Jill Gaebler to those who disagree: “Change is hard.”

City Council member Jill Gaebler penned an editorial in the Gazette today advocating for better bike infrastructure in Colorado Springs. Her reasons were as follows:

  • Better infrastructure will increase the number of cyclists
  • Increased cycling will reduce overall congestion
  • Increased cycling will reduce road wear and tear (because more cyclists would mean fewer cars)
  • Bike infrastructure reduces speeding
  • Many Colorado Springs residents can’t drive single-passenger vehicles often due to medical conditions, so they need alternate modes of transportation
  • City data says residents under 40 want more bike infrastructure
  • The majority of over 8,000 public comments wanted safe and connected bike amenities

This all sounds lovely, actually. I’m all for people getting more exercise, enjoying the outdoors, having multiple options for transport, wearing out the roads less, speeding less. That is great.

Here’s the problem: the residents opposed to road narrowing (and, by extension, certain bike lanes) aren’t against reducing speeding or offering people more transportation options. None of that touches on why people are opposed to road narrowing. In fact it’s not clear based on her article that Councilwoman Gaebler actually knows why people are opposed to road narrowing. Despite claiming “we must continue to listen to the voices of all our citizens” the only time Gaebler directly acknowledges the citizens who disagree with her is when she says

I understand there are many residents critical of bike infrastructure. This is understandable, as change is hard, especially when it comes to our roads.

If all Gaebler has gleaned from those opposed to the recent changes is that we’re upset because “change is hard,” then it’s hard to believe she’s been listening.

Residents have opposed road narrowing for myriad reasons. They’re upset about having no space to avoid bad drivers on icy roads; difficult and dangerous left turns; increased traffic congestion; the dangers of having cyclists and motorists so near each other; increased road rage from people stuck behind slow drivers; and pushing Cascade’s traffic to streets that were already more dangerous than Cascade to begin with–especially Nevada.

(I note that, despite residents actually calling for road narrowing on Nevada, the City continues to ignore it. Meanwhile the City narrows a far less dangerous street, Cascade, in the name of “traffic calming”? It’s almost as if Colorado College were choosing which roads get narrowed.)

And beyond all the citizen concerns over the direct impacts of road narrowing, there’s a bigger problem at play here, a recurring theme that Gaebler also neglects to mention: the City bullying citizens into whatever changes it wants, in direct opposition to public input and to agreements between the public and the City. It’s not a coincidence that the recent Gazette poll had 50% more votes for hating the bike lanes versus loving them.

Gaebler dismisses the Gazette poll as “badly flawed,” but at least the Gazette tried to take some kind of actual measurement of a broad sample. In contrast, Gaebler justifies her position by stating

We learned this during the public process to create a comprehensive plan for the future development of our city. The majority of over 8,000 public comments want safe and connected bike amenities on our roads.

There are a number of problems with this justification.

  1. Just because people want safe and connected bike amenities doesn’t mean they are okay with the City making any changes anywhere in the name of bikes. Indeed there are people who specifically want better bike infrastructure and are still angry about Cascade.
  2. To my knowledge, the rest of us can’t access these public comments to see whether Gaebler’s assertion is accurate, and given how much the City has exaggerated and twisted data in the name of road narrowing already, trust is in short supply.
  3. If the Gazette poll is flawed due to selection bias, comments at public meetings suffer from the same problem. Those who most want to install bike lanes are more motivated to attend than those who are happy with the status quo.
  4. And–perhaps most importantly–Mayor Suthers has stated on record that the Traffic Engineer is free to disregard master plans, which is how Kathleen Krager managed to unilaterally narrow Cascade this year without–per the ONEN Master Plan–getting a vote from the City Planning Commission. If the City is free to ignore the plans the public has worked over months to help create, what’s the point of citing those plans as evidence that the City cares about public input?

Gaebler implies, unconvincingly, that most of the public want the new bike lanes on Cascade. But the real question is: does it even matter what the public wants? She compares bike lanes to ADA accessibility, saying it’s what compassionate cities do. If Gaebler believes bike lanes are not only pleasant but morally required, will she advocate for them even if most of her constituents are opposed? Why emphasize public input if you’re going to push for bike lanes regardless?