Published in the Colorado Daily 5/92
THE TIGHTROPE by Evan Ravitz
To hear the 13th Street merchants speak at the special Joint Hearing
of 3 City boards April 23, you'd think every one of them was a
born-again cyclist and pedestrian. NOT! While many cycle recreationally,
it was their perceived 'enemies', those who want to shut 2 blocks
of 13th to cars, who actually rode bikes to City Hall that warm
While the merchants were arguing that eliminating cars would put pedestrians at risk from cyclists, an older pedestrian told the truth: cars terrorize pedestrians every day in Boulder. Indeed 2 blocks away right after the meeting a man was struck and put in serious condition with a broken neck and leg. 6 weeks earlier, 3 pedestrians were hit, with 2 broken legs and critical head injuries among them. Blame it on those lycra-clad cyclists, 2 of whom were killed in town in the last 2 years, not by pedestrians, but by cars.
Our friend announced a Senior's protest at this fall's 13th Pedestrian Conference, where the City congratulates itself (about $30,000 worth) for its prize from Walking Magazine for being one of the 10 most pedestrian friendly cities in America. NOT! Any 10 small cities in California would be safer, because drivers there stop for pedestrians. Credit the City's PR machine.
The merchants also argue that closing 13th from Walnut to Spruce would reduce the Mall's visibility. NOT! If we were closing Broadway, I'd agree- many people discover the Mall passing by on Broadway. But everyone agrees 13th is a linear parking lot, not a through street. Indeed the Mall would become more visible from Spruce and Walnut, which carry more traffic.
Closing 13th would help implement 2 goals of the Boulder Valley comprehensive plan- reducing auto traffic and creating a transport system appropriate to a compact community with auto-free zones. There are some 2000 blocks of street in Boulder. 4 are closed to cars- the Pearl Street Mall. We are asking for a modest 2 blocks more- and these blocks are shorter than the Mall's. Remember, the City spent $9500 on prizes alone for a design competition for 13th in 1985. All entries involved closing 5 blocks of 13th from Arapahoe to Pine. We just want the City to show good faith by starting with the 2 blocks that are already a pedestrian zone.
It is outrageous to see the Planning Department using our taxes to fight the City's abandoned plan resurrected by citizens who actually practice what they preach. But it's NOT enough that our employees fight us- they cheat:
In 1990 I asked the Bike Coordinator what happened to the 13th Street plan. She said it was important and would call a meeting. Later that summer I asked what happened. She said the meeting was held while she was on vacation, and the matter dropped. Were she or I or you invited? NOT!
Last summer the City hosted a "Design Charette" at the Boulder Theater for celebrity designers and the public. The Planning Department's review of 13th Street proposals mentioned several ideas that were NOT discussed at the Charette, but left out one that was- closure.
With persistence, the closure plan was added to the September 16 Open House on bike paths at the Boulderado. Planning's document for the Joint Hearing mentioned the Open House, but NOT the result of the voting- closure 57%, all other plans 43%!
Planning has been compiling lists of pros and cons of the various plans. After many phone calls and a meeting with Planning's new director, I finally felt the lists were fair. But Planning's document and presentation at the Joint hearing were NOT:
One of the old cons was that closing 13th would block off access to the United Bank parking lot. I explained to our professional planners that access could simply be moved around the corner onto Walnut. Oh yes, they said, that would work. Now they're saying closure would block the County Building exit. Same 'problem', same solution: move the exit around the corner to Spruce. Why do I have to explain this to the 'pros', twice?!?
Another of Planning's new cons is that without cars, conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists could arise, like on the Broadway path. For months I've been asking the City Bike Program for signs distinguishing the bike and pedestrian lanes on the Broadway path. Why doesn't Planning ask for signs instead of complaining? Besides, our plan gives pedestrians very wide sidewalks raised above the bike path, unlike the Broadway path.
It's time Planning stopped prostituting itself for the merchants and started solving problems instead of inventing them. They are biting the hand that funds them! Closure is by far the best way to implement the Downtown Plan Steering Committee's 9 Strategies to improve downtown, agreed to by the City Council and the 3 Boards.
Closure is also the best way to implement the Boulder Valley Transportation Master Plan goal of a transit system "competitive with the single occupant car in convenience, user friendliness, travel time, image, affordability and accessibility." The bicycle wins (in town) in all categories except image, which seems to be the only value held by City government anymore.
The facts are in: closing Pearl Street was the best thing that ever happened downtown. When the 2 blocks of 13th are closed for weekend special events every summer, business booms. Let's try a trial closure and see. The best use of the $1 million of real estate the 56 parking spots in question use is for outside dining, sidewalk sales and street entertainment.
Please show support by writing the City Council, (Box 791, Boulder 80306), the newspapers, or coming to the final public hearing- Tuesday May 19 starting at 7:30 at City Hall, the SW corner of Broadway and Canyon. For more info call me at 444-3596. Ask them to put your money where their mouth is!