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"We need the infrastructure in place for people to feel comfortable using these bikes," says Gary Rossmiller, a BikeDenver member who's working on the connectivity issues with the city. "We want better through-routes, something like Logan-Grant going in and out of downtown. Striping on Martin Luther King Boulevard would help. But talk about huge gaps — Alameda and Santa Fe. What a nightmare. The Platte River has only a limited number of crossings, and none of them are very transit-oriented unless you're a car, a truck or a train."
Rossmiller and Halasinski know that high-dollar improvements that might help — more pedestrian bridges like the Highland connection to downtown, for example — aren't likely to happen anytime soon. And while some activists enthuse about them, Denver may not be ready for the "bike boulevards" found in Portland, quiet streets that run parallel to arterials and provide speedy bike routes without all the stop signs. (Cars are deterred from jumping over from the arterials because the boulevards force them to turn right every few blocks, while cut-throughs allow the bikes to proceed.) But the BikeDenver bunch is moving ahead with more modest changes in anticipation of the B-Cycle rollout: a push for more bike parking downtown, safety programs, better street markings and transit connections.
Other major battles are still looming. The video detection system that allows the city's cameras to sense when cars are waiting at major intersections doesn't work with bikes. In December, van Heuven recalls, she and 27 other hard-core riders went on a winter solstice ride. It was one of the coldest nights of the year, with subzero wind chill. There were plenty of cars on the street, but few bicycles.
The solstice riders shivered their way through City Park and up Franklin to Colfax, where they waited for the light to change.
And waited. And waited.
Two to four times a month, Monica Strobel makes a point of taking the bus to work. This puzzles some of her friends, who've pulled up next to her at bus stops and offered a ride, assuming her car must be in the shop. But as executive director of Transportation Solutions, a transportation management association in the Cherry Creek and Glendale areas, Strobel figures she should lead by example.
TMAs are private-public entities, made up of local businesses, government agencies and transit authorities (such as RTD) that have a stake in advocating for multi-modal travel. Along with the Downtown Denver Partnership, Strobel's group is one of the oldest and most visible TMAs in town. The city's new transportation plan calls for encouraging the formation of more TMAs as a way to achieve its goals.
Among other objectives, Transportation Solutions seeks ways to relieve the traffic and parking headaches faced by businesses in Cherry Creek and along Colorado Boulevard. The group runs a transportation center at the University of Denver, pushing discounted bus passes to students and staff, and developed the Cherry Creek Bike Rack, a free station where commuting cyclists can safely store their bikes. The group is now studying a car-sharing program, a step beyond carpooling; for a modest monthly fee, participants can rent a car for a few bucks an hour, gas included. The idea is to provide autos for essential trips while weaning locals off complete reliance on a personal vehicle.
"If people can get rid of a car, that's two to four hundred dollars a month they can spend locally," Strobel says. "It's a huge economic-development tool."
Several TMA programs target short, non-commuter trips, but better bike routes and pedestrian crossings will only take you so far. Many metro residents live too far from work for such alternatives to be practical, particularly in bad weather; after all, the average daily commute for downtown workers is 26 miles. So public transit, rapid or not, remains a key to Strobel's hopes for Cherry Creek and the city's overall plan.
People who aren't "transit-dependent" — that is, people who have a choice between driving or taking the bus — can be tough sells. Strobel says even minor improvements her group has embarked upon, such as making bus stops more visible and attractive, with better information about routes, can boost ridership. But other initiatives, such as trying to convince area workers to use buses along Colorado Boulevard at lunchtime, have been hampered by buses that don't run often enough. And she's alarmed by reports of anticipated service cutbacks at RTD as a result of sagging revenue.
"They're considering cutting service," Strobel says. "How counterintuitive is that? People need more service."
In fact, the financial problems at RTD have raised questions not only about short-term bus service, but the fate of FasTracks, a major component of the city's plan. When voters approved a four-cents-on-every-ten-dollars tax hike in 2004 to finance a buildout of the light-rail system, it was expected that the system would cost $4.7 billion and be completed by 2017. Rising construction costs and other factors have hiked the estimate to $7.9 billion, while shortfalls in sales-tax revenue have left the budget for the project more than $2 billion short of that figure. That's prompted a flurry of recent meetings between RTD leaders and metro-area mayors, who are unhappy at the prospect that their lines will be seriously shortened or delayed.