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Individual Change vs. Policy Shifts: Perspectives on Moving People Forward 2020

by Alana Romans

Earlier this month, I attended Bicycle Colorado’s annual Moving People Forward Conference. Mobility is a growing passion of mine since moving to Colorado nearly five years ago. I arrived at DIA with nothing but a small suitcase. This included no job, apartment or car, but plenty of excitement to live in the Mile High City. I can remember researching cars and comparing the numbers back to my budget. How could I justify (what I consider to be) the enormous cost of car in a city where I felt perfectly comfortable biking, walking, taking transit, catching an Uber or renting a Car2Go? So before I knew it, I was car free.

Fast forward to February 10th, 2020 as I take my seat for the Vision Zero Breakfast Panel. Vision Zero is a favorite topic of mine, as it seems so painstakingly obvious: eliminate traffic related deaths. Cars were created as a solution to get from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible. Somewhere down the road, they came to dominate the right of way, often wreaking havoc on pedestrians, bicyclists and fellow drivers alike.

The breakfast panel featured an incredibly diverse group, including representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Denver Council of Regional Governments (DRCOG), the Colorado State Patrol, Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) and a mother who lost her son to a speeding driver in her neighborhood. The panel spoke towards strategies that each organization is taking to address the number of traffic fatalities across the state, and hopeful solutions as Denver works towards eliminating traffic related deaths by 2030. For reference, there were 70 traffic fatalities in Denver alone last year.

My biggest takeaway from the panel was the idea of individual action as the biggest driver of change. For instance, tell people to stop texting while driving and they will! Show drivers how important it is to slow down and obey speed limits, and they will certainly respect the law. Unfortunately, from my perspective, this just isn’t the case. This is coming from a bike and pedestrian advocate who has caught herself speeding, using her phone driving and rolling through a stop sign or two. I know the rules as well as the potential consequences, yet I catch myself breaking them every so often. This discord between individual action and policy change stuck with me throughout the conference.

Later that morning I attended a breakout session titled, “Get on the Bus.” I absolutely love the bus, but how often do I actually ride it? Sure, I have an RTD MyRide pass, but how often am I opting for public transit when there are better alternatives? For the past year and a half, my partner and I have lived as a one car household. I typically take him to and from work since I work from home, which gives me free reign of the car most days. Let me say it again: I love the bus. I tell anyone to ride once and they will love the extra books read, emails answered, or headaches avoided from rush hour traffic. But as I go about my day, I am unlikely to get on the bus myself. There are several reasons why, but it mostly comes down to time and cost.

At the end of the day most people – but not all – want the most efficient mode of transportation possible, which brings me back to individual action. *Purely hypothetical brainstorming here* but if public transit were either free or drastically reduced in price (Denver is currently the most expensive city for public transit in the nation, when compared to cities of equal or greater size) and route frequency increased, I believe we would see a dramatic rise in ridership.

I feel the same way about walking. I am fortunate to live within walking distance to the things I need in the city, and for the most part can get around by foot. It is not always easy, and I sometime have to walk along the road when a sidewalk abruptly ends or construction blocks my path. I am also fortunate to not require a wheelchair, in which commuting via sidewalk in Denver would be nearly impossible. In order to make pedestrians (including those using wheelchairs and strollers) feel safe, we need to build the critical infrastructure necessary for safe and reliable passage. We cannot believe that people will individually opt to walk in unsafe circumstances to increase pedestrian safety. Here, we must turn to broader policy change.

I personally see the immense benefits of alternative modes of transportation, but I am also an advocate in the multi-modal space. We must remember that many people feel they need their car and that it is the only reliable and efficient way to get around. Until we make solo driving more cumbersome than car-lite alternatives, motor vehicles will continue to rule the streets.

Thank you to the Community Active Living Coalition (CALC) for providing me the opportunity to attend the Moving People Forward Conference. And thank you to Bicycle Colorado for hosting a forward thinking and motivating conference that reminded me why I will always be a pedestrian and bicycle advocate.

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