February 26, 1998
The public process that produced downtown Boulder’s Residential Parking Permit (RPP) system was aptly tagged in a recent Daily Camera editorial as “wedded to an ‘If you build it, they will come’ attitude” of resistance to new parking.” The same quip can describe Boulder’s current Transportation Master Plan (TMP), if you substitute “roadways” for “parking.” I, for one, hope the insular logic underlying both the RPP and the TMP has run its course, because freeze-drying our current transportation infrastructure does not appear to me to be an attractive option.
Neither does it appear wise to me that we seem to be allocating most, if not all, of Boulder’s limited transportation construction budget to bicycle and pedestrian facilities that barely make a dent in our traffic congestion challenge (I say this even though I try to ride my bike to work every day). By contrast, our capital and operational investment in transit alternatives like the Skip and the HOP seems better advised, and actually appears to be working to reduce traffic in the areas receiving enhanced services.
The unmet challenge with respect to both the TMP and RPP public processes was how to fill in the missing voices — the people in Boulder who actually choose NOT to testify at hearings or join task forces. They must be heard before balanced, realistic and effective transportation policy objectives can be finally determined.
The Regional Transportation Task Force (RTTF), established in the spring of 1997 by Boulder County’s Consortium of Cities, and the City of Boulder’s “Transportation Future Search” (TFS) conference come at this challenge in a different way. The public process for each effort involved active recruitment of interested and informed volunteers. The next step is to share good public policy analysis, including all of its complexities and trade-offs, with this broad cross-section of citizens. Participants are then charged with the responsibility to sift through the analysis in order to prepare it for later public consumption.
The assumption is that in our new age of direct democracy, the tough choices will be sent to the voters anyway, so we better provide voters with the information they will need to make decisions that will stand the test of time. The good news is that we will all ultimately get to vote on how our community and region is going to address the transportation challenge. Of course, that’s the bad news, too.
Whether we get it right will depend on the quality of our public debate. If the substance of the discussion can be reduced to fit on a bumper sticker, we’re in trouble. We must all challenge ourselves to understand (and explain to others) the complex public policy trade-offs involving transportation systems, affordable housing, jobs, the environment, our quality of life, and our sense of community (to name a few). Remember, the future we save may be our own.