By Dom Nozzi
October 8, 2017
I have served on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board for 4.5 years. Because only a tiny number of people attend the Board meetings, the thoughts shared by us Board members are heard by almost no one. Therefore, since I consider a “Vision Zero” plan that Boulder is now pursuing so important, and that item is on our October 9th agenda, I would like to give my views more daylight by sharing them on Facebook and my blog site.
Vision Zero, by the way, is a vitally important objective that many cities in the US have adopted in recent years. It seeks to create a transportation system where there are zero traffic deaths or serious injuries.
Over the past year or so, Boulder has tragically seen several deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I was therefore initially quite happy to see that the City is now proposing a Vision Zero plan.
But while I am extremely supportive of a Vision Zero objective, the strategies being proposed by staff are little more than timid tweaks to the same old, ineffective strategies that Boulder and most all other US cities have tried now for the past century: More warning paint. More (or revised) warning lighting. More warning signs. More warning education. More warning enforcement. After a century of doubling down on these strategies every few years, our roads are in many ways far more dangerous than they have ever been.
In part, this is because the strategies are suffering from a severe form of diminishing returns. After installing thousands of warning signs on our roads over the past century, for example, it becomes information overload and motorists largely tune them out.
But mostly, these conventional strategies are simply ineffective in creating a safer transportation system. For the past century, we have poured a huge amount of public dollars into single-mindedly building roads that have too many lanes (roads are too wide). For a century, we have built roads engineered to encourage or enable high-speed, inattentive driving. Warning paint or safety education can do almost nothing to make it safe to walk across or bicycle on a monster 8-lane urban highway filled with speeding, impatient, inattentive drivers.
In general, the only effective strategy we have to create a safer transportation system that has any chance of achieving a Vision Zero objective (besides creating more compact land use patterns) is to design streets with dimensions and geometries that obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively.
This is not rocket science.
It saddens me to have learned in my 4.5 years as a Board member (and 8 years as a Boulder bicycle and pedestrian and transit commuter) that while Boulder transportation staff is well aware of (and often supportive of) these effective street design tactics, their hands are tied. They are not recommending these effective tactics in the Boulder Vision Zero strategy.
Why are staff’s hands tied? Why are they recommending the century-long same old song and dance for Vision Zero, instead of recommending effective street design strategies?
In part it is because Boulder cannot, by law, redesign state roads in Boulder (but this can be changed, however, as was done on Broadway).
But it is also because too many people in Boulder (and therefore its city government) are way behind the times regarding effective, beneficial transportation tactics. Or simply oppose such tactics. Here is one of several essays I wrote on this.
Staff and city government are not being given permission by citizens to be effective about traffic safety.
Even though I know I will not get a second on a motion I will make at the Monday Board meeting, I will make the motion because it is the only way to have my concerns be on the record and recorded in the meeting minutes.
I will move that the Board request staff suspend and withdraw the Vision Zero initiative because Boulder is not ready to use effective tactics to achieve Vision Zero.
To be fair, I should note that Boulder has re-started a traffic calming program (what Boulder formerly called “traffic mitigation” and now calls “speed management”). This is a very beneficial and effective traffic safety strategy for achieving Vision Zero (at least on smaller neighborhood roads).
However, this street redesign program is not clearly integrated into the Vision Zero plan, and because it will only apply to smaller neighborhood streets rather than the large, dangerous, high-speed roads in Boulder, it will do very little to move Boulder toward an overall Vision Zero objective.