Close to bicycle friendly
New multi-modal coordinator hits ground pedaling

SideStory: Bike to Work Day returns


A cyclist runs the Main Avenue gaunlet earlier this week. The City of Durango recently hired a Multi-Modal Coordinator and has begun work on a Multi-Modal Master Plan. Among other things, the plan will contain maps and present a vision for ensuring safe and accessible transit for alternative modes of travel./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Missy Votel

To say Amber Blake pounds the pavement is an understatement. As the new Multi-Modal Coordinator for the City of Durango, Blake is prodding, poking, inspecting, measuring and mapping every city street, intersection and sidewalk in Durango.

“That’s 114 lane miles,” says Blake, who is conducting the survey via bike. A native of the San Juans recently transplanted from the East Coast, Blake is conducting the survey not only to familiarize herself with the lay of the land. The data she collects will serve as a bicycle audit, highlighting the current state of Durango’s bicycle and pedestrian byways. “The idea is to identify issues, levels of comfort and possible bike/pedestrian routes,” said Blake, who has gone out on tours with various local advocacy groups, including the Durango Wheel Club, Safe Roads Coalition and Trails 2000. “One of the things we’re looking at is comfort levels. For example, how comfortable does a new mom pulling a trailer feel on a particular surface.”

Blake said areas are rated on a scale from A to F, with A the best and F the worst. “So far, we have mostly Bs and Cs,” she said.

The bicycle audit is the first step in drawing up the city’s new Multi-Modal Master Plan, a draft of which is slated for completion in March 2010. The idea for the plan was set forth in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which called for “a fully functional, multi-modal transportation system that satisfies the mobility options for all users.”

According to Blake, the Multi-Modal Plan will include an overall visions as well as maps of bike routes, on and off-street trails, public transit routes, pedestrian routes and trail connections, all overlaid within the Comp Plan’s boundaries. “What comes out of the plan is put on the ground,” she said. “Hopefully by tying it to the Comp Plan there will be seamless transitions between jurisdictions.”

In other words, bike lanes and bike friendly surfaces won’t just end at the city limits. “We don’t want people to be riding along and suddenly have the bike lane end or turn into gravel,” she said.

Blake became interested in bicycle/pedestrian planning a few years ago while living in Seattle. She was hit by a pickup truck while going to work on her bicycle. “That’s what got me interested in bicycle/pedestrian planning and how infrastructure can be changed to accommodate all modes,” she said. From there, she pursued a masters degree in planning, doing her thesis on “Sustainable Commuting Practices.” She obtained further real world experience working as a transportation planner in Missoula, Mont., and Baltimore before coming to Durango.

by a pickup truck while going to work on her bicycle. “That’s what got me interested in bicycle/pedestrian planning and how infrastructure can be changed to accommodate all modes,” she said. From there, she pursued a masters degree in planning, doing her thesis on “Sustainable Commuting Practices.” She obtained further real world experience working as a transportation planner in Missoula, Mont., and Baltimore before coming to Durango.

Although she only started at her new post April 8, Blake said much of the ground work has already been laid thanks to a needs assessment conducted by local organizations. “The advocacy groups have been working a long time on the needs assessment and identifying issues and critical areas on the map,” she said.

Blake, who in addition to her daily audit does her own research by commuting to work via bike, (“I try to take a different route a few times a week,”) stressed that such community involvement is key to the success of the plan. “My position is considered a community position, I can’t write a plan without the community, they are the experts,” she said.

The idea for a Multi-Modal Coordinator was the result of the 2008 Bike Summit. The original idea was for a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, but the city took the idea one step further by splitting the position in two: an operations manager to oversee bus drivers and the operation of the new Transit Center; and Blake’s position as administrator and grant writer.

However, as Blake noted, her job is not just about bikes and pedestrians. “We’re also planning for carpool, ride share, public transportation – basically, any mode of transportation out there,” she said.

The city’s new Transportation Center, which will celebrate its grand opening on Aug. 14, will help to “change the dynamic” of the entire downtown experience, she said. “We have plans for bike storage and bike share, park ’n’ ride and cheap parking, all which will make downtown a more livable space.”

As far as making the rest of Durango more livable, Blake said many issues can be solved with inexpensive solutions. “It’s amazing what you can do with paint and signage,” she said. Other possible fixes include wider bike lanes, landscaped medians, narrower traffic lanes, roundabouts, repaving and sharrows, or shared-lane bicycle markings.

And while much can be solved inexpensively, some of Durango’s biggest problems come with a hefty price tag, such as the $15 million Florida Road project. The city is currently reviewing contractors for the project and is expected to break ground next spring. “I don’t see why this can’t be one of the best places to truly provide multi-modal transportation,” Blake said.

Other big tickets items include the Camino del Rio under/over pass and the Smart 160 Trail along Highway 160/550 to Grandview. However, these projects will require a concerted effort among not only the city, but the county and the Colorado Department of Transportation. “The issues on the highway are different than those on local streets,” Blake said.

However, local residents will not be expected to foot the bill for all the changes. Although Blake as of yet has no budget, she is already working on securing two grants, one for after-school transportation for students and one for a bus route to Mercy Medical Center. In addition, Blake would also like to coordinate the T and Trolley routes, offering the same schedules year round with the possibility of upping headways from every 30 minutes to every 20 or 15 minutes. She said such a move already showed great success last year when, in addition to the Trolley going free, headways were changed from every hour to 30 minutes. “From May 2008 to May 2009, public transit ridership increased 36 percent,” she said.

Blake would like to see this level of participation carry over to bicyclists and pedestrians as well. “Durango is a bicycle friendly community, but it’s not perfect,” she said. However, given local interest and enthusiasm, the town is poised to position itself as shining example of multi-modal use, even over such bike bastions as Seattle. “We are at the crest of the wave right now. If we catch it, we will end up being one of the communities that others look to for ideas.” •

 

 

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