Primary Concerns About the Boulder Colorado Draft Transportation Plan

By Dom Nozzi

August 5, 2014

Here are primary concerns I have about the Boulder Transportation Master Plan (TMP), and transportation reforms that I think are necessary in Boulder. I list below my top three, followed by several additional concerns.

Too little (or nothing) is said about GIGANTISM: Boulder has oversized several roads and intersections. Road diets (right-sizing) are needed for major town center streets: Canyon, Broadway, Folsom, Colorado. A moratorium should be established on street sizing: No future street widening should exceed five lanes. No intersection widening should exceed one turning lane. In the town center, the maximum street size should be three lanes.

A citywide traffic calming (speed reduction) program should be adopted that obligates motorists to slow down and be more attentive based on street design. Tools, again, focus on right-sizing, and include roundabouts, traffic circles, chicanes, narrowing of travel lanes, street trees, shrinking the size of the turning radius at intersections, added on-street car parking, raised medians, and “bump-outs” at intersections and mid-block.

Boulder should move away from the outdated “forgiving” street design. Within the town center, geometries and dimensions of streets shall employ “low-speed” sizing.

Each year, the total number of car parking spaces in the town center shall be reduced to a quantity lower than the number in the prior year. Over-sizing is a fertility drug forjuly-2015-2 cars.

Too little (or nothing) is said about making car parking efficient: Price more parking, share more parking, require more parking cash-out, unbundle the price of parking from housing, and convert minimum parking requirements to maximum parking requirements (probably need to start by applying this to places that are compact, transit-rich, and bicycle and walking friendly, such as the town center, Boulder Junction, etc.).

The “Congestion Objective” in the TMP (no more than 20% of road mileage shall be congested) should be either replaced with less outdated, counterproductive and less outdated measures such as a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) cap, or should be revised so that the town center is exempt from this objective. Most every change in behavior that a citizen engages in when responding to traffic congestion – such as avoiding rush hour driving, living closer to daily destinations, driving slower, traveling on non-major streets, trip chaining (combining, say, a trip to get groceries with a trip to the doctor), foregoing low-value car trips – is good for the community. By contrast, many (most?) actions a government agency takes when responding to traffic congestion – such as widening a road or intersection, downzoning in the town center, adding more free parking, synchronizing traffic signals for car speeds, converting a two-way street to one-way – is undesirable for the community. The much more progressive way to address traffic congestion is not to reduce it (which is nearly impossible given the HUGE space-hogging nature of cars, and given a healthy city), but to create ALTERNATIVES to congestion so those unwilling or unable to tolerate it can avoid it (via alternative routes, traveling at non-rush hour times, driving on routes optimized by pricing, or traveling by bicycling, walking, or transit).

Replace of the awful, unattractive, dangerous continuous left-turn lanes on east Pearl Street and North Broadway with raised medians coupled with “turn pockets.”

Restore the traditional two-way operation of the one-way loop in the Boulder town center.

Eliminate of any land development code obstacles that may exist for the replacement of asphalt surface parking lots with retail, office, or residential buildings.

Lobby the State of Colorado to pass the law used successfully in Idaho, where bicyclists are able to treat stop signs as yield signs, and traffic signals as stop signs.

Boulder should adopt a “Stylebook” for written and oral communication. “Plain English” rather than bureaucratic jargon, and “unbiased” transportation terminology instead of “biased” terminology. I succeeded in having the Gainesville FL Council of Governments (the DRCOG of that region) adopt such a stylebook, and suggested that TAB push for this more than once at our retreat.

Boulder should lobby the State to be given authorization to toll state roads within city limits.

Increase the use of motorist user fees: Parking, tolls, VMT fee, pay-at-the-pump car insurance, etc.

If signal lights are to be synchronized, they should be based on the speed of buses and bikes, rather than cars. This method is used in Portland OR.

More housing, more mixed use, and more compact land use patterns shall be attained along important transit centers and corridors.

Affordable housing shall be achieved, in part, with more mixed use development patterns (reducing the number of cars a household must own is a powerful way to make housing more affordable).

Service vehicles allowed within city limits should be restricted in size. Oversized trucks and other large vehicles often compel engineers to over-size streets and intersections (because they use the huge truck as their “design vehicle”). That is ruinous and backwards. Huge vehicles should not be determining the size of our street infrastructure. Sizing, instead, should be based on safety for pedestrians & bicyclists, human scale, and overall quality of life. Peter Swift conducted a study in Longmont CO that found car crashes (and the number of transportation injuries and deaths) increased when cities increased the size of their streets and intersections. Ironically, those increased sizes were often pushed by fire/rescue officials seeking to reduce response times for fire trucks. The Swift study found that the lives saved from reduced response times was far less than the number of lives saved by keeping street dimensions small. The focus, therefore, should be on life safety, not just fire safety (which is a subset of life safety).

The need to build extremely expensive street underpasses for bikes/peds should be a signal to us that we have failed in the design of that street (because the street has been made a “car-only” street with too much space and speed given over to cars). A much less costly and more sustainable strategy is to use road diets that make at-grade crossings more feasible (and underpasses less necessary). I acknowledge that underpasses dramatically increase bike/ped travel and are sometimes necessary.

The draft TMP says too little about road diets, slowing cars, transportation user fees, and needed land use reforms.

The creation of “bus queue lanes” (as is used on 28th Street) or “cycle tracks” should not replace on-street parking, and should only be used when replacing existing street lanes, rather than widening the street to find room for such facilities.

The “reduce congestion” phrase, and calling for additional through and turn lanes (page 5-16 of my draft of the TMP) should be stricken.

The plan should openly acknowledge the following:

Transportation tends to be a “zero-sum” game rather than a “win-win” game. That is, when we improve conditions for car travel, we almost always worsen conditions for bike, ped, and transit travel. Economists call this the “barrier effect.” “Happy car design” creates barriers for other forms of travel.

The “travel time budget,” the “triple convergence,” “induced demand,” and the “urban to rural transect” are critically important to understand.

To increase non-car travel, taking away space, speed and subsidies for cars is much more effective than providing bike lanes, sidewalks and more buses.

 

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