Hickenlooper promises $100M to make Colorado “the best state for biking”

By | jblevins@denverpost.com | The Denver Post


 LAS VEGAS — Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday announced a plan to spend more than $100 million over the next four years to make Colorado “the best state for biking.”
“Biking can be such a positive force, and I think being the best biking state is going to fuel economic growth and tourism. It’s going to lead us toward a cleaner environment, and it’s going to help us be the healthiest state in America,” Hickenlooper said in Las Vegas at Interbike, the largest annual bike trade event in North America.

Hickenlooper is attempting to bring previously announced bike- and pedestrian-trail improvement projects into sharper focus to help influence a transportation policy that has not changed with Colorado’s growing, younger population.

His public-private Colorado Pedals Project plots short steps toward the goal of encouraging the Colorado Department of Transportation to allow local communities more control of their biking, walking and driving destinies.

The plan calls for $60 million to develop bike and pedestrian infrastructure, using CDOT and federal Transportation Alternatives Program and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program funds.

An additional $30 million will come from Great Outdoors Colorado’s new push for trail connectivity with grants that develop bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

About $10 million will go toward sustaining and growing the state’s Safe Routes to School program.

In an increasingly crowded state, where auto congestion continues to impact the quality of life, spending big money on bikes doesn’t tickle everyone.

Subsidizing bike lanes and potentially pricey trail connections in remote areas might have political appeal, but the returns rarely match the investment, said Randal O’Toole, director of the Independence Institute’s transportation policy center.

“I don’t think you need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars here,” O’Toole said. “Just find out where bicyclists are going and provide safe facilities for them on roads they are already using. A lot of times, these projects are automobile-hostile improvements, like reducing the number of lanes in already-crowded roadways.”

Headed by the state’s dollar-a-year bike czar, Ken Gart, the Colorado Pedals Project hinges on a cultural shift at CDOT.

Gart and Dan Grunig, the head of bike-advocacy group Bicycle Colorado, can share a dozen stories of Colorado towns bisected by highways — including Gunnison, Steamboat Springs and Winter Park — struggling against byzantine, autocentric transportation department regulations when trying to solve even simple problems such as securing a pedestrian crossing.

“All these little towns have been running into roadblocks when they want to implement locally directed and demanded bike paths, but CDOT regulations get in the way,” said Jenn Dice, whose Boulder-based People for Bikes group lobbies locally and nationally for bike-friendly policies.

With a fresh approach under new executive director Shailen Bhatt, CDOT is supporting more bike innovation in all its projects.

“Where CDOT has been an obstacle in the past, either deliberately or accidentally, we have a good chance of them being a facilitator,” Gart said. “I think that culture change is by far the most powerful thing here.”

Bike lanes on road shoulders, signage and other cycling considerations “are going to be the norm, not the exception, in Colorado’s transportation network for the future,” Hickenlooper said.

This isn’t about getting CDOT to spend more, Hickenlooper said. It’s about getting CDOT at the table with Bicycle Colorado, GOCO and the Department of Local Affairs so projects and grants are more efficiently orchestrated to consider bicycling as an essential transportation element.

First on the Colorado Pedals Project task list is cataloging and connecting trails — natural, paved and bike lanes — statewide. The governor wants a marketing campaign — akin to the state’s “Come to Life” tourism push — to help sway support for the plan at home and to help lure cycling tourists.

Hickenlooper said he chose Interbike for the launch because a bike message sent there will quickly spread throughout the two-wheeled world. He also urged national bike dealers, retailers and manufacturers to “steal our ideas” and head home with a challenge for their own governors.

Hickenlooper cited the bike culture in Copenhagen, where a quarter of all transportation spending is directed toward bikes and more than half of Denmark pedals to work, compared with fewer than 1 percent in the U.S.

“Denmark clearly shows the benefits of making these long-term investments within narrow, achievable plans,” he said. “(The country) creates bicycle-friendly communities and infrastructure that far outweigh the costs.”

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