The Colorado Springs April 2 municipal election is in full swing with 28,183, or just under 11 percent of ballots counted as of Thursday. Bike lanes are an issue likely to guide voter choice for Mayor and three at-large City Council seats.
Controversy over on-street bike lanes took root when then-city Traffic Engineering Director Kathleen Krager and newly-hired Senior Bicycle Planner Kate Brady eliminated two vehicle traffic lanes on nearly three miles of Research Parkway between Austin Bluffs Parkway and Chapel Hills Drive in September, 2016, replacing them with striped bike lanes with vertical plastic delineator posts.
The project came under immediate and intense public criticism. In a 2016 article in The Gazette, Mayor John Suthers said, “We do know that there is an adjustment factor. People do need to adjust to the presence of more bikes.”
But people did not adjust, they demanded the bike lanes be removed and by mid-December, 2016, the road had been returned to its previous configuration.
Fast forward to 2018 and Krager’s new plan to “road diet” Cascade Ave. by restriping it from Fillmore to downtown to remove one traffic lane and install buffered bike lanes in each direction.
Krager’s road dieting program intended to use congestion to encourage travel mode shifting by making driving unpleasant and time-consuming. In a 2015 Power Point presentation to the Infill Steering Committee Krager said of taking away traffic lanes, “It increases other modes of transportation” and “It creates a buzz.”
Her plan certainly created a buzz.
The public controversy over road dieting using bicycle lanes as both a vehicle control strategy and an improvement in bike accessibility exploded, pitting motorists against bicyclists and Old North End residents against motorists, bicyclists, Krager, Mayor Suthers and each other.
Groups were formed, websites built, coalitions formed, petitions circulated and even a request for a court injunction against the project from Old North End residents fearful of traffic tie-ups on Cascade and diversion of traffic onto already-clogged Nevada Ave. was filed.
The injunction request failed when a judge ruled that restriping streets is an executive branch function under the City Charter vested in the city Traffic Engineer, under the Mayor’s supervision, that does not require either Planning Commission or City Council approval.
Krager proceeded and the project was completed in August 2018. It has met with mixed reviews and some traffic backups at signalized intersections.
Krager retired Feb. 1 but the controversy lives on.
The Gazette hosted a “Battle of the Bike Lanes” panel Feb. 25 at Studio Bee at the Pikes Peak Center where panelists discussed the issue and answered questions submitted by audience members.
During the meeting City Councilman Jill Gaebler, speaking about the need to attract younger workers to the city, made a highly-criticized statement putting words in Mayor Suthers’ mouth.
“The Mayor will actually go further and say “I don’t care if one more 65 or older person moves to this city,” Gaebler said. That comment was received with a chorus of boos from an overflow crowd of about 350 who were about evenly split between pro and anti-bike lane supporters.
One of the groups organized against road dieting and bike lanes, “Restore Our Roads,” scoured through public statements by city officials and found contradictory statements about exactly who is in charge of making decisions. The group put together a short video illustrating inconsistencies in on-the-record statements.
Some examples include:
Jeff Greene, Mayor Suthers’ Chief of Staff, who often attends council meetings in the Mayor’s stead said at a Dec. 11, 2018 City Council meeting: “The decisions made based upon how we set bike lanes and so forth is based upon the guidance that’s been provided to us by this Council.”
At a March, 2019 City Council candidate forum at Colorado College, City Council President Richard Skorman said, “We would have a say about whether there’s bike lanes on Cascade.”
At a February 2019 Town Hall meeting, City Councilman Bill Murray said, “We had nothing to do with any of the bike lanes.”
In a candidate survey published by SpringsTaxpayers.com, city council candidates responded to a question about bike lanes and road dieting.
Regina English said, “Moving forward the city must do better with being more inclusive with major decisions that will affect the city as a whole.”
Incumbent councilman Bill Murray said, “The only good plan is a master plan for transit and not just bikes.”
Val Snyder supported road dieting saying, “Slower traffic increas[es] the safety of cars, bicycles, and pedestrians.”
Athena Roe said, “I do not support lane diets. People are twice as likely to be killed on a bicycle, this is a public safety issue.”
Tony Gioia said, “While bike lanes are not bad and are appropriate in many areas, the city must listen to its citizens when making choices on where they go.”
Wayne Williams said, “There are circumstances where a bicycle lane might be appropriate if it can be done without adversely affecting mobility or safety.”
Gordon Klingenschmitt said, “Unlike Field of Dreams, we built it and they did not come.”
Dennis Spiker said, “I support bike lanes in Colorado Springs but not at the cost of the flow of traffic.”
Incumbent councilman Tom Strand said, “The key is be open to the community engagement process while stressing safety for everyone.”