Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cycling and the killing zone

Posted By on Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

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Colorado Springs has an outstanding reputation for cycling — this cannot be disputed. Recently, the 2014 Benchmarking Report was released by the Alliance for Biking and Walking as a way to analyze how cities are progressing or regressing against their peer cities. You can find it online here.

We should be proud to know that we’re ranked No. 3 at getting the recommended fitness among major U.S. cities, behind only Oakland and San Francisco. But let’s not start patting ourselves on the back quite yet.

We have one part of the fitness equation figured out — the motivational fitness enthusiasts, the people who are motivated and excited about getting exercise and seeking personal records. But what about the other community of cyclists? You know, the cyclists that are seen in other cities and towns that don't have the Lycra and cycling shoes, and riding bikes that may not even be suitable for a local pawnshop? You know, Midwestern transplants like myself?

These cyclists are occasionally seen without helmets and wearing jeans, khakis, even a suit or a dress. We ride bikes mostly for convenience, whether it's a cruiser or a twice-handed-down road bike, but speaking relatively, the community seems to be lacking this demographic of cyclists.

Remember when all the kids rode bikes to and from school? I was one of those kids, and it was a great source of passive recreation that I didn’t even realize was the healthy choice at the time. Wouldn’t it be great if we, as parents, felt that this was even a safe option today?

Commuter cyclists only ride where they feel safe; well, Colorado Springs doesn’t have the greatest infrastructure to make you feel safe. I mean, we have beautiful places to ride; you just can’t get to them without traveling treacherous streets (like 30th Street, connecting to Garden of the Gods).

We're doing better thanks to the city's former non-motorized transportation coordinators. We now have more bike lanes, more trails and a better bicycle infrastructure, but we have a long, long way to go. Consider that we’re ranked 38th in the same report for funding of such positions.

Another troubling stat from the same report shows we’re ranked 25th in bicyclist fatality rates in large cities, with 4.8 fatalities per 10,000 bicycling commuters per year. This is not that startling if you've ridden on or across the city's primary roadways. The city's bike lanes are great when they connect to the trails and other bicycle networks, but too often they end with little to no warning or placed alongside the honking horns of the drivers shouting "get a job!" or, "get a car!" among more colorful statements too.

Bike lanes are not enough sometimes — in some cases, a greater level of protection is needed. As an example, we have what cyclists affectionately refer to as the “Killing Zone," that being the blocks on Tejon Street surrounding the exit ramp from Interstate 25. This stretch of road needs clearer messaging for the safety of the cyclists via painted bike lanes and vertical protection. Tejon should be a comfortable north/south connection, but it's not. 

Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, an organization that a few of us advocates for a more walkable and friendly Colorado Springs started a few years ago, is working on some of these solutions now. We're planning to test out protected bike lanes, starting with the “Killing Zone” and other segments downtown. We believe that to truly calibrate a bicycle network and system, testing is needed. There is a time for planning, but more importantly, there is a time for action.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the director of planning and landscape architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent walkability signage found in downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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