Boulder Junction is supposed to be one of the most bike, pedestrian, and transit accessible places in our city: a place where owning a car is optional, and costly structured parking can be purchased a la carte, instead of bundled with every rental unit. It’s also supposed to be a major transit hub for the eastern core of Boulder, which is now building out. Transportation planners are often stymied by “the last mile” — it’s much cheaper and easier to do a few trunk lines than it is to put high frequency transit within a 5 minute walk of most of a city’s population. Planning for people to drive to get to transit means you still require people to own cars, and they still contribute to traffic congestion within the city. They also require exorbitantly expensive or land intensive park-and-ride facilities. For all these reasons, it’s in our best interests to make it as easy as possible for people to combine bikes with transit to solve the last mile problem. One of the best ways to do this is to provide plenty of convenient, secure, sheltered bike parking at major transit hubs — essentially creating a high quality bicycle park-and-ride, at a tiny fraction of the cost and space required for an automobile park-and-ride of the same capacity. This is the idea behind the “Bus-then-Bike” shelters that the City and County of Boulder have been collaborating to install — in Longmont, at the Table Mesa Park-and-Ride, and most recently, at the downtown Boulder transit center, as well as elsewhere. Three more of them are going in elsewhere along the US-36 corridor in the near future. Incredibly, it looks like we’re at risk of failing to do the same thing in Boulder Junction!
A couple of weeks ago a large development dubbed Rêve (“dream” in French) became the first project to get called up by Boulder’s City Council at concept plan review (see the concept book for the project here). Rêve would occupy a 6.7 acre site on the southeast corner of Pearl Parkway and 30th St., just to the west of the Solana apartments. Much of it would extend south beyond the boundaries of the Boulder Junction area. I offered some comments to City Council on the project, as someone who would like to see more human scale, rather than auto-oriented development in Boulder. If we’re going to be able to do that anywhere, it seems like it ought to be Boulder Junction (formerly the Transit Village). Once we get the BRT up and running, it should be highly transit accessible. It’s surrounded by regional employment centers — the expanding east CU campus to the south, the new Googleplex to the east, and who knows what else eventually as the area builds out… or rather, builds in. Also, despite being part of “east” Boulder, Boulder Junction is really quite centrally located within the city as a whole. As I wrote recently both here and in the Daily Camera, I think that if it’s done with a particular focus on the human scale, and with less accommodation than we’re used to for automobiles, development in the area need not have substantial direct impacts on existing residential neighborhoods in the city, in terms of parking spillover, traffic congestion, and viewsheds.
I’m not opposed to the overall intensity of the development. In fact, I think it could be much better for people on the ground with a higher FAR. Improving the project at the current or higher intensity hinges on doing a better job of curating and cultivating the spaces between the buildings, turning them into great outdoor rooms and corridors, and wholeheartedly turning them over to human beings. This is just a matter of focusing on traditional (like, thousands of years old) urban design.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been involved with the planning and design of the public space which will accompany some of the first re-developments in the Transit Village/Boulder Junction, mostly Pearl Parkway between 30th St. and the railroad tracks. I’ve primarily given feedback as a cyclist and pedestrian — someone who uses our streets under my own power. Even in Boulder, those of us who don’t own, and only very rarely use private motor vehicles are still unusual. Nevertheless, the long term goal of the TVAP is to have 60% of all trips in the region done by foot, bike or transit — anything but the much loved and loathed single occupancy vehicle (SOV). I was particularly taken by something Tim Plass said in the PLAN Boulder election forum this fall when asked to envision Boulder 30 years in the future: Every once in a while you’ll see an electric car on the road, but mostly it’ll be bikes and pedestrians and transit. I agree with these goals; we should pursue them vigorously. But the city being described by Plass and the TVAP is very different from the status quo today, and it’s difficult to take the steps necessary to realize it. Sometimes I think of myself as a time-traveling constituent from this future city, describing what it is that we will want then, when the majority of people aren’t driving a private car everywhere they go. One thing that I’m confident we won’t want is so much “free” parking.