Cycling advocate asks the City to ignore us.

[Please see the end of this post for a response from Mr. Perez.]

During the November 27 City Council meeting, cycling advocate Carlos Perez gave citizen comments. You can see the full video of his remarks below, but here is a transcript of the portion I’m going to address:

I am not here to persuade you on the merits of bicycling nor the value that it brings to cities. Rather I am here to ask for your unwavering support for the citizen-driven processes that brought us to this point today. First there is the deliberate and rational processes that inform our City Master Plans. These plans, years in the making, include the Old North End Neighborhood plan, the Bike Master Plan, and the upcoming PlanCOS Comprehensive Plan. It was reviewed and unanimously approved by five civic bodies: the ATAC, CTAB, Parks Board, Planning Commission, and this very City Council. Second, there is the citizen engagement process used as part of the implementation, specifically the Cascade Avenue changes were guided by a public input process as called out by Councilman Knight’s addition to the Bike Master Plan. Mr. Knight wanted to leave these decisions for the City and community to decide, which was done. I attended several of the five public meetings and was impressed by the public’s involvement. The internet allows us to easily create online straw polls or send an electronic message with the click of a button. Please do not permit the ability to overwhelm your inboxes to veto the master plans and to drown out the voices of many people like myself who contributed valuable time to participate in our civic processes.

I take so many issues with these comments I’ve made a numbered list:

1. The Old North End Neighborhood Plan requires the City Transportation Manager (Kathleen Krager) to take road changes–specifically on Cascade Avenue–before the City Planning Commission. Krager refused to do so. Citizens actually sued the City to try to compel Krager to abide by the ONEN Master Plan. Mayor Suthers declared during that trial that Krager is free to disregard Master Plans and change the roads as she sees fit. Mr. Perez is either wholly unaware of this development (unlikely, since he and I have specifically discussed it), or suggesting that adhering to Master Plans doesn’t matter as long as citizens get to spend countless hours helping create these non-binding agreements which the City can then disregard.

2. The public meetings leading up to narrowing Cascade Avenue were hardly robust. Krager covered a wide range of transportation issues during the first few meetings. During her December 2017 presentation she mentioned she would address “pedestrian safety” and “bike route locations” in January 2018. She certainly didn’t emphasize she was considering unilaterally removing traffic lanes without a Planning Commission vote; if she had, the hundreds of citizens who spoke out in 2016 would have taken notice and joined the meeting to (once again) argue their case. Instead, there were merely three dozen attendees to the January 2018 meeting, and that is when Krager had residents vote on road narrowing. Mr. Perez may be impressed with this level of public involvement, but I can’t say I agree.

3. It’s unlikely the January 2018 citizen vote would have made much difference anyway. Krager has repeatedly stated that citizen input cannot and will not drive her decisions. She’s told our members that it wouldn’t matter how many citizens contacted her to say they are opposed; she has to go with “data” regardless of resident viewpoints. In a March 2016 email to a representative of Colorado College, Krager stated quite bluntly that she doesn’t need citizens to agree:

It’s a wonder Krager even speaks to the public at all, since she makes little pretense of valuing our input. During the injunction hearing, Mayor Suthers echoed the same sentiment, stating

Democracy is not going to be a good resolver of traffic engineering decisions. We simply cannot put these things to a vote. The average person does not have the expertise. – Mayor John Suthers, 7/16/18

Krager’s “citizen engagement process” is a charade. Mr. Perez may believe it more easily because in this specific case the charade resulted in the bike lanes he wanted, but the countless citizens who have been ignored and silenced aren’t buying it.

4. Mr. Perez dismisses the “straw polls” of the internet (presumably referring to the fact that the Gazette’s poll found way more people opposed to the bike lanes). But at least the Gazette attempted to get a quantifiable answer from a large sample set (over 1,000 people voted, compared to the 3 dozen or so votes at Krager’s meeting). If those pushing road narrowing are sure the public engagement process was representative and are sure more people support than oppose road narrowing, what is there to fear from conducting an independent poll? If there are so many people happy to have traffic lanes replaced with bike lanes, why does Jill Gaebler have to seek out people to say so?

5. Finally, note how dismissive Mr. Perez is of his fellow citizens’ actual input. He praises the vague, misleading, little-known City-led farces of public meetings, but dismisses the residents who take time to email and call the City to express their views. If you are the type of person who lacks the resources to track public meetings, lacks the flexibility to rearrange the rest of your life, or lacks the time to spend hours giving input at multiple meetings over the course of years, then Mr. Perez asks the City to ignore you. If the only way you can realistically give your input is to call or email City officials “with the click of a button,” Mr. Perez thinks your voice should not count. So much for valuing public input.

Post-script:

11/28/18 Carlos Perez comment:

Monica, I am disappointed that you are misinterpreting my statements and my intent, and have chosen to post a point-by-point rebuttal on a closed website that I do not have opportunity to address. If you believe that I am dismissing your concerns, please accept my apologies for the misunderstanding. My 3 minutes of comments to city council were addressed to the members of city council, not to opponents of bicycle facilities. I would like the record to reflect that I value all the citizens in our community, including the reasonable concerns from citizens who may not believe that bicycling is a good way to improve mobility in our cities. As an engaged and informed citizen who believes that a deliberative and rational master planning process is the best way to move forward, nonetheless, I approach the public square with malice toward none and an open mind. If you, or anyone else in the community wishes to work with me to achieve a mutual understanding and respect, to work as neighbors who want a better future for our city, I offer to sit down and discuss over a cup of coffee, anytime. You may be surprised to find that I am not the person who thinks that “your voice should not count.” It does. And I am willing to take time out of my day to meet with you or anyone else in friendly dialog. Thank you for listening.

11/28/18 response:

Carlos, I so appreciate your comment. Please understand our frustrations lie not with you personally, but primarily with the City and the way we believe City officials have handled this entire ordeal. To my view your comments dovetailed pretty well with what City officials have also been saying, and that’s what I sought to address. I will reach out to some people in our group and see about a possible meeting, though it won’t be immediately. Thank you for your offer.