There’s no chicken-or-the-egg controversy about increasing bicycle ridership and safety in Aurora. Build it first and they will come.
Arapahoe County last week released a final plan for making the southeast region of the metro area more inviting and safer for bikers as well as pedestrians. The plan offers hundreds of needed projects and improvements, and it even has a mechanism for funding many of the changes. It’s a long-overdue and much needed effort to accommodate current bikers and lure many into riding for transportation or just for fun.
But it’s not enough. It’s not nearly what’s needed to change suburban bicycling from something you can stressfully do if have to instead of something you want to do because you easily can.
It’s a complex problem that demands complex solutions. Like all other metro suburbs, Aurora was created around the automobile. Our streets were designed to accommodate a river of large, fast-moving cars and, at best, tolerate pedestrians.
Bikes were toys. For the past 50 years, Aurora streets have been absent almost any accommodation to bikers. There are routes in the city that don’t even have sidewalks, even though they border densely populated neighborhoods, sometimes where children walk to school.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the city catered to developers and have created a maze of problems for anyone who isn’t traversing in Aurora in a car. The city is plagued with RTD bus stops that are difficult to get to for bikers and pedestrians.
The county bike and pedestrian master plan takes much of that into account and will attempt to rectify it. Fortunately, Aurora and much of Arapahoe County wisely created open space and trails across the region. It’s these areas that make some kind of bike transportation possible here.
But it’s simply not enough to accommodate people who are willing and often anxious to improve their health and commute by either walking, biking, riding public transportation or all of those at the same time. The more people get anywhere without a car, the better it is for everyone in the metro area. Rather than making it difficult for these commuters, Aurora, and every flavor of government, should be encouraging and rewarding bike and pedestrian commuters. We don’t have to look any further than numerous European cities to see how best to successfully mix cars and bikes in the same space. For decades, the Netherlands has created urban and suburban street systems and safely get people on bikes and inside cars where they want to go safely and efficiently.
Aurora must focus on three things that other cities have already learned and implemented.
First, Aurora must dedicate physical space in the way of clearly marked bike lanes along almost every major Aurora route. This means dedicated, and preferably, segregated bike lanes, even at the expense of car lanes along routes such as Colfax, Havana, Peoria, Chambers and Buckley Roads.
Second, and most important, intersections must be changed to accommodate bike and pedestrian traffic. Holland cities such as Amsterdam and others have long used simple and inexpensive designs that allow heavy bike and car traffic to move through the same space safely and efficiently. Currently, numerous American cities are experimenting with ways to tweak those intersection designs and make them work even better in U.S. suburbs.
Third, Aurora, and the entire region, must created a prolific and high-profile campaign to teach the public to be aware of bikers and pedestrians, give them deference and ensure their safety.
Colorado and the metro area are perfect places to move people out of their cars and onto bike seats because the area is relatively flat and the weather is unusually temperate year-round. People often quickly find that biking is easier, faster and far more efficient than they anticipate. It’s certainly an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
And it makes getting around easier not only for those who step up to the pedals but those who chose not to. Without serious and sustained change and street design, however, it’s never going to happen.