Boos, applause and shouts punctuated a panel discussion on bike lanes that saw more than 300 people crammed into Studio Bee in Colorado Springs on Monday night.
One hundred people wore T-shirts with a bike symbol inside a red heart and the words “bike lanes” below. Other bike lane supporters rang bicycle bells during the discussion co-hosted by The Gazette and KKTV 11 News at the Pikes Peak Center.
The first question was: How many miles of bike lanes does Colorado Springs have? About 7.4 percent of the city’s 1,755 miles of roadway have bike lanes — so 130 miles, said Tim Roberts, the city’s principal transportation planner.
Panelists disagreed about the safest kinds of bike lanes, best locations and how often they might be used. Bike lanes installed on North Cascade Avenue were a particular point of contention.
Many new bike lanes, traffic configurations and striping changes are part of both the city's Experience Downtown Master Plan, which City Council approved in 2016, and the bike master plan that the City Council adopted last April.
But the issue isn’t bikes versus cars, said Edward Snyder of Restore Our Roads, which opposes bike lanes and “road narrowing.” It’s the governed versus the government, as “the city has made these changes in spite of, not because of public opinion — that’s clear from the response.”
“Restore Our Roads is not opposed to bikes; we’re not opposed to bike infrastructure,” Snyder said. “We are opposed and don’t necessarily believe that the type of infrastructure the city’s implementing is in the best interest of either cyclists or cars. Most importantly, we’re opposed to the way the city is implementing this.”
But after public meetings are held to gather input, people should trust the professionals “to implement those decisions,” said City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler. She said creating bike lanes is a safety issue, akin to installing red-light cameras.
“I think if we polled the community right now about whether they wanted those red-light cameras, they would say no. But the city will still do it, because we know that it’s the right thing for our community, because our No. 1 priority is to keep our citizens safe on our roads,” Gaebler said.
Cory Sutela, of Bike Colorado Springs, said the city needs to collect better data about alternative transportation modes but also needs the chance to experiment.
“Our organization would say, ‘Yeah, we need to go out and we need to fail hard and fail forward in order that we can create the transportation network of the future,’” Sutela said.
Gaebler agreed that more data would help, such as with the bike lanes that were installed and then quickly removed from Research Parkway.
“I don’t think that that was a data-driven decision to take them out,” she said. “It was about responding to the public outcry, and so the city did that. But if we had had better data, I don’t know. Maybe it would have changed the implementation ...”
The panelists also were asked how traffic lanes can be reduced even as the city’s population is exploding.
“We do not put bike lanes and do a lane reduction on every road. We do not,” said Roberts, the transportation planner. “I want to emphasize that tonight. If there’s anything I want to come out of tonight, it’s every road does not get a lane reduction. We do look at roads, and there’s roadways where we say, ‘Nope. We cannot do this.’
“One of the criteria we look at is not just the existing volumes, but what is the potential for future. Is there a lot of vacant land, a lot of opportunity for development to occur? And if there is, that’s one roadway where we back off, and we put it in our back pocket and we say, ‘We’re going to monitor this roadway.’”
Rick Villa, of SaferCC.com, which opposes the push to reduce traffic lanes to accommodate bicycles in the Old North End, addressed the tension in the room.
“When you pile up the problems that we have here in Colorado Springs, we’ve still got a pretty dang good deal,” Villa said.
“I think that a large part of the problem has been: We’ve been really polarized, kind of like we have to fight each other, and I really think that there’s room for compromise. There’s room for both sides to go and get what they want. ... we have to live next door to these people, even if they like bikes or they don’t like bikes or whatever it is.”
To watch the full debate, visit The Gazette’s page on Facebook.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the city's Experience Downtown Master Plan and bike master plan are separate plans.