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Did Boulder’s Short-Lived Bike Lane Widening Effort Work? Some Numbers

Flickr-Creative Commons
Bikes in Boulder. The city is testing ideas to increase safety for bikers and pedestrians as well as automobiles.

This summer, Boulder decided to conduct an experiment that would make the town a little more bike friendly. The city started the "Living Lab" project on Folsom Street, a north-south artery that runs through town.

The goal was improving travel safety, for bikes and pedestrians, but also cars. To do this, the city reduced Folsom Street from four lanes to three, and added wider, protected bike lanes. The project, which began in July, was supposed to last a year. It lasted eight weeks. 

On Sept. 29, city council decided to scale back the project significantly, returning Folsom Street to four lanes along its busiest stretch. The changes had brought significant anger in the community, first from drivers and business owners on the corridor unhappy with the traffic slowdown, then from bicycle groups who sought to prevent the changes from being rolled back.

All along, the city has been painstakingly collecting data on the project -- after all, the changes were meant to be an experiment lasting a year -- to see if they made the street safer. In that regard, did the short-lived experiment work? Here’s some data.

Number of weekly collisions: Decreased. Collisions dropped from an average of 1.6 per week to 1 per week.

Number of bicyclists on the road: Increased. Prior to universities opening, cyclist numbers increased from 877 to 1,254 at the Pine Street counting site. Students have increased that number to around 1,400 depending on the week. Other counting sites also showed significant increases.

Vehicle volume and speed: Decreased. Average speeds on the corridor, with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour, decreased a couple of miles an hour, from 35 mph to 33 mph north of Bluff St., and from 29 mph to 25 mph north of Canyon Blvd.

Average afternoon vehicle travel time: Increased. Northbound peak afternoon travel times were 3:32 along the corridor, they increased on average by 40 seconds, to 4:10. Southbound travel times saw a bigger increase, up 95 seconds. Of course, averages don’t tell the whole story. There were delays of as much as four minutes in some weeks during peak afternoon travel time.

Average vitriol in the city of Boulder: Increased. Up by 1,000 percent, or at least it seems that way for those watching the debate on the changes. Boulder city council member Mary Young scolded activists on both sides of the issue at the council meeting where the decision to scale back the project was made.

"I feel like I'm living among a bunch of people who feel entitled to their own without consideration for others. I want you to think about that," said Young.

Bottom line: The project encouraged cyclists and seemingly reduced collisions. It also inconvenienced drivers, on average delaying them during rush hour between 40 and 95 seconds, and reducing their speeds by a couple of miles per hour.

Is the trade-off worth it to encourage cycling and protect the safety of all travelers? In Boulder, the answer to that question certainly depends on who you ask.

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