We are excited to share the process of our work toward adopted Vision Zero in our community.
A groundbreaking Council decision took place Tuesday night. Read all the way through to see how Community Cycles is at the table, working to make our city safer for people who ride bicycles, and for all users of our transportation system.
The thing about policy is it is so important, but it is so unsexy. Yet policy decisions shape our cities, our intersections, our future. For people wanting to make change, the fun is in the actions – protests, public campaigns, slogans. But the real work of change often comes down to policy. And often it comes down to policy about how you make policy.
This is the case for a considerable recent victory for Community Cycles. As is often the case, because budgets are linked to work plans, the issue came out through the city of Boulder’s budget hearings. The question at hand, council wanted to know, was how would the Transportation Department respond to neighborhoods who wanted traffic calming? CC certainly supports neighborhood traffic calming. We are keenly aware this is a difficult time for change in Boulder in general and transportation specifically. With so many hot topics on our agenda, and the Folsom story still very fresh in the collective consciousness, there isn’t a lot of room to implement anything before a group (or the Daily Camera) may form loud opposition. Anything we do has to be carefully planned, getting the biggest, most supported bang for valuable time, resources and community engagement capacity.
The city had planned on starting work on its “Toward Vision Zero” program. In Vision Zero, traffic safety becomes the top priority as departments work together to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries in our community. It is a culture change, embraced by our city staff, elected leaders and is embedded in our societal norms, that puts the safety of all people on all neighborhoods streets and arterial roads first. And while there is an education and enforcement component to these programs, much more can be accomplished by updating the Design and Construction Standards and signal policy so that they prioritize the safety of humans.
While we support neighborhood traffic calming, we felt that the scope was too small. Neighborhood traffic calming, and the neighbors who support it, should be part of the larger Vision Zero project. This would give the city a wider base of support from the start. And while city staff was a bit more focused on outreach, we asked council to please stress the need to work on the Design and Construction Standards and signal standards –especially as we are building new roads and developments in Boulder Junction and along East Arapahoe, but even infill along 28th.
Developers are being required to build driveways, curb cuts and intersections that are much more about moving traffic quickly than keeping people, especially pedestrians and bicyclists, safely. A high number of existing intersections in Boulder are also dangerous and a pro-active approach that looks at signal timing and engineering will go much further to making their intersections safe immediately.
I think city staff in general agreed with the idea of looking at safety issues more holistically and city-wide. Council also agreed- unanimously, fully and strongly supporting the path forward Community Cycles had laid out, even stressing to staff that signal and engineering solutions and updating of the Design and Construction Standards should take precedence.
So while this policy about policy may seem in the weeds, and it is, I can’t stress how important this is, especially in the world of traffic engineering. For example, when I was the director of the bike advocacy organization in Philadelphia, we were the first group to get our streets department to adopt a policy that said when you repave a street, instead of just putting the lines back where they were, reduce the travel lanes to 10.5 ft wide and install bike lanes. This was a hard-fought policy change that within only 5 years added an additional 150 miles of bike lanes to city streets. By the time I left Philadelphia a few years later, there were over 200. All the while, other cities were slowly fighting the bike lane battle street by street. A few years later a nationwide policy called “Complete Streets” codified many of these standards into a policy for cities to adopt that would accommodate all users on the road.
Back to Boulder. Community Cycles is excited about where we are today. We are truly thankful for the strong support every single council member expressed. We know city staff values safety above all else. We could not be happier about entering the next stage to work on Vision Zero with them and support them in any way they require to get the job done. But we don’t delude ourselves that this will be easy. While everyone likes the idea of safety, when it comes to even slight delays, some people go insane and forget about the safety of their neighbors. This is why there is still a lot of work left to be done. We must make sure the community is involved in a conversation about safety so they understand the trade-offs and hopefully, we can all come together for safer streets for all users – people who walk, ride bikes, take transit and drive cars.
And this is why we need you and your neighbors and friends to stay engaged in this process. Support Community Cycles’ work via membership, contributing to our annual appeal, and joining our Advocacy email list.
Below are excerpts from our our letter on Oct 14th to council in reference to the budget, the neighborhood traffic calming issue and Vision Zero. All council members strongly voiced their support of the plan we proposed.
Dear City Council,
Community Cycles is writing to you about the Neighborhood Traffic Calming proposal that will come before you at your Oct 18th budget hearing.
We would suggest the following approach.
- Merge Neighborhood Traffic Calming and Vision Zero
Transportation staff has indicated they will begin to work on the “Toward Vision Zero” plan next year. We believe it is more a more efficient use of valuable time, resources and community engagement capacity to roll the neighborhood traffic calming plan into the Vision Zero plan. Asking staff to work on a separate neighborhood traffic calming plan will add/duplicate the public process will unnecessarily sidetrack the Vision Zero process.
As part of the Vision Zero plan, we think it is of utmost importance to revise the Design and Construction Standards and signal policy. This holistic approach will ensure better practices in all neighborhoods and arterials for a long time to come and will effectively create the policy document that will allow ALL streets to be better designed and safer.
- Update Design and Construction Standards
There could not be a better time than now to look at our Design and Construction Standards. As new neighborhoods are being built — such as Boulder Junction, Eastpointe and others — developers are asked to build neighborhood roads and connections to major arterials (like Valmont and Arapahoe) using our current outdated design standards. This results in street designs based too much on the goal of expediting motor vehicle traffic, and too little on the goal of prioritizing safety and mobility for people. Once streets are constructed, it is extremely difficult and costly to retrofit them for improved safety. So now is the time to update our traffic design and signal standards to meet our larger community goals for livability and sustainability.
- Neighborhood Concerns, Engagement, and Vision Zero
We share neighborhood concerns about speeding traffic on local roads. As you know, though, mitigating speed on one road can add to problems on adjacent roads and is not always popular. We think adding an examination of these issues as part of the Vision Zero plan is appropriate and is actually a part of what a Vision Zero plan should be. But instead of looking at spot fixes that may or may not be equitable, Vision Zero would look at the city more holistically and engage the entire city in a conversation around safety. It would also look at what has worked well elsewhere on a city wide level. For example, some cities have started lowering speeds on all neighborhood roads. While studies have shown that posting lower speeds on one road has little impact on speeding, a city-wide lowering of neighborhood traffic speeds may meet with much greater compliance.
Community Cycles believes getting to work on a Vision Zero in 2017 will yield the quickest, most inclusive and most publicly supported plan for safe streets for all users- pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and automobiles. We encourage council to not sidetrack staff’s current work on this project and allow staff, community organizations, businesses and neighborhoods to come together on a comprehensive vision and action plan that will support making all our streets safer.
We also sent council a letter in September outlining what Vision Zero means for Boulder:
Dear City Council and TAB:
At the Tuesday September 6th City Council session, a number of concerned council members asked the Transportation Department what was being done to address safety on city streets. We strongly agree safety is the number one transportation issue and are encouraged to see many council members recognizing this, especially in light of recent fatal crashes.
We are pleased to see that the City of Boulder has adopted a “Towards Vision Zero” policy to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries in our community. We hope the process to get there will be successful. We would like to share with you our view of what a Vision Zero approach means. Our viewpoint is shaped by other successful Vision Zero efforts in northern Europe and in the U.S.
“Vision Zero” means a culture change. Deaths and serious injuries due to traffic collisions are no longer considered to be accepted and expected – a natural cost of society’s need for transportation. This culture change takes place not only in city offices, but is embraced by our elected leaders and is embedded in our societal norms. Biking, walking, and public transit are not unusual modes of transportation, but are expected and prioritized, and in many neighborhoods are considered the best way of getting from place to place.
“Vision Zero” is a pro-active approach. We no longer wait to see where deaths and injuries occur and then respond to them. We seek out areas where problems are likely to exist based on experience here and elsewhere, and take steps before deaths occur. We change our engineering standards, our laws, and our expectations to make our roadways as safe as possible. Safety is no longer one of many transportation concerns, such as traffic delay and vehicle speed; safety is the top priority below which all other issues are secondary.
“Vision Zero” means all city departments are engaged. Parks and Rec, Police, Transportation, OSMP–all departments must actively look at their policies, procedures, and designs to see if they are placing safety at the top of their hierarchy of concerns. For example, improved pedestrian and bicycle safety might lead to a redesign of a parking lot for an OSMP trailhead or a Parks and Rec ballfield. Street design and construction standards need to be reviewed and updated with safety as the top priority. Traffic control devices need to ensure the safe progress of all people moving through the streets, especially walkers and more vulnerable street users. Police enforcement should focus on violations that reduce safety, such as failing to stop before turning right on red, crosswalk enforcement, and zero tolerance for speeding
“Vision Zero” is data-driven. In this approach, quantitative analysis is used to assess risk, and to work first and most aggressively on the highest risk issues. This does NOT mean waiting until deaths occur and then acting, but taking an engineering-based approach to identify dangerous infrastructure and behaviors and working first to mitigate those. Metrics might include vehicle speed, speed going through turns at intersections, studies of yielding behavior at crosswalks, etc.
“Vision Zero” is bold. Safety treatments are not given to just a few intersections or a couple of neighborhoods. Everyone deserves safe streets. Safety treatments are implemented city-wide.
“Vision Zero” takes courage. When motor vehicles are slowed, even for improved safety, people are outraged. We need strong leadership to hold firm and say clearly and repeatedly that the public safety of our residents is a higher priority than the desire to drive a private automobile as quickly as possible.
Boulder has always been a leader on issues of livability. Whether it is open spaces that protect the natural environment, sustainability programs that address climate change, or transportation options that allow more people to take buses and ride bicycles, Boulder has a history of leadership. Nothing impacts our city’s livability more than safety. As our streets are growing increasingly more deadly, we must commit to a Vision Zero policy that does not just move gradually towards this goal, but rather makes the hard choices that will get us there quickly.