A Squandered Opportunity at Boulder Junction

By Dom Nozzi

November 15, 2017

I am very disappointed that Boulder is squandering a golden opportunity to create a high-quality town center that promotes significant levels of cycling, walking, and transit at Boulder Junction. The location was a blank slate that gave us the opportunity to create a vibrant, thriving, highly desirable lifestyle option that is nearly non-existent in Boulder, despite the very high and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle.Amsterdam, May 8, 2017 compared to Bldr Junction

At my November 13, 2017 Transportation Advisory Board meeting, we were presented with a dizzying amount of data regarding observed transportation at Boulder Junction. But it was data without a clear description of our objectives (or tactics to reach the objectives). It therefore amounted to little more than context-less bean counting.

As I see it, the objectives at Boulder Junction should be to create a walkable, compact, human-scaled town center where residents and employees rarely have a need for car travel. Where walking and bicycling and transit use constitute most trips (ie, such trips are normalized), and where driving a motor vehicle is unusual.

Boulder Junction, in other words, should be more like an Amsterdam or a Copenhagen (see photo comparison above of Boulder Junction and Amsterdam). It should have lovable building architecture (like the Boulderado Hotel in town center Boulder, which local polls show to be the most loved building in Boulder). It should have rowhouses and tiny residences.

Our land development regulations, though, are instead giving us a Phoenix or an Orlando. Buildings are unlovable in design, and spacing for building setbacks and streets are in most cases not human-scaled. We are, in other words, failing to use or obligate dimensions that would create a sense of place.

Future reports about Boulder Junction should answer the following questions:

  • Is it easy, safe, and enjoyable to live at Boulder Junction without a car? And is it (appropriately) difficult and expensive to own and use a car?
  • Is Boulder Junction compact enough to offer a full set of mixed-use destinations to jobs? Medical/doctor services? Culture? Groceries?
  • Would you feel comfortable letting your 5-year old walk or bicycle alone throughout Boulder Junction?
  • How scarce are the available parking spaces at Boulder Junction? Is it easy to find parking (which is toxic to walkability and discourages non-car travel), or is it appropriately difficult?
  • How many residents at Boulder Junction are opting to unbundle parking from their housing? A low rate of unbundled parking is a sign that the design of Boulder Junction – and destinations outside Boulder Junction – is not conducive to reducing car dependence.
  • How many Boulder Junction residents and employees are parking for free at their internal or outside-of-Boulder-Junction destinations?
  • Do Boulder surveys show that Boulder residents envy the lifestyle and amenities offered by Boulder Junction?
  • Are driveway and street turning radii, as well as street and clear zone dimensions, small enough to induce slower and more attentive speeds? Are there any streets in Boulder Junction that can be converted to shared, slow streets?
  • What land development regulations need to be revised to better achieve place-making? What street design standards need revision for slower, more attentive motorized travel?

The worthy objectives of minimizing the ownership and use of cars by Boulder Junction residents will be severely constrained by the fact that Boulder Junction is surrounded by areas of unwalkable suburban design where only car travel is feasible. Which means that a large number of destinations outside of Boulder Junction will need to be reached by car. This is also true for the Steelyards neighborhood.

In addition, I don’t see Boulder Junction achieving a sense of place – even at build-out. Streets are too wide (particularly the Pearl Parkway stroad that bisects Boulder Junction), and setbacks are too large.

Future reports need to avoid a “silo” problem, where transportation and urban design are considered separately from each other. Transportation and urban design staff need to jointly author future reports, because transportation tactics can strongly promote or inhibit important urban design objectives at Boulder Junction. Likewise, urban design tactics can strongly promote or inhibit important transportation objectives. Without combining transportation and urban design expertise, we risk unintentionally undermining objectives.

Let’s strive for Boulder Junction to be a Copenhagen. Not an Orlando.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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