Pueblo Active Community Environments (P.A.C.E.)
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Update from the 2016 Colorado Bike Summit

by Kim Arline, Chairperson of Pueblo Active Community Environments (P.A.C.E.)

I had the pleasure this past week to attend and represent Pueblo and Southern Colorado at the 6th annual Colorado Bike Summit in Denver.  I’ve attended almost every year but this year was the best summit yet with the large group speakers.

Colorado is fortunate to have such a bicycle friendly governor in John Hickenlooper.  He flew in that morning from the Bronco’s Super Bowl victory the previous day to address the crowd and give us an update on his vision for what Colorado can become in terms of bicycle tourism, industry and health.

Hickenlooper has appointed Ken Gart as “Bike Czar” to lead some of these efforts across different levels of government, funding agencies and industry.  We heard from the nation’s only Bike Czar who is spearheading the “16 trails for 2016” to make sure some important trail connections statewide  link more people to existing cycling opportunities.  They mentioned some missing gaps of trail that will fully encircle Pikes Peak and become a popular tourist destination with a 60-mile trail “Ringing the Peak.”

I googled the “16 for ’16” plan during the session to see if trails I have long advocated for in public meetings with local government, State Parks master planning, GOCO funding (grant funds from Colorado lottery proceeds to improve parks and recreation statewide) and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) grant funding.  I was hopeful when I saw the Colorado Front Range Trail (CFRT) listed but know the 876-mile trail is more than two-thirds conceptual, rather than an actual trail.  But when I clicked the link for CFRT, I nearly jumped out of my seat to see the roughly one-mile trail connection that would connect 25 or more miles of trails in Pueblo West to a 30-mile concrete trail system through Lake Pueblo State Park (concrete surface is under construction right now), through the City of Pueblo and out to CSU-Pueblo campus, not to mention all the soft surface trails at Lake Pueblo we love to mountain bike!  I have to admit, a lot of public meetings are boring, you feel like you are wasting your time with nobody really listening but it’s fantastic to see the community input WAS heard and the wheels of government will work to help our communities get this project funded and completed!!!

We also heard from the new Director of CDOT and it was great to see Shailen Bhatt “gets” the importance of multi-modal transportation.  He has required an engineer in each of the five statewide CDOT regions to become experts in bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure!  These experts are supposed to make sure people walking and biking are not forgotten in state highway projects and funding that goes through CDOT. That funding source is the primary source of funds for many of our trails and bike lane projects in Pueblo County.  GOCO funded the original construction of the River Trail system as a Legacy Project back in the 1980s.  The main exception lately in Pueblo is the financial grant assistance from Kaiser Permanente in helping create more active living transportation options here.

Shailen Bhatt told his story of getting to cut the ribbon of the new Highway 36 bike path from Boulder into Denver.  He insisted on riding his bike home despite protests from his wife and employees at CDOT.  He was accompanied by two CDOT employees tasked with keeping the new boss from getting lost or killed.  His story was pretty funny, a similar story we’ve all experienced riding a trail or bike lane and then it suddenly STOPS!  There was no connection for him to safely ride to the Stapleton area of Denver.  His helpers insisted they call Mrs. Bhatt for a ride, which the director refused to do.  Instead he rode Federal Blvd with cars whizzing by and he saw firsthand how important it is to bridge the gaps in our infrastructure to truly create a healthy, viable option for active living and transportation.  Way to lead on a bike Shailen!  I love it!

The keynote speaker was Mikael Colville-Anderson, the CEO of Copenhagenize Design Company. His presentation included tons of photos of the dreadful cold and snow currently in Copenhagen, yet the streets were full of bicycles with 75% of the city commuting by bicycle year round.  He showed how their infrastructure favors a bicycle, creating the fastest and most direct route for bicycles, not cars.  In a landlocked city of millions of people, there isn’t room for any more cars, the bicycle is an elegant answer.  Unfortunately, we have lots of available space for sprawl and autocentric infrastructure to make the car the faster alternative and bicycling is more of an afterthought, than a priority. 

He compared our “bicycle culture” to their bicycles merely being tools to get around.  He said, “We have no culture around bikes, we don’t dress differently when we use a bike. It’s like using a vacuum cleaner, do any of you change clothes to vacuum?  Do you have a vacuum cleaner culture?”  He did a great job of showing how engineers creating our transportation system might not be best. He thinks anthropologists would be better at creating our bikeways.  Humans are creatures of habit and just because you build a nice looking sidewalk or path, if it isn’t the most direct, feasible option, it might not get used and social paths or he used the term “desire lines” are where the trail should be. 

Another interesting point he made was concerning the number of people following the law.  Even in Copenhagen, they complain cyclists don’t follow the laws!  But 93% follow the law there, 1% are wreckless non-conformists, while 6% are momentumists – they just want to keep moving and might go through a pedestrian area as a shortcut or safely proceed against a light. He described their non-conformist behaviors witnessed on camera all had a similar demeanor as each non-conformist rider made himself visibly larger and had a goofy look on their face, like “Ya, I know I shouldn’t do this but I’m almost done. I will be out of your way soon.”  Again, the anthropology analogy was fitting.

The summit highlights a bill or potential bill that could be introduced at the state level and in fact, day two of the Summit is meeting at the Capitol and meeting our state Representatives and Senators.  There are no bills regarding cycling yet in 2016 but a legal disparity in Careless Driving charges involving bodily injury were discussed and an area for improvement.  When a cyclist is hit, injured or killed, the driver often just gets 4 points off their license with a “Careless Driving” charge. Most careless driving incidents just involves some property damage that can easily be fixed or replaced.  But there is interest in increasing it to a 12 point violation and loss of license if a person is injured or killed, as we aren’t easily fixed or replaced.  As the law stands now, there is little legal ramifications for injuring a human along our roadways. 

The afternoon session was then broken into two breakout sessions.  I first attended the Women in Bicycling session and met some dynamic women trying to get more women riding.  I heard an idea I’d love to see get started at a local park here of “Chatty Laps” – just women getting together to ride and visit and meet and support one another.  Let us know if you’d like to start a group like this and PACE will promote it to more people! 

The second breakout session I was actually part of a panel of speakers discussing our experiences installing a novel or innovative bicycle infrastructure project in 2015 and how it went.  So Pueblo’s 5th St two-way bike lanes, Boulder’s controversial Folsom project, Denver’s protected bike lanes and Fort Collins protected bike lanes were discussed in a pretty fun, lively format.  I learned a lot more about the Boulder project and the misinformation that is still believed throughout the state.  They too suffered from an unsupportive newspaper not willing to show both sides of the story.  The common belief the project was removed due to community complaints is not true, only one block was reverted, not the entire project.  I think a lot of resources, lessons learned and things to avoid were shared with communities across the state.  I hope to get our hands on some videos used to educate Denver drivers on parking in these projects!  That was a big challenge here in that we could not film and provide education until the project was completed and the striping contractor had equipment go down and kept the project in limbo for over a month as the community complaints escalated.

So what’s ahead for Pueblo in 2016?  Lake Pueblo State Park is currently reconstructing close to 20 miles of trail, the entire degraded paved trail has been removed and will be replaced with concrete as well as additional miles of trail along the river for fisherman.  The road through the State Park will also be reconstructed to a nice smooth layer of new pavement, wider than the current road with a full shoulder for bicycling!  It will be even better than the mile of heaven they redid a couple years ago – the former State Park manager apologized to me and said the striping was done incorrectly and the lanes should be narrowed and shoulders widened with this project this summer.  They hope to be open and ready for summer crowds by mid-June!  I can’t wait to ride it!

Hopefully a new trail connecting Pueblo West to the State Park will get funding and priority here locally now that the governor has it on his list!  The State Parks managers, Monique Mullis and Brad Hensley, get a HUGE shout out for tirelessly working several years with the railroad to get the much needed easement access under a train bridge!  It might take some time to engineer a sustainable trail under the bridge in that drainage area that runs behind Sierra Vista Elementary and further south near Pueblo West High School.  But it’s going to be great when we have that connection!  I have joked with many public leaders I could retire from bicycle advocacy and leave them alone once that trail is done!

And PACE (Pueblo Active Community Environments) – that’s us on this website-we are working with local governments, CDOT and law enforcement on a much needed “Share the Road” campaign for 2016.  We will have a lot more information later in March and April about this!  We hope you will help us share the message and change the culture on the roads of Pueblo County!