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!
Boulder’s newly minted chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) hosted its second salon on December 6th, entitled Biketopia: Dramatically Increasing Boulder’s Bike Mode Share. Martha Roskowski — the former head of GO Boulder, who now works on protected on-street bike facilities nationwide with Bikes Belong — outlined a plan for pushing Boulder beyond it’s status as a leading bike community in North America, and toward taking a place amongst the world’s best cities for cycling.
Why should we choose to do this? Getting more people on bikes benefits both individuals and the community. Bikes provide inexpensive mobility for short trips, help address health issues, and reduce congestion. New studies are showing that getting more people on bikes increases the economic vitality of cities in many ways, including attracting “choice” employers and supporting local businesses. Boulder’s status as a leader in climate change can also be reinforced by a visionary approach.
While Boulder’s bike mode share is one of the best in the nation, it trails well behind leading European cities. And Boulder’s growth in bicycling has been stagnant over the past several years, by a number of measures. Boulder is no longer a national leader in its commitment and vision to increase the number of people on bikes. Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia and others are taking far more bold steps to intentionally and systematically make their communities better for bicycling.
Boulder has a choice: we can continue the current pace of slow but steady improvements in infrastructure and rely on external forces like the price of gas and personal concerns about climate change to increase bike mode share. Or, Boulder could become a new national model for a bicycle-friendly community. Boulder has the potential to dramatically increase its bike mode share, perhaps more so than any other community in the country. It has “good bones” in its off-street pathway system, its compact size, growth boundaries, culture of cycling and already large bicycling population.
Martha gave eleven suggestions for taking cycling in Boulder beyond being an “alternative” mode and toward normalizing it to the point where it’s a vital, indispensable part of our transportation system. It can be made accessible to just about anyone as it is already in much of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, where many cities have between a quarter and half of their daily trips being made by bike. Here’s a short summary of what she had to say, hopelessly intermingled with my own musings, since my notes are now a month old.
Two bicyclists have been killed at the intersection of US-36 and Violet Avenue since 2009. The most recent was TJ Doherty, on July 24th, 2012. Both cyclists were headed southeast on US-36, and were hit by cars traveling northwest, making left turns onto Violet. In this area US-36 is just outside of Boulder’s city limits, in the county, but it’s the Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) that’s responsible for it. Looking at the aerial view below we can explore why this intersection might be particularly dangerous for cyclists.
Northwest bound vehicles on US-36 have a dedicated left turn lane, and no obligation to stop before making their turn. The angle that Violet Ave. makes with the highway is quite oblique, meaning that it can be taken at high speed, and because US-36 has a speed limit of 55 mph in this area, cars often will take it at high speed if they don’t see any oncoming traffic.
From a southeast bound bicycle’s point of view, there’s no obviously correct place to be on the road, if they’re planning to proceed through the intersection. The shoulder on the west side of the road narrows to a few inches, and it’s to the right of a right-turn-only lane. If you ride all the way to the right, you risk a vehicle turning in front of you onto Violet. Your intent to continue through the intersection is also unclear to oncoming traffic. Most cyclists instead take a position that’s well within the right turn lane, to prevent right-turning vehicles from passing them and immediately turning right in front of them. However, this lane position still leaves their intent ambiguous to oncoming traffic. Alternatively, you might choose to straddle the line separating the through travel lane and the right turn lane. This makes the bike relatively visible, and more clearly conveys the intent to continue through the intersection, at the expense of potentially sandwiching the cyclist between right turning vehicles and very fast moving through traffic. If the cyclist instead chooses to behave exactly like a motor vehicle, moving into the through lane of traffic, the very large difference in speed between the bike and the other vehicles in that lane creates a hazard. Thus, there’s no right place for a cyclist to be on this road if they’re planning to continue through the intersection.
When we combine the unavoidable ambiguity of the through cyclist’s intent with the very high left-turning speeds of oncoming traffic, we have a recipe for disaster. A recipe which has killed two people in three years.