It’s bigger than Outdoor Dining – A letter to Council for March 8th (POSTPONED) study session

Boulder City Council

What’s your vision for Boulder’s downtown core?  

Here is ours: Downtown is a vibrant, livable space, a special place where people are relaxed and happy in a car-free, quiet, safe and eclectic atmosphere, and a gathering place for people of all ages to enjoy food, drinks, friends, and sunshine. In support of these goals, here are our recommendations for changes to the Outdoor Dining Program, parklet construction, and transportation-related elements downtown.

Community Cycles Recommendations

Boulder City Council just prioritized transportation improvements–the Core Arterial Network (CAN)–including a study area for downtown & Pearl Street. Pearl Street east of the pedestrian mall remains unfriendly to pedestrians, who undoubtedly should be the dominant species in the area. Further, the existing one-way downtown loop of two-lane traffic with marked “sharrows” is extremely uncomfortable to cycle on, presents a barrier to bicyclists traveling downtown, and needs to be addressed if the non-mall part of downtown will ever be a truly pedestrian-friendly, inviting, and liveable space.

We ask that  you proceed swiftly (i.e., without years-long studies) with uncontroversial changes. These include:

  1. Establish more permanent, outdoor spaces that are free from the noise and danger of automobiles. There was never a pilot for the existing Pearl Street mall, yet it has become Boulder’s iconic space.  Boulder’s temperate climate is generally pleasant all year round, making al fresco dining economically viable. Almost two years of highly successful operation of the West Pearl outdoor dining area shows that people are o.k. with rapid change that produces the community they envision, and that we don’t need to spend years of planning, outreach, and discussion. Please take advantage of the public’s excitement for this program to make it permanent, and consider repeating this success elsewhere. 
  2. Add pedestrian improvements on East Pearl such as bulbouts and raised crossings, and use other traffic calming designs to make it a “shared street” as piloted at Junction Place. People flock to Pearl St., both on and off the mall, for its walkability. Build on that, and attract more customers, by making it a truly pleasant, pedestrian-first environment.
  3. Similarly, remove some parking and create a “shared street” on Walnut between 9th and 11th (by the St. Julien) and on 14th St. (by the Boulder Theater and Oak on 14th).
  4. Because the existing one-way downtown street loop is uncomfortable for most riders and dangerous due to the mix of cars, trucks, and buses, provide bicyclists a 12-foot lane down the center of West Pearl to slowly but safely traverse the West Pearl outdoor dining area. This would leave plenty of room for outdoor seating and dining.

Other Comments on Feb. 1 staff memo regarding parklets:

  • Lost parking income -We suggest that parking fees in garages and other areas downtown be gradually increased over the long term to compensate for lost income to the city from parking spaces used by businesses for parklets.  
  • Aesthetics – The proposed modular parklet infrastructure, if used everywhere, will be rather generic and would not enhance the sense of uniqueness and place for different establishments downtown. The statement “Requires standard compliant infrastructure and prefers potentially subsidized infrastructure previously vetted by a cross-department team and DBP” concerns us because the desires of restaurant owners and Boulder’s residents are not even considered. We want unique, vibrant spaces. Parklets should meet minimum safety, durability, maintenance, and access requirements; gaining that, design should be left to the taste and creativity of the individual businesses. Such flexibility may result in reduced costs below those cited by staff, as local artisans and restaurant staff can develop their own funky and offbeat designs using different materials and styles, perhaps including landscaping elements and vegetation. Let’s let Boulder be Boulder, rather than overregulate creativity to death. 

Finally, thanks very much for considering making the Outdoor Dining program permanent. We urge you to do so, and also to take the opportunity to make our downtown streets safer and more pleasant by incorporating some of the downtown CAN elements as part of this project.

 

Thank you

The Community Cycles Advocacy Committee

 

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