All those new bike lanes on busy city streets support an ideology that says traffic jams are good.
“Why traffic congestion is good,” explained Colorado Springs Traffic Engineering Manager Kathleen Krager.
In a 2015 PowerPoint presentation to the city’s Infill Steering Committee, Krager said congestion “increases other modes of transportation” and “creates a Buzz.”
“Travel mode shifting is the process of encouraging people not to use single-occupant vehicles and instead walk, bike, carpool and use public transit instead,” explains an article about the new bike lanes by former Gazette columnist Scott Weiser, in The Complete Colorado. “One of the methods of gaining compliance is by making it inconvenient and slow to use cars.”
The Federal Highway Administration calls engineered congestion “road dieting.”
“A Road Diet is generally described as removing vehicle lanes from a roadway and reallocating the extra space for other uses or traveling modes, such as parking, sidewalks, bicycle lanes…” and more, explains the highway administration’s website.
The City Council and Planning Commission twice voted down replacing car lanes with bike lanes, but that did not stop the practice.
“In both cases the planning Commission and the city council voted it down,” explains Skip Morgan, an attorney for the Old North End Neighborhood, as quoted by Complete Colorado. “The traffic manager now in 2018 says ‘I didn’t need their approval, I’m just going to do it.’ ”
Krager does not need their approval, as determined by a July 18 ruling by Fourth Judicial District Judge David A. Gilbert. He declined a motion to make permanent a restraining order against narrowing Cascade Ave. with bike lanes. Gilbert explained bike lane decisions are “firmly within the bounds of the authority of the Traffic Manager.”
By some accounts, Krager’s plan is having a positive effect.
“These bikes lanes are calming the traffic,” explains William Boddington, in a recent letter to The Gazette. “I live in the Historic Old North End and the traffic on Cascade had become scary fast and congested. The bike lanes have driven volume to other streets… the bike lanes have so slowed the traffic on Cascade one could say it’s night and day.”
The Gazette receives far more letters and calls from residents complaining the city went too far. Some blame bike lanes for congestion. Others consider them dangerous for cyclists and motorists alike. Others say the lanes confuse them. Finally, many point to the mostly empty bike lanes as the basis for their complaint.
Krager’s drive to facilitate multi-modal transportation is well intentioned, and probably a good idea. Private automobiles are not always the best means of getting from one place to another. City government should improve cycling and pedestrian assets throughout the community.
That does not mean the city should continue a frenzied pace of replacing traffic lanes with bike lanes that are clearly in low demand by cyclists. Colorado Springs sprawls over 195 square miles — outsizing Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle, Cleveland, New Orleans and other large cities. Few can rely on a bicycle to routinely get from north to south or east to west. No significant portion of the population will exchange cars for bikes because of new paint on the streets.
Instead of more cycling lanes on streets, city government should work with the public and focus on a long-term commitment to enhance and add multi-use trails for recreational hiking and biking. Think big. We need to facilitate bicycles while trying to separate them from traffic.
With respect for our top traffic engineer’s objectives, intentional congestion is not good. It is not an appropriate or inspirational means of getting people out of cars. The important goals of better controlling current problem traffic areas and getting more people to use other forms of transportation should each be attacked, but separately.
To calm traffic, we could focus on more appropriate speed limits, traffic-taming humps, more traffic circles, roundabouts, diverging diamonds, and other modern intersection designs. Together, we can devise long-term transportation solutions that don’t entangle cyclists with cars.
the gazette editorial board