Bicycling in the Boulder Colorado Town Center

By Dom Nozzi

October 7, 2014

I wrote an essay describing the unfortunate, surprising condition in town center Boulder, Colorado – a city rightly known for being exceptionally bike friendly, yet a city which offers a quite hostile environment for bicycling in the town center.

A friend responded by saying he did not understand. “I never bicycle on Broadway [the main north-south state road] (except the north end) since there are side streets nearby that are much better for cycling. You can get anywhere in town via bike paths and bike lanes. I don’t see any need to make Broadway any more accommodating.” He concluded by noting that the City has built a creek path running parallel to the main east-west state road for its entire length. “When I see someone riding either Broadway or Canyon [the main east-west state road] I assume they don’t know their way around town.”

I thanked him for his comments.

I told him that as was found in Copenhagen (and in my own experience), it is noticeably inconvenient for a bicyclist to have to go a block or three out of their way to get to a destination (to avoid Broadway, Canyon, or a one-way street). The vast majority of travelers are motorists, and of course they do not care about a one to three block diversion since gas-powered cars make the extra distance almost unnoticeable.

There is an important reason why a huge percentage of motorists use Broadway: It is usually the shortest distance between two points. Bicyclists ALREADY face a huge number of inconveniences. Why are we adding distance to that list when we don’t have to? Are we serious about getting more people to be bicycle commuters, or is it just lip service?

Bicycle commuters predictably have the same desire to minimize their travel distance, as was found in Copenhagen. It is inexcusable (and ruinous and unnecessary) to make Broadway and Canyon car-sewers that only accommodate cars — particularly in a town center (which, to be healthy, must have low speeds and high levels of travel choice on ALL corridors).

To argue that it is okay to inconvenience bicyclists by continuing to make Canyon and Broadway car-only highways reminds me of the civil rights battles in the 50s and 60s where it was argued that segregation was okay because bicyclists are “separate but equal.”

A great many cities in the US have converted their car-only major corridors in their town center so that instead of being car-only highways, they are now safely accommodating other travelers (and reducing crashes and improving retail and improving quality of life and improving town center health…). Shame on Boulder for not having the political will to want to do likewise.

Again, there is no excuse for keeping Canyon and Broadway as hostile, high-speed, car-only highways IN THE TOWN CENTER. Remember: Copenhagen’s bike planners originally thought there was no need to design their major streets to safely accommodate bicyclists because they felt that bicyclists would, as this friend indicated, find the side streets “much better for bicycling.”

This idea turned out to be wrong, as they learned that bicyclists have the same desire lines as motorists.3065696-poster-p-1-copenhagen-now-has-more-bikes-than-cars

Copenhagen has been serious about promoting bicycling, rather than just paying lip service.

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Transportation, Urban Design

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