A Vision for Housing and Transit on Boulder’s East Arapahoe Corridor

Boulder’s East Arapahoe corridor, defined between Folsom and 75th streets, shows great promise to create a place where people can live and work. The City of Boulder is currently developing its East Arapahoe Transportation Plan, which presents options to extend dedicated bus lanes, provide “bus rapid transit” with improved boarding and reduced wait times, and develop separated bike routes along the length of the road. Currently, the city is not considering changes in land-use along the corridor, which would miss an opportunity to make some new “15-minute” neighborhoods that our city council desires. And while many residents have concerns about changing the character of surrounding neighborhoods, we can address those concerns by focusing the improvements to the areas directly alongside Arapahoe itself.

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Transportation area defined in the study from City of Boulder

An inefficient corridor

With a current speed limit of 45 miles per hour, Arapahoe east of Foothills Parkway is neither a street nor a highway. The Strong Towns organization, an advocacy group for strengthening local communities, calls these street/road hybrids “stroads”, which have several negative effects. Stroads promote congestion and have speeds slower than a highway, making them ineffective at moving automobiles quickly and safely. But these roads also move automobiles too fast to function as a street, which is a place for people that builds value with shops, businesses, or gathering spaces. By mixing high-speed and turning automobile traffic with people who are on bikes or walking, street/road hybrids create a dangerous environment for all users. These auto-centric corridors fail to provide productive financial or economic value to the city.

East Arapahoe street view.png
Arapahoe east of Foothills Parkway in Boulder, Colorado

Several of the city’s proposed transportation options include expanded right-of-way, widening an already significantly wide road. But if you visit Arapahoe today, the avenue fails to give people a sense of place, largely due to broad building setbacks and an abundance of surface parking lots. Adopting design standards that focus on making places for people, along with making a complete street for buses, bikes, and pedestrians, could make the area into a human-scale boulevard.

How we can create a place for people

The Mason Corridor in Fort Collins provides a great example of how transit improvements can combine with new infill development, supported by the “MAX” bus rapid transit system, a bike trail, and several secure bike parking facilities. The Fort Collins project has also adapted its land use policies to allow for mixed-use redevelopment, providing buildings with retail shops on the ground floor, but also includes two to four stories of additional housing or office space. With added housing along the street, wait times for buses could be reduced from below the current 10-minute intervals for the “JUMP” during peak time, potentially matching or besting the 7-8 minute intervals for the “SKIP” on Broadway.

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Mason Street at Mulberry St. in Fort Collins, Colorado

From the recent Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan survey update, the top two desires from Boulder residents are more affordable housing options and the ability to get around with or without a car. A vision for Arapahoe can do both. The city needs to consider land use as a part of its plan to gain the real value wanted from this corridor and to make the significant transportation investments worthwhile. Arapahoe needs a rich mix of nearby jobs, housing, restaurants, breweries, climbing gyms, coffee shops, and other amenities in order to build a broader community in this part of town. Boulder needs to take this opportunity to make places that people want to live, work, and visit.

Eric Budd is a member of the Better Boulder Steering Committee. You can find him at @ericmbudd on Twitter.

What I learned from six months of wearing a Twitter-handle nametag

For the past six months, I’ve consistently worn a nametag with my Twitter handle @ericmbudd proudly displayed next to the cerulean blue Larry Twitter bird, running a live experiment on social circles and network effects.

Screenshot 2016-01-12 00.45.58

I sent artwork to Nametag Ninja, who for $13.38 shipped me a permanent magnetic nametag that I planned to wear everywhere.

My experiment seems like a proper follow-up to my previous view that “Facebook is the suburbs while Twitter is the city,” and now gives me an opportunity to build on some of Twitter’s advantages in a dense, urban, and creative-filled environment like Boulder, ColoradoInitially I had skepticism and nervousness about changing a social norm but realized I must embrace the decision for a proper test.

Places I have worn the nametag: public events like meetups and Ignite Boulder, larger private events, public meetings (Boulder city council), job interviews, coffee shops, and even my fifteen-year high school reunion (@MattSebek was impressed, which is cool because he’s way more Twitter famous than I am). I chose not to wear the nametag at work, for political and company-policy reasons, and at smaller gatherings meant to be private or semi-private, which are more focused on intimate relationships than public dialogue, or where I might call undue attention to myself.

Breakdown of responses:

  • “What is that?” (usually followed by me asking “are you on Twitter?” with a common response of “no”)
  • “Do you work for twitter?” (“no”)
  • “Why the nametag?” (“it’s a bit of a social experiment”)
  • “Do you wear that thing everywhere?” (“yes”)
  • “Nice to meet you @ericmbudd
  • “Oh you totally follow me on Twitter”
  • “Oh we met at…”
  • “Oh I think you favorited my tweet”
  • “I think I know you from Twitter. You’re always blowing up my feed.”

After wearing the nametag a few weeks, I realized I wouldn’t see a large shift in my Twitter or in-person experiences. Since the most common response to the nametag was “do you work for Twitter?”, unfortunately people did not intuitively understand my intent. And while about 560 people followed me on Twitter during the trial period, only a single person followed me directly due to the nametag (which she did on her phone mid-conversation upon first meeting). However, five to twenty people followed me indirectly due to the nametag: either by starting or furthering a conversation, or clearly identifying that I used Twitter and could be followed.

What did I hope the nametag would accomplish?

Having people I met follow me was not itself a goal. I see Twitter as a network of people more related by interests rather than an explicit physical or geographical connection. My goal was to enhance Twitter as a tool to build networks. By wearing a nametag, I wanted to invite conversation. By wearing a Twitter nametag, I also wanted to invite online conversation, and signify that our discourse could be public, inclusive, and continuing. I wanted to connect in-person people with an online network of others talking about topics we found interesting. And on several occasions I met people in person after only having known them on Twitter. I benefited from having the nametag both online and in person.

But I also got the benefits of wearing a nametag in general (via @BrianLehman): people knowing my name, and not ever getting embarrassed if they had forgotten or couldn’t instantly recall it. During the time period I also saw people running for elected office wearing nametags to great effect, and thought how powerful it might be to instantly follow up with someone online after meeting.

Screenshot 2016-01-12 00.13.40.png
Online network effects magnify in-person networks.

So what else did I learn?

Can a Twitter nametag help replace a business card? Absolutely, if interests are aligned. A business card might be useful for connecting with a person for a specific intent, but following someone on Twitter can lead to future ideas, conversations, or projects.

It helps to be up front: “Cool, I’ll check out your profile and might give you a follow.” Some people guard their feeds closely and may resist following new people who don’t align with what they want to read regularly. But putting people on a Twitter list can be a great alternative; I suggest building lists either based around geographic location or centered on a subject matter, like my list of “urbanists.” I try to put as many people as possible on relevant lists that I read, even if I don’t have an immediate connection in mind.

Does the idea of Twitter nametags scale? Probably; I benefitted from the fame of being the only person using a Twitter nametag, in a similar way that REI did with its #OptOutside campaign rejecting Black Friday. But what would happen if every Twitter user had one? Would the effect of increased interactions scale for the typical person? I’m curious. Could Twitter make advantage of the fear of missing out‘, and drive more users to its service?

Is there a business case for Twitter mailing nametags to all of its users? (from @isaach). I’ll leave rigorous analysis of the question to another article, but I think possibly, given some caveats: the people who would benefit most would live in a dense city that has lots of engaged users, with lots of people interested in connecting and learning with others.

Downsides or concerns

A few caveats to think about if you decide to make your own Twitter nametag:

  1. The nametag may drive too much meta conversation about Twitter.
  2. Some people pick Twitter handles that are not ideal due to scarcity of name options, prompting a user to add their name or pseudonym to their nametag as well.
  3. The perception that you are trying to brand yourself. (Some people might be and others might not be)
  4. The potential to intimidate others, particularly if they know you have a large, engaged following that might bring unwanted attention.
  5. The idea that people can’t talk to you about private topics because you might be very focused on public conversations.

And perhaps most importantly, wearing a nametag requires complete comfort with a public presence anywhere and anyplace. To make public posts on the internet largely without recourse is a privilege that many (or most?) people do not have, or may not think they have. A Twitter nametag can magnify the fear of putting one’s self fully into the public eye. But hopefully more people will be willing to try an expanded digital public presence.

Continue this conversation by chatting with @ericmbudd on Twitter.

Boulder could enshrine class and race exclusion into its city charter

Two ballot measures proposed by neighborhood groups, “Neighborhood Right to Vote” and “New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” (300 & 301, respectively) aim to give citizens more rights to control growth and development in Boulder. However, support for these measures strongly biases toward homeowners and older demographics. The proposals will greatly disadvantage people who rent, people who are younger, and people who work or start companies in Boulder. But the main effect of these amendments to the city charter will be to exclude certain types of development and certain types of people from living in Boulder.

At a recent city council candidate forum hosted by The Boulder Community Housing Association, candidates discussed how to grow an inclusive and diverse city. The reality is that Boulder is both less racially diverse than the national average and also diversifying at a slower rate. According to the 2010 census, “Eighty-eight percent of Boulder’s population is White, with a 0.3 percent decrease from 2000, while the nation saw a percentage decrease of nearly 3 percent.” In part due to America’s racial wealth gap, Boulder will continue in its lack of diversity unless the city provides options for lower-income demographics that heavily skew non-white. Measures 300 and 301 would serve to uphold Boulder as an ethnically and economically homogeneous community.  

While cities themselves cannot force diversity, they do have the power to promote healthy communities by offering housing choices for wider ranges of income and family types. Both ballot amendments would serve to restrict supply and make intrinsically affordable housing—smaller footprints designed for walking, biking, and transit—financially infeasible. At a recent meeting of Boulder’s planning board on October 1st, 2015, two speakers from the audience illustrated the gap in understanding present in ballot issues 300 and 301.

In discussion about the first project at planning board, 3303 Broadway St., a woman remarked with surprise at the cost of the proposed $1000 per month one-bedroom units, saying that her “mortgage payment is less” than that (video link). Unfortunately for typical Boulder renters, the median price for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,420 per month, and the median price for a two-bedroom apartment recently topped $2,000 per month. She also believed that the units were a “monolith… of tiny cubicles stacked together” and they lacked “trees and lawns.” But the project’s efficiency-sized units are an attractive option to the younger generation, housing one or two people who desire to live and work near downtown, serving potential employees that might otherwise in-commute. If ballot amendment 301 passes, additional fees placed on new development will likely make smaller-footprint units uneconomical, forcing a continued upward pressure on rents in the city.

A second speaker at planning board that evening commented on a related project at 2801 Jay Road, designed to provide a significant percentage of affordable housing to complement the Broadway site. The man stated that “wherever there’s low income, affordable housing, there’s crime. I am adverse to crime” (video link). Such opinion has no factual basis. If ballot measure 300 passes, our city charter will give outsize power for neighborhood fear to block plans that would allow more affordable housing through zoning or occupancy limit changes.

One of the main arguments for 301, that “development shall pay its own way,” claims that fees collected could lead to additional affordable housing built in Boulder. However, Boulder has never lacked funding for permanently affordable housing, which will be even more true with the recent Commercial Linkage Fee phasing in next year. Rather, the problem lies in that developers can rarely build truly affordable housing due to high overhead costs and neighborhood pushback, both worsened by 300 and 301.

Cities must work to appeal to all facets of society in order to maximize their value. Boulder real estate prices already put significant pressure on teachers, police officers, firefighters, and young families trying to afford living within city limits. Ballot measures 300 and 301 will only accelerate the problem. I urge you to vote down these proposals so that we can continue our work in making Boulder a more equitable and inclusive city.

@ericmbudd

Boulder for Safe Streets Action In Support of Folsom Protected Bike Lanes

WHO: Boulder for Safe Streets
WHAT: Action in support of protected bike lanes in Boulder and the need for safe streets
WHEN: Wednesday, 30 September, 5:15PM
WHERE: Beginning at Greenleaf Park (intersection of Spruce Street and Folsom Street), Boulder, Colorado

BOULDER, COLORADO—Bicyclists and safe street advocates will gather this afternoon at 5:15 pm at the corner of Folsom and Spruce Streets in Boulder to mourn the removal of protected bike lanes on Folsom Street and support of safe streets for all users. On Tuesday night, Boulder City Council unanimously approved early termination of the trial bike lanes. The lanes were installed ten weeks ago with an intended duration of 12-18 months.

Protected bike lanes are one of several infrastructure modifications included in Boulder’s Living Labs program, which seeks innovative ways to reach the city’s long-term transportation goals, including 30% of trips in Boulder made by bicycle by 2035. Over 200 US Cities have successfully installed protected bike lane projects in the past three years. So far only three projects have been removed.

Metrics that staff and Council identified as indicators of success have all been “trending in the right direction,” according to Kathleen Bracke, Manager of GO Boulder. Yet Council member Lisa Morzel has been advocating since August that the project be scaled back. On Thursday September 29th, city staff made the same proposal, recommending early removal of the southern half of the project—in a meeting closed to public comment—and circumventing normal procedures in bypassing its own citizens’ Transportation Advisory Board.

A council election in November, the local newspaper’s interest in stoking controversy, and vehement reactions from a “green” city’s motoring public have led to a perfect storm that doomed a safer street for bikes, pedestrians, and vehicles. “Boulder used to be considered one of the most most bike friendly cities in the country,” said Alana Wilson, one of the event organizers. “Unfortunately that no longer seems to be part of the Boulder brand.”

In a letter to city council, local resident Charles Brock wrote about the need for safe streets: “I’ll never forget rushing to the hospital when my high-school-aged son was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Folsom,” Charles said. “I hope he’ll finally be fully recovered by the end of this year, five years after the crash.”

The reversal in street safety “has been a setback, for sure,” remarked Eric Budd, another organizer of the event, “But we’ve been able to mobilize a lot of people who ride bikes in Boulder. Working with national organizations and our terrific local group, Community Cycles, we will be moving strongly to bring Boulder back as a leader in creating safe streets for people. We need leadership to implement Boulder’s ambitious transportation plan.”

At an event where people were encouraged to write love letters and poems to the Folsom bike lanes, many wrote about finally feeling safe on a dangerous road. “Dear Folsom,” one wrote,” My kids want to bike now because of you. I feel finally feel safe with my family.” “Oh Folsom, how I love thee!” wrote another. “My commute is so safe and happy!”

Said Budd, “I hope Boulder can recommit and actually take steps to reverse this unfortunate path. The future of progressive cities lies in prioritizing human-scaled, calmed, safe environments.”

Point of contact:
Eric Budd
ericbudd@gmail.com
(720) 295-1122

Removing protected bike lanes on Folsom is a political move not in the best interest of Boulder

My comments to the city council and staff on the protected bike lane project on Folsom. Here’s a link to the article in the Daily Camera for context: “Boulder staff recommends scaling back much of Folsom ‘right-sizing’ project”

I’m incredibly disappointed with the staff proposal released Thursday evening recommending the removal of the southern portion of Folsom’s protected bike lanes.

The Folsom project, after eight weeks, is coming in-line toward the desired metrics—travel times have moved closely to the modeled projections, reducing speeds (but the 85th percentile speed is still 20% above the speed limit), and data so far showing reduced crashes. The staff recommendation discussed none of these improvements our community has gained through the street change.

Rather, the staff recommendation mentions no data at all. The opinion centers on fear, uncertainty, and doubt raised about the upcoming winter, which happens to be an el Niño year, even though the current NOAA forecast shows no precipitation anomaly projected for Colorado (link via Nathan Johnson, Boulder resident at @snowforecaster)

Both TAB and city council had a briefing on snow removal on the Folsom corridor, yet none of these concerns were raised as significant hurdles at the time.

Much of the criticism of the Folsom project has been on the city’s public process and evaluation of data. But the potential removal of the project will have no public process and ignores the data collected so far. I’m frankly surprised that the council will entertain this option, one that’s been discussed in a vacuum and sprung on council after the TAB meeting, only a few days before the council meeting.

I appreciate the leadership the council has shown on the Living Labs thus far. But in order to see out a vision, we can’t pull pilot projects after only two months. And we can’t end projects without using data, instead playing to fears and politics. With the latest modifications, the street is working with the intended effects. To remove half this project not only admits defeat on Folsom, but a defeat in making any change that might significantly increase bicycle mode share in Boulder.

The decision you make Tuesday will shape transportation policy for years or decades.

Eric Budd
3025 Broadway St. #38
Boulder, CO

How getting rid of my car made me an Ironman

Had I driven to work everyday for a year, I would have spent 154 hours driving a car. Aint nobody got time for that. In training for Ironman Boulder, I trained for 421 hours over a seven month period. The time would equal almost a third of the training required for an ironman event. What if you could bike everywhere instead of drive?

Assumptions

If you want to replicate my results in your training, a few things to keep in mind:

  1. At 24 miles round-trip, my work commute may have been longer than average, and allowed for mostly uninterrupted riding.
  2. I had convenient swim training locations which did not involve any out-of-the-way travel.
  3. I’m much stronger at cycling than running or swimming, but others may need to run or swim more than I did. (try running to work!)
  4. Protected bike parking at work allowed me to ride my expensive bike to work without fear of the bike getting stolen. This matters if you want to train more on the bike you will use in the event (somewhat important, but not critical)

What did my regular commute look like?

Boulder is a pretty compact place, often described as “twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.” Most of my commuting was to work (in Longmont) or around town. Here’s a map to get you a better flavor. Click to zoom:

Boulder bike commuting map via Strava heatmap

How many hours does it take to train for an Ironman?

For the typical person, finishing an ironman triathlon event normally takes thirteen to seventeen hours of endurance exercise, which requires a large amount of training. Athletes often start training six to eight months in advance – I started in January in preparation for Ironman Boulder on August 2nd. Here’s a monthly summary from my training plan which averages about fourteen hours a week and peaks at almost eighteen hours a week:

Ironman training time

How much money does an ironman event cost?

Explicitly, an ironman event is rather expensive — mine was $685 just for registration, and many people also must pay for travel and lodging. Gear expenses likely exceed $200-400 for running shoes, wetsuit rental or other gear, assuming you don’t need to buy a bike.

But food expense may be the most ignored cost. An athlete training ten hours a week should expect to burn 30-50% more calories than a sedentary person. At an additional $20-40 per week, the total cost would be $520 to $1040 over a six-month training period.

How much time might I’ve driven if I didn’t bike commute?

Since I did not use a car for commuting, I needed to calculate how much time I would have spent in a car had I driven. Based on my biking data, I calculated that my average speed when commuting was 14.9 miles per hour, while if I drove, I estimate my average speed would have been 29 miles per hour (approximately half city and half highway driving, including stops).

CodeCogsEqn (5)

Using the bike/car time ratio and multiplying through by the number of hours I biked, the calculation for substituted driving equates to:

  • 4.2 hours per week of replaced car commuting, or
  • 125.7 hours of replaced car commuting during the 7-month period.

Since my total training time over this period was 421 hours, spending 125 hours in a car would have reduced my potential training time by 30% without spending additional time.

The opportunity cost of time – number of hours in a day

The main obstacle an ironman athlete faces is fitting in the required training into the typical 24-hour day. After subtracting eight hours a day for sleep (it’s important!) and six-to-eight hours a day for working (averaged over seven days), and an average of two hours a day for basic errands (eating, cleaning, regular maintenance), the typical athlete has difficulty fitting in two hours a day to train.

Ironman weekly time trade-offs 3

Each hour of driving replaced with bike riding will help reclaim training time. The graph demonstrates two options of how an athlete may spend his or her time, bike commuting or not. Along each curve the athlete can also decide how much free time he or she may use for training. By bike commuting, a person training for an ironman has better options: more potential training time, more potential free time, or anywhere along that curve.

The opportunity cost of money – driving vs. biking

Bike commuting instead of driving has great advantages in the time-cost of driving, but what about the monetary cost of driving? Since I’ve calculated the total commuting miles during the seven-month period at 3,646 miles, multiplying this by the 2015 Federal reimbursement rate of 57.5 cents per mile equals a gross savings of $2,096 over a seven month period.

The net savings will be lower than the gross savings after subtracting the cost of biking instead. But you were going to bike that much anyway, right? In which case, the gross savings completely covered my entry into the Ironman event and additional food cost used in training.

Completing an ironman without giving up too much

Completing an ironman event often requires more than a casual commitment of time, money, and lifestyle. Many consider ironman events to be too-consuming: but the key to completing one is optimizing the resources at your disposal.

@ericmbudd

Occupancy Limit Enforcement Targets the Economically Vulnerable

On Tuesday September 15th, Boulder city council will review a proposed ordinance to increase enforcement on housing occupancy limit violations, adding two city staff and raising fines for violations. But increased enforcement of the occupancy laws only serves to displace at-risk members of the community and reduce a substantial amount of the city’s affordable housing.

As the Denver Post reported in April, Colorado’s housing prices increased 9.8% over the past year, the fastest pace in the nation, but wages have not risen nearly as quickly. Higher prices continue to put stress on Boulder residents at lower income levels. Living in housing over occupancy is often a solution to reduce monthly rents; this policy further punishes people living in this condition who will now have increased risk of eviction and costly fines. The proposed changes target the economically vulnerable and disproportionately targets renters.

The occupancy limits themselves are arbitrary, and do not apply to families related by blood, marriage, or legal adoption. Occupancy enforcement limits people’s way of living rather than punishing a particular behavior. The city should not concern itself with the makeup of a home or family, but specifically address actual concerns raised — the real issues are parking, traffic, noise or trash violations.

While Boulder has stated housing goals of increasing affordable housing and reducing the city’s carbon footprint, increasing occupancy enforcement works directly against those goals. By best estimates, several thousand people in the city live over-occupied, who would have significantly increased costs if displaced from their current housing. And more people occupying a house can reduce the carbon footprint per capita, factoring in food, transportation, and energy costs: all part of the city’s stated goals.

I ask the city council to reconsider changes that will harm lower-income members of our community.
Eric Budd
Boulder, Colorado
@ericmbudd

 

In July, I spoke on occupancy limits at Ignite Boulder.