Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Bicycle Rider's Perspective on the City Council Race (With endorsements)

Mayor and City Council Cycling Endorsements by David Boerner (published in My Group Ride)
Friday, 25 March 2011 09:59 
Disclosure: These are the opinions of one man: myself, David Boerner.  I am a Fort Collins resident, a cyclist, and a freelance writer with a bit of experience in bike advocacy.
These are endorsements based on bicycle friendliness.  To find out more about the candidates’ other views, check out the Coloradoan’s Candidates’ Q&As or the Candidates’ websites.
Why should we as cyclists care who gets elected to City Council or who is elected mayor?  Are they gonna get the Quiznos Classic to come through town?  Are they gonna close down the road for Wednesday Night Worlds?  What did City Council ever do for me?

Bicycle Advisory Committee Chairman Rick Price explains:
“City Council affects bicycling in Fort Collins by setting policy that City staff follows.  If we continue to elect Council members and a mayor who value the environment, our quality of life, and, yes, bike paths, lanes, and education programs, our bike program will thrive,”
And if we don’t, they won’t.
Luckily, we’ve had a predominantly bike-friendly Council for years.  And that will probably remain true after this election no matter who wins what.
But while everyone in Fort Collins politics is perfectly willing to say that “bikes are great,” some are more willing to vote to fund bicycle facilities and programs.
Fort Collins uses a council-manager government system, wherein the mayor is not an executive, but a part of the executive body – City Council.  The Mayor is more like an at-large Council Member in Fort Collins with one vote, just like the other Council members.
Therefore, the composition of City Council is what’s important for bike policy, and the mayor is just one part of that picture.
City Council seats alternate every other municipal election.  This year's election is April 5th and four seats are up for grabs: Mayor, District 2, District 4, and District 6.


The good news is that all three candidates for mayor identify themselves as cyclists.  Karen Weitkunat rides on the trails for recreation and wellbeing.  Ross Cunniff identified himself as a “fair-weather commuter.”  And Eric Sutherland said, “I’ve commuted to every job I’ve ever had – religiously.”
Look like Sutherland wins the die-hard cyclist award.
No candidate for mayor of bike-friendly Fort Collins would dare say anything negative about cycling, but some of the candidates were able to get a little more specific about why cycling is good and why they are good for cyclists.  Here are the candidates:
Karen Weitkunat
Weitkunat understands very well that Fort Collins’ bicycle friendliness is a major selling point for our city – as do the other candidates.  She doesn’t commute by bike, but she runs her business from home, so she doesn’t commute.  But she does ride the trails.
Weitkunat applauds the bicycle safety education efforts in Fort Collins and said, “it starts with the kids.”
Weitkunat has worked with Tim Anderson of the Fort Collins Velodrome Association, and supports the velodrome.
Having been in the hospitality industry, Weitkunat understands first-hand the economic benefit of competitive cycling.
Weitkunat said that bicycling facilities are a good investment, though she wasn’t as knowledgeable about the funding mechanisms for bike facilities and bike advocacy as some of the other Mayoral and Council candidates – which was surprising, considering her years as a City Council Member.
Weitkunat would probably be a great mayor for cyclists.  She’s interested in education and protecting our trails.  But she talks too much about “protecting” our bicycle facilities when our bike trails aren’t really in danger.  And our “complete streets” planning policy means that future bike lanes are guaranteed.
However she’s right on the money in advocating bike education for children, a proven technique for long-term ridership increase in Holland.
Eric Sutherland
I can’t help but love Sutherland after talking to him.  Much in contrast to Weitkunat’s optimistic fluff, Sutherland has a much more fiery, grave style.  Sutherland seems to make it his mission to uncover what he calls “pseustainability” – disingenuous, “green” marketing.
But he’s gotten himself some bad press by challenging New Belgium – a move tantamount to sacrilege in our beer-loving, bike-cruising burg.
To clear things up a little bit: Sutherland was right in saying that New Belgium’s “100% wind-powered” marketing was bullshit – and New Belgium stopped saying it.  Also, I was told by an anonymous New Belgium employee that New Belgium’s restraining order against Sutherland was unnecessary.  In fact, Sutherland’s criticism helped to make New Belgium more transparent and more sustainable.
So let’s try not to think about Sutherland as “the guy with the restraining order.”
Most of Sutherland’s advocacy has been spent of sustainable energy.  He’s a “big-picture” thinker with sustainability, but he said that bikes are an essential part of that picture.
Sutherland thinks Fort Collins needs to divert some of its bike advocacy energy away from “boosterism” and into safety and education (although some advocates would argue that “boosterism” is education).  He thinks that city engineers and contractors need specific instructions not to reroute bike lanes into automobile traffic during street construction – a phenomenon he calls “cone zones.”
And above all, Sutherland said Fort Collins should walk the talk on sustainability, “as opposed to creating PR talking points.”
Sutherland would likely push hard on bike policy.  Unfortunately, his approach seems to have already burned a few bridges and I think that at attitude of diplomacy could go a long way toward getting good bike policy passed.
Ross Cunniff
Ross Cunniff talked for about half as long as either Weitkunat or Sutherland, but he said a lot in that time.
“I’m familiar with the challenges of bicycling in Fort Collins,” Cunniff said, himself a commuter.
“Although we are highly rated [for bicycle-friendliness], there are still things we can improve.”
Cunniff advocated education for cyclists and drivers about the status of a bicycle as a vehicle under the Colorado Vehicle Code.
Cunniff said he has “a reasonable level of understanding” about funding for bike projects and advocacy.  But he sounded to me like he had the best understanding of any of the mayoral candidates. HOW?
Cunniff says that the bike trails and bikeability of Fort Collins are good for Fort Collins’ image and that “bicycles are absolutely good for business.”
Cunniff cited his track record as an advocate for our trail system as evidence of his commitment to bicycling in Fort Collins.
Weitkunat repeatedly cited the trails as being a great thing, but she didn’t talk much about what’s next.  Cunniff was involved in creating the bike trails and he doesn’t appear likely to rest on his laurels.
Cunniff said he will continue “enabling the choice to ride a bicycle.”
“What I’ve seen is there’s a feedback loop: as you get more people aware, more people ride bicycles, and the accident rates start to go down.  It’s about getting more people on bicycles.”
I agree.
Mayor Endorsement: Ross Cunniff
District 2
Sue Pawlak
Like every other candidate, Sue Pawlak had good things to say about bicycling in Fort Collins.
“It’s a solid reason why people more here in the first place,” Pawlak said.  “We need to protect [our bike facilities].”
Pawlak has an open mind and was very receptive to my information about the price of bicycle facilities.
But she kept bringing up the costs of bicycle facilities too much for my liking.  I appreciate her lack of pie-in-the-sky promises.  But her understanding of bike issues and funding in Fort Collins was underwhelming.
Quite in contrast to her opponent.
Lisa Poppaw
Poppaw has the best understanding of the funding mechanisms for bicycle facilities and programs of any of the Council or Mayoral candidates I interviewed.  She schooled me about the GOCO lottery money that funds our bike trails and explained to me that “the city’s general fund pays for very little of lanes and paths.”
“Is cycling a good deal for Fort Collins? Heck yeah, it’s a great deal!”
Poppaw has a strong track record on bicycle policy.  She helped initiate the recent Bicycle Safety Education Plan, and “supported all the bike initiatives” during her time on Council.
Poppaw wants to see education for law enforcement officers about bicycling. She wants to look for funds for overpasses and underpasses on bike corridors.  She wants to build a relationship with Poudre School District to get more bike education in schools.
Of course, the best story about Poppaw is how a group tried to recall her last year, alleging – among other things – that Poppaw wanted to “eliminate personal vehicle use.”  That claim originated from Poppaw’s support of the bicycle parking racks in parking spaces downtown.  Apparently the group, called “We Will Not Fail Fort Collins,” didn’t consider bicycles to be “personal vehicles.”
It’s not totally fair to support a candidate because she was threatened with recall for supporting bicycles, but it sure makes good copy for a bike racing website.
Either way, the choice is clear in District 2.
While Pawlak is extremely open-minded to bicycling and would probably vote for sensible bike policy, Poppaw has already proven that she’s right up there with Ben Manvel as being one of cyclists’ best advocates in City Hall.
District 2 Endorsement: Lisa Poppaw

District 4

Kristin Stephens
Stephens doesn’t come into the Council race with any specific bike legislation in mind, but she said she would be in favor of keeping the FC Bikes program that recently lost its grant funding.
She thinks our bike friendliness is attractive to businesses.  She’s a runner, and a “big advocate of natural areas.”
Stephens doesn’t have the experience of some of the other candidates, and she doesn’t have a comprehensive understanding of the funding for bike programs and facilities.
But, she says, her opponent “Troxell hasn’t done a good job in any way.  He’s not very responsive.  He’s rude and not very collaborative.  For that reason alone people should vote for me.”
Wade Troxell
Wade hasn’t returned my multiple calls (although he did respond to the initial email request for his phone number).  Being a City Council candidate is a full-time job, and Troxell is a busy man.  But if he cared that much about the cyclist vote, he would have called me back.
District 4 Endorsement: Kristin Stephens

District 6
Gerry Horak
Gerry Horak, a fine candidate for bicyclists, is running unopposed for District 6.  I anticipate that Horak will continue term-limited David Roy’s tradition of bike-friendliness.
District 6 Endorsement: Gerry Horak

1 comment:

Eric Sutherland said...

I am totally blown away by the time and journalistic craftsmanship this blog posting represents. This is what the new media should be about.

I'm still a little confused about what the City ought to be doing for bicycling that it is not already doing.

Therein lies the promise for the highly politicized bicycle advocacy folks to begin looking into what we need in the way of solid waste diversion, electric utility regulation reforms, transit options and many other possibilities that Fort Collins has for making our city a little less unsustainable.

The City Clerk maintains a page that has all of the candidates websites listed.

Thanks to David Boerner for his journalism.