In an effort to make the City of Boulder’s streets safer, transportation officials are planning to reengineer its busiest intersections, where the largest share of traffic crashes occur.
Such changes could include adjusting traffic signals to give pedestrians and cyclists a head start when crossing the road and prohibiting right turns on red at certain intersections. The city is also considering removing right-turn “slip lanes,” special lanes built at intersections allowing drivers to make right-hand turns without stopping.
Street design policies that allow drivers to turn at red lights or use slip lanes make car travel more convenient by moving drivers along faster and reducing congestion. But they also make the roads less safe for pedestrians and cyclists, according to the city.
Since 2017, the earliest city crash data available, 281 crashes on the city’s streets have resulted in an “incapacitating” injury or death. Cyclists and pedestrians were involved in most of those collisions. And the most common location for these crashes was at an intersection.
The focus on intersections is part of the city’s latest draft of its Vision Zero Action Plan, a five-year guiding document that describes how the city plans to achieve its goal of eliminating “fatal and serious injury crashes” by 2030. The five-member Transportation Advisory Board unanimously endorsed the new plan this week. The Boulder City Council is scheduled to weigh in on April 6.
The plan is not legally binding. But it includes a detailed “action plan” the public can use to track the city’s progress.
Actions include prohibiting right turns on red at a half-dozen intersections along Broadway, Arapahoe, 30th Street and Canyon, and adjusting the traffic signal at Arapahoe and 17th to allow pedestrians to start crossing the road before drivers. The city also wants to expand the use of red light cameras, which take photos of people running red lights as evidence for a ticket.
The previous iteration of the plan, adopted in 2019, included suggestions for intersection upgrades, but focused largely on reducing speeds in neighborhoods. This included installing speed bumps and signage as part of the city’s “20 is Plenty” campaign. But the speed-reduction effort did not reduce speeds on local streets. The city has since paused the program to focus on high-traffic thoroughfares.
The new action plan states the city will seek to build “vertically separated bikeways” along its high-risk road network, where most crashes occur. This includes Arapahoe Ave., Baseline Road, Folsom Street, Iris Avenue. (The city is already in the process of planning or building bike lanes on or near these roads.)
The city defines “vertically separated bikeways” as having “vertical elements in the buffer area” between the bike lane and the road. As an example, the report shows a photo of the multi-use path running through CU Boulder’s central campus along Broadway, where trees and concrete curbs separate the path from the road.
North Boulder bike lane may see more parking prohibitions
The new plan comes as the city puts the final touches on the $11 million North Broadway reconstruction project between Violet Ave. and U.S. 36, which included a new bike lane. Cyclists have argued the bike lane is not safer. Some are calling on the city to prohibit parking along it, in part to make more room for cyclists.
Natalie Stiffler, the city’s interim director of transportation who was not involved in the design of the bike lane, which began in 2014, told members of the Transportation Advisory Board on March 13 that the city has now added paint to delineate parking spaces and the bike lane. About a week ago, Stiffler said, the city started prohibiting overnight parking during the “snow and ice season.” She said there may be additional parking enforcement and signage to encourage drivers to park closer to the curb and to not block the bike lane.
Stiffler said she has had conversations with the city attorney’s office about potentially banning parking along the bike path. She said city officials would likely want the city’s Planning Board and the Boulder City Council to update the North Boulder Subcommunity Plan.
Such an update would require a community engagement process, likely requiring “trade off conversations” about other transportation and city planning priorities, she said.