Cascade Avenue bike lane
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The bike lanes on Cascade Avenue in Colorado Springs have been controversial.

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“Traffic congestion is good.”

So proclaimed Colorado Spring city traffic engineer Kathleen Krager, who ordered a new tangle of on-street bicycle lanes that reduce car capacity throughout the city. The lanes have become so controversial we recently predicted they will dominate political discourse in campaigns leading to the city’s April 9 mayoral and City Council elections.

Krager announced her surprise retirement Thursday and will work through Feb. 1. City Council President pro-tem Jill Gaebler said backlash from recent traffic controversies likely contributed to Krager’s decision.

We thank Krager her for her service and wish her great happiness in retirement and future endeavors.

Krager’s traffic decisions, made mostly by executive fiat, were bold reflections of her belief people should get out of their cars and pursue healthier and cleaner forms of transportation. It is an engineering trend throughout the country, no less controversial in Boulder and Denver than in the Springs.

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Krager publicly announced her “traffic congestion is good” ideology with a 2015 PowerPoint presentation for the City’s Infill Steering Committee. She explained, in writing, how congestion “increases other modes of transportation” and “creates a Buzz.”

It creates buzz alright. The Gazette’s editorial board received more than 80 letters in the past few months protesting the proliferation of on-street bike lanes. Readers express anger and disgust at being left out of the planning process.

While one can respect Krager’s vision for a less automated roadway, the backlash to her forceful agenda should send a message to other public employees: You are servants of the public. Taxpayers are customers of city government, and their desires should be heard and respected.

Local residents pay good money for streets. Most fully reject the proclamation “traffic congestion is good.”

While engineered traffic snarls serve one public employee’s vision of a world with fewer cars, the average resident merely suffers more time in a car, less time with family and friends, less time pursuing interests, less time reading, and more general anxiety. Some believe excessive and inappropriate on-street bike lanes raise the risk of bicycle-vehicle collisions. And let’s not forget the wasted fuel and needless pollution generated when engineered congestion leaves cars idling stationary.

Bicycles are a good mode of transportation for people who can use them. They are useless for many disabled residents, most octogenarians and their elders, and people who commute long distances. They are useless for most of us during the type of winter storm we experienced Friday.

Krager will leave a memorable legacy, and one that should cause us all to think more about how we get around.

Let’s build on this conflict and turn it into something everyone can enjoy. Going forward, we hope city officials and the public focus more on off-street paths that take cyclists over, under, and around motorized traffic. To calm traffic, we could also prioritize more appropriate speed limits, traffic-taming humps, traffic circles, roundabouts, diverging diamonds and other modern intersection designs.

Traffic congestion is not good. Let’s reduce it with decisions that respect public health and safety, the economy, the environment and Krager’s virtuous hope for a city with fewer cars.

The Gazette editorial board

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