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Boulder Promotes Commuting by Bicycle

The automobile is America's preferred means of transportation. But as cities spread, the growing number of vehicles on the road slows traffic and increases pollution. Many American cities are looking into alternative possibilities of getting people to and from work. The city of Boulder, Colorado has gone a long way to get its commuters out of their cars.

Ian Gartland travels about 11,000 kilometers a year between work and home. And he does it all by bicycle. He is Boulder County's Bicycle Commuter of the Year. "To get to work on average it takes me 40 minutes to bike there," he said, "the 16 miles, and if I was to drive it, I can get there in 25."

When Mr. Gartland arrives in his office, he showers and changes clothes. But that's the easy part, he says.

Gartland: "The harder thing about my job is my office is up in Longmont but the company also has a building down in Gunboro which is eight miles away and if I have to go down to that building, that's the distance that really adds up throughout the year because I generally go down there every day too so that's an extra eight miles depending on when I have to go down there and that takes me about 20 minutes whereas for people driving it takes them 15."
Hoke: Why go through all that trouble when it is so much more convenient to get around by car?
Gartland: "I bike because one: I enjoy it and it relaxes me for the day," he said. "Everyone that I meet along the road who is biking to work, they seem much more relaxed than people who are driving."

Commuter biking is also much cheaper, says Mr. Gartland. It costs him about $150 a year to maintain his bicycle and riding gear. That is much less than the cost of maintaining a car. In fact, Mr. Gartland says for many years, he did not own a car. Now he has one to get him into the Rocky Mountains for hiking and to take long-distance trips. But, he says he often feels guilty when he drives it.

"Yeah, I feel bad driving my car because," he said, "you know you get to intersections in the road and the last company I worked at, we had ozone meters and they would detect, like, CO in the air and CO2 and stuff like that. And whenever we'd forget to take them off and we'd go out to lunch and you'd get to an intersection, they would just go off the scale because of all the cars sitting there and the pollution."

Ian Gartland is among the growing number of Boulder residents who bike to work. John Schwenker and his wife own six bicycles, but not all for commuting.

"I have my everyday commuter which is here and I have a bicycle I've built specially for towing a trailer and being able to pick things up and I have a couple of bicycles I built just for fun," Schwenker said. "And my wife and I have a tandem that we ride for various errands around town."

An estimated 16 percent of Boulder commuters ride bicycles to work. That's more than in any other American city. One reason is that Boulder has a network of bicycle paths and designated road lanes, which makes riding a bicycle easy and safe.

With fewer than 100,000 people, Boulder, Colorado is not a large city by American standards. Located in a valley just east of the Front Range of the great Rocky Mountains, it has always enjoyed spectacular views, clean air and endless opportunities for healthy outdoor activities. But in the past three decades, more than 25,000 people moved to Boulder, increasing the motor vehicle traffic.

The city has taken measures to protect its environment. It has purchased land around Boulder to prevent the sprawl, it has limited building within the city and it has protected historic areas. In 1979, it came up with a comprehensive program, named GO Boulder, aimed at encouraging people to get out of their cars and walk, skate, bike or use public transportation to get around.

Marni Ratzel, a bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner for the City of Boulder, says the first pedestrian and bicycle path built in 1984 became an immediate attraction.

"Certainly the Boulder Creek path," she said, "which runs through the heart of Boulder is one of our more heavily used paths and it's a very beautiful setting in downtown Boulder that people flock to and come to."

The success of this first pedestrian and bicycle path has encouraged city planners to develop a network of paths, including tunnels and bridges under busy roads and over creeks. They have added racks where bicycles can be parked, and space for them on public buses. Randall Rutsch, a senior transportation planner for the city, says Boulder does not have room to build new roads so it has to do the best it can with the existing ones.

"So we have very sophisticated signal timing," he said "we do a lot of improvements at intersections which is where the majority of congestion actually occurs. So it's just a different mindset. It's really managing the system, using it as efficiently as possible and then recognizing that because we can't build a lot of additional facilities in terms of roadways, that additional desire for travel and growth in travel needs to be accommodated through the other modes."

The GO in "GO Boulder" also stands for Great Options. Many people in Boulder, Colorado, seem to agree that bicycles are a great option in commuting.