Published by the Colorado Daily 2/15/95
AS THE MILLENNIUM TURNS by Evan Ravitz
(still 5 years ahead of its time)
In my last two columns I explored two promising transportation
alternatives- 1. Ultralight, full-size 100-300 MPG "hypercars",
and 2. Getting Boulder to use its plethora of bicycles for transportation,
not just recreation- like Davis, California, where 25% of residents
bike to work. Only 8% of us do, mostly because police statistics
show a cyclist is three times as likely to be injured or killed
here as the nationwide average for cities our size. Telecommuting
would also help. Here's why City policies instead favor big buses:
"Follow the money!" Deep Throat told reporter Woodward to help unravel the Watergate cover-up. The money is key to understanding the City's disastrous transportation policies resulting in the recent 2 to 1 vote of no confidence we gave the Transit Tax at the polls last November.
Transportation is the largest slice of the city budget pie, and most of that has been for building streets for the last 70 years or so. But Boulder is almost built-out and there is no room to widen our streets without tearing down historic Boulder, as Deputy Mayor Appelbaum points out. Transportation Division, like the Pentagon, seeks ways to keep spending, now that its main gig is up.
This helps explain the Transit Tax, which would have been the biggest tax increase since 1967's Open Space Tax. Buses already get the biggest subsidy- some $10 million a year for RTD service in Boulder, and more to subsidize 40,000 "free" Ecopasses, student passes, etc.- yet busing is our least favorite "alternative" transport: The City's '92 Modal Shift study shows 18.5% of Boulder Valley trips are on foot (walking two or more blocks to your car is counted, however), 12.7% by bike, and only 2.1% by bus. To build so heavily on failure seems a strange philosophy.
But follow your money into the bigwigs' pockets! $400,000 of the Transit Tax each year would have gone to administration alone. That's about what the entire bicycle program gets, though cycling is six times more popular than buses! (Unfortunately, instead of the one person who used to ride, maintain and improve bikeways, we now have a bunch who sit behind computers or at meetings. Citizen groups like Bolder Bicycle Commuters are asked to report maintenance problems, conduct surveys, or lobby RTD for bike racks on buses, to free staff to concentrate on their paper virtual realities.)
Buses damage roads heavily, which means much more money for Transportation Division: Highway engineer John Allen and pavement engineer Steve Mueller explain that road damage increases as the fourth power of wheel loads. That is, a bus weighing 10 times more than a car causes not ten, but 10,000 times as much damage. With a car wheel carrying some 10 times what a bike wheel does, a bus does about 100 million (10,000 times 10,000) times the damage as a bike. With the 400 or so buses per day on Broadway by campus doing the damage of 4 million cars, the 26,000 cars per day there do less than 1% of the total damage. Buses and heavy trucks each do about half. In residential areas with few trucks, the buses do virtually all the destruction of our roads. No wonder Transportation Division will do almost anything to get people off bikes and onto buses! An example:
A stylish hole where your money does go: Council this summer approved $900,000 per year for "neighborhood traffic mitigation", to slow down traffic. It used to be a neighborhood could get a stop sign or a speed bump, at little cost to taxpayers. Not anymore. After 8 years of asking, North 9th Street this summer instead got over $100,000 worth of traffic roundabouts, medians and "neckdowns". These narrowings tend to force cyclists into traffic, often dangerously (as on West Pearl St.) They violate the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standard for minimum lane widths (14 feet) on designated bike routes, like 9th. Even former Councilman Harris said he was afraid to ride his bike in them. May the first victim sue!
And there is no evidence this concrete chicanery slows cars; City Councilman Gary Myre says he sees drivers playing race car around them. Meanwhile City staff are now in their second year of not really studying photo radar, which in Europe actually slows cars, and pays for itself. (They refuse to evaluate the European experience.)
News flash: The just-released (preliminary) 1994 Modal Shift study shows that cycling's rapid growth in the early '90s has stopped or even reversed, with some people scared or coerced onto buses. Congratulations (?) to the City Transportation Division!
I urge everyone to register to vote so that November 7th we elect a better Council. Voting here helps CU students qualify for in-state tuition, and could preserve our quality of life so you'll want to stay after you graduate. It's your right. Just go to the County Courthouse on the Pearl Street Mall 8 to 4:30 weekdays. No ID is required. If they hassle you, I want to hear about it... or whatever's on your mind: 440-6838 or E-mail, email@example.com.
Evan is the chair of the Transit Committee of
Bolder Bicycle Commuters, the director of the
Voting by Phone Foundation, and
a board member of the Boulder chapter of the American Civil Liberties
Union. He sold his car in 1990.