I have lived in Boulder for 17 years and it is clearly harder to get around town now than when I moved here. Transportation is one of the three pillars of Growth and Development along with commercial and residential development. A healthy community can be measured by whether or not these foundations are in lockstep with one another, growing in sync. Boulder’s overall growth and development is out of sync as transportation has been neglected to a point that we are struggling to keep up with the impacts from our commercial and residential sectors.. Its analogous to putting your foot on the gas with the parking brake on. Boulder needs to completely modernize the way in which people get around town and how we want locals and tourists to flow in and out of the city. With about 65,000 people a day driving into Boulder we need to think carefully about what this plan looks like. It would be easy to get trapped into just dealing with the current traffic issues, but as Boulder grows we need to think about the Future First.
In the next 10-25 years Boulder and communities around the country will see a transportation revolution with the boom of electric and autonomous vehicles. This will be driven by both a technological and economic shift that will foster an exponential growth of these new modes of transportation. This revolution has been compared to the arrival of the smart phone. It was just ten years ago the first iPhone debuted, and within a few years it became ubiquitous to own one. The boom of electric and autonomous vehicles is already beginning, By the end of 2016, Boulder County had 1,600 electric vehicles and leads the state in ownership. Conservative estimates predict there being roughly 10,000 electric vehicles in Boulder by 2025.
A recent study by two entrepreneurial and disruption experts from RethinkX concluded “…the average American family will save more than $5,600 per year in transportation costs, equivalent to a wage raise of 10%.” The City made a Transportation Master Plan (TMP) in 2014 and in many ways it is already obsolete. Not to discount the hard work put into the TMP, but technology is evolving much faster than originally envisioned. The arrival and market dominance of this new transportation system will mirror much of what we saw with the introduction of the smart phone. We must be mindful not to build or immediate needs that don’t fit into these long-term goals. Walking, biking and busing will play a role in this paradigm shift, but we must be nimble to see how people adapt and evolve in the coming years. Planning for this transit revolution gives Boulder a serious opportunity allow our transportation infrastructure to catch up to and even get ahead of our G&D plans. Ignoring this future inevitability will only leave us reacting to change.
Here are the Six Areas of Transportation I would focus on:
By engaging the University, Google and other stakeholders, Boulder can lead the development and utilization of autonomous vehicle technology. These innovations will undoubtedly improve traffic, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and shorten response times for fire, police and medical emergencies.
We must revise the TMP to develop local policies that ensure new transportation options are integrated with existing public transportation services and provide equitable, accessible transportation choices to all. We should initiate studies that look at how to utilize this technology to improve traffic volume and flow throughout Boulder.
One of the most notable areas in which the city and the University can work hand in hand is the stretch of Broadway between Baseline and University. There are nine traffic/pedestrian lights in a distance of 1.1 miles. That’s a light every 645 feet. We must implement a better way to move people walking or riding bikes so to avoid their interfering with the flow of vehicles. Pedestrian underpasses appear to be the best approach, albeit expensive.
We should foster and invest in the implementation of electric and autonomous vehicle ride-share pilot programs will allow us to better estimate potential impacts and broader deployment.
We need to review long-term zoning and land use to serve the needs of centralized charging and parking of electric and autonomous vehicles. Identifying property in Boulder where we want to build this infrastructure needs to be done sooner rather than later as to avoid development usurping our preferred locations.
We must Study the use of more one-way streets to accompany this new transportation model.
Here are a two such studies we can use to start having this conversation seriously: