Published by the Colorado Daily 12/91

THE TIGHTWIRE by Evan Ravitz

The Bike Path that ate Boulder

"Businesses blast 13th-Street closure", the November 21st Daily lead article, says a lot about what's wrong with Boulder. The 50 business representatives grab the headline, while the 150 citizens who voted overwhelmingly for the closure on September 16 at a City Open House get the subhead and no story at all till now. So what else is new: money = news. Of course the Camera's Business Plus story completely ignored us.

Putting aside for now that bikes = money in Boulder and that bikes = ecology, health and fun, the story background is this:

13th Street was designated years ago in the Transportation Master Plan as the bike route connecting the Broadway bike path to North Boulder and paths that go north and east from 13th behind the North Boulder Rec Center. With the advent of the Creek Path, 13th could be the connector to the Mall for pedestrians as well! The City backed building the 13th Street Pedestrian Bikeway and held a contest to design it in 1985. The City failed to consult first with downtown businesses, and cyclists failed to back up the city. Bicycling has at least doubled since the start of mass production of mountain bikes in 1984, our paths and racks are full, and we are still waiting for the City to keep its promise and put our money where its mouth is, ecologically speaking.

Some comments on story specifics:

The claim of Vagabond Travel owner Jane Morrissey that closure would be "death to downtown Boulder" is ridiculous, considering what closing Pearl Street did for life in downtown Boulder. Unfortunately otherwise reasonable and intelligent people like Boulderado Hotel owner Frank Day echo this, telling me that closure would "destroy downtown". Sounds like "The Bike Path that ate Boulder" or the "Evil Empire" to me.

Strangely enough, it was Frank who suggested to me the closure of just the 2 blocks from Spruce to Walnut, which is now backed almost unanimously by the Bolder Bicycle Commuters club and the 1000 cyclists who've signed our petition. Cyclists and the City previously backed closing the 5 blocks from Pine to Arapahoe, which should still eventually happen as business is revitalized again by a new Mall addition. We think asking to close it incrementally is being extremely reasonable. There are many people saying all of downtown or even Boulder should be closed to cars.

The merchants worship parking, which costs about $14-18,000 per space to build downtown, never to be completely recovered by parking fees, but subsidized by taxes. Since the City first proposed the 13th St. closure, 392 new spaces have been built at 11th and Spruce, and about 200 above the bus depot. Sacrificing 94 to a new Mall addition should be relatively painless. We hope all 94 will come by bike or on foot.

Morrissey shouldn't worry that her customers won't be able to lug away the luggage she sells: parking will still be there 1/2 block South of her store in the lot behind United Bank; the alley North of her is less than 1/2 block away. Research for the Pearl St. Mall showed people would walk several blocks if it were pleasant. They do.

Morrissey commented at the City Open House that "...people ought to think of the future. As they grow older, and biking becomes less of an enjoyment, then what are they going to do?!" Personally, I intend to cycle into my 80s, and then walk. Indeed we should think of the real future: gas prices rising to the world average- about $4 a gallon- and beyond, as oil fields become more remote. We're already poisoning our air, warming our globe and paving the paradise that Boulder and America used to be.

Morrissey says "It's the older people who have the real money, and are more likely to buy the goods and services available in downtown Boulder. They certainly don't ride bikes - they are dressed in business attire and know the value of hard work." That doesn't sound like the Mall I've worked on for 13 years, but it does sound like ignoring our children's future to cater to the lazy.

Jane should meet Municipal Judge Richard Hanson, who rode a bike, judicial robes and all, into his late 60s. He stopped because of the increasing traffic danger Boulder bicyclists know so well. One Bolder Bicycle Commuter said bicycling was better in New York City! Indeed about the same portion of vehicles are bikes in Boulder and Manhattan- 10%. In a town as compact, warm and dry, with people as young and fit, as Boulder, that's pathetic. Considering all our environmental consciousness in Boulder, now known around the country as E-Town, it's hypocritical. We should really be known as C-Town, Car-town, the home of the 8th-highest per-capita car ownership in the nation (American Demographics Magazine, 12/3/84).

I was mildly misquoted in the article. I said the "13th-14th couplet" option, not the failure to close 13th Street, was a slap in the face to the biking community. Here's why: The "couplet" is the way cyclists (and motorists) now must go, legally- North on 13th, South on 14th- it's really the 14th Street Detour. This "option" adds merely 4 signs to direct you, an additional connection to the Creek Path to the Southeast, and most importantly, enforcement.

Enforcement is the key, because cyclists largely spurn the 2-block Detour for illegally riding south on 13th or the sidewalk. These cyclists include the Chair of the Planning Board, the Boulder Bike Coordinator, and the City Planner supervising this process known as the Downtown Plan. If our leaders don't like the Detour, why will anyone else?! Only to avoid the Police ticketing spree the downtown merchants look forward to bludgeoning pesky cyclists into submission with.

Bureaucrats: The Bike Coordinator and Planner I mention have now mended their ways and take the Detour- they know that you can make their lives miserable. Perhaps this is why Bike Coordinators turn over so fast in Boulder- they aren't allowed to be advocates for cyclists- they have to toe the City "neutrality" line, and ride the Detour. Maybe that's why Coordinator Sharon Harvey is confused enough to claim "The bike community strongly supports the contra-flow lane", when Open House attendees voted 57% for closing 13th and only 14% for contra-flow.

A Harris poll last fall shows 2% of Americans cycle to work, and 20% would if facilities were improved. With 10% of Boulderites now cycling to work, a similar increase would have all of us cycling! Even if only 30% did, our traffic and pollution problems would largely disappear, and the streets would be safer for all of us. The fact that there are more bikes- 100,000 -than people- 83,000 -in Boulder further shows it's possible.

An Alternate Modes publication shows that the average car trip is 5 miles here, easily done on a bike, and faster, as bikes usually win the Non-polluting Commuting Race during Bike Week.

Portland, Oregon, and San Diego both limit maximum parking allowed for new construction projects. Here in Car-town, City laws mandate plenty of parking. While the City of Aspen provides free bicycles to workers, residents and visitors, Car-town nixed the idea, leaving it to Doug Emerson of University Bicycles to pursue. While Colorado State University plans to phase out cars from campus, CU spends $8.4 million of our money on new garages, only provides needed bike racks when forced to and recently considered banning bikes. CU teaches what City government practices: Greenwashing. Ecopocrisy. E-pocrisy

City government is putting our money where its mouth is with the Eco Pass bus program, which has already increased bus use by 42% in a year. In perspective though, bus trips still represent 3% of all trips, while bicycle trips constitute 10%, also a growing figure. The only way the Eco Pass can be made "the cornerstone of Boulder's plan to reduce single-occupancy automobile trips 15% by 2010" is by reducing pesky cyclists with the "enforcement" approach the business community anticipates. Otherwise, cycling will continue to move many more people than the bus. This is Boulder, not Texas, Mr. Alternate Modes Co-ordinator. Everything in town is close. Boulder loves to cycle.

13th Street is the most important missing link in the bicycle network- connecting the Broadway and Creek Paths to downtown and North Boulder. The City already spent $7000 in the mid-80s to design it, and millions on parking garages nearby for those who won't ride. City bike facilities are bursting at the seams- give the people what they want!

Recently, when the County wouldn't take down the gate blocking the Canyon path in response to the pleas of cyclists who were made to risk riding the highway, brave "vandals" destroyed the gate over and over, until the County had to give in. Government will learn: The customer is always right. If Boulder were a democracy, the 13th St. Pedestrian Bikeway would have been built 5 years ago.

Stop by the Boulderado Hotel for coffee and to tell owner Frank Day you like his plan to close 13th from Spruce to Walnut as a beginning. Leave a business card, or a note, saying so. Economics talks louder than ecology.

You are invited to join Bolder Bicycle Commuters on Monday January 2, 6:30 at Morgul Bismark Bicycles, 1221 Pennsylvania, for our monthly meeting. We're working for you, our beautiful town and the Earth! See you there!

Evan is a 13 year Boulder resident.