Last week we had a guest from Boulder Colorado, Dr. Spence Havlick, come visit us here in Kent to talk about his experience and observations for how college towns deal with traffic issues. As a Councilmember for over a decade in Boulder he actually had insightful things to say about a lot of different town/gown issues but clearly his passion centered on promoting walking and biking. No wonder I liked this guy so much, biking is his passion.
Boulder and Kent have their differences but they also have a lot of interesting similarities and Dr. Havlick seemed right at home here. As a matter of fact, he’s been on campuses all over the country and he said Kent really surprised him. Harkening memories of 1970 he admitted that he and his friends wondered if he’d be safe in Kent figuring a riot could break out at any time. Obviously none broke out and he must have told me 10 times how much he really likes Kent. He said we have the makings for something really special here — and I happen to think he’s right.
First off, it’s important to know that Boulder is a bigger city than Kent with a population of just over 100,000 (compared to Kent’s 27,000). Dr. Havlick said that one of Boulder’s biggest challenges right now is having too many jobs and not enough people to fill them — I wish we had that problem.
Boulder has a people shortage because they adopted a self imposed limit on their housing growth each year, capping it at 1% a year. They’ve also purchased over 55,000 acres of green space surrounding their city to make sure they never lose the natural beauty that is such an important part of their community.
They never adopted a cap on business growth (who would?) and apparently what’s happened is that job growth has increased faster than their people growth which means a lot of people have to commute in every day from distant cities. You can tell that drove him nuts because Boulder has done so much to break it’s addiction to cars and it pains him greatly to have people have to rely on a car but with no more houses left in town what’s the option? Apparently one option is to spend 6 billion (yes, that’s a “b” not an “m”) for new commuter rail service that they’re building to get more people on transit to get into Boulder.
You’ve got to give Boulder credit for putting their money where their mouth is. When they decided that they wanted to make walking and biking the top transportation choices in Boulder they began a construction spree of hike and bike trails all over the city. And they don’t just take the easy way out forcing pedestrians to follow wherever they build the trails; they actually figure out where the pedestrians need and want to go first and then they get creative in building the trails to follow those desire lines. They also actually plow the hike and bike trails before the streets to honor their transportation priorities that puts people first, bikes second, buses third and cars last.
I was impressed by the fact that rather than forcing pedestrians to cross vehicle traffic lanes at bridges, they’ve gone ahead and built 74 underpasses that take the trails under the bridge so people and cars stay separated. It’s really expensive to do it that way but it works. And they know it works because they track how many vehicle miles are driven each year in Boulder and through a serious investment in trails they’ve reduced car miles by 20% over the last 15 years. That’s impressive.
Boulder also said that if cars need service stations so do bikes so they’ve created bike stations all over town that offer minor repairs, fix flats, tighten brakes, etc. These stations have become local hang out spots for bikers which is pretty cool. They’ve put thousand of bike racks on every bus and all over town and they’ve built lockers for bikers to store their stuff. Boulder is definitely biker nirvana.
The University of Colorado has jumped on board the biking bandwagon too promoting alternatives to car usage and pricing parking high in order to create a financial incentive to walk and bike. The University even pays faculty to not drive their cars. They’ve built a great campus trail network although Spence raved about Kent’s esplanade. He said he just wants to see it extended all over town off campus.
One of the non-traffic innovations that Spence talked about was that the University of Colorado offers all graduates of the university free use of the university facilities after they graduate including the library, rec center, office space, etc. The idea is to encourage students to stay in Boulder after they graduate which is exactly what we want to do here in Kent, which is why I love this idea. I see an email in the works to Dr. Lefton’s attention in the near future.
He talked about the promise of Kent and he encouraged bringing the community and the university together to plan how to use bike and hike trails to be a catalyst for quality of life and business development. He said it’s been Boulder’s experience that thoughtful planning followed with a real commitment to build the plan enabled them to break thru conventional barriers of college towns and create the unique place that Boulder has become.
At the end of his two day visit I had a sense of affirmation that what we’re doing is right on track. As Spence departed he urged us to just keep it up and stay passionate about Kent’s future. And in between, get out and ride a bike, it’s the best renewable energy source going.