Now W. Colorado is out
Surprise direction by chief of staff offers new twist for sharrows
Sharrows as the first test of the new city governance model?
The possibility arose last week when Steve Cox - the acting city manager under the old city charter who was just appointed as new “Strong Mayor” Steve Bach's chief of staff - essentially overruled City Council's May 10 vote that had authorized City Traffic Engineering to decide where to put the advisory “shared- road” street markings for bicyclists.
“I didn't feel there had been sufficient stakeholder buy-in,” Cox said this week, regarding the Wednesday night, June 15 direction he gave Nick Kittle, whose Public Works “team” includes the Traffic Engineering Division. “The best-case scenario is total community support.”
Cox's direction ends - at least for now - plans to put sharrows along Colorado Avenue through the Westside to 30th/31st streets. The department had announced just six days earlier that sharrows would be installed on that segment, as well as, east of I-25, Colo-rado/Pikes Peak Avenue to the velodrome on Union Boulevard.
The amended plan, as directed by Cox, is to run the sharrows no farther west than the Colorado Avenue bridge, next to America the Beautiful Park. The thinking is that cyclists can take the Midland Trail from there through most of the Westside - at least by October, when all the contracted trail work now under construction is supposed to be done.
Cox said that in making his decision, one of the groups he talked to was the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), represented by its president, Welling Clark. He asked Clark the night of June 15 if the amended plan would be acceptable to OWN. Clark then set up an e-mail vote with the OWN board members, who said OK.
There was a slight misunderstanding, because at the time Clark thought happily that the Cox direction meant that, as Clark put it, “this was it for sharrows.” But in follow-up phone conversations with the Pioneer and Clark, Cox made it clear that his goal is simply to open the door to discussion, which would not necessarily rule out any ideas.
Clark said he is fine with that, because he plans to do a “system engineering” analysis of the sharrow plan that “will show that you don't want to do it.” OWN's stance is that sharrows, because they have the effect of encouraging bikes to ride among cars “are like inviting people to swim among sharks,” he said.
Putting sharrows on West Colorado Avenue through Old Colorado City was a project for new City Councilmember Tim Leigh even before he was elected in April. Cox called him June 15 about the amended plan and Leigh did not dispute it. However, Leigh said in a June 20 e-mail to the Pioneer that he still envisions sharrows eventually going west to 30th/31st. “It is merely a matter of time as to when they will be fully rolled out,” he wrote. He elaborated by adding, “Sharrows will bring new customers into Old Colorado City. I presume that any time you can drive traffic to merchants they would be ecstatic and that is the feedback I've received from those folks. It is my intention to see this project through to completion, so that the citizens on the west side enjoy the benefits of the sharrow project as contemplated.”
City Council has never voted to approve the Colorado Avenue route, or any specific route at all. But on May 10, the body voted unanimously to allow “shared lane markings [sharrows] at appropriate locations meeting criteria as determined by the traffic engineer.” Staff has since developed that criteria - a guidelines document for identifying sharrow-eligible streets, approved this month by the council-appointed city Bikeway Advisory Committee and Citizens Transportation Advisory Board.
The May 10 vote followed a discussion in which four council members (including Leigh) urged that sharrows be installed in the “appropriate locations” as soon as possible, in the belief that the markings improve cyclists' safety by making motorists more aware of their presence. City Councilmember Bernie Herpin, looking ahead to the international bicycle race that will use West Colorado Avenue Aug. 22, said, “It would be nice for those international cyclists to see those markings.”
Leigh and Merv Bennett (another April-elected council member) also questioned at the May 10 meeting if public process was being overdone. “I would like to see us make decisions in a timely and efficient manner,” Bennett said. “I would hope that the public process doesn't get changed based on other people's desires instead of the adequate due process that we've set forward. My feeling is that we have done due process and maybe there's a group that didn't feel comfortable with that, so we're changing our process to accommodate them. That's how decisions get delayed and the can gets kicked down the road.”
Asked this week if he thought his direction on sharrows might result in a conflict with City Council, Cox said no. “The direction is to have discussions,” Cox said. “Having discussions doesn't mean there's conflict.”
He said his next step will be to meet with engineering staff and seek ideas on how the discussions should occur. This will include “figuring out some process” to get the neighborhoods involved, he said. One idea he'd like to explore is OWN's suggestion to update the city's 15-year-old Bicycle System Plan as part of a comprehensive sharrow consideration.
Before the “strong mayor” charter change, city staffers took direction from City Council. Now, staff serves the mayor - and by extension, his chief of staff. Cox confirmed, however, that Mayor Bach has not been brought into the sharrows matter.
“He (Cox) is trying to take the honorable approach and do it right,” said Clark, who believes that till now the neighborhood concerns on sharrows have gone unheard. “Is that going to put him at loggerheads with City Council? I don't know.”
Westside Pioneer article