Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Car-centric or people-friendly?

I have traveled to Fort Collins a lot lately, mostly to visit our daughter Annie. She lives a block from the university. She can walk or ride her bike almost anywhere. This summer she took the shuttle bus to concerts at the Mishawaka up the Poudre Canyon. The city has great bus service, including the north-south MAX line. Uber and Lyft are Ubiquitous. Uberiquitous!

FOOTNOTE: Writers might find this interesting. I first learned ubiquitous from a title of a Philip K. Dick strange novel, "Ubik." This illustrates the instructional side of sci-fi.

Our daughter had a car but it met the fate of so many vehicles in a college town after dark -- driving after partying. It now rests in a Denver junkyard, a totalled 10-year-old car with what seemed like so many more miles to go. Alas.

So as I visit and help her with errands, I notice that Fort Collins is much less a car town than when I lived here from 1988-91. That's no surprise to its residents. It is a surprise to someone from Cheyenne, a decidedly car-centric city in a very car-and-truck-centric state. Rapid transit is still exotic in the Capital City. We do have taxis and Uber and car-pooling. We have a superb greenway, although street bike paths are still a work-in-progress. You see pedestrians downtown during the day, most of whom are state employees looking for a double caramel macchiato to get them through the long afternoon. The crowds thin out at night as there just aren't that many businesses worth visiting. We have three craft breweries, all three worth a visit. And there are bars. A few coffee shops. Some restaurants.

If you look for pedestrians along the Dell Range shopping district, you won't find many. You will find a mall and lots of chain restaurants. But people don't walk on Dell Range. It's a place for cars.

One thing I notice about Fort Collins 30 years after my grad school days -- it's a car environment gradually morphing into something else. It's funny, too, since most of the older residential streets were built along Utah's Mormon model -- wide enough to easily turn around an ox cart. Ox carts are rare these days. Most of what you see are young people on bikes and skateboards. Pedestrians of all stripes. All the major streets are lined with bike paths. Some through streets have been mined with those annoyingly huge speed bumps, the kind you see in neighborhoods that include city council reps with kids. Not a bad idea -- you still see plenty of cars in FoCo, many of them going too fast. Many in this one-time cowtown still drive pick-ups, whether they use it for ranch work or just want to look like they do. The CSU Rams used to be the Aggies, which accounts for the big white A on the hill above town. Still a lot of ag and geology and veterinary students here, which differentiates it from its rival university in Boulder. The CU Buffs probably still refer to the CSU bunch as "the Aggies," especially in the lead-up to the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown on the gridiron.

Fort Collins actively discourages cars. It's every wingnut's nightmare. Walkable downtown and neighborhoods. Limited parking. Wide sidewalks. Very rare to see a coal roller. I heard an announcement on FM 105.5 that talked about a city program that closes streets on a rotating basis so people can eat and drink and listen to live music. What's the world coming to?

Not sure what the next few years will bring. Driverless cars. A light rail. A Hyperloop connection is in the works, if Colorado's entry into the project is picked as the one to be actually built. Who knows what that portends for Fort Collins, even Cheyenne.

Meanwhile, my goal in Fort Collins is to slow down and  beware of cyclists. It could be someone's millennial, maybe even mine.

No comments: