COLORADO SPRINGS – Advocates for and opponents against roadway bike lanes overflowed seating and even standing room at a community forum on the topic Monday night at the Studio Bee performance venue at the Pikes Peak Center, spilling out into a hallway.
Dubbed the “Battle of the Bike Lanes,” a panel forum vigorously debated the merits and drawbacks of the 130 miles of dedicated bike lanes on the city’s 1,755 miles of roadway. A nearly equally-divided audience of hundreds clapped in support for speakers touting their preference during the forum lasting a little more than an hour.
Forum panelists in favor of the bike lanes included Cory Sutela with Bike Colorado Springs and City Council President Pro-Tem Jill Gaebler. Panelists opposed to the bike lanes included Rick Villa of the Old North End opposition group SaferCC.com and Edward Snyder with Restore Our Roads. Tim Roberts represented the city’s Traffic Engineering Department.
The bike lanes have become a source of controversy after being installed by the city without public polling regarding the need or desire for them. “The city has made these changes in spite of, not because of, public opinion,” Snyder said. Most notably, seemingly overnight installation of bike lanes along Research Parkway several years ago drew almost immediate backlash over reduced roadway width and confusing, dangerous exit turns from neighborhood streets and parking lots. The lanes were later removed. More recently, dedicated bike lanes were installed on several streets downtown, turning what had been roads with two lanes in each direction into one lane in each direction plus a bike lane and parking spaces.
“We believe that converting lanes on Cascade Avenue, which cars use thousands of times daily, to a bike lane that is only used dozens of times by bicyclists was akin to mice with megaphones demanding and taking roads used by mules and horses,” Villa said, drawing applause from bike lane opponents.
According to CensusReporter.org, 0.5 percent of Colorado Springs commuters bicycle to and from work, the smallest commuter group in the city. City leaders are hoping to increase that percentage. “It is important to this city to add 3,000 to 4,000 35-year-olds every year for the next however many years because we need them to be our workforce,” Gaebler said. Mayor John Suthers has previously said publicly that bolstering bicycling infrastructure throughout the downtown core is seen as key to attracting millennials to the city. Gaebler pointed out that a decreasing percentage of young adults choose to drive as their primary mode of home-to-workplace transportation. Data analysis released Monday by HireAHelper.com shows Colorado Springs ranked 6th in the U.S. among the top 20 cities that people moved to in 2018.
“We hear time and time again from people who say they are interested in using bicycles for transportation, but are afraid to do so,” Sutela said. Providing a dedicated lane on downtown roadways is designed to enhance rider safety, city traffic engineers say. “Now that we have more bike lanes, we can do a lot more road-riding without feeling unsafe on the roads, without feeling like cars are going to come and hurt us,” said cyclist Molly Kelso.
But some in the audience said the bike lanes create an unnecessarily dangerous situation for drivers. “If it’s a bicyclist coming and I don’t see him and he flies (by), he doesn’t have to yield to me,” asked a bike lane opponent named Valerie. “I’m scared. It’s a crazy way to drive.” “We don’t necessarily believe that the type of infrastructure the city is implementing is in the best interest of either cyclists or the cars,” Snyder said.
Bicycling infrastructure in Colorado Springs is funded to the tune of nearly $500,000 per year through a combination of the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority (PPRTA) one-percent sales tax and a $4-per-purchase excise tax on the sale of new bicycles. That represents 0.003 percent of the city’s $143.4 million spending on roadways throughout the city. “There seems to be this mindset that the city just goes out and pushes bike lanes without doing any kind of technical analysis, and that’s not the case,” Roberts said.