I applied for Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board. Here’s how I answered a few of the questions

Applications close today at 5PM for Boulder’s Boards and Commissions. If you’re interested in applying for TAB, you can fill out the form here.

1. Have you had any experiences with the Transportation Advisory Board or the services it oversees that have sparked your interest in becoming a member of the Board, and, if so, please describe the experience(s) and what insight you gained.*

I originally applied for TAB two years ago before having any involvement in The City of Boulder governance or advocacy. Since that time, I’ve decided to get involved in community organizations that focus on improving transportation and housing in Boulder. My work on the Better Boulder steering committee, Community Cycles advocacy committee, and Boulder Community Housing Association all share a common thread: if housing is currently the top issue facing Boulder, then a diversity of transportation options is the second. I want to work to help build walkable communities that offer nearby services, and developing places where one does not need a car to live daily life.

While the Transportation Advisory Board and City Council faced a lot of criticism for the project on Folsom, I fundamentally believe that their motivations were in the right direction: to help in the implementation of the Transportation Master Plan. But the challenge’s our community faces are in the implementation; I’d like to be a voice on TAB that helps improve the City’s outreach and how we use data to drive our policy and decision-making.

2. How can we best implement the Transportation Master Plan and how do we address the major challenges to doing so?*

As many transportation advocates, members of TAB and City Council realized last summer, implementation is the hardest part of having an ambitious Transportation Master Plan. The real lesson I took from the community project on Folsom Street had little to do with engineering, modeling, or data. In fact, the Folsom Street protected bike lane project was performing nearly in-line with models outlined for the project by the eighth week of implementation. But by that point, in the eyes of many people, the project had already failed. The way to successfully meet the challenges in implementing an ambitious plan lie in the definition and communication of a vision in order to get strong community buy-in.

Having a Transportation Master Plan is necessary but not sufficient to implement that plan. To speak about bicycle infrastructure in particular, our leaders need to communicate a vision for a connected bicycle network before trying to implement a challenging change on a particular street, which may look haphazard, trivial, or at worst, punishing. We need a communication strategy that works with local businesses and local residents on individual streets to have them become the strongest coalition for significant street projects. And we need inclusive processes that value a variety of voices and stakeholders in our community, some of which may not be reached by traditional means.

But speaking about Boulder transportation more broadly, success in implementation will rely on pursuing a true diversity of small improvements rather than relying on big projects that have the potential for failure. For transit improvements, many in our community want to enable a community-wide EcoPass, which could have incredibly positive impacts if achieved. But there are serious risks as well, namely that RTD simply will not provide the level of service needed to make such a program work. But what about smaller improvements, like raising money to buy up more local service, or further expand or support the neighborhood EcoPass program? While we cannot give up our lofty goals, having a real focus on what’s achievable in the short term will can make a real difference for Boulder residents in the short term.

3. What is your assessment of important transportation issues related to Boulder’s community sustainability goals (Economic, Environmental and Social)? How might the City work with the business community, neighborhoods, and interest groups to address these issues?*

Boulder needs to continue to work toward improving access to transit as a backbone to a diverse set of transportation modes, which is key to achieving its environmental goals. The current system of neighborhood EcoPasses shuts out potential users of the system if their neighborhoods do not sign up at a high enough rate, insufficiently serving some populations near transit corridors, such as Old North Boulder or along Arapahoe. While Boulder will always be at a disadvantage with RTD, the city needs to take further ownership in improving transit to help meet our transportation goals.

Continuing to develop a strong biking and walking system is one key to the area’s economy, particularly to encourage local spending on goods and services rather than auto-oriented spending, as the latter spending is more likely to leave the local economy. To gain the full set of advantages of improving transit access, the city also needs to look at land use changes as well, particularly in the case of the East Arapahoe transportation project. Moving to a land use pattern that builds more value (providing more housing and nearby services) will be key to recouping any investment the city makes in improved transit.

For social sustainability, it’s important to keep Boulder financially within reach for all classes of people, including tying in affordable transportation options together with affordable housing options. We need to continue to strive for transportation equity for all modes of transportation. I think this can be best summed up by a quote from Enrique Peñalosa, mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, that “a bus with 100 people has a right to 100 times more road space than a car with a single occupant.”

4. In your opinion, what are the most pressing transportation issues for the City of Boulder? What new approaches could Boulder take towards addressing these issues?*

Boulder’s most pressing transportation needs are highly connected to its other most difficult problem: the general availability and cost of housing. Total cost of living in Boulder will be dominated by both housing and transportation costs; as a city, we must provide strategies for lowering the cost of both. If we choose to densify urban corridors as an opportunity to provide affordable housing, transportation options will be key to reduce the need to own a car and reduce the impacts of automobile use. And by continuing to build out our biking and walking system, individuals and families can further reduce their car use for many of their trips, saving both the individual expense, and saving the city expense in maintaining car infrastructure.

Secondarily, we need to make strides to redevelop car-focused areas outside of the city center. Paying for increased transit in difficult-to-serve areas may not be the ideal return-on-investment, so other alternatives may be preferable: better bike infrastructure/protected lanes, additional car-sharing options (like a point-to-point system Car2Go) and continued support for e-bikes are all good options for under-served areas which may not benefit from additional transit access.

5. What do you think would be an effective approach for creating regional transportation solutions?*

Regional transportation is Boulder’s most difficult transportation problem as we control only part of the equation shared with RTD. The city has most control over how people get around once inside the city limits, only some control over the buses (or ride-sharing) to get to the city, and no control over the last-mile difficulties in other communities from where people commute (which are often low-density). Boulder needs to spend most of its resources on the aspects it can control—improving our connections inside of Boulder—with particular focus on how we might serve regional users and our 65,000+ in-commuters.

Outside of Boulder, we’ve had good success in connecting the 36 corridor and into Denver (a major growth area in the next decade) with bus rapid transit, which I hope continues to improve service downtown and to Boulder Junction. To be successful, we need to work with our neighboring communities to improve ridership (by using incentives and better infrastructure). and co-develop last-mile solutions that best serve their unique development patterns. This will be a long-term goal, but critical for working with the complexity of our current regional layout.