June 9, 2022

In Boulder, Cars vs. (Pandemic & Climate Crisis-inspired)Change.

In Boulder, would you prefer
1) a downtown full of trees and fountains and outdoor dining and walking and biking and disabilities access and emergency access, or,
2), cars reopened to streets, more parking, more idling, less or no outdoor dining? That’s the question. In a heating planet, I hope we can find a way to #1 that works for those with disabilities, those who can’t tolerate heat, children, tourists who like to spend money on local businesses, and us locals, along with our beloved local businesses.

When we closed the Pearl St. Mall to cars 40 some years ago, they said it was a mistake. While this brave, far-seeing change wasn’t without its challenges, it’s helped put Boulder and our beloved local shopping and dining on the map. The Pearl St. Mall is a trailblazing, example-setting success. Do we still have such farseeing bravery today in our leadership?

Then, during the pandemic (which continues), we closed two blocks of West Pearl. Yay! Even without doing anything to make the streets fun or shaded, we all discovered what it was like not to hear the roar and hum and smell the belch of buses, trucks, and cars (parked cars pollute, too). We discovered the simple joy of sitting and dining and walking and biking on the downtown streets of our own city.

Now, looking ahead, City Council just decided—bending to the voices of two important local business owners, but not the wishes of the community or money-spending tourists—to reopen West Pearl to cars, while allowing restaurants to “rent” 500 square feet on the street, temporarily. A smart compromise, if it were longterm—but still it’ll just be “for now,” and without trees or amenities on the street. We’re clearly planning to fulling re-car West Pearl, let alone East Pearl which needs and deserves love.
Imagine: Boulder could have a tree-and-garden-and-flower-and-outdoor dining-and-accessible to those with disabilites-and accessible to emergency services-space with playgrounds and a fountain and bike parking, all 10 degrees cooler than the concrete jungles we’re used to, filled with sitting cars, on West Pearl. Disabilities access, and emergency access, is vital. Burlington, Denver, Miami, and other cities simply allow those vehicles to drive down the middle of the closed streets, and get rid of curbs. There are ways to do this to the joy and safety of all.

But we’re not trying.

Instead we’ve chosen to mostly go back to business-as-usual: cement not trees and gardens and fountains and playgrounds, and parking for cars, not space for people. Despite the fact that a cooler (literally , heat island effect means on this 90 degree early June day it was close to 100 while eating at Next Door, today, while being 80 in, say, in the shady park on the Hill above my house) and people friendly Pearl would be more accessible to those who are older, don’t deal well with heat, want more joy and community, and a vibrant local business and dining scene. But a few important restaurant owners are vociferously and crankily against it, and we’re heading back to a downtown full of driving, idling, and parked cars where people and trees and community should be.

I say build more parking structures, make parking easy, encourage folks to bus or bike *and* prioritize emergency and disabilities’ access, while addressing a heating planet and shifting from car-centric America, as we and others have managed to do across America in other car-second downtown communities.

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Waylon Lewis  |  Contribution: 1,559,470