Wherever the law is, crime can be found. Aleksander Solzenitsyn
I feel a little awkward featuring this quote, because I was introduced to it by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his article on incarceration and the Black family. But, it is entirely relevant to the topic, and perhaps the contrast between his use and my use will emphasize that most of us face only first-world problems here in Boulder.
It’s also worth remembering that just before the initiation of Right-Sizing on Folsom Boulder Police shot and killed a young CU math student who was evidently under the influence of “bad LSD.” Samuel Forgy was naked and armed with a hammer. He was 22. Only a couple of anguished people wrote “wait a minute, folks” letters about Forgy’s death. They were drowned in a sea of anger about a minute or two delay on whatever errand, and about government overreach and arrogance. The irony of that last thought in the face of Forgy’s death leaves an acid taste.
But, back to the first world (or, perhaps the zeroth world, in Boulder). One thing we got out of the Right-Sizing project is a little data, and one of the things we learned was that 15% of drivers exceed the 30 mph speed limit on Folsom north of Bluff by at least six or seven mph. The average speed there exceeds the speed limit by two or three mph. These speeds are a couple of mph lower than before the Right-Sizing, which is one of the objectives of the approach.
Boulder Mayor Matt Applebaum reportedly asked City transportation staff why, instead of installing the three-lane configuration, they didn’t just lower the speed limit. I don’t know how the staff answered him, but I hope they told him that reducing speed limits has very little effect on speed, because that is true. Raising speed limits has more effect, but less than you might imagine.
It turns out that road conditions, traffic conditions and the road configuration determine how fast people drive. Hence the logic of the three-lane configuration.
The one thing that raising the speed limit does do is reduce the frequency of noncompliance. Right now approximately half the drivers on this stretch are violating the speed limit. If we raised the speed limit to 36 mph only about fifteen percent would be in violation.
This most recent spasm of anti-bike rage in the local paper is different from those that periodically preceded it only in the intensity of the anger expressed. I think that intensity is more a function of the time than anything else, and has little to do with actual attitudes toward cyclists. One thing that was the same-old-thing, though, was the complaint that bicyclists wantonly run stop signs and commit other infractions, and should be called to account. This is often a prelude to calling for visible license plates and taxation of these freeloading miscreants.
Whenever I read these letters I think, “What’s the big deal, lots of motorists breaks the speed limit.” Now we have the data.
So, I suggest we give bicycles the same latitude taken by motorists. On Folsom that’s 36 mph versus a speed limit of 30. At a stop sign that translates into 6 mph versus a speed limit of zero. Take a deep breath, and chill.