Daniel H. Smilkstein, MD: Time to pedal
June 29, 2008
Steamboat Springs — As long as policy decisions in this community can be made based on a few individuals’ concerns and without a clear vision for the future, we as a community are at risk of pedaling backward relative to other resort communities. The recent 2-1 vote by the Routt County commissioners to change the current bike lane width on C.R. 36 was definitely a move in reverse.
With the exception of Diane Mitsch Bush, our commissioners ignored the majority of community input, ignored the fact that the current road markings have been working just fine, and ignored the commitment that was made by Steamboat when we applied for and received the “Silver” designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community. The city and county formally endorsed the Bicycle Friendly Community Initiative, but since doing so have done nothing substantial to support that commitment. When our elected county leaders finally had an opportunity to support their words with action, they failed.
Our community, like the rest of the country, is faced with some critical challenges – the price of fuel, petroleum dependency, competing as a resort community in the market and childhood and adult obesity. You might ask, what do these things have to do with each other or with a white stripe on the road and a bike lane?
The county commissioners’ decision, while seemingly minor, spoke volumes about our lack of commitment to forward thinking. We are no longer a small ranching community in Northwest Colorado, we are a major international resort community that is struggling to find an identity, maintain our quality of life and keep competitive in a tough market.
Do we value alternative transportation, recreation, green living and a healthy lifestyle, or the comfort of a minority of drivers who feel “anxious” around bikes. The fact is that as a community, Steamboat and Routt County are a very difficult place to commute or recreate on bike or feet. “Bikers” are often characterized as young, Lycra-clad, fast-riding, I-don’t-give-a-hoot gangs that roam through our streets and threaten law-abiding drivers. The reality is that bikers are school children, recreationalists and commuters of all ages. Our lack of safe, well-marked bike lanes has discouraged all of these groups when they should all be enthusiastically encouraged.
The other reality is that we have fallen far behind other resort communities in what we offer the “bike path recreationalist.” Trails generate clean, low maintenance, hungry tourism. Go to Vail, Frisco, Breckenridge, Aspen, Silverthorne or almost any other resort community in the state and you will experience beautiful paths that safely take you somewhere, as opposed to out and back or nowhere. Go out of state to Sun Valley, Idaho; Mammoth Lakes and Squaw Valley, Calif.; or Whistler, British Columbia, and you will see literally thousands of people who travel to these places to enjoy their trails. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that twice this spring my wife and I have traveled to the Summit County area just so we could ride on their trail systems. We also spent money at their restaurants and lodging and behaved like typical tourists.
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Our community and schools have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to be leaders in encouraging a healthy lifestyle in Steamboat Springs by providing safe, nonmotorized transportation lanes within our town and county. More than 90 percent of our school population lives within two miles of their school. It doesn’t make sense that our high school parking lot is packed full of student cars and there are lines of parents waiting with their engines idling at our elementary and middle schools.
As a community, we should recognize the environmental, financial and political threat we face due to our dependency on fossil fuels. In response, we should encourage human-powered and public transportation, not discourage it. This is already happening in many communities across the country. Let’s not get left behind. It is time to start pedaling forward.
Daniel H. Smilkstein, MD