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Sunday July 21st 2019

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That's what she said

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Safety First!


I love living in a dense, urban environment. I’ve lived in the urban core of both Amsterdam and San Francisco for extended periods, where I enjoyed the ability to walk to work, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment. I cherish the human contact and immersion in outdoor life that’s a part of walking. I see birds and storefront displays, and get some great people-watching in along the way, all as part of simple transportation.

Fred Ecks on a bike tour

For longer distances, riding a bicycle is my preferred mode of travel. I’m excited to see Boulder pursuing the sort of development that makes all this possible.

When I first moved here in 1992, I felt safe roaming all of Boulder city and county, both on foot and by bicycle. But in recent years, I’ve had far too many near-misses with cars. I’ve been nearly hit while walking in quite a few crosswalks, and been grazed by cars when cycling in our sub-par bike lanes. In the past three years alone, five friends have been hit while cycling.  One suffered a broken collarbone, another a broken hip, and a third shattered a windshield with her face.

Not surprisingly, I’ve come to drive much more, and walk or ride my bicycle much less these days.

Boulder is now in the midst of a building boom, rapidly expanding housing and employment in the city. It’s become a highly-charged debate, with the participants quickly categorized into “pro-density” and “anti-density” (or worse yet, NIMBY). The two sides are talking past each other, as pointed out by Lisa Morzel.

The trouble is not density. The trouble is density without the transportation infrastructure to safely support the increased demands of new residents and employees.  Consistently, the concerns regarding density surround traffic, safety, and quality of life. Gridlock serves no one, and only increases risks to pedestrians and cyclists, while making everyone’s life difficult.

Many cities, including San Francisco, have embarked upon a Vision Zero campaign to address pedestrian collisions and fatalities. In San Francisco, an average of three pedestrians are hit by cars every day.  If Boulder continues to develop and increase density while continuing to attempt to move automobiles quickly, we’re on this same course.  At San Francisco’s rate of traffic accidents involving pedestrians, Boulder would have a person on foot hit or killed almost every other day.  Boulder may soon need its own Vision Zero campaign, to address safety issues resulting from the increased motor vehicle traffic.

Boulder’s Transportation Master Plan continues to include an objective to maintain our roadways such that no more than 20% of them are rated at Level of Service “F” for motor vehicles. As a result, if traffic counts are high on a section of roadway, Boulder’s traffic engineers are advised not to do anything to impede that flow of car traffic. The engineers can’t increase bicycle safety or widen the sidewalks on Folsom or south 30th Street because that would require taking roadway space away from the car traffic.

With the currently-planned development for the Google campus, Reve, S*Park, and Boulder Junction, we’ll quickly be leaps and bounds beyond any traffic counts that might allow a traffic engineer to re-envision these roadways.  Although all these developments are claimed to be “car-lite,” with limited parking, parking is parking.  There will be more cars. Our traffic counts will increase.

Rather than build denser developments first and address safety problems later, Boulder needs to be proactive and provide safety for human-powered transportation first, so we don’t need a Vision Zero initiative later.

I love living in a dense urban environment. But we need safety first!

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