Friday, October 17, 2008

How to be like Boulder

At the kickoff meeting we introduced this photo from downtown Boulder that exemplified the intersection of the natural habitat with the human habitat. It was a picture of Boulder Creek flowing past the Dushanbe Tea House. Boulder, in fact, might serve as a great model for a university community in the mountains (like Boone) for many initiatives. More than 30 years ago, they made a decision to guide and control their destiny through better planning.

According to Boulder, Colorado's web site "Boulder is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, just 35 miles northwest of Denver. Home of the University of Colorado's main campus and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder sits 5,430 feet above sea level and is surrounded by a greenbelt of city trails and open spaces. Boulder is known for its natural beauty, outdoor recreation, natural product retailers and restaurants, outstanding alternative transportation options, diverse businesses, and technological and academic resources.

Could this be Boone in 20 years? The article below is from a posting on the web site of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP)by Martha Roskowski and Marni Ratzel of Boulder transportation department (also known as Go Boulder).

How to be like Boulder
People visit Boulder, CO. to check out its bicycling and walking system. Some leave inspired to change their communities; others think, “Well, it works in Boulder, but it will never fly back home.” The reality lies somewhere in between. Boulder has built-in advantages–call it “good bones”–and for 20 years it has made a significant commitment in resources and priorities. Still, any community can make things better, and the time to start is now. These are some ways to be like Boulder.

Be a college town. It creates a built-in population less inclined to drive, more educated, and often more progressive.

Have a growth boundary. Boulder began buying open space in the late 1960s and has amassed 43,000 acres that serve as a physical buffer around the city. The city also collaborates with Boulder County on a forward-thinking comprehensive plan which focuses growth within existing city boundaries. As a result, most of Boulder’s new development is in-fill, which increases density and allows Boulder to spend its dollars on providing transportation choices rather than building new roads to serve sprawling developments.

Have a really good plan. The Boulder City Council adopted its first transportation master plan1 in the late 1980s. The council looked at what would be needed, financially, physically and in quality of life, to continue to expand the roadway system. It said, “Nope, that’s not for us,” and decided to provide mobility not through new roads, but through a wide array of transportation choices that make it easy not to drive. Later revisions to the plan set audacious goals of keeping vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to 1994 levels and having only 25% of trips made in single occupancy vehicles by 2025. A VMT graph updated in 2007 shows Boulder is close to keeping that line flat. Boulder adopted the concept of complete streets in 2003, with a commitment to accommodate all modes on major corridors.

Put the plan into action. Boulder has a strong transit system with buses running on 10-minute frequencies on several major corridors, and 30,000 transit trips a day in a community of 100,000 people. Since 1989, the city has added, on average, one mile of off-street path, a half-mile of on-street bicycle lane, and two underpasses a year. Today, Boulder has over 100 miles of multi-use pathway with 74 underpasses; 95% of major arterials have bicycle lanes or adjacent pathways.

Get some political support. People in Boulder are active, engaged and like to debate everything. As a result, most significant projects are controversial. Projects often get scaled back or require additional investment to find a compromise, but the City Council moves most projects forward. Bicycle advocates help, but elected officials lead on these issues.

Redefine the problem. How can Boulder’s transportation engineers–many from traditional engineering backgrounds–cheerfully and routinely design innovative and effective multi-modal projects? Michael Gardner-Sweeney, Boulder’s Transportation Planning and Operations Coordinator, says, “Engineers are problem solvers. If the problem is to move as many cars as possible through an intersection, that’s what they’ll do. If you define the problem differently, you get different results.” Boulder has redefined the problem as moving people in a multi-modal system emphasizing bicycles, pedestrians and transit. This mindset has been institutionalized throughout the city’s transportation division.

Sweat the details. Residents love Boulder’s pathway system, which includes numerous side paths. Instead of focusing on the dangers, Boulder addresses the safety issues. A recent state DOT analysis of bicycle- and pedestrian-related crashes shows that the side paths do not have higher crash rates than the on-street system. That’s due to a combination of innovative treatments, such as raised right turn bypass islands and careful signage, and the reality that bicyclists are expected users.

Fix your mistakes. The eastern half of Boulder was developed after 1950, with the same lousy combination of superblocks, strip malls, shopping centers, big parking lots and intimidating arterials as most cities across the country. Boulder’s trying to fix that. The city’s biggest street will be converted into a complete street, with bicycle lanes, transit improvements, pedestrian-actuated crossing signals and pathways as appropriate and possible. It remains a big street, but now can be navigated on a bicycle or on foot with more comfort. Changing land use takes longer, but the city is working to reduce the number of curb cuts, bring buildings back up to the street, and break up superblocks through redevelopment. There are bicycle lanes in the Target parking lot, which connect through the adjacent shopping area to link to greenway paths in either direction. A big grocer has been asked to make his parking access function more like a local street. These solutions are incremental and not elegant, but every bit helps.

Do something cool. In the mid-1980s, Boulder City Council directed staff to build a small section of path along Boulder Creek in the downtown area. It was a hit, and the public clamored for more. That bit of pathway helped launch the Greenway System, a program with many goals including riparian protection and flood mitigation. The trail includes a spine pathway along Boulder Creek and connecting paths along its six tributaries.

Don’t ignore the soft side. Although people in Boulder can travel by bicycle with relative comfort and often quicker than by car, there isn’t yet an Amsterdam-level of bicycling. So the city works hard on encouragement and education, partnering with the school district on Safe Routes to School, strengthening Walk & Bike Month, launching GOBikeBoulder, an interactive bicycle routing Web site, and piloting an individualized marketing program. Boulder has a network of 400 employee transportation coordinators at local businesses, is looking at a Velib-style bicycle rental system, and wants to institute Sunday Parkways. Many more trips could be made by bicycle, but changing the American mindset is difficult, even in Boulder.

There is no silver bullet or even a silver shotgun. But Boulder’s working on it.


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