Alex's Story: Connecting Destinations
[Alex Weinheimer is a member of the City of Boulder's Transportation Advisory Board.]
I don't own a car or a bicycle. Growing up in Boulder, I got places on foot, bike or bus, and borrowed a car from my parents when I needed to. When I moved to Houston to go to Rice University, I also chose not to own a car. After graduating, I lived in Houston's Museum District, a very walkable area with access to light rail, which made it easy to get to my office in Downtown Houston. Today, I work in my company’s Denver office, doing transportation planning and traffic engineering.
Walking is my favorite mode of transportation. When I'm walking, I don't feel like I'm in a hurry. Driving is stressful - whatever we can do to make walking more enjoyable, we should. If I have to travel two miles or less, I'll walk, and for longer trips, I'll use bike share or the bus. I love the pedestrian crossing at Folsom and Walnut. I cross there about four times a day, to get to Pearl Street and the Downtown Boulder Station. Of all the streets in Boulder, I walk down Walnut Street most often. It links the greatest number of destinations for me, and that is key to walkability: connecting places people want to go in a way that feels inviting and comfortable. But just being close to an essential destination doesn't mean it's easy to walk there all the time. Even though I only live two blocks away from my preferred grocery store, Trader Joe’s, I only walk there during the day because I don’t feel safe crossing 28th Street at night.
Walking is a big part of what I do everywhere I go and how I experience cities. I am always glad to come home to Boulder, where there are things working well for pedestrians, with trails, underpasses and well-designed crossings that we can continue to build upon. But still, we have many important destinations that are designed for vehicles, not people. The 29th Street development, for example, is surrounded by a sea of parking. As someone on foot, I've figured out where the sidewalks through the parking are, but it was not obvious at first. A grocery store I used to shop at in Houston had an entrance lined with trees and seating, which makes it really inviting for people walking. The space is also used for hosting food trucks, barbecues, and live music, which improve the shopping experience and encourage people to spend more time. I would like to see improvements to our car-focused retail centers to make the experience more about place and community.
In designing for cars, developers have also overlooked existing assets and opportunities. At Base-Mar, for example, it's the Goodwill dumpsters that line the Skunk Creek Path. Instead of turning its back on the path, the creek and the mature trees that line it, the development could attract people by offering seating and store entrances for people walking and bicycling. In Boulder, we have set building height limits that preserve mountain views, but I don’t think we take full advantage of this. What if instead of having a yoga studio facing 27th Way, it was on a second story with windows facing the nearby Flatirons? One of my favorite things to do on nice evenings is sit out on the rooftop bar at the Rio. Many more rooftops in Boulder could become destinations that take advantage of our spectacular views.
Ideally, if you had a friend visiting from out of town for a few days, in addition to taking them to Pearl Street and driving up Flagstaff Mountain, you'd also walk with them to the coffee shops, bars, and restaurants in your neighborhood shopping area. I'd like to see great destinations for everyone within walking distance of their homes.