes up exponentially as motor vehicle speeds go above 25 to 35 mph. I also believe that even if there is no data showing that calming will reduce injuries and deaths in Boulder, the PERCIEVED danger due to excessive car speeds is reducing the number of bicycling and walking and transit trips in Boulder.
  1. Boulder continues to mostly avoid imposing fair user fees for transportation. User fees for parking and roads are a powerful way to encourage non-SOV travel and induce a lot of walking, bicycling and transit use. It is also an excellent way to raise much-needed transportation revenue. User fees can introduce a lot of fairness into cost of living in Boulder, as bicyclists, transit users, and pedestrians will be subsidizing motorists less (they subsidize motorists by paying more taxes and paying more for goods and services — such costs would be substantially lower if motorists paid more of their own way).
  1. Boulder continues to do very little to promote more compact development (which shortens travel distances), and arguably is losing ground due to the amount of development which occurs in outlying “bedroom community” towns.

The result of not implementing the four items I mention above is that Boulder GHG emissions are probably stable/increasing, safety for peds and bicyclists (particularly for the canaries in a coal mine: the “interested but concerned” seniors, children and women) remains poor (which means efforts toward a “Vision Zero” for traffic fatalities is mostly lip service), the number of motor vehicle trips remains very high (well over 60-80 percent of all trips), transportation choice is not noticeably improving, quality of life in Boulder is stable or worsening when it comes to factors related to the transportation sector (such as high noise levels and lack of charming, human-scaled spaces), and financial costs for transportation remain unsustainably high and getting higher.

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Filed under Politics, Town and Transportation Planning

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