The 30th St. underpass in Boulder that has so recently become controversial is part of a larger vision, expressed in the Transportation Master Plan. It will allow a number of bike paths to connect through the Transit Center that will be located at Pearl and 30th. Thus, it is a missing link to a whole system of bike paths.
This Center and the paths leading to it will create a sort of alternative city center in Boulder, that organically incorporates the activity of Whole Foods as well as a number of existing bikes paths and the 29th St. Mall into it. It will bring order, beauty, safety, and character to a good deal of the sprawl found east of Folsom.
The controversy involves the fact that 14-26 very mature trees will have to be cut down so as to construct it. In addition, the construction will likely harm the business of Ras Kassas in at least the short run.
Now I must admit that being a lover of old trees and concerned for the impact on Ras Kassas as I was, I did not jump at supporting this project initially – until I walked the proposed path. That path would provide a significant stretch of accessible access to the wild in the midst of a sea of cars. Many advocates of tree protection might find this vision very inspiring if only they could wrap their minds around it.
Riding bikes on busy streets can be dangerous and nerve racking. Off road bike paths increase the number of transportation cyclists by making cycling easier and more enjoyable. Over time, off road paths can become corridors of wildlife as the Boulder Creek Path has. And by linking that wildlife to a path, we can expect it to be preserved. The current trees in question, located on private property as they are, do not have this advantage.
The Transit Center is likely to raise property values in the nearby area. This will be a boon to some. But, it is quite possible that Ras Kassas and the other properties on which the trees in question sit, would be sold and developed. Preventing the underpass does not necessarily save Ras Kassas. And since development would probably involve cutting down some trees, preventing the underpass does not necessarily save the trees either. But a path along the creek that runs beside Ras Kassas would insure the green and wildlife of this area for decades to come. And in the long run, it will bring much attention to Ras KaSsas.
The trees that would be cut down to construct the underpass are not the only trees in question, of course. Global climate change is already destroying forests around the world – the so called drunken trees of the arctic that are beginning to fall as the permafrost thaws and the pine beetle infested forests of Canada. A failure to construct this path, insofar as it leads more people to drive, will play some part, however small, in destroying these forests and others. These are the forests most obscured by our local trees.
The problem with this project and so many like it lies in the procedural complexity. Since the construction of the underpass will be linked to replacing the old bridge under which it runs, the project must occur at this location or nowhere at all. And since the bridge would need to be replaced soon regardless of whether or not the city goes ahead with the underpass, business at Ras Kassas will be disturbed either way. We should not dismiss the disturbance of either project to such a valued independent business in the midst of a recession.
The city needs to be creative in its compensation to Ras Kassas, using resources and events to draw attention to it. Ras Kassas is a center of African activity in Boulder and a wonderful restaurant. Supporters of this project should consider bringing parties and meetings there for dinner a few times as construction is taking place. It is the least we can do.
The vision of a bike and pedestrian friendly community is one of sensitivity, involving the creative and intelligent synthesis of multiple goals. This calls for integrative solutions that can sometimes become bureaucratic and imposing. As of late, a backlash against such efforts has been stirring in Boulder. Opponents of the underpass are giving weight to this backlash. But taming the sprawl that contributes so much to global warming and a culture of alienation in America involves far deeper concerns and more inclusive goals than the often petty irritations of this movement. There is a forest of concerns often obscured by our favored trees.
Theo Horesh was the initiator and co-founder of the now defunct Boulder Co-op Market and Commons Community Center. He is a freelance author and currently serves on the board of Community Cycles.
Via The Daily Camera: