06/28/10

Bikes Belong in Boulder: City Officials and Advocates Share their KnowledgeBikes Belong in Boulder: City Officials and Advocates Share their Knowledge

Bikes Belong in Boulder: City Officials and Advocates Share their Knowledge
By Steve Clark, Bike Walk Twin Cities Program Manager


In 1987, as Boulder's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, I was asked to speak at the Minnesota Bike Conference about "Boulder's Success Story." I started the talk with the observation that "it's not that Boulder is such a success, but that most other U.S. cities are dismal failures at accommodating bicyclists!"


Now, 23 years later, I'm back in Boulder for the Bikes Belong conference, recounting that story and many others. But mostly I am marveling at the bicycling infrastructure that has been added since my departure. At the conference, I am talking about the "success story" that is emerging in Minneapolis.


When I heard that Bikes Belong Coalition, an organization sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry with the goal of putting more people on bicycles more often, wanted to bring delegates from the non-motorized transportation pilot communities to Boulder to discuss (and show) innovative strategies for getting more people on bikes, I knew it would be something not only worthwhile - but fun. And for me, a chance to connect with old friends.


So I was glad when Joan Pasiuk, director of the Minneapolis area pilot location-known as Bike Walk Twin Cities-- asked me if I would be willing to represent our program, even though it meant missing Bike Walk to Work Day and the Nice Ride kick-off event.
The event started for me before I even got to Boulder. Roger Geller, Bike Coordinator of Portland, Oregon, sat next to me on the bus ride from the airport. For 40 minutes, we shared strategies and stories from our respective cities. This was Roger's first trip to Boulder, and he was excited to see if anything was happening in Boulder that hadn't already been tried in Portland. (Yes, there is a bit of competition when it comes to achieving bicycle nirvana.)


Both Boulder and Portland have been given the "Platinum" award from the League of American Bicyclist's bicycle friendly program (Minneapolis currently has the "Silver" ranking). Later, watching Roger's power point presentation it was easy to understand why .
Portland is leading the country in creating new facilities that are based on international best practices. Colored bike lanes (especially to demarcate conflict zones), bike advance boxes (also colored), 10' travel lanes, diverters for cars, and short cuts for walkers and bicyclists are all now common place in Portland, resulting in significant increases in ridership and safety. However, while Portland might be at the forefront, use of these facilities is becoming a national trend. Pilot delegates were treated to presentations from San Francisco, New York City, and of course, Boulder, Colorado, where these new practices are having a transformative impact.

Minneapolis, the only city that is both a pilot community and a member of NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) was well represented. Jon Wertjes from Minneapolis Public Works talked about the strides Minneapolis is making in bicycle transportation as a NACTO member and later, Minneapolis City Council Member Robert Lilligren and I did a joint presentation about the Bike Walk Twin Cities program. The audience seemed especially interested in the Nice Ride Minnesota bike-sharing program and the numerous 4-3 lane conversions (aka "road diets") that allow space for bike lanes without having to add pavement. There was also general agreement that bicycle boulevards are a great strategy to increase ridership. We also talked about some of the barriers (e.g., state standards) in reaching a higher level of bicycle usage.

Here were the takeaways from the entire Boulder Conference:


• It is very encouraging to see the commitment of local governments to rethink how public space is being used and to challenge old paradigms of moving cars first. Even just five years ago, it would have been unthinkable in many jurisdictions to place the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians at an even level with the movement of cars. Reallocating existing space to better serve bicyclists and pedestrians is now happening in our biggest cities and on our most high-profile streets nationwide.

• It's not just about bikes. Many of the facility designs being adapted from European practices also include characteristics that improve the pedestrian experience, create new high-quality public spaces, and support livelier, more economically-healthy urban environments.

• There's a new awareness that it's not just about what cities can do for bicycling, but what bicycling can do for cities --- that bicycling and walking really can be transportation solutions. This is evident in the growing mode share for bicycling and walking, not only in places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, but also in U.S. cities..

• There are still many barriers to overcome before the above becomes the norm (and becomes much easier), which is why Conference attendees agreed to work on developing and supporting an alternative guidebook for NACTO members that will incorporate innovative treatments from cities that have fully embraced walking and bicycling as transportation solutions.

• Many people are looking at the Twin Cities pilot program for leadership in this movement; with strong advocates, empowered elected officials, and enlightened public works officials, we surely will not disappoint!