Rise and shine, Boulder! ☕ It’s your morning edition of BRL Today.

Today’s top story from John Herrick continues our exit interview series with a Q&A featuring outgoing transportation director Erika Vandenbrande. She discussed the department’s challenges and opportunities as the city plans to overhaul its cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Then writer Allen Best of Big Pivots looks at several bills in the Colorado legislature that would nudge Coloradans toward low- and zero-carbon technologies in their homes. Plus, talk of new regulations after the NCAR Fire, the reopening of the Nederland Community Forestry Sort Yard, a BVSD teen art show and more.

See you back here on Friday, folks.

– Jezy, managing editor

Keep an eye out for critters when you’re out on the trails. Can you spot the coyote in this photo snapped by BRL reporter John Herrick in Boulder County on April 16? 👀 Credit: John Herrick

Quickly

🌤️ Warm with clouds and sun: Highs in the mid-70s today, with a mix of sunshine and cloud cover. Expect much of the same on Thursday, before temps drop into the low 60s on Friday and into the weekend.

🔥 NCAR Fire sparks discussion of new regulations: During a Boulder City Council study session on the NCAR Fire on Tuesday, several councilmembers said they would like to see new regulations to help protect homes from future wildfires. Some ideas include prohibiting wood shingle siding and requiring brush clearance around homes bordering city open space. “Once that first home goes, the potential for other homes to burn exponentially goes up,” said Councilmember Matt Benjamin during the study session.

📍 Mapping debris removal progress: New web resources from Boulder County and the City of Louisville can help residents keep track of the current status of the post-Marshall Fire debris removal process. The county-wide map shows progress with the PPDR (Private Property Debris Removal) program, whereas the Louisville-only map shows status of debris removal for both PPDR and privately contracted lots.

💰 Flatiron Park deal marks a record: Blackstone BioMed Realty’s purchase of Boulder’s Flatiron Park business campus in April marks the “single largest single-asset transaction in Colorado’s history,” BizWest reported. It bought the roughly 1 million-square-foot, 22-building campus for $625 million. “At $625 per square foot, the Flatiron Park deal could usher in a new era of pricing for office and flex spaces that cater to technology companies” in Boulder.

🌎 Climate summit keynote: Mary Robinson, a climate justice advocate and the former president of Ireland, will be the keynote speaker during the inaugural Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit at CU Boulder, Dec. 1–4, co-hosted with United Nation Human Rights.

🪵 Free wood disposal: Nederland Community Forestry Sort Yard opens for the 2022 season next Wednesday, May 4, at 9 a.m. County residents can drop off tree branches and logs free of charge.

🏠 Xcel energy rebates: Xcel Energy is hosting a webinar series related to its Marshall Fire recovery construction incentives, starting today. “This series is targeted toward home builders & HERS raters and intended to help navigate the requirements of the various energy certification programs and incentives available to Marshall Fire victims.” Tune in this morning at 9:00 a.m. for Part I. EPA officials will also be presenting. Part II is on Thursday, April 28.

Top Stories

‘We’re at a pivot point’: Boulder’s departing transportation director emphasizes tradeoffs as the city pursues a new vision for its roadways

In September 2020, Erika Vandenbrande took the helm of the city’s transportation department following a period of high staff turnover and departs as a major shift in Boulder’s vision for transportation infrastructure gets underway. 

Earlier this month, the city announced Vandenbrande, who has nearly two decades of experience working in city government in Redmond, Washington, is leaving to take a job as the community development director for the City of Walnut Creek, California. She said she wants to be closer to her husband and her mother, whom she said needs her attention and care. Her last day is May 3. 

Vandenbrande is parting ways as the city gears up to make major investments in its cycling and pedestrian infrastructure along major thoroughfares like the Foothills Parkway, Broadway and 28th Street. The emphasis on non-vehicle transportation is designed in part to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from cars and reduce accidents involving drivers. 

The plan, known as the Core Arterial Network, was spearheaded by the city’s Transportation Advisory Board, a five-member volunteer board that advises the Boulder City Council on transportation issues and infrastructure investments. City Council this year appointed Triny Willerton, a cyclist who was almost killed in May 2018 when she was struck by a driver while training on Nelson Road and who has since founded the cycling safety advocacy group, It Could Be Me. It also appointed Rebecca Davies, the city ratings program director at the Boulder-based nonprofit cycling advocacy group PeopleForBikes. 

As the city prepares to implement its new vision for transportation infrastructure, the Boulder Reporting Lab spoke with Vandenbrande about her work for the city and her thoughts on where Boulder is heading. Her general message was that the city will need to make tradeoffs if it wants to follow through on its new transportation vision.

Several bills in the state legislature aim to nudge Coloradans toward low- and zero-carbon homes

The coldest temperature this winter at the new home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio was 17 below. They live in Fraser, a Colorado town that used to get far, far colder.

Still, that February night was cold enough to test the design and technologies employed in construction of the couple’s 1,176-square-foot house. Even after charging their electric car, their house produces more energy than it consumes.

An air-source heat pump was central to their mission in creating a net-zero home, one gutted of emissions from fossil fuels. It extracts heat from outside – even on chilly nights – to warm the interior. 

The Mitsubishi model used at the Fraser house promises to deliver the necessary indoor heat, even when outside temperatures dip to 13 below. To supplement the air-source heat pump should temperatures dive to 30 below, as was once common, the couple also installed electrical-resistance heating. 

Colorado needs many more air-source heat pumps — and fewer carbon emissions from buildings — to meet its mid-century decarbonization target goals of 90%.

Getting this right during housing construction costs less in the not-very-long term. Building permits for 48,200 housing units, both single-family and multi-family, were issued last year, according to the Colorado Business Economic Outlook. That’s like adding a new Greeley each year, along with a few small towns. 

Retrofitting our older buildings is laborious and expensive. 

But several bills working their way through the Colorado Legislature this spring would nudge Coloradans in that direction, toward low- and no-carbon technologies. All cost more upfront, but save money over time – sometimes lots of it – while reducing or eliminating emissions. 

BRL Picks

💊 Drug Take Back Day: Got old or unwanted medication lying around the house? Drop it off for free — no questions asked — at the upcoming DEA Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 30. The event takes place at 5600 Flatiron Pkwy, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. There are other locations being hosted by law enforcement around the area. More details here.

🧑‍🎨 Teen art show: The annual BVSD art exhibition featuring student and faculty work runs through May 11 at the Dairy Arts Center (2590 Walnut St.) The show features 2D art, video, ceramics, animation and more.

🎻 Mahler and the Movies: Put on your best Oscar duds and celebrate Austro-Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler — who inspired a generation of film score trailblazers — during a free concert at the Boulder Bandshell on Friday, May 20. The Colorado MahlerFest Chamber Orchestra rolls out the red carpet during this one-night performance kicking off at 6 p.m.

Covid-19 Updates: April 25, 2022

  • 115 daily new cases (7-day avg.) 🔺Up 86% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 0 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 53% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.

What We’re Reading

📖 Earlier timeline for TABOR refund checks? “[Gov. Polis] is backing a bill to send taxpayers rebates — $400 for individuals or $800 for couples — this summer, instead of next spring. … Colorado currently uses a sliding scale that refunds more money to higher-income earners. Under the new bill, it would be a flat rate. The result is that people in the lowest income bracket — those making under $47,000 a year — would get an extra $124, while everyone in higher brackets would see a reduction in their expected refund from this pot of money.” [CPR News]

📖 Universal pre-K for Colorado: “The newly-signed House Bill 22-1295 creates a no-cost preschool program that will begin in fall 2023. It also establishes the responsibility of a new department that will absorb the work of most existing early childhood programs scattered across different state entities. For example, the department will take over the Child Care Assistance Program from the Department of Human Services.” [Colorado Newsline]

ICYMI from BRL

🚗 You have questions about the City of Boulder’s transportation decisions and challenges. We have answers. After Boulder Reporting Lab published a primer on the city’s transportation master plan, a flood of questions poured into our inbox. The answers offer broad insight into the priorities and obstacles facing city officials on some of the thorniest road issues.

🌡️ ‘La Niña is not letting go’: Colorado drought cycle could continue through summer and into fall. As snowpack hits 91% of average, the state could be in store for its third year of below-average streamflows and high wildfire risk.

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– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.