Improving the city’s bike lanes and trails might be a hard sell, with roughly 87% of Puebloans using motor vehicles as their primary mode of transportation. But it’s a sales pitch Bartholomew Mikitowicz intends to make to Pueblo residents, elected officials and community groups leading up to the release of a 20-year bicycle lane improvement plan.
“We are trying to make a paradigm-shift,” he said. “We are trying to bring ideas to the table with different options.”
Mikitowicz said that the goal is to increase the city’s bicycle and pedestrian transportation rather than devising a plan to accommodate any projected increase in automobile traffic.
Mikitowicz, a transportation planner for the Pueblo Area Council of Governments, gave PULP an exclusive sneak peek at his lengthy draft plan, which at the time still had “a few kinks” to work out, he said.
“I’m about a month to six weeks from moving it into the public outreach phase.” Mikitowicz said. “That is where we gather community feedback, concerns, modifications etc. After that, another month to update the plan, then the final review and approval. We are shooting for September.”
Pueblo’s 87% automotive use rate is about average compared with four other U.S. cities around Pueblo’s size. Fort Collins has the lowest use of cars as a mode of transportation, at around 83%, and Abilene, Texas, has the highest of the four, at nearly 89%.
State’s transportation data could use a tune-up
A major stumbling block with the plan is that the Colorado Department of Transportation, or CDOT, has yet to perform its statewide transportation study, which would more specifically identify the modes of transportation being used by residents.
This delay is primarily due to a lack of funding by the state’s General Assembly and governor. The state identifies only two modes of transportation: motor vehicle and a broad category merely referred to as “other,” Mikitowicz said. “Other” includes not only bicycle and pedestrian traffic, but things like skateboards, scooters (motorized and not) and e-bikes (bicycles that are assisted by electric motors).
However, the valuable missing information Mikitowicz would like to have from the CDOT study will not postpone his bicycle plan for Pueblo.
“It is important to remember that, after the plan is approved, it can be — and will need to be — updated regularly as new information, funding and technologies become available,” he said.
Another hurdle was created by Pueblo’s sheer size.
“We have 20 to 30 neighborhoods (to consider when taking into account all the existing bike routes), and that made things difficult,” Mikitowicz said, adding that the difficulty lies in linking up all the bike lanes used in each neighborhood.
Chaining together transportation options
Mikitowicz said that, for the most part, the draft does not propose any new bike routes for the city. Rather, it focuses on improving existing ones and increasing connectivity to inner-city bus routes and inter-city ones served by carriers such as Bustang and Greyhound.
The draft also includes future modes of transportation. For instance, short-term car rental locations whereby cyclists or pedestrians can pick up a car and use it to go shopping, make appointments or just go on a road trip.
Mikitowicz mentioned carsharing company Car2Go as a pioneer in the short-term car rental industry. Car2Go’s cars are made available on the street and in designated lots around the city.
People can see where the cars are located through an app, rent a car with no reservation, and return the car in any of the company’s operating areas, with no requirement to refuel. The international company has a location in Denver.
Mikitowicz also included in his draft plan the need for bike routes in the city to be connected to possible future passenger train stations to accommodate Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which might be rerouted for a Pueblo stop, and the Front Range Rail, a proposed north-south passenger train expected to stop at Pueblo on its Fort Collins-Trinidad route.
A new north-south bike route through Pueblo?
Although the lion’s share of the bike plan requires no new bike routes, there might be one exception. The current route connecting north and south Pueblo goes over extremely hilly terrain, making it difficult for cyclists to navigate. Mikitowicz said that a new north-south bike route is on the table in the current draft plan.
The draft bike plan also identified areas where there are a high number of bicycle-motor vehicle accidents, and cited the bike routes in those areas as needing improvements. One standout area is the bike route along Prairie Avenue.
Vance Hubersberger, owner of Vance’s Bicycle World, on Prairie Avenue, says he’s only witnessed a handful of bike-car accidents, but urged that a north-south bike route would be a good idea provided the new route isn’t on the street.
Hubersberger said he was neither for nor against a bike plan that would discourage car traffic, and he wanted to see the draft plan before making a decision.
Funding is paramount, but planning comes first
When asked when the clock will start ticking on his 20-year bike plan, Mikitowicz said, “The clock is always ticking. The 20-year horizon is a sliding window that planners use to help organize and prioritize projects. Funding — or lack thereof — is the paramount factor in what gets done and what doesn’t. Therefore, being the most prepared for when funding sources become available allows us to hit the ground running and capitalize on limited and coveted resources.”
As to the cost of the plan, that remains to be seen.
“I should be able to calculate [the estimated cost] at the end of the planning process,” Mikitowicz said, adding that he will leave it to the public to identify funding sources. “At the end of the day, … Puebloans must decide what they want, when they want it and how they are going to pay for it,” he said.